Archive for April, 2011

A very SCOBY spring

I haven’t been blogging about my Kombucha making because for me making fermented tea falls into something beyond the nuts and bolts of figuring out how to live and eat sustainably. It’s a bit hippy dippy –  fringe at best. But I guess, since I’m reusing bottles and not buying a processed and packaged beverage, it’s green. I know, I know it’s a bit of a stretch. Not exactly as blog worthy as PlanNYC (which I have still been reading and digesting,  but this morning I went into my cabinet to bring a home-made bottle of Kombucha to work and I saw that in each of my little bottles a tiny little SCOBY was budding and growing. In the words of COB at Table of Promise, this is one strong SCOBY.

Kombucha is a fermented yeast enzyme tea which is supposed to have originated in Asia during the Chinese Tsin dynasty in 212BC. It’s also called mushroom tea – the mushroom being of course, the SCOBY. SCOBY is actually an acronym. According to Wikipedia, it means “Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast.” Yum? Well, actually yes.

Does Kombucha cure cancer? Does it detoxify your liver? Will it cure my asthma? Or make keep me young? The evidence is anecdotal. But mostly I drink it because I like fizzy things. And sometimes it makes me feel a bit buzzed. (I think Lindsay Lohan likes it for the same reason).

Making Kombucha at home is pretty easy. But there are two fermentations. You make tea and add a SCOBY. Then after 5 to 10 days, you bottle it with some juice for flavor and fizz. When it’s right it’s a lovely balance of tingle and delight. When it’s wrong it’s a bit vinegary – but I like vinegar. So for me it’s a win-win situation.

I got my SCOBY from COB at Table of Promise about a month and a half ago. Since then, my initial mother has grown three babies (now living in my big jar) and now the little bottles are growing SCOBY’s their second fermentation. So, here’s the big question: Does anyone want a free SCOBY?

Articles about Kombucha – it’s benefits and even its potential dangers:


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Earth Day brought a swirl of activity. There was so much to read and sort through and figure out.
But I spent Earth Day putting my electronic recycling together, jarring Kombucha (round two) and thinking about what else I could be doing to do my part in keeping the world from spiraling into environmental destruction.

I wasn’t exactly on the Earth Day bandwagon. I worry that rather than heighten everyone’s awareness of the uncomfortable or inconvenient changes we all have to make, it’s become a marketing opportunity. I know it’s both — and I guess nothing wrong with free coffee at Starbucks especially if it makes someone realize they should use reusable cups. But still something about the whole day makes me a little cranky. I can’t put my finger on it — maybe it’s that  most people, earth day or no earth day are still taking home  leftovers in big massive Styrofoam steam ships or buying cases of bottled water for their kid’s lunch boxes.

I know I sound self-righteous, but the truth is I want what most normal folk want — to be thin (or healthy if you want to be PC about it), rich, have nice clothes, a great house, an awesome car (yes, I really like cars despite the fact that they consume fossil fuels and pollute) and have luxurious creature comforts not to mention the luxuries of convenience.  Like air conditioning in the summer. Oh, and clean air when I’m walking down the street.

What rose up for me in the earth day soup of information is  that Mayor Bloomberg is planning on putting solar panels on  3,000 acres of covered landfills with solar panels. businessGreen claims that this will potentially providing enough power for up to 50,000 homes.  The New York Post reported that  Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor said  that the program “could cut the reliance on emergency generators that burn petroleum-based fuel on hot days when electricity demand peak.” Ok, this is a lot of second-hand reporting. And there’s so much more. It’s all part of Bloomberg’s PlaNYC update which he announced last Thursday. I downloaded the 68 page report to try to skim it for some first hand info, but it was too much for me to take in and report on in one evening.

The world is unravelling and being knitted back together in more ways than I can keep track of. I find just watching it and trying to understand how and why exhausting. When I knew the report was way too much for me to handle tonight — but it just made me  feel completely overwhelmed and depressed. But then when I got home tonight I remembered that I had two bunches of ramps in the fridge that I’d picked up on Saturday at the market. Ramps are special. They feel to me like a secret discovery. I am a forager at heart and I love that they are wild food. And  l love that their season is fleeting. Just holding them in my hands in anticipation of preparing them made me feel a little bit calmer.

I sautéed them with a local potato and served them with the speckled butter beans that I’d cooked up over the weekend and leftover cornbread from last night. The whole menu calmed me down, made me feel  rooted, not just on terra firma but in a terra firms in Spring. I may not be able to keep up with the whirlwind of information but I do know this. Tonight my meatless monday was a little bit magical.

Sautéed Ramps with Fried Potatoes

2 bunches of ramps
1 medium potato diced small
2 -3 tablespoons  olive oil
2-3 tablespoons red wine
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the ramps.  Shake them dry, but  leave a bit of dampness. Trim off the roots and then chop into thirds.

Heat the olive oil. Saute the potato until it’s lightly browned. Toss in the ramps. Continue to saute until the ramps are wilted and dark. Add the wine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Earth Day Enemies: Greenpeace Slams Apple, Facebook, Google Data Centers.

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On the way to Kitty Hawk, we stopped at a farm stand. A farm stand! After miles and miles of passing vacant stands with empty shelved on the Eastern Shore, I was almost ecstatic. A line of signs promised strawberries and peaches and whole host of other fruits and vegetables many of which I knew were not in season. And, like our New Jersey stop, the signs also promised fudge – again free samples. It was becoming a habit. The kids complained but we stopped at the red wood stand. They had strawberries and grape out front. I asked if the strawberries were local. “South Carolina,” he said, “So sort of.”

It was close enough for me. They also had asparagus, from a mile up the road. I asked cautiously if they use a lot of insecticides. I want to ask questions, but still be respectful. But the boy, chimed right in, be said, “No, we don’t spray unless we absolutely have to.” I’ve begun to be able to tell if a farmer is telling me what he thinks I want to hear or if he’s actually genuine. I believed this kid.

They also had may peas and butter beans which I’d read about in cook books but never actually seen.  The butter beans were also from up the road so I bought them. (In my head I imagine they will be delicious with cornbread, but that may be a fantasy.)

I never quite made it to the Kitty Hawk Farmer’s Market – it closed before we could make it there.  I planned on stopping at the farm stand on the way home. I had this vision of local North Carolina asparagus for my local table Seder on Saturday night. But in the end we couldn’t stop. Again, my planning was off.  Yes. It’s also that I am so used to food being plentiful and convenient that I know finding the more sustainable source is optional.  But the fact that I missed out on those asparagus are really killing me.

Yesterday, I almost went to the store in Virginia Beach that sold Polyface farm meat – I couldn’t carry Joel Salatin’s meat home, but maybe, probably they would have North Carolina asparagus.  But when I called to ask if they had local vegetables, they said, “Well, we have Yams. But this time of year there isn’t a lot.” We have spinach and greens in the market in New York. Why was finding local veggies so difficult? The CSA according to Norfolk Farmer’s Market had tomatoes. But I couldn’t find them.

In the end, the only real local food I managed to eat was a dozen Seaside oysters  — local from Chincoteague.VA.  (Check out Paul Greenberg’s An Oyster on the Seder Plate to see why eating an oyster during passover is sort of kosher)

Our oysters came with a little plastic cup of  cocktail sauce. I’ve been collecting these bits of plastic to recycle. But I have to confess, I left this one to go in the trash — although I’m in still in Delaware, maybe on the next leg of my journey, I’ll find something else delicious to add to my table.

When I search for local food in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson comes up a lot.  Enjoying local food and enjoying history seem to go hand in hand. Which makes sense to me. Part of the pleasure in tasting something like salsify or eating charoses is connecting to our past through our taste buds.

Here’s a great bit of wisdom from a website called Eating Local In Virginia.  I should have read this site more closely before I hit the road

Eating Like Thomas Jefferson

From Eating Local in Virginia

Back in Jefferson’s day diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity were little known.  Nutrition came from the garden then, not from the grocery store.

 Today advertisers spend approximately 32 billion dollars a year trying to tell us what to eat and yet our food comes in a paper box or a plastic bag. However, regardless of how much money is spent on advertising these various foods it pales in comparison to the $250 billion a year spent on healthcare for diet-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

So where did we go wrong?  How did we ever get to the point where our food travels some 1500 miles on the average to reach our table? Why are our tomatoes bland and our beans canned?  Why does the food we eat lack the necessary nutrition to keep us healthy?  And for God’s sake, what in the world would our forefathers think?

If Thomas Jefferson were here I’m sure he would have plenty to say about today’s food, — so since he isn’t, I have a few suggestions:

Rule # 1. Don’t eat anything that Thomas Jefferson wouldn’t recognize as food.
Rule # 2. Never eat anything that doesn’t spoil in a reasonable amount of time.
Rule # 3. Know and respect the people who grow your food.
Rule # 4. Eat food that doesn’t come with a packaging list of unfamiliar ingredients.
Rule # 5. Eat food in season.
Rule # 6. Eat a large variety of foods.
Rule # 7. Eat colorful food.
Rule # 8. Food is not the best place to economize.

Another good rule to remember is always honor your food.  Thomas Jefferson was a gourmet who rarely dined alone.  He preferred round tables so that his guests could look directly at each other while sharing food and conversation. What better way to enjoy life.

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Virginia Real

On Saturday morning we left the city to visit my brother in Virginia. It’s a long drive, and normally we leave the night before stop overnight to break it up. But last week was long, and the thought of hitting the road on Friday night — well even the though of it wiped me out. Since Saturday is my greenmarket day, my plan was to stop somewhere in New Jersey. I figured, I’d be further south and therefore have more choices at some new undiscovered market.  I’ve used a lot of websites to find farmer’s markets, but never discovered the most obvious one — The USDA. The government has a great search enginge with all the markets across the country. And if you look at the map above, there are enough little red dots to keep all of America happily eating fresh local produce.

I thought, we’d drive down the turnpike, stop at a market for a break, pick up some local veggies and keep driving. Only problem is that none of the markets were open until mid May or early June. Instead, somewhere outside of East Brunswick, we were pulled in by a hand painted yellow sign that promised “Chocolate Factory — free samples.”

The signs reminded me of the “South of the Border” signs  on the highway to Florida. These were no way as elaborate as thos “Pedro says” signs, but the language was clever and intriguing. And hey, free chocolate is a pretty good pull. We drove into an industrial park and zig-zagged our way into the back. Finally, a sign near the door, said “You’re here.”

Inside, there were shelves and shelves of overpriced chocolates molded into any shape or size you could want. We bought some expensive chocolate covered pretzels and I before we left I asked the man, “Is your chocolate fair trade? Or do you not care about that kind of thing? Is your chocolate locally sourced?”

He said, “It’s not that I don’t care about fair trade. But we’ve been using the same chocolate for 30 years. And if we moved to fair trade, it would make our products way too expensive.”

(I didn’t tell him, I thought his products were already way too expensive.) Then he added that all their fruit was locally sourced.

They made chocolate covered granny smith apples, grapes and blue berries. It was possible that they were local, but I would have been surprised.

“Really?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “the buyer is local. I’m not sure where the produce is actually from. So I guess yes it’s local.”

I thought this was good reality check. I am living in this world of heightened awareness, Michael Pollan, Brooklyn Locavore restauarants and green markets. But this guy really had no idea what I was asking. His chocolate world is about price and quality and growing his business. All respectable goals. But does he know that other world exists?

As we drove south, down the Western Shore of Maryland, we passed  the farm stands that in the summer overflow with fruits and vegetables. Nothing was open. We passed plowed fields ready to be planted and  Z pointed out houses with trees fallen on them– debris from a tornado that had whipped across the. When we stopped for gas in bleak bit of highway just outside of Caledonia Virginia, John and the kids complained about a terrible smell. It was the slightly rancid smell of fertilizer. Unlike the slightly fragrant pungence of cow manure, this fertilizer had a synthetic sense that clearly smelled synthetic.

Last night was the first night of passover.  So the nigh before, I had to go to the grocery store to buy supplies to start the elaborate meal going. We ended up  Harris Teeter a high-end store that has a pretty good selection of organic produce but a limited supply of anything local. I found the one chicken that wasn’t wrapped in styrofoam. We didn’t buy any meet for brisket because my sister in law said that the farmers market stand sold grass fed beef. Great!

Norfolk Virginia has something called 5 Points Community Farm Market. It’s not exactly a farmer’s market, it’s a store or a market inside a store. Farmers drop off produce and it’s sold almost like a grocery store. It sounds like a good idea to me, but my sister in law says it’s not the best. I wonder why. It was almost 80 degrees today, I can’t imagine what wasn’t growing in this weather.

We pulled up to the market only to find that it was closed on Monday and Tuesday. In a panic, we drove to another possible location, “Organic Food Depot.” A yelp reviewer called this shop an indie store — but to me it reminded me of the health food stores of the 70s — limited and overpriced. There was one hard as a rock frozen steak behind a glass door and one Colman brand chicken. Neither were going to cut it. We left empty handed. By this time, we were tired of shopping.We called a food store in Virginia Beach — 45 minutes away — that according to their web site sold Polyface farm meat and chicken. I would have certainly driven 45 minutes to taste the bounty of the sustainable food star Joel Salatin’s food. But the girl on the other end of the phone said they were all out.

We ended up as some other grocery store down the block. They didn’t have anything grass fed — and their brisket shipped in from the midwest was a $1 more a lb than the grass fed local stuff I get at Whole Foods in New York. The kids were home waiting for us. It was time to compromise. We bought a conventional London Broil that the butcher cut for us. The least we could do was have it wrapped in paper. Ok, I know it’s a small concession.

I’m constantly living with this tension. Making the choice to eat local,organic or  non-processed food looks like it should be easy. And since I live in NYC, relative to the rest of the country it is easier. But it’s inconvenient and it takes a lot of planning and research. I get annoyed that it’s difficult. I get annoyed that America, despite the take back the plate movement, is still primarily a land of take out, Styrofoam packaged industrial food. I’m annoyed that we stopped at a totally adoarable restaurant on the way to Williamsburg that served home made bread and all it’s food on plastic plates! I’m annoyed that I don’t always have the time or the courage of my convictions to just say no, when it’s inconvenient.

Today we’re driving down to the outer banks to the Wright Brother’s National Memorial.  Apparently there is a farmers market in Kitty Hawk. It’s open year round and it’s open every day. I’m going to check it out. Wish me luck.

On a happier note, our home made Matzoh was a hit at our seder. The kids had fun making it and it was delicious. The trick is to roll it super thin. We also had fun using our forks to customize designs. If you look closely, my brother drew a Jewish star on the one we used for the afikoman.

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Personally, my mother bought Streit’s brand but a few years ago, I started to expand my matzoh repertoire beyond that nostalgic red box. First I bought Whole Wheat matzoh. But then last year, I also sprung for the organic kind. This year, since I have been moving toward locally sourced products, I wondered if there was anyone making matzoh in the tri-state area. That’s when I discovered shmura matzoh. It turns out Jews have been doing artisanal matzoh since before Christ had his bris.

Shmura is a type of small batch matzoh mostly made in Israel and Brooklyn. Shmura literally means watched from the harvest. According to my research, the watching has to be done by a rabbi. In order for this matzoh (or any apparently) to be kosher for Passover the whole process has to happen has in no   more than 18 minutes. That’s because if the flour and the water mix for longer han that short period of time, spores of yeast from the air could get in the mixture and cause impromptu leavening. That would make the matzoh chametz or not kosher for Passover.

According to the CityCook.com there are about 6 shmura matzoh bakeries in NYC – all of which are in Brooklyn. It does seems fitting that artisanal matzoh would be made in the locavore capital of the 5 boroughs – Brooklyn.

The factories or bakeries look very cool. The pictures show big brick ovens that remind me of the bagel bakeries I used to go to in Montreal when I was in college. Many of these matzoh factories also have tours. Here’s a link to help you figure out where to go.

You can get also get the Shmura matzoh at some grocery stores. I called around a bit and found that you can pick up the Brooklyn kind at Zabars (they have whole wheat, and spelt), Fairways and Eli’s on the upper east side.  Of course, like all things artisanal, this matzoh is pricey – somewhere between $24 and $45 a pound. Although if you go to D&T Shmura Bakery on Albany Avenue, Crown Heights, you can get a pound of broken pieces for  the bargain of $13.50/lb – call to verify if the price is still accurate. (718-778-7914).  Just to put these prices in context, matzoh is normally a few bucks a box. At Fresh Direct, for example, you can get 6 boxes of Yehuda matzoh for 15.99 (They also have HolyLand brand for 24.99 which is, not surprisingly, not local but from Israel)

I called around and tried to see if I could find Shmura flour to make my own blessed bread. So far no luck. But still, even without the rabbi’s authorization, I’m going to skip the $40/lb matzoh and try to make my own. I never really thought about it, but matzoh by its very nature has got to be easy to make. After all, it’s the proverbial quick bread.

Passover is a holiday filled with symbols. Charoset , the delicious mix of apples and nuts, represents the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt. The salt water on the table represents the tears of the Jewish slaves. The roasted egg represents the cycle of life.

Commercial matzoh is square, but Shmura matzoh, and my homemade matzoh, is round like the earth. I plan on making these rounds matzoh with the kids before the seder next week. This new tradition and symbol seems a fitting addition to our Passover holiday – especially since Passover falls smack in the middle of earth month.


From http://www.koshercooking.com/resource/matzoh.html

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
Spring water

(If you want to be kosher for Passover, clean your oven before you start._

Preheat oven to 450 F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix two flours together and add water until you have a soft, kneadable dough. Knead about five minutes. Let dough rest a couple of minutes.

Break off egg-sized portions of dough. Stretch as thinly as you can before rolling into thin, oval slabs that are as thin as possible. Prick each slab with a fork or pastry docker. Place on baking sheet and as soon as sheet is filled with matzoh, place in oven, and bake until crisp and buckled, about 3 minutes. Cool and eat.

This post is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday and Real Food Digest Passover

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A year ago, I made commitment to spend a year asking the question : “What’s it take to make urban eating sustainable?” I was confused by the local and sustainable buzz in the food community and I felt embarrassed. As an educated person who’d been eating organic food for almost ten years, who’d lived through the macrobiotic movement in the 70s, and who’d eaten at the famously crunchy Mousewood Restaurant in the 80s – why was I so clueless about what to do every day?

Information about what’s healthy and what’s healthy for the planet is readily available, but turns out sifting through and deciding how to use it was not easy. However, today, one year later, at least I know the answer to my initial question. All it takes to make urban eating sustainable is a  shift in your perspective, your values and your criteria for how you make your food choices.

This may sound easy. But a lot of the time it wasn’t. And old habits die hard. I’ve written a lot about how I used to evaluate a food choice based on price. But price doesn’t tell you much about the nature of the food you are eating. And in fact, more expensive doesn’t guarantee anything. I’ve realized you have to ask a lot of questions beyond, “How much does that cost?” Now I ask. Where was it produced or grown? How far did it travel? What kind of methods were used to produce it? How much garbage does it generate (both in terns of waste created through transportation and packaging)? How healthy for my family is it? And does my consumption of it support a corporate entity that is looking to exploit me or the planet?

It sounds heavy, but once you get into the habit of shifting most* of your dollars away from the supermarkets or the big box grocers (which I used to be a BIG fan of) I’ve found a lot of these questions are easier to answer.  And the answers are easier to stomach. Price is certainly still an issue, and over the next year, I plan on starting to figure out how much I actually spend on groceries and see if I can cut costs. But I believe that some of the savings that I’ve come from eliminating certain expensive processed foods, has balanced out my choice to purchase more expensive produce, meat and dairy. This is my hypothesis. Next years goals include figuring that out more precisely.

As Caliban’s Kitchen moves into its second year I don’t feel the need to ask “What does it take?” anymore. Now I need to ask “How can I keep it up?” and “How can I inspire more people to join the bandwagon?” So you’ll see I’ve changed my tagline to “Rants, reviews, and resources to help sustain sustainable eating.”

What are rants? Sometimes I get pissed off that change isn’t happening quickly enough. Sometimes I get pissed off that I have to spend a lot of money on something that conventionally is much cheaper. And sometimes I get pissed off

What are reviews? Just because it’s local or organic, doesn’t mean it’s good. You may want to change the way the world eats, but nobody wants to eat badly. As I try brands and foodstuff out, I’ll continue to let you know what’s great and what I think you should pass on.

What are resources? Unless you live off Union Square, eating with a conscience isn’t convenient. But as I figure out more and more where to buy, I’ll continue to let you know.

The 2010-2011 Caliban’s Kitchen Top Picks

Last year, I started this process as a birthday present to myself. And, although I’ve bellyached a lot, I’ve also discovered a whole host of surprising gifts throughout the year. Here’s a list of resources, foods and changes that I’ve blogged about and I’m glad to have incorporated into my life.

Fresh spinach in spring (it’s sweet like candy)
Homemade hot sauce
Homemade bread and cookies every week
Homemade make pizza dough
Bacon from “Dickson Farm Stand.”
Kunik from “Nettle Meadow Farm and Farm and Artisanal Cheese.”
Saturday morning at the farmer’s market
Farm fresh eggs (especially from Knoll Krest Farm)
Local honey
Farmers market destination trips
Kids who think about whether the food they eat makes garbage
Polenta from “Bloominghill Farm”
Feeling good about not using Styrofoam
Cranberry beans and Yellow Indian Woman beans
Heirloom tomatoes
Purple carrots and yellow beats

I can’t wait to see what see what the next year brings . . .


* I say most here because there does seem to be a place for supermarket and big box stores in my consumer consumption. But by far, I’ve found that the a larger percentage of my food budget is now being spent outside these types of food stores.

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