Archive for December, 2007

Which, for me, is this kind of thing:

Broiled mackerel with grated daikon, miso soup, brown rice w/ stir-fried hijiki and parboiled green beans with sesame seeds

That’s pretty much the sort of thing my mom always made at home – some kind of broiled fish, very simply prepared vegetables, miso soup and rice with a couple of rotating accompaniments like salt pickled turnips, sauteed lotus root, burdock kinpira, or stewed chicken.

I realize that probably sounds kind of weird, and certainly, it used to be a source of tremendous consternation to me that my mom never made me any “normal” food. This was especially true at lunchtime in elementary school, when everyone would take out their lunch boxes and start trading things like strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups and juice boxes feverishly.

Now that I’m older and don’t live at home, I get a hankering for that food every now and again, and thankfully, it’s really easy to make. I think some people find the idea of cooking Japanese food at home kind of intimidating because of all the unfamiliar ingredients, and the cultivated esotericism of the typical unsmiling sushi chefs encountered in Japanese restaurants. But it isn’t difficult to make a straightforward meal like the one pictured above:

Parboiled green beans with sesame seeds:

  • Cut the tips off a quarter pound of green beans
  • Drop beans into water that has reached a rolling boil; cook 2 minutes, or until the beans have about the give of the flesh on the tip of your index finger.
  • Remove from heat and plunge into ice water. Drain.
  • Dress with a dash of sesame oil and a sprinkling of sesame seeds – or just a dab of mayonnaise.

Hijiki stir- fry:

  • Submerge 1/2 cup of hijiki in cold water, set aside until it expands to about 3 times the original size; drain
  • Peel and quarter a carrot lengthwise; cut into thin, fan-shaped slices
  • Sautee the carrot slices in 2 tbsp sesame oil until semi-soft
  • Add the drained hijiki and continue stir-frying for about 5 minutes, adding 1 tsp brown sugar and 1 tbsp soy sauce (you can adjust to taste – I prefer less sugar than some people)

Broiled mackerel:

  • Set oven to broil
  • If using a whole mackerel, slit the fish from the tip of the jaw down the belly to the tail; scoop the innards out (Or just leave them, if you don’t mind fish innards. I find them kind of bitter.) Rinse and pat dry. Make two cuts on either side of the head to splay the body open like a book.
  • Salt lightly, then brush with any kind of cooking oil you want – safflower, soybean oil, sunflower, sesame, whatever.
  • Broil with cut side facing up for about 10 minutes, or until the meat on the inside browns – keep a careful eye on the fish so it doesn’t burn
  • Serve w/ finely grated daikon radish and a spot of soy sauce

I usually just cook my rice in a rice cooker, so I can turn it on and ignore it while I’m making everything else. Easy-peasy!

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from Brian D. King, the Education Coordinator at Devil’s Gulch Ranch in Nicasio, CA. Devil’s Gulch is a pretty spectacular little corner of the world with wine grapes, rabbits, pigs, sheep, guinea fowl and probably some other critters I’m forgetting to mention.
They host all kinds of educational programs for kids including a summer camp, and they’re worth checking out.

Photo from barto’s flickr stream

Sows are not careful, are very big, and the babies are very small. In the wild, the sows lose many to being stepped on or sat on; that is why they have 8 to 10 in a litter. Also, the sows are very protective and very dangerous. I have gotten a broken leg and a dislocated ankle form a pig that decided that I needed to be dead. The agriculture teacher at Ramona High School got his leg bit and spent a week in intensive care. I was helping one of my students with her sow that had a stuck baby. As I was trying to pull the baby out of her, the sow attacked the student that had raised the sow as a pet from a baby. I do not have time to tell you all the close calls I have had over the years that I have raised pigs or with my agriculture students.
If we are going to raise pork, sows must be confined the 2 days before birth to the first few weeks after. A three week-old pig is still very small and we still have management that must be done on the babies at 3 weeks. All a sow wants to do for those first 3 weeks is eat, sleep, and nurse her young. I should have you come out and see how violent a sow will get when all you do is pick up a baby pig. A 400 pound sow will get her front legs and her mouth over a 4 foot wall to kill you. I have also seen three 400 pound sows chase down, kill, and homogenize a healthy and fit coyote.

Photo from karlfrankowski’s flickr stream

Veal – cows must give birth to give milk. Only the best heifer calves (females) are kept and less than 1% of the bull calves are kept as bulls. All the rest are left to die in the pasture, sad but true. The margins are so tight and labor is so expensive that it costs more to try to raise the calves for meat than to let them die. Some are raised for veal in shelters that are enclosed on 3 sides and have a roof. They are made the way they are to keep the calf warm. The calf can turn around but not run and play. In California, the calves do have sunlight (at least in all of the dairies I have been on – I have not been on them all). But again, if the farmers are going to have a loss raising the calves they will just be put down on the first day.

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But here’s how my mom feeds 360 pounds of Asian:

Clockwise from top: boiled chestnuts, hard-boiled eggs, sliced meatloaf, broiled salmon, sauteed lotus root with sesame seeds, salt-pickled chinese cabbage with sesame oil, sliced persimmons, brown rice

There’s a great audio clip circulating the internet of an irate Texan giving Jimmy Dean a dressing down for shrinking their sausage packages from 16 oz to 12 oz. 12 oz of sausage, a couple dozen eggs and a T-bone steak are apparently *not* enough food for what he calls “600 pounds of MAN!” to eat first thing in the morning.

Now, food is a tremendously cultural matter, so I can’t really say that what this guy should do is ditch the cholesterol gut-bomb for breakfast and eat Mama Hoshino style. But then, let’s be serious here. Eating that kind of crap for breakfast is just not healthy, even if it makes me feel like a snooty food chauvinist to say so. 6 grams of saturated fat in a 56 gram portion?? How is that even possible?

And as an aside – I’m not really sure what this guy is so hyped up about. A cursory stroll through the Jimmy Dean website indicates that their sausage is indeed still available in a 16 oz. package (or a 32 oz., or a 48 oz., for that matter). Maybe Randy Taylor, Texas Man, should have reserved his ire for the local supermarket.

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Sow in a gestation crate
Photo from
clstal’s flickr stream

No, really. I’m seriously asking that question. It’s not a rhetorical jumping off point for me or others to express their indignation.

See, the Humane Society of the United States, among other animal rights groups, is circulating a petition to get enough signatures to add a ballot measure in California that would ban the use of gestation crates, battery cages and veal crates in hog, egg and veal production, respectively. Being that I’m not a hog farmer, a manager of a laying hen operation, animal behaviorist, large animal veterinarian, etc., I honestly don’t know if this is a good thing or not. But I *am* a consumer of all those things (well, maybe not veal), I have an irrational love for farmers and I vote, so I wonder about the merits or drawbacks of these management systems.

Hens in a battery cage
Photo from clstal’s flickr stream

But as it turns out, it seems damn near impossible to get a well reasoned and impartial exposition of the issue. Virtually all the material on the pro side is from hysterical, Chicken Little PETA fascists who, you get the feeling, would inveigh in the most strident tones against anything hinting at people using animals for anything other than cuddling…or something. The pro side is basically non-existent, at least on Google (perhaps less so at a diner in Iowa, but I can’t get to that from my computer). So I turned to the American Farm Bureau’s blog to try to find a real, live conventional hog farmer to ask. In response to my request for more information, I got this nuclear blast of rhetoric.

I find this all unfortunate because this issue could in fact land on a ballot next year, and 36 and a half million Californians could conceivably be called upon to vote on it. And aside from that, we all eat and we have an ever-increasing number of opportunities to vote for or against a particular farming method with our dollars. It would be nice if we could all make an informed decision, both at the polling station and the supermarket. Wouldn’t it?

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Corn field in North Dakota
Photo from Matt Dente’s flickr stream

From a promotional video for Pioneer Herculex seed:

“If we were to take 20 kernels off the tip of this ear on a population 30,000 stand, that’s gonna be about a 6 bushels per acre loss; or $12; or you could even take it to $30 a bag.”

Being that the extent of my exposure to farming is restricted to a season on a 4-acre organic farm, it’s pretty amazing to me to consider the scale of what farming really is in this country. I’m not trying to shill for DuPont and all the other chemical companies-turned seed companies, but it’s an interesting illustration of just how much food gets produced by a relatively small segment of the population.

Were we to have grown corn on the farm I worked on, it’s doubtful that a few kernels here or there would have made much of a difference – we would have just sold the ears (assuming the damage wasn’t grotesque) and that would have been that. Of course, on a 10,000 acre corn farm, few kernels off each ear can obviously add up to an awful lot of corn.

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Photo from Kyleroth’s flickr stream
Maybe you aren’t too wound up about pesticide residues from the foods you eat (I tend not to be). But boy, I really hope all those Dole bananas I must have eaten as a child weren’t making the people who produced them impotent.

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Up your nose, that is
Photo from mizinformation’s flickr stream

Anyone who’s ever bitten off more than they can chew in the chili department knows that eating spicy food can lead to a massive nasal flood.
This lovely sensation is apparently now available in convenient spray form. Eeep!

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*Not* the soup to be used in your green bean casserole
Photo from landotter’s flickr stream

Here I was, ranting and raving about Kraft OWNING the holidays with their green bean casserole, not even realizing that apparently, they INVENTED the thing to begin with. At first, I felt like it was perverse that the dish that every red-blooded American has to have with their Thanksgiving meal is actually a 50 year-old marketing vehicle for Kraft to push canned soup and canned fried onions to the tune of $70 million a year.

But on the other hand, it *is* easy to make, people do really love it and frankly, you don’t have to have the foggiest idea how to cook in order to make a passable version of it. It may not meet my definition of what food is, but I suppose it’s a step up from some of the other insane crap food companies try to pass off as recipes…after all, not everyone has the time or the inclination to make food out of actual unprocessed ingredients, right? Right?

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Delicatas are probably my favorite kind of winter squash. They have the perfect texture, aren’t too moist or too dry and have a deliriously sweet taste that goes well with all things winter. The standard way of cooking them is to simply cut them in half, brush them with olive oil and then bake them until soft – at which point you can gobble the whole thing down, skin and all.

But that would be so easy. It wouldn’t require hours of baking, boiling, pureeing, fussing and mess-making in the kitchen. So I decided to try making delicata gnocchi. Now, I love gnocchi, but I absolutely hate it when they’re too heavy and you feel like you have a leaden torpedo of dough in your stomach from eating them. Here’s what went into the dough:

The meat from 4 roasted, seeded delicata squash and 3 baked russet potatoes
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs

Instead of adding flour to the dough until it became manageable enough to roll out and cut into pieces, I just left it as it was and used a spoon and a pastry spatula to spoon the dough up, divide it and drop it straight into boiling water. This I served with fennel sauce:

3 fennel bulbs, browned in a covered pan with 2 tbsp olive oil
blended with
1 cup milk
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

I reserved some fronds off the fennel to mince and toss on top for an extra anise-y kick. As you can see, it wasn’t the most elegant meal, but it was damn tasty.

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Couldn’t resist buying these citruses from DeSantis Bella Frutta at the market. They’re a couple of Meyer lemons (the “it” lemon of the moment) plus a baseball-sized fruit they were calling sweet lime. Meyers come in a bewildering array of different colors (the ones at Whole Foods, for example, are light orange) and cover a pretty wide flavor spectrum ranging from almost tangerine-like to puckeringly sour. These had green mottling that I’ve never seen before and were very mild. The sweet limes had a very strong citronella scent to them that I actually found kind of off-putting, but the juice was delicate and very slightly sweet.

I suppose I could have made a batch of lemonade, or some lemon-ginger tea, but instead, I decided to give lemon bars a shot even though I was horrified to find out that lemon bars (which I love) are basically a big pile of sugar, eggs and butter. To give the bars a veneer of healthfulness, I made a whole wheat crust with crushed almonds (also from DeSantis!). Doesn’t this look wholesome??

OK, so maybe it doesn’t, really. Here’s what’s in it:

1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp honey
1/2 cup almond butter (so far so good…)
1 stick of frozen butter, cut into small pieces

Yeah, yeah, butter is full of cholesterol and will cause your arteries to harden, but without it, the crust would have been the consistency of dirt. And no one wants to ruin tasty lemon curd with dirt.

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