Friday, April 30, 2010

Leeds Locavore: Backyard Asparagus, Backyard Chickens

This week the asparagus is up in the backyard where I live in Leeds, MA.

Our first meal from the garden was entirely local -- an asparagus omelet with the spears (1001 ft.) picked just minutes before hitting the skillet and eggs from a friend's hens (16 miles away by car, 10 miles as the crow flies).

Asparagus grows in fits and starts, some fat, some thin and scattered all over the place, like clams. This is my friend Lora's backyard asparagus, a perennial both literally and figuratively. Like rhubarb it comes up every year, first thing out of the garden.

Recipe of the Week: Backyard Asparagus Omelet


Pick Asparagus
Gather Eggs


Get a cast iron skillet very hot, but not smoking, add well oiled spears of asparagus, ends trimmed. Remove from pan and cut into into 1-1/2" pieces and set aside.

Wipe out skillet was wiped out and heat more oil plus some butter until almost smoking. The way to prepare an omelet that really celebrates the flavor of the eggs, is to cook it the way they do in France (3000 miles). It is a gentle preparation that requires a bit of mastery over the pan.

First the eggs are lightly beaten with a fork, three are ideal, and slide them gently into the pan. Then use the fork to swirl the eggs, gathering them up into the center of the pan. Once you've gotten control of the eggy mass with your fork, move the pan under the eggs so they don't stick but continue to cook. Motion is essential for even heat. (This takes a bit of practice but you will find yourself flipping the omelet in the air, a useful skill.)

When half of the omelet is slid onto the plate, add the asparagus and then flip the rest of omelet over it, making a perfect envelop of heat. Voila.

Perhaps this was because the asparagus and eggs were practically alive, or perhaps because the food was cooked with love or because the food was cooked in the French tradition, backyard lunch was a revelation The asparagus spears quite fat and they were tender and sweet. According to Lora, it was neither the provenance, nor the love, nor the French but her fertilizer -- chicken shit courtesy of our friend with the hens. The circle of life in Leeds continues.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rego Park Locavore

After a scant, 15-year hiatus an old friend and I had lunch in New York last week. It was a beautiful Spring day. Our plan was to catch up and cook a locavore-ish meal together. Back in the day we slaves in the factory of fashion in New York. Now we're slaves to food, she in Rego Park with her family and me in the country with friends and farm animals. She now works as a caterer and blogs in "Grapes and Greens." (photo: Deborah Soffel)

When Deb came walking down the hall on the 18th floor of my friend's place, she looked pretty jaunty with her saunter and spray of flowers. Girlish squeals ensued then the brief silence ....

"Oh, are these up?" I said of the lilacs. And she said, my New York friend, "At the bodega, they are," and with that we resumed our friendship. 
Rego Park and New York City are vague on the point of provenance. The man who sold me the broccoli rabe at the farmers' market referenced an unknown county in upstate New York. In Rego Park, at her neighborhood market, Deb asked why a mountain of bananas was referred to as "local." An employee responded with "that's what the sign says lady.."
I show her my food for lunch, broccoli rabe from the farmers' market in Union Square. 

She brought herbs from her garden in Rego Park which we spread out over the counter, and marveled over. Then she pulled out the tofu, local, perhaps from Chinatown, and then she pulled out some red quinoa. Local to her kitchen, good enough. 

The apartment we had to cook in was the home of an ineligible bachelor with little in the way of amenities. The larder stocked only with Nutella and no wine glasses, pepper or place mats to be found .... just some Japanese cups and a glass with a painting of a pole dancer on it....but we punted, like back in the day, and made a decent show of it.

Reunion Lunch: Rabe & Pink Quinoa

Reunion Lunch via Rego Park


1- bunch brocooli rabe (Union Square Farmers' Market)
1- cup red quinoa (the store)
Herbs including mint, oregano (deb's garden, Rego Park)
1- block tofu (Chinatown)
-Open wine (20 sec)  
-Prep veggies (5 min) by trimming stems of broccoli rabe and dicing herbs.
discuss friends (ongoing)
discuss old boss (20 min)
discuss ex-husbands (10 min)
discuss deb's recent wedding (20 min)
discuss lack of spices & decide herbs will do (2 sec)
-Cut tofu up into little cubes and brown in olive oil  (2-5 min)
-Put quinoa in pan with water and cook (20 min)
discuss families (ongoing)
discuss food and/or sex (ongoing)
-Stirfry broccolli rabe in to small pan with olive oil (5-10 min) in two batches
discuss books (ongoing)
discuss jewelry (2 min)
Set table 
discuss politics (20 sec)
discuss dan barber and Stone Barns (4 min)
Plate. Deb surrounded a mound of quinoa with a wreath of broccoli rabe studded with fried cubes of tofu  and we are so local to one another the meal was memorable.

Eat with additional discussion.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Event of the Week: Sunday in Pulaski Park with Goats

Earth Day....
Demonstrations on bicycle repair, clotheslines, cloth diapering, backyard chickens, composting and urban gardening as well as baby goats, trash-sorting games for kids and puppets....... 
This Sunday, 4/25 from 11 am to 4 pm in Pulaski Park, 
Northampton, MA

"BREAD CAN BE BLOWN AWAY......" Hannah D'Alessandro

"Bread," took first prize two weeks ago at the Hungry Ghost Annual Poetry Contest in Northampton, MA. When asked where she gets her inspiration for her poem, six-year-old Hanna said "It's just something I am working on at school..."  

Bread is like a flying saucer
When you cut it
And it falls to the ground.
Bread is adored by all creatures
Squirrels, moose, deer,
Crabs, mermaids, oysters,
Starfish, chipmunks.
But sometimes when your window is opened
And the wind is blowing
Bread can be blown away.
So tomorrow morning,
When you get breakfast,
Make sure your window is not
      --Hannah D’Alessandro 


Friday, April 23, 2010

Veggie Star Appearance in the Valley

Hadley grass, so prized, so loved, so chronicled in the Valley that some folks can actually taste on which side of the river it is grown. Like with wine, terroir makes a difference.

This time of year there are recipes galore for this New England perennial. In one, the asparagus is transformed into ice cream (!) and then piped into the beginning of the season, keep it simple to best taste this shining star of Hadley, lo these many decades. Recipes requiring asparagus to be transformed into ice cream that gets piped into endive. Another recipe suggests bundling up asparagus into parchment paper to bake in a slow oven. Why not? But maybe later in the season when the sensory impact has taken its initial toll.


Forage asparagus at a farmers' market or at a stand in Sunderland on the river, or Atkins, Serios or foraged from a spot near the oxbow. Look for skinny spears encased in weeds.


Merely break off the ends...let the vegetable show you where. No knife necessary. Clean gently with water, dry and coat with olive oil.

Put on a baking sheet and broil until browned or cook fast and hot in a skillet on top of the stove or on the grill. Come up with a way to prevent the spears from falling in.

You can boil it but do it fast and take the spears out (thin after 4 min, fat after around 6 min) and run them under cold water or plunge in ice or a cold mountain stream to stop the cooking. This will maintain color, flavor and nutrients.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Deadline for readers from author of "Diet for a Small Planet"

At a lecture yesterday at Smith, Frances Moore Lappe, spoke of a city where people are planting food everywhere, just in case they run out. They are even planting food in graveyards. Francis Moore Lappe wrote Diet for a Small Planet when she was 26. This is a photo of her at the time when she was musing on the phenomenon of hunger amidst abundance. In the Opening Note of her new book she writes, "...the world is in the grip of a financial crisis that's created 100 million new victims of hunger - pushing the total over one billion, higher than ever in history. Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation in London tells us that "[we]e could literally be nine meals from anarchy and we are still in denial...."

She follows with "Are you scared? I know I am."  Now she is a sleek, sixty something person with the moves of a dancer and the energy of a lioness protecting her cubs. We are her cubs and she is tireless. In her new book, "Liberation Ecology," her 16th, she recommends that we learn to think like an ecosystem and to do that some reframing has to happen. She poses disempowering ideas such as: "No Growth is the Answer!"  After each idea is a "reframe" which in this case "Since what we've been calling "growth" is largely an economics of waste and destruction, let's call it that. Let's reserve "growth" to describe that which aligns with nature's rules to promote greater health....."

(During the lecture in the Weinstein Auditorium, a student sitting in front of me across the aisle put down his notebook and began taking off his sneakers off, one at a time. Then he took off his socks.  He held one up and smelled it thoughtfully. I guess that's normal.)

What is not normal is that Frances Moore Lappe's new book is in limited edition. There were only 1500 copies printed and her intent is to get feedback from readers before she publishes a final draft. Responses due no later than May 1, 2010! Her plan is to re-frame and edit the book based on reader ideas. The book can be ordered at

How's that for thinking like an ecosystem?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Fiddleheads

Ostrich fern fiddleheads pair very nicely with grilled fish and horseradish cream sauce.

To Prepare Fiddleheads: Trim stems and rinse removing brown sheath from plant. Boil for 10 minutes in salty water or steam for 20 minutes (according to the USDA to insure safety when consuming unregulated food) or cast USDA caution to the wind and boil at roiling for one minute, plunge into cold water to keep color then stir fry in cast iron pan. If grilling, par-boil and use screen to avoid dropping fiddleheads onto fire. Serve with salt and butter.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fiddlehead Season: Return of the Swamp People

Fiddleheads are in the shy stage of life pausing before unfurling into ferns. Ostrich fern (atteuccia struthiopteris) fiddleheads are edible, forragable, and pretty much free, if you know where to look.  They come up in April and May and like alluvial, sandy soil. In western MA, they have been known to grow near the oxbow or on the west side of the Connecticut River in the upper reaches of Hatfield. Usually water is near by. Be sure to identify the ostrich fern, which has smooth stems with a line down the inside and papery brown scales, as opposed to the ferns with a fuzzy white exterior. If foraging, get land owner permission (if possible) and refrain from harvesting more than half of the plant to insure re-growth. If you don't have a chance to forage, shy ferns have been spotted at River Valley Market and Serios Market in Northampton as well as Atkins in Amherst for around $4 per lb. Those who forage fiddleheads and bring them to the market are called the swamp people by certain sectors of society. It isn't the easiest way to make a buck.  

Health Note: Fiddleheads are a good source of vitamins A and C, niacin, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and phosphorus. They are known to be 'clean the system' meaning that they can be tough to digest, depending on what kind of diet you maintain. Fiddleheads have a lot of fiber, as does asparagus which makes both good for you. As Michael Pollan says, eat food, mostly plants. This is pure plant.  (Drawing by Bobbi Angell)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Grow Your Own: A Great Day for Locavores

Mixed Marriage Wins Hands Down, a great day for locavores!

How Hadley spelt and polish vodka won entrepreneur Paul J. Kozub a "Double Gold" award in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Some say Paul Kozub is a marketing genius, some say he is a vodka genius but others say that the stuff in those pyrotechnical display bottles all over the Valley is worth the price.

Over the weekend, when the rest of us were relaxing in the beautiful weather, a panel of hard-working spirits experts convened in San Francisco to taste vodka. This contest, for which it takes more than a passing interest in booze to judge, is purely taste-based. No information was given to judges during to competition about price or brand or country of origin.

In the category of non-flavored vodka, Kozub's V-One was given a "Double Gold" award among 200 entrants. (The top vodka, the winner of all of the Double Golds was Chase Vodka from Herefordshire, England priced at $40 per bottle.)

For Kozub, it all in the name of local sustainability. "I've been at this for four years, my family is from Hadley and the spelt is from Hadley," says Kozub. "I'm in it for the long run." He plans to sell the vodka in all 50 states in five years time. Although the distillery is in Poland, it is owned by a local person there.

If you're a believer in ingredients, V-1 is made with spelt, some of it grown by Allen Zuchowski of Lazy Acres Farm in Hadley where it is harvested and shipped to the distillery in Poland. If you're a believer in process, the ethanol used to distill is the cleanest Kozub can find -- 97% pure. He claims that spelt is the best ingredient over potato or wheat based on testing 40 recipes over a two year period.

This is a great day for locavores. Now in the category of local spirits, there is wine, beer, mead, hard cider and now vodka. And Zuchowski's farm is also producing spelt and wheat for Hungry Ghost, Wheat Berry in Amherst and others making and selling bread. This latest entry in the list of local food makes the wait for corn and tomatoes in August just a bit easier on all of us.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Attend Hands-On Workshop, Go Home with a Chicken

Dave Tepfer, Simple Gifts Farm, is making some of his two year-old laying hens available for adoption to good homes at a workshop organized by North Amherst Community Farm, Inc. this Saturday, April 3rd.

Homes for Hens Workshop participants will be able to take their hens home, set up the coop, and collect eggs from the hens the next morning!

The workshop is already full, testament to the number of people
interested in raising chickens. The laying hens will be available for purchase ($10 and up). For more information, contact John Gerber, 413-549-6949 or

Ask Farmer Bill:

I'm thinking of getting some chickens so I have have free eggs. I figure $10 down now and, what, 10 years of free eggs? What do you think? Should I should get chickens?