Sunday, February 26, 2012


Our dinner tonight was made from local food from the Farmers Market in Keahou. Above: salad of local lettuce, tomato, and avocado with lime juice; a bowl of exotic fruit -- rambutans and dragon fruits! Also a sandwich (maybe not so local). Earlier, we enjoyed some sweet Hawaiian bread with locally grown & made lilikoi jam. Lilikoi is the much superior Hawaiian name for passion fruit.
At the market, I used Photobooth to take kalidescopic photos of fruit, vegetables, local food products, and crafts. It was a lot of fun, and included some of the Kona Lisa logos from my favorite Kona coffee.

Kona Lisa Logo

White and purple eggplants

Tumeric in raw, unprocessed form (which I had never seen)


Painted gourds -- the artist suggested that I get this turtle...

Another painted gourd

Market stall for painted gourds


Dragon Fruit

Friday, February 24, 2012

Kona coffee

We are in a small condo with a nice view of the pacific ... Krona coffee for breakfast and a ripe papaya in the refrigerator for later ... Photos when I figure out the slow Internet Which wasnt even expected.

Monday, February 20, 2012

King of the Beasts?

Yesterday we went to a lecture by Brian Polcyn, a chef who specializes in charcutrie (right). He gave an excellent and amusing talk on pork, including raising, slaughtering, and butchering pigs and making many types of European salted and preserved meat dishes from the pork. "The Pig is King," was the title of his powerpoint presentation, and he says that pasture-raised animals from various heritage breeds make fatter pork, which is better to eat. "Fat is your friend," he says.

Polcyn showed us many photos of special types of pigs, both very large and very small, including one type, the Mangalitsa, a Hungarian breed with curly, woolly coats. One Michigan farmer is now raising them, and the chef pays several times the price of ordinary pork for the very special meat they produce.

The images of these pigs were so cute that I am including a photo that was published in the New York Times a couple of years ago, along with an article about this breed of pigs and their recent introduction into American pig breeding and fine dining.

Polcyn explained how every few weeks, he purchases whole or half carcasses and butchers them in one of his two restaurants, where he has a small area in his wine cellar that's temperature and humidity controlled for best hanging of salted prosciutto, pancetta, and sausages. He also uses a laboratory kitchen in the culinary science department of a local college. The entire process takes several months to a year, before he can serve these appealing products in his restaurants. His lecture included a small plate of samples for each attendee -- mmmmmmmmm!

By coincidence, yesterday in the New York Times a pork farmer with a very different point of view wrote an op ed titled "Don’t Presume to Know a Pig’s Mind." Blake Hurst, the author of this op ed, is finds problems in the recent pressures from Chipotle and McDonald's to improve the lives of pigs. He's in a completely different camp from Chef Polcyn, who finds the pigs' quality of life to be very important for many reasons -- including his own ethics for humane treatment of animals and also that better treatment creates better meat (if there's an ethical contradiction in treating an animal humanely up until you kill it, that doesn't figure in his lecture).

Here's what mass-market farmer Blake Hurst has to say about happy pigs:
"According to Chipotle’s Web site, the company uses only “happier” pigs. It doesn’t say how it measures a pig’s happiness, and I can’t help but picture porcine focus groups, response meters designed for the cloven of hoof. We can all agree that production methods should not cause needless suffering, but for all we know, pigs are “happier” in warm, dry buildings than they are outside. And either way, the end result is a plate."
And here's his view of the greater expense of raising pigs with more space and imputed happiness:
"Since we can’t ask the pigs what they think, we know only one thing for sure about the effects of scrapping our most efficient farming systems: the cost of bacon will rise. Wealthy consumers will reward farmers who are able to pull off the Chipotle ad’s brand of combination farm/tourist attraction and are willing to trade efficient animal husbandry for political correctness. Many big multistate operations will also be able to afford to make the changes, or will at least have the political sway to resist them. But the small farmers now raising hogs will be pushed out of the industry."
So, he concludes, farmers are being asked to do two contradictory things to try to satisfy both the humanitarians (or in other cases, ecologists or advocates for other changes in farming practice) and those who want cheap or affordable food. I assume he knows pigs, and that the humane treatment will really cost more -- and Chef Polcyn definitely confirms the much higher price for differently raised animals and small-scale farming. However, I think the generalization is subject to much more analysis, especially when you consider all the other interests that are pressuring the food industry. I wish this discussion didn't remind me of how Monsanto has misled the public about what's good for anyone but Monsanto!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Another Look at Carbon Impact

Interesting article in the Guardian: "Local farms are vital to communities, but we shouldn't dismiss larger ones" by Jason Clay. He makes this point:
"Just because you bought your chicken from a local farm, that doesn't mean it has less impact than a chicken from the local grocery store, which may have been shipped from thousands of miles away. It all depends on how that chicken was produced."
In the article is something I've been looking for: a collective look at carbon impact of various foods. Instead of trying to show the impact of what's on your plate, this graph shows the total for all US food usage. It turns out that transport is the least significant part of the picture:

The author's conclusion about local foods: they aren't necessarily the only solution to global problems. He says:
"With a majority of our citizens living in cities, local agricultural production – from hydroponic greenhouses to small urban vegetable gardens – can help address the growing demand for nutrients and fresh produce in urban areas, and become key strategies to reduce overall food waste. However, it will be very difficult to produce our daily calories in cities, specifically bulk calorie crops such as cereal grains, roots and tubers, sugar and bananas that today still need to be produced where vast areas of land are available for cultivation."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Fritz Brenner Cooks... so does Nero Wolfe

What's fun about my new Nero Wolfe cookbook? I find it fun that throughout the entire book, it keeps up the fiction that Nero Wolfe is a New York detective who almost never leaves his home -- he solves crimes by thinking and interviewing people who come to him, and by sending out Archie Goodwin, his trusty sidekick. The recipes are attributed to his cook, Fritz Brenner, or to the other characters in the stories where the recipes are mentioned or described, including the chefs of "famous restaurants" or hotels, and even a few suspects.

The recipes sound marvelous! Will I ever try them? Well, some are ruled out by my lack of access to wild ducks, foie gras, chickens fed only with blueberries, hogs fed only with peanuts, and other exotica like caviar. Or by my reluctance to try really challenging techniques. But maybe I'll try something from this amusing book. I've been wanting a copy for a long time.

Monday, February 06, 2012


Americans ate pizza yesterday -- one estimate, 4.4 million pies. Why should we be different? Well, for one thing, we weren't watching the super bowl, we went to see "The Iron Lady" with Meryl Streep instead, as I wrote here. But I did make pizza, using my old recipe and my new cookbook stand. I have now stored my recipes on the iPad, and the plexiglass stand keeps splatters away, at least so far. Much better than splashing tomato sauce on the back of the large screen of the desktop computer, which is now upstairs. Plus the screen is right where I need it, not facing some other direction. The result was our cheese pizza with Newman's Own Sockarooni sauce, crushed garlic and extra herbs and fennel seeds, and good imported French and Swiss cheese:

As far as I can see, I've never posted my pizza recipe, and if I can't find it here probably no one can. So here it is.

Pizza Dough

Mix and let stand for 10 minutes:
1 package dry yeast
1 cup water at 105 degrees (test on forearm -- same temp. as baby's bath water)
1 tsp. sugar
Place in food processor, using metal blade:
2 and 2/3 cups flour: up to 2/3 cup can be whole wheat flour
Pinch salt -- optional
1/2 tsp. oil

With food processor running, add the liquid slowly . Process until dough forms a ball and pulls away from sides of bowl. Add more flour if necessary to make this happen. This is a very sticky dough. Knead in more flour if you like, and place in large oiled bowl. Allow to rise for 1 hour at warm room temperature or several hours in refrigerator (if you want to make the dough in advance and go see a movie).

After the dough has risen, oil a round pizza pan and pat dough into place. It will rise a little again while you are placing the toppings on it and heating the oven to 425 degrees F. When the oven is hot, bake for 15 minutes, check for nice brown done crust and browned cheese on top; bake slightly longer if necessary. Allow pizza to firm up for 5 minutes before you cut and serve it.

If you want twice as much pizza dough, make two recipes separately in food processor, do not double recipe.

Alternate proportions for dough: use the same method with 1 and 1/4 cups water, 1 pkg. yeast and pinch salt. For dry ingredients, use 3 and 1/2 to 4 cups flour, no oil. Makes a heavier dough. Allow this to rise 1/2 to 1 hour at warm room temperature, more in refrigerator.

As I said, I topped yesterday's pie with Newman's Own sauce, garlic, herbs, and freshly grated cheese. Other possibilities include using whatever other sauce you prefer (even your own); adding lots of vegetables like onion, olives, sliced tomato, or cooked eggplant; adding salami, meatballs, or ham; or making white pizza with 3-4 oz. goat cheese, herbs, and an egg instead of red sauce and hard cheese.

Friday, February 03, 2012

"Hungry Town" -- All about New Orleans

Tom Fitzmorris, whom I'd never heard of before reading his memoir Hungry Town, is a food journalist with a widely followed radio show originating in New Orleans. I have only spent a few days in New Orleans in my life, having made several short visits. I already admired the cuisine: he didn't need to convince me of its greatness. Over the years, I've bought regional cookbooks (though none by this author) and remember when NO cooking was a fad in the 1980s.

My slight knowledge of NO food doesn't make me an ideal audience for Fitzmorris's memories, but I found the whole book highly readable and enjoyable. He has a way of making each story vivid and making each dish he describes sound delicious beyond imagining. A small selection of recipes adds to the fun.

Three themes intertwine in the book. First, the history of NO cooking and restaurants, beginning mainly with the mid-20th century food trends. Second, the intense importance of food in NO culture. Fitzmorris makes a pretty convincing case that NO people have a deeper interest in food and what he calls a lust for food than those in other parts of the country. Third, the history of the damage and recovery from hurricane Katrina, the largest natural disaster to strike anywhere in the US, at least the largest in any recent memory. His selection of memories of cooks and waiters who died in the floodwaters or otherwise as a result of the storm is poignant (and I usually hate that word).

I like Fitzmorris's view of food, food fads, food celebrities, and food hype. His observations of trends that started in NO and were misappropriated elsewhere are interesting -- blackened redfish would be one of them. I've definitely eaten some bad burned fish as a result of that fad, and he suggests that I can't blame the originators as much as the pathetic imitations. Since he has spent his entire life in NO (except a few weeks as a refugee from Katrina) his point of view on this is especially enlightening.

Another interesting food trend that Fitzmorris covers is the decline of local and traditional foods; however, what makes this relatively common view more interesting is that he demonstrates that during the rebuilding of NO after the disaster, much of the local food made a comeback. He cites various reasons. For one thing Orleanean's exceptional food fascination is also reflective of their love of their city; when faced with near annihilation, they turned to the past for comfort.

As the rebuilding began and progressed, he describes how the locals recreated local restaurants in difficult circumstances; the fast-food places and national chains turned their backs and didn't necessarily reopen. His tales of heroic restaurant rebirths under terrible conditions are amazing. Within a short time after the waters receded, quite a few restauranteurs began serving free food to the clean-up crews and dedicated residents who remained in town.

Natives felt that their neighborhoods could only rebuild if they had good comfort food, and that the city as a whole also needed the fine dining establishments that gave the city its character. At times, Fitzmorris says, a small diner serving local specialties could be the only sign of life in a vast stretch of ruined homes; the people who were still there were scarcely visible.

I especially enjoyed his stories of east-coast journalists who were convinced that the small restaurants had died out, and how he convinced them that in fact, they were more numerous than before, while the chains were in eclipse. (I wonder what's happening more recently -- his book is a couple of years old, and as the city comes back the predators will surely return, I fear.)

All in all, this is a really good food memoir. I haven't tried the recipes, but maybe I will.