Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The sky is still falling, right?

Agribusiness is in the news. Perhaps my attentions are tuned in after having read Paul Roberts’ The End of Food and I’m noticing articles that were previously off my radar.

We have this article in today’s Globe and Mail about engineering tastier vegetables to meet consumer demands. Initially, I can’t help agreeing with Jamie Reaume, executive director of the Holland Marsh Growers' Association: “The overriding concern that always pops up when you start to deal with vegetables is what was wrong with the original taste and why are people trying to improve it?” Then I remember that we are human, always striving to create something better, whether it be to sell or to savour.

I’m certainly not as gloomsday centered as the target Star reader, given the tone of this article on the California ├╝ber-strawberry. Those big red strawberries we see in grocery stores, available nine months of the year for as low as $2 a pint are obviously bad news, given that they’re grown 5,000 km away and are engineered in every possible way. Packed within a tiny paragraph, however, is the truth of food production on a large scale: high volumes and crop specialization yields fruit that is more efficient and produces fewer greenhouse gases per pound than fruit I would grown in my backyard. But forget about that. They’ve got to be bad in other ways, so keep feeling guilty that we’re all ruining life as we know it.

Speaking of California strawberries, I’ve got some in my fridge that I bought on sale for a couple bucks the other day. Time for a smoothie.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Two Things

I have been preoccupied with other writings this week. I do have two things I wish to share before the weekend arrives.

Ruth Reichl
I have been reading the memoirs of food writer Ruth Reichl over the last couple of weeks. I completed Tender At the Bone on Wednesday and ran out to purchase another of her books the following day. I love her writing. She has created a life devoted to sensation, of following her instinct to find something as basic as food that tastes good. In Tender At the Bone, she recounts growing up under the tyrannical rule of the Queen of Mold, her manic-depressive mother who would routinely serve green sour cream and fuzzy bread. Her stories of her mother’s most memorable and horrific occasions, including an engagement party for her brother that sent 29 people to hospital with food poisoning, are almost impossible to believe. While most food writers highlight personal backgrounds that encouraged good eating, Reichl reveals that storytelling was prized in her family. I find myself reading her words slowly, savouring them as I would a good meal. I have yet to understand this response and I am curious to discover what makes her writing so different.

Vegetable Love
New ingredients create new opportunities for discovery. I have been shopping at Loblaws with the weekly sale flyer in hand, so I have been buying a lot of things that I wouldn’t normally eat and in large quantities. One of the results of my shopping trips was six hearts of Romaine lettuce (five bucks!) as well as a bag of avocados. As such, I dug out my copy of Barbara Kafka's Vegetable Love and realized I had been ignoring a treasure trove. Her “Shrimp and Avocado Salad on Lettuce and Sorrel” was the inspiration for my recipe below, seeing as I had several pounds of shrimp in the freezer from another shopping spree. I haven’t made her version, but I highly recommend her combination of soy sauce, lemon juice and avocado, three ingredients I never before thought to marry. My version is served warm and thus much easier to make.

Serves 1
1 Romaine heart, chopped
1 small or 1/2 large avocado, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp chopped basil (or mint, parsley or coriander)
2 tsp oil
1 clove garlic, sliced
pinch hot pepper flakes
handful of frozen uncooked shrimp (about 3 oz.)
2 tsp tamari or soy sauce
juice of 1/4 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare salad by chopping clean lettuce and placing leaves in a salad bowl or dinner plate. Arrange avocado slices and chopped basil on top. Set aside.

Heat the oil and garlic in a small frying pan on medium high heat. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add the shrimp. Fry five minutes, turning shrimp to cook both sides. When shrimp are pink, add soy sauce and lemon juice and heat for another few seconds. Remove from heat and pour directly over vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Toast and tea

I have an olfactory memory I can’t quite place. I bought a loaf of egg bread the other night, prizing the soft glowing challa over the other sub-standard offerings at my local market. I can’t remember the last time I bought a challa; most of my childhood memories of egg bread are of being at my best friend’s house on Friday nights, breaking a fresh-baked challa hidden under a kitchen towel as part of her family’s weekly Shabbat ritual. This week, I’ve been enjoying my egg bread toasted with butter. The moment I smell the slices starting to brown, however, I have a memory of eating challa toast with butter and honey and drinking peppermint tea. My memory is purely sensory, activating my taste buds and providing no visual cues. I recall my mother serving us toast with honey and tea whenever we had the stomach flu. She would give us whatever bread she had, and like me she rarely bought egg bread either. Perhaps there was one rare moment when she too selected a spongy glistening challa over all the other breads on display, a day when I just happened to be needing some toast and tea.

Some things to read in The Globe and Mail today:

  • This article about cooking oils. It’s quite thorough, explaining the difference between the Omega fatty acids and where to find them, “good” and “bad” cholesterol, etc. At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with having a cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil in the pantry.

  • Ever wonder about the state of Canadian street meat? This article showcases a Vancouver hot dog stand, Japadog, that serves everything from fried okra to daikon radish and wasabi on wieners and sausages. Vancouver, like Toronto, limits the kind of food available on movable kiosks.