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April 30, 2006

Farmers' Market Haul - 4/30/2006

Farmers' Market Haul - 4/30/2006
Originally uploaded by Wendy Shaffer.
So, here is a photo of today's haul from the Japantown farmers' market. I got:

Total cost: $7

I was strongly tempted to get some more fresh fava beans, but I didn't feel like spending the remainder of the morning shelling and peeling favas. Instead, I spent the remainder of the morning cleaning up my desk and paying bills. Honestly, I probably would have gotten more satisfaction out of the fava beans. Oh well, perhaps they'll have them next week.

Posted by spaceling at 05:11 PM

April 29, 2006

Eating Local, Farmers' Markets, and Elitism

This May, a Bay Area group called the Locavores are challenging people to eat locally for the month. This Eat Local challenge has spurred a lot of conversation on food blogs (for a sampling see "Going to Food Jail" and "Eating Locally is Populist" over at one of my favorite food blogs, I'm Mad and I Eat), and inevitably, the charge has come up that the Eat Local challenge is elitist, because poor people don't have the money or the time to eat all local foods.

I've found this particularly interesting to put together with some other recent threads of discussion about farmers' markets, and how so many of them have become yuppified and irritating places to shop. (See "Oops, I Did It Again" over at, again, I'm Mad and I Eat, and "Back to the Market" over at Tea and Cookies.)

Now, I have my own problems with the idea of the Eat Local challenge. I think that making some effort to eat locally is very much worth doing. I think that supporting local farmers is important. I think that a lot of produce tastes better when it hasn't been shipped a thousand miles, and when it's being eaten at the peak of its season. And I also think that you can often discover that there are more "exotic" and exciting tastes to be found if you search out local products rather than going to a large corporate grocery store.

But I don't think that it's practical, or even desirable, for everyone to eat 100% locally all of the time. Humans have been using trade to enrich and vary their diets for basically all of recorded history. (Think of the vast amounts of trade engendered by people's desire for spices, coffee, and tea.)

To be absolutely fair, the proponents of the Eat Local challenge don't really suggest that everyone should eat 100% locally all the time, or even that people participating in the challenge should necessarily need to eat 100% locally for the whole month of May. The basic idea is to make people think about the source of their food, and encourage them to explore local foods, and I think both of these are very good things. (And I'll admit, I'm attracted to the challenge of trying to eat all locally, just as I'm often attracted to the challenge of trying to keep a strictly kosher Passover. This year, in both cases, I've decided that it's too much of a pain in the butt for me to manage at the moment.)

But is trying to eat more locally "elitist', or, to be more precise, economically unfeasible for the poor?

I don't think of it that way, and the reason why has a lot to do with my local farmers' market.

My local farmers' market (or at least the nearest farmers' market to where I live) is in San Jose's Japantown. It's a pretty small market, and I'll admit, I've occasionally compared it unfavorably to the San Francisco Ferry Plaza farmers' market. You can't get locally-made yogurt, or cheese, or meat, or fish at the Japantown farmers' market. The selection of fruit is often fairly meager, and even the vegetables, where the Japantown market generally really shines, can have some odd gaps. (I didn't score a single decent tomato at the Japantown market last summer, and I haven't spotted any artichokes yet this spring, though I'm still hoping.)

However, the overall quality of the produce ranges from good to best-damn-apple-I've-ever-tasted level. And it's cheap. I play a game with myself when I hit the farmers' market - can I spend more than $10 before deciding that I have more food than I can possibly use before it spoils? I think I managed to hit $12 once, on a day when I bought both mushrooms and walnuts.

And it's not a yuppie-haven. Probably the closest you get to yuppies there are me and the handful of other earnest, bespectacled, jeans-and-hiking-boots-wearing women who frequent the market. But the core patrons of the market are locals, many of them first-generation immigrants, and while I don't ask them their income, and I don't really know that many of them would qualify as "poor", many of them do seem be making the most of a limited food budget.

Now, the Japantown farmers' market is probably not typical. Perhaps the more typical farmers' market is more along the yuppie-magnet model. But I think that the Japantown market is a great example of how to have a market that meets the needs of a wide cross-section of the community - from people who just want to put a good dinner on the table without breaking the bank, to those of us who like to invest time and money in eating well.

So, how do we get more of these markets out there? I don't know, but I figure that one thing I can do is to make sure that I support the market I've got.

So, that's what I'm going to do for the May Eat Local challenge, modest as it is. I'm going to do my best to get out to the Japantown farmers' market every Sunday, and to buy as much of my produce as possible from there. Stay tuned, and I'll let you know how it goes.

Posted by spaceling at 04:54 PM | TrackBack

Chinese Flowering Cabbage

So, it turns out that I was incorrect in my earlier entry when I said that I thought that gai lan was the Chinese name for Chinese flowering cabbage. Gai lan is Chinese kale. Chinese flowering cabbage seems to be most commonly called choy sum, though I've also seen choy sum applied to what I would call bok choy. The nomenclature of the Asian greens is very confusing.

Choy sum looks a lot like a kinder, gentler broccoli rabe. (In fact, some sources seem to indicate that choy sum is broccoli rabe, but I'm dubious.) It has thinnish stalks with lots of long, rounded leaves, and little clusters of closed buds that look like tiny, loose broccoli florets. The odd bud here and there has opened into a yellow or white flower. (I got the kind with white flowers. Next time, I'll grab some with yellow flowers and see if there is any difference.)

I cooked my choy sum very simply. I cut off the ends of the stems, and then cut everything into 1 and a half inch lengths. I heated oil in a pan until it was really, really hot, and then dumped in the choy sum and stir-fried it for about 5 minutes, until it was cooked through but still bright green and slightly crunchy. Then I seasoned it with a bit of salt and pepper. (I ate some of the leftovers the next day with soy sauce, and I'll admit, it tastes better with soy sauce.)

How does it taste? Somewhere between broccoli and asparagus, with a hint of cabbage-y flavor. I loved it. Mr. Spaceling, who is less than fond of vegetables in the brassica family, allowed that it was not poisonous.

I recommend trying it out if you're looking for a simple vegetable side dish that's more exotic than broccoli, and less expensive than asparagus. You'll probably need to go to an Asian supermarket, or to a farmers' market that to find it, though.

Posted by spaceling at 04:35 PM | TrackBack

April 25, 2006

Leftover Lamb and Chickpea Curry

A couple of nights ago, Daniel and I had dinner with a friend of ours at Amber, a very good Indian restaurant down at Santana Row. We came home with some leftovers, including some lamb shank that had been braised with ginger and other spices.

Tonight, I concocted a curry using the leftover lamb. It was very loosely based on recipe from Jamie Oliver's Happy Days Live DVD. It came out very tasty, though the lamb ended up being more of a flavor accent than a main ingredient. Unlike most of my previous attempts at curry, it really tasted like a curry, thanks in part, I think to a secret ingredient - a can of light coconut milk. Using good quality curry powder probably helped as well.


The Steps

  1. Cook the onion in a bit of vegetable oil until it is soft and starts to brown.
  2. Toss in the ginger, curry powder, and garam masala, and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute, stirring.
  3. Add chickpeas, tomatoes, and coconut milk. Bring it to a simmer, and cook everything, stirring, until the sauce thickens up a little.
  4. Toss in the lamb, and cook until heated through.

Very tasty. I'll have to try adapting the recipe so that I can make it starting with raw lamb or chicken - I don't usually have leftover lamb shank lying around.

Posted by spaceling at 10:12 PM

April 23, 2006

Dealing with Fresh Fava Beans

Fresh fava beans are a fair bit of work.

First, like most other beans or peas, you have to shell them. (I say "like most other beans or peas", but I confess that, even in my newfound phase of culinary exploration, I mostly buy my beans canned and my peas frozen, because even though I'm very excited about getting in touch with my food and eating less processed food, I'm even more excited about getting dinner on the table before midnight most nights. But I digress.) Shelling them is kind of fun. A fava bean pod looks sort of like a peapod on steroids - it's about 6 to 10 inches long. You slit open the pod with a thumbnail, and it's got the fava beans nestled in cottony fuzzy white stuff inside, and you pull them out. Repeat. It's a lot like shelling peas, which is kind of fun if you have a couple of friends to do it with. (I didn't have any fava bean shelling buddies. Maybe next time.)

But then fava beans, unlike other beans or peas, have a tough skin on the outside of the bean that you have to remove. To do this, you blanch the beans in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then drain them and run them under cold water. Then you can make a little slit in the skin with a thumbnail (clearly, when dealing with favas, you've got to be careful not to trim your nails too short), if the skin hasn't split already from the blanching, and pop the fava bean out.

This is fiddly, slippery work, and the tips of your fingers get all wrinkly, and your giant pile of fava bean pods ends up producing what seems like a rather small pile of bright green bean halves. By the time you're done, you will really be wondering if fresh favas could possibly be worth it. And then you taste one. Yes, they're worth it. They're sort of like one imagines really impeccably fresh peas ought to be. They're sweet, and slightly green tasting. (They're completely unlike canned favas, which seem to still have the skin on the outside, and have a very starchy texture.)

I made a variation on this Farro and Fava Bean salad from Epicurious, because I had some farro that I thought probably needed to be used up. I used lemon juice instead of vinegar, substituted some steamed asparagus for the peas, and used bottled roasted red peppers in place of tomatoes. And spinach instead of arugula. Because that's what I had on hand. It made a nice light lunch with a little shaved parmesan on top. Which is good, because I think I have enough for lunch for the next week.

I do think that the next time I cook fresh favas, I'll make something that shows them off to better advantage. They got a bit lost in the salad.

Posted by spaceling at 12:41 PM | TrackBack

Farmers' Market Haul - 4/23/2006

Mystery veg
Originally uploaded by Wendy Shaffer.

Well, after all my weeks of complaining that the farmers' market has been a bit blah lately, spring is finally here. Things are definitely getting more exciting.

There were more stalls there today, and rather than having only lonely little piles of beets and chard to peddle, they had strawberries and pea shoots and what I think were cucumber shoots, and all kinds of peas, and fresh fava beans. (Here I go, being anti-Pythagorean again.)

Today's haul was:

Total cost: $5.

I passed up on the strawberries (because I stupidly bought some at the supermarket yesterday, and astonishingly, there is a limit to the quantity of strawberries that Mr. Spaceling and I can eat), and the spring onions, and the peas (because I'm going to have enough shelling on my hands with the favas.) It all looked so good, and I really wanted to buy some of everything, but I didn't want to buy more than I might reasonably cook and eat in the next week. (Particularly since the flowering cabbage and the pea shoots are going to be a hard sell to Mr. Spaceling, and I might have to eat them all myself. Actually, I'm counting on having to eat the flowering cabbage all by myself. If I'd thought I'd need to share, I'd have bought two bunches.)

I told the woman running the stand that I wanted to buy one of everything, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to cook it all before it spoiled, and she grinned, and gave me a big extra handful of fava beans, just to make sure that I got my money's worth. And that's why I like shopping at farmers' markets. (Well, okay, I like shopping at farmers' markets because when was the last time you saw pea shoots and Chinese flowering cabbage at Safeway? But getting to actually talk with the people who grew your food, and tell them how wonderful it is, is a close second.)

Next week, I'll have to go back and get her to explain to me what that leafy green stuff I bought was. Now, I'm off to shell fava beans.

Posted by spaceling at 10:16 AM | TrackBack

April 22, 2006

Anti-Pythagorean Salad

This makes a nice quick and simple no-cook lunch or light supper. It does take a fair bit of chopping, though. (I find chopping veggies quite relaxing, but the ever-expanding collection of pre-chopped vegetables available in supermarkets strongly suggests to me that not everyone feels the same way.)

I call it "Anti-Pythagorean" salad because of the fava beans, which Pythagoras counselled his followers to avoid. (This article gives a good summary of the potential reasons one might want to avoid fava beans.) I used canned fava beans, which are kind of odd beasties. For one, I've only ever come across them in one grocery store (Mollie Stone's in Palo Alto), and for another, they're utterly unlike the fresh fava beans that I've had. They have dark purplish-black skins, and none of the "green" taste of fresh favas. If you can't find canned fava beans, or if you're feeling Pythagorean, I'd substitute chick peas or cannelini beans. Or you could probably use fresh favas, but that would give the salad a different taste.

The Ingredients

The Steps

  1. Dice the onion first, and put it in a small bowl with the sumac (if using) and lemon juice. Stir to coat, and allow the whole thing to marinate while you prepare the other ingredients. (15 to 20 minutes or so.) Marinating raw onions in lemon juice makes them considerably less pungent, and less prone to causing indigestion.
  2. Dice up the other veggies as described, and put them in a large bowl. Add the feta, and dried oregano to taste. Add the onion mixture, and some extra virgin olive oil, and mix everything up. Taste, adjust the seasoning with oil, salt, and pepper.

Serve stuffed into warm whole-wheat pitas with a dollop of baba ganoush or hummus on top. It gets the Mr. Spaceling "You can make this again!" seal of approval.

Posted by spaceling at 01:42 PM | TrackBack

April 09, 2006

Chicken, Meatball, White Bean, and Fennel Soup

I was puttering around the house this morning, mentally composing a grocery shopping list, and I decided that I wanted to have chicken soup for dinner. And I remembered that I had a bulb of fennel sitting in the crisper that I needed to use. So, I went to the store and started grabbing things that I thought would go well with fennel and chicken. The resulting soup is kind of a riot of vegetables and chicken and stuff. But it's very tasty.

The Ingredients

The Steps

  1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the fennel, leeks, celery, carrots, garlic, and herbs and cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are starting to get translucent and everything smells amazing.
  2. Add broth/water. Bring it to a slow simmer. While the broth is heating up, trim excess fat from the chicken thighs and season them with pepper.
  3. When the broth is simmering, add the chicken thighs. Poach them for 20 minutes, being sure to keep the broth at a simmer and not letting it get to a full rolling boil.
  4. Remove the chicken thighs to a plate. Add the tomatoes, beans, kale, and meatballs, and bring everything back to a simmer.
  5. Shred the chicken. Return it to the pot and continue to simmer until the kale is fully cooked. (Perhaps another 15 minutes.)
  6. Adjust seasoning, and serve

Makes a whole bunch of servings. It's a good thing I like this soup, because I have enough leftovers to last a while.

Posted by spaceling at 12:04 AM

April 02, 2006

No Sugar Added Coffee-Flavored Yogurt

I like yogurt, but I don't like most commercially available flavored yogurts. Most are way too sweet, and many are too goopy. I'm particularly irked by "Light" yogurts that are sweetened with palate-searing quantities of Splenda, and often lurk in places like Starbucks coffee shops and airports, where a girl looking for a quick yogurt fix might unsuspectingly grab one. My favorite brand of commercial yogurt is Wallaby. Stonyfield Farms' Chocolate Undergroud is also a thing of beauty.

However, lately, I've taken to just keeping a plain lowfat yogurt on hand, and doctoring it up with a variety of ingredients. For a while, I was experimenting a lot with savory additions to plain yogurt. Believe it or not, halved grape tomatoes, chopped kalamata olives, and lashings and lashings of freshly ground black pepper make an amazing addition to yogurt. Try it - it's the breakfast of champions.

This morning I went for something more traditional, and made coffee yogurt as follows: take a half cup of plain lowfat yogurt, and stir in about 1/2 teaspoon of Medaglia d'Oro instant espresso powder (or other good quality instant unsweetened coffee powder). Sprinkle on a touch of Splenda (I used less than half a packet) and stir. Eat.

Posted by spaceling at 09:07 PM