Posts Tagged ‘food’

When names offend — food edition

Kaffir lime leaves are used in some South East Asian cuisines such as Indonesian, Lao, Cambodian, and Thailand (มะกรูด). Citrus hystrix leaf (Image by Fatrabbit, Creative Commons, Wikipedia)

Kaffir lime leaves are used in some South East Asian cuisines such as Indonesian, Lao, Cambodian, and Thailand (มะกรูด).
Citrus hystrix leaf (Image by Fatrabbit, Creative Commons, Wikipedia)

Last week I blogged about Ottawa’s newest pro team, the Redblacks. As best I can tell, that name has nothing to do with the type of controversy associated with teams like the Washington Redskins. (Although one reader pointed out on a Facebook comment that I neglected to mention similar arguments about the Redblack’s mascot, “Big Joe” modeled after a real Francophone lumberjack.)

NCPR’s weekend guy Jonathan Brown and I exchanged a few emails on the topic. I admitted much fondness for the (unofficial) UC Santa Cruz mascot, the Banana Slug. And mentioned personal displeasure at how the University of Hawaii caved in on their long-honored insignia of a rainbow. (Emblematic of the many rainbows seen in wet Manoa Valley and for Hawaii’s rainbow of multi-ethnic cultural heritage.)

Just as I was thinking this sort of brouhaha is mostly confined to the world of sport, I read that a key ingredient in Thai cooking is in dire need of a less-racist name.

How many cooks and foodies out there are proud because they know about kaffir limes? (I use the leaves, which impart a quintessential flavor.)

But now I’ve learned the name “kaffir” is basically equivalent to the “n-word” in places like South Africa. Oh dear.

L.V. Anderson, assistant editor for Slate, writes about the whole issue here, including an attempt to track down how “kaffir” might mean different things:

As it happens, the very earliest written instance of kaffir lime yet to be uncovered suggests that the word’s origins have nothing to do with the South African slur. As the Oxford English Dictionary points out, Scottish botanist H.F. Macmillan used the term in his 1910 Handbook of Tropical Gardening and Planting to refer to a lime found in Sri Lanka, the home of the ethnic group that refer to themselves proudly as the Kaffirs. Macmillan lived there for 30 years, and it was there that he wrote his botanical handbook. It is difficult to say how he, and the other people he heard using the term kaffir lime, understood the connotation of the word, but it seems at least possible that the name began innocuously. Given that the earliest evidence of the lime’s name comes from Sri Lanka, lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower told me, “It seems very likely that it comes from that particular strand.”

Citrus hystrix Kabuyao (Cabuyao) fruit (left), used in Southeast Asian cooking, with galangal root. (Image by Fuzheado Creative Commons, Wikipedia)

Citrus hystrix Kabuyao (Cabuyao) fruit (left), used in Southeast Asian cooking, with galangal root. (Image by Fuzheado Creative Commons, Wikipedia)

Anderson says even if the origin of the name is free from malice, it rankles now. So maybe the safest thing to do is use what it’s called in Thailand: makrut.

Of course words mean different things – depending on time, place and the ear of the beholder, as explored in this June article by Geoffrey Nunberg “When Slang becomes a slur” for the Atlantic. Nunberg says it all shifted in the 1960′s:

That was when we collectively acknowledged that every group was entitled to control its own linguistic destiny, and decide what it should and shouldn’t be called—that groups had the right to define themselves.

“Redskin” has simply been the slang word the white man used for the Indian. Like all slang words, it was infused with the attitudes about the thing it names.

The principle had far-reaching consequences. When the decade opened, liberal-minded people referred to Negroes (or to “the Negro,” as LBJ liked to say), while an unreconstructed rear guard still talked about “coloreds.” By the decade’s end, pretty much everybody was using “blacks.” Over the following decades Orientals became Asians, queers became gays, and the new terms “Latino,” “Hispanic,” and “Chicano” were added to the vocabulary. And the old word “slur” acquired a new meaning to refer to a word that conveyed an ethnic or racial insult, one whose use was not just unkind, but as a social thought crime. Not even the vocal reactions against “political correctness” in later decades called the right of self-naming into serious question. Those on the cultural right may ridicule PC ideas about race and gender, but in their public discussions they’re as fastidious as anybody else about avoiding words that are regarded as offensive or simply outmoded.

This debate resonates in Canada too, over teams small and large, as shown by complaints about the Nepean Redskins (they changed the name) and the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos.

A similar back-and-forth exists for the military’s policy of naming helicopters for tribes like Apache or Kiowa – criticized in this June op-ed in the Washington Post by Simon Waxman.

Hold on, says U.S. Army aviator Maj. Crispin Burke in his piece “Everyone Relax – The Army’s Native American Helicopter Names Are Not Racist“. Burke says “there’s a difference between honor and exploitation”:

Although not an official policy, Army officials typically name attack aircraft for tribes that historians have noted for their martial prowess. The RAH-66 Comanche, for instance, honored a tribe of mounted warriors that out-maneuvered, out-rode and out-fought the best-equipped U.S. Cavalry—a feat even more impressive when one considers the Comanche first encountered the horse only in the late 17th century.

So what evidence do we have to suggest that Native Americans aren’t offended by the Army’s tradition? Take, for instance, the fact that Army Material Command actually gets approval from Native American tribes before naming its aircraft. That’s according to the Department of the Army’s Pamphlet 70-3, paragraph 1-11-4-g, for you sadists out there.

Still not convinced? Well, consider that some Native American tribes don’t just approve of the Army’s naming convention, they give their outright blessing—literally.

In 2012, Native American leaders were on hand to bless two brand new LUH-72 Lakota helicopters—named for the nation which handed the Army one of its most notorious defeats at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

The two helicopters, christened “Eagle” and “Turtle” for prominent Native American symbols, carry honor feathers in their cockpits, gifts from the tribe to the North Dakota National Guard.

Frankly, this tends to be a dangerous conversation. Debate opens up all kinds of name-calling, regardless of how individuals approach the topic.

Case in point: I am often offended by those who seem to want to control this discussion by suggesting anyone who disagrees is a racist. (Bad as racism is, politically correct bigotry is no more attractive.) To some extent I value freedom of expression more than some (utterly impossible) goal of making sure no one ever has hurt feelings.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to learn and remember “makrut lime”, because I see no need to make a freedom of speech issue over the other name. (I had no idea that word came with so much baggage!)

How do you decide which words to drop from your general vocabulary?

How to be a hero at the picnic this weekend

It's Independence Day. Let your fruit flag fly! Photo: Cristina, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

It’s Independence Day. Let your fruit flag fly! Photo: Cristina, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

So here we are. Glorious summer is here and it’s time for cookouts, barbecues and picnics.  If you’re hosting a crowd for the holiday, you’ve probably already got your menu planned. But what to bring if you’re invited to someone else’s event? Hmmm.

I’ve been asking around all week and mostly getting pretty minimalist ideas from folks who are already in full blown summer laze mode. Like a bag of chips. Or cold beer. But come on, we can do better than that. Here are some impressive but easy ideas, to get you quickly out of the kitchen and into the spirit of Independence Day.

 

Ellen Rocco’s Cabbage Slaw

One head of Chinese (Napa) or Savoy Cabbage
One medium onion
Good mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
Lemon
Salt and pepper

Finely slice cabbage and onion. Stir in a generous tablespoon of mayo, the juice of a lemon, salt and pepper.

Optional: add chunks of tomato, or shredded fresh dill, a bit of soy sauce or more mayo to taste.

 

That’s it. Pretty easy, no?

Here’s another good one:

 

June People’s Asparagus Pasta Salad

June says: It’s quick, easy and combines some of my favorite summer flavors.  It’s great at room temperature.  It’s more of a “concoction” than a recipe, so I have never measured any of the ingredients.  Here are the basic elements:

One 16oz package of brown rice penne pasta cooked al dente (substitute regular pasta if you prefer)
One bunch of fresh asparagus steamed so that it still has a nice little crunch
Sliced roma, cherry, or other variety of fresh grown tomatoes
Fresh mint leaves chopped
Fresh basil leaves chopped

Drain your pasta and add the asparagus, tomatoes, mint and basil.  Add extra virgin olive oil, fresh orange juice, a little bit of fresh lemon and/or lime juice, about a tablespoon of honey, and salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!

NOTE:  Adding steamed shrimp or grilled chicken turns this into a lovely meal.

 

And here are a couple recipes from me:

 

Red Chili Shrimp

This is a snap. Serves 8 on skewers, or just scoop them in a bowl and offer sliced bread alongside.

¼ cup brown sugar
2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP chili powder
1 TBSP garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
16 or so large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on.

Whisk everything except the shrimp together in a bowl, add shrimp to coat and let sit 5 or 10 mins.  Grill them, until just opaque, usually about 2 minutes per side.

 

And then there’s dessert. I always bring this one, every Fourth of July. Fun to assemble, and high on the Wow Factor scale:

 

Jackie Sauter’s American Flag Fruit Pizza

Crust:
1/2cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
3 cups flour

Mix butter, sugar and flour until crumbly. Pat into a rectangular pan. (I use a 12 by 18 inch cookie sheet with 1 inch sides pan, but you could use a 9 by 13 inch cake pan, or any size rectangular pan, just plan your ingredients accordingly.) Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until crust is just slightly browned.

Topping:
16 ounces cream cheese
1 cup of sugar
1 TBSP vanilla

Mix topping ingredients and spread over cooled crust.

The fun part (the fruit):
Be sure your fruit is well drained so the colors don’t run. Make the American flag, using blueberries for the field of blue (the part under the stars), and strawberries cut in half for the red stripes.

Elegant touch:
For that shiny, high-end patisserie look, in advance make a glaze of 2 TBSPs of cornstarch, 1 cup of water, ½ cup sugar. 1 tsp lemon juice.  Put these ingredients in a saucepan, simmer and stir for a few minutes until the liquid turns clear and thick. Cool it to room temperature and brush it lightly over the fruit.

More fun (whipped cream):
Get one of those cans of real whipped cream.  Just before serving, use the whipped cream to make the stars on the blueberry field, and to make the white stripes between the rows of red strawberries.

 

Enjoy.  Happy Fourth Weekend to all!

Dorm chef returns with bread venture

kingarthurflour2a

I don’t follow directions well. I didn’t tell NCPR this at my interview last spring, but I’m coming clean: when I’m in the kitchen, I do as I please. While cooking is about improvisation, baking is more like chemistry, and I almost failed chemistry in high school when I created some noxious blue liquid out of something that was supposed to be as safe as Playdough. When I recently decided to make bread, I was a little worried that I would end up making something out of Goosebumps.

You could say that I started out a little ambitiously; I had my dad sent me a copy of a King Arthur bread recipe called Paine `a L’Ancienne, which is both a baguette and pizza dough recipe. Like a warning label, this bread has a French name because you don’t mess around with French foods. Look, I know `a la mode just means “put some ice cream on it,” but it still sounds like a culinary masterpiece.

Anyway, back to the baking. The recipe for Paine `a L’Ancienne begins with this sentence: “The technique by which this bread is made has tremendous implications for the baking industry and for both professional and home bakers.”

Um, what? My loaf of bread seemed to have “tremendous implications” for all of Western civilization. Apparently, making bread is easy if you a) have a bread making machine, b) have a Kitchen Aid, or c) buy the right ingredients and follow directions. I have none of these things.

The only ingredients in this bread are flour, ice cold water, salt, and instant yeast. My first challenge was that I bought active dry yeast instead of instant yeast. This crisis merited a thorough Google search and a call home to make sure I hadn’t toppled the baking industry with my amateur foolishness. Basically, you can mix active dry yeast with a little water and sugar, and then use less water when making the dough and it works just the same.

The second crisis occurred when I dumped this yeast mixture into the bowl, along with the flour, salt, and all of the water. I realized that I had added about a ¼ of a cup of water to the recipe.

It was about this time that I also realized that all of the directions were for an electric mixer. Since my last food blog post, I have acquired some more cooking utensils; for instance, I now have a wooden spoon. (Side note: thank you to all my generous coworkers who said they would give me another pan. However, I drove by somebody’s yard the other day and they had a sign that said “Free” next to a pan and vase, so I’m all set now).

Photo: Nathaie Dignam

Photo: Nathaie Dignam

Anyway, I took my wooden spoon, and attempted to calculate the difference between mixing on low speed with a paddle attachment and using a dough hook on medium speed. In reality, I just mixed really hard with my spoon.

Once the dough was sticky on the bottom but easily released from the sides of the bowl, I transferred the dough into another bowl coated with oil, sprinkled the top with oil, and went swimming for the afternoon. Honestly, I didn’t time anything.

The next morning, I took my dough out of the fridge and kneaded it for a few minutes. Then I put it back in the bowl and let it rise on the counter for a few hours (a.k.a. I went swimming). I came back later and baked a pizza and some rolls.

Voila! With the approval of my fellow NCPR interns, I realized that I had successfully made bread, even while pretty much failing to follow baking directions. The moral of this story is; bread is forgiving and you, too, can bake!

A bit of corn meal in the pan prevents sticking like this. Photo: Nathalie Dignam

A bit of corn meal in the pan prevents sticking like this. Photo: Nathalie Dignam

Natalie Dignam’s internship at NCPR is supported by the Stan Macdonald Journalism Fund

Summer is for strawberries (your strawberry recipes!)

Peyton Worden with the berries he picked at Merkley's Farm in Ogdensburg. Photo: Kristin Worden

Peyton Worden with the berries he picked at Merkley’s Farm in Ogdensburg. Photo: Kristin Worden

Happy summer, all! This week marked the solstice and the official start to the BEST SEASON OF THE YEAR for food. Our office kitchen for the last few days has been full of strawberries, and our own Ellen Rocco has already made up her first batch of strawberry jam. It’s pretty glorious, actually.

Even New York state is getting in on the action: On Monday, we received a press release from the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets declaring it officially strawberry season. Commissioner Richard A. Ball had this to say:

Strawberry season is a short season but a highly productive one, and without question, we grow some of the most delicious strawberries in the world right here in New York…On my own farm, our strawberries are in and they look and taste fantastic.  Fresh, local strawberries are the sweetest strawberries you can buy and I encourage New Yorkers to support our growers during this strawberry season.

Strawberries! Photo: Kelly Trombley

Strawberries! Photo: Kelly Trombley

I concur. Now, enough of this preambling, let’s get to your suggestions! As usual, most of you offered strawberry advice more in the mode of “stick in mouth and eat” than your more complicated recipes. Not surprising, given how delicious they are fresh! A good example from Donna Smith-Raymond on Facebook: “No recipes needed with the strawberries around here! Just an empty tummy and a well-trained “nom-nom” voice!” You also recommended strawberries with vanilla ice cream, dark chocolate, champagne (obviously), and alluded to (but didn’t provide — hm!) recipes for strawberry marmalade and balsamic strawberry jam.

On the jam front, here’s Ellen’s recipe, which she says is straight from the Ball canning book:

“Ellen’s” strawberry jam

2 quarts strawberries, 6 cups sugar…mix together and cook for about 40 minutes. Pour into sterile jars and process in boiling water for 15 minutes.

I also add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and use slightly less sugar than called for (but be careful—if you use too little sugar the jam won’t “jam”).

And a couple other recipes that came to us this week….the second one’s kid of intriguing!

From our own June Peoples:

­Strawberry Cake                             

This is an adaptation of a recipe given to me by Dorothy Fisher many years ago.  She was one of my favorite people in the world.  Her kitchen was always filled with beautiful baked goods and delicious snacks.  I especially love baking this because it fills my house with a wonderful smell that always makes me think of her and smile.

The Strawberries:

1 pint of strawberries (prepare the night before)

Clean the berries and remove the caps.  Place them in a food processor with up to 1/3 cup of sugar. Pulse just to chop, but don’t puree.

The Cake:

pre-heat oven to 350°

You’ll need 10 ounces of the strawberry mixture for your cake.  Reserve an additional 2 tablespoons for the icing.  What you do with the rest of the strawberry mixture is entirely up to you, but I would consider eating it because 1) life is short and 2) STRAWBERRIES!

carefully butter and flour two round cake pans

1 white cake mix

4­­­­­ large eggs

2/3 cup of butter

1—3 ounce package of strawberry gelatin

Mix all of your cake ingredients together and blend for about 2 minutes on medium, the pour into the pans. Bake for approximately 30 minutes—testing with a toothpick at approximately 25 minutes.

Cool completely, and then carefully remove from pans.

The Icing:

2 tbsp. of your reserved strawberry mixture

1—8 ounce package of cream cheese at room temperature

4 tbsp. butter

1 box powdered sugar

Blend ingredients together until smooth and ice the cake.

NOTE:  For a really quick and easy gluten free version of this cake you can use a King Arthur gluten free yellow cake mix, gluten free cream cheese, and gluten free strawberry gelatin. 

And, from Kristin Worden in Ogdensburg:

Strawberry Pizza

Spread one package of crescent roll dough on a pizza pan and bake it…cool Mix 1package of softened cream cheese with powdered sugar…

Spread it over the cooled dough and top with cut up strawberries. :-) Our favorite !!

***

I’ll be out of the office next week, but Jackie’s taking over for me on the recipe beat and she’ll be looking for your favorite picnic foods (so if you’re out there, Yogi Bear, now’s your chance!) You can send those along at jackie@ncpr.org. Have a great week!

 

 

Ugly Food movement finds beauty inside the vegetable

The UglyRipe tomato, which has only in the last few years become legal to sell in the U.S. Photo: SantaSweets.com

The UglyRipe tomato has been subject to trade restrictions based on perceived unattrativeness. Photo: SantaSweets.com

Now that kale has become mainstream, it’s time for a new food movement. The Ugly Food movement has been around since 2008. *sniff* I can’t believe you didn’t know about it! It’s really popular in Europe.

Here’s the deal with Ugly Food: Size, shape and color regulations in both the European Union and the U.S. are leading to striking levels of waste. A study done by the Dutch and Swedish governments revealed that nearly 90 million tons of food are wasted each year. A similar study in Portugal showed 20 to 40 percent of foods are wasted before making it to the supermarket.

Often food is tossed out for purely cosmetic reasons, which have no bearing on actual taste and nutrition of the fruit or vegetable in question. Tomatoes aren’t round? Can’t use them. Cucumbers curved? Absolutely not. Oranges shaped like a pear? Don’t even think about selling that.

Aren’t we taught not to deem internal worth by external appearance? At least, that is what my parents taught me. Does that rule only apply to people? After watching two seasons of Hannibal, the lines between people and food are blurring.

Annalise Clausen from nutritiousamerica.org sums up the idea: “I know that there is no taste difference, nutrient difference, and most times the ugly fruit tastes better because you can connect with it on another level, personify it, and maybe even make up a name for it.” So while we are wasting food at exorbitant rates, these underground food saviors are making healthy friends.

While ripe with good intentions, those most likely to embrace this movement can be found sporting bespoke tweed, monocles, and carrying brass telescopes inside satchels. No, not Benjamin Franklin; hipsters. But that is a blog post for another day! For now, it seems that ugly economic times call for ugly culinary measures.

The movement seems to have been driven by foodie hipsters, but that may be changing as ugly economic times call for ugly culinary measures. So, what are your opinions about ugly food? Does it make a difference if the ugly food is locally grown or from the supermarket? Let us know.

 
Kelly Bartlett’s internship at NCPR is supported by the Stan Macdonald Journalism Fund

Can we, should we avoid mega-food companies?

A freshly prepared batch of Soylent. Photo via Wikipedia

A freshly prepared batch of Soylent. Photo via Wikipedia

We’ve all seen the various charts floating around the interwebz showing which mega-corporations own which food brands. The one posted below came to me via Alex Hillsberg’s blog post which I highly recommend. The gist of his analysis: when it comes to food, freedom of choice is just an illusion. So, look at the charts, and then answer the questions I’ve asked at the bottom. You can also follow the link to a post about Soylent: a 21st century solution to avoiding mega-food corporations? (Of course, if the concept of this “total food” takes off, big companies will for sure produce it.) And, just for good measure, mealy worms.

First, the charts:

Food Conglomerates_Infographic_Final 2

Used with permission from Alex Hillsberg, some restrictions may apply.

Okay, I have three questions:

1. How many of the name brands listed in the charts above does your household buy at least once a month?

2. Which of the products listed are “core” items on your shopping list: that is, you actively seek them out when you’re shopping for that particular food item (e.g., you always buy Maxwell House when you’re after coffee)?

3. Do you ever purchase food from local/regional producers, like eggs, vegetables, meat or processed items (homemade bread, for example)? Roughly how often? Only seasonally at farmers markets?

Now, I’m going to take this one step further. Over the last century, our society has obviously moved away from direct access to locally produced food–yes, we’re taking small steps back in that direction, but just by virtue of the abandonment of the farm life for the cities we have become more reliant on major food processors and distributors.

By extension, you could argue that if the trend away from local/natural food continues, we are headed for Soylent. Never heard of Soylent? Check out the current post from Lee Hutchinson who has been blogging about Soylent for the past year–including about his week of living exclusively on Soylent. You can find his earlier posts through the link I’ve provided.

Finally, Dale Hobson has, of course, found the squirmiest, squishiest example of 21st century food solutions. Check it out here.

And don’t forget to answer those questions.

Here are my answers, to get you going:

1) I buy at least a couple of dozen big food company products each month. It may vary from month to month, but I buy them.

2) There are very few products that hold my loyalty. I bounce around, but I’m still buying big company items.

3) I live on a farm and grow a huge percentage of my seasonal vegetables, preserving the surplus for winter. I also have laying hens, so I haven’t bought a commercial egg in years. As a result, I only visit farmers markets a couple of times a summer. I don’t eat meat so I don’t buy that from local producers.

Oh, one more link: Martha Foley’s conversation with Dr. John Bramley, who is one of the speakers participating in the Miner Institute’s series on 21st century agriculture. A reality check.

Asparagus me anything! (How to eat asparagus)

Asparagus for sale in Potsdam. Photo: Nora Flaherty

Asparagus for sale in Potsdam. Photo: Nora Flaherty

I’m sorry, I don’t even know if that counts as a pun. But what can I say? It’s Friday and I’m a little bit loopy. Anyway, this week we asked for your asparagus recipes. Why? Well, mostly because it’s not around all that long. And because it’s delicious.

Anyway, something interesting I found out when I started asking people about asparagus is that people are often just glad it’s around and are pretty excited about eating it in a very natural way, steamed with just a little butter and cheese sprinkled on it, for example (that’s how I like it.)

So this week it’s not so much recipes as suggestions for serving. I’m forwarding along a couple for you, from our cookbook “Stories, Food, Life.” Enjoy!

From George Arnold, who I’m told by Dale Hobson “really transformed food culture for North Country students” and who ran Dining Services at SUNY Potsdam, a simple suggestion:

Summer is salad season. Almost any combination of vegetables, legumes, grains, pasta and cooked meat or seafood bound together with a dressing will be satisfying. My favorites include…Asparagus-Barley Salad (chunks of blanched asparagus, cooked and cooled barley, toasted walnuts, chopped parsley, lemon peel, lemon juice and mayonnaise).

Archive Photo of the Day: Steve and Vici Diehl, Antwerp NY

Archive Photo of the Day: Steve and Vici Diehl, Antwerp NY

From Julie Robards of Upper Jay, this grilling suggestion:

A bundle of asparagus or green beans wrapped in a slice of bacon, drizzled with olive oil and roasted. Roasted stuffed red or yellow pepper filled with seasonal summer squash and grape tomatoes, onions, fresh thyme, feta cheese and drizzled with olive oil. We love to cook with fresh seasonal vegetables—what could be better in the summer with a crisp fruity white wine? I do a lot of vegetables on the grill—just drizzle with good olive oil.

And finally, from the always-jocular Dale:

Prepare shrimp-stuffed crepes and a creamy roasted red pepper and smoked paprika sauce. Steam tender ends of asparagus only until they retain a little crunch. Plate up with the sauce-covered crepes. Enjoy the festive contrast of deep red sauce and bright green spears, savor the pungent smoky aroma of the sauce contracted with the grassy note of the asparagus. Eat the crepe; compost the asparagus.

So how do you enjoy Asparagus? Do you have other suggestions for us, or perhaps a more formalized recipe? Go for it in the comments, and happy eating!

This coming week, I’ll be asking about your favorite wild foods: What do you love to gather, and how do you prepare it?

Canada’s “Top Chef” is Ottawa’s René Rodriguez

Photo:

Photo: Dunechaser, some rights reserved.

Ottawa chef and restaurant owner René Rodriguez bested 13 other competitors from across Canada on Monday night, in the fourth annual “Top Chef Canada” contest from Canada’s Food Network.

The winner came away with a grand cash prize of $100,000 and extras like a custom kitchen installation. Unfortunately, the video content of those sites is usually unavailable for viewing in the U.S. But they do have recipes and information that can be viewed online.

Rodriguez owns and runs a restaurant called Navarra. It’s on Murray Street a short walk from the ByWard Market. The whole district hosts an interesting critical mass of restaurants where innovative chefs are busily building Ottawa’s general reputation as a major player in Canada’s foodie scene.

One of the things I most enjoy about modern food stylings is how normal international has become. Sooner or later, it seems, the best bits of regional cuisine from all around the world will show up on a plate near you. To which I say “Yum!”

Here’s more on that from this write-up by Peter Hum in the Ottawa Citizen (5/13):

While Rodriguez was born in Ottawa, he lived in Oaxaca from the ages of five to 19 after his parents returned to their homeland. Much of Rodriguez’s innovative and complex cooking at Navarra is grounded in his Mexican heritage, and on the TV show competition, Rodriguez frequently relied on Mexican dishes and ingredients.

“I was able to reconnect with my roots of who I am as a chef,” Rodriguez said. “It was one of those things where you can actually go back to your roots and cook with pride.”

Rodriguez’s multi-course meal that wowed a judge’s panel on Monday night’s program included versions of two dishes served at Navarra — a signature beef tartare appetizer; and a braised lamb shank in a traditional Mexican mole sauce with parsnip puree, topped with crispy mealworms.

Navarro location.

Navarra location.

I did not watch the contest myself. According to the CBC, Rodriguez beat two other finalists, both from Ontario: Terry Salmond, of Kitchener and Rich Francis of Six Nations.

Here’s press coverage from the home regions of the “runner up” contestants, beginning with more on Terry Salmond from Our Windsor:

Despite cooking fish and chips with quail egg, lemon ricotta tortellini, venison with black walnuts and a dessert he told the judges was “burnt onion crunch,” Salmond’s creations lost to the works of René Rodriguez, owner and chef of Ottawa’s Navarra restaurant.

Six Nations of the Grand River is a First Nation community slightly to the west of Niagara Falls which includes the descendants of  tribes that allied with the British in the Revolutionary War: Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga and Tuscarora.

Francis says he hopes his appearance as a contest finalist on the Food Network’s most popular program will inspire others and raise the profile of aboriginal food, as detailed by the Hamilton Spectator:

“I was the very first First Nation applicant to apply and get on the show,” he says as he watches his daughter fetch Iroquois corn and quinoa for the pancake recipe. “I feel the time is right for aboriginal cuisine to be in the forefront and be recognized on a global scale.”

Francis grew up in the Northwest Territories in the Gwich’in Settlement Area, the land of his father’s roots. His mother is Haudenosaunee of the Tuscarora Nation from Six Nations. Though his first career was carpentry, he was missing the creativity and passion that he would find in cooking.

To be honest, I’m not crazy about TV reality programs or contests, but I do like that last line about the creativity and passion in cooking. On the eating side of the plate, or back in the kitchen, food inspires artistry and devotion.

Congratulations to all three and here’s to expanding our food horizons. If you’re interested in Navarra–whether or not you ever plan to eat there–here’s a video tour of the restaurant.



What do grapefruits and bacon have in common?

Rapid recent price increases. Food costs are going up. Probably not a surprise if you are the regular shopper in your household. Over the years, I’ve roughly judged the cost of groceries by the number of bags I can fill when I spend $100. Okay, this isn’t scientific, but it gives me a sense   of price changes. I’ve been shopping for so long that I can remember when $10 could easily fill two brown paper grocery bags. (Okay, that’s a long time ago…and now, of course, I use reusable bags.)

So the rise in recent food prices? According to a recent article in 24/7WallSt.com, the cost of food rose by .4% in each of the last two months: the largest monthly gains in food prices since September 2011. Why? From the article:

Food prices are often volatile and are affected by a number of factors. While certain factors reflect human decision — such as the changing tastes of consumers and farmers’ planting choices — others are forces over which farmers have very little control. Issues such as weather conditions and diseases can cause severe supply shortages that cause the price of products to rise.

Oranges and grapefruits are in the top ten foods experiencing price increases. Citrus diseases are the prime cause. Peanut butter has gone up enough to be included in that list of ten. At the very top of the list? Bacon. Over a four year period, the cost of bacon has gone up 55%–in just the past year, it went up 13%. Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus is very likely a factor in this price increase. But in the case of beef, which was second on the price increase list, drought in the west is probably the primary cause.

I buy pretty much the same things when I go to the grocery store. Depending on where we’re at in the gardening season, there’s variation in the amount of fresh vegetables and fruits I purchase vs. grow myself, but other foods remain pretty constant: cereal, dairy, fish or meat, canned goods, and so forth.

Here’s what I’ve always wondered…can’t we come up with a better system for paying farmers a fair price that covers the true cost of raising fruits, vegetables, milk and meat without making the cost of food prohibitive for those in low and medium income families? Does the U.S. Farm Bill subsidize the farming community at the wrong points–rewarding commodity farmers at far greater rates than those who actually grow the food we eat?

I’m interested in your ideas about how we could reorganize the agricultural pricing structure…and, also, more simply, in what you’ve observed price-wise at the grocery store in recent months.

Is the local growing season changing?

Chart of frost dates in various NY locations. Photo: Lucy Martin

Chart of frost dates in various NY locations. Photo: Lucy Martin

Like many All In readers, I like to garden and I’m fond of books.

One of the more useful books I collected shortly after moving to this region was something called “Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening.” This was the 1948 edition, by Norman Taylor (1883-1967). Checking on line I discovered it’s still being produced, with a different editor, naturally.

It’s a great book, just stuffed with useful information, including small maps and charts showing the average frost-free growing season by state or province.

After 14 years of puttering around in this growing climate, here’s what I’ve noticed: it seems like every year’s been different. Cold and rainy. Hot and dry. Late spring, early spring. Once or twice it felt like we got just the right amount of sun and rain. But who can guess what to expect? Old timers, you tell me: is so much variability normal around here?

It also feels like the growing season has been getting longer. September is often a full growing month. Oh, there may be a light frost that can be dodged with sheets and blankets. But I’ve come to expect no killing frost until early Oct. Sometimes mid-October. One time it didn’t come until late October!

Here’s an article from USA Today about crops “moving” north, thanks to warmer/longer growing seasons. And something closer to home about growing-season shifts near Rochester, NY. The USDA updated their benchmark plant hardiness zone map in 2012. This New York Times article cites at least one researcher who thinks it is already outdated.

Map of typical growing seasons for Vermont, circa 1948 from Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening. Photo: Lucy Martin

Map of typical growing seasons for Vermont, circa 1948 from Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening. Photo: Lucy Martin

It’s hard to complain about gaining September as a bonus round of growing and eating. But “they say” winters are getting shorter and/or warmer, with less snow than was previously considered normal. It turns out I quite like winter. The possibility of losing that season’s many pleasures is worrisome.

Old, but useful. The 1948 edition. Photo: Lucy Martin

Old, but useful. The 1948 edition. Photo: Lucy Martin

Do you have a favorite reference for gardening Qs?

By now I have about 5 linear feet of books about gardening in this part of the world. For modern tips and inspiration I admire some of the books by Elliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch. I still turn to my trusty Taylor’s, of course! In these modern times there’s also tons of stuff on line, including Cornell University Cooperative Extension.

There’s no profound point here. It’s just been another lovely, gorgeous week of warm fall weather. It made me want to ask long-time area residents about any changes in the growing season they may have noticed, good or bad.

 

Oct 24 postscript: A light frost returned to my back-yard garden Oct 23, followed by a hard frost the next day. We had annuals in steady bloom and could harvest green pole beans right up until those dates.