I have two hens clucking around my backyard at this very moment. When I tell people this, even my smartest, hippest friends, I get the funniest looks. “Chickens?!” they exclaim. “Why? For their meat? Aren’t your neighbors bothered by the rooster crowing?” I sigh. (Neither of these things are true – read on.) Hey – I’m not judging. Before we got these hens last fall, I had the same questions. But what really strikes me about these questions is how very disconnected we all are from the food we eat, myself included.
Look at those beautiful birds!
Case in point: I grew up in a small Ohio town, east of Columbus. The middle school I attended was near one of Ohio’s largest egg farms. When the weather was warm, the part of the bus ride past those chicken farms – long, one-story hen houses stretching out side by side for acres – was nearly unbearable because of the smell. We kids would try to hold our breath for as long as we could as we went by. And this was from a bus out on the street. I can’t imagine what it was like inside those buildings. Granted I was a kid, but not once did I connect that the eggs we bought at the grocery store likely came from a facility like that, and I imagine neither did our parents.
Forty-nine million people in the U.S. – one in four children – don’t know where their next meal is coming from. If that isn’t a frightening, infuriating, confusing piece of data, I don’t know what is.
Today I’m donating my post to building awareness about hunger in America, and inspire you to get involved.
The above stat came from a new film called A Place at the Table, created by the makers of Food Inc. It’s got a star studded cast of actors, chefs and political personalities all trying to send a message. I haven’t seen it, but I plan to soon. So what can we do about this?
1. Educate yourself about the issue by watching the movie. Here’s the trailer:
There will be a local screening of the film in Nashville at Downtown Presbyterian Church (154 5th Ave N) Monday, April 29, 6 p.m. (begin film at 6:30 p.m.). Afterward, there will be a panel discussion so you can learn how to get more involved. I know I’m excited about that.
I was in Chicago last weekend for a friend’s birthday/graduation party. In between all the planned events, I was able to fit in several delightful meals, including one at Birchwood, in Ukranian Village. Our host and hostess, Davis and Laura, had their rehearsal dinner there. They also have a killer brunch.
I ordered a Croque Vert, which was a version of a Croque Madame, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with egg on top, but with veggies instead of ham. While we were waiting for our food we were curious about the translation of the dish. Turns out that “croque” means crunch in French, indicating the bread is grilled. There’s also a Croque Monsieur (i.e. Mr. Crunch) which is the same as Croque Madame (Mrs. Crunch!) but without the egg…Some good trivia for your next brunch date.
One of my favorite, most-flavor-for-the-least-effort, go-to meals is this white bean stew. I’m amazed I haven’t written about it before. I originally found a version of this recipe in a magazine but I’ve tweaked it so much over the years I have no idea what that recipe was – I just have my version. It comes together in 20 minutes (though it’s better after having chilled out in the fridge for a day). Plus it’s totally easy to make a double batch for a friend or just for the freezer. It goes great with some crusty bread or just a simple salad. Enjoy!
Now that all that lovey dovey business about Chris and Maria is posted, let’s get down to business: Wheat berries.
In January, during my meat-free month, one of my three goals was to cook a new grain. I make brown rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice, barley, cous cous, quinoa, and arborio (for risotto) with some regularity. But I rarely branch out. The most recent new grain I’d tried was black rice, which I used in this Thai-Inspired Black Rice Salad.
We’re lucky in that Turnip Truck Natural Market is just up the street. They have a bulk grain bin with all kinds of interesting grains in it in addition to nuts, granola, specialty flours and dried beans. I didn’t have to commit to an entire bag of wheat berries – I got just what I needed, and it was cheaper that way too.
Wheat berries are the whole, unprocessed kernels of the grain, and they taste like it. They’re chewy, nutty and substantial. I loved the way they tasted while my husband said they tasted “healthy.”
Too cook these babies, you boil them like pasta in salted water. They could cook from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours depending on how many you have in the pot. I boiled mine about 45 minutes until they were cooked, but still quite toothsome. I might cook them a little longer next time.
Here’s what they looked like before they were cooked.
Today I have a special post. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to share a love story between two friends. If you read all the way to the end, you’ll get to see the step shots for Moussaka, the Greek dish I got to learn as the story unfolded.
Over New Year’s, two longtime friends came to stay with my husband and me. Maria lives in Cyprus and Chris lives in Oakland, Calif. No sooner had they sat down at our kitchen table the night they arrived they announced – much to our delight – they were in love and getting married.
Chris and Maria.
Chris and Maria met nine years ago when they, along with some friends, decided to open a bookstore on the island of Santorini in Greece. The group found a small whitewashed building overlooking the Aegean to rent, and Atlantis Books (you really should click that link and check it out.) was born. Over the years the two became close – almost like siblings. They bickered and fought, and both smart and stubborn, in the early days, they often disagreed about how tasks at the shop should be completed.
Atlantis Books, Santorini. Photo credit: Will Brady
Don’t panic. It’s not as spicy as it sounds. The only thing spicy about this soup is the hot chili flakes, and you can lighten that amount if you want to. This is probably the best soup I’ve ever made. It is super easy to do (saute, simmer, blend, eat!) and it comes together fast – perfect for weeknights. The carrot, sesame, soy, carrot, ginger, peanut flavor profile is delicious, and really balanced. I highly recommend it! Serve it with a piece of baked fish or some shrimp, or on its own with a delicious salad and call it a day.
With this soup I’ve accomplished the second goal of my vegetarian month – cooking something with an Asian flavor profile. The first was signing up for a winter CSA, and that worked out great. Check out this beauty shot of my first delivery! Next up is trying a new grain, and I’ve got bulgur on the brain. Stay tuned!
Don’t forgo the toppings – the cilantro and green onion add freshness.
At the start of January I set some goals for my month of meat-free eating. One of them was to sign up for a winter CSA, and I just got my first pickup from Avalon Acres. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and here’s the idea: you pay a farm at the start of a season, kind of like a loan, and they pay you back in what they produce. Your money allows the farm to purchase supplies, pay employees, make repairs, etc. For many farms, a winter CSA offers income they wouldn’t otherwise have since the farm isn’t producing as much during the colder months and many farmers’ markets have closed for the season. Plus you’re keeping your money in the local economy and you’re guaranteed to get tasty, homegrown food.
“But,” you might ask, “It’s winter – if the farm isn’t producing as much, what would I get?” I signed up for a half share of the Preserved Harvest Package from Avalon. According to their website, my bi-monthly baskets could include a mix of peanuts, apple sauce, radishes, carrots, lettuces, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and other winter vegetables as available, homemade pastas and spaghetti sauce, plus canned or frozen sweet corn, green beans, shelled peas, stewed tomatoes, tomato juice, sorghum, honey, jams, jellies, preserves, pickles, apple butter, pear butter, popping corn or corn meal. Check out what was in the first box:
From left, I got green onions, kale, broccoli, white turnips, red potatoes, cabbage, a regular turnip, beets, watermelon jelly, a radish, and parsnips! What a haul. I’ll get a box like this every two weeks.
The Avalon Acres CSA also offers mix and match packages of meat, cheese, milk, eggs and some baked good. Avalon co-ops with a network of local farmers and offers a lot of flexibility in their share options. You can specify how much of each and what kind (from breakfast sausage to premium beef, goat cheese only or a mix, etc.). I have friends who have been members of Avalon’s CSA for years and really enjoy the flexibility for their family. I intend to add meat and cheese come February.
One of Andrew’s college buddies, Craig, lived in Sitka, Alaska, for five years. Before he left, he shipped us a box of fresh-caught Alaskan fish as a wedding gift. Best. Gift. Ever. I tracked the crap out of that package on fedex.com! We’ve been slowly eating our way through the halibut, salmon and black cod, savoring it all. Thanks again Craig!
Included in the pack was some ground salmon for salmon burgers. I whipped some up the other night, using one of Craig’s recipes. It’s a recipe I’ll try with tuna or crab as well.
I definitely enjoy pasta, but I like it best when there’s some texture to it – when it’s more than just pasta and sauce. Last January, I made a bread crumb and caper pasta that was quite delicious. It was from The Gourmet Cookbook, a gigantic tome from Ruth Reichl and the former editors for Gourmet magazine. It has more than 1,000 recipes and is a great resource - it’s my go-to cookbook for recipe ideas.
I decided to recreate the dish with a few additions. First, I roasted half an eggplant with just a bit of cooking spray to a) keep it from sticking and b) because eggplant is really absorbant and since there’s already 1/4 cup olive oil in the pasta sauce I wanted to minimize it here.
Next I chopped my garlic (fresh from the garden – Andrew grew it last spring!), chopped a piece of bread for bread crumbs (you can also use store-bought for this), and got out my other ingredients.