Sunday, August 25, 2013

Food Passion or Food Fashion?

pockmarked and disregarded; an apple in a world of glossy food photographs.

Food passion or food fashion?..In a week of focusing on the 2013 Zero Food Waste Week, there will be many angles from which to see the way our ingrained appetites affect our impacting waste environment; and enlarging waists.

Tradition rides on the back of hunger, and as historical observers can attest, waves of famines have carried poor nutritional habits to perdition. The most notable in the last centuries being Ireland and Darfur, passing by Biaffra. For every mother who has ever invoked the sight of bony starvelings to induce her children to happily taste their fare, there is a larger truth behind the despair of food waste.

Those reading from a conveniently located screen may have to use imagination to feel the full weight of near starvation. Several agricultural movements have imbalanced food production since global trading began. Larger, more powerful means of cultivation and transportation made it too easy to manipulate the markets.

For millenia, middlemen have conspired to speed up growth and containment of food distribution. I obtain sugar from Hawaii, cloves from Zanzibar or vanilla purely extracted of Jamaican exotic! Recipes goad me to use more of each, more of every ingredient at each social turn of event. Spice of life means raking, prodding earth and utilizing distant resources, human and otherwise. I can' t lose one single gram of these precious commodities. That's sacrilegious!

Foodies are the new gourmets, they have brought culinary arts to the doorstep of every reader of cuisine blogs. Digital photography has enhanced saliva secretion over wide publications across the entire planet. I am sure there is a Jivaro, right now, sitting in a hammock under a thatch roof, thumbing through delicious shots of head cheese on pickled grape leaves from Greece, elegantly displayed on silver platters.

Satellite communications disregard political frontiers to the point of elevating expectations in any random area. Discontent rises with technological progress. Grandma grumbles when dial-up slows down her new recipe download. Neighbors find better cookie patterns. Teachers make funnier faces on their weekly cupcakes. Food fashion is out of control...and who's gonna clean up the mess? I mean THE mess. Shipping miles, oil spills, mechanical problems, trucker's motel bills, somebody's gotta pay for all that. Somebody' s gonna get hungry for that.

Ask any kid in lunch line if he knows where his food is coming from and you won't need to switch on the comedy channel for a month. His parents are so alienated from the farmers, packers or milkers that it' s very easy for him to chuck the food in the bin. Oh the waste! Where is Darfur again? Oh yeah, I forgot, children starve there, the school holds a subscription to National Geographic; so I am aware.

Food waste is not just about hunger, it is about the damaging attitudes growing as fast as mold around us. It is not the half bun, the bread crust or the apple with one bite out of it sticking out of the lunch box. It is about the lack of pleasure in the face of the child. It' s about the disgust in the adult's eye in the cereal aisle. How about the sadness in my eye when I pass what should be fresh and local foods, now imprisoned under plastic wrap with cartoon figures winking at short wailing beggars from the shopping basket seat.

Time to give credit to my own, I've never had to poke or prod mine to clean their plates, they left very little reason to wash dishes at all. No matter what was served straight from garden or desert. OK, the burnt meat did not pass the test, how could I ever forget that? and one still doesn't like watermelon. But I waste here!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Zero Waste prep post.

What binds writers and readers together in any measure is the humanity. I wish to approach the experience of Zero Waste Week from such a standpoint; not as a scientific exposé. The only research I will rely on is empiric - mine by will or accident, (and I 've had plenty of the later). My whole kitchen, my entire life has been a more or less joyful experiment in living according to the laws of nature, rather than strictly those of mere men.
 these tiny toms were ready for chutney...

I suspect our attitudes are formed early, eating habits seem ingrained by age two, oh yes I have observed lots of these little creatures that spit and squawk at the sight of vegetables..I 've been subjected to amazing restaurant displays of wee ones screaming for something 'other' than what they were served. And don't forget the parents, scoffing at a perfectly presentable dish of magnificent look behind the eatery and you' ll find all these wonderful cuts of expensive items, some nearly intact; that's enough to make a zero waster march back in and shove the indecent leftovers in the large purses of the offensive patrons.. alright I never have acted on such unsociable impulses..just indulging my wild imagination here.

Waste is no longer acceptable on a planet carrying more than seven billion people, oof! That's a lot of mouths. Think that I can instantaneously feel guilty when I must send rough peelings to the soil enrichment program; compost pile or bin..well it is a rare day when I put in more than eggshells and coffee grounds or tea leaves on there. My usual installments run along the truly indigestible or the rare rancid range of neglect. In the days when I had a VITAMIX, a superb blender by name, I included eggshells and banana peels in the smoothies for calcium phosphates and potassium. Although I did not enunciate each mineral benefit, my children still benefited of a free science lesson at every meal. It worked! Oh yes, they still eat well, in fine health.
this is the recycled industrial vacuum container for food and paper waste compost bin; see it works!

My humble secondhand blender makes use of overripe fruits and end-of-cycle vegetables. Many speedy wonders can be performed with past-their-prime veges. For example, cukes and kale leaves for a spontaneous creamy vichyssoise cold soup; just add sour cream, sea salt, pepper or in my case, a garlic clove. For Zero Waste Week, I shall drop some taste hints about more successful ways to make-do-make good recipes to avoid any waste of ANY FOOD..math tells me that zero means nada, none, zilch. That's always been my subconscious aim.

Morality does not necessarily motivate the act of saving foodstuffs, frugality plays a part in the daily activity of an inveterate saver, of course..but I believe the innate gratitude of a person remains an inherent factor in that kind of behavior toward natural resources. Well, natural has become a 'relative term' in GMO parlance. Unless you have lots of free time or money to shop carefully, you may be saving something more than organic substance. Unless you grow your own (I mean foods) you run the flexible risk of adopting unknown ingredients to sustain bodies and minds.

So, are we ready to face a whole week of No waste? Easy for me to say; this coincides with a huge cache of garden harvest. I am the fortunate recipient of gorgeous tomatoes and cucumbers from folks who appreciate my utter appreciation of their bounty. And then I have my own squash and onions, melons and grapes, apples or pears. What is a cook to do? Can-can-can do. I will illustrate the lazy kitchen maid's way to preserve goodies, so that only tails and apple worms are returned to such generous dirt as I am glad to have right here in compost heaven... 

Read you later! Comments are a rich source of innovation; crossing toes, hoping to learn and enjoy.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Going to Zero Waste Week.

In a very productive year on my food agenda, I dare not complain. In 2013 yardening (that's turning your yard into a garden with a Y)  has been proven to satisfy my chewing muscles. Now, how do I store and eat all of this abundance? There shall be no waste in this household. I aim to starve the compost pile and put the worms on a diet. This is my 'Zero Waste Week pledge!

Although I have been a near zero waster for all of my conscious life, I find there is some possibility of refining the art of home foods management. My inspiration is kept current by reading the writings of Rachelle Strauss, aka, Mrs green at My Zero Waste blog. She is a diligent router of all manner of wasteful behavior and a positive influence on the path to personal or corporate responsibility. Her honest and thorough posts, her family videos and tips incite readers to reduce, use, re-use or recycle all that is bought.

The annual event of ' Zero Waste Week' is coming up in September and I am ready to join the fray. Not exactly a frenzy as I live in a far off rural community, but accessible by medium low tech laptop the second of next month, I should have enough photos and how-to's to satisfy the do-it-yourself saver of precious nutritional resources. Please follow the recycled brick path to my yarden and climb the wooden stairs to the kitchen for a peak at how a french born writer remains dedicated to some modicum of preservation.

Mind set at zero: no cement block necessary to keep freezer door locked, no double stacking canned goods or jars of preserves in the gluttonous cupboards. I am saving for a food dryer < next year>.

Meanwhile back at our humble home;
dried foods take much less space than canned goods, so, I thread a needle with strong cotton and pass it through the goodies..usually in the center because it is unnerving to have to pick up your gardening efforts from the floor, no matter how clean it is..and a pitiful picture of me on all fours blowing dust before the project is completely ruined. 'True Grit' is a movie, not a crunchy food alternative.

Washed and towel dried mushrooms Agarics, boletus, chanterelles or morels, or cleaned, cubed fruit, apple slices, pears, apricots, plums or veges such as peppers, carrots, rutabaga, winter squash, all keep well when sliced thin enough to dry in a day or two for good measure. Hang in convenient area, away from walking patterns ( our basement has adequate ventilation, so I can suspend my scrumptious garlands from the beams with strong nails, of course) and set a fan on high, till the poor veges and fruits of the land are reduced to shriveling remnants of their former beauty.

To store the winter treats, I loosely roll some around in a bowl of cinnamon sugar for snacks, or simply stack the thinly sliced yellow or green squash in clean, dry glass jars, store in darkest corners of shelves to add to soups, sauces or use as dip chips..mmm!

For my flop of the day, I confess that tomatoes have not been my most successful drying experiment; they slid off, squished together and ultimately ran away with molds and mildews prior to joining some other failed trial in the very forgiving compost area. Someone has to feed the beneficial nematodes?

Reminder to self—save for food dryer-- <or make one out of wood slats and nylon screen, plus fan>. Plan to shrink a few exotics when on sale..kiwis, pineapples, bananas, seedless grapes, mangoes, papayas, quince..I think I hear the strawberries squirming in their patch out back!

I am definitely no joiner, but this is something I can use to sharpen my ecological muscles.
Zero Waste Week, Sept 2-8 2013.wherever you are..on facebook or at

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Snailing Night

Snailing night.

Looking in the mirror, I see the ten year old girl that I was. Stringy blond strands fighting straw like underbrush, brown, bronze and wet. A large childish smile parked on dark laughing eyes, I am rain, I am happiness. Can't wait to gross out my friends with my old recipes.

As I pull weeds in the garden, beset with a week of strong storms, I find the American Midwest akin to my temperate humid Southwestern France. I am that child again, standing in the narrow plot behind the house in Angoulême. Feet ensconced in rubber galoshes, I track mud in the paths between vegetables and flowers. It is getting dark and the chill of relentless rain penetrates perception to the bone.

I have set the upturned clay pots amid the thick vegetation and will return after supper to find what the traps have collected. I shake my red raincoat before hanging it on its hall hook, untie my rain cap, slip the overshoes off, and check for moisture on my felt house slippers before stepping on the bees-waxed floor. The strict protocol routine brings comfort in its predictability.

Dinner served, dishes done, I swiftly grab the one rectangular flashlight from the kitchen cupboard, there are some distant rumblings in the sky to the west. I know the sound of nature, little frogs pip in the lilacs, birds stir and shake feathers in the fat peach tree.Facing south the first cloche hides amid Swiss chards, I lift it carefully as if snails could or would run away; the light reveals a good dozen large snails, I pluck them from the safety of their newfound shelter. Guilty, yet hungry for more, checking under dripping plants, I skip from pot to pot, raise them from the rocks I have set them on, drop snails into my wire basket, their new cage.  Tremble and tumble, I moan and bite my lip at every find.

By the time I have walked the entire distance to the last one on the metal shavings pathways, the basket is heavy with the globes of brown striped common snails. A local delicacy. I have done my pesticidal duty, these won't eat our prized endives anymore. I swing the basket of live prey and apologize to them for imprisoning them in this ancient wire structure. I close the lid on them and on my conscience in one swift gesture, click! And there I go trotting to the kitchen, proud of my bounty.

Ah, not too bad says father lifting his demi-tasse cup of dark chicory that smells of Armagnac. Now the spiraling helixes will go on a fast till all fecal detritus is expelled from their systems. Down the basement, I set the tall tower on a newspaper in the ambient darkness for them to become lean and hungry. For us to satisfy a gustatory taste for rare delicacies. I bow my head in hesitant apology.

A week later I bring the terrestrial shells up to the slaughterhouse that will be the kitchen table. I check for dead ones by poking them tenderly with the point of my knife. My Pradel knife finds only two lame victims of this practice to return to the compost pile. The rest are washed in salt water, left to salivate and froth for an hour. Then I must drop them in boiling water, pull the basket up in two minutes and proceed to extract them from the shells. Wash them carefully, as the cooked creatures will be served in these.

Meanwhile I peel garlic, two entire cloves, chop parsley, two whole handfuls, heat olive oil in the sauce pan, throw the minced garlic in, stir till brown, sprinkle a handful of flour over it and pour white wine in it till the sauce thickens—not too thick- not too thin, not a single add the parsley, just in time to present at table. Perch platter on tile, add the snails and gently enrobe them with the sauce, grind pepper and sea salt over it. Cover and wait.

The plate full of scallions and fresh radishes, celery blades and carrot wedges with three salt wells full of gray Atlantic sea salt is empty, the hors-d'oeuvres plate removed, the shellfish forks installed, I majestically lift the lid off the terrine and exclaim “bon appètit!” I serve father first, line up the thin two pronged wood handled fork perpendicular with the small knife. With great care, I raise the sauce ladle full of the gourmet entree; I am not breathing, nor looking at anything but the steam rising from the centerpiece. The aroma intense in the small kitchen, the sun rays at right angles through sheer curtains, mother sits motionless on her woven reed chair. Hands on apron, I neither budge, nor blink. The suspense unbearable. The tiny fork travels slowly to his lips, I see the dark stubble of evening beard on his chin, I spy the teeth which will tell of the effort I have made.

Now I serve mother, then sit myself, no word, she takes a second bite, kicks my leg under the table. She pushes a flour lump on the side of her plate, slides her tongue on her teeth as if something distasteful had bothered her sensibilities, I dare not take a taste as yet. Just as I inhale, “ ça va, pas mal! Un peu trop salé” ( Ok, not too bad; slightly too salty) father tilts his head in cockeyed approval. I hold a runaway smile under tight lip. Mother silently keeps hunting for lumps with croutons impaled to fork. I plunge into the rare dish and savor each rubbery morsel closing my eyes at every bite, separating the flavors on my palate, grainy garlic, pungent parsley, gray spirals of smooth protein, and the semi-sweetness of the slowly simmered wine lingers on the memory.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Sunchokes: Jerusalem Artichokes, growing and eating them

Sunchokes: Jerusalem Artichokes, growing and eating them.
image credit urban artichoke. com

it is now late spring and the Jerusalem artichokes are poking out from under late snows, the old mulch has melted into fertile cover and keeps weeds from showing up. I am still eating some of the roots, plants are ready for summer shade and shine..they look so perky in yellow crowns on my kitchen table.

Just as a child with a sunny disposition can bring joy in the house, the sunchoke plant is a source of moments of happiness in the garden. From spring buds to tall spikes blooming bright yellow above one's head, there are many stages and uses for this humble vegetable. Easy to plant and to nurture; no fuss, or fertilizer, add a little neglect, some water by its feet in dry summer makes the morning happy offers nutritional benefits as well as sheltering properties.

Plant against a wall and find the temperatures drop within the dwelling. Put a few tubers 4 inches into any well drained soil and reap a free crop, sunchokes are prolific. A perennial resurgence of this abundant food source makes it convenient as bean stalks or permaculture favorite. A few small tubers in winter or spring in a sad corner and a fiesta of small sunflower heads by August. To hide compost bins, to soften the wind on prized flowers. Harvest by October onward, the tubers stay underground under 2-4 inches of any mulch all winter-long; a fresh meal at the ready, lift mulch, dig out tubers, leave the rest under leaves, straw, coffee grounds and eggshells for later.

Cooking sunchokes is like preparing potatoes: clean with brush and running water, boil till tender(approx 15 minutes) water will turn a bluish-green color.
Baking is tastier as flavors are concentrated, put them in roasting pan, spray with a little olive oil, add sea salt. Bake for 30-45 minutes at 375 That's all. Carrots and celery make great roasting companions for the small tubers.

Mashed sunchokes are tender treats, depending on texture preferences, you may wish to use a blender on small burst of pulse, till peels have disappeared add a beaten egg and dash of milk and sourcream the creamy substance. Again carrots and parsnips make great additives to this dish. Sprinkle with parmesan, or gruyere, parsley flakes, turmeric and garlic powder.

There is a hint of fennel subliminal aroma to the sunchoke, close your eyes and search for the food memory bank to sort out this delicate perfume, is it licorice? Is it celery like? The unique savor is intriguing especially when stir-fried with other root vegetables. Add a dash of soya sauce or sesame oil.
image credit urban
I must add that topinambours or topines as these are called in France are not always welcome to the table; the farm wife next door explained to us that they had eaten so many of them during the war, she never wanted them to come inside her kitchen—in any form- not even in a bouquet. “ non merci! These are for the rabbits”.

I like rabbit food, so I appreciate such delicacies as a salad of grated sunchokes with dressing of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard , wine vinegar and grape-seed oil. Sea salt and pepper to taste. Serve alone or add to tuna salad, potato salad or green salad, it tastes nutty and crunchy.

For a quick snack, slice sunchokes thinly, and make a dip out of sourcream, crushed bean or humus, green onion, parsley leaves and celery leaves chopped very small. Sea salt and pepper, perhaps some curry spice or garlic powder if preferred.

The tubers hold anti-diabetic properties as they contain inulin ( not insulin) the digestive qualities of this root vegetable make it a must for the table of the conscious gourmet, it is economic to grow; why not plant just a few in a sunny location or partial shade and watch it thrive. will take you to delectable imagery, the word sunchokes evokes many a dish and myriad blooms of heliantis, the sun flower. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

If it' s April, Must be Water Month!

If it's April, must be Water Month!

Every few minutes, I turn the spigot on, to wash hands, scrub vegetables, rinse rags or brush my shoes. Then I fill the bathtub, schedule a full load in the machine, easy come, easy waste! No, this is the house of waste not, by choice or by conscience, every drop still counts. Tub water will be bucketed out and metted among thirsty individual plants in the garden, dish water will nourish daylillies and apple trees. To each a purpose and a re-purpose. I carry with me ancestral habits and pride.

For my own primary family in the city, water was an economic necessity measured in francs. Every jet from the one kitchen spigot was accounted and regulated by the finance expert known as “mother”; that was where I learned to soak and boil laundry, turn off water between vigorous tooth brushing or face washing. Every basin's worth of precious liquid rendered its weight upon my conscience or more precisely my fear of accountability in the parental eye .

The rural perspective of water presented me with a more pleasant alternative, it was easier to measure the cost of water by its actual weight in the bucket and its physical exertion ratio as I had to pump the stuff from a rotary iron wheel made for men to fill a large container above. The water would then flow trough a two and a half foot limestone wall by way of a thick metal pipe. Water was cold, straight from an underground stream, a well of endless possibility, virtual treasure. Gratis too.

I fondly recollect feeding and watering of grandmother's animals with the free liquid, a large iron mouth would pour through the cemented ditch, a modern invention of my uncle's, it would run down to the lower echelons of the barnyard, all the way to the pig sty, i' d beat the chickens to the pooling pond, a frenzy of fur and feathers, dog, cats and assorted fowl, honking, and cackling about me. What glorious relief these chores were from whatever misery weather had wrought upon us that day. I would carry a bucket and a ladle to allocate some to each of three hundred very thirsty rabbits as well.

At day's end, I would bring sheep home to the barns and fill their troughs. It was my duty to make sure that the cows had functioning watering plates, to the right of each stall where the cattle were chained, I pressed the iron plate to watch the water fill the bowl. Then let the animal slurp to see if it refilled automatically. This was another invention of note..the self waterer, I was elated not to have to carry the water in the stables.

Another endearing sign of progress was the outdoor shower my uncle had designed, a rudimentary shed with no roof, a large iron kettle atop, secured by great beams, the water was hot by afternoon, too hot for me. It poured on command through some complex device which I had to yank; if too hot, I ran out with clothes still on, added some cool water with hose and tried again before disrobing. Making sure the neighborhood boys were far away was the hard part, and unwelcome distraction.

Creeks and sloughs were of equally free spirited benefit, I waded in the luxury, splashed and careened through sun or storm with legs and skirts drenched in the primordial necessity, carefree. This was love, cold or warm, from Ocean to clear spring, it was health, abundance unmeasured.

later, rinsing my own children's clothes in the creek was a distinct advantage, I felt complete and caring, for the purity of the water, the sound of rushing over stones and the smell of hydrogenated goodness, oxygen at work on hands and cloth. What pleasures, what privilege. I miss the contact, senses alive with need and fulfillment; the stuff of life! I shall return with continuing personal evolution of water consciousness across that Ocean and into the desert