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Jan 26, 2009

CSA Makes it Easier to Eat Sustainably

A Fennel BulbA Fennel Bulb

You've probably heard about Community-Supported Agriculture---a clever way to support your local farmers. My friend (and stepmother) Alberta has recently begun enjoying the fruits and vegetables of a local farmer through CSA, so I invited her to do a guest post about her experience. Here she is:

In January, The Stockton Record published an article on "Community Supported Agriculture," or CSA. By joining up with a local, participating farm, you agree to pay a farmer each week for a box of in-season produce. I love to cook and try new things, so I knew this was something I had to take part in.

My first box consisted of ten items: broccoli, carrots, leeks, bok choy, mache, mixed lettuce, turnips, potatoes, tangelos and fennell. Along with these beautiful, fresh vegetables came recipes using some of the more uncommon items. Never having cooked with fennell, I tried the recipe for "Fennell and Leek au Gratin" made with gruyere cheese. This had to be one of the most delicious dishes I have ever made and the fragrance, as it baked, was heavenly. I found out that mache is a small salad green and is considered a specialty item. With the help of my computer, I was able to find more recipes, such as "Turnip and Potato au Gratin." Mmmmm!

This week, I received broccoli, mizuno greens, rapini, radicchio, butter lettuce, savoy cabbage, savoy spinach, bok choy, turnips, red Irish potatoes and oranges. It helped using my computer to identify the things I had never seen before. Imagine a salad every night made with the first seven items listed---out of this world!!

To find farms in your area that may offer this sort of thing, check out the Local Harvest website. As for me, I can hardly wait for my next selection of produce!

Jan 13, 2009

Making Yogurt at Home

jar of homemade yogurt
Hard to believe, but until yesterday I had never made my own yogurt. That whole craze of electric yogurt makers some years ago passed me by unscathed. Instead, all this time I've obtained my quarts of low-fat plain in the grocery store.

But recently, browsing through a magazine, I stumbled across a recipe for homemade yogurt that had two great things going for it: (1) it was easy; and (2) it didn't call for me to buy any new gadgets. So I thought, what the heck, and give it a whirl. The yogurt turned out just great and is supposedly full of probiotics.

Now that I've made a delish batch using 2% milk, I'll be more experimental in the future. I may try soy milk, or rice milk, or even goat milk. The world is my yogurt!

Want to try it yourself? You will need a thermometer that reads liquids; for some reason, even though I have never, ever made candy, I had a candy thermometer. It worked perfectly with this.

Here's the recipe:

Ingredients
1 quart (4 cups) whole or lowfat milk
2 tablespoons high-quality, plain yogurt

Instructions
  1. Pour milk into a saucepan, and bring to just below boiling over medium heat. When it approaches the boil, turn down to a simmer. Let simmer for 2 minutes. Stir from time to time, taking care that the milk doesn't scorch.
  2. Remove from heat. Place pan on hotpad and let cool until the thermometer reads between 110-115° F. *(See note below)
  3. As the milk begins its cooling process, preheat the oven to 200° F.
  4. When the milk has cooled to the desired temperature (110-115°), place 2 tablespoons of yogurt into a large bowl.
  5. Slowly stir 1/2 cup of the warm milk into the yogurt until thoroughly blended.
  6. Turn off the oven (it only needs a little warmth to set the yogurt).
  7. Stir the remaining warm milk into the bowl.
  8. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place in the oven. Be sure you've turned it off as in Step 6. It will take anywhere from 6-14 hours for the yogurt to set.
  9. When the yogurt has set (gelled), stir thoroughly and spoon into a storage container--old yogurt containers are perfect--and place in the fridge. Let it sit for a day before using.
* Note: Next time I'll experiment with speeding up the cooling process by filling the kitchen sink with cold water reaching halfway up the pan's sides.

Jan 7, 2009

10-Day SF Bay Brewfest

Lineup of Anchor Brewery BeersGet ready, beer-lovers! More than 100 San Francisco breweries and pubs are preparing for SF Beer Week (Feb. 6-15, 2009), which will celebrate the early roots of today's modern Renaissance in artisan beers.

According to the classic 1911 book by John P. Arnold, Origin and History of Beer and Brewing: From Prehistoric Times to the Beginning of Brewing Science and Technology, beer is the oldest and most widely-consumed alcoholic beverage in the world--and the third most popular drink overall after water and tea. The fact that the word beer comes from the Latin word bibere, to drink, is indication of its broad appeal.

Brewing in the United States peaked in the 1870s with 4,131 breweries throughout the nation. Traditionally, Bavaria, Germany, England and Belgium were at the forefront of the world's beer brewing. But since the U. S. craft beer movement began in the 1960s, America, and specifically California, has been the center of brewing innovation and quality.

In San Francisco, an American craft beer movement actually began as far back as the 19th Century; at one time the city--with about 50 breweries--was the brewing center of the west. When prohibition ended, though, little was left of the San Francisco movement. Then, in 1965, Fritz Maytag rescued Anchor Brewing, bringing the faltering industry to life. Today there are more than 1,400 small craft- or micro-breweries. Northern California alone has more breweries than most states and enjoys an unrivaled reputation for the quality and diversity of its craft beer.

Micro-breweries worked with a new strategy: rather than competing on the basis of price or advertising, they vied over inherent product characteristics. They emphasized the freshness of locally produced beer; they experimented with much stronger malt and hop flavors; they tried new and long-discarded brewing recipes, often reintroducing American beer styles from the past. For example, Maytag used West Coast hops instead of English hops...and West Coast IPA was born. Now British and Belgian brewers use West coast hops.

San Francisco's 10-day celebration will showcase Bay Area brewing heritage with up to 150 events. The week will be anchored by the Bistro Double IPA Festival and the Toronado Barleywine Festival, ending with a new, full-blown Bay Area Beer Festival. In between will be beer dinners, cheese/beer pairing and other gourmet food events, special releases, meet -the-brewer evenings, homebrewing demonstrations, music, films, and even a museum exhibition exploring Bay Area brewing history.

21st Amendment Beer CansMany local breweries and pubs will contribute to the event, including Magnolia, the 21st Amendment, and Toronado. The Alembic will feature brewers who distill fine spirits and focus on beer cocktails. Gordon Biersch will host a Bavarian Beer Breakfast showcasing Hefeweizen, considered by some to be the most authentic style of German beer.

Events are listed on the SF Beer Week Web site. For accommodations, visit the San Francisco Convention & Visitor Bureau’s Web site.

Jan 2, 2009

Diamond Jim Brady Revisited

Diamond Jim BradyDiamond Jim Brady

One of the most interesting culinary articles I've read in ages appeared in the New York Times on December 30. Whether True or False--A Real Stretch, written by David Kamp, questions the culinary legend that's been built around Diamond Jim Brady.

A glittering figure of the Gilded Age, Brady was born poor but had made a fortune by his mid-20s. Then he just kept on making more money (at one point he was worth around $12 million in early 20th century dollars). Friendly, fun-loving, and generous, he gave away a good deal of money to needy people and worthy causes. He also spent massively on pleasures for himself: diamond cufflnks and shirt studs, the racetrack, wining and dining, showgirls. For many years he was involved with one of the reigning actresses and beauties of the day, Lillian Russell.

Lillian Russell, about 1905Lillian Rusell

Diamond Jim is known most of all for his enormous appetite. I've never come across his name in a book without an accompanying list of one of his typical breakfasts (a dozen eggs, a dozen pancakes, a few chops, a giant beefsteak, a platter of fried potatoes, etc.) or dinners (a huge tureen of turtle soup, followed by half a dozen lobsters, two whole ducks, a giant steak, three dozen oysters, a whole pie, etc.). This was all supplemented with mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks, as well as midnight suppers.

I've never known what to make of Brady. It didn't seem humanly possible that anyone could eat so much at a single setting. It didn't seem possible to do it even once in a lifetime, let alone a few times a day--day after day, year after year. Most people wrote of Brady admiringly, as if he were a super-gourmet, but I couldn't help but think he was just a glutton.

Though I was skeptical, it never occurred to me that these tales about Diamond Jim might be false. I'm in awfully good company, though. For a century, everyone from serious historians to chatty cookbook authors have treated Brady's appetites as a fact, passing along the same stories. No less a luminary than M. F. K. Fisher wrote admiringly about his eating habits in her classic Alphabet for Gourmets.

Food historian David Kamp was skeptical too, but he pursued his skepticism. In the NYT article he traces the stories about Diamond Jim back to their original (probably lying) source and ends up putting a giant crack in the myth. We may never know for sure, but it does appear that Brady--while no lightweight at the table--wasn't quite the gobbler we've been told. If he had been, according to a modern-day surgeon interviewed by Kamp, he "would have exploded."

The whole story, including Kamp's path to unraveling the myth, is a great read. Check it out.

Related Books:

Diamond Jim Brady: Prince of the Gilded Age
Lillian Russell: A Biography of "America's Beauty"
An Alphabet for Gourmets by MFK Fisher