Tag Archives: Food

Our American Food Culture Revisited

When you think of American food culture what comes to mind? Burgers and fries, mac ‘n cheese, quick, easy, and cheap—that is until it is time to go on a diet when you cut everything “bad” out for a short period of time until you are suddenly allowed to eat it again. The American relationship to food is puzzling at best, most likely because there is very little emphasis on the actual food and more emphasis on how (quickly, easily, cheaply) it gets into our stomachs.

two cheeseburgers with  fries

Our relationship with food has shifted immensely over the past century from smaller scale farms to industrial agriculture. Interestingly enough the shift came after World War II when the factories that were used to make nitrogen for bombs no longer became necessary, and they shifted over to making nitrogen-rich ammonia as fertilizer for farms. The use of fertilizer became much more widespread largely because the supply was there. Simultaneously incentives for growing a monoculture such as corn or soybeans were increasing so farmers were no longer rotating crops or fields. Once the monoculture became regular practice, nitrogen had to be added into the soil to support these notoriously “needy” crops (both corn and soybeans pull nitrogen from the soil). So this has culminated into a culture of industrial agriculture—pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, huge machinery—all to grow a massive amount of cash crops that have to be processed to be edible. And so the process continues because it is the cycle we have gotten ourselves into and we have come to expect and even like the kind of food that this system produces. We look to big corporations to grow, process, make, and deliver our food to as close to our houses as possible and the result is slightly terrifying. There are children in cities who don’t know what a carrot actually is, don’t know that fries come from potatoes which grow in the ground, and have no idea that the burger they are eating is actually from an animal. Before industrial agriculture really took hold there was a culture of plant and food knowledge that was passed down through families and among friends. Most people knew how to identify between a tomato plant and a weed because someone they knew had a garden and found it important to pass this knowledge along. This is slowly coming back, people are beginning to realize that far too often they have no idea what they are putting into their bodies or how to grow a garden.

We are lucky to be part of a current cultural shift where good food is once again taking precedence, where the face of the farmer is important, and where we know that food takes time and good company. Grist Magazine did a series called Farm Size Matters in which they have several articles explaining the agricultural system we have in place and the mid-sized farmers that “are too busy to sell at the farmers market and too small to compete” with the large-scale farms that dominate the food system. More and more people are becoming aware and publications are beginning to give time to delve into the maze of the food system in which we live. Urban farms are cropping up, food artisans are appearing, food and environmental education are beginning to be emphasized, and people are slowly beginning to learn how to truly interact with their food. We have the exciting responsibility to create a vibrant and interactive food culture for ourselves and for our children.

farmers market

It is times like these when it is important to collect and share stories of others around the country that are living the countercultural lifestyle immersed in food. The Bitter Southerner is a fantastic blog featuring beautiful stories from the South. A recent video and article was posted on their website about an urban forager/CSA farmer/author named Tiffany Noé. Noé lives in Little Haiti in Miami and has created a lifestyle revolving around growing food and foraging for food around her neighborhood. In Miami there are tropical fruit trees growing in public spaces that are free for anyone who is willing to harvest. She argues that this is the best way to get to know where you live—walk the streets and look for the food among the weeds and the trees. She advocates a knowledge of place and food that connects us to our home in a way that has been lost and connects us to our neighbors simply by meeting and talking to them as we explore. Raleigh has a similar group called Piedmont Picnic Project, that emphasizes local food history and wild edibles and connect us all to the Piedmont in a beautifully delicious way.

Similarly, there are food staples (especially in the south) that have been ultra-processed for a for a while and are being reclaimed. Grits, for example, have a bad reputation because of their widely used and impressively tasteless imposters—instant grits. In the wonderful words of the first witness in the movie My Cousin Vinny: “No self-respecting Southerner uses instant grits.” It hasn’t been until recently that people have begun to seriously seek out different corn varieties and mill grits in a traditional way. In another beautiful Bitter Southerner post, the world of freshly milled grits is revealed. We have a great source of local grits in North Carolina from Carolina Grits & Company. These are high quality, freshly ground, dent grits (which refers to the the type of corn best for making grits), that are packed with flavor. They take longer to cook but they are well worth the wait–especially during shrimp season!

Slowly, alongside those who have already begun to pave the way, we can create a vibrant, local food culture. It will involve telling stories, sharing recipes, eating communal meals, going on walks, reading books, and cooking a lot. This unique time calls for our creativity, collaboration, and a sense of adventurousness. We can find the roots of our food and make it our own once again.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Harvesting timeThanksgiving happens to be my favorite holiday; what could be more beautiful than a celebration centered on eating together and remembering all that we have to be thankful for? It is easy to allow ourselves to get wrapped up in the preparation and production of the day or any of the other multitude of issues the holidays can bring up. But this is what I find to be incredibly beautiful about Thanksgiving: there is something inspiring about taking time to be thankful and to love those around us. When we realize the abundance we have become accustomed to, the relationships we have taken for granted, it is one of the most humbling experiences we can have. Being aware of how lucky we are to have family, to have food, to have shelter, makes it hard to sit idly by while others are going without. There is a power behind preparing food for and eating food with other people. It fosters this awareness, it removes us from our insular, single-minded daily lives, and puts us on the same level as the person next to us, the person who grew our food, the person who prepared it; and we notice the person who is hungry. Eating is an act of communion and when we pay attention it connects us with every single other person and animal on this planet. I cannot think of a more valuable celebration than one that reminds us of our dependence on other people and on the earth, we are not as separate as we like to think we are and that is a beautiful thing. So this Thanksgiving let us remember everything we have to be thankful for, let us remember our brothers and sisters around the world, and let us take action to make this world a better place in whatever way rings true to each of our hearts. We cannot do everything, but we each can do a little bit, and taking time to be thankful is the first step.

“…to speak of the pleasure of eating is to go beyond those categories. Eating with the fullest pleasure – pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance – is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend. …”—Wendell Berry

And in the true spirit of sharing celebrations, here are some fantastic Thanksgiving recipes from the Papa Spud’s staff:

Roasted Beer-Brined Turkey with Onion Gravy and Bacon from Rob
Source: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/roasted-beer-brined-turkey-with-onion-gravy-and-bacon

1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
8 bay leaves
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup kosher salt
2 onions, cut into thick wedges
1 pound slab bacon, skin removed and meat sliced 1/3 inch thick
Six 12-ounce bottles Guinness stout
One 12- to 14-pound turkey
1 cup turkey stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

  1. In a very large pot, combine the mustard seeds, peppercorns and bay leaves and toast over moderate heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the brown sugar and salt and remove from the heat. Add 4 cups of water and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved; let cool completely.
  2. Add the onions, bacon, Guinness and 16 cups of cold water to the pot. Add the turkey to the brine, breast side down, and top with a heavy lid to keep it submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350° and position a rack on the bottom shelf. Lift the turkey from the brine, pick off any peppercorns, mustard seeds and bay leaves and pat dry. Transfer the turkey to a large roasting pan, breast side up. Scatter the onion wedges in the pan and add 1 cup of water. Using toothpicks, secure the bacon slices over the breast. Roast the turkey for about 2 hours, turning the pan occasionally, until an instant-read thermometer inserted deep into the turkey thighs registers 150°. Remove the bacon and return the turkey to the oven. Roast for about 1 hour longer, until the breast is browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted in a thigh registers 170°. Transfer the turkey to a carving board.
  4. Pour the pan juices and onion wedges into a saucepan and boil until reduced to 3 cups, about 5 minutes. Add the turkey stock and return to a boil. In a small bowl, mash the butter to a paste with the flour. Whisk the paste into the gravy and boil until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, cut the bacon crosswise 1/2 inch thick. In a large skillet, fry the bacon over high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes.
  6. Carve the turkey and serve with the gravy and bacon.

Green Bean Casserole from Justin
Source: http://food52.com/recipes/7875-homemade-green-bean-casserole

Serves 6

  • 5
 pounds French green beans, ends trimmed
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 
cup shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3
 tablespoons flour, divided
  • 8 
ounces mushrooms (shitake and baby bella or mixed), sliced
  • 2 
tablespoons butter
  • 2
 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4
 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4
 cup dry white wine
  • 1
 cup vegetable broth (or chicken)
  • 1
 cup half and half
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Wash and trim green beans. Blanch in boiling, well-salted water. Immediately transfer to ice water bath and set aside.
  3. Heat 1 to 2 inches of vegetable oil in a deep, medium skillet.
  4. Pat shallots dry, then toss with 1 tablespoon of flour. Season with salt and pepper. Fry shallots in oil (in batches) until golden brown, then transfer to a plate to drain on a paper towel.
  5. Melt butter over medium heat in a medium pan or cast iron skillet. Add mushrooms and saute until mushrooms are golden brown.
  6. Add garlic and nutmeg and cook for another minute or two. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and cook for 1 minute.
  7. Slowly add white wine, cook for a minute and stirring to break up any flour lumps. Slowly add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Boil the mixture for another 2 minutes, then turn the heat down to medium-low.
  8. Add half & half and cook, stirring, until mixture begins to thicken. Take off heat.
  9. Add green beans to mushroom mixture. Add 1/4 cup of the fried shallots. Mix to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer green bean casserole to a 9×9 baking dish or bake in cast iron skillet. Sprinkle remaining shallots on top or around edges of casserole.

Bake for 20 minutes until green beans are warmed and mixture is a little bubbly.

Sweet Potato Casserole from Alex’s Mom
3 cups raw sweet potato, grated
1/2 to 3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cups melted butter
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
Mix well.  Turn into casserole dish.

Topping

1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 TBS melted butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Sprinkle on top and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

**May double for large gathering.  This serves 6 people

Spicy Vegetarian Collards from Lindsay
Before you cook collards make sure to wash them very thoroughly, they tend to hold grit and dirt more than other greens.

Ingredients:
1 bunch collards
1 large yellow onion
3-4 cloves of garlic
Apple Cider Vinegar
Yellow Mustard
Red Pepper Flakes
Salt
Pepper

Chop the onion and garlic and sauté them in olive oil with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Meanwhile take the stems out of the collards and chop them up (the smaller you chop them the faster they will cook, I usually chop them in 1 inch wide strips). Once the onions are translucent add the collards, put water (or vegetable stock for even more flavor) in, enough to cover the collards. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook on medium-low heat. At this point add in two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a squeeze of mustard. I continue to add spices by taste testing as the collards cook down, it’s really up to you how vinegar-y you want them to taste! Make sure to keep adding water as the collards cook. Cook until tender.

Samosa-Style Stuffed Baked Potatoes from Kristina
Source: http://foodandspice.blogspot.com/2012/08/samosa-style-stuffed-baked-potatoes.html

Ingredients:

  • 2 large Russet or baking potatoes
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, vegetable stock or water
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, cut into small cubes
  • 1 small clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 to 2 fresh green chilies or jalapeños, seeded and minced
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced

Spices:

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2/3 teaspoons chat masala (see note)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
pinch of asafetida
2/3 teaspoon sea salt
olive oil for brushing

Instructions:
Scrub the potatoes, pierce with a fork, and bake in a 400° oven for 1 hour or until fork tender. Remove from heat and let cool. When the baked potatoes are cool, slice in half lengthwise and gently scoop out the center into a medium bowl, leaving roughly 1/4-inch of the potato in the skin. Mash the scooped out potato with the cream, vegetable stock or water. If using fresh peas, boil them with some water in a small saucepan for a minute or two until just tender. If using frozen peas, just rinse in a strainer briefly. Set aside. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds to the pan. Stir for 30 to 60 seconds or until the mustard seeds turn grey and begin to splutter and pop. Now add the onions and carrots and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until the onion begins to brown. Add the garlic, chilies or jalapeños, and ginger to the pan and stir for 1 minute. Now add the spices and salt and stir for 1 minute. Add a tablespoon of water to deglaze the pan, then add the mashed potatoes and cook, stirring often, until the potato is heated throughout. Add more cream or water if the mixture seems too dry. Stir in the peas and cook for another few minutes. If you are adding lemon juice instead of chat masala, stir it in now (see note below). Remove from heat. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat an oven to 400°. Brush the potato shells with some olive oil and transfer the mashed potato mixture to the shells, pressing the filling down gently with a wooden spoon until the mixture sits firmly.

Bake the stuffed potatoes for 20 to 30 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned. Remove from heat, let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, and serve hot, topped with your favorite chutney and garnished with fresh parsley and finely chopped chives if desired.
Note: If you don’t have chat masala powder on hand, use fresh lemon juice from one small lemon and add when the potatoes and peas are heated throughout in the frying pan.

Makes 2 servings

Cranberry Apple Casserole from Chris           

1 & 1/2 c peeled, sliced tart apples
1 c fresh cranberries
1/2 c sugar, white
1/4 c chopped nuts
1/2 c uncooked oatmeal
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c melted butter
1/8 c flour

Mix first apples, cranberries, and white sugar. Pour into greased 8×8″ baking dish. Blend oatmeal, brown sugar, butter, and flour. Sprinkle nuts on top.  Bake 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel Swirl from Alex’s Mom

Crust
1 1/2 cups gingersnap cookies
1 1/2 cups toasted pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cups melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease 9 inch springform pan. Wrap outside of pan in aluminum foil.
Finely grind cookies, pecans and brown sugar in food processor. add butter and blend.  Spread and press crumbs onto bottom and partially up sides of pan.

Filling
4 8 oz. pkgs cream cheese , room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups of pumpkin puree ( 1 12 oz canned pumpkin)
4 TBS whipping cream
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
4 eggs

Beat cream cheese and sugar til light and fluffy. Reserve 1 cup and refrigerate for topping.  Add whipping cream, spices, pumpkin- mix well. Beat in 1 egg at a time.  Pour into crust.  Bake approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cheesecake center moves only slightly when shaken. Open oven slightly and leave cake in oven for 30 minutes.  Run sharp knife around cake pan sides to loosen cake and cool on counter before covering tightly and placing in fridge overnight or at lease 8 hours before serving.

Topping
1 cup reserved cream cheese mixture, room temperature
5 TBS whipping cream
Mix well

Caramel Sauce  (**easier version- buy caramel topping for ice cream)
1 cup brown sugar
2TBS water
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
1TBS cream

Boil sugar and water stirring constantly until smooth, approx 5 minutes on medium to low heat.  Add butter, return to boil.  Stir in cream and vanilla. Cool before use.

Remove cheesecake from fridge. Release and remove sides of pan. Spread cream cheese topping onto cake. Pour caramel sauce in lines on top. Use knife to swirl caramel sauce. Serve residual sauce with cake.

Dog (not in focus) licks itself and sitting in front of big tast