Friday, June 26, 2009

I Am Teaching Pickling And Preserving

Briefly:

Two class series. First class, we pickle and preserve things in interesting and healthful ways. Second class, we use our delicious preserved stuff as ingredients in all kinds of dishes, plain and fancy.

Click here to sign up.

A 2-class series at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Cambridge, MA.

Thu Sep 17 2009, 6:30PM-9:30PM
Thu Sep 24 2009, 6:30PM-9:30PM
$150

More details:

I will definitely talk about the history of food preserving, preserving as it relates to nutrition, food safety in the context of preserving (aka "how not to poison yourself"), herbs and spices and seasoning, etc. Also knife skills demos, because knife skills are crucial to all kinds of food work, and we will have lots of cabbage to practice on.

I'm thinking that in the first class, everyone will make sauerkraut, and everyone will make applesauce and can it (as an example of canning). Beyond that, we'll divide and conquer to dry some fruits and vegetables and perhaps meats; make some kimchi, preserved lemons, and other vegetable ferments and pickles of various styles; do some dairy ferments including yogurt, kefir, and perhaps some cheese; and make corned beef (using Meat Of Known Origin, of course).

Then in the second class, after all the ferments have fermented for a week, we'll assemble some serious dishes around our stuff!

If you have questions about the class, feel free to ask them in the "comments" section below, or contact me via email.

Please sign up as soon as you know you want to take the class—the school needs to have a headcount, and if they don't get enough registrants for the class, they might cancel it!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Food, Inc.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the movie Fresh. Last Monday night, I went to an advance screening of another food sustainability movie: Food, Inc. Food, Inc. is similar to Fresh in some ways. Both films cover a lot of the same territory covered by Omnivore's Dilemma; both include commentary from Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin; and both depict the gruesome reality of industrial animal and grain farming. Both filmmakers seem to have been motivated by the same desire for justice and transparency in our food system. Food, Inc., however, goes several steps farther than Fresh in detailing the ecological, nutritional, and ethical disasters of industrial meat and "conventional" monocrop farming. It also digs deeper into the ties between industry and government regulatory agencies, painting an unflattering picture of Republicans and Democrats alike. It is a film about both the big picture and the gritty details. If there's a movie out there that will lead people to abjure meat of unknown origin (MOUO), this is it. Food, Inc. will ultimately be more effective than Fresh. Food, Inc. is more incisive, more polished, has better distribution, and includes a clearer call-to-action for the viewer. For the same reasons, it will be the target of more antagonism. Already, even before the film had been released, Monsanto had posted a "fact" page taking issue with some of the claims of the film. (The filmmaker was on hand at the screening, and, not surprisingly, refuted pretty much all of Monsanto's claims.) That this film even got onto Monsanto's radar is significant. It means that the lines of battle are being drawn, and that the forces of industrial food are taking the real food movement seriously. Do you remember Fahrenheit 9/11 in summer of 2004, or An Inconvenient Truth in 2006? We need a breakthrough film for the cause of real food. Go see Food, Inc., and bring a friend or five. The more people who see this film, the more theatres it will reach, and the more press it will get. This is how movements start.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New England Velodrome (Bicycle Track)

I arrive at the New England Velodrome in Londonderry, NH, this morning at 8:30, just as it's opening. I find Susan and Mark. Susan and I ride with HUCA, which Mark (among others) coaches. HUCA is awesome, and I am very grateful for it. Susan and I haven't been to a bike track before; Mark is a veteran. Susan and I meet Tony, our host, and we plunk down our $20 ($15 fee + $5 for bike rental). There is a container full of bikes of all sizes, colors, and descriptions. Since we are there early, we get our pick of the bikes, which Tony helps us with. They are track bikes: fixed gear, no brakes. (Fixed gear means that the fates of the pedals and the rear wheel are joined. You can't coast; as long as the wheels are moving, the pedals are moving, and so are your feet.) Tony attaches our pedals (which we have brought) to our rental bikes, and we're off to start circling the track, counterclockwise.

Mark imparts much vital information to Susan and me. I won't attempt to reproduce it all here, but some of the high points are: Look over your shoulder before you move up or down the track, so you don't crash into anyone. If you're on the track and you're not racing, stay out of the way of the racers. Don't go the wrong way around the track. And so on. He also gave us some strategies for that day's specific events, which I will distill and integrate with my own observations.

There is a huge amount of strategy in track racing. Some of the strategy stems from the fact that if you can draft another biker (i.e., follow them very closely), you get sucked along in their wake, and get a bit of a free ride, and don't have to pedal as hard as they do. Also, if two riders are equally matched and separated by more than a length or two, then whoever is in front is likely to stay in front. Also, if you are in front, you can't see what anyone in back of you is doing.

As a result, many races consist of a battle to get into second place, so that you can draft whoever is in first place, save your muscles, wait for them to get tired, and then make your move near the end of the race, often with the element of surprise. This is true even in two-person races, maybe especially in two-person races, maybe especially when the riders are equally strong.

Sometimes riders have different strengths. One might be faster over shorter distances, one might be faster over longer distances. In this case, the race may wind up looking like the "sprinter" trying to keep the other person from breaking away for as long as possible, by blocking them or keeping them up high on the track, turning the whole thing into a short sprint to the finish; and the "long-distance" person trying to break away early without being drafted by the "sprinter".

Any number of other scenarios are possible, especially when there are more than two riders.

We did a number of different types of races:

First, we did an 8-lap scratch race, in which everyone starts at once, and whoever finishes first wins.

After this, we did flying 200m time trials, in which a single rider gets a flying start to complete 200 meters against a clock.

Then, two-lap sprints (with two, three, or four riders, grouped based on their time trial speeds). These races are bizarre to watch. Often only the last lap, and sometimes only part of the last lap, looks like a race. The preceding time consists of slow maneuvering, getting above or below the other racers (depending on your strategy), staying slightly behind them so that you can see what they're doing, and so on. In the professional events, they recently created a rule prohibiting people from standing still! Here are videos that were mailed around by Mark and another HUCA rider. The first video explains some of the strategy pretty well:
Then, 500m time trials from a standing start. Pretty much what it sounds like. Five hundred meters feels like rather a long way at full speed.

Lastly, we did an Australian Pursuit. The riders start, from a standstill, distributed more or less evenly around the track (handicapping optional); anyone who is passed by the person behind them is knocked out of the race (and has to get out of the way, when it's safe to do so). Once only a few people are left, they all slow down, form a clump, and the next time they pass the start line, they sprint a final two laps (or some other pretermined distance) to decide the winner.

I learned a few things today:
  • Track riding involves a huge amount of strategy
  • I'm okay at short distances
  • I'm not so good at going fast for longer than a lap or so (yet)
  • Never underestimate the athletic abilities of teenage boys
We got tons of race time. And time not spent racing was spent watching others race, toodling around the track, chatting, and so on. Good clean fun. I enjoyed it, and I felt like I could be much better with a little work. I think I'm hooked.

Full race results will be posted here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Boston Area Restaurants Serving Real Food

Below I list some restaurants around Boston that offer the diner the possibility of eating real food. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may have an idea what I mean by real food: local produce when possible, Meat Of Known Origin (MOKO), live fermented foods, healthy fats, organ meats, foods preserved by traditional methods, and so on—more or less what is described by Sally Fallon in her book Nourishing Traditions. Although I don't presume that I could summarize her book in a few paragraphs, this past blog post of mine provides a quick overview.

The restaurants I list use many ingredients similar to what you might have found a hundred years ago, before the latest "modern advances" in food science, but with the benefits of clean kitchens, readily available exotic herbs and spices and so on, and innovative chefs who are able to explore where their imaginations take them.

Some of these restaurants are more expensive, and some are less. None are "cheap" like fast food. If you want inexpensive real food, your best bet is to prepare it yourself!

Making this list was less straightforward than I expected. I admit no universal bright-line test for real food. It is a personal judgment. For instance, some Boston restaurants serve chickens from the Giannone poultry farm in Qu├ębec. Known origin? Yes. Above-average? Yes. Free range? Perhaps, in some technical sense of the word. Sustainable? Ultimately not. Organic? I see no evidence of it. Are these chickens expressing their full chicken-ness, as Joel Salatin would say? Definitely not. Real chickens don't eat "corn, soya, and wheat, with a supply of natural vitamins and minerals", which, according to their website, is what the Giannone chickens eat. Real chickens eat whatever the heck they want, including grass, worms, bugs, half-digested cow poop, dead mice, seeds from trees, and so on.

In the end, Giannone passed my test: they are a known origin, and they are reasonably up-front about their methods. But I wouldn't call it "sustainable food". Furthermore, their web site makes me uncomfortable, I think in large part because it contains no pictures of live chickens.

So, as always, the responsibility lies with the eater to find out the story behind the food, and to make her or his own personal decisions based on available information or lack thereof. At the moment I am fairly picky about beef, chicken, turkey, and pork, and less picky about other land animals. Other folks might have different priorities. That's okay with me.

When you go to a restaurant, don't hesitate to ask the server where this meat comes from, or where that vegetable comes from. If enough people ask, and if it becomes apparent that it affects how people order and where they dine, restaurants will notice, menus will include more sourcing information, and transparency will generally increase.



So, having said all of that, and in no particular order, here are some restaurants that I like:

T.W. Food (Cambridge): T.W. Food has been my favorite Boston area restaurant since it opened a couple of years ago. Chef Tim Wiechmann has a deep understanding of tradition and respect for it, a sincere appreciation of the importance of ingredients, and an inventive and intuitive palate. Servings are generous. His expanding selection of charcuterie is the real deal. Outside-the-box wine pairings are delightful and thought-provoking. And for all that, prices are more than fair.

In the past, T.W. has had some "all local" nights, with meals consisting exclusively of local ingredients. Not only were the animal and vegetable products local, but there was no olive oil (butter and other fats took its place); there was no white sugar (maple syrup, honey, and local fruit juices are sweet); flour and bread were made from locally grown and milled wheat; and so on. Very cool.

Garden at the Cellar (Cambridge): Delicious, satisfying, sustainable, and uncluttered food. Chef Will Gilson is very serious about local and sustainable food sourcing, both for his own restaurant and for others; he works with Chef's Collaborative and the Boston Public Market Association. A great dinner spot, but also one of the few games in town for a late-night or lunchtime burger-of-known-origin.

dbar (Dorcester): Chef Christopher Coombs serves upscale food at a surprisingly low price-point. He grows his own herbs and vegetables on the roof of the restaurant, and tends the garden himself. The food absolutely justifies the trip to its "out-of-the-way" location (all of three miles from South Station, near UMass Boston). Be aware that after 10PM or so, the restaurant turns into a nightclub!

Ten Tables (Jamaica Plain and Cambridge): Local, seasonal, traditional European-inspired food. They used to have very well-priced wine-paired dinners every Tuesday night in JP; I can't tell from their website whether or not this is still the case.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bikes Not Bombs

And now for something completely different… Well, not completely. I'm writing to ask for your support. I am riding my bike in a bike-a-thon to support a Boston-based non-profit called Bikes Not Bombs. It's a fantastic organization. Here's part of what they have to say about themselves: Bikes Not Bombs promotes bicycle technology as a concrete alternative to war and environmental destruction. They do it both in the US and elsewhere. Click here for more info, and to pledge money for my bike-a-thon Last year I raised over $2000 (out of a total of $100,000 raised). The economic times have changed, and things may or may not go as well this year, but every little bit helps. I can make it relate to food if I have to:
  • One of the things they do is support the conversion of bicycles into human-driven milling machines, grinders, and blenders for grains, coffee, cacao, etc.
  • More bikes = fewer cars = less pollution, plus less arable land used for ethanol and biodiesel and more used for growing food
  • More bikes = easier to transport water = possible to grow food
and so on.