Message in a Scarecrow

There has been a lot of talk in the last week about a new ad campaign from the restaurant chain Chipotle. The ad features a great combination of industrial imagery and Fiona Apple’s haunting, ethereal voice that make for compelling advertising. In the video the Scarecrow breaks out from its factory food overlords to start a small and sustainable burrito stand, quite possibly a metaphor for Chipotle’s escape from McDonald’s investment dollars upon going public a few years back.

The campaign immediately caught the attention of a friend in the ad world who, knowing our interests, passed it along. Right away all of the major (and minor) media outlets picked up on it, and there have been thorough breakdowns of the ad and how closely it reflects how Chipotle acts in reality. Funny-or-Die quickly developed a parody highlighting the discrepancies, which led to further media attention. (See: TNY, NYT, MJ, LAT, WaPo, NPR…)

The debates around whether or not Chipotle is entitled to make the argument for better production methods are intriguing, and absolutely valid. Chipotle uses ambiguous ad-speak, terms like “natural” and phrases like “food with integrity” – unmeasurable claims. But what is exceptional about the reaction to Chipotle’s campaign is that very few of the debates buzzing around are focused on the actual message of the ad; instead, most choose to focus on the messenger.

People demand to know whether Chipotle is worthy of this fight, or if they can really claim the mantle of the sustainable food movement. I, for one, don’t know. But what we can say with certainty is this: the discussion of whether or not we should be improving the food system no longer seems even worthy of debate (!). Instead, the dialogue is centered around the corporation’s hold on the subject. However you come down on the subject of “food with integrity,” it is a noteworthy shift that we are debating less about the importance of sustainable food and more about who’s carrying the banner.

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Canned Laughter

Canning!Our CSA share has been positively monumental lately. So much so, that we’ve had too many tomatoes and peaches than we know what to do with. Winter, however, will not be quite so flush. Thus, we recently decided to start canning.

We’ve fantasized about canning our CSA share extras for the last few years, but the combination of our small kitchen and the daunting prospects of sterilization have always scared us off. This year we got the canning-mojo, and have since been canning up a storm. We mentioned in our post Ten Things To Do With Tomatoes that we’ve begun these procedures and that we’ve been tom-loaded, so we started with tomatoes, and have yet to stop.

Though we’ll go over some basics, if you need a more in-depth primer on how to proceed, check here.

Step 1. Sterilization

The number-one rule is to keep everything clean.  Start by cleaning your jars and lids well and then put them in a pot of boiling water.  We just leave them there until it’s time to fill them. They clank around a lot to let you know they’re getting nice and sterile.

Sterilizing Cans

Step 2. Prepare food

Doing tomatoes is really straightforward, and it’s the same for peaches. You don’t want the skins of either fruit, so drop them in boiling water for about a minute, then put them in an ice bath, after which the peels just fall away when you rub on them a little. Do this a few at a time and then place them in a colander above a bowl to save the juice. Once they’re all peeled, remove the core and cut into quarters.

Step 3. Can

Stuffing Those Toms InCarefully remove the sterilized jars and start adding the tomatoes, leaving about 1/2″ at the top (the “head space”). Use the reserved juices to cover the tomatoes, and remove as much air as possible by prodding with a chopstick or wood spoon.  Screw on the lids and “process” by placing the closed jars back in the boiling water for about 45 minutes to one hour (depending a bit on the size of the jar). Then just take out the jars and let stand for a few hours without moving them. The lids should make a very satisfying pop to let you know they’ve fully sealed.

Boiling CansThose are the basics!

We got a little fancy and roasted some tomatoes with garlic for some (mid-winter) summery sauces, which smelled heavenly.

Tomatoes with Garlic and Basil and Rosemary

Roasted Tomatoes

IMG_6429As we all know, peaches – much like tomatoes – become a sad-hybrid-pretend-fruit in the supermarket come late fall/early winter. Seriously, they taste like mealy soap. To combat this conundrum, we (mere days after tomato canning) canned a combination of yellow, white and donut peaches, which promises to be a heavenly treat come the frost.

Canning Peaches

And now we’re ready! We can pack up away and hibernate, not to be seen again until April or so. Our pantry (aka NYC closet) is stacked.

Canned Tomatoes

Canned Peaches

NYC Pantries (Closets)

Next up, apples.

Even Audrey Baked in the Summertime

Picture borrowed from www.twistedsifter.com, colored by Dana Keller.

Picture borrowed from http://www.twistedsifter.com, colored by Dana Keller.

It may be past Labor Day, but if you hovered around New York City last week you’d be hard pressed to find someone who believed it. It was very sticky, impressively hazy, and just a little bit smelly. It made everyone who had packed away their AC units rethink doing so, and I saw more than one adult run through an open fire hydrant.

Zucchini Polaroid

So we took the opportunity to bake. (No, really. We’re not that bright.)

Zucchini bread is a harvest season favorite because of all the unruly zukes that manage to get away from you and take a turn towards plus size. People literally beg you to take zucchinis off their hands, and really, who am I to deny them?

The comically enormous zucchinis tend not to have as much flavor as the smaller ones – which is too bad because so many of them seem to get away from their gardeners – but they make a perfect foil for a sweet bread. And just one can often yield a healthy sized zucchini bread, a handful of zucchini muffins, and still a bit leftover for zucchini fritters.

In the Zucchini Battle of 2011 we gave a good list of things to make when the harvest explodes, one of which was zucchini bread. But as the recipe has been asked for, I’ve decided to elaborate. It’s so easy there’s almost no reason not to take 15 min and use the bartering system to take someone’s garden veggies (including some uberzukes) and return a bread back after.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 2 1/4 cups of white sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp cinnnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 sticks of butter (or 1 cup vegetable oil)
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups of grated zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

(I found a vegan recipe here! So when I’m not baking for others, I can chow down too.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease two 8X4 inch pans. Sometimes the mixture fills one 9×5 just as well and is a fatter more luscious bread. But play it by ear with how much mixture you have and whatever kinds of loaf pans.

Start by shredding up the zucchini with a grater: and prepare to get jacked. Or if you prefer spaghetti-arms and you have one near, a food processor with a grating attachment will work just as well.

Shredded Zucchini (sans food processor)Stir up all your dry ingredients in a bowl (flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon), while melting your butter on the stove. Keep a watchful eye so your butter doesn’t brown.

In a separate bowl blend sugar and melted butter, and then add eggs one by one.

Zucchini Bread Wet IngredientsAdd dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stir up altogether, and then add zucchini and chopped nuts. Feel free to add dried cranberries, chocolate, and other nuts and dried fruit depending on your tastebuds.

Zucchini BreadsPour mixture into buttered pan (or pans). Bake for 45-60 min. You’ll know your bread is ready by the smell, and if a toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy plain, or if you’re feeling crazy fry it in a pan for breakfast and enjoy with a cup of coffee.

Zucchini Bread

Then share with neighbors.

The smell of baking zucchini bread is a classic sign of fall in our household. While Audrey might have enjoyed a sweltering bake day with us last week, this week she’d be back in sweatpants (ha, a likely story) as the weather has dropped an ominous 30 degrees. But at least, like us, she’d have some comfort food to mourn the passing of summer with. Fare thee well, lovely summertime.

Homemade BBQ Sauce? Yes Please.

Homemade Barbecue SauceA lot of vegetarians will tell you that what they miss more than anything on this now meatless earth is *bacon*. And they’ll say it with this faraway look in their eyes like strips of bacon wear little haloes and float in the sky. Ahh, but not this one. There are three veggie weaknesses for me:

  1. The Jewish girl in me longs for her people’s food of choice: bagels with schmear and lox.  Oy.
  2. Sushi… OH, how I long for fresh tuna.
  3. And the big summer kahuna — barbecue.

Luckily, the last is something we can work with. It’s not that I miss the slabs of meat or the taste of hamburger and hotdogs. Those urges are long gone. But the smell of smoke wafting through the air and the crowd that gathers around a piping hot grill and the community aspects to a barbecue strikes a deep-down cord.

There are a million alternatives that you can put on the grill, things I’ve blogged about many a time before. But grilling and barbecue somehow mean something different, and it’s only occurred recently to me that that might be due to… mmmm…. barbecue sauce.

Barbecue sauce comes in a godzillion (yes, that is the technical term) varieties and line the supermarket’s aisles with options. But I have come to find that the best way to eat BBQ sauce is to make it yourself. It’s shockingly simple and cheaper than buying it from the store. Add in the bonus of reducing the sugar and sodium levels, leaving out high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and other unpleasantries – not to mention getting to add the flavors that you like in particular – it ends up hard to argue with.

The staples of barbecue sauce are crazy easy:

  • tomato paste
  • mustard
  • garlic
  • onion powder
  • cider vinegar
  • some spices, a little sea salt
  • and liquid smoke  (the clincher).

The rest is fair game.

  • For sweetness, pick your sweet of choice: local honey, real maple sauce (please, come on guys), molasses, brown sugar. All good and all different.
  • Spices! Chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, you could try cinnamon… go nuts! (Ooh, nuts would be interesting.)Tomato Paste - pic borrowed from http://localfoods.about.com/od/condiments/ss/tomatopaste.htm
  • For liquids try a boozey variety: like whisky, or I like adding a really dark beer, or if you’re thinking a tangier concoction, how about tequila? With lime!
  • I used to use Worcestershire sauce until I realized it has fishies in it and then it was sayonara to the Woost. But definitely try some hot sauce or hot peppers.
  • Maybe soy if you’re feeling like a hint of the East.
  • You can also try making your own tomato paste, should the tomato harvest overwhelm you. This should give a bit of a fresher flavor, and there’s a good how-to here.
  • Add a few drops of liquid smoke at the end. If you just put your nose in it, you’ll get why it seals the deal.

Simply put all this in a pot and stir it around until it smells and/or tastes like you imagine BBQ sauce to. Or better, like you wish it did. Throw it in a jar and add your personalized label. Then slather it on tofu, seitan, tempeh, vegetables. Anything.

I can’t promise you won’t miss meat, but I can promise you won’t be thinking about bacon.

The Bartering System

IMG_5990Here is a favorite trick of the Farmin’ Cityfolk trade: Bartering.

Evan and I were cooking a big dinner recently when we abruptly realized we had baked two desserts (both guest of honor’s favorites), baked bread, prepared sauces, made some stately appetizers, used leftover rice to make vegan rice pudding, and made a lovely breakfast for ourselves, but had forgotten entirely about the main course (minus grilled goodies).

Meet Nick:

Nick the Gardener

Nicks are not as easy to find in the Greater NYC area, because Nicks need huge quantities of space for plush fantastical gardens full of yummies:

Nick's Garden

Peppers from the Garden

Zucchini Flowers from the Garden

Big Hand, LIttle FlowerBut when we’re out of Manhattan and in need of some greenery, he always comes through in a clinch.

It is a mark of friendship to know people’s foods (take say, to remember to leave the crystalized ginger out of salads for one friend, or to always avoid eggplant – horrors – for another, there are gluten-free, veggie, or vegan, or some might claim they just don’t like cheese). We know Nick likes cakey breads made with garden goodies, and he knows we like anything that comes up in his backyard. Show up at Nick’s with a pumpkin, banana, or zucchini bread, and you can leave with dinner makings.

Bartered Banana Bread

Banana Bread and Vegan Rice PuddingIt’s really the tit-for-tat socialist lifestyle we’re aiming for.

Nick’s bountiful pile of swiss chard, broccoli greens, basil, and summer squash made for a very promising meal – and it’s safe to say it delivered. Sautéed broccoli greens and swiss chard and some grilled squash goes a long way in this household.

It’s not always easy to find bartering pals, but ask around. My mother, for example, has been known to take Thanksgiving turkeys in exchange for legal advice. We’ve always got one thing we’d love to do and another thing we’d rather not. So feed a friend in exchange for some physics tutoring, or paint an apartment for pizza and beer, or change a lightbulb for a cookie. But keep in mind that when it comes to bartering, food will always be the gold standard.

Lunchtime

A Nap in a Hammock

Greener Thumbs Prevail

Zinnias in NYC

As we blithely told some apartment-hunting friends recently, “You’re not the first people in New York City to want outdoor space.”

New Yorkers do what they can with the minuscule amount of space the landlord gods grace them with, generally something resembling a shoebox with a toilet. As you might remember from last year, Pygmy Goats - http://blog.sfgate.com/pets/2010/01/26/pygmy-goats-the-new-it-pet/for Evan and me doing what we can means utilizing the two windows in our studio apartment with happy, fanciful window gardens, bringing the farmin’ to city as per usual.

In our dream world, we would have a rooftop garden, or even a rooftop farm. We’d have a city-cow for dairy and some city-chickens for eggs and maybe a city-pygmy goat. Because – I mean, look at them – who can resist a pygmy goat?

We have yet to build our city farm, but we are still desperately trying to keep our teenie-weenie garden alive and well. This year we still have our happy little lemon tree, as well as sage, mint, chives, basil, zinnias, johnny-jump-ups (which bring me unreasonable joy), and tomatoes again, both cherry and beefsteak.

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IMG_6127There’s nothing better than waking up in the morning, rolling over in bed, and seeing our city street framed by our garden.

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(Our friends, by the way, landed a lovely one-bedroom, with in-building laundry and gym, rooftop access, and outdoor space on their first day hunting… So who am I to talk, really.)

I Left My Heart in Barcelona

IMG_5613The last leg of our trip was spent in the all-too-chic city of Barcelona.

I spent my first semester of college in Northern Spain, far from the trendy metropolis of Catalan. I didn’t get nearly enough time in Barcelona the first round, so back I went. And this time, with my dreamy boy.

Returning ten years later filled me with nostalgia and abrupt comical memories. Barcelona shines amongst its Spanish counterparts, and demands to be seen as distinctive. So in ways it felt like coming home, if home were on the Mediterranean and had fewer bull billboards in its backdrop.

Ahh the MediterraneanSpain is another meat-heavy country making it none-too-easy on veggies. When I lived there as a freshman my roommates and I lived on cheese and apples from the dorm for four and a half months and only mildly suffered from scurvy (our fault; not Spain’s). But when you get out and hunt, you can find some truly stunning meals with succulent spicy red wines and biting cheeses, and Barcelona especially appeals to foodies of all types. On our first night Evan wanted to try paella, and off we went in search of this classic.

Paella

I managed to find a vegetarian paella and was ecstatic, but I quickly found out that there’s a reason it’s not vegetarian by nature… (it was subpar). Saffron rice made with canned string beans and overcooked peas and carrots was kind of a bummer and apparently what really nails the taste of a paella is the unmistakable seafoody saltiness. I doused mine in salt and fresh pepper and some lemon stolen from Evan’s plate, but no matter what I did it didn’t come near to smelling like Evan’s beautiful dish.

Ev had the idea to cook the rice in ocean water sometime when we’re making paella on our own. That way it would have the fishy aroma but skip on the fish. Then we could dump whatever vegetables we want in there and see if it might come close. I don’t know though, that shellfish was awfully stunning.

It apparently didn’t compare, however, to our second night of dinner where Evan says he had hands down the freshest mussels of all time, at BETLEM: Miscellania Gastronomica, a brilliantly-Barcelona tapas bar where our delicious waiter accusatorially said to me – in perfect English – “How did you find this place? It is not the usual place for tourists…” (Yes!). He kindly pointed out a few vegetarian plates off a very meat-heavy menu, and offered to make me an omelet. For a country that puts pig and eggs in well, everything, this was not a mind-blowing offer. But I have to say that if forced to eat an omelet for dinner, this is the one I want:

Mushroom Omelet

Freshest Mussels

We also had a tasty cheese plate with macadamia nuts and tomato bread and cheese galore, but the stunner was this potato dish (no really, potatoes nailed the meal!) made with a spicy and nutty romesco sauce.

Potatoes with Romesco SauceWho knew?

Barcelona also is home to La Boqueria, an absolutely unreal food market that goes on indefinitely, each turn bringing a new host of things I pestered Evan to let me buy myself – and vice versa. One thing the Europeans have right that we don’t: they have no misgivings about what happens to animals when they are slaughtered. They show full skinned carcasses in their butcheries leaving nothing to the imagination. If our society chooses to eat meat, it seems only right we should confront that it is animal and life. It takes some getting used to, but I most certainly appreciate the brutal (so to speak) honesty.

Piggies

Shellfish

Amazing Juices!

Mushroom Land

Sgt. Pepper's Mind Would Be BlownThe fruit and vegetable stands were magnificent. They glowed with color and made for the perfect lunch to bring to the beach that day, along with some Spanish cheeses and olive oil.

Of course we saw some flamenco and had sangria. I mean, come on, we were in Spain:Sangria and Flamenco

Which meant that we – as if you’ve ever lived in Spain know – also had tortilla for breakfast with orange juice and café con leche.

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Barcelona Flags

And soon after that, exhausted, we headed home. And the weary travelers returned.

Weary Traveler

Ah, Venice

ImageAfter a particularly harrowing journey from Paris on RyanAir, we arrived in the amazing city of Venice. We checked in on the third day of torrential rain (thus the petrifying journey) and shopkeepers were still mucking out, knee-deep in floodwater. They seemed all too familiar with this, which gives a foreboding nature about the future of Venice.

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Venice itself was fantastical and entirely lived up to its hype. Neither of us had been there prior, and we were dazzled at every turn. As is the cliché, every corner you get lost in is another cute little alley leading to another little canal, and in that canal another cute Italian boater. It was serene and strange and misty and heavenly.

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By and large the food left something to be desired, though we did have a couple of great meals. It wasn’t easy avoiding the tourist traps, and we really had to weave through the town and find little crevices with no signage or people around, and finally some Italian-speakers to alert us to the fact that there might be authentic food near. (For a city in Italy, the amount of Italian spoken is comically lacking.)

One of these gems was a wine bar where we stopped for some tapas-style lunch, which in Italy are called “cicchetti”.IMG_5328

IMG_5322The barkeep was very considerate in preparing two plates for us. He fixed a vegetarian plate for me full of beautiful pieces of cheese, arancini, some peppery things, some unidentified spreads, and the most flavorful artichoke heart I’ve ever had. Ev got cured meats and little fishes and a mini-octopus.

We did some pastry experimenting, and found that Italian pastries really are vastly different from French pastries! The dough has a much tougher, flakier texture that explodes when you bite it. It’s chewier and sweeter. We had a beautiful cream puff, and an Italian sweet cream treat in a horn-like shell that we could smell being baked from several canals over.IMG_5259 2

IMG_5454Of course we experimented with the Italian classics: pizza, bruschetta, pastas. Not at all tricky to survive as a vegetarian in this town. We drank lots of wine and binged on gelato. All your standards.

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931235_10101506538341890_1346720821_n**I shouldn’t admit to this, and I’m clearly biased, but a New York slice of pizza really can compete.**

More than anything, just enjoying an espresso standing outside by the canals was the most agreeable away to spend a warm afternoon.IMG_5383

IMG_5386Venice was a dream. There were moments unreal that haunt me with joy and nostalgia.IMG_5494

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Venice, I beg you: please don’t sink.

Giverny

IMG_4926While in France, we took a jaunt to the beautiful Giverny for a day. Giverny is a tiny little hamlet about an hour north of Paris, population 502. It is best known for being the home of the acclaimed painter, Claude Monet.

Linnea in Monet's GardensAs an eight-year-old I had a freakish love affair with Monet’s work. I read Linnea in Monet’s Garden about ten times… like, a week. Piles of birthday gifts were dedicated to Monet posters, Monet books, Monet postcards, you know, Monet. While other kids were getting rollerblades, I was getting Monet’s Bridge magnets – and was happy about it. Next time I complain about how no one liked me as a kid, remind me about my Monet collection. It will promptly shut me up.

So given the chance to finally visit his home and see his extolled gardens, obviously the eight-year-old in me spoke up and Evan and I took the train (way to go, Europe!) upwards. There’s this lovely option of being able to rent bikes from the train station and bike the four miles to Monet’s home, but it was very chilly and rainy and we forewent the bike ride for the bus, which takes the same route.

Evan and I were oh, about 40 years junior the youngest of tourists on the bus, but we fit in well enough and were delighted to schmooze with our fellow travelers. A lovely group of cluckety women with short silver haircuts and fanny-packs cooed over us when they figured out we were from their home-country. They fawned over our youth and confessed apologetically with lovable Southern accents, “Well honey, we’re from Texas. But we don’t have Texas politics!” (We hadn’t asked.)

Monet’s home and gardens were, I admit, oppressively touristy. The bridge was clearly rebuilt (and.. plastic?) and his home has been redecorated and painted, if I may say so, hideously. But the acres of gardens were absolutely glorious. It smelled unearthly (and, you know, earthly) and was really satisfactorily organized by color feeding the OCD in me. It was quite enchanting indeed.IMG_4893

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Here’s Evan enjoying a light Frenchy snack in the middle of our stroll.

IMG_4941Oh, and for lunch – pure joy. We had crêpes, one with goat cheese and honey, and the other with apple and camembert, a salad with tomatoes and a mustardy dressing, and kirs, one black currant and one peach. All in the cozy backyard of Monet’s classic landscapes.

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