Monday, October 24, 2011
Foods of time and place
Part 1 A while back, my sister had the opportunity to visit Turkey. I got a Turkish coffee pot out of the deal (thanks, sis!). I make turkish coffee about every other week. I like it. Now the thing about making of Turkish coffee is that it’s something of a procedure. You need finely ground beans (right now I’m using some nice sustainably grown, finely ground coffee direct from Costa Rica, thanks to a student that visited there recently). You put a goodly amount of finely ground beans into the Turkish coffee pot, add enough for a cup of coffee, bring it to a boil pour some off into the cup to give some boiling room to the pot, bring it to a boil again, pour some off, bring it to a boil again, then pour the rest in the cup. You then leave the cup for a few minutes so the grinds can settle to the bottom. You then sip your coffee contentedly, but slowly so as not to get any of the grinds. You get the idea that Turkish coffee isn’t something you whip up to grab and gulp going out the door. It takes time make and, once you take all that time, you’ll want to take the time to savor it (and time to be careful not to gulp the grinds). The taste of the coffee is worth it, but also just taking the time out to enjoy it is also worth it. In other words, when I’m drinking coffee, I’m drinking coffee. Part 2 Today has been declared Food Day by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Food Day objectives include improved health, sustainable agriculture and local foods. I just got back from a pot-luck lunch for our Food Day Committee. Lots of good food prepared well. Not all of it was local foods, but much of it was. All of it was wholesome and prepared caringly, all of it was well appreciated. One idea of Food Day is that meals should be prepared well and appreciated, not slapped together and wolfed down. Every day should be Food Day. In our family, it often is. Last night we had a soup of end-of-season produce from the garden: tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, celery, carrots and rutabagas, with some turkey from the freezer. It took a bit of work, but not really that much. We just put it in the crockpot early in the afternoon and it was ready to eat for dinner. Good tasting, good-for-you food need not be expensive or overly time consuming. But eating it should be time consuming. When one takes time to craft a nice dinner, it shouldn’t be eaten while doing something else (no reading, no TV, no papers for work) and it certainly should not be eaten in a hurry on the way to something else. One should take the time to savor the flavors and think of where they came from and what it took to get it to the table. It’s about being mindful about eating. “But I’m too busy to do that,” you’re saying. I reply, “Yes, you are too busy.” Part 3 Part of eating locally includes eating what makes sense to grow in your area, and in eating them, thinking about how they are grown and how that ties you to your place. That approach takes you away from the homogenized national diet that the TV commercials say we should be eating. Just as placemaking is about celebrating unique landscapes rather than converting them to anywhere USA, local eating includes celebrating foods unique to your place rather than eating the same thing everyone else across the country is eating. I’m not saying that as someone in northern Michigan I will give up oranges, but a good part of my diet is based on what’s locally produced (some by us). Instead of a national diet that’s the same everywhere and the same across the seasons, diets should vary by region and season. They should be part of what makes your place a special place Diets used to be regional. The middle of the country had its beef, the coasts had their seafood. The northern states had their winter root crops, the southern states had their long-season vegetables. Let’s not go back to northerners only having rutabagas to eat, but some amount of rutabagas can be a good thing. Brussels sprouts are even good in small quantities (especially if sautéed in butter). So go visit your local farmers’ market, buy a some late-season vegetable you haven’t had. The vendor would be happy to suggest how to cook it. Make it part of a nice meal and take the time to think about locally produced foods. Part 4 Nothing says fall in Northern Michigan quite like apple cider, especially freshly pressed apple cider. Under Michigan’s new cottage food law, we can once again buy unpasteurized apple cider. The new cottage food law is designed to help promote small, local agriculture, but still provide for food safety. The law permits people to make and sell small quantities of otherwise low-risk foods, such as breads, jellies, fruit pies and some other products without having to have an inspected, commercial kitchen. The sales must be face-to-face and quantities are limited. The idea is that people a trust relationship will be in place between seller and repeat buyers. Apple cider is not exactly low risk. Several years ago, serious illness outbreaks were traced to E. coli in apple cider. In response, it became illegal to sell unpasteurized cider. I like unpasteurized cider much better, but I don’t like E. coli. It is a balancing act. The new law allows face-to-face sales by the person who made it and in limited. So this weekend at the Traverse City farmers’ market, I bought some. Food safety laws have their place, but in this case I am confident in the producer’s attention to safety. The cider sure is good and a real taste of Northern Michigan.