Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Guest Post!

Check out my guest post "Catering as a Wedding Gift" at 2000 Dollar Wedding! And leave a comment there, too, if you'd like!

Burdock, Seitan, Nettles, Oh My!

While traveling recently, we ended up sitting behind two women and a lovely little girl who were having lunch on the airplane.  They were eating McDonald's chicken McNuggets and french fries--the familiar, warm smell wafted throughout the entire plane. Even though we might not have wanted to admit it, the smell made us hungry. And so we pulled out our own lunch: a stir fry of burdock root, homemade seitan, hand-picked wild chanterelles, ramps, foraged wild nettles, chives, and ginger all over quinoa and seasonal asparagus.

(take a minute for a giggle)

The contrast could not have been more stark.

And so as we began to eat our stir fry, enjoying the unusual ingredients and bold flavors, we reflected on how much our diet has come to differ from the Standard American Diet, and how this makes us a little sheepish, even as it pleases us culinarily, environmentally, and ethically. Because we don't want to be the food snobs with the weird food, we don't want our diet to differ so radically from all the food around us. But that's because we want all the food around us to move in the direction of our eating, to embody thoughtful reflection, easy access, and high quality.  The goal is not to marginalize those who do enjoy their Chicken McNuggets, but to find space for habits that welcome nettles and burdock and seitan (when the geography and seasons are right, of course).  So, as we enjoy this recipe and think about the origins of its ingredients, may we also think about how to move towards a world in which the contrast between the lunches on these two rows of an airplane aren't quite so stark.

Burdock & Mixed Greens Stir-Fry
(recipe adapted from Harmony Valley Farm)

This dish can be made with any variety of greens, but if using nettles, please follow the handling directions below. Also, the particular ingredients we used were dictated by the contents of our farmshare, or CSA, box, so, if you have other root vegetables, aromatics, or greens on hand, please use those in place of the burdock, ramps/chives, or nettles, respectively.  (Of this recipe, the chives, ramps, burdock, nettles, and red chilies were all from our local farmshare).

½-1 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 seitan cutlets, ground (can substitute crumbled tofu or any ground meat)
3 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
one handful of chives, sliced thin
3-4 ramp bulbs, sliced thin (can substitute onions)
1.5 cups mushrooms, sliced (I used rehydrated chanterelles)
1 cup burdock, sliced thin (wash and peel, if desired)
¼ cup white wine
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
3 dried red chiles (or 1 tsp red pepper flakes)
4-6 ounces (2-3 cups uncooked) nettles (or other greens: spinach, sauté mix, arugula, kale)
Salt, to taste

  • Prepare the seitan.  I used seitan cutlets I'd made long ago and frozen in their broth. I thawed them and then pulsed them a few times in the food processor to create a ground consistency (seen on right in the photo below, next to chives being chopped).

  • Prepare the nettles. Nettles, or "stinging nettles," are usually thought of as weeds and grow in rich soils along disturbed habitats. True to their name, before they are cooked, they are covered with tiny hairs that produce an intense, stinging pain, followed by redness and skin irritation. But when cooked, the leaves are delicious. So, it's important to use work gloves when handling nettles. You can collect wild nettles all over the place, but we got ours in our CSA box. Wearing gloves, strip the leaves and then rinse them in a colander.  Place the leaves in a steamer and steam at full boil for 10 minutes or until tender. (I ended up boiling mine for an extra 5 minutes, just to be safe).

    • Begin the sauteing. In a large saute pan, saute the ground seitan with a little bit of oil and some salt to brown it a little. After a few minutes, add ginger, chives, and ramps. Stir fry for 1-2 minutes until ingredients are starting to soften and are aromatic.
    • Add mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes. If using dried chanterelles that your Papa picked for you out of the woods near his home in Georgia, boil the dried mushrooms separately for about 10 minutes to rehydrate them, before chopping them up and adding them to your stir fry.
    • Add burdock and continue to stir-fry for 1 minute. Burdock root is the main root of young burdock plants, which also grow wild all over. The roots have a crisp and mild flavor, and are eaten as a root vegetable in many parts of Asia. The root is high in fiber, calcium, and potassium. If you don't have it on hand, carrots, parsnips, sunchokes or other root vegetables can be substituted.
    •  To your main saute pan, add wine, vinegar, soy sauce, and chopped red chili. Stir to combine, then add cooked nettles (if using other greens, just add them raw and let them wilt for a few minutes). Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and allow vegetables to cook together for a few minutes.
    • Remove the cover and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper
    • Serve on its own or with a side of quinoa or rice. Serves 4

    Monday, May 30, 2011

    Stories Inside the Can

    Food fascinates me not only in a recreational and personal context, but also in a historical and professional context. Although I haven't spent a lot of time writing about it here (what does that suggest about how I view my work and this blog?!), my dissertation (i.e. my full-time job) is a historical analysis of canned food in twentieth-century America.

    To begin the tale of why I chose this topic, let me share several photos with you. Take some time to study each one carefully, to think about what kinds of questions and stories emerge from a close look at these compelling artifacts and an attention to their dates and captions.

    Dolores Harris, daughter of FSA (Farm Security Administration) client George Harris, with canned food prepared by her mother. Dameron, Maryland. August 1940:

    Mrs. Watkins (project family) in her smokehouse showing canned foods and cured meat. Coffee, Alabama. April 1939:

    "In a fish cannery, Los Angeles, Cal." From The Chinese in California, 1850-1925 collection:

    Mama & Papa Woodruff. [between 1895 and 1900?].  Interior view of Woodruff general merchandise store in Gillett, Colorado includes Mr. and Mrs. Woodruff in the aisle between shelves of canned and boxed food. A scale sits atop the glass display cabinet with boxes of cigars, wooden crate of brooms and stacks of gunny sacks:

    Patrick Sheehan looking to his right, holding a jar of food, standing behind a counter in his grocery store in Chicago, Illinois. Shelves full of cans of food are visible in the background. Chicago Daily News, Inc., 1928:

    When I study these images, the kinds of questions that pop up in my head are:
    • What does the date range of these photos (roughly 1895-1940) tell us about when canned food was prominent in our country? 
    • Why might more women be present in these photos than men? 
    • How does race play into food history (as with the African American Dolores Harris and the Chinese women cannery workers)? 
    • Who might have been buying the canned foods pictured here--and how might that have differed between the Woodruffs' store in Colorado and Patrick Sheehan's store in Chicago? 
    • What role did canned food play in the expansion of the American West, as suggested by the Colorado general store at the turn of the century?  
    • Why might the Farm Security Administration have been interested in canned food store rooms? 
    • Why were both the industrial tin cans and the home-filled glass jars called "canned food"? 
    • What's inside all those jars and cans, anyway?  
    • Where did those foods come from, and who produced them in their raw forms?
    • How did these foods taste? 
    • How might these families and workers and merchants used canned foods in their own lives? 
    • What did these people think of this newfangled food product?
    Trying to address all these questions and more in my dissertation is a bit of  Sisyphean task, but on good days, I think that answering these kinds of questions can help us understand the place of food (and processed food) in our own lives, can help us unpack the choices that were made to get us where we are today, and to help us think about how things might have been otherwise.

    What kinds of questions came to your minds?

    *All images from The Library of Congress, American Memory collection, keyword search "canned food"

    Friday, May 27, 2011

    Walnut Way

    When Walnut Way Conservation Corps organizers asked members of the neighborhood what kind of fruit trees they wanted to plant in a community orchard, the neighbors said peaches. Peaches? In Wisconsin?  The organizers were somewhat skeptical about the growing potential of peaches in a  northern Wisconsin climate. But when the organizers checked with local  horticulturists, they found that peaches could indeed grow easily and prolifically in the inner city Milwaukee neighborhood. The peach trees  now produce pink blossoms in spring, ripe fruit in summer, standing as a testament to possibility--to horticultural and human growth alike.

    In addition to visiting the Sokaogan Chippewa community as part of this year's CHE place-based workshop, we spent an afternoon with some of the most inspiring, light-filled folks at Walnut Way. Sharon Adams founded the neighborhood organization in the early 1990s, after returning to the neighborhood where she'd grown up and instead of finding the vibrant lower-middle class black community she had left behind, she found a neighborhood rife with abandoned homes, drugs, crime, and fear.

    The story of what happened next is best told on Walnut Way's own timeline, but here's a piece of it:

    "Dismayed at conditions in the neighborhood of her happy childhood, [Sharon Adams] asked for help to save a condemned turn-of the century home across the street from demolition. She reached out and found willing partners … a carpenter dedicated as she was to restoration of people and houses and places, even when he was threatened or his tools repeatedly stolen … a community development worker, caught up in the vision of what could be … neighbors and more. Her leadership and persistence worked. The house was restored, and sold to a first-time homebuyer. She started taking daily exercise walks in the neighborhood, waving, calling out to residents peeking out from behind their window curtains, isolated by fear. Over time, others …men, women, children… joined the walks, and talked of what they could do to recapture their neighborhood the way it 'used to be.'"

    "...The gun fire, drug trafficking and prostitution have virtually disappeared. Homes have been or are being restored. Sixty-five new homes have been constructed and occupied …construction is planned for 54 more new homes. High production gardens are cultivated annually, and a small tree nursery has been planted. People enjoy their neighborhood, meet and greet on the street …even at night! ... work and play together, and watch out for one another."

    Urban agriculture has been a key piece of Walnut Way's programs (see the rain barrels, fruit orchards, and bee hives pictured above). Sharon and others see community gardens, nutrition education, storm-water retention, shade-tree nurseries, and other environmental elements as key components of this urban revitalization program.  And from the looks of it, it's been wildly successful.

    This was the perhaps site that struck me most of all the places we visited during our workshop. As we were walking around the neighborhood, my friend AC said, "Anna, you know, you have to get back on the bus. You can't just stay here."  I guess it was pretty visible how much I was touched and inspired by the work that Walnut Way has done.

    How to carry these kind of projects into my own life, to use my skills and connections to make change like this happen, in collaborative ways?  That's the big question.

    Thursday, May 26, 2011

    Stories of Wild Rice

    When most of us eat, we think of the food as something that tastes good, something that provides us nutrients, sometimes as something that builds community.  But rarely is it something that is a product of our labor, that embodies physical work and longstanding tradition.

    In the case of many Upper Midwest Native American tribes and their relationship to wild rice, however, food is most centrally a product of labor.

    The Sokaogan Chippewa tribe of northeastern Wisconsin originally came to this land because of an Ojibwe prophecy that they would go to where "the food grows on water." And so, basing their livelihood on wild rice farming was a fulfillment of this prophecy.

    This is why the community was able to band together with such power and emotion when their waters were threatened by a proposed zinc-copper mine in nearby Crandon, WI.  Beginning in the 1980s, Exxon-Mobil, the world's largest resource corporation was hoping to build this mine near the Sokaogon Chippewa reservation, which would destroy "many wetlands, Ojibwe wild rice beds, Native burial sites, and prized trout, walleye and sturgeon in the Wolf River just downstream from the site."*

    I had the opportunity to hear the story of this proposed mine firsthand last week, when a place-based workshop I was part of came to talk with members of this community as a way of seeing a story of victory--of a small, dedicated group of people being able to overcome the huge giant of Exxon-Mobil. 


    Hearing the power and raw emotion with which the activists of the community spoke was very moving for all of us.  Roman Ferdinand, a hydrogeologist, (pictured above, standing on the left) does this work because of a conviction that the modern economy based on resource extraction and shortsightedness leaves us all worse off. Tina Van Zile, a community member and on staff at the Sokaogon Chippewa environmental department (pictured above, seated in the middle) does this work because her father has spent the last 70 years farming wild rice and feeding his family. Glenn Reynolds, a lawyer (picture above, seated at right), does this work because those usually harmed by multinational corporations' mining practices are those with the least power and least access to legal recourse. 

    Something as simple as wild rice becomes a symbol for goodness, justice, nurturing.


    I got to experience all of this as part of one of the more extraordinary trips of my grad school life. One of my most central homes--both academically and socially--here in Madison is the Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE), which is a part of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Each year in the spring, CHE puts on a "place-based workshop" (which Justin refers to as "a glorified field trip"). These workshops take a bus-ful of grad students and faculty to some site in the nearby area, to understand ideas, meet people, and see landscapes around some particular theme or place.  In the past, we've learned about energy in the Upper Midwest, Chicago and its hinterland (see my 2009 post about this trip), and Driftless area agriculture.

    This year, the workshop devoted time and attention to Landscapes of Health in Wisconsin, thinking about health in broad, integrated ways, with attention to the environment and justice.  The whole list of sites we visited includes: Badger Ammunitions Plant, International Crane Foundation, La Clinica, Central Wisconsin Environmental Station, Proposed Crandon Mine site at Mole Lake, College of Menominee, Menominee Casino Resort Convention Center, Paper Discovery Center, Lake Park, Linnwood Water Treatment Facility, Milwaukee Health Department, Sixteenth Street Community Health Clinic, and Walnut Way Conservation Corps (all in four days! Let me know if you want to hear more about any particular ones--I'll be writing tomorrow about Walnut Way).

    * See more here

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    Video Inspiration: How to Cook Quinoa

    I've been thinking a lot about the art of filmmaking lately, about its effectiveness as a medium for communicating a message, and about how much creative artfulness can play into this effectiveness.

    I came across this video from My New Roots about how to cook quinoa recently, and thought you all might enjoy it--both for its instructional value and its artistic qualities. Beautiful.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    Garden planning

    Although I'm still a total novice at garden planning, I spent a couple of hours putting together our 2011 garden plan a few days ago, and I figured I'd share my work, if only to get feedback and advice from those of you who know what you're doing. We've had a garden here at our condo for a couple of years now, but have approached it in a pretty haphazard way, throwing some random seedlings and seeds into the ground--ones we've acquired from friends, our CSA, or a seedling sale here or there.  We've focused pretty heavily on tomatoes and peppers and herbs, just because we know we love them all and have had success growing them. Last year, I started some seeds indoors, and had mild success in that venture, even without grow lights, but many of those plants got taken over by runaway squash.

    This year, we have an 8' x 10' plot, and I would like to try out the Square Foot Gardening technique, or some modified version of it. We're starting with sixteen tomato seedlings that I started from seed a couple of months ago, four sungold tomato seedlings that we recently bought at a Community GroundWorks plant sale, some herb seedlings from our CSA, and random seeds we have left over from previous years (which may or may not be good anymore).

    After using  a few resources to read about things like companion planting and situating taller plants on the North side of the garden and how many of each kind of plant can fit in a square foot, here's the sketch I came up with, in Excel:

    It's probably overly ambitious, but we'll give it a go, anyway!  The numbers on the right side of the image indicate how many seedlings of each variety can go in one square foot. Our tomatoes are all of the small variety, so I figure two squares per plant should work ok, even though larger varieties definitely need more like four squares per plant. I also hope to have a trellis along the back and right sides (west and north) of the garden, to help hold up the squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, and beans. We'll also probably do the remaining tomatoes and all the herbs in containers in our backyard.

    Here are some sites I found particularly useful in planning:

    Square Foot Gardening Plant Spacing
    Companion Planting
    Creating A (Square Foot) Garden Plan
    Martha Stewart on Seed Starting (though this looks really complicated!)

    Other resources, ideas, suggestions you all have to offer?! I'd very appreciative...

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    Hen Party

    As I think I've made pretty clear on this here blog of mine, I like food.  But I like food not only because it is delicious and thought-provoking and community-building, but also because it can be fun.

    And what says "fun" at a bachelorette/hen party more than penis-shaped food? (We could probably come up with many more things, but there's something so contradictorily amusing about a bunch of unconventional academics trying to re-enact mainstream traditions in a semi-ironic fashion, right?)

    My friend AW came back to Madison this week to attend a CHE place-based workshop (which I'll write more about soon) and to celebrate her impending nuptials with some folks around here.

    The evening was filled with phallic cheese plates and straw accessories:

    Delicious food in the appropriate shapes: asparagus, zucchini, baguette, manicotti (the latter covered with  ooey gooey cheese and flavorful mushroom-tomato sauce in the third photo below):

    ...and some sausages. AW was not allowed to cut any of her food during the whole night.

    And finally, a beautiful cake with candy decorations:

    But in addition to all that immature, giggle-inducing food, there were also some foods of the rounder variety, and a whole lot of warmth and love.

    Roasted vegetable salad, roasted garlic, and rhubarb custard pie:

    All of us (including Rufus the dog) first enjoyed the crisp spring weather over appetizers and then served dinner at a table with a spread right out of a magazine (doesn't that middle photo just make you want to come join?! It almost looks posed...):

    Gathering over food and companionship and humor seems like a pretty good way to lead into married life, eh?

    Happy upcoming wedding and marriage, AW and PE!

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Walnut Burgers

    Although there are lots of veggie burgers out there that hit the spot (if not Boca), perhaps my favorite is a walnut burger that we first tried at a local diner, Monty's Blue Plate, when we moved to Madison, and have been enjoying ever since.

    After heading to this diner again and again just to eat these burgers, we learned that they're actually made by the Trempeleau Hotel in western Wisconsin, and that the hotel sells these burgers, frozen, through various outlets in Wisconsin, including our very own co-op! Since this awesome discovery, we've been buying them and cooking them ourselves at home. I recently just found that you can also buy them online, here! So, if and when we move from Madison, we won't have to despair for too long.

    What would be even cooler, of course, is if we could figure out how to make these babies ourselves at home. Considering the ingredients (walnuts, cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, bread crumbs, organic tamari, organic eggs, canola oil, herbs and spices), my guess is that these burgers are way fattier than food we usually make, but it's totally worth it.

    There are lots of walnut burger recipes out there, but I haven't found any just yet that have a list of ingredients resembling our favorite version (although there's one here, in the ninth comment, that looks similar--if anyone tries it, let me know!)

    Perhaps that will be a project for the summer? Come up with a perfect walnut burger recipe? Yes!

    Read more about these famed walnut burgers on a whole website devoted to them: www.walnutburger.com.

    Thursday, May 19, 2011


    I've recently discovered a new website that is awesome--both for inspiration, and for wasting lots of time. It's called Pinterest, and is basically a virtual corkboard where you can collect images from around the web, and share them with friends. It's great because it captures the link to the original page, so you can follow any image to its original source for more information.

    And you can organize your pinned photos by theme onto different boards. So, I've of course made one for Food, but also ones for Homemade Presents, for Home Inspiration, and more.  Check out all my boards, and if you sign up for Pinterest, let me know, so we can follow one another!

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Noodles with Soy Sauce

    Our favorite restaurant in Madison (which totally deserves its own post before too long) has one dish that's gotta win the award for "most flavorful dish with the most boring name": Noodles with Soy Sauce.

    For a while now, Justin has been trying to recreate this dish at home. And although each incarnation has been delicious, it's been quite difficult to recreate the real deal, so we've taken to calling this dish "Spicy Noodles" instead.  After lots of requests from me, Justin finally committed this dish to a written recipe for my Flavors of Madison cookbook.

    Spicy Noodles

    One small/medium onion, finely diced
    2 large cloves garlic, crushed or diced
    1 serrano chile
    1 large head broccoli
    1 cup chopped mushrooms (optional)
    4 T sambal oolek chili paste
    1 T Sriracha
    1 T soy sauce
    2 T Hoisin sauce
    1 T Toasted sesame oil
    1 T sugar
    ½ cup water
    1 block tofu
    3 eggs

    Chop the tofu, marinate it in tastiness of some sort, and toss it in the toaster oven while you do the other stuff.  Chop the onion, serrano, and garlic, and saute together in a little oil for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, start the noodles a' boilin'.  Steam the broccoli and mushrooms over the noodles while they cook, for 5-7 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix together the oolek, sriracha, soy sauce, hoisin, sesame oil, sugar and water in a bowl.  (You can add peanut butter if desired.)  When they are ready, throw the veggies and tofu in with the onions (which should still be cooking).  Add 3 scrambled eggs and stir continuously until egg is cooked.  Toss in the noodles and the sauce.  Cook another 2 minutes or so and serve hot.  Grunt at whoever you are serving it to.*

    *An homage to our favorite server at Vientiane Palace, who also deserves a post of her own. Soon!

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    The Vegetannual: Seasonal Eating

    In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver offers a really useful image to help us think about seasonality and when different fruits and vegetables will be ripe and reading for the eating. She calls it the vegetannual.

     She suggests that the seasonal nature of vegetables follows the general development of one single plant itself: from leaves to green fruits to colorful fruits and back to roots again. I find it a really lovely and satisfying image.

    In her own words:

    "To recover an intuitive sense of what will be in season throughout the year, picture a season of foods unfolding as if from one single plant. Take a minute to study this creation--an imaginary plant that bears over the course of one growing season a cornucopia of all the different vegetable products we can harvest. We’ll call it a vegetannual. Picture its life passing before your eyes like a time-lapse film: first, in the cool early spring, shoots poke up out of the ground. Small leaves appear, then bigger leaves. As the plant grows up into the sunshine and the days grow longer, flower buds will appear, followed by small green fruits. Under midsummer’s warm sun, the fruits grow larger, riper, and more colorful. As days shorten into the autumn, these mature into hard-shelled fruits with appreciable seeds inside. Finally, as the days grow cool, the vegetannual may hoard the sugars its leaves have made, pulling them down into a storage unit of some kind: a tuber, bulb, or root.

    So goes the year. First come the leaves: spinach, kale, lettuce, and chard (here, that's April and May). Then more mature heads of leaves and flower heads: cabbage, romaine, broccoli, and cauliflower (May-June). Then tender young fruit-set: snow peas, baby squash, cucumbers (June), followed by green beans, green peppers, and small tomatoes (July). Then more mature, colorfully ripened fruits: beefsteak tomatoes, eggplants, red and yellow peppers (late July-August). Then the large, hard-shelled fruits with developed seeds inside: cantaloupes, honeydews, watermelons, pumpkins, winter squash (August-September). Last come the root crops, and so ends the produce parade."

    Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable Miracle, (New York: Harper Collins, 2007), p. 64

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    New Page: How-To

    In my continuing effort to make this blog more usable, I've just added a new How-To page, at the top of the blog, along with the About Me, About this Blog, and Recipes. "Ongoing Projects" still to come!

    I don't quite know which direction this How-To page will go, but I've just begun by adding a few links to posts that describe certain methods that might be nice to have bookmarked and highlighted in a special way.  Please let me know if there are other posts that you think would fit in well!

    And again, if you have any suggestions about the blog more broadly--types of posts you like best, recipes you'd like to see, questions you have, food topics you want to know more about--please do let me know!

    Friday, May 13, 2011

    Slow Food UW Cookbook

    I recently wrote a couple of articles for the Slow Food UW Hands-On Cookbook--a really neat compilation of all the recipes from the group's Family Dinner Nights, along with articles about practical-food related skills. You can download the whole thing here, for free!

    And here are the articles I wrote (on pages 36 and 52 of the cookbook), about Pressure Cooking (which I've written about before) and about Canning (which you're sure to read more about soon). Click on the images to enlarge them for easier reading.


    Thursday, May 12, 2011

    End of the GreenHouse Year

    After talking about backyard chickens and eating ethical chocolate, the GreenHouse year really came to a close with the End-of-Year Banquet, which took place in the beautiful Allen Centennial Gardens on a few warm hours that we managed to squeeze out of this cold and wet spring. The tulips were starting to bloom, and little buds were peeking out all around.

    But even the oncoming signs of spring weren't as hopeful or as heartwarming as the closing reflections offered by our faculty director and program director:

    ...and by a few eloquent GreenHouse residents.

    These members of the GreenHouse community spoke of what this year meant to them, of how much their freshman years of college had been forever shaped by the experience of living in this dorm that offers unparalleled resources and environmental ideas and community.  I was really moved by this short speeches, by hearing from the student themselves how much it meant to be engaged and stimulated not only in the classroom, but also in their dorms. I've spent a lot of my time in the GreenHouse thinking about how valuable the Housing side of things is, in addition to the classroom side of things. So much learning that happens in college happens in those late-night conversations in the hallways of your dorm, over a meal in the dining hall, as you brush your teeth in the communal bathrooms (and muse over whether to floss before or after brushing), and so on.  So, shouldn't part of our job as educators be to become part of those conversations as well? To help students carry their intellectual and personal exploration into their college lives as a whole? I don't know exactly what form that sort of teaching can take, but I'd love to be part of it one way or another...

    But after these thoughtful reflections, we jumped into the food, which was one of the tastiest and best-sourced meals, prepared by Housing Dining Services, that I've ever eaten. After reading Mark Bittman's post this week about cafeteria food, I was especially excited to see the UW folks sourcing ingredients locally, and forefronting plant-based foods.

    The appetizers included this spread of roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, olives, and four kinds of cheese:
    Then there were at least five different kinds of greens for a make-your-own salad bar. I wasn't even sure what all of these were!  Watercress, sunflower sprouts, spinach...? Any other ideas?

    And finally, bread from local Madison bakeries, toppings for the salad greens, and veggie (and chicken) kebabs.

    Ooh, and I didn't get to take a photo of the awesome cheesecake with rhubarb sauce that closed out the meal in style.

    As we ate our fresh food and looked out at the tulips blooming amid a community of promising students, I honesty felt hopeful about the direction of at least some of our education in this country, despite the very real need for change.*  I hope to figure out a way to be part of this education, and of this change.

    *My ever-thoughtful friend Kroy has been writing recently about alternatives to traditional education: here, here, and here.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    Kallari Cooperative: Ethical Chocolate

    Continuing the stretch of final GreenHouse events (with one more to go, tomorrow), our final Global Food for Thought Meal was focused on Ecuadorian cuisine and the Kallari Cooperative, a group of cacao farmers who also produce their own organic and sustainable (and delicious!) chocolate.

    Although for previous dinners (as with the ones focused on Tuscany, on Hunger, on Nepal, on Indonesian/Vegetarian cuisine), the guest chefs or the Housing and Dining Services staff had come up with the menu, I actually came up with this Ecuadorian menu all myself, with the help of a lot of online research and a great blog I discovered that featured a lot of food from Ecuador.

    I developed a menu that featured a range of popular dishes in Ecuador, but that was also feasible, given the constraints of the Dining Services labor and resources:

    The plantain chips, aji criollo, pickled red onions, and mango juice:

    The ensalada mixta, locro with avocado, and cod ceviche:

    There was also spiced rice and mushroom ceviche (not pictured).

    After the delicious dinner, the representatives from the Kallari Cooperative began the presentation and chocolate tasting.  They brought us a plate with two different kind of cocoa powders, 9 pieces of chocolate*, and one cocoa bean (which you can see bitten in half in the third photo below). They first had a presentation about how Kallari makes chocolate, and why it is so much more equitable and good for the farmers than any other chocolate out there, and we then had a blind taste test, in which we tried Kallari chocolate in comparison with other fair trade or organic brands. I'll describe it all in more detail below, but the bottom line: Kallari was the most delicious of all. So smooth and with such complex flavor, but without any bitterness at all. Yum.

    The basic picture of chocolate is bleak.  According to The Bitter Truth, "most chocolate sold in the U.S. comes from cocoa farms where farmers work in unsafe conditions, receive below poverty wages, many of them children under 14 years old who are forced to work and denied education," not to mention the environmental impacts of unsustainable cacao farming. This applies to the 90+% of chocolate that is produced by the same three huge food conglomerates whose names you hear over and over, if you're the sort of person to read up on the food industry (Cargill and ADM among them)--this includes pretty much all conventional chocolate brands: Hershey, Mars, etc.

    But another sad part, and something new I learned at the chocolate tasting, is that even the so-called "good food" chocolate brands are still not all that "good," at least according to these Kallari folks. Dagoba is owned by Hershey, Endangered Species chocolate apparently gives 0% of its earnings to actual endangered species, Green & Black's is owned by Kraft, and on and on.  I'm not certain about all of these claims, and you should definitely research them or let me know if you know more about this, but it was certainly a sobering list.

    Kallari, in contrast, is one of the few chocolate makers that controls the whole process from the bean to the chocolate paste to the bar to the selling of the bars themselves to international markets. As one of the speakers said “each step closer to the processing and marketing aspects of the chocolate making doubles the income for Kallari." By unifying the growing of cocoa beans with the processing and production of chocolate, the native Kichwa people of Ecuador are able to make a decent living.  Please read more about Kallari on their website, and through this New York Times profile, When Chocolate is a Way of Life, and through this treehugger article, A Sweeter Truth: Making Organic Fair Trade Chocolate in Ecuador.

    And pick up a bar at your local Whole Foods to enjoy the ethical deliciousness!

    * I was missing one! The more observant readers among you will notice that I only have 8 pieces of chocolate on the plate in the photo above.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Backyard Chickens and Quiche

    The final Make-Your-Own Meal Night that I organized at the GreenHouse featured Quiche and a talk on backyard chickens by our egg-providers, MH and NO. (The previous MYO nights, which you can read more about, featured Burritos, Winter Vegetables, and Sushi.)

    MH brought eggs from her chickens, Phoenix and Big Red, and the GreenHousers tried to identify whether they could tell a difference from the backyard chicken eggs and those I bought at the co-op (also organic, free-range, relatively local, and from small-ish chicken farms). Can you observe any differences? Any guesses as to which is which?

    I brought all the crusts and fillings for the quiches pre-prepped and the students just mixed up the custard and assembled the quiches, according to Mollie Katzen's formula.

    While the quiche-y goodness baked, MH and NO gave an entertaining and enlightening talk to a small group of GreenHouse students about the joys, the trials, and the ins and outs of raising backyard chickens.  They shared the sad story of two of their other original flock, they showed photos of their new baby chicks (so tiny!), and they made it all seem so easy and so fun. If you'd like to know more, two books that come highly recommended are City Chicks and Raising Chickens for Dummies.

    After admiring photos of baby chicks and talking shop, our quiches were finally finished! On the left are some mini vegetarian Quiche Lorraines that one of the GH students made, while on the left are three of the four quiches I prepared the fillings for. Clockwise from the top: a mushroom-broccoli quiche, a spinach-artichoke quiche, and an asparagus quiche. The last one, that was still finishing off in the oven, was a corn-bell pepper version.

    We scarfed down these quiches, along with a green salad and chocolate chip cookies, over conversation and shared interests, ending the final MYO Meal Night on a beautiful, clear note. 

    But I'll be back next year as the GreenHouse Food Intern once more, so it's only goodbye for now!

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    Mama's Ikra: Eggplant Spread

    Ever since 1984, my beautiful Mama and I have been holding each other tight (though I no longer fit so comfortably in the crook of her arm).

    In honor of yesterday's Mothers' Day (notice the apostrophe placement!), I'd like to share one of my mother's recipes, and to thank her for how much she has done to shape me. So much of what I am--especially as a cook, as a nurturer, and as a confident woman--can be attributed to the example she has set throughout my life.

    This dish, known as eggplant "caviar" in Russia, is one that my Mama made throughout my childhood, and was a favorite of mine, slathered on fresh-baked bread.  It was pretty much the only way I had ever eaten eggplant, so I was in for a rude shock the first time I tried some spongy, bland eggplant vegetarian entree at a restaurant. What was this imposter standing in for the eggplant I knew and loved?

    And although I have since learned to enjoy eggplant cooked in a variety of ways, this dish is still my favorite, still the one that calls me home, and reminds me of all the love and talent that my mom put into all the food she has ever prepared for me, or for anyone who has been lucky enough to join her at the dining table.

    Mama is a diligent follower of this blog, so if you have questions for her about this recipe, leave them in the comments for her to answer! (and hopefully she'll be back soon with a guest post of her own). Enjoy.

    Eggplant spread, "Baklazhannaya Ikra"
    • Two medium eggplants (of the large, deep purple variety)
    • Two medium onions, chopped
    • Two large carrots, grated
    • Two large tomatoes, chopped
    • One can tomato sauce
    • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
    • Salt, black pepper, sugar, fresh parsley and dried oregano, to taste
    • Olive oil
    1. Wash eggplants, make slits in the tops and bake them at 350-375F for 45 min or until eggplant looks shrunken.(While the eggplant bakes, move to Step 3).
    2. Let the eggplant cool and squeeze the liquid out. Then, peel the skins off. Put in food processor and pulse several times until it looks like cooked oatmeal. (At this point it does not look appealing...but wait until you see the finished product).
    3. While baking eggplant, heat oil in a large skillet and add the garlic to enrich the oil. Saute the chopped onions in enriched oil (the amount of oil is up to you, I use a small amount). Transfer this onion-garlic mixture to a bowl.
    4. Saute grated carrot in the same skillet (you can add some more oil).
    5. Combine all of the above (steps 1-3) in the same skillet, add chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt, pepper and cook for about 30 min. mixing gently. Add water if needed to keep spreadable consistency. I sometimes add a pinch of sugar (½ tsp or so) if the carrot didn’t add enough sweetness. And I also add garlic, if people like it. Add fresh parsley and oregano and any other herbs you like.
    6. You can eat it as a side dish or spread it on bread. In any case it will be mouthwatering!