2011 Books

Growing up I didn’t like to read. I still don’t like to admit I like to read. It was my goal this year to read 12 books. I just might have done it. I want to share the books I have spent time with this year. Some are field guides and cookbooks so I can’t say I read them cover to cover, but I used them well.

Top to bottom…due to size:

Folk Medicine- D.C. Jarvis.
I will save you from reading this one. He basically says that one drink will make your health a ton better. Seriously, if you have any heath problems- try it. The drink is: 1 cup good water, a tablespoon of raw honey and a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar. Drink it regularly for at least a week.  I have the apple cider vinegar and honey on hand at all times and use it when I feel like I should.

Peterson Field Guides- Medicinal Plants and Herbs AND Edible Wild Plants.
These books go hand in hand. I’ve gotten some good recipes and ideas from these books. Every time I read from them I become a more educated forager.

The Forager’s Harvest- Samuel Thayer.
Samuel has two books and a dvd. Dude-is-it! He lives in Wisconsin and he forages. He has a ton of knowledge and experience.

Stalking the Wild Asparagus- Euell Gibbons.
This is a classic foraging book. He is a old dude that has a lot of practical information. A must read for foragers. The first copy came out in 1962.

Farm City- Novella Carpenter.
Super funny book! Novella lives in the hood in Oakland, CA. She squats on land and made a true urban farm. Wonderful book!!! I had to re-read this book this year, it was too good. I made Kristina read it too.

Stealth of Nations- Robert Neuwirth.
I haven’t gotten all the way through this one, I’m reading it now. It’s about the informal economy.

Healing Secrets of the Native Americans- Porter Shimer.
This is a pretty basic book of Native American healing herbs and healing traditions. We have a lot to learn from Native Americans.

The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Moments AND Wild Fermentation- Sandor Ellix Katz.
The first book is a must read for anyone reading my blog. Must read! Title says it all.
The second book is a ‘cookbook’ for live cultured foods.

Guerrilla Gardening: A manualfesto- David Tracey
Practical ideas on how and why to guerrilla garden.

Hunt, Gather, Cook- Hank Shaw.
This book has a lot of hunting, foraging and cooking information. It’s a good book to expand your food horizons.

Nourishing Traditions- Sally Fallon.
Buy it!

The Herbal Medicine-Makers Handbook- James Green.
Herbal Medicine.

Seed to Seed- Suzanne Ashworth.
Shows you how to save seeds from your vegetable garden. This is knowledge we all should have.

The Locavore’s Handbook AND Botany, Ballet and Dinner from Scratch- Leda Meredith.
Leda is a locavore that lives in New York City. The first book is a good guide to being a locavore. The second book has stories and recipes- I really enjoyed this book! After reading ‘The Locavore’s Handbook,’ I did a search for locavores in Minnesota and found: mnlocavore.com. This is a great blog for practical resources and recipes on local Minnesota food.

A website worth putting out there. Daniel Vitalis is a very good looking guy that lives in Maine. He gained popularity from youtube. He has started a few projects the past couple of years. He does a lot of talking about rewilding yourself- becoming closer to nature. Almost a step past foraging. He is a little different but I like hearing him talk. He has a lot of videos on youtube and interviews at oneradionetwork.com. He does sell a few products, so I keep that in mind when he is talking…

Here are a couple books I want to get for 2012.

Novella Carpenter has a book that just came out called ‘The Essential Urban Farmer.’ I think it’s more how-to than stories, but I will support anything Novella does.

Daniel Klein has a movie out! ‘What Are We Doing Here?’ Watch the trailer. Dude is awesome! The more I find out about him… he blows me away. A must see movie. Daniel also does The Perennial Plate.

I am looking for suggestions on books or documentaries about food related stuff. What are some of your favorites?

Braised Short Ribs (Part 2)

Dark Days

Part 2 of 2. Here is part 1.

The Braised Short Ribs

I bought less than 1.5 pounds of the short ribs so my recipe isn’t as big as what I’m going off. I used 3 pieces of bacon and cooked them in a 5 quart, heavy bottom pot. As the bacon was cooking I covered the short ribs in spelt flour.

I then browned the meat in only the bacon juice. I took out the meat and added some butter. I got local hand rolled butter, so I really don’t know how much I put in… maybe like half a stick!? By that time I had a medium carrot- diced. Along with a small onion and a shallot- also diced. This is my first time cooking with a shallot. I added the veggies to the pot to start to cook them.

When the veggies were looking slightly browned I added my homemade wine. The wine I have is naturally carbonated, sweet and low in alcohol. I brought that to a boil and added my non-local spices- thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper and two bay leaves.

At the point I ran to my chest freezer and grab a pint of turkey stock from the local Thanksgiving turkey and put that in the pot. When that just came to a boil I added the short ribs and put in the cut up bacon pieces, covered and set in my oven at 350.

The liquid was very dark. It was looking wonderful when I put it in. The recipe says to cook at 350 for 2 hours and turn the heat down to 325 the last 45 minutes or so.

Just after I put the pot in the oven I remembered I didn’t add a pepper. While at the co-op I was thinking BBQ sauce and I found dried local peppers. Lately I have been craving smoked peppers in a dish, so I wanted to add a dried pepper to this dish. I took the pepper out of the bag and it sounded like a rattle. I cut half of it up and put it in the pot saving as many seeds as I could. By spring I should have a lot of seeds. I want to plant those seeds to see if I can get more peppers. I don’t know the drying process, but it is worth a shot to see if the seeds survived. As a locavore that buys legit food you need to be thinking of getting food in the future AND for a decent price. I paid $2.99 for those peppers, if they grow I could potentially have peppers for years. (Not including the cost of growing and preserving them.)

I made the mashed potatoes. Then I took the short ribs out 2.5 hours later. These things are no joke. They looked awesome and smelled wonderful. I laid down some potatoes, the short ribs with some of the veggies and that sweet, sweet juice. Let it cool and dug in. I might need to go back up to the co-op for more short ribs.

The Co-op… Wha Haha! (Part 1)

The Co-op…Wha haha haha haha!!!

Part 1 of 2. Here is part 2.

For those of you that don’t know, I am doing a local eating challenge called the Dark Days Challenge. Once a week I need to prepare a meal from sustainable, organic, local and ethically raised food- then blog about it. My first few post were a challenge due to the Daniel Fast and my cooking skills were not able to shine.

I feel I have been taking the easy way out by going to the co-op and buying what the co-op calls ‘local food,’ making a so-so dish and blogging about it. This week was a bit more fun. I was able to buy some meat; My Daniel Fast is over.

The past few weeks I have had “Braised Short Ribs” running through my head. I have never had them or made them. I have just felt inspired to make them. I love BBQ ribs! Love them! With this type of rib I feel they are more Asian?! Maybe? At the co-op I bought the short ribs, more sunflower oil, spelt flour, butter, carrots and some hot peppers- all local. I was thinking I was going to make a BBQ sauce to cook the ribs in. I was trying to think of what I had that was local to make the sauce. All I was missing was some vinegar.

From watching Food Network I knew I would have to slow cook the short ribs in some sauce. I just needed to know: what type of sauce, how long…etc. When I came home from the co-op I looked up recipes for braised short ribs and found an awesome one at The Pioneer Woman. This recipe did not have any type of BBQ sauce, but I could work with all ingredients. I am adapting this recipe for the short ribs and using her recipe for creamy mashed potatoes to complete the meal.

After looking at the recipes, I found I was a few ingredients short. So, I went back up to the co-op. On the drive up there I knew I had all of the ingredients at home, but they were not local. I was planning on only buying only two of the ingredients using the other two non-local ingredients because I didn’t want to pay for their local counterparts.

I like my co-op, but every time I say the word “co-op,” my wife cringes. She knows the food is better for you, but she also knows it costs twice as much. I have put A LOT of thought in becoming a locavore, but realized it is something I cannot do at this time.

I have been married for ten years and I have three daughters. I have a few points with this. (1.) All five of us will not always agree on food. (2.) The money will not always be there to get sustainable, organic, local and ethically raised food. (3.) This diet is something my wife and I have to be in complete agreement with.

Becoming a locavore is not something to take lightly. There are responsibilities. You will need to eat seasonally, preserve food, grow some food, FORAGE, visit farms or farmers, do a lot of meal work yourself and be a very thorough planner. Did I mention you need mad discipline?

That’s why I’m saying I have been doing a very basic job getting my food. I have been going to the co-op, buying food that has the “buy local” sticker next to the price tag and cooking a simple meal. I feel I am not taking the responsibility in gathering my food. I know there is a ton more to eating local. I want this challenge to mean something. To go through the dark days of eating locally means preparing extensively for the dark days.

I have some preserved food. We had a garden last year and I knew I had to save as much as I could. We have pumpkins, tomatoes, wine, pickles and jams. If I knew I was going to go through the winter months as a locavore, my spring, summer and fall would be filled with doing as much as I could to make these dark days as pleasant as they could be.

When I got to the co-op I did buy all four ingredients I needed for the meal, so beyond the seasonings it will be a local meal. When I got home I looked in the fridge and found the non-local ingredients. I was a bit irritated by feeling I was wasting resources, but understanding the motions of eating locally. I told my wife and she had a ‘thanks for wasting our precious money’ laugh.

Part 2

One Year

It’s been a year since I started this blog. I feel it’s a good time to evaluate what I have posted and where I would like to take this blog.

Looking back at my posts I like the realness in them. I write what’s on my mind and I write what I want. I like the recipes and the questions I ask.

What I have questioned with this blog is if I write too much. Like I just need to be told to, “Shut the F up.” Like I have too many questions, too many ideas, or views… I can’t be the only one with the questions I have. I can’t be the only one that struggles with diets. I can’t be the only one that is sort-of weird. I can’t be the only one that wants to write stories from their life. I know I’m not the only one, but are there people around here that feel that way?

I question if I should sell out somewhat (to myself) and get more professional photos and a more professional looking blog. Do more home cook recipes and restaurant reviews. You know, come over to the center a little bit to be pleasing to a larger group of people…

I feel I have some good ideas for future posts. I want to look into unconventional meat: rabbits, pheasants, geese, bison, lamb, goat, duck. Stuff that I can get at local small farms. Daniel, dude from the The Perennial Plate, did such an awesome job his first season (And second season). I could not even being to compete with him. Most of my ideas come from his video series. I would love to buy a whole lamb carcass. Go to a bison farm. Catch a wild bird with a net… dude is awesome. I even called the rabbit farm he visited a year ago to get a tour and to buy a few bunnies. LTD farm, where I got my turkey, was one of his videos. And on top of all that, homeboy can cook. He ain’t no home cook! 

Other ideas! I have to do a Laarb redemption, no question!… More foraging… More homecook stuff… Interviews. I would like to do a interview, but I don’t know how to get it on the blog- I have very little experience interviewing… Chicken n’ waffle party…

I would love to do some illegal stuff too! Like trying to buy raw milk… Sell pizzas straight out’ my kitchen. I was thinking this next summer I could make 20 pizzas from scratch and sell them one night for cheap. I would need help from a few of you. By helping me make the pizzas or coming over and buying them. I really want to encourage the informal economy when it comes to food… I want to try some guerrilla gardening stuff. I would need help with that also…

Grow more medicinal plants…

Doing some sort-of fast. Like a local only, or FORAGE AND GROW only fast- Thanks, Novella Carpenter! She does illegal things and swears! Her and Anthony Bourdain are my two biggest influences for this blog; FYI…

So I have ideas… We will just have to see how things go. I just don’t know if my ideas are too much, or if they are worth trying to do. I am not trying to be a clean, professional, appeal to a large group blog. I am slightly different and I am seeing I need some encouragement, but I’m excited for 2012.

Sweet Potato Fries and Butternut Squash

The third Dark Days post, nice! The first two posts were a challenge and I felt like the recipes sucked because of my Daniel Fast. This will be the last week of my Daniel Fast! I am making a lunch for myself with a butternut squash and a sweet potato. I will be slightly breaking my Daniel Fast with some local maple syrup and frying the potatoes. I bought the sweet potato and the butternut squash from the co-op; they had the “buy local” sticker next to them. They are both local with-in the rules of the challenge.

I cut the top half of the butternut squash off and used it in a soup for my last Dark Days post. I like to roast the lower half of the squash. I just cut it down the center. I leave all the guts and seeds inside. I typically eat everything including the skin.

With the sweet potato I tried something new. I normally cut the potato into fries and bake them for a half hour, take them out, mix them up and put them back in the oven until brown. I have done this several dozen times and I never REALLY like them, so I will finish them off by frying them in some sunflower oil.

To get started I cut the potato into 1/4″x1/4″ fries and let them soak in cold water for a few hours. I drained the water and coated them with sunflower oil and spread them out on a baking sheet. I then roasted them at 350 for 40 minutes.

During this time I cut the squash down the center. Slightly oiled a baking sheet putting the squash inside down and roasting it at 350 for 45 minutes while cooking the sweet potato fries. I took out the squash when it was the color I like. I took out the fries when the bottoms were starting to brown and set aside.

I pan fried the fries in the sunflower oil. This is one of my first times using that type of oil and I found out it has a lower smoking point than what I am use to.

The fries turned out awesome. The texture was very good; soft in the middle and a crunchy outside. Sweet and yes, salty… I had to salt them! The squash was very good too! I poured some maple syrup on it and salted it. It’s been a while since I’ve had a squash, so it was a nice treat.

Laarb

Soil. Food. Culture.

The culture I have written about here has been about a broad group of Americans, which is not what I originally envisioned for this blog. I have become more and more interested in exploring the diverse groups of people that live in the Twin Cities. Food is a huge way you can explore a culture but I can’t explore culture solely by eating at a restaurant. I need to be more involved with that culture.

Asian culture has had my attention for the last 12 years. With all the books I have read on Asian cooking I will not start to really understand Asian food until I get in the kitchen with an Asian.

In Saint Paul we have a large Hmong population. Hmong culture is very interesting to me and I have slowly been learning more about it for years. I have one of very few Hmong cookbooks. It is a great insight to the Hmong kitchen and culture. I work with three Hmong guys and I love to ask questions about their culture.

One day I had a very nice conversation with a co-worker. He told me a brief history of the Hmong people and their language. I asked this co-worker if there were any Hmong restaurants around. He told me you have to go to the Hmong markets to get real Hmong food.

As a sort of Bizarre Foods challenge, my co-worker asked if I have very eaten stomach. I told him I was very unadventurous when it came to meat and told him I have not. He then told me about a dish called laarb– (I am spelling it the way he told me to.) It’s pronounced: La. It’s made with tripe. I told him we need to go out and have some laarb.

Yesterday he sent me a text saying he would pick my wife and I up some laarb. When I got to work and he had the laarb AND another staple dish of his culture, papaya salad. I gratefully took the gift and told him my wife and I would have a wonderful lunch the next day.

The next day I made some rice and Kristina picked up some egg rolls at the Asian market up the street. I warmed up the laarb to just above room temperature and the papaya salad to room temperature. Kristina dished out a little for us both. I took a cellphone picture of my wife and I with the food and sent it to my co-worker thanking him for the treat.

Laarb

At this point does it really matter what I thought of it? No it doesn’t- I’ll tell you why. My co-worker gave me this special treat so I could learn more about his culture. I cannot take these national dishes and say anything but good about them- It would be like saying bad things about Hmong culture. I could easily wrap up this post singing the praises of this laarb and papaya salad meal.

With that being said- I feel you deserve the truth. The truth isn’t about Hmong culture or Hmong food. It is about me and how I enjoyed my gift.  I want to view myself as a Anthony Bourdain wanna-be. If he can eat what he eats and tough it out so can I, right? There are a few differences between Tony and I. 1. He is paid well to travel the world eating food. 2. The cook is in his face waiting his reply. 3. There is also a camera in his face and he has a reputation to uphold. I didn’t have the same pressure to chew, swallow and smile politely.

I sat down to my plate of white rice, laarb, papaya salad and a egg roll. Kristina dug right in and I cut a small piece of tripe. I loaded my fork with rice, burying the tripe and put it in my mouth. I tried to chew. I got my teeth around the meat and started to press down until juice started to come out of it. I envisioned the intestines and juices. I ran to the garbage almost barfing all over my kitchen. I couldn’t get it out of my mouth quick enough.

I sat back down to try the papaya salad. I thought, ‘This is just fruit and vegetables, I can do this.’ It didn’t hesitate and put it in my mouth. I chewed and tasted like very hot spice and fish sauce. I ran back to my best friend the garbage can, gagging along the way. I not a big fan of really spicy stuff and I have never liked anything from water. My co-worker did warn me the salad was spicy. With a follow-up that he did not think it was all that spicy.

I sat back down to the table with tears in my eyes from gagging. Kristina was like, “WTF; Mr. ‘It’s an honor to eat this food?’ You’re spitting out the Hmong culture!” I was in shock to my reaction to the food. My wife is a Missionary Kid from Taiwan and she is more tolerant to food then I am. I am a giant wuss! She was able to eat a descent amount without any bad reactions.

When my co-worker asks, I will tell him. ‘My wife and I enjoyed the meal. It wasn’t what we are use to. It was a different texture and spicy.’ I will politely leave out the part with the gagging and the spitting and the garbage can and the rising out my mouth… My co-worker doesn’t know about the blog!

If you are asking, ‘What about the Daniel Fast?’I have a rule where I can break the fast if I am invited to a meal or a special occasion.

The laarb was a gift and an honor to receive. I am very appreciative to my co-worker for showing me more of his culture. Through this I realize things aren’t as easy and cut and dry as they seem. I do hope I can go to a Hmong market with my co-worker to try more Hmong food. If that happens I will be more emotionally prepared to try different foods.

Dark Days Soup #2

Hey! Guess what?! I have OIL! Not just any oil, local oil! I got some Wisconsin sunflower oil. Let’s face it, my last soup sucked. I did have 5 bowls of it and it was a meal for me. It wasn’t the best soup I have ever made. I was not prepared going into the first week of the Dark Days challenge. My wife told me it was just a “base” to add other things to. It was missing a lot.

I did the same thing this week as last week. I went to the co-op and looked for the “buy local” stickers and bought everything I could with the intention of making a soup. The first thing on my list was the oil; I had to saute stuff. I also picked up a bag of onions, carrots, purple potatoes, dried black beans, wild rice, purple cabbage… I had a bag of rutabagas, homemade wine, a frozen tomato from the garden… I think that’s it…

I sauteed one onion in the sunflower oil, added a diced carrot ten minutes later. Then I added a half of diced rutabaga and 3 small diced purple potatoes. I let that cook for a couple minutes. Then I cleared the bottom of the pan with some homemade wine from grapes from my yard. Added 4-5 cups of water. Then I added the black beans and wild rice. I let it cook for an hour or so then I added a small amount of diced cabbage and the diced tomato and let it cook for 15 more minutes.

Everything is Daniel Fast friendly and local…wait… I did add salt and pepper to the soup. I read some other blogs and not everyone was 100% local like I thought the challenge meant, so I added them. AND the wine is not Daniel Fast friendly, I remembered after I made the soup.

The result: It needs meat! I have really been craving ham. This soup and the last soup have not had the soul of a soup with meat. It does need more seasonings as-well. I really wanted to put a bay leaf in the soup or other herbs. The only herbs I have from the garden are lemon balm and chamomile. So I have some hunting to do for local dried herbs.