Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dark Days: Failed the Challenge, but Still Cooking! Steak.

So, it's been a you wondered if I succumbed to botulism and died after all. But no, I just gave in to that other dreaded disease called BUSY that threatens all of us from time to time. I primarily fact, relished in, my recent busy-ness. Family and friends visiting, getting out and about and going on adventures in town and out. I all but stopped experimenting in the kitchen, even putting my kefir grains into dormant phase in the refrigerator.

So, I guess I failed in the official dark days challenge, but it's a failure I'm willing to accept. I had a lot of fun eating in restaurants these last two weeks, some of which were super-local focused, and I went to a pickle-themed party in Boston to which I took some apple kimchi which received mixed reviews.

Without further adieu, this week's dark days meal: Kimchi Sirloin Steak!
This month, two of my pounds of meat from the meat CSA turned out to be sirloin steak. I'm pretty sure I've never cooked a steak in my life before this month, so I looked it up. Alton Brown's food network recipe really took the cake (err, Steak), so I went with that for my first steak last week. I think my roommate was a little dismayed at the hunk of raw meat placed directly on the oven rack, so this week I refined my tactics.

Last week's steak was so-so. Tough and a bit hard to chew, and needing a little more flavor. This week I had major kimchi cravings and finished off another jar, leaving a about three cups of fuschia kimchi juice. What to do with the probiotic goodness? Marinate meat!

I soaked the second raw steak in this juice in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then followed Alton Brown's advice, this time with a broiler pan. Success! More tender, more juicy, more flavorful. Served with, what else...Kimchi! Iron-rich, priobiotic goodness.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dark Days: Buttflap

My mom came to visit, all the way from Texas. I saved the most prized cut of meat from the meat CSA expressly for her visit: the Buttflap. That's right, the meat CSA came with some delectable steak-like item labeled Sirloin Buttflap. I had no idea what to do with it. Neither did anyone else I talked to.

The internet provided some ideas towards making it into fajita meat, but we didn't have time to marinate it and we weren't making fajitas. My mom cut it into bite-sized chunks, removed most of the fat, and marinated it for about fifteen minutes in apple cider vinegar. Then she sauted it just a little in olive oil.

I chopped a large turnip and peeled and chopped a small butternut squash and put them together in a dutch oven. Then we poured the semi-cooked meat and all its liquids on top, added more water, salt, turmeric and pepper, covered and simmered until done.

Tough, chewy, gamy? A bit. But flavorful and an excellent combination! I would do it again, with a proper marinade next time.

This was a three-course meal....a surprise salad! A woman in my writers' group has an organic CSA membership that is giving her more greens than she knows what to do with, so I benefitted from the bounty. (No, the olives are not local, but they're organic and they're a gift from my mom!)

And, custard for dessert! Local eggs and milk with a bit of honey and amazake. Normally, I have local honey in stock, but as I was out I used some raw honey from elsewhere. The amazake was a leftover that was going to go bad. I feel, generally, that using leftovers, rather than wasting, is ethically on par with eating local foods even if it may not be nutritionally comparable (dumpster-diving, anyone?).

A lovely end to a lovely three-course meal....oh, and the custard was cooked in my brand-new glass baking-and-storage dishes, courtesy of my mom as well!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Local AND Vegan: Can it be done?

My cleanse is completed, but the questions it brought up for me persist. This recent experience caused me to hearken back to my (brief) days of veganism. I find myself torn between the locavore diet and the modern intergalactic superfoods ascension-to-other-realms diet of spirulina, coconut butter, agave, goji berry juice, maca powder, and other such delicacies. I want to be well, and while I love root vegetables, I am tired of them being the basis for every meal. I am also having quite a challenge with integrating so much meat into my diet.
So I ask, can one be a vegan and a locavore? And, more importantly, should one be committed to either? Veganism seems intuitively wrong to me. Being indiscriminate omnivores is what got humans to the top of the food chain, and I have never heard of an indigenous population that subsisted on a vegan diet. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.), Barbara Kingsolver even mentions an interesting historical blooper where vegetarians from India migrated to England and became anemic. It turns out they were consuming bug parts in their minimally processed grains in India, whereas the overprocessed British flour was devoid of such delectable nutrients.

For myself, I feel the most amazing when I eat close to what is now being referred to as the "paleo" or "caveman" diet. Essentially, the paleo diet consists of meat and veggies and fruits and nuts and seeds: anything that was available for consumption in pre-agricultural times. When I eat a mainly raw-vegan diet with the occasional local organic free range egg and the occasional (like, once or twice a month) big hunk of meat, I feel light, energetic, and satiated.

However, the is always the philosophical, ethical, and ecological question of how and when it is okay to eat meat. I have come to terms with local, organic meat being okay with me, and after having participated in a chicken slaughter and various other events of animals dismemberment, I'm getting closer to having a sense of what I would be willing to eat based on what I would be willing to kill. I am still not at peace with the process, but I also accept it as part of the cycle of life.

I try to imagine living up to my locavore ideals while being a strict vegan. In essence, I would currently be living on root vegetables and kimchi. Yuck.

I would like to hear whether others experience this or similar tensions when deciding where to send their food dollars!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dark Days: Juice and Broth, on a Cleanse

This week, a friend and I decided to do a three-day cleanse together. We don't actually live in the same place, so we went with what was available to us more or less locally. And we went with the theme of nourishment.

In the past, I have done cleanses which involved deep juice-fasting and a month of raw foods. Three times, I have done the Blessed Herbs colon cleanse, with mixed results. While I feel that I benefitted deeply from their Internal Cleanse, I am skeptical of all that fiber. I decided that my colon has been good-and-cleansed in the last few years and what I wanted was a break from digestion and animal products, not from nourishment. I am no longer interested in sand-papering my insides. So, I stocked up on nourishing goodies: probiotics like homemade water-kefir (my grandma sent grains, so I've got it started! pictures soon), local Kombucha, homemade veggie broth from local, organic veggies, local organic multigrain Miso, and totally non-local but high-energy-organic Vitmineral Green Superfood. I also bought some Amazake because it is probiotic and makes me feel full and grounded.

Other tricks I tried included sprouting sunflower seeds and then putting them, along with some water and organic raisins, through the blender with some Vitmineral Green powder. I also drank a lot of organic Guayaki Yerba Mate and a little Fasting Tea from Yogi Tea. And I soaked flax and blended it with water and Vitmineral Green powder as well. This last trick, I do not recommend....drinking more than a tablespoon of blended flax is like downing a glass of mucous.

But, I is the part that was (almost) entirely local!

First, Juice. Carrot-Beet-Cabbage-Ginger juice. All organic, and local except for the ginger. Juiced through the Jack LaLane Power Juicer. Really hearty and satisfying. I meant to save the fiber and make flax crackers for later, but in my spacey, foodless state, I forgot to clean the juicer. I'm dreading going to look at it.

Then, Kombucha. This was a great find...a local, organic, kombucha company called Katalyst Kombucha! I imagine that the Schizandra Berry flavor, which I was buying, probably has a non-local Schizandra Berry component, but overall I felt pretty good about this product.

Finally, broth with South River Miso. Bits and pieces from my most recent "broth bag". Sweet potato, turnip, and carrot ends. Bits of celeriac. Onion skins and tips. Beet chunks. And a couple of whole potatoes and an extra carrot for good measure. All of it simmered for several hours until it was a rich brown and sweet, thick flavor. After the broth cooled a bit, I added heaping spoonfuls of South River Aduki Bean/Brown Rice Miso and it was so deliciously satisfying. I feel incredibly lucky that this miso company is local! Normally, I try to avoid soy, but as this is small bits of fermented soy mixed with many other goodies, I feel okay about it.

The three days are up now, and I feel amazing and have decided to stop eating on Tuesdays. Tuesday is now "cleanse day", just for the sake of allowing my system to rest and restart and reminding myself of how good I feel when I get this chance to stop and reflect.

Would love to hear other people's cleanse thoughts/stories!!!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Kitchen Medicine

I woke up naturally in the pre-dawn hours this morning, ready to go for the day. But, afraid of getting tired halfway through the day from starting so early, I elected to stay in bed. Then, ultimately, I started my day late, and sluggish.

The same energy carried over into cooking my first meal of the day around 1pm, which was buckwheat and fermented-oat-groat pancakes. I cooked them in way too much boiling olive oil, and I didn't put a lot of love or attention into the cooking process. A hard lesson in the art of awareness, because upon flipping my first pancake I received a spray of boiling oil right to the face. It seemed like several droplets, but the most noticeable, and ultimately the only one I could locate later, was on my left eyelid (such useful things, eyelids, or else I suspect I would be blind!).

All in all, this was a very lucky adventure: First-off, my reflexes led me to close my eye! Secondly, it was the dead of winter, so the water coming out of the tap was frigid cold and I could splash plenty of it onto my face for a few minutes. I also had some raw cider vinegar on hand, so after the water treatment I put on a (STINGING!) dab of vinegar and waited for that to take effect. Then I dried it (professionally, with my cotton shirtsleeve) and went to the bathroom and dabbed on some raw honey (a holiday gift, thanks mom!) to help with pain and infection prevention. Then I took some Bach's Rescue Remedy, just because I had it on hand and I thought, why not.

Overall, the pain wasn't much, but I'm missing about a centimeter of the top layer of skin on my eyelid, and I was surprised by how the suffering was so much more based in the fear than actual pain. I wasn't thinking, "Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow," but rather, "Omigod, there's boiling oil on my face, omigod, I can't open my eyes, omigod, I'm alone in the house and the stove is still on behind me and I have no idea how bad this injury is, omigod I'm going to be scarred and ugly for life." Yeah, even the vanity aspect was frightening.

I knew the remedies by heart, but I re-consulted my all-time favorite home remedy book, Lifetime Encyclopedia of Natural Remedies, which is one of the best gifts I've ever received. All of these remedies are in there, and I definitely recommend it as a kitchen companion. Or, just keep your face out of the way when you're splashing heavy objects down into boiling oil.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Winter Farmers' Market!

When and where did I get this nifty, free bumper sticker? Today, at Winter Fare Northampton! This was a festive one-day winter farmers' market with lots of little extras like a soup-stand (sold out in a little over an hour), educational tables and workshops, and a "dot survey" to get feedback from shoppers. It was a wild success judging from the throngs of busy people and the empty, sold out boxes at the vendors' booths.

I volunteered my time to recruit people to vote at the dot survey, and besides enjoying people's enthusiasm, I got to see the trend of answers to questions like "where do you normally get your local food during the winter?" and "where do you normally get your local food in the summer/fall?" It never occurred to me that these answers would be different, but often they were, including my own. In the summer/fall, I enjoy the social aspect of heading to the farmers' market. In the winter, the CSA is really handy. I'm sure I would save money, and maybe it would be better for the farmers, if I joined a summer/fall CSA and got my extras at the market. What do you do?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sourdough Starter, Take Two

A picture is worth a thousand words, but a smell is priceless.

I made a new sourdough starter yesterday by combining one cup spelt flour, one cup buckwheat flour, and two cups leftover, warm oatmeal water. Then I set the jar above the woodstove in the hopes that the warmth would help the yeasts become quickly active on these cold winter days. It worked!

Somewhere around 2am, I woke up to go to the bathroom and couldn't help but notice a subtly pervasive smell of vomit everywhere I went. I checked the bottoms of my shoes. I checked a trash can. I watched carefully for cat vomit as I walked back from the bathroom. I worried briefly about my roommates, but it sounded like they were sound asleep, and vomiting illness are rather loud. I went back to sleep.

In the morning, my roommates found the smell too. They looked all over, briefly worried that I had gotten sick in the middle of the night, and then discovered the jar. I wasn't far behind. The sourdough starter had become madly successful, and its success had gone to its head.

Full of bubbles, with a round, cemented crust in the top cheesecloth, it had clearly vomited about a quarter cup of its contents down onto the mantle and the wood stove below. My roommate later found this cracker-like substance behind the stove--->

After much laughter, drama, and debate, I decided I was determined to save it. I reasoned that when I made Katz's Millet Porridge it smelled exactly like vomit, so this must be a good sign of active yeasts. I added about two and a half tablespoons of buckwheat flour and gave it a vigorous stir. Then I washed the cheesecloth and set up shop in a cooler location. I will stir frequently today, add more flour tonight, and see if it is salvageable. If not, I will compost it because I think it's unreasonable to ask other people to live with my mad science experiments for too terribly long!