Posts Tagged ‘locavorism


improved California figs

I didn’t know until I moved to California that Texas has some of the best figs in the world. Boston had no figs at all, so most summers I had my family send me figs (or send me home with them after a visit). In California, I expected to have my figgy needs me–and I was disappointed. California has figs, yes, but they’re big and watery compared to Texas figs. Texas figs are like candy; California figs are meh. All I can figure is that they’re too well irrigated. But since Texas has been suffering drought, and too little water means no figs at all, I haven’t been able to get my fix.

Mark Bittman’s recipe for figs in blankets (bacon-wrapped figs, so actually figs in pigs) calls for broiling, which got me thinking: Could the broiler improve California figs? The answer is yes. Not quite to the standards of Texas figs, but better. Just fire up a broiler, spray a baking sheet with neutral-flavored oil, place halved figs cut side up on the sheet, and broil for 2-3 minutes, until the figs leak a little juice and the tops start to split and swell. Improved, though not perfected, and delicious with a drizzling of creme fraiche.

What's left after broiled figs with creme fraiche
And it leaves art on your plate!


soup, sandwich, salad

With a cool San Francisco rain threatening, what could be better than hot soup and a grilled cheese sandwich?

Broccoli-cheese soup cooked (mostly) according to the recipe in the most recent Cook’s Illustrated. I substituted a mustard-ale cheddar for the sharp cheddar, on the idea that the mustard would complement the broccoli. I also added a cornstarch slurry at the end in an attempt to imitate the beautiful, silky texture of the (sadly rather bland) broccoli soup I had at Le Zinc a couple of weeks ago. This came close, but that was before I read the section on hydrocolloids in Aki Kamozawa and Alexander Talbot’s Ideas in Food. Next time, I’ll have science on my side, and it will be perfect. (I’ll also transfer the small batch of soup to a smaller container, so that the immersion blender can break up all the bits. It didn’t handle shallow so well.)

The sandwiches are quesadillas made with homemade tortillas, king trumpet mushrooms, scallions, and a habañero jack that went oddly but pleasantly sweet when melted. I tried a first batch of tortillas with this locally grown whole wheat flour that I bought at Mission Pie, but they were a disaster: tough and crumbly. I’ll save the rest of the fancy flour for bread. The second batch of tortillas was, by contrast, a joy to work. Oh, there’s the baby’s-butt texture I’m looking for! So familiar, compared to the whole wheat dough, that I didn’t even fret much that I was doing it wrong.

Meanwhile, J-P put together the cutest little salad of radishes, cherry bomb peppers, oranges, a little spinach left over from the soup, and more scallions.


Where does breakfast come from?

A great summary of major environmental issues, from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, 1949:

There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.

I found A Sand County Almanac through Patricia Klindienst’s The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans, which has a lot more in it about land use, land distribution, and farm displacement, and migration than I ever imagined when I first checked it out of the library. Things I’m thinking, and writing, about, lately. The connection to A Sand County Almanac was the epigraph Klindienst chose for her book: “To change ideas about what the land is for is to change ideas about what anything is for.”

As you can imagine, these two books, and the seed catalogs recently delivered in the mail, have got me hankering for a little plot to cultivate. Unfortunately, all of the community gardens around here have waiting lists at least two years long–more often five or ten. Salvation may come in the form of John, Sarah, and Brigitte, who are moving to the Mission from Boston tomorrow, into a wonderful house complete with a back courtyard perfect for a container garden. I am going to propose to be their serf.


texas grapefruit?

Last night we used a couple of very tart grapefruits in our beet and grapefruit salad. It made me remember this time last year, when I was walking past a produce stand and noticed for the first time a sign that read Texas oranges. It made me double take, and I realized that twenty-five years of my life conditioned me to assume that unlabeled citrus is from Texas, and it’s California or Florida citrus that are labeled as something out of the ordinary. Even here in California, land of citrus (the state where I first learned that lemon trees have thorns), I still seek out Texas grapefruits. Just not for last night’s salad, apparently.



learning to forage

While J-P and I were hiking the Marin headlands this week, we paused to pick and eat blackberries anywhere we saw them. It seemed we were late in their season, though: we saw few ripe berries, and few red ones nearby when we saw those. No green ones, and no flowers. (It also didn’t help, I’m sure, that there were many other visitors to the park.)

I realized as we walked that it bothered me that I didn’t know how to eat from this landscape. Growing up in Texas, I learned plenty about which wild plants were edible. Dewberries, prickly pear pads (nopales) and fruits (tunas), pecans, pine nuts, agarita berries (shake them off the tree, don’t pick!), wild onions, pepperweed (which turns out to be a European import), dandelion greens, mesquite flour (even though the plant was a nuisance), acorns (after a lot of soaking), even cattail roots, or so I heard. As a gardener in Austin, I learned a few more, like henbit, chickweed, and purslane. Then there was the urban forage in Austin: pears, persimmons, pomegranates, loquats… If I somehow had to, I could get by.

I never had the urge to learn the same skill in Massachusetts, although I did add lambs’ quarters, wood strawberries, and the identification of maples (for syrup, of course) and walnuts to my repertoire. Urban forage came to include apples and cherries, too.

Maybe I didn’t feel the need in Massachusetts because I was already too busy adapting to the climate to bother with the landscape. Or maybe it was that our time outside of the city was mostly on our bikes, not on foot. Or maybe it was that, though foreign to me, the flora there wasn’t as gobsmackingly foreign as it is in California. Whatever the cause, I was feeling the lack of my old skill.

prickly pear by tomas castelazo


On cooking in California: part 2

At the beginning of the month, I posted about the first wave of changes that moving to California caused in our household cuisine.

Besides the things that ended up in our kitchen without us really noticing (yogurt, ginger, and fresh parsley), there are several things we’ve made an effort to stock. The first wave included canned sardines, small bottles of cheap white wine, and half-pound packets of ground meat. We couldn’t get any of these at Rainbow, whose food inventory is vegetarian (and, apparently, too classy for single-serving wine), so our first trip to stock our new kitchen included visits to Safeway and the local and local-sourcing butcher, Drewes. At Safeway, we picked up the sardines, which I planned to use as a quick source of lunchtime protein, whether on toast (with parsley and lemon or lime juice), in a fisheries-conscious version of salade niçoise, or in pasta sauces. Safeway also supplied canned clams—already a household staple—but they don’t seem to stock the canned clam sauce we usually added them to. Already foiled once at Rainbow, we gave up on it and bought a four-pack of small bottles of white wine instead, so that we could make our own. The Joy of Cooking’s instructions for clam sauce have since served as the base for many white wine sauces, marrying not only clams, but also chicken, mushrooms, and other ingredients to the “fancy ribbons” from Rainbow’s bulk pasta bins. The half-pound packets of ground meat from Drewes also accompany the fancy ribbons, sometimes loose, sometimes as meatballs. I’ve also thought they’d be handy for homemade Mexican chorizo, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.


farm fresh eggs

I just ate my first Clark Summit Farm eggs this morning, in anticipation of a bike ride. They were very orange, and very yummy. Also, priced like spun gold–I’ll think of it as 68 cents per egg, which doesn’t sound as bad as $8.10 per dozen.

Tex-Mix's Photostream