NYT: “A ‘Whey’ with Words”

Thought I’d post a quick link to a great article from the New York Times magazine about Vermont’s Lazy Lady Farm, which produces goat cheese. Writer Christine Muhlke profiles farmer Laini Fondiller and her politically motivated goat cheese varieties (Barick Obama, Tomme Delay, and Fil-a-Buster, to name a few). And believe it or not, goat cheese has seasons, just like fruits and vegetables. For us New Englanders, Vermont is pretty local! When the snow clears up, take some time from your New Year’s break and drive to the Green Mountain state for a little shopping.

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A plan for all seasons

A new infographic from GOOD (a multimedia platform “for people who want to live well and do good”) helps readers buy local produce by showing when ten common fruits and vegetables are in season and where, using six states (Washington, Iowa, Connecticut, California, Colorado, and Georgia.) Called “A Plan for All Seasons,” the infographic was produced in collaboration with Whole Foods and designer Always with Honor

The importance of local food shopping cannot be stressed enough; not only does more money go directly to local farmers (who need it now more than ever), but generic produce travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your table. Even if it’s organic, the petroleum used up by its trip almost cancels out the produce’s redeeming qualities.

Another article worth checking out on the GOOD Web site is “The Decade in Food.” The story tracks food trends (good, bad, and dangerous), year by year from 2000 until now. Author Peter Smith touches on everything from “farmwashing”—the new favorite marketing toy of major corporations, making mass-produced products seem wholesome and homegrown—to Denmark’s 2003 ban on trans-fats. I love Smith’s list; it’s a rapid read, and the vast scope of topics covered makes it easy to see how food is connected with government, is connected with corporations, is connected with media, etc.

(P.S. How did we all miss the fact that meat and milk from cloned animals was approved for human consumption last year?)

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Review: “Julie & Julia”

I spent the evening sweating in my perennially overheated fourth floor apartment while knitting some last-minute Christmas gifts, and decided to finally watch Julie & Julia. I’d heard mixed things, and was looking forward to casting my own opinions.

Being in possession of Mastering the Art of French Cooking myself, I fiercely envied Julie Powell her blog idea — cooking her way through 524 classic, time-honored recipes in 365 days — that is, until she reached the aspics chapter (gelatinous meat molds).

It could have been the fact that Meryl Streep (Child) has always struck an uncanny resemblance to one of the most powerful feminine influences in my life, my recently deceased grandmother — especially in the 1940′s garb I find myself drawn to nowadays — but I teared up more than once witnessing the maturation of a woman we should all aspire to be more like, through the eyes of a modern young woman who I found to be much like myself — a poor writer living in what is certainly a far leap from her dream apartment, trying so desperately to feed the people she loves the way women have been feeding each other — and, yes, men and children, too — for centuries.

I couldn’t help but think of my partner when Julia’s husband Paul Child (played by Stanley Tucci) toasted her at their Valentine’s Day party (remember those big, red paper hearts?) “And then I realized…it was Julia. It had always been Julia.” (Cue tears again.)

And Jane Lynch? I never thought I could love that woman in a dress.

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Edith Piaf birthday fete

For my twenty-second birthday this past month, I pulled together a long-time fantasy of mine: an Edith Piaf-themed birthday party.

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Taking a break during party prep.

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Mid-party, in my ruby red 1940's silk dress (thanks, Etsy)!!

Before the festivities could begin, however, I spent three weeks (and an undisclosed yet embarrassing amount of money) crafting, cooking, and planning. I was on cloud nine.

Invitations: Hand-typed (using a 1904 Underwood typewriter), stamped, sewn, and mailed (no, not e-mailed or texted)! Also demanded a telephone repondez s’il vous plait.

Decorations: Handmade paper flags hanging above all the windows and doors (used with beautiful papers from Paper Source on Boylston St.)

Drinks: Kristie and I went hunting for cute champagne glasses the day of the party and found 20 mismatched (for 1 dollar each) and a local thrift store. They were so cheap, we didn’t mind if a couple broke! (And a couple did…)

Food: Homemade red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing from scratch.

Handmade paper flags hanging in the living room.

Music: A well-intentioned but very much off-base playlist made up of Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Dusty Springfield, and, yes, Edith Piaf.

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One of the invitations, complete with cupcake-shaped confetti cut from the pages of an old French bible.

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Phoebe’s Favorite (Phavorite?): Asparagus Medley with Cashews

Over the summer when I was staying with my family in Connecticut, my sister and I would always get hungry at the same time every afternoon. The women in my family share uncanny similarities in cravings and body type: for example, each one from my grandmother to my sister (myself included) craves ice-cold water first thing in the morning. Strange how certain things can be passed down.

Anyway, I’d been interested in cooking with asparagus, and decided to try it one July afternoon. Because it wasn’t asparagus season anymore, we added red peppers to counteract the bitterness of the asparagus. The best asparagus is harvested around April. It’s a good idea to stock up on locally grown, pesticide-free asparagus in April and freeze it right away. It will keep, and if you use frozen asparagus, you can snap the spears into pieces and throw them right into the pan; you don’t have to worry about letting them thaw!

May is a great time of year for this dish because it welcomes summer in a great way as a before-dinner snack or a meal’s side dish (try pairing it with chicken or another light meat, and remember, meat should be treated as a side dish rather than the main course.) Of course, during this time of year, there’s no better way to greet an Indian summer!

Recipe after the jump…

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Wisdom from ‘The Youth’s Companion’

A few weeks ago, I was back in Northampton visiting college friends. Katy and I were the only two with the day off, and so we began to wander around Main St.

After visiting the Hospice Shop (and battling thrifty old ladies for a skintight velour turtleneck dress–so worth it) we turned down Market St., presumably on our way back to the house to watch the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy in its entirety (yes, on VHS).

Three hours later, we stumbled home, dragging plastic bags of 50′s-era dresses, ugly turquoise placemats, and Odds n’ Ends bags full of lace scraps and stray buttons (thanks, Hospice Shop) from the amazing thrift and vintage stores on Market St. One of my favorite treasures, however, was a copy of ‘The Youth’s Companion’ magazine. It’s the August 13, 1925 issue (Volume 99, No. 33) and cost ten cents a copy back in the day (I shelled out only two bucks for it).

The thing I was attracted to was the cover. An orange illustration of a bespectacled farmer peeking out from between rows of corn was paired with the following quotation from Caleb Peaslee’s Almanac:

“This is one of the months when a farmer c’n begin to quit growin’ all the time — and begin to garner – in a way – early apples – garden truck – fryin’ chickens — I don’t know any better feelin’ than to know your food is growin’ right under your eyes – and not be beholden to anybody else for it — it’s earned food — and that makes it good food to my way of lookin’ at it!” [sic]

Does a better argument exist for the benefits of local produce? It reminds me of a magnet on my girlfriend’s fridge that reads: “Try Organic Food! Or As Your Grandparents Called It…Food!”

During my last semester of college, I took an anthropology class that turned out to be one of my favorites: “Gender, Food, and Agriculture” with Chaia Heller. In an essay we read for the class, Michael Pollan suggested that readers stop to consider what they’re eating from their grandparents’ (or even great-grandparents’) perspective. Before taking a bite, ask yourself, “Would my great-grandmother recognize what I’m about to eat?” If the answer is no, you’re probably consuming more preservatives and chemical substitutions for food than you think. It’s quite possible that Caleb Peaslee — and our great-grandparents — had the right idea.

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Reconciliation Chocolate Cake

This is the chocolate cake that will fix/solidify/start your relationship (if chocolate has any sway whatsoever over you or your ladyfriend, which is more often than not the case with people who possess a palate and taste buds.) In my experience, the magnitude of the taste and the presumed investment of time in the preparation are enough to bring together two women in love, even if they’ve parted before. When combined with the careful application of tealight candles and the Amelie soundtrack, this is just the right recipe to wow your ex all the way back into your bed.

And (trust me) make-up sex after chocolate this divine is…great.

The school of thought regarding Molten Chocolate Cakes is contentious, at best. A New York City chef claimed to have invented the recipe by accident in 1987 when he removed a chocolate cake from the oven before it had cooked completely and decided to serve it anyway, having found that the center was moist and gooey. A group of French chefs quickly contested, claiming that their country’s culinary elite had invented the recipe years before. Regardless, it’s delicious. And surprisingly easy!

This particular recipe is adapted from one I found on Food & Wine’s website (one of my favorites.)

Also, I recommend using Corningware’s ramekins, which come with an attachable lid. You can bake, store, and reheat while only dirtying one dish! I found mine at a local hardware store, believe it or not.

Buy these:

- 1 stick of unsalted butter (plus a little extra for the ramekins)

- 1/2 tablespoon cake or pastry flour

- 1/4 pound bittersweet chocolate chips (I have to recommend Ghiradelli here–it’s worth the extra pennies!)

- 1/4 cup vegan cane sugar (regular sugar will work as well)

- 2 large whole eggs (look for lovely ones at your local farmer’s market! I found mine in Copley Square on Fridays)

- 2 large egg yolks

- cocoa powder/confectioner’s sugar (optional; for dusting)

Do this:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 16-ounce ramekins.

2. Melt the butter with the chocolate chips (if you happen to have a gas stove like mine, this will happen alarmingly fast. I recommend setting out the other ingredients carefully before this step.)

3. Once melted, whisk the butter and chocolate with a wire whisk or with a fork. Add the sugar, whole eggs, egg yolks, and flour and continue to whisk until well-blended, with only a few small lumps.

4. Pour the mixture into the ramekins and bake (uncovered) for ten to fifteen minutes, or until the edges of the cakes have solidified and become crusty, but the center is still quite near-gelatinous. It must have some sort of stiffness though, or else you run the risk of food-borne illness from the eggs.

5. Allow to cool for at least one minute. This dessert is wonderful to make ahead, refrigerate, and then put back into the oven (at 100 degrees) approximately ten minutes before serving. The cakes can be served in the ramekins, or upside-down with confectioner’s sugar or unsweetened cocoa sprinkled on top (knowing my ex the way I did, I served the cakes with Ben & Jerry’s “sprinkled on top.” And yes, it worked.)

I think it was my grandmother, or another matronly older woman, who told me during my formative years that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. While I don’t know much about the male heart (or stomach for that matter), I do know that chocolate can heal certain things. This isn’t a lesbian relationship cure-all, but it will certainly put you on the path — or at least wow the pants off of your lady.

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