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Archive for the ‘Dairy’ Category

milklove

“I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me,” chants Mickey, in Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, a bizarre little book about baking, dreaming, sleeping, swimming, in milk.

A baby’s dreamlife, a nursing mother’s diet. I crave all bready things. . . comfort me with wheat and oats, fondue and French toast, bread and milk, milk and bread. Pizza, cream scones, croissants, café latte. So many yummy combinations of comfort food. I actually bought a fondue pot last month. Such a funny food: is it French or is it just 70s? My family has been celebrating Christmas Eve with cheese fondue for as long as I can remember. Has my dad been scorching his fingertips on Sterno since the 70s? The one I bought was a real step up: non-stick and electric. Nothing could be easier than warming up a big bowl of Gruyere, Fontina, and sauvignon blanc. Yum, yum, yum.

And now for a few more pictures of Lizzie, who’s sleeping at the moment on her cream colored sheet, dreaming milky dreams.

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I love summer meals. Cool, refreshing, and nonchalant; celebrating the spontaneous combination of any variety of flavors without a clash because everything is fresh, fresh, fresh.  Tonight in Vermont, I threw together a meal every ingredient of which was local, (with the allowable exceptions of a lemon, an orange, Kalamata olives, some Spanish olive oil, salt and pepper, and a pinch each of cumin and coriander–Mediterranean items that don’t grow in these here parts).


Here are the elements of the meal:

> a cold bean salad with two varieties of heirloom beans grown by Killdeer Farm, here in Norwich, fennel, orange segments, radicchio, olive oil, and herbs from my mom’s herb garden.

> panzanella: tomatoes, a stale baguette, fresh mozzarella, garlic, chives, olives, backyard basil.

> cold grilled chicken.

> corn on the cob, picked this morning and as sweet as dessert.

> grilled heirloom eggplant, summer squash, and zucchini from the neighbors’ garden.

> a Lebanese-style yogurt sauce for the grilled veggies and chicken.

> (and for Jack, the above, plus Vermont cheddar, a glass of Strafford Creamery milk, and local carrots and sugar snap peas.)

The best supporting actor award in this meal goes to the yogurt sauce, which I hadn’t made before, but which will now be my default leftover-chicken-jazzer-up.

Lemon-Yogurt Sauce

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
juice of 1/4 lemon
pinches of salt, ground coriander and ground cumin (best if you use seeds ground with a          mortar and pestle)
4 mint leaves, minced
small bunch chives, minced
1 tbs. parsley, minced

Stir it all up and adjust the seasonings to taste.

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a bit of Italy


We’re in Vermont for the long weekend, and, aside from catching the scent of lilacs drifting everywhere, the best sensory experience of the past few days has been standing at the Italian-style espresso bar in the new gelato cafe in Hanover, NH, Morano Gelato. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was Proustian, but the little ritual brought back pure nostalgic pleasure in a muscle memory.

The owner of this inspired cafe, Morgan Morano, is a young local woman who, during college and culinary school, lived in Italy on and off for the last six years.  While in Florence, she studied gelato-making and brought her skill and Italian-inflected style back to her hometown. She offers the classic Italian flavors and uses local ingredients when possible (for instance during berry season).  When I tasted the first trace of nocciola gelato (hazelnut) on my tongue, I was transported.

Morgan has quickly converted the locals, too.  Every day that I’ve been here, there has been a line out the door.  The facts, and the flavors, speak for themselves.  On the wall behind the high counter, a sign explains the difference between gelato and American ice cream:

GELATO is much lower in butterfat than American ice cream.

GELATO is denser than American ice cream.

GELATO is served at a warmer temperature than American ice cream.

For those interested in further research, the website explains the process by which this density of texture and flavor is achieved.  I love this place not only for the authentic gelato, however, but also for the complete experience it provides.  The gelato and coffee facilities are straight from Italy, as are the little plastic spoons and cups.  Everything else in the shop is a perfect re-creation of an Italian cafe: the smooth bar at chest-height; the bottles of room-temp. water and small glasses that stand on the bar for the espresso-drinkers’ refreshment; the t.v. high in the corner playing Italian news; the slightly cheesy music; the shininess of every surface.


I really wanted to start speaking Italian, but I said to myself, “let’s not get carried away.”  I’ll just say this: Grazie, Morgan.

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Not a mis-spelling of burrito, no.  Something much, much better.  Exquisite, even.

While I sit here waiting for my Byron chapter to print out, I find my mind drifting back to dinner last night with Tess and Jessie (interns at the Rome Sustainable Food Project and co-producer—that’s Tess—of the must-see Food Inc.) and David (a documentary filmmaker and husband of Jessie), at a tiny table in a teeny apartment in Trastevere, where, while we sat around the burrata like worshipers at a sacred font, Jack jumped on the bed in the other room.

http://danamccauley.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/burrata.jpeg?w=325&h=251

Oh, my!  This is how burrata, a soft, fresh mozzarella with liquefying cream in the middle, looks at the store.  When you take it home to serve, our Italian associates in food-loving tell us, you put it in a bowl, pour a bit of your best extra virgin olive oil over it, slice it with a spoon, and eat it—preferably with a spoon.

Burrata is my new love.  It’s better than gelato.

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The gelaterias are opening their doors.  Puddles in the cobblestones sparkle in the sunlight. Rainstorms are rushing through, and leaving in their wake warm spots and green buds.

During one of these post-rain spells yesterday, Jack and I walked down to Trastevere to buy a birthday present for Agnese, whose party is today.  Our favorite destination for toy and art-supply shopping is Piazza San Cosimato, which has an open air market, a playground, great scootering terrain, and three toy stores.  After picking out a magic wand and a set of stamps complete with ink-pad and pouch, we went to the playground.

After bouncing and climbing and swinging and staring at the winos, Jack was ready for our next stop: Fior di Luna gelateria, where all of the ingredients are organic, local, and/or fair trade, and the gelato tastes intensely of its few flavorful parts—whether those are pistachios, vanilla beans, or blood oranges.  This gelateria also uses only seasonal ingredients, so the flavors that dominate now are citrus, nuts, and chocolate.

Spring is on the way, though.  Look at the flowers popping up in the Bass Garden!

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In my last post, I attempted both to recommend Food Inc., and to criticize what I saw as the overly facile closing message (“vote with your fork”).  There was more to the event, here at the American Academy in Rome, and there is a positive alternative to the dark suggestion of the film that Monsanto may well take over the world.  Briefly, these follow-ups/upsides have to do with braised pork and grass-roots.

Let’s start with grass-roots.  Since the screening, I’ve talked with a lot of people about how depressing the film is.  It seems to offer only the meager solutions of “voting with your fork” and waiting for policy change to adjust the prices of food.  Obviously, more needs to be done and can be done.  One of the people I’ve talked with a lot about these issues is Mona Talbott, the executive chef here.  She is passionate not only about great cooking but also about reforming American food culture through cooking education.  An over-reliance on convenient but unhealthy fast-food is in part a consequence of a general lack of cooking skills and knowledge.  Another part of the problem is the misconception that fast food is cheaper than home-cooked food.  This doesn’t have to be the case.  The Rome Sustainable Food Project works on a tight budget to provide nutritious, delicious, and sufficient food for all of us.  Mona points out that the world’s oldest traditional diets, like that in Italy, have had such long histories of sustaining people in part because they can sustain—with complete nutrition—the most people.  In other words, traditional diets are complete, and they are poor people’s diets.  The basis of the Italian diet is the lowly triumvirate of beans, grains, and greens.  These are affordable. Pasta is cheap.  The cheapest cuts of meat are delicious when cooked slowly.

But cooking, which often isn’t learned in the family anymore, needs to be learned if families are to be fed on these inexpensive foods rather than on fast food.  Actually, many people don’t know anything about food anymore, much less cooking!  If you take a look at my friend Sharyn’s comment on my last post, you’ll see what I’m talking about. She teaches in a university, and her students don’t know about the seasonality of any foods.

Several things need to, and can, happen, with a grass-roots effort. More communities can take on the reform of school lunch on their own, and even put in edible schoolyards (playground gardens) and teaching kitchens.  Children, then, can teach their parents about seasonality and cooking.  Or they can learn about food and cooking by asking their grandparents, as their doing with the help of Bioversity’s campaign Diversity for Life.  Cooking schools can teach home cooking.  Institutional kitchens—like the one here, with its unpaid interns—can double as educational kitchens.   Old routines, like canning parties, can be revived.  (Mona mentioned this today, and you might recall one of my recent posts about the biodiversity scientist I met recently, Stephan, who has fond memories of tomato-canning parties in a neighbor’s garage.)  Children can be taught the basics of cooking, and along with those, the comforts and thrills of cooking, by being included in the process of growing and making food.  With the encouragement of children and community-based campaigns, working parents can be convinced to plan ahead and find the time to put together a healthy meal—even if it’s just rice, beans, and something green.

Mona, who has cooked for the best restaurants and wealthiest people, wants to devote herself to this grass-roots cooking re-education effort when her tenure as the head of the Rome Sustainable Food Project ends.  She’s a real inspiration.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *

Immediately after the film screening on Saturday, we participated in a panel discussion with two of the farmers who sell their organic foods to the Rome Sustainable Food Project: Enzo Foi, who came with Filippo da Sole, from the farm and agriturismo destination Lo Spicchio; and Giuseppe Brandizzi, from the organic dairy Biola.  The audience had many questions about organic agriculture (agricoltura biologica) in Italy, food politics in Italy, and the differences between the U.S. and Italy on these matters. Enzo told us, without the wish to romanticize Italy for the mostly American audience, that the main difference between the U.S. and Italy, in terms of industrial agriculture, is scale.  Here, as in the U.S., there is a large industrial-farm lobby that shapes the politics; synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are used (although the European Union has outlawed GMOs and rBST); small-scale farmers are going out of business.  But, also as in the U.S., there is a movement to expand sustainable agriculture, and to encourage buying locally produced food, and some politicians are helping to promote these causes.  (There are, of course, differences.  Italians know how to eat and have a culture of food, for one!)

More important than the help of politicians, though, is the grass-roots movement exemplified by these men and their families, who are educators and cooks as much as they are farmers.  They farm and cook and eat the way they do because they want to preserve the land, foods, and traditions that have sustained people for centuries and that could—if not cared for—be lost to oblivion.  If you’ve seen Food Inc., consider the proud strut of this rooster compared to the falling-down factory chickens:

Lo Spicchio gallo

After the film and discussion—and in spite of the revolting images of factory farming we’d just seen—we all eagerly went upstairs to the dining room to eat a meal prepared with the ingredients from Enzo’s and Giuseppe’s (and a few others’) farms.  We ate Lo Spicchio pork braised in Biola’s whole raw milk; cardoons roasted with lemon and buttery breadcrumbs; polenta; local red wine; and the most flavorful “blondies” I can imagine. (We eat a lot of braised meat here, in part because Mona and Chris like to cook the whole, traditional, foods of everyday Italians.  The braising cuts are the cheapest cuts.  The other night, Chris and the interns cooked up an amazing meal of braised lamb with harissa, chickpeas with greens, and cous cous.  Simple. Complete. Delicious.)

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IMG_2239 Italy’s Parliament voted unanimously this summer to recommend that UNESCO list the Mediterranean diet as endangered, so that it might be protected and preserved as a part of cultural heritage.IMG_2499

I’m interested in this public declaration, in part, for its semantic implications.  Can a diet be treated as an aesthetic or religious object, or as a plant or animal species?  In fact, the Mediterranean diet is all of these things.  Italians are rightly proud of their food, and of their heritage. Diet here is interwoven with cultural practice, with religious ritual, with craft and design, and with plant and animal species that have an intimate connection with both the geography and the history of Italy’s distinct regions.

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Of course, the natives of this boot-shaped land could describe the complex set of cultural practices that is the Mediterranean diet better than I, an outsider, and a barbarian American, could.  But I’ll offer a few arguments, anyway, in favor of designating this diet an endangered piece of cultural heritage.

The Mediterranean diet is interwoven with national and regional identity.  This goes deeper than the kind of identity declared by small towns with billboards at their borders declaring them the pistachio capital of the world.  It’s an identity that has less to do with marketing, and more to do with the deep emotional ties of childhood memories, in which food and family are tightly woven together.  Particular foods and foodways are tied to family traditions, religious rituals, and to regionally specific cooking styles.

When I was at the Bioversity offices yesterday, I met one of the senior scientists there, a man named Stefano, whose work as a scientist and educator about agricultural biodiversity perfectly aligns with his passion for food and food memories.  In our brief conversation, he gave me many examples of the Mediterranean diet as cultural heritage and as endangered.  When he was a child, he said, the whole neighborhood would get together in someone’s garage to peel, cook, and bottle tomatoes for use as sauce.  While he was living in Africa, his homesickness took the form of a craving for the comforts of pasta. His mother and sister write down the recipes and menus of family meals; these recipes are their family scrapbooks and triggers to memory.  One of these recipes is for a stew containing 57 varieties of wild leafy green.  (Surely this recipe and the knowledge of how to find, much less cook, 57 varieties of wild green are endangered!)  Another recipe is for quince jelly.  How many quince orchards have you seen lately?

These foods and practices—this cultural heritage—is endangered for several related reasons: the globalization of simplified diets based on cheap, and less nutritious, commodity crops; the lure, or necessity, of convenience foods for working mothers who don’t have the time or inclination to hunt out 57 varieties of wild green; the encroachment of fast food into the diets of children; the loss of food and cooking knowledge through the generations.  One of the terrible consequences of the loss of food practices is that the actual foods can be lost as well.  Many of the crops that have sustained peoples all over the world for millenia fall under the new designation of “neglected and underutilized species.”   This is how food as a cultural and aesthetic practice shades into an endangered species.

Another, no less important, reason to preserve the Mediterranean diet is that it works.  People have thrived, and not been prone to cardiovascular disease or obesity and its consequences, on this diet for many generations.  This is because of the intrinsic nutritional value of the foods themselves, and it is also because of the set of cultural rules that guide eating.  The people here eat small portions, a variety of vegetables, whole grains, fish, and cheese, meat, and wine in moderation.  No cappuccino after lunch, no hard liquor before dinner or gelato in the morning… the list goes on.  And dessert is often fresh fruit.

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