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:
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:
A Los Angeles distillery aims to speed up a 10-year aging process to a matter of days.
Why 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
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:
Yesterday, in our continued quest to consider the future of a family dairy farm, we visited what must be the largest such farm in central Costa Rica. At 7,545 feet above sea level overlooking the valley from the northern slope, it may also be the highest.
It has eight times the land and double the cows compared to where we are based, 10 miles north and about 1,000 feet lower in altitude. That farm also has dairy goats. More on other implications of the visit later. Here, a quick note on feed. We had noticed on the dairy where we live that pineapple is part of the diet of the cows.
The dairy manager had explained that this is an important part of the nutritional mix. Despite our surprise we had not asked more about it. Yesterday we did, and the answer was another surprise. Milk production rises 10% or more with the pineapple added to the feed. The animals are healthier because of the fiber content of the fruit, compared to cows eating grains such as corn or soy. Plus, the methane bi-product is significantly decreased. Food produced in a dairy making this dietary change represents one small step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In the type of coincidence I never expect, but always enjoy, this article was near the top of my news feed today. Thanks to Judith Lewis Mernit and colleagues at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies for take my yesterday’s lesson and adding some important detail:
Emissions from the nearly 1.5 billion cattle on earth are a major source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Now, researchers in California and elsewhere are experimenting with seaweed as a dietary additive for cows that can dramatically cut their methane production.
Holstein cows feeding at a dairy farm in Merced, California. MARMADUKE ST. JOHN / ALAMY
The spring morning temperature in landlocked northern California warns of an incipient scorcher, but the small herd of piebald dairy cows that live here are too curious to care. Upon the approach of an unfamiliar human, they canter out of their barn into the already punishing sun, nosing each other aside to angle their heads over the fence. Some are black-and-white, others brown; all sport a pair of numbered yellow ear tags. Some are more assertive than others. One manages to stretch her long neck out far enough to lick the entire length of my forearm.
Scientist Ermias Kebreab has studied how to reduce cow methane emissions for more than a decade. GREGORY URQUIAGA/UC DAVIS
“That’s Ginger,” explains their keeper, 27-year-old Breanna Roque. A graduate student in animal science at the University of California, Davis, Roque monitors everything from the animals’ food rations to the somatic cells in their milk — indicators of inflammation or stress. “The interns named her. She’s our superstar.” Continue reading
When we took up residence at this dairy, and started paying attention to stories involving dairies, most involved how to add value by making something more than liquid for bulk sale. No matter how good that milk is, what else might be done here to ensure that the farm is worth more than its real estate value? Maybe more liquid is the answer? Or maybe solid foods that are discussed in this book, as reviewed by Michael Pollan:
For a revolution that supposedly failed, the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s scored a string of enduring victories. Environmentalism, feminism, civil and gay rights, as well as styles of music, fashion, politics, therapy and intoxication: In more ways than many of us realize, we live in a world created by the ’60s. (Though, as our politics regularly attest, some of us are rather less pleased to be living in that world than others.) Jonathan Kauffman’s briskly entertaining history, “Hippie Food,” makes a convincing case for adding yet another legacy to that list: the way we eat. Continue reading
Tacos at a restaurant in Nashville. Credit Christopher Berkey for The New York Times
Margaret Renkl, Contributing Opinion Writer for the New York Times, shares an opinion that I am, as a son of an immigrant, inclined to agree with. Even if I was not so closely related to the theme, it would still make sense to me:
NASHVILLE — Not quite two weeks ago, I was driving down Nolensville Road, Nashville’s “international corridor,” looking for a restaurant called Tennessee Halal Fried Chicken. In the passenger seat was John T. Edge, the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance and author of “The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South.” He was telling me that this particular approach to dining out, in one way of looking at it, could be considered a form of exploitation: “To patronize a restaurant of people who are different from you can be a kind of booty call,” he said.
This is an idea Mr. Edge has been considering for some time. The historically complicated nature of cross-cultural dining goes back to black-owned barbecue joints in the age of Jim Crow: “White Southerners patronized those restaurants,” he said. “They got in, they got what they wanted, and they got out.” Continue reading
It is Monday, a good time to revisit the “meatless” movement, the one where you take one small step at a time to a better diet. Thanks to Bibi van der Zee and colleagues at the Guardian for arranging this guide to all the good reasons to reduce or eliminate meat from the diet:
As concerns over the huge impact on the environment, human health and animal welfare grow, what future is there for the meat industry
What are the economics of meat?
Cattle in the Brazilian Amazon. Photograph: Rodrigo Baleia
Food and farming is one of the biggest economic sectors in the world. We are no longer in the 14th century, when as much as 76% of the population worked in agriculture – but farming still employs more than 26% of all workers globally. And that does not include the people who work along the meat supply chain: the slaughterers, packagers, retailers and chefs.
In 2016, the world’s meat production was estimated at 317m metric tons, and that is expected to continue to grow. Figures for the value of the global meat industry vary wildly from $90bn to as much as $741bn. Continue reading
Soft fruit, such as oranges, root vegetables and salad are particularly prone to waste. Photograph: Eric Farrelly/Alamy
Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent for the Guardian, has reported on a simple idea to not waste fruit just because its appearance is not standard. Wonky, as they say on the island where the English language comes from. Don’t fear the wonk, this article and this brand are saying. Was this not already happening with juice, as with other waste-reducing beverages? Can a brand be built on such an idea? Thumbs up to that:
‘Wonky’ fruit and vegetables that would have been thrown away are now being used to make a new range of juices, in one of a number of assaults on food waste.
One of the UK’s largest fresh produce growers has teamed up with a Spanish fruit supplier to create a new product, Waste Not, which will stop edible but visually ‘imperfect’ ingredients such as fresh celery, beetroot and oranges from being dug back into the soil, or used for animal feed. The new juices will go on sale in branches of Tesco.
The move is one of a growing number of innovations to reduce food waste throughout the supply chain, following criticism of supermarkets and suppliers that perfectly good food is being thrown out while UK consumers are relying increasingly on food banks. Continue reading
Ajinomoto, the world’s largest manufacturer of MSG, produces umami magic at its panda-themed headquarters. Photograph from Alamy
In the new issue of one of the sources we draw from weekly there is an article–An MSG Convert Visits the High Church of Umami, by Helen Rosner–that gives a refreshing splash of cold water on the face. My kitchen counter looks like the one she describes, sans MSG. And for the reasons she lays out. Always happy to be corrected, I recommend this to others who may have suffered the same culinary fate as me until now:
On my kitchen counter, to the side of the stove, there is a jagged skyline of jars and bottles, featuring the condiments and oils and spices that I use too often to ever properly put away. A few are ingredients so key that I buy them in bulk, storing the multi-kilo mega-packages in the back of the closet and decanting them for daily use into more countertop-friendly vessels: olive oil, kosher salt, and monosodium glutamate, or MSG. In one combination or another, this holy trinity ends up in almost everything I prepare—the MSG, with its savory chemical magic, is particularly useful as rocket fuel for dishes of raw fruits and vegetables. I whisk it into vinaigrette before dressing a salad; add it by the teaspoon to the relish of fresh plums and jalapeños that I make each summer; and, whenever I’m feeling snacky, sprinkle it on chopped cucumbers. Continue reading
Motal cheese is a fresh goat’s milk cheese made primarily in remote mountain areas in Armenia. Cross of Armenian Unity/Ruslan Torosyan
We are on the lookout for stories that combine our interest in topics such as conservation, and entrepreneurship, and traditional foodways, and innovation (among other things) and this story touches on several of our favorite themes. Thanks to the salt team at National Public Radio (USA):
In the mountains of eastern Armenia, about 75 miles north of the capital Yerevan, motal means change.
Motal cheese is like a business card for our region,” says Arpine Gyuluman, who owns Getik Bed and Breakfast in Gegharkunik. “[Because of it], we’re seeing more and more visitors annually.”
Motal is a white goat cheese flavored with wild herbs that is similar to homestyle country cheeses in Iran and Azerbaijan. Motal is prepared in locally made terra cotta pots sealed with beeswax ― a method that dates back at least 5,000 years. A little more than a decade ago, it was in danger of disappearing. That is, until a local university student named Ruslan Torosyan embarked on a personal crusade to save motal. Continue reading
A chromolithograph of Christopher Columbus arriving at the Caribbean. Credit Louis Prang and Company/Getty Images
Thanks to Carl Zimmer for this 1493-ish story:
Many botanists argued that humans must have carried the valuable staple to the Pacific from South America, a hidden chapter in human history. Not so, according to a new study.
The distribution of the sweet potato plant has baffled scientists. How could the plant arise from a wild ancestor in the Americas and wind up on islands across the Pacific? Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times
Of all the plants that humanity has turned into crops, none is more puzzling than the sweet potato. Indigenous people of Central and South America grew it on farms for generations, and Europeans discovered it when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean.
In the 18th century, however, Captain Cook stumbled across sweet potatoes again — over 4,000 miles away, on remote Polynesian islands. European explorers later found them elsewhere in the Pacific, from Hawaii to New Guinea.
The distribution of the plant baffled scientists. How could sweet potatoes arise from a wild ancestor and then wind up scattered across such a wide range? Was it possible that unknown explorers carried it from South America to countless Pacific islands? Continue reading
Maryn McKenna escaped our notice until now, as did her recent book Big Chicken:
In this provocative narrative, acclaimed journalist Maryn McKenna reveals the fascinating history of chicken—and how the common backyard bird became an industrial commodity impacting human health around the world. Crucial to its meteoric rise: the routine use of antibiotics, a practice that would transform agriculture, change the world’s eating habits, and contribute to the deadly rise of drug-resistant infections around the globe.
Bringing us on an extraordinary journey from the vast poultry farms of the United States to laboratories, kitchens and sidewalk markets around the world, McKenna reveals how economic, political and cultural forces converged to make America’s favorite meat a hidden danger—and how companies, activists, farmers and chefs are carving a path back to better, safer food.
Antibiotics changed the world.
Then we gave them to the animals we eat.
This is the story of what happened next. Continue reading
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
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
Contradictory consumer demands for food labels are making some food companies re-think their alliance with the industry’s traditional lobbying group. miakievy/Getty Images
Food producers may not all, or always, appreciate how much information consumers want or need, but erring on the side of more in this case makes sense to us. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this story:
For at least the past decade, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has been the unrivaled voice of a vast industry, from neighborhood grocery stores to food manufacturing giants with supply chains that span the globe. Most recently, it’s been a powerful force in fighting proposals to require information about added sugar or GMOs on food labels.
Today, that colossus is teetering and facing questions about its future. Over the past six months, eight of GMA’s largest members have decided to drop their membership. Each defection was quickly revealed on the news site Politico. One industry insider says that he’s seen a list of another three companies that are considering leaving the association. Continue reading
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:
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
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:
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
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:
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.
Five 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
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.
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
Ori Gersht’s Off Balance, 2006. Photograph: Ori Gersht/Aperture.org
I highly recommend this combination of retro covers from classic food and homemaking publications, stylized food presentations and deconstructed recipe imagery. Guaranteed to make you smile. (Check below the jump for more of my personal favorites.)
In this taster from her new book Feast for the Eyes, curator and writer Susan Bright brings into focus the rich history of food in pictures. From Man Ray to Cindy Sherman and Martin Parr, it is an artful exploration of how the edible vastly exceeds the simple things we put on our plates.
Farmer Wendy Johnson markets hogs, chickens, eggs and seasonal turkeys. She also grows organic row crops at Joia Food Farm near Charles City, Iowa. Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media
Thanks to Harvest Public Media, Amy Mayer and the folks at the salt over at National Public Radio (USA):
On a cloudy summer day, Iowa farmer Wendy Johnson lifts the corner of a mobile chicken tractor, a lightweight mesh-covered plastic frame that has corralled her month-old meat chickens for a few days, and frees several dozen birds to peck the surrounding area at will. Soon, she’ll sell these chickens to customers at local markets. Continue reading