Your Guide to Reading Between the Tines

Archive for October, 2008

Last Flight of the Honeybee?

Last pre-written, on-the-road post.  Next time, I’ll let you know how the veggie Philly cheese steak and decadent NY cheesecake were as I headed back to Phoenix.  Until then, folks!

In May of 2008, British journalist and amateur beekeeper Alison Benjamin wrote a book with Brian McCallum, an apiarist-in-training. That book is A World Without Bees, and it examines the possible causes and consequences of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Remember CCD? It got quite a bit of press a year or two ago. Häagen Dazs even got involved trying to spread the word and find solutions.

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Philly Food Tour Pt. 2: White Dog Cafe

For me to be in Philly and not go to a famed restaurant called “The White Dog Café” would almost certainly write me out of my mother’s will. This is the mum who has two Jack Russel terriers and dreams of starting a Bed and Biscuit someday. Naturally, when my friends in Philly mentioned how much I would probably dig White Dog, I decided to check it out when my friend Rebecca came up from Maryland for the day. It turns out that the White Dog has more going for it than just a cool name.

This apple pie, made from local apples, is one such tasty example.

And let’s not forget the silky chocolate and cinnamon pot de créme Rebecca enjoyed.

What can I say? Life is short. Start with dessert.

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Crispy Kale

Another pre-written post for you, whilst I enjoy New York City! Back soon!

It is fall, which means that the Unicyclist and I are looking forward to several months of greens from our CSA, Crooked Sky Farms. Think arugula, mizuna, chard, mustard greens, dandelion greens, spinach, beet and turnip greens, and kale. Fortunately, dark leafy greens have an amazing reputation. Packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and iron, they are nutritional powerhouses. Although they can be a little strong in flavor for some people, I firmly believe everyone can find a way of preparing at least a couple of these greens that they enjoy.

This week, The Unicyclist and I had the pleasure of mustard greens, turnip greens, and kale. We made an Indian dish out of the mustard and turnip greens earlier in the week, and I saved the kale for another day. Today was kale day. With so many greens, it can be daunting to keep inventing new ways of using them. Fortunately, one of my favorite ways of preparing kale is also one of the simplest ways of doing so.

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Philly Food Tour Pt. 1: Sabrina’s, Di Bruno’s, and Reading Terminal

Having recently read Michael Pollan’s “Farmer in Chief,” I was excited to have the opportunity to visit one of the year-round indoor farmer’s markets he mentioned as a model for the nation: Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. My friends were ready, willing, and able to indulge in the experience, and we were off. Well, almost. After all, one should never try to evaluate food on an empty stomach. For that reason, Jon, Sara, Rachel, and I decided to pay a visit to Sabrina‘s to get fueled up before hitting the farmer’s market.

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Cleaning Out the Freezer: Peach Muffins

Note: Since I am still on my delirious food tour of Philly, frolicking merrily with friends I love and far too busy to update you on the fun I’m having while I’m having it, I penitently offer you a post I wrote before leaving about some very delicious muffins I recently made. See–I planned ahead because I care. (I also knew it was impossible not to have ridiculous amounts of fun with Rachel, Sara, Becca, and Mary.) I leave for New York tomorrow, and I hope to have a little time to tell you all about the amazing places I’ve been so far in Philly–the Italian Market, Reading Terminal Market, Sabrina’s Café, White Dog Café, and Dock Street Brewery. Stay tuned!

One of the best things about the change of the seasons is the coming ready of different crops. Right now, apples are blushing and growing heavy, greens are sprouting tall, and squash are swelling full and bright. Other times of year have other gifts to offer. Last May, the Unicyclist and I took advantage of the first peaches of the year at Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek. The orchards are about a half hour from our home, and they grow several different varieties in pesticide-free orchards. We spent a morning there among the trees, enjoying the evidence of natural pest control–I came across several of the little alligator-like lacewing larvae as we picked, and an assassin bug stowed away in one of our flats of peaches. Both creepy-crawlies are beneficial insects that keep crop-munching pests under control.

We came back with a small mountain of fragrant peaches and apricots that filled the house with a wonderful scent. Then, a friend came by with about 20 pounds of peaches a neighbor had giver her from a tree in their yard. The peaches she brought were even more juicy and sweet. Softly furred, delicate, sunset-colored, we ate a half dozen fresh peaches or more a day. However, a couple days passed and the peach pile still loomed large. It was time to get down to business. Peach crisp. Peach jam. And a whoooooole lot of frozen peaches to enjoy later. All we had to do was wash them, pit them, and cut them in generous slices.

Since fresh peaches are long gone from this neck of the wood, I decided last weekend that it was time to enjoy some of them again. I pulled out a bag of my frozen peaches and chose, after a bit of deliberation, that muffins were the destination. This recipe is loosely based on the blueberry muffin recipe in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible. They turned out great–dense and moist, sweet and tasting richly of peaches. While you may not have such amazing peaches hiding in your freezer, try it with fruit you do have squirreled away, or experiment with what’s fresh now. Recipes are frameworks, not rules.

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I Heart Philly Public Art

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Welcome to Philly (Cheesesteaks Optional)

I am in Philadelphia, first stop on a two-stop East Coast tour to visit dear friends I haven’t seen in way too long.  While I sit on Rachel’s bed last night and try to hash out where to go for dinner with her and Sara, Rachel enthuses about this wonderful Italian place she knows…and the amazing Mexican tapas place she’s recently become addicted to…and the brunch place we should definitely visit tomorrow…and then she cuts herself off.

“You know, my friend Linds was here a week ago, and I had made up this list of things to do in Philly, right?  And she got here and I looked at this list, and it was maybe 15 restaurants and then 3 non-food things at the very bottom, which were pretty much an afterthought as it was.  So, anyway, it has occurred to me since then that maybe not everyone wants to plan their trip based around what they’re going to be eating when and which restaurants they want to squeeze in.”

“Ha.”  I say.  What a ridiculous notion.  Poor, unfortunate souls.

And so the Great Philly Food adventure began.

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Healthy Produce on a Shoestring: When to Pay Extra

One of the ways to protect your health while working within a tight budget is to prioritize which items are most important to get organically or sustainably farmed.  The Environmental Working Group has identified 12 fruits and vegetables most contaminated with pesticides–these are the ones you don’t want to get in the store if you don’t know how they were grown.  Here’s an excerpt of the information on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen–just follow the link here to read the whole list.

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Something’s Fishy Here: Harvesting Tuna Fruit

I admit, I don’t know why it got the moniker “tuna fruit,” just that tuna is the name of the fruit in Spanish.  In English, we usually refer to it as prickly pear fruit.  Prickly pear is a long-standing native food source.  The tender young pads of the cactus are often cut into strips and prepared a variety of ways in Mexican and Native American dishes.  They are known as nopalitos, and they taste somewhat like green pepper, though they are mucilaginous like okra.  The blossoms of the cactus are reported to have medicinal properties, one of which is to strengthen capillaries.  And this time of year, the fruit has a high profile around my corner of the desert.  The deep magenta teardrops stand out brightly against the pale green, oblong pads of the cactus, attracting the attention of all sorts of critters: desert tortoise, coyotes, a wide variety of birds, and even your friendly neighborhood Laurel.

The flavor is reminiscent of a fruitier type of watermelon, though the texture is closer to that of a strawberry.  The center of each fruit is packed with hundreds of small, extremely hard seeds.

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Review: Relating Freedom Fries and “Farmer in Chief”

Finally, the moment you have been waiting for all weekend–the breakdown of Michael Pollan’s “Farmer-in-Chief.”

Let’s cut straight to the quick. How can Pollan make the argument that to address the food system is to address climate change, terrorist threats, the need for energy independence, and the health care crisis?  After all, a rather significant gap seems to exist between Freedom Fries and greenhouse gases.  As Pollan points out in his article, however, the gap is far smaller than you would think…nonexistent, in many cases.   Understanding that, we’re left with an important question:  should a Freedom Fry mean something beyond a snub to the French?

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