Saturday, February 24, 2007

Surprise! Return to USG

Dear Winter,

I know you were winning for awhile, and that instead of rushing out for fruits and veggies on Saturday mornings I have been staying in bed and sometimes even drinking hot chocolate, but those days are over. Get ready for Spring.


Return to the greenmarket haul:
1/2 lb. baby spinach
1 bunch green chard
1/2 lb. baby bok choy
1/2 lb. shallots
1 1/2 lbs. yellow (Austrian?) crescent potatoes
1 small Stripetti squash
2 heads garlic
8 lbs. assorted apples
Total spent: $27

I was surprised when last night, I thought "perhaps I'll get up early and go to the greenmarket tomorrow" - and even more surprised when I woke up early this morning and did it! Pickings were sparse, but they were certainly better than when I last visited, and I found some lovely (albeit expensive) greens that I'm excited to use. No more bagged spinach for me!...or, at least, not until my half-pound of $16/lb. organic, biodynamic, greenhouse-grown baby spinach is gone, probably in two or three days.

Taking a cue from my favorite dish at Curly's Vegetarian Lunch and recent successes of my own, I'll sautee some of the spinach and chard with shallot, garlic, cumin, and crushed red pepper to make spicy greens tacos for dinner one night (Curly's uses kale in theirs also, which I might try eventually, though kale hasn't been a favorite around here, unfortunately). I'll stir-fry the baby bok choy with tofu, the chard stems, and perhaps some carrots or's so lovely to have greens options, rather than just spinach (no matter how much I love it). The remaining spinach will probably go raw into some tofu wraps for lunches, and the chard I'll sautee with veggie sausage and serve alongside the roasted potatoes.

The Stripetti squash is a bit of a left-field choice, especially since I recently read some food blogger's horror story of cutting into a fully-roasted spaghetti squash and finding it totally moldy and desiccated inside...but, as I said, pickings were sparse, and as the vendor where I bought the squash was otherwise entirely dedicated to potatoes and onions, I felt like I should take what I could get. I think I'll roast it like spaghetti squash and serve it with homemade sauce (or the Trader Joe's bruschetta in a jar, if I don't get around to making homemade this week) and cannellini beans.

And, of course, the (great-looking) bargain-basement apples, which I bought for $0.50/lb. from my favorite apple vendor, Terhune Orchards, will very shortly be made into applesauce.

I can't wait to cook all these vegetables! It feels like forever since I've had inspiring produce, and even though these choices are a bit pedestrian, I feel really great about them.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Vegetable update PLUS veg-friendly...London?

As far as updates go, it's pretty much been spinach, carrots, green beans, and the occasional zucchini around here lately. I can't get myself to eat salad in winter, so those are pretty much my only options. But now that January has been over for a couple of weeks, the winter despair is subsiding, and I'm looking forward to new greenmarket excursions in a month or so.

In other news, I spent a few days in the UK for work last week, and discovered that the slow-food/reducing food miles movement is quite prevalent over there. Greenmarket culture is huge there, mainstream food magazine I was reading seemed to assume its readers were food-mile-conscious, and some friends from New York acknowledged that the local produce/fresh food movement is much more prevalent in London than in NYC.

A Google search led to this article about a political party leader endorsing the Slow Food movement - he grows his own vegetables, and condemns giving sugar to children:

Perhaps the best quote: "I've said that we need to match concern for GDP with concern for GWB - general well being. That's why I want to talk about food." I wish I could imagine a US political leader making statements like these, but "Big Food"'s influence, plus the generalized unwillingness of the American people to be conscious of our food consumption prevent it.

Another evidence of the increasing concern for health and whole foods in the UK is the success of a bottled-smoothie company called Innocent.

Bottled smoothies are certainly not absent from the US marketplace, but Innocent's don't include sweeteners, sugar, water, or concentrates, nor do they overrely on base juices like grape or apple - they're 100% fruit, come in reasonable serving sizes (250 ml or about 8 oz), and are deliciously tart, like real fruit. The ingredients are listed as servings of real fruit, e.g. "19 pressed grapes, 1/2 mashed banana, 16 strawberries, dash orange juice, squeeze of lemon juice."

Their drinks come in versions for kids with "no bits", yogurt-enhanced "thickies" for breakfast/meals, and "juicy waters," which are soft drinks made of fruit juice and spring water. And to work toward their goal of being totally self-sustaining, Innocent are shifting their bottling from 50% recycled plastic bottles to "eco bottles," which are made of cornstarch and are totally biodegradable. Innocent also contribute to many other worthy causes (their website outlines their charitable contributions and activities).

What makes Innocent's place in the UK market is that its smoothies aren't a niche item, sold in health-food stores and the odd grocery. They are EVERYWHERE. The coffee/snack kiosks in train stations all stock at least a dozen flavors, and they can be found most places you'd think to buy a soda or a bottle of water. In my limited London experience, I found Innocent smoothies to be more readily available than e.g., Odwalla or Naked Juice drinks are here in the US...and they taste fresher and more like "real fruit" than the Odwallas of the world, which tend to be largely apple/grape-based for sweetness.

My London friends told me that over the last few years, Britain's political leadership has focused on local food as both a means to improve the notoriously-poor British diet, and a means to reduce food miles - this 2005 BBC article claims that 25% of all heavy-goods traffic miles in the UK are moving food: - and, most impressive of all, is that it's actually making a difference. I suppose that's the sort of positive change possible in a country not ruled by lobbyists from the meat and dairy industries.

Not that I'm defeatist; I believe that the US diet will change drastically over the next decade or so, but I am afraid that things will get a lot worse before they get better, and that when change occurs, it will be legislated, harsh, and fast-moving. The fact that the British, facing national diet/food culture with so much reliance on cheese/dairy, refined grains, and meat, have been able to effect such quick and far-reaching change, is quite a reason for optimism on our side of the pond.

Meanwhile, I've read several food blogs lately (especially last night, when I had to stay up to wait for the bread to finish), and I'm feeling a little inspired lately - my next experiment will be veggie spring/salad rolls. I imagine they'll have the wrappers at Garden Of Eden. I'm thinking I'll fill them with carrot, cabbage, spinach, and tofu. But spring rolls are all about the dipping sauce, and I've got to find a sauce recipe before I dive in.

Only one more month of winter!!