Flour Tortillas Praised & Decolonized Diet Delineated

Arellano-In-Praise-of-Flour-Tortillas

Recent Mexican immigrants deride them as a gringo quirk. Foodie purists dismiss them as not “real” Mexican food. But good flour tortillas can be revelatory. Photograph by YinYang / Getty

DYDBookCover2

If culinary etymology is your cup of chai, you may appreciate Gustavo Arellano’s post in praise of flour tortillas. Among the reasons to thank him is this book (click the image to the right to go to the source) that we had not been aware of:

More than just a cookbook, Decolonize Your Diet redefines what is meant by “traditional” Mexican food by reaching back through hundreds of years of history to reclaim heritage crops as a source of protection from modern diseases of development. Continue reading

The Craftwork Of Small Organisms

merlin_105802288_f62a8530-6c2d-46ae-ad3f-588b413aec3c-master768 (1)

Bacteria are responsible for the delicious taste of salami, although industrial microbes do not yield as tasty dried sausages as wild microbes. Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Fermented meat does not have the sound of mmmm to it, but we learn something new each day:

Actually, You Do Want to Know How This Sausage Gets Made

When you slice into a salami, you are enjoying the fruits of some very small organisms’ labor.

Like other dried sausages, salami is a fermented food. Its production involves a period where manufacturers allow microbes to work on the ground meat filling to create a bouquet of pungent, savory molecules. Traditionally, the bugs find their way to the sausage from the surrounding environment. But these days, industrial manufacturers add a starter culture of bacteria to the meat instead, much the way a bread baker adds a packet of yeast to her dough. Continue reading

Big Time Culinary Hydroponics

10farm1-jumbo (1)

At Farm.One, a hydroponic garden in TriBeCa, red-veined sorrel is prepared for a delivery. Credit Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

We have posted on urban farming and related topics numerous times since 2011, and hydroponics as its own topic of interest plenty of times as well. Culinary and/or gastronomic topics as related to agriculture are a magnitude of order more represented in these pages. Finally, they are combined for us in one amazing article, thanks to Alyson Krueger. If you only have time to look at the photos, those alone are worth the click:

Herbs From the Underground

Farm.One just opened an indoor rare herb and flower garden in a TriBeCa basement, and many prominent chefs are flocking to it.

10farm2-superJumbo

Katherine Chester, a farm hand at Farm.One, harvests for a morning delivery. Credit Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

In the basement of a loft-style building in TriBeCa that houses a vet, a dog swimming pool, an eye-and-ear infirmary, and a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, there is a working farm.

Farm.One is a hydroponic facility, which means that the plants do not grow in soil. Many of these farms are located indoors, in controlled environments, with artificial lighting.

merlin_130952510_55f499d3-d3da-473e-9c9b-329337b217c5-master675

Amazon neon cherry dianthus and neon rose magic dianthus. Credit Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

The new two-room space, which opened in November in a former cycling studio for high-altitude training and an old storage area, is only 1200 square feet. There is no fresh air or natural light; there is not even a window. Yet the venue can grow around 580 varieties of rare herbs and flowers (200 at a time) that supply New York’s top restaurants. Le TurtleLe CoucouMission Chinese Food, and The Pool get regular deliveries from Farm.One, sometimes several times a week. Continue reading

Cacao, Spices & Imagination

chocolate_dyptch_wide-b516bb95a47d1e00652f58b3dc29f210dc8f324d-s1300-c85

Left, a ripe cacao pod. Right, truffles from Midunu chocolates contain spices and flavors from all over Africa. Midunu Chocolates

Thanks to Amy E. Robertson and National Public Radio (USA) for telling the story of Midunu, a brief excerpt of which is sampled below:

One Woman’s Quest To Tell ‘The African Story Through Chocolate’

…While working in Senegal, Atadika joined forces with two more food-loving friends, and created a pop-up restaurant that was wildly popular. After dipping her toes in the culinary world for a couple of years, she finally took the plunge. In 2014, Atadika resigned from the UN, moved back to her native Ghana and began cooking full time.

Atadika started with catering and pop-up dinners. “It wasn’t my plan to do chocolates,” she says. “But whatever I do in food I look at in terms of adding value, and chocolate just kind of popped in, because we have this cocoa but we weren’t really processing it at the level we should be.” Midunu Chocolates was born. Continue reading

More Bottura Is In Good Taste

harlan_npr_massimobottura-11-of-12-_slide-f705261ab33908c73012b12b817380078d671b1f-s1300-c85

The finished product: passatelli in brodo, a traditional Italian dish perfect for a chilly day.
Beck Harlan/NPR

We long ago tired of the celebrity chef craze, and foodie-ism sometimes seems to have gone amok. But we do not tire of featuring this highly visible chef, as many times as he deserves it, because each time it is for a good cause. In this case the theme is recycled in this story on the salt’s corner of the National Public Radio (USA) website, titled Less Waste, More Taste: A Master Chef Reimagines Thanksgiving Leftovers:
harlan_npr_massimobottura-5-of-12-_slide-af0e2fa28613c9e6102cf54d4337875c0c020b3f-s1300-c85

Bottura kneads the breadcrumbs with some eggs, nutmeg and grated Parmesan cheese to create a dough for our pasta.
Beck Harlan/NPR

Food waste is a huge problem globally — starting with our own refrigerators. Over this Thanksgiving week, Americans will throw out almost 200 million pounds of turkey alone, according to figures from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
But before you toss that bird, read on. We asked Massimo Bottura, one of the world’s best chefs, to help us figure out what to do with our holiday leftovers. Continue reading

Evolving Our Palates

bitter-master768

Bitter flavors have crept into the contemporary palate. Above, from left, Swiss chard, hops, bitter melon, aloe and wasabi root (all rendered in white chocolate) rest on a turmeric-dusted cube. Credit Photograph by Mari Maeda and Yuji Oboshi. Styled by Suzy Kim. White chocolate 3D food by Peter Zaharatos/SugarCube

Our palates are evolutionarily oriented away from these flavors, but we appreciate the opportunity to decide for ourselves when we might want some alternative sensations:

The Sweet Rewards of Bitter Food

MANY YEARS AGO, I had dinner at a restaurant in Chinatown in Boston — the sort of city where most non-Chinese people seeking Chinese food are in fact seeking what might better be described as American Chinese food: General Tso’s chicken, fried pork dumplings, “house special” lo mein; mild, comforting Cantonese dishes slick with sauce and loud with sugar, salt and the intense umami buzz of MSG. In an attempt to be adventurous, I ordered instead the most unusual thing I could find on the menu: beef with bitter melon. The waitress looked at me, her brow furrowed. “You don’t want that,” she declared. “You won’t like it.”

“I do!” I insisted. “I’ve had it before.” A little while later, she returned with a dish of beef strewn with crescents of a jade-hued, scallop-ridged, firm-textured fruit that looked not unlike oversize celery. The truth was, I’d never had it before. As advertised, it was bitter, in a distinctly vegetal way, with none of the fruity sweetness that the word “melon” would imply. I took a bite, then another, and another — in a different context I might have stopped, but my reputation was on the line. By the time I was finished, the melon hadn’t become more palatable, exactly, but my palate had changed. What had tasted like bitterness now tasted like pride. Continue reading

Identity-Driven Dairy Artisans

23FEMCHEESE-5-master675

The Cheese Shop at Cato Corner Farm. Credit Sherry Peters for The New York Times

A brief history of the cheese-making craft in North America reveals a little-known fact about a domain where women rule:

merlin_130384553_f8f9a526-077a-43c3-861b-b3ef728638d5-master675

The cheese maker Mark Gillman, of Cato Corner Farm, slices a wedge of Womanchego in the farm store. Credit Sherry Peters for The New York Times

…Second-wave pioneers taking back the land in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s included Judy Schad of Capriole Inc. in Greenville, Ind.; Laini Fondiller of Lazy Lady Farm in Westfield, Vt.; and Sue Conley and Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, Calif.

23FEMCHEESE-4-superJumbo.jpg

Bearded Lady cheese from Prodigal Farm in Rougemont, N.C.

Last year Ms. Schad, 75, introduced Flora, named for her grandmother, who made cheese under less than ideal conditions on her back porch. It joined Piper’s Pyramide, inspired by Ms. Schad’s own first, redheaded granddaughter (“bright and spicy — just like her namesake!”); Sofia, for a longtime friend (“a queen at any age!”); and Julianna, after a Hungarian intern. “Beneath her wrinkly exterior lies a complexity not often found in such a young cheese,” reads Capriole’s description of the Wabash Cannonball, a popular, prizewinning cheese named for the folk song about a fictional train sung by Johnny Cash. Continue reading

Sourdough, The Book

sourdough-cover-animation

What a great book, seriously.

When Cory Doctorow says it so simply, we take him at his word. Trendy, pretty shiny things can invoke laughter as well as wonder. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, there is plenty to laugh at in the growing obsessions with precious food, among other social phenomena; and Robin Sloan’s new book may be the best compilation, as this review in Mother Jones makes clear:

And here are our favorite Sourdough food trend send-ups:

1. Hipster bakers. Sourdough‘s protagonist Lois learns to bake after reading The Soul of Sourdough, written by a young baker, Everett Broom, “with a thick black beard below a face so clean and cherubic it made the beard appear glued on.” The bread bible recounts Broom’s “flameout as a professional skateboarder, his addiction to a home-cooked drug known as spaz rocks, and finally his retreat to a bread-baking shack on the beach.” Continue reading

Bread Is Gold

Bread1cThe publisher’s blurb starts with an annoying claim, as if there is one chef better than all others in the world, that illustrates why foodie-ism is less and less linked to on this platform. Nonetheless, the book sounds worthy of attention:

Massimo Bottura, the world’s best chef, prepares extraordinary meals from ordinary and sometimes ‘wasted’ ingredients inspiring home chefs to eat well while living well.

‘These dishes could change the way we feed the world, because they can be cooked by anyone, anywhere, on any budget. To feed the planet, first you have to fight the waste’, Massimo Bottura

Bread is Gold is the first book to take a holistic look at the subject of food waste, presenting recipes for three-course meals from 45 of the world’s top chefs, including Daniel Humm, Mario Batali, René Redzepi, Alain Ducasse, Joan Roca, Enrique Olvera, Ferran & Albert Adrià and Virgilio Martínez. These recipes, which number more than 150, turn everyday ingredients into inspiring dishes that are delicious, economical, and easy to make.

We remember the genesis of this from a story by Adam Robb a couple of years ago:

26bottura-robb-1-master1050

The renovated Refettorio Ambrosiano in Milan’s Greco neighborhood will house a charity event organized by chef Massimo Bottura during Expo Milano 2015. Credit Adam Robb

Massimo Bottura’s Pope Francis-Approved Refectory, and Recipe to Turn Stale Bread Into Gold

Italy’s most progressive exhibition of sustainable cooking commences this Thursday, when the Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura throws open the doors of Refettorio Ambrosiano, the once-derelict theater repurposed to educate and feed the refugees and working poor who reside far across town from the multinational pavilions welcoming culinary tourists to this summer’s Expo Milano 2015. Continue reading

Immigrant Mobile Food Vendor Heritage

roasted-pumpkin-taco_wide-989cb44a90437f6cf9228861c0178518fde7dde2-s1300-c85.jpg

Roasted pumpkin tacos from chef Wes Avila’s cookbook, Guerrilla TacosDylan James Ho and Jeni Afuso/Courtesy of Ten Speed Press

Thanks to Mandalit del Barco and the National Public Radio (USA) folks at the salt for this book review that has special resonance to those of us with immigrant street vendor heritage:

‘Guerrilla Tacos’: Street Food With A High-End Pedigree

How many taco trucks do you know that not only have a cookbook but a theme song? Wes Avila’s Guerrilla Tacos truck does – and has once again made food critic Jonathan Gold’s influential list of favorite Los Angeles eateries.

9780399578632_custom-1290954c4c68f10d38993aede65645a3c56a1961-s400-c85.jpgFive years ago, Avila was working as a sous chef at a pop up restaurant called Le Comptoir. It was only open four days a week, and Avila says he wasn’t making enough money to cover his rent. So he bought a simple food cart. He used his last $167 on ingredients. Then he and a friend began selling tacos in the arts district in downtown Los Angeles without the required health department permits.

“We were kind of bending the law, not necessarily breaking the law. We had to move around so we wouldn’t get caught — you know, like guerrilla warfare,” Avila says. “That’s why we had that name, because we’d be in random alleys, random streets, being kind of renegade like that.” Continue reading

Meals as Message

A barbecued vegetable platter, top, with kale rib and carrot “brisket.” Beluga lentils, black rice and chimichurri broth, left, and a side of crisped smoked beef from Stemple Creek Ranch. Credit Preston Gannaway for The New York Times

Although not quite an example of “Model Mad“, this culinary entrepreneurial activism sends a message to both consumers and food industry colleagues alike.

San Francisco Chefs Serve Up a Message About Climate Change

Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint opened the Perennial in San Francisco last year with a clear mission in mind: Run an environmentally friendly restaurant with a minimal carbon footprint, and inspire other restaurateurs to do the same.

As [the current administration] has questioned the existence of climate change, Ms. Leibowitz and Mr. Myint have emerged as activists, at the forefront of a growing movement of chefs who not only recognize and measure the impact of their industry on the planet, but also look for new ways to undo the damage.

Mr. Myint and Ms. Leibowitz, who are married, have been immersed for the last few years in the research that directs every decision at the restaurant, like choosing the kitchen’s energy-efficient equipment and its raw ingredients, many of which are grown in ways that can regenerate the soil. Continue reading

A Puddle Of Bizbaz

170904_r30446

Photograph by Simone Lueck for The New Yorker

Although our most consistent feature suggests obsession (yesterday completing the 72nd month and 2,217 dailies in a row of bird photos, we know how it looks), we are anything but obsessed. That word implies trouble. We are looking for anti-trouble. We mostly post stories and images that imply reduction of trouble–through more information, and better quality of information, and useful case studies in trouble management.

This has led us to post 8,500 times (including this one) covering dozens of themes over the years. Usually several per day. Recently, in addition to our daily bird photo we are trying to post just once per day on something that highlights a remarkable example or explanation of any of those themes. Taste of place is on our minds now, more than anything else. So it is time for another restaurant review. Thanks to the reliably concise Nicolas Niarchos for this opening line:

In the nineteen-nineties, the late, great writer Denis Johnson once followed a group of Somalis across the border from Ethiopia and into the heart of their turbulent country. One of the images that endures from the piece he wrote afterward is of Somali food—“chunks of goat and spaghetti”—and of his narrator being taught “how to eat pasta the Somali way, without utensils, taking a shock of it in his right hand, turning it this way and that and gathering the long strands up into his palm, and then shoving it into his face.” Continue reading

Some Science On Ramon

RamSci1Ramón and Maya Ruins: An Ecological, not an Economic, Relation

 J. D. H. Lambert and J. T. Arnason
Science

New Series, Vol. 216, No. 4543 (Apr. 16, 1982), pp. 298-299

RamSci2Observations on Maya Subsistence and the Ecology of a Tropical Tree

Charles M. Peters
American Antiquity
Vol. 48, No. 3 (Jul., 1983), pp. 610-615
We have a sizable team, including our staff members of Maya heritage as well as those who know the forest ecology as part of their work, plus two summer interns, a chef, and a design director among others–all looking into this tree and its fruit. These journal articles, less dry than some academia and fresher than their age would suggest were brought to my attention by Nicoletta Maestri who I thank for the article below. For my team mates and me this is food for thought on our path to determining how this tree, introduced millennia ago by Mayans, plays into the future of Chan Chich Lodge:

Brosimum Alicastrum, The Ancient Maya Breadnut Tree

Did the Maya Build Forests of Breadnut Trees?

The breadnut tree (Brosimum alicastrum) is an important species of tree that grows in the wet and dry tropical forests of Mexico and Central America, as well as in the Caribbean Islands. Also known as the ramón tree, asli or Cha Kook in the Mayan language, the breadnut tree usually grows in regions that are between 300 and 2,000 meters (1,000-6,500 feet) above sea level. The fruits have a small, elongated shape, similar to apricots, although they are not particularly sweet. Continue reading

Southern Roots Run Deep

Ms. Gomez grew up pulling mangoes from the trees and buying sugar cane from the vendors gathered outside her parochial school. Evan Sung for The New York Times

While Crist may have had the good fortune to enjoy a taste of Kerala with Asha Gomez during travel away from our home there, I was busy exploring the market byways for local ingredients and food ways. What a fascinating story to hear that Asha is actually experiencing that same sense of discovery and exploration within her own home state.

It looks like Crist might have gotten his wish for Asha to come to Kerala, after all!

A Chef’s Quest in India: Win Respect for Its Cooking

“I think I had disconnected myself from this place in some way by saying for so long that the U.S. was home,” said Ms. Gomez, 47, who had moved from the Indian state of Kerala to the state of Michigan as a teenager. “There is still so much a part of me here. I think I had forgotten that.”

Ms. Gomez had come to this land of ports, tea estates and spice gardens not only to reconnect with a part of herself, but also to find new ways to use her camera-ready personality and kitchen chops to lasso Kerala’s beautiful food culture and drag it back to the United States.

“I have to remove people from the mentality that all Indian food should be clumped up into nine dishes that are not really Indian dishes,” she said. “Not all Indian food belongs on a buffet line at $4.99. Indian food is 5,000 years of tradition and history, and it belongs right up there with French cuisine.”

Her frustration over American interpretations of the beloved coconut-scented fish curries, dosas and carefully layered beef biryanis of her homeland echoes the lament of countless cooks who have immigrated from countries like China, Mexico or Vietnam only to find their food mangled to meet the limitations of a new country’s palate and relegated to its cheap-eats guides.

“I wish I could say to every immigrant cook in America, ‘Why do you think your food should be any less than any other cuisine that comes from anywhere else in the world?’” Ms. Gomez said. Continue reading

Foraging Forays

Taking a break from packing for my upcoming return to Belize, I joined a group of old friends from the Georgia Mushroom Club in a foray near the Georgia/South Carolina border. Fresh air, a walk in the woods, good company, and foraging for mushrooms – what better way to spend a morning?

The weather has been warm and wet, great conditions for mushrooms and we were happy to find patches of chanterelles. As we searched we talked about Chan Chich Lodge and Belize, and that we’re in the midst of brainstorming collaborations with the staff and local community who carry the ancestral knowledge of the old Mayan and Belizean foodways, and chefs who focus on foraging in the creation of their menus. We’ve recently discovered a variety of foods that are plentifully available from the Chan Chich forests, and are excited to incorporate them into our culinary story.  Continue reading

The Wonders Of Trees Never Cease

goat-02_custom-060bac4eeff1a0b290ff201210009e650a2025d0-s1400-c85.jpg

Goats climb an argan tree in Morocco to dine on its fruit. Jeremy Horner/Getty Images

At Chan Chich Lodge we are just embarking on a tree-related culinary journey, so any counterintuitive story about trees is likely to catch my attention these days.

FigDeer.jpg

Thanks to Marc Silver at National Public Radio for the story about the picture above, Do Tree-Climbing Goats Help Plant New Trees? It is a short read and worth every second of your attention if you are interested in arboreal foodstuff.

This image to the left, while not as amusing as the one above, shows a deer doing the same thing with less panache. That deer will spread the seeds of that wild fig far and wide in the forest, increasing food supply. Continue reading

Food Sleuthing

00Apples-2-superJumbo.jpg

The remnant of an old apple orchard among wheat fields in Steptoe Butte State Park in Washington. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Yesterday magic happened. After sharing in the morning a quick mention of why my thoughts are on agriculture, I was walking with a member of Chan Chich Lodge’s groundskeeping team to review some work he had completed. On the way, we encountered a tree showering small fruits onto the ground. Fragrant. I asked him what it was and he said a word I did not recognize that sounded like “yo”.

About the size of a blueberry but not a berry, nor resembling anything I could identify. Until I opened it and its inside looked exactly like that of my favorite fruit. And then I realized my colleague had said higo, the Spanish word for fig. He then told me that in his village the old Mayans use this to make a flour, something they have done since olden times. He paused a moment, a bit of reverie I could tell, and then he continued about how the tortilla made from this is the best. It’s got me thinking. Thanks to Kirk Johnson for this second unexpected pleasure of a story:

Hunting Down the Lost Apples of the Pacific Northwest

STEPTOE, Wash. — David Benscoter honed his craft as an investigator for the F.B.I. and the United States Treasury, cornering corrupt politicians and tax evaders. The lost apple trees that he hunts down now are really not so different. People and things, he said, tend to hide in plain sight if you know how and where to look. Continue reading

Foraging Classes

HornFarmCenterLogoStacked-72-540x540WhiteBGA mushroom dropped in on my life, in an unexpected manner, and now I find myself wandering to unexpected places, such as rural Pennsylvania. I am sharing here mainly as a record of how I have come across the resources that inform how we approach bringing foraging to Chan Chich Lodge.

So, bravo and thanks to our friends at the Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education, which is my latest find in these wanderings. I particularly like their clearly laid out information on the educational resources they offer, most notably this section on foraging classes: Continue reading

Newtonian Moment At Chan Chich Lodge

ForageCCL.jpgEach morning at dawn, and then again at dusk, I walk the trails at Chan Chich Lodge. The walks serve multiple purposes, but they also serve no particular purpose; and when I get that just right, ideas present themselves.

This tree, not a standout in any way I can see, is a marker for me now. It is on a trail where I have had some wonderful wildlife sightings, the best of which, camera-less, was with a tapir. More recently, a troupe of peccaries was snouting around the base of this tree.

And most days there are two species of primate in the vicinity, each challenging the other for territory in their own way–one with grunting howls and the other by shaking clusters of branches vigorously to appear more intimidating than their common name, spider monkey, would imply. Yesterday, a Newtonian inspiration, tailored to my own interests, came to me right here. I saw these bursts of light on the tree trunk at the same moment that I heard a plop in the leaves on the ground right in front of the tree.

ForageCCL2Instead of an apple, and instead of my head, it was some sort of a fungus, a cluster of mushrooms by the look of it, that fell from the canopy into the ground cover. Gravity already having had its heyday of consideration, I instead turned my thoughts to the possibility of a new dimension to the Chan Chich Lodge food program.

I had never heard of mushrooms growing in the forest canopy, but why should I not expect such a thing? I know from our friend Meg, among others, that the vast majority of biodiversity in a rainforest is concentrated in the canopy. So, hmmmm. Is it an edible one?

I snapped these photographs and sent them to one of the two fellows who I always consult on these matters. Answer: too dry to make a positive id. Don’t eat. Of course I will not! But, and here’s the closest I will get to a Newtonian moment of inspiration… Continue reading