Wednesday, January 9, 2008
As I read more and more in the blogosphere and the food "world", the more I hear this mantra of "eat fresh, eat local!" The whole idea of eating fresh, seasonal, local food is so foundational to contemporary food culture that David Lebovitz wanted to toss the term in 2008, he is so sick of it. He said "If people haven't gotten the message to cook seasonally by now, it's a lost cause, folks. Let's drop it."
Not a year ago, I did all my shopping at my local megamart, and I couldn't have told you when cherries, lemons, or asparagus were naturally in season. I couldn't tell you where the ones I bought were grown. I certainly didn't know a thing about the difference between organic and conventional produce. All I knew was that sometimes cherries were on sale, my oranges probably came from California, and organic produce costs more. I am not a stupid person. I'm not a poor person. I'm not an uneducated person. I read the news, I stay abreast of world events, I'm reasonably in the know. So how is it that I have lived 24 years of my life on this planet never having even heard about this idea of eating fresh, local, seasonal?
Somewhere between the food world, which is really it's own little niche universe, and the rest of the world, the message has gotten lost. There's like this little subculture dedicated to really fine culinary dining, the freshest fruits and vegetables, gourmet oils and vinegars, obscure varieties of grains and produce, and the highest in quality meats and cheeses. For them the message of "Fresh! Local! Seasonal!" seems as old as the hills, so old, in fact, that "it's a lost cause." Meanwhile the rest of the America is stuffing Ding Dongs, Pringles, and frozen "Hearty Meals" and wondering why they are so fat. They haven't gotten the message. The little realm of foodies is just that; a little realm. If you are not a chef or, apparently, a New Yorker, if you are just an average Jane like me, you have to break into that world and learn the language. A year ago, I thought I had no other options than megamart and what megamart had to give to me. I had never heard of Chez Panisse or the food revolution, I didn't have the Food Network to bring celebrity chefs into my living room, I had never heard of Whole Foods Market. All I had was a battered Julia Child cookbook, a shiny new red recipe book, and a deep-seated love for things that tasted good.
Over the course of the year I have been slowly digging my way into the literature of the culinary world. It started with one great food blog and one thing led to another and suddenly I was reading 50 great food blogs. Then I started subscribing to lots and lots of good magazines and reading culinary histories. Slowly the things I was reading about and hearing about started to become real to me. I found my local Trader Joe's, I located a farmer's market, even made the 30 mile trek to the nearest Whole Foods Market (and then went back twice before I could get over just gawking at it). The thing is, it was really hard work! No-one just lays it all out easy for you and says "look, you want to eat really extraordinary, really healthy food? You want to be a foodie? Here's how." It was hard for me to do, and I'm smarter than the average bear.
Eating fresh, eating local, eating seasonal is not a lost cause. Maybe the little food universe is just preaching to the wrong audience. A chef claims to be seasonal but still uses raspberries in January? Ok, take him out in the back and shoot him. He ought to know better. But would somebody high up there, one of you demagogue foodies, would you please write a book for Americans called the "eat healthy food that tastes good" diet? Because we little plain Janes down here are the bottom, we are the ones who need to hear it. It's still fresh gospel news to we common folk down here. Ok, philosophizing over. Lets get on to the food!
In my attempts to eat seasonally as well as gluten-free, I have run into a little snag. You see, today I made this luscious Mayer Lemon Budino you see here, but got stuck when it called for flour. I am realizing more and more that wheat flour is like a wonder product - it's so, so soft. Yet it's so sticky too. It's everything you want when you are working with a flour - no wonder it is in everything! I tried substituting a mixture of white rice flour and quinoa flour, which seems to done a good job giving the Budino the right chemistry and consistency. However, it definitely left something wanting as far as texture goes, because the grains are just too hard and gritty, unlike wheat. Does anyone have a suggestion for a gluten-free flour that is soft and light, and could be substituted in cases where you need a more creamy texture? I would really appreciate it!
Otherwise, this budino, which is an Italian pudding, was just amazing. It was really easy to make, light and soft, and a perfect showcase for the delicate mayer lemon flavors. The top half was angelically light (except for the grainy flour I used), and the bottom was a creamy, mild lemon curd. It was just amazing!
Mayer Lemon Budino - Adapted from this recipe at Epicurious.com
1/3 cup + 2 tbs golden cane sugar
3 large eggs, separated
2 tbs white rice flour
2 tbs quinoa flour
1/4 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
2 tbs fresh regular lemon juice
zest of one Meyer lemon, finely chopped (or grated)
3/4 cup + 2 tbs whole milk
1/4 tsp salt
whipped cream (optional)
preheat oven to 350 degrees, Butter 6 small ramekins
1. Combine 1/2 cup sugar, egg yolks, flour, lemon juice, and lemon peel in a large bowl; whisk until well blended. Whisk in milk.
2. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy and increased in volume. Slowly add 2 tbs sugar to whisking, until soft peaks form. Fold into lemon mixture in two parts. Divide mixture among prepared ramekins. Place custard cups in roasting pan.
3. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come half-way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake pudding until tops are golden and spring back when lightly touched, about 30 minutes. Remove cups from water. Serve warm or cold, topped with whipped cream. enjoy!