Snow day soup and sandwich

I'll admit that I haven't been terribly inspired in the kitchen lately. I blame this mostly on the weather. Winter is never my favorite season, but this year has been particularly brutal with all of the snow, and as we speak another slushy foot is burying Philadelphia. Justin and I have spent much of 2010 inside, but instead of holing up in the kitchen with new recipes I'd rather hibernate, stopping only to eat something hot and comforting and generally loaded with carbs.

Today is no exception. After some work and a work out this morning, all I could think about for lunch was my favorite snow day snack growing up; grilled cheese with tomato soup. When the craving hit me, my first thought was that I didn't have any tomato soup. But wait a minute... I did have a can of tomatoes, garlic, onion and spices. That's enough for a simple tomato soup, right? About thirty minutes later I was dunking my grilled cheese into homemade tomato soup.

{ The dynamic duo. On the sammy I added sauteed spinach for some daily green and Dijon mustard for a little kick }

And that folks, is what I call a good snow day.

What is wrong with this picture?

Through the magic of internet technology, I was video chatting with a good friend yesterday who lives in New Zealand. We were talking about apples. It's not time for apples right now, at least not where I live, but maybe we were doing some wishful thinking. Because we live on opposite sides of the world from one another, the apples we find in our respective grocery stores are, understandably, from opposite sides of the world as well. In one grocery store, the apples are proudly stamped products of the USA, while in the other many of the stickers read "product of New Zealand". Seems reasonable, right? Well here's the rub; it's the apples I see in Pennsylvania groceries that are sporting New Zealand passports, while many of the ones she finds are from the USA.

I hate to ask the obvious here but, what is wrong with this picture?

na na na naan

On the heels of Wednesday's rather intense conversation, I thought we could all use a light-hearted break before the weekend. And I'll tell you one thing, I find it far easier to be light-hearted when there is a stack of warm flat-bread at home. Before two weeks ago I had never, I repeat never, made any sort of flatbread. But recently I've been possessed by the stuff, experimenting with pizza dough, tortillas, and a particular favorite that I came to talk to you about today; naan.

{ naan rising }

While I'm admittedly no expert on Indian cuisine, I do love the stuff. Good Indian food is so packed with flavor that after a meal of it I find it almost impossible to leave the table unsatisfied. And the naan... Oh, the naan. This chewy flatbread served straight from the oven and drizzled with ghee is perfect on its own or as a vehicle for mopping up remaining sauce from a dish... That is if you were silly enough to leave any sauce on the dish in the first place. This end-of-meal ritual is an important one for me; my grandmother didn't name me the "Clean Plate Queen" for nothing.

Recently we've added a couple of fairly simple Indian dishes to our rotation, one of the favorites being Chana Masala. I can't eat it without wanting naan, and until recently I was picking up a store bought version which was, well, meh. We stuck with it because I was doubtful that we could do better at home without the hellishly hot clay oven the flatbread is traditionally baked in. But when the pizza stone came into our lives, I changed my mind. So last week I did some research and came up with a recipe for at-home naan baking. The process was painless; just mix, knead, rise, roll and slap, and the results really were delicious.

{ please enjoy naan responsibly }

True, our maiden effort did not compete with naan from our favorite Indian restaurants, and probably won't. But what I'm discovering is that even rookie efforts at making some of my former grocery staples usually taste better than their store bought counterparts... This coming from a still-struggling cook.

Also true is that with my, ahem, flexible schedule, I'm able to work this kind of baking project into my day in a way that I couldn't when I was away from the apartment for at least ten hours every day. Still, if making naan at home is something that you're interested in, it is definitely easy enough to do when you have even a bit of extra time. It stays good for a day or so, though it's best fresh so in the future I think I'll make a larger recipe and freeze at least half of it for later. Which would be even better because then I could just take it out of the freezer, let it defrost and pop it in the oven.

I found the recipe in the Chicago Tribune via Serious Eats, apparently this one stood up to the competition. The only change I made was to substitute the non-fat Greek Yogurt I had in the fridge for plain yogurt. If it had a negative impact we didn't know it, but next time I will probably try plain just to see if it makes a difference.

The rise of naan: How to bake the Indian flatbread at home - Chicago Tribune Archives

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Citizens United Indeed

Last week, the Supreme Court blocked a ban to restrict political spending by corporations, unions and special interest groups. The case was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and when the ruling was announced my first thought was of one thing: Monsanto.

Earlier this month, Forbes magazine named biotech-giant Monsanto company of the year, crediting "the vast numbers of farmers who prefer its seeds to competing products" along with the company's $44 billion market value, for the magazine's top award. Dismissing years of serious environmental and health questions regarding the company's products, as well as anti-trust concerns that have brought both a suit from competitor DuPont and an impending Department of Justice hearing on seed competition, the article paints Monsanto the victim, albeit the very, very rich victim, of a pesky and hard-to-please public.

Conspicuously absent from the article is any mention of one gaping hole in big-ag logic; the logic that drives what Forbes writers, Robert Langreth and Matthew Herper, call Monsanto's efforts to "make humanity better fed." Indeed, millions of people worldwide are hungry and the challenge of feeding us all grows with our population, expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Companies like Monsanto suggest that their seed technology in combination with the chemical herbicides that they produce will increase agricultural production and solve the problem of world hunger. But here's the rub. We do not need to increase agricultural production to feed the hungry. In 2008, we grew enough food worldwide to feed 11 billion people. Enough food to feed 11 billion, for a population of less than 7 billion. Our problem of feeding the hungry is not a matter of increased production.

Josh Viertel, President of Slow Food USA, summed it up well in his piece last week for the Atlantic Food Channel, "Hunger is not a global production problem. It is a global justice problem. [...] There may be profit to be made in exporting our high-tech, input-reliant, greenhouse-gas-emitting agricultural systems to the developing world. But let us not pretend it will solve global hunger or address climate change."*

Pretending is exactly what big-ag companies like Monsanto have done. Because there are massive profits to be made by selling biotechnology (Monsanto raked in a tidy $2.1 billion net revenue for 2009) the environmental damage and health problems attributed to our current food and agriculture systems are ignored or dismissed as nagging from a petulant public.

And so we arrive at a crucial conflict of interests. The gargantuan profits of ag-giants like Monsanto versus the sustainability of our food systems, the health of our planet and the health of the people who live on it. (Incidentally, Forbes seems to at least have it right on this point. Their article is titled, "The Planet versus Monsanto") Like it or not, all of these interests are affected daily by our government. They determine the subsidies that support large American monocrops, and the trade policies that influence the global import and export of food products. Their agencies decide what is safe for us to eat, and what isn't. Until last week, restrictions were in place to limit corporate spending on political TV ads in an effort to protect us from these conflicts of interest. But when the Supreme Court lifted the cap on corporate funding for campaign advertising, that semblance of protection was laid to waste. Though we’ve yet to see the extent to which this monumental decision will effect our political system as a whole, a door has certainly been opened and I, for one, am not excited about seeing what’s on the other side.

I’ve spent the last several days searching for a loop hole, a reason to be cautiously optimistic that this change won’t seriously damage the rights of us as individual citizens in favor of the singular, now even louder, voice of a company like Monsanto. The court’s decision effectively makes me or you David versus Monsanto’s Goliath in communicating our positions to our legislators. You or I get one vote and as many heated letters to our lawmakers as we like, and Monsanto gets a $44 billion direct line into the hot-seat. If I disagree with Monsanto, I am welcomed to incorporate myself and accumulate a few billions dollars to combat their position. The odds are ugly, but the reason for optimism is the fact that huge numbers of thought leaders are crying foul, and we've yet to hear the end on this issue.

*Viertel also does a nice job of explaining the findings of a recent report on global agriculture at a crossroads, put together by the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the United Nations Development Program. Their conclusions, along with Viertel's perspective on where we go from here, suggest a promising way forward.

Pizza, pizza

Success! We have been making pizza at home for years, but a thin crispy crust had always eluded us... Until last night. With the help of our new pizza stone we did it; delicious chewy crust, with a definite outer crunch.

However, there are still kinks to work out on our quest for at-home pizza perfection. Using a pre-heated stone means assembling the dough, sauce and cheese trifecta on a separate surface before transferring the pie to the hot stone and putting it in the oven. Trust me, this sounds easier than it actually is for a first-timer. Ideally you would make the pizza on a peel, the long-handled wooden spatula that pizza shops use to easily slide pies in and out of the oven. Pies practically dance off those things... Not so with the peel-substitute we used. Despite a heavy coat of flour and cornmeal, our stubborn pie had no interest in gliding off our baking sheet onto the stone. Creative problem-solvers that we are, we had no choice but to pick our 'za up hope for the best. The resulting pizza brought to mind DalĂ­'s clocks, though I must say that it was no less delicious and crisp.

{ If the above pizza appears to be rather ugly, that's only because it was }

The verdict? While there is room for improvement on our prep-to-oven transfer, we are decidedly in love with our pizza stone.

(wo)man with a plan

Thankfully, my week of detox is over. I may or may not have celebrated with a half-pound of fresh mozzarella this weekend, but that's neither here nor there... We'll worry about that when it comes time for detox 2011.

In the meantime I'm refocusing on weekly meal plans in an effort to get back on track with cooking and eating at home. And after several months of commuting craziness, I'm excited to be back in the kitchen on a more regular basis. Both my wallet and I feel happier and healthier eating more home-cooked meals, and I've been especially inspired recently by a couple of culinary Christmas gifts: two beautiful new cookbooks and a pizza stone.

Needless to say, there was no shortage of ideas when it came time to make our meal plan for this week, though there were some hurdles. A jam-packed lineup of Justin's work and classes means that we won't be eating week-night dinners together through the spring. This also means that the leftovers of whatever I eat on a given night will become Justin's dinner the next, so the meal needs to hold up. There are loop-holes of course; if I make something that won't last as leftovers or that Justin doesn't like, I can always make something else for him. If that sounds like a pain, that's because it is... So we avoid that option when possible. There is also the option to make dinner for both of us in the morning. But, to borrow a line from my cousin, we'll file that under "things that are not going to happen".

The bottom line is that creating our weekly meal plan feels sort of like a game of Tetris; everything has to fit just right. When I'm in a good mood it's a fun challenge. When I'm not, we eat peanut butter and jelly until inspiration strikes. Luckily, this was a good week and we came up with this dinner lineup:

Marinated tofu and shiitake mushroom stir-fry with roasted broccoli
*also make granola for breakfasts

Make Fennel Potato Leek soup (one of Justin's favorites) before dinner date with a friend (yay!)

Griggstown Farm Chicken Apple Sausages + quinoa with roasted onion, kale and sweet potatoes

Whole wheat pasta with pesto (from cubes I froze earlier in the season) + arugula salad

Chana Masala + homemade naan (I love naan and I'm excited to try making it at home!)

Inaugural homemade pizza on our new stone!

Market TBD

It's certainly not a groundbreaking collection of menus, but it's nice to have a week of healthy meals that we both like to look forward to. When we do our food shopping on Sunday we'll start the game all over again, and with a little luck we'll have another PB&J-free week... Though that certainly wouldn't be the worst fate.

In like a lion.

Winter is here. The seasonal transition feels especially monumental this year, bringing with it a new decade; one that will hopefully be less fraught than the last. There are reasons to be optimistic on this front, particularly in the world of food politics. I'm looking forward to talking about some of those reasons here as the year unfolds.

At Fresh, the arrival of the new year means a renewed energy to report on food issues, follow the progress of sustainable food activism and, of course, to share stories about what we're putting on the table. I think 2010 is going to be an exciting year for this blog and I hope that you'll all stay tuned. As you may have noticed, winter also means a new look for Fresh; my favorite of our seasonal layouts. It's the fourth in our series, but this art was actually the original inspiration for the other seasons. If the orange hues seem more fitting for summer than winter I can say that, as someone who loathes cold weather, juicy citrus is one of the best things about this season. Not to mention that the bright colors are a pick-me-up that many of us can use this time of year.

For me personally, this winter also means a transition as I finish my fall internship in New York with Slow Food USA and look forward to new challenges and opportunities for 2010. In light of this change, I decided to push something of a personal reset button this week. After months of seriously celebrating New York food and the holidays, I'm detoxing for a few days. Though I don't subscribe to any diet plan that entails surviving on spicy lemonade, I am cutting out dairy, gluten, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. You may be wondering how I will motivate myself to get out of bed in the morning without bread, chocolate and cheese to lure me and I won't lie; it isn't easy. But I'm getting through it by enjoying (or trying to enjoy) lots of raw whole foods, like the Lancaster Farm Fresh Lacinato Kale the the grocery near me has been carrying recently, along with buckets of carrot and ginger dressing (recipe below).

That said, the rest of the week will be quiet here but we'll be back with new posts on Monday. Thanks for your patience all, we hope to see you then.


Carrot Ginger Dressing
Adapted from Gourmet

1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 medium to small shallot, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons water

Combine the carrot, shallot and ginger in a food processor until finely chopped and well combined. Add the rice vinegar and sesame oil and combine. While the food processor is going, drizzle the grapeseed oil and water in a steady stream until well blended. Serve on top of salad, fish, chicken or with raw sliced veggies.