Thursday, November 20, 2008

You Gotta Compost It...Make Less Of It...

Apple cores. Potato peels. Kale ribs. Garlic skin. Corn husks. For years I've been sweeping all sorts of organic, nutrient-rich goodness off my cutting board and into the trash can, wincing every step of the way. I'm finally at a place and time where I can do something about it, and I recently started my own compost bin.

There are so many great resources online aimed at teaching the ways of thrifty, edgy gardening and composting. Such as...? you ask...

You Grow Girl is where I got the template for by bin offers tips and encouragement for a compost endeavor. For example, according to this site, the average household kitchen produces 200lbs of kitchen waste a year. I know most of us aren't cooking for a spouse and 4 hungry kids, but even with our apartment lifestyles, there's plenty of room to grow from there.

This is just a start. The photo above features scraps from today's dinner - Citrus-Spiced Butternut Squash Soup - on its way to a better life.

I was inspired by my trip today to Christina's, the spice store in Inman Square. Truly, truly the adventurous gastronomer's paradise. Rows and rows of exotic and mundane spices, bulk grains and beans, dried chiles and mushrooms...feels like home.
Vietnamese (or Saigon) cinnamon is slightly hotter, spicier and just ballsier than what you'd normally put in cookies or oatmeal. And freshly-ground nutmeg is such a treat. Under its hard, acorn-like exterior you'll find a creamy, brown-speckled interior that looks to much like a chocolate truffle to not be immediately edible. The orange loves to cozy up to these spices. The potato - arguably the secret ingredient - adds a creaminess you thought was only reserved for dairy-based soups (a little starch goes a long way here)

Citrus-Spiced Butternut Squash Soup.

splash of olive oil and a plop of butter (soy margarine), in a pot for saute
1 butternut squash (2-3lbs), peeled and diced
1 or sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 or 2 boiling potatoes, peeled and diced
1 orange - you'll need the zest and juice (or 1/4 c orange juice)
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 nutmeg, grated
Good pinch of Vietnamese cinnamon (1/4-1/2 tsp)
pinch of sea salt
4-6 cups water

Grate the orange to zest, setting the zest aside. Save the fruit. Heat the oil and butter in a pan. When the butter is just melted, add the onion and garlic. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the squash, sweets and boiling potatoes. Stir in the orange zest. Squeeze juice the naked orange over the pot (or just add the o.j.). Stir to coat with the oil and juice. Add the water, 2 cups at a time - you want just a little more than what covers the potatoes. Turn up the heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Remove cover, reduce heat, and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the squash and potatoes are tender (spear with a fork to test the doneness). Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the cinnamon and salt, grate the nutmeg over the pot and stir in the spices. Taste to adjust the seasonings to your taste. Serve in bowls with a little nutmeg grating as a garnish if you've got your fancy pants on. (I'll be eating my soup with the flax seed crackers from the other day!)

Monday, November 17, 2008

One Broken Cracker

They call me Grace. On Saturday I smashed my pinkie toe to oblivion (a Bolivian?) and spent roughly thirty-six hours in bed with my injured little phalange on ice, resting atop a pillow. Sounds downright regal, and maybe it was for the little guy, but the rest of me has been bored bored bored. I plowed through most of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I have plenty to say on that work, namely: Emma, you're right - I'm completely ready to quit the world and start a farm. I diverge with her slightly when it comes to her theory on "carnivory." (The quotes are not meant to be derisive, just to indicate that that is her word). She says that an animal-free diet is a luxury for the affluent Northern Hemisphere, indicating that the claim that vegetarianism can save the world is biased against the truly poor. A good point, a sort of Guns, Germs and Steel argument, but guess what? Having enough cash on hand to pack up your family and drive across the country to your already- extant farmland - where you're able to take the risk of not having a harvest bountiful enough to feed the kin - sounds like a bit of a luxury to me. Let's face it: buying, and ideally raising, free-range eggs and meat and hormone-free dairy is not an immediate option for the general public. Not that I wouldn't love it... but in the meantime, I'll have to stick to my heavily-traveled tofu and go to sleep at night knowing that, yes, a lot of bunnies died under the plows that harvested that soystuff.

Gloom and doom, right? Maybe not. I was inspired enough before the Accident to start a compost bin! Very fun and fulfilling project. More on that when I can hobble outside to shoot it before the sun goes down. While I was laid up, I of course leafed through some culinary classics, both old and new. When I finally got on my feet today, the first thing I made was a batch of whole-wheat flax crackers from the seminal How It All Vegan!. My relationship with the book is a complicated one. Are there better (read: less preachy) vegan primers out there? Absolutely. Is there when that speaks more clearly to the bad-ass, good-life, post-punk zeitgest? Not for my money. And do I have a borderline-inappropriate girl-crush on Sarah Kramer? ...I'm working on it, ok? Obviously I can't reprint this recipe (I'm waiting for the day where something on here gets me sued), but check it out on page 124 of the tome. Super healthy and super easy to make! A gratifying way to get off my ass and back into the kitchen

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Always Feel Like Somebody's Stocking Me

It's cold.

Not that "passing-cold-front-should-warm-up-tomorrow" cold, but the "hey-suckahs-remember-me?" incumbent New England winter kind of cold. The darkness is settled in comfortably with its feet up on the table by 4:30, and it's hard, for me at least, to get much done after that. On the flip side, the days have been so impossibly bright and beautiful that I feel like my face might explode when I look up at the azure sky through the filter of the vibrant remaining leaves. So I guess I'm saying that yes, it sucks, but it could suck worse.

For example, I'm really happy that the season of stocks is upon us. There's little more satisfying than the smell of earthy vegetables simmering in a warm, cozy, boiling bath of herb-infused water. Then to strain it, store it, serve it, while knowing that it's something you made - as is inevitably more tasty and healthful than even the best organic guys you can get at a store. I highly recommend getting in the habit of making stock to have on hand. Arm yourself - you're gonna want it this winter.

J'hab's Basic Veggie Stock

Use well-washed organic veggies here. They taste infinitely better, and you really don't want those pesticides and waxes washing off into your stock. Benzene Bisque? Not so much.

1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 onion, unpeeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled and smashed with the flat side of a knife
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh parsley
pinch of sea salt
a few peppercorns
olive oil for sauteing
6 cups water

Heat the olive oil over medium in a large...stockpot. Add the onion and garlic and saute until fragrant but not browned (if the skins burn, it'll impart a charred flavor to your delicate stock). Add the carrot and onion and turn to coat with the olive oil. Add the water, bay leaves, peppercorns, salt, and parsley. Cover, crank the heat and bring to a boil. Remove cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45min-1hr. You can add more water if the level reduces too much. In that time, arm your sink with a strainer and a large bowl. Remove from heat. Pour the liquid over the strainer and into the bowl. Now, use a spoon to press out the excess liquid in the veggies (an extra pair of hands hear to hold the strainer is really, well...handy). Seal the stock in a tightly shut container, refrigerate and use within 5 days. Or divvy up into smaller containers and freeze for up to a month.

Stocks can be flighty, but they're also easily personalized. This one is the ultimate in simplicity and truly universal. Add potato peels to make a slightly thicker stock, one that'll hold its own against coups with potatoes, beans, and the like. Try throwing in some ginger and lemongrass to make some killer Thai soups.

Tooling around the interwebs today, I found this great blog: Not Eating Out In New York. I really like the cut of her jive - check it!