Rutabaga’s Moment In The Light

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Rutabaga tagliatelle, from Olmstead, in Brooklyn.Photograph by Evan Sung

In the interest of cutting back meat consumption, my eye is easily caught these days by pretty shiny things, like the image above, but even more so by rich description, especially when the history of a food is illuminated. This brief history of one root vegetable, accompanied by a couple of beautiful photos, led me to the book below right. Click the book image to go to the source. RutaB.jpg

The original is in a collection akin to the one where Seth did his History honors thesis, and akin to the one where some of my doctoral dissertation‘s historic data was sourced (if you are a Cornell geek or library geek scroll upward from the cover page to see the details). Thanks to Helen Rosner once again brilliantly for getting me exploring:

The Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin was born in Basel in 1560, and he dedicated his life to obsessively cataloguing the vegetable world. To present-day historians, he’s notable primarily for his botanical thesaurus “Pinax Theatri Botanici” (“An Illustrated Exposition of Plants”), published in 1623. But, among cooks, he’s sometimes recalled for his lesser work, published in 1620: “Prodromos Theatri Botanici” (“Prologue to the Exposition of Plants”), a compendium of flora in which he describes a plant with vivid yellow flowers, a spray of leaves, and massive, hairy roots “more or less similar to those of turnip or carrots.” It was a specimen that had never before appeared in any scientific list of plants: the rutabaga.

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The rutabaga is a culinary underdog. It struggles to shine among its fellow root vegetables.Photograph by Matthias Haupt / Picture Press / Redux

The annals of botany abound with claims that Bauhin was not only rutabaga’s biographer but also its inventor: that he found it growing wild and domesticated it; that he was a civic-minded scientist seeking a cold-resistant turnip to feed his chilly countrymen and not (more likely) a monomaniacal scholar who spent his life ensconced in an herbarium, scrivening endless latinate lists of plant names. “The turnip is older than history,” the caption on a color plate in a 1949 issue of National Geographic declares. “The rutabaga almost modern.” In fact, the vegetable has been around at least since ancient-Roman times, when the naturalist Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century, described an edible root “between a radish and a rape”—meaning the plant from which rapeseed oil derives, which is a cultivar of the same species. Bauhin writes that in his time the vegetable was widely grown in “the cold Noric fields of Bohemia,” where it was eaten pickled or mashed and was called simply “root” by its cultivators. Continue reading

Nutrition & Conservation

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To help protect the planet and promote good health, people should eat less than 1 ounce of red meat a day and limit poultry and milk, too. That’s according to a new report from some of the top names in nutrition science. People should instead consume more nuts, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, the report says. The strict recommended limits on meat are getting pushback. Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61

Preparing ahead for a meal to be cooked today, I was reading this recipe, whose image (below) was competing for my attention with the image above. The picture above is eye-catching, at least to me, a visual cue leading me to the type of meal I should be thinking about more often. It is a big picture picture. I have red lentils in the cupboard, and I intend to prepare them today, so the recipe won the race for my attention.

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Melissa Clark’s red lentil soup.CreditJoseph De Leo for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Monica Pierini.

The story by National Public Radio (USA) waited. It is about diet, with the kind of explanatory information that motivates me to find lentils more appealing, and to understand why meals like this should dominate the weekly menu:

What we eat – and how our food is produced – is becoming increasingly politicized.

Why? More people are connecting the dots between diet and health – not just personal health, but also the health of the planet. And the central thesis that has emerged is this: If we eat less meat, it’s better for both.

So, how much less? A new, headline-grabbing report — compiled by some of the top names in nutrition science — has come up with a recommended target: Eat less than half an ounce of red meat per day. That works out to about 3.5 ounces — or a single serving of red meat — per week. And it’s far less red meat than Americans currently consume on average: between an estimated 2 and 3 ounces per day. Continue reading

Making Bread In 2019

Bread.jpgHelen Rosner, surprisingly appearing for only the second time in our pages, catches us just after our new year’s resolution to take up bread baking.

Well timed.

For a few minutes of bread love, click the image above. For a few minutes more of bread geek-out, read on:

In the immeasurable history of people talking about food, has there ever been a single statement more raw and moving and real than Oprah Winfrey, sitting before a television camera, flinging her arms emphatically forward, narrowing her eyes with fevered intensity, and declaring, with a passionate roar, “I! Love! Bread!” Continue reading

New Ways Of Eating Old Dishes

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Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Hilary Robertson.

Tejal Rao, the California restaurant critic at The New York Times and a columnist for The New York Times Magazine, came to my attention not long ago. At that time I did not look at her background and thought perhaps she was a science writer, based on that story. We are committed as much as anything in these pages to featuring stories by people who explain science well to a lay audience. But as of this week I realize she is a food writer and if you believe in James Beard awards she must be one of the best. That makes me think we will see more of her work because that is another of our favorite things. As I went through her website to read some of her earlier work, this story immediately stood out because of the title: Not Your Dickensian Bowl of Porridge. And that has been a favorite topic of mine since introducing savory porridge on our menu in Kerala a few years back. I cannot wait to test this out, even though I favor oats for my porridge:

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Credit Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Hilary Robertson.

“How much time do you have?” Minh Phan wanted to know, when I showed up at her restaurant in Los Angeles after hours. I was hoping to learn how she cooked the delicious rice I ate there about a week before. It was covered with curls of see-through pickles and little scoops of sticky, savory jams, and many kinds of herbs. The grains of rice were whole and tender — soft but not soupy. How much time could we possibly need, I wondered, to boil some rice until it was tender?

What I learned was that a simple bowl of soft rice, in the hands of Minh Phan, was in fact extraordinary. It tasted familiar and comforting, but it was built meticulously and garnished effusively, its flavors carefully layered, its textures arranged in sequence. Continue reading

Foraged Wild Foods

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this brief story by Maia Stern, which expands our knowledge of foraged wild foods:

The first insect that Pascal Baudar ever tried eating was an ant he found in his kitchen. The verdict? “It tasted like some kind of chemical,” says Baudar.

Most people would have probably given up on the bug-eating experiments right there. But Baudar? He’s made it part of his life’s calling. Continue reading

The Upped Ante Of Vegan

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At Sans, the former Eleven Madison Park sous-chef Champ Jones gives vegan food the fine-dining treatment, offering a five-course tasting menu with optional beverage pairing, in addition to an à la carte selection.Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

In her review titled An Eleven Madison Park Alum Does Vegan Fine Dining at Sans Hannah Goldfield asks in the header Would an omnivore give up meat if she could still have foie gras?  and then at the end of the first paragraph shows the image to the left below. This question rings out to me because from the days when I worked for a chef known for his preparation of this delicacy, I have thought it the ultimate test of whether I could swear off animal protein permanently.

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A beautifully marbled disk of black-plum terrine—made with plum jam and fair-trade palm oil and served with slices of fresh and pickled plum and neat rounds of toast—is as silky as foie gras. Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

Long gone are the days when vegan restaurants in New York were limited to places like Candle 79, a sort of bistro on the Upper East Side trading in unapologetically hippie-ish fare like black-bean burgers, seitan piccata, and spaghetti and wheat balls. We have vegan diners now, serving comfort food like vegan tatertachos and Nashville Hot Chik’n sandwiches, vegan fast-casual chains and bakeries, vegan omakase counters, and vegan dim-sum parlors. We have big-name chefs—Jean-Georges Vongerichten, John Fraser, and Brooks Headley among them—operating buzzy vegetarian restaurants (abcV, Nix, and Superiority Burger, respectively), where it’s easy to eat vegan. We even have vegan foie gras.

This review continues a trend of raising the stakes for going vegetarian, including gauzy photos that project status with simplicity.

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At Sans, the former Eleven Madison Park sous-chef Champ Jones gives vegan food the fine-dining treatment, offering a five-course tasting menu with optional beverage pairing, in addition to an à la carte selection. Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

I am all for that. Bring on the images that make vegetables and greens and other non-animal edibles look as tempting as their meaty counterparts:

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Grilled onion in a pool of smoked-onion purée, garnished with fried shallot and dandelion leaves. Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

 Does a vegan want to eat foie gras? And would an omnivore give up animal products if it meant she didn’t have to give up things like foie gras? The latter question, in particular, seems to be what Champ Jones, a former Eleven Madison Park sous-chef and an omnivore himself, is exploring with Sans, which opened in September and is described on its Web site as a “dynamic one-year project where non-vegans do vegan food.” Much of vegan food culture centers on substitution, on manipulating plant-based ingredients to approximate meat, milk, eggs, and cheese, a challenge that Jones seems to be facing with particular ambition.

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From left to right: Maine seaweed with “frothy ocean broth” and tapioca pearls; the onion; parsnip cake with pear and cashew-milk sherbet; and the black-plum terrine.Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

In fact, if you didn’t know going in, it wouldn’t necessarily be apparent that Sans is a vegan restaurant. Continue reading

Graphics For A Better World

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09meanwhile-image7-superJumbo.jpgClick the image above or to the left to go to the graphic narrative published in the New York Times by Wendy McNaughton, whose website is a treasure chest of visual wit and explanatory power.

I have heard of Pantone before, and probably even their Color of the Year tradition. But until seeing this I never cared enough to understand the meaning behind it.

Now I care. I will not explain why, instead suggesting you take three minutes to see how you respond.

Or maybe I will just hint that for me it has something to do with this panel, not just the words but how they appear on the page, and the communication of how corporate communications can sometimes be tone deaf if not color blind:

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Dan Barber On Future Food

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‘Restaurants can become these cathedrals of ideas.’ … Dan Barber chef and co-owner of Blue Hill restaurants in Manhattan and upstate New York. Photograph: Ali Smith for the Guardian

Thanks to Emma Brockes for this article, another in this important Guardian series:

Dan Barber: ’20 years from now you’ll be eating fast food crickets’

In the latest from our series on biodiversity, the Blue Hill chef says we’ve got sustainable agriculture wrong. It’s not a question of sacrifice, but deliciousness

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Barber holds a staff meeting. Photograph: Ali Smith for the Guardian

How does it taste?” says Dan Barber, regarding me expectantly in the garden of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, his restaurant in the Hudson Valley just north of New York. I am gnawing the crust of a large piece of bread that has been grown from Barber Wheat, a hybrid seed developed by Barber and his partners to be nutrient dense, high in yield and – a radical thought in seed breeding, apparently – full of flavour. (Whereas clapped out old seeds might yield 30 bushels an acre, Barber Wheat will stretch to 95). The bread is simultaneously light, and dense, and intricate in flavour in such a way that I can’t think of a single word to do it justice. Barber, who at 49 has the manic energy of someone for whom no plate of food will ever live up to the ideal in his head, looks at me gloomily. “That’s the whole problem with food writing,” he says.

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‘At a restaurant you’re like a conductor in an orchestra.’ Photograph: Ali Smith for the Guardian

There are bigger problems in the food world. With the possible exception of “financial regulation”, there can be few more deadly phrases to the casual reader than “sustainable agriculture”, a heavy-weather issue most of us recognise as increasingly important but nonetheless killingly dull. This is where Barber, who set up his restaurant in 2004, is hugely persuasive, a charismatic leader who, if you talk to him for an hour while walking around the kitchen and bucolic surroundings of Stone Barns, will have you genuinely excited about crop rotation, and soil conditions, and the fact that the food industry is a dying behemoth reliant on low-yield, agronomically risky seeds that produce ever more tasteless and nutrition-less food.

“There’s never been a time where there’s been such a wholesale decline in frozen processed food,” he says. “Ever. The only units of those companies that are actually increasing market share are prepared vegetables that are not processed.” Which isn’t to say we are all rushing into the open arms of the nearest farmer’s market, although it is Barber’s mission, through his restaurants, to change this. Continue reading

Bringing More Vegetation Into Our Diets

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Layer bunches of herbs on an ornate oblong platter, and they will become the most decorative feature of any table. Photograph by Joe Woodhouse

Thanks to Olia Hercules for this:

A Case for Eating Herbs as if They Were Vegetables

On a whim one July morning in 1987, my family set off from our small town in south Ukraine in a stuffy old Lada. We drove through Crimea, then rode by ferry to Sochi, and then drove again through Abkhazia and Georgia into Azerbaijan, where our Ukrainian-Armenian extended family lived. My mum recently reminisced about that trip, how we enjoyed late-evening dinners on our relatives’ terrace. There were tandyr-baked flatbreads, katyk yogurt, grilled meats—the works. But what stood out to mum were the herbs. At each meal, a huge platter stood proud in the middle of the table, piled with bunches of greenery: raikhan (purple basil), mint, dill, tarragon, land cress, cilantro, and spring onions. They were long and robust, nothing like those sad, weedy clumps we now buy in supermarkets, and were meant to be eaten by the stalkful, as if they were vegetables. The adults—I was too young then to have a taste for herbs—would pick up a few sprigs of each, fold them in two, dip them into salt, and chomp on them along with fresh radishes and cucumbers, sometimes folded into lavash like a veggie kebab sandwich. Continue reading

Billion Oysters And Counting

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Our school programming puts students at the center of the movement to restore oysters to New York City waters. Explore our Billion Oyster Classroom program, currently in 70+ New York City schools, and high school at the Harbor School.

Every week or so since we started this platform in 2011 we have had too many opportunities to highlight water-based ecological challenges and they seem to outnumber solutions. But it has been our goal to balance the highlighting, neither hiding our head in the sand nor claiming false equivalence between bad news and good.

Given all the challenges facing our oceans and waterways we are always heartened to hear of another initiative that involves collaboration between enterprise, youth and civic organizations. Click the image above or the one to the right to see what the Billion Oyster Project is doing in this regard.   Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for bringing this initiative to our attention:

Oysters On The Half Shell Are Actually Saving New York’s Eroding Harbor

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The shells are trucked over to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood and once a month are brought en masse to Governors Island in the heart of the New York Harbor. Billion Oyster Project has collected more than 1 million pounds of oyster shells so far. Courtesy of Agata Poniatowski

Across New York City, more than 70 restaurants are tossing their oyster shells not into the trash or composting pile, but into the city’s eroded harbor. It’s all part of Billion Oyster Project’s restaurant shell-collection program.

The journey from trash to treasure begins after an oyster half shell is turned upside down and left on an icy tray. Once discarded, it joins hundreds of thousands of other half shells collected in blue bins and picked up (free of charge) from restaurants five days a week by Billion Oyster Project’s partner, The Lobster Place, a seafood supplier. The shells are trucked over to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood and once a month are brought en masse to Governors Island in the heart of the New York Harbor, just yards away from both Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. There, rolling shell hills sparkle in the sun while “curing” out in the elements for one year, a process that rids them of contaminants.

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Oysters at Zadie’s Oyster Room, one of the New York City restaurants participating in Billion Oyster Project’s shell-collection program.
Courtesy of Morgan Ione Yeager

The shells then get a final cleaning and are moved to Billion Oyster Project’s hatchery at the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governors Island that offers technical and vocational training in the marine sciences. In an aquaculture classroom’s hatchery, student-grown oysters produce larvae in an artificially induced springtime environment. In one to two weeks, each larvae grows a “foot” — a little limb covered in a kind of natural glue — and then is moved to a tank full of the “cured” restaurant shells, which serve as anchors for all of those sticky feet. This phase is critical: If larvae can’t find a place to attach, they die. One reclaimed shell can house 10 to 20 new live oysters, depending on shell size. Continue reading

Time As An Ingredient

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Climate change has reared its big ugly head enough that I no longer count on seasonal consistency, but for now nine days in a row it has felt familiar, the greenest month of the green season in Costa Rica. And today, as of dawn, it looks like more of the same. “Some things never change” would be a real head in the sand cliché when thinking of seasons, but at least this October, so far, mornings have been sunny and by early afternoon the clouds roll in and the afternoons remind me of our 2010 to 2017 Kerala life, until dinner time. The photo above was from our second monsoon season there. Just up the hill from where I am writing at this moment, in Tarrazu–the Costa Rica equivalent of Munnar’s tea region–you might see something comparable, like this:

DCIM/100MEDIA/DJI_0482.JPG A few years ago Seth and James worked to restore a coffee plantation across the valley from the home where Seth grew up. The coffee they restored had been removed two decades earlier, a moment in time when coffee prices had crashed, even for the premium arabica that grows in Costa Rica. As it happens the same is true of the property where I am writing from, which had been a coffee plantation for most of the last century. In 2019 a restoration project will bring coffee back to this land, with tree shade for both the coffee and for the sake of restored bird habitat, and I look forward to sharing that progress here. And it is with this in mind that time, as an ingredient, is a theme for today. Work that Seth and James did demonstrated, with the passage of time, the fruitfulness of restoration and conservation. Now a replica project is ready to roll.

Time as an ingredient during green season is also a theme. Reading and cooking pass the time pleasantly during such afternoons, at least when the weekend schedule permits. Time for reading was on my mind a couple days ago, and the author featured in this podcast gets me thinking about time as an ingredient in the cooking I have been doing recently–almost all vegetarian and with the conscious effort to cook as minimally as possible to retain nutrients and flavor. As a bonus, this episode of a podcast we have been listening and linking to for two years shares the story behind espresso, so worth a listen:

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One Week to Whiskey

A Los Angeles distillery aims to speed up a 10-year aging process to a matter of days.

9781468316384.jpgWhy does fish cook so fast? What’s the “wasabi window”? And can you really make 20-year-old aged whiskey in six days? This episode, we’re looking at the role of time in food and flavor: what it does and how we’ve tried—and sometimes succeeded—to manipulate that. To explore these questions, we visit a whiskey time machine tucked away in a low-slung warehouse in downtown Los Angeles and meet its inventor, Bryan Davis. And we speak with Jenny Linford, a food writer and author of a new book, The Missing Ingredient, all about time and food. Listen in now—this one’s well worth your time! Continue reading

Banana Blossoms, A Novel Approach To Vegan Fish & Chips

There are a variety of bananas trees outside my window at different stages of growth from baby to blossoming to bunches hanging low with the weight of near-readiness.

I realize that, although we have had some initiatives related to bananas, and I get motivated to learn more every time someone on our team has proposed such an initiative (regardless of its possible zaniness), I have not personally learned enough about bananas to know: how did these trees get here? What species are they? How long is the life cycle of the tree from sprout to fruit maturity? Thanks to Ceylan Yeginsu for this idea on what to do with the blossoms:

In London’s Vegan Fish-and-Chip Shop, Banana Blossoms Play Cod

merlin_144816903_a4ed189f-7baa-417a-b130-f0a167787069-jumboLONDON — A newly opened restaurant in an East London neighborhood is aiming to make waves by serving what looks like the perfect presentation of fish and chips, that quintessential British dish: a piece of glistening plump batter, chunky chips, mushy peas and a slice of lemon.

But one major ingredient is missing.

“There’s no fish in our ‘fish,’ ” says Daniel Sutton, a fishmonger and restaurateur who opened what he says is London’s first stand-alone “vegan fish” and chips restaurant, Sutton and Sons, in Hackney this week.

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Diners enjoying lunch on Thursday at the shop, where vegans could not seem to get enough of the fake fish. Credit Olivia Harris for The New York Times

For lovers of succulent fried cod, that concept may be hard to grasp.

“What do you mean there is no fish?” Christopher Haddon asked the restaurant’s manager with a puzzled expression on Thursday. He seemed confused and left the restaurant, or chippie, shaking his head.

Vegans, however, could not get enough of the fake fish.

“It’s amazing, delicious. Mmmmm,” said Dan Margetts, 53, as he took a bite. “It’s the same look and texture but less oily, cleaner — and no ammonia.” Continue reading

Grandparents’ Approach To Avoiding Food Waste

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‘Whatever’s in the fridge’: a traditional cottage pie. Photograph: neiljlangan/Getty Images/iStockphoto

This time of year, harvests finishing in many places, abundance is about to give way to the longer lean season. Maybe that is the perfect time to start thinking about stretching the ingredients at hand:

How to avoid food waste: top chefs on their grandparents’ favourite dishes – and what they taught them

Angela Hartnett, Fergus Henderson, Raymond Blanc and many others describe the frugal simplicity – and delicious flavours – that inspire their cooking today

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Summer pudding with ‘beautiful glossy purple juice’. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

It is all too easy to romanticise the past, particularly with food. In Britain, rationing created a postwar generation that was very well-nourished, but also utterly bored by the meals it ate … or endured. Similarly, for all the criticism levelled at processed foods (“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food,” as the writer Michael Pollan famously advised), food has never been cheaper, nor easier to access and prepare. In 1957, as a proportion of their weekly income, UK households spent roughly double what they now spend on food – 33% of their money. There is a kind of liberation in the Pot Noodle.

Yet among many chefs and campaigning food writers, the sense persists that on a number of issues – particularly food waste, but also obesity, nutrition, cost, pleasure even – there is much to admire in how our grandparents ate. In an era of limited choice and tight budgets, they made a virtue of the necessity to cook with whatever fresh ingredients were available. “My grandparents didn’t cook ‘sustainably’, but they did cook every day, one of life’s best skills, and they didn’t throw leftovers away. To that extent, they were thrifty,” says Tom Hunt, the self-styled eco-chef and Guardian columnist.

To examine that idea, we asked a number of top chefs to choose a meal that encapsulates how their grandparents cooked and to explain how, in its frugal simplicity, it still influences them. Call it going back to the future. Continue reading

A Big Purpose In Utah

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Utah used to be home to the largest national monument in the continental United States. Now the owners of Hell’s Backbone Grill are fighting to restore it. Photograph by Jim Mangan for The New Yorker

We wrote once prior, a couple months ago, on this book but we see reason to post a bit more on it here. Here is a New Yorker profile-length detailed description of the story briefly mentioned in the prior post. Thanks to Kathryn Schulz for keeping our eyes on the prize that these two chefs have decided to fight for:

Why Two Chefs in Small-Town Utah Are Battling President Trump

The owners of an improbably successful restaurant at the gate of a vast wilderness are fighting to keep it unspoiled.

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Blake Spalding with two of her seven goats. Photograph by Jim Mangan for The New Yorker

In south-central Utah, where the topography is spectacular, desolate, and extreme, the pessimistic tradition in place-names runs strong. Head south from Poverty Flat and you’ll end up in Death Hollow. Head east from Dead Mare Wash and you’ll end up on Deadman Ridge, looking out toward Last Chance Creek and down into Carcass Canyon. During the Great Depression, when the whole state turned into a kind of Poverty Flat, the Civilian Conservation Corps sent a group of men to the region to carve a byway out of a virtually impassable landscape of cliffs and chasms. The men nicknamed the project Poison Road: so steep that a single drop would kill them. Midway up, the ridge they were following gaped open and plunged fifteen hundred feet to the canyon floor. They laid a span across it, and called it Hell’s Backbone Bridge.

Today, the entire route built by those men is known as Hell’s Backbone Road. Still largely unpaved, still treacherous in bad weather, it connects the town of Escalante to the tiny hamlet of Boulder, long reputed to be one of the most remote settlements in the continental United States. As late as 1940, the mail there was delivered via an eight-hour trek by mule team; the first lights did not flicker on until Christmas Eve, 1947. Until the nineteen-seventies, locals had to spend up to forty-eight hours in transit to obtain any number of essential goods and services: a new pair of socks, medical care, anything beyond an eighth-grade education. Continue reading

Green Food, Tech Model Solutions

Derek Thomson and his Crazy Genius crew over at the Atlantic’s podcast division have hit on a winning formula, at least for me. They take a big issue question we hear about and think about frequently, like the question of what to do about meat consumption–as in what to do about the extremely obvious problem of meat consumption levels–and they apply some creative pod knowhow. One of the best motivators for going meatless, or at least eating less meat, that I have come upon in ages.

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Will We Ever Stop Eating Animal Meat?

Americans eat more meat now than ever. That’s a problem for the planet’s future. Animal farming takes up 30 percent of the earth’s landmass (the equivalent of Asia), and livestock causes one-sixth of global greenhouse gas emissions. We need more than moral arguments against meat. We need a technological revolution in better, cleaner food.

If you do not have half an our for the podcast, take five minutes to read the summary here:

There are two big truths about eating meat from animals.

First, animal flesh imposes a high moral and ecological price for a tender medallion of food. Factory farming incurs the torturous treatment of millions of chickens, cows, and pigs each year. This constitutes a rolling moral catastrophe. What’s more, one-sixth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are directly attributable to raising livestock, and the figure is rising as more countries enter the global middle class. For most Americans, cutting meat out of their diets would reduce global warming more than giving up driving. Continue reading

Celebrating Labor Day, Usual Style

The chef Alvin Cailan made his name on eggs—in sandwich form, at a food truck called Eggslut, in L.A. At the Usual, he has graduated to chicken, battered and fried so that its crust is as craggy as a mountain range. It’s served with blueberry muffins and house-made ranch, plus a garlicky hot sauce on request. Photograph by Christaan Felber for The New Yorker

The photo above is an immediate trigger for me, in that today is Labor Day in the USA. It is a holiday I recall with fondness from my youth. It signified the end of summer, which was never in itself to be celebrated, but it also signified the beginning of school. And for me school was the center of life, so the closing of summer meant back to all good things. This year, as summer closes, not so much. But the photo above allows me a moment of solace.

Amie and I recently passed through Los Angeles en route to a wedding, and came across this “questionably named”restaurant (not the one pictured above, but the one referred to in the first paragraph below). I do not think of myself as a prude, but when I see a name like that I immediately become uninterested. The shock of the new is not the problem. Coarsening of language and culture is the problem. Enough. A good rule of thumb might be something like this question: would you be happy telling your young child(ren) the name of this place where we are going to eat?

But then again I am occasionally surprised by how, after judging a book by its cover, I can reconsider and think otherwise. In this case the cover of the book (i.e. the name of the restaurant) is still one I would rather have been different, but the contents of the book have my full attention. Thanks to Hannah Goldfield for providing this case in point:

Standout Fried Chicken Amid Familiar Fare at the Usual

At Alvin Cailan’s first sit-down restaurant, in the Nolitan Hotel, the Eggslut creator graduates to the full bird.

For the chef Alvin Cailan, the egg came first. The egg sandwich, to be specific, a messy, photogenic one on a brioche bun, first served in 2011, from a food truck, questionably named Eggslut, in Los Angeles. Eggslut became a pop-up in New York (since popped down) and then a mini-chain, with several outposts in the L.A. area and one in Las Vegas. Cailan built his name on the egg. Now, at the Usual, his first proper sit-down venture, recently opened in the Nolitan Hotel, he has graduated to the chicken. Continue reading

The Taste of a Place

We may have used this post title before, but it’s a feeling we come back to again and again, especially when talking about foods we love. Coffee, cheese, wine, tea…the  significance of each one resonates with both a sense of culture and place to where quite a few of the contributors to this site have called home.

In the Azores, the Menu Includes Coffee, Tea and Tradition

There’s wine and cheese too, in these remote islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s where to get a taste of the past — and present.

Living on a remote island at the mercy of nature demands resiliency, and the Azores do qualify as remote: nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, 850 miles off the coast of Portugal, their protectorate. The Azores are known for volcanic craters, natural hot springs, 600-foot waterfalls, mountains, cerulean lagoons and dense forests.

But it has not always been idyllic on the islands. Throughout their history, Azoreans have had to overcome disease, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and hurricanes that have decimated their food supply and threatened their economy and survival.

But they are masters of reinvention and ingenuity: They have learned how to cultivate tea and coffee, plants that are not native to the islands but flourish in the temperate climate and mineral-rich volcanic soil. They have also preserved and perfected centuries-old traditions in cheesemaking and wine production to ensure sustainability and safeguard their culture. They proudly share their agrarian heritage with travelers seeking an authentic Azorean experience.

Coffee

I had to walk briskly to keep up with 66-year-old Manuel Nunes. He climbs the hillsides of his coffee farm with the sure-footedness of a ram, easily negotiating the rocky terrain. His muscular fingers are adept at plucking the beans swiftly from their stems. He will dry them in the sun and roast them on his stovetop in a cast iron pan, to sell as beans and to serve as coffee at Café Nunes in Fajã dos Vimes, a village of 70 people on São Jorge Island.

Mr. Nunes’ tiny farm is the largest plantation in Europe, with 700 plants yielding approximately 1,600 pounds of coffee annually — tiny when compared to major coffee-growing countries. The low altitude coupled with high humidity makes this microclimate ideal for growing arabica coffee. There are no insects on the island that destroy the beans so no chemicals are required. The result is a strong cup of Joe without acidity. Mr. Nunes does nearly all the work himself, including the long harvest from May to September.

“It’s what I love to do. It’s my passion. It’s where I belong. I feel well here,” he said (his daughter, Dina Nunes, did the translating)…

Continue reading

Sending Aloha Poke A Message

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Aloha Poke Co.’s corporate strong-arming has struck many observers as the most blatant kind of cultural appropriation—an effort not to celebrate another tradition but to own it. Photograph by Katie Rothstein

A few of our team members were just in the last week or so talking about poke, after a visit to a shop on Venice Beach, in California, that has some of the best-reputed poke on the mainland. Little did we know, something big was happening in the poke world, having to do with bullying tactics and cultural appropriation, a topic we have long been sensitive about considering the work we do. So, after reading this news, we pass this along and encourage all our friends and colleagues to consider where their poke dollars go:

The Chicago Poke Chain That Tried to Stop Hawaiian Businesses from Using the Word “Aloha”

On July 28th, a Hawaiian activist named Kalamaokaaina Niheu appeared in a Facebook Live video to discuss a “disturbing message” that she had received in her in-box that morning. It was about Aloha Poke Co., a restaurant chain based in Chicago that specializes in fast-casual versions of poke, a traditional Hawaiian dish made of chunks of seasoned raw fish. Niheu, who represents Hawaii in the Pacific Caucus at the United Nations and lives in Honolulu, had been hearing from Hawaiian business owners who had received cease-and-desist letters from the Chicago company, claiming that it had trademarked the phrases “Aloha” and “Aloha Poke,” and that any food business using those words in its name was infringing on its federal trademark.

To Niheu and other kanaka maoli—native Hawaiians—Aloha Poke Co.’s claim was ludicrous: How could a business, let alone a non-Hawaiian one, claim a right to something as fundamental to Hawaiian culture as the word “aloha”? The term, which can mean “hello” and “goodbye,” also signifies a spiritual connection between the Hawaiian people and the world around them, Niheu explained. Now it was being used as “a legal, blunt hammer for profit, so that Aloha Poke Co. can compete in a market that was never theirs to begin with,” she said. Several shops had already been forced to rebrand their poke businesses, and front the cost of doing so—redesigning their logos, tossing infringing merchandise and menus, and changing their social-media handles. One restaurant owner in Anchorage, Alaska, changed her business name from Aloha Poke Stop to Lei’s Poke Stop after receiving a cease-and-desist letter. “We just weren’t prepared to do that,” she told Eater. “We were already struggling as a small family business.” Continue reading

Read About This Place, These People, Their Food

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Thanks to Blake and Jen for all their awesome work. Also thanks to Sara Ventiera (a new food and travel writer for us to follow!) and her colleagues at National Public Radio (USA) for keeping us connected to such heroics:

Meet The Restaurateurs Fighting To Save The Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument

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Hell’s Backbone Grill is located in Boulder, Utah, about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City. The restaurant’s owners are fighting Trump’s plans to slash the size of nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by more than half. Ace Kvale

Standing between peach and cherry trees on her 6.5-acre Utah farm, Blake Spalding points to the Kaiparowits Plateau. The looming bluff is dotted with thousand-year-old pinyon pine and juniper trees.

“That is one of the areas they’re hoping to mine,” she tells a group of visiting chefs from Salt Lake City. “It’s full of dinosaur fossils and more than 650 documented species of wild bees.”

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The remote and sustainable restaurant has become a destination for travelers seeking a taste of its terroir-driven fare. Ace Kvale

Nearly 20 years ago, Spalding and her business partner, Jen Castle, founded Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah, on the edge of the then-newly designated Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City. The remote and sustainable restaurant has become a destination for culinary travelers seeking a taste of its terroir-driven fare. It’s an amalgam of Mormon pioneer, Western range cowboy and traditional Southwest flavors, like juniper lamb posole or grilled pork chops with Boulder crabapple barbecue sauce. Continue reading

Latinovegan

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Pesto and pulled jackfruit tacos. In Southern California, working-class Mexican-American chefs are giving traditionally meaty dishes a vegan spin. Evi Oravecz/Green Evi/Picture Press/Getty Images

We are happy to see another story posted by Gustavo Arellano in the salt files at National Public Radio (USA):

Carne Asada, Hold The Meat: Why Latinos Are Embracing Vegan-Mexican Cuisine

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Loreta Ruiz (center) runs La Vegana Mexicana, a food pop-up based in Southern California, with her children, Loreta Sierra (left) and Luis Sierra. Gustavo Arellano/for NPR

Tall, dreadlocked Josh Scheper knew he was out of place as he surveyed the scene at a Santa Ana, Calif., parking lot on a Sunday morning this past April. And the 46-year-old loved it.

Hundreds of people waited in line at stalls for vegan food, but few people looked like the Los Angeles resident. Nearly everyone in the crowd was young and Latino, as were the chefs. The food on sale was Mexican — but not hippie-dippy cafe standbys like cauliflower tacos, or tempeh-stuffed burritos. Instead, chefs reimagined meaty classics that were honest-to-goodness bueno. Continue reading