Sustainable WNC

The Gateway to Sustainability in Western North Carolina

Archive for August, 2007

Energy in the kitchen

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

A recipe
Take some ripe tomatoes of your favorite variety, or a mix. Cut out the stem end and cut into 1/2″ dice. Toss with a few basil leaves cut into chiffonade (fine ribbons), a little olive oil, some salt and pepper. Place all this into a shallow glass or ceramic dish and cover with a piece of plastic wrap or a tight fitting translucent cover. Place outside in the afternoon sun for a few hours, a least 4. When ready toss some fresh pasta with the tomato sauce, sprinkle with some grated Parmesan and enjoy.

One of the things about food is the amount of energy it takes to get it from the garden to the table, as well as the amount of time involved.

M.F.K. Fisher’s book How to Cook a Wolf was first published in 1942, when wartime shortages were at their worst. At that time, the shortage was food itself and to her the Wolf represented this scarcity. It also meant a shortage of fuel to cook with as well. Her book is remarkable in that it could be published today and it would be very topical. I have been considering her lessons for a number of years and have devised my own rules to an efficient way to cook and serve a meal.

My first thoughts about cooking today’s Wolf is in the use of energy in the kitchen. In the summer, the last thing I want to do is heat up my house from the chores of cooking. (Of course, this is exactly what I have done for 30 some summers, standing in the searing heat in front of a wood burning grill or over a French hot top, with kitchen temperatures hitting 110 regularly, for hours on end.) So there are a number of things I do at home to use less heat. The most obvious is to eat more raw foods and to eat less. Because it IS summer, and the outside temperature naturally turns down our caloric thermostat, I eat less. Yesterday’s lunch was a tomato sandwich, Cornmeal Levain from Steve Bardwell at Wake Robin Farms, a bit of mayonaise on the bread, a tiny pinch of coarse grey salt. Two juicy peaches and a tiny piece of hard goat’s milk cheese. I think it took me 4 minutes to fix my meal. Breakfast was more fruit. With gardens in full riot now until frost, fresh raw vegetables are bountiful and at their cheapest price.

My tomatoes this time of year never see refrigeration and Steve baked my bread, so practically zero heat for breakfast and lunch. (I did boil water for tea at breakfast….)

How do I manage my use of heat this time of year? I usually plan to cook a few hours at one time and make enough that later in the week, I have essentially prepared a number of meals, requiring minimal effort later. If I make a stir fry (which I did for dinner) I made enough for a number of meals - for lunch, with a bit of greens, the cold stir fry becomes a salad, later in the week; mixed into a hot ginger flavored broth served with a bit of bread and cheese and a brilliant old gewurztraminer from Alsace and now I am dining. For dessert- more fruit! Believe it or not, those wonderful little golden cherry tomatoes satisfy my desire for sweetness, (a tomato, scientifically speaking is definitely a fruit, true fruits are developed from the ovary in the base of the flower, and contain the seeds of the plant.) I will eat them everyday right now - because come the end of summer and I won’t eat a fresh one again until next July…..

Actually, my home cooking “week” really begins on Saturday, when I make one of my two trips to the tailgate - and Sunday afternoon is usually my ‘heavy’ kitchen time, but more on that routine later.

The last thought I want to leave for now is the bread I mentioned I had for lunch - a Cornmeal Levain. I told Steve that I really enjoyed that bread. As a man filled with passion for what he does, his enthusiasm was apparent - he told me that this bread is the only one he invented. He explained out he shaped it into 2 intersecting semi-spheres and that if you cut it exactly in half and then sliced it crosswise, it was the perfect shape to hold a slice of tomato! The texture, he said was meant to soak up the juice of the fruit. The flavor of the cornmeal needed nothing else, beside a little mayonaise to set off the flavor of the tomato - he was adamant - NO basil or pepper! Simplicity taken to the sublime.

Take the time to dine….

The End of Summer

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

It has been a while since I have written anything here. I have been thinking slowly about sustainability, food and my own behavior. I have also been thinking about what it is that I have to add to the discussion, something that might be helpful.

Finally, I have found a few things that I believe are important and are part of the discussion.

A little back tracking - when I moved to the mountains in 1972, having dropped out of Northwestern University. I came here seeking a “back to the land” experience, thinking I would live completely independent of “the grid”, have a small farm, solar house, and spring water to drink - a life of low technology. I thought Small was beautiful. As an individual, I am no closer to that than I was 35 years ago. But as a member of a larger community, I have gotten very close to the ideal that I was seeking.

I say this because there are some key points in that 35 year journey. One of the obvious keys for me, of course, is food. But it was a conversation a week or so ago with a gentleman I just met that put the other keys into focus. This conversation took place near Grant’s Pass, in the Rogue River Valley of southern Oregon. (A place many will recognize as having been considered the safest place to live and survive the fallout of a nuclear war - and the reason this gentleman was living there). Our conversation was exactly about this topic - how to sustain. The point he made was this: “we just have to learn to do with less”.

How do I tie this together into something coherent, into something I care share that makes a difference? What practical conversation can I start that is beneficial? What I realized is that the one thing I do have to offer is how to eat (and as I continue, I prefer the idea ‘how to dine’) and how to cook. I also realized that, along with so many other human activities, the art of eating; the craft of cooking have been disappearing. This simple, daily routine is the very core of my existence, so this is what I have to offer - a conversation of how to approach the routine of garden to kitchen and then to the table.

The other side of the coin is this, for the moment, I have no clear path how to communicate those things that make the act of dining part of a sustainable life, but this ramble is the starting point. I know that thought and practice can reinforce one another, so today, start with the thought that less is more, eat as much that is grown or produced by someone you know (and like) and as it is tomato season have one at every meal.

Most important - enjoy the society of a cultured table, make your next meal a dining experience.