As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

Travel

NYC Food Photos and Musings

So, my recap of my NYC trip was made more complicated that I originally thought because of all the photos I wanted to include in the post. I finally decided the easiest would be to upload the photos to Flickr and then have a Flickr link on my blog page for future occasions such as this. So, the if you scroll down and over to the right, you’ll see several photos of food in the right-hand narrow column. Click on any of the photos and you should be directed to the NYC February 2012 album. Or click here. There are quick descriptions under each photo; for a more narrated version of NYC, continue reading below!
MANHATTAN

Our inaugural meal in NYC was at Lupa, which is part of the Mario Batali group. It was a small, intimate, yet very lively restaurant. The food was fantastic but honestly, the thing I liked the most and had NEVER seen anywhere else was a food glossary!! We’ve all been at restaurants in which we don’t know all of the dishes. Rather than play 20 questions with the waitstaff, Lupa’s got it down by providing this invaluable resource for its patrons. I wish all restaurants had a glossary. Ingenious!

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Dinner at The Spotted Pig was probably the best meal I had in in NYC. It was absolutely scrumptious. I had roasted carrots with thyme, champ (Northern Irish dish made with CREAMY mashed potatoes and green onions), seared mackerel with sweet potatoes and house cured pancetta, “devils on horseback” and “roll mops” (one is pickled herring, the other is bacon-wrapped dates–I don’t recall which is which). I was so busy eating that I didn’t manage to take any photos of the food!

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Murrays cheese is the most famous cheese store in NYC. It has been around since 1940. It even has caves below the store to keep certain cheeses! Cheese classes? Stinky cheese? Cream cheese? Anything cheese? Check!

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One day we made a hotel picnic lunch with goodies from Zabars, which is a grocery store on the Upper West Side. It’s been in existence for over 70 years! Lunch included caper berries, cheese, crackers, kinishes, white beans, broccoli rabe, Jewish sweet treat (don’t recall the name) and citrus fruit. Interesting side note: I may now understand the idea of crappy tasting produce in very urban areas. I had several pieces of citrus fruit while in New York, and, ahem, citrus is in season. But it was awful!

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One thing I REALLY wanted to do while in the City was visit the burrough of Queens, and more specifically, take “International Express” aka the elevated #7 train. We took the train near the end of the line to Flushing, which is known as the “new” Chinatown of NYC. Not far from the train, we wandered into a Chinese supermarket. At times I was chuckling, at other times I was cringing

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So the picture of the LIVE turtles really disturbed me. Sure I know that meat comes from beings that were once alive. And I eat meat. And I’ve seen animals be killed to eat. And yes, I know people all over the world eat squirrels, cats, dogs, tigers, whales , bugs, baby cows and everything else under the sun. But seeing these turtles struck a very sad cord within me. In fact, I didn’t take a picture of the cooler next to it which had turtles individually bagged in mesh sacks atop a block of ice. At first I thought the turtles were dead, but then I lightly nudged one and it moved. It was on it’s back, nearly frozen solid. And turtles are cold-blooded. Having had turtles as pets growing up and having screeched the car to a halt to help a turtle cross the road more times that I have fingers on my hand, I just couldn’t really take this sight, or the thought of eating anything at the market’s restaurant (my plan). Good thing there was vegetarian food to be had not far away…

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Thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation’s TV show, I found about this very interesting Hindu Temple about a mile from the Chinese market. The Temple operates a cafeteria in the basement and is open daily. This seemed to good to be true…

I always love when restaurants have set lunches. And the temple cafeteria did. I didn’t know anything the lunch came with; the only part of the description I understood was “mini”, which it was not.I also wanted to order a dosa. But, like the other menu, it was mind-boggling. Where was the glossary like Lupas?? I had no idea where to start, so I asked the man taking my order what his favorite dosa was? “……” “Yes I will take that!” Before it came to the table I was like “Crap, Joy! It’s gonna be crazy hot since it’s his favorite and most Indians have a higher “heat” tolerance when it comes to spice and food. Now, I am no weeny when it comes to spicey food, but have you ever noticed there are two scales in America? There is “American hot” and there is “Indian” or “Thai hot”? Well, as luck would have it, the dosa and accompanying dipping sauces were perfectly spiced and it was no problem. Just in case, I did order a mango lassi which was fantastic. All in all it was not the best Indian food I had ever had, but the atmosphere (hello churcheque Hindu supper), other diners and “can you guess what food I am?” made it totally worth it.

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One of the most anticipated restaurants for me was Prune. The chef-owner of Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton, came out with her memoirs last year: Blood, Bones and Butter. Let me put it bluntly–she is a very interesting person…Nonetheless, I was excited to eat at her place. I ordered a fantastic salad with greens and sauteed radicchio (a current favorite of mine) and goat cheese. What I was really pumped about, however, was the beloved marrow bones she wrote about and what I dreamed about eating. Now, I will be totally honest–I had only tried marrow one time before this–and it was just a small bite–but it was heavenly rich. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Prune’s marrow. It tasted like a lot of butter and not much else. Disappointment. But I did end the meal with a nice Negroni, which Gabrielle and her adopted Italian family were always sipping on in the book. I was quite surprised that I liked it–I’m usually not one for cocktails. Watch out Austin mixoligists–give me your best Negroni!
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For Sunday brunch, we went to Balthazar’s. The interior is absolutely gorgeous–that is the thing about New York–you can gawk at the beautiful, historic nature of just about any building.

I ordered the Salad Nicoise and the largest cappuccino I had ever seen (and I payed for it later on with a stuffy nose, thanks to all the milk, but it was worth it). Our server was a bit of an asshole–he was French–I wondered if he was playing a part? Or just falling into a stereotype? As funny as this seems, I was disappointed that the salad was not presented like traditional nicoise salads in which all the ingredients are carefully placed separately like an appetizer plate.  This might have been the first time presentation bothered me–as it usually does not.

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BROOKLYN

I would have liked to spend more time in Brooklyn, as there is SO MUCH happening food-wise there, but I’ll be back. These are some of the most memorial sights and eats from my time there–

My cousin and his girlfriend are members of the Park Slope Food Co-op which is a ” true co-op”–all members are mandated to work there 4 hours per month. In fact, you can’t even shop there if you were not a member. It was even more strict that Costco–we had to make a special trip upstairs to the membership office so I could get a badge to be in the store. Crazy! Anyway, it looks like Park Slopers love their Co-op and they have something special going on. When I went it was packed, or at least I thought it was. However, I was informed that it wasn’t that packed. Geeze, I thought to myself–I can hardly get around anyone and I don’t even have a cart–I’m kind of afraid to see it really packed. Ahhhh….New York….

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The weather in New York was particularly mild for February. Except for the day I went on a walking tour with my cousin in Brooklyn. With the windchill near the Brooklyn waterfront, it could not have been more than 20 degrees. BRRRR!!! We ducked into Jacques Torres Chocolate  store where I warmed up with an Earl Grey tea and delightful chocolate chip cookie.

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After eating such rich, delicious food, I was ready for something a tad more simple, and how do you say it? Homemade! My cousin whipped up a quick meal of pasta with fresh parsley and Parmesan. We started off the evening with some wonderful, hip cheese from Vermont I had bought at Murrays, wonderful olives and pickles from the Brooklyn Food Coop and a nice glass of wine. Isn’t vacation nice?

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Also while in Brooklyn, I made it over to the Ger-nis Culinary and Herb Center, which had been on my list of things to do. It’s housed in an old converted warehouse in Brooklyn on the same street as my cousin’s place–what luck! The culinary center was beautifully layed-out and got me even more excited for the new home of Sustainable Food Center. Talking with Nissa, the owner of the Center, it also hit me how hard it is to run a business. I’m hopeful, though that our non-profit mission will help us launch and successfully offer increased programming for all in Austin and beyond.

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I saved the best (or almost best) for last–by the last day in New York I still had not sunk my teeth into a bagel NOR a Ruben sandwich. Luckily, my cousin recommend I check out La Bagel Delight, just down the street. To my delight, they not only had bagles but I could get a Ruben on a bagel and was told it was cheaper. It must be a sign!


A Taste of the Caribbean–in pictures

I recently got back from a lovely week in the Caribbean, visiting Grenada (pronounced GrehnAIDa, St. Lucia (pronounced St. Loosha), Antigua (pronounced Anteegah), St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Puerto Rico. As with all my travels, I am always interested in seeking out the local fair.

GRENADA

Nutmeg Tree. Many of the nutmeg trees on Grenada (The Spice Island) were destroyed by a hurricane (forgot which one).

Nutmeg cracked open without the mace sheath around it. The yellow flesh of the nutmeg fruit is used to make jams. The actual nutmeg seed is inside the oval outer layer.

The mace (spice) sheath taken off the nutmeg outer layer.

My first local meal on Grenada: Fried fish, callaloo (Caribbean greens, basically the elephant plant leaves), a corn bread/polenta like savory cake, stewd okra and sweet potatoes and a yummy indigenous cherry juice.

ANTIGUA

Lobster bisque--definitely not creamy--but good nonetheless

Red Snapper with creole sauce and "spiced" rice

LOVED the whole cloves in the "spiced" rice

The best pina colada I've ever had

Public Market in St. Johns, Antigua

Cukes, celery, winter squash, peppers, long beans

Hibiscus buds for tea

Squashes?

Bananas!

I don’t recall the local name for this, but it’s like a chirmoya. This might have been the largest, sweetest fruit I’ve ever eaten.

There was TONS of passion fruit--my favorite!

The empty conch I found while snorkeling off a reef

ST. CROIX

Another yummy pina colada at the *Yacht Club* in St. Croix. Just practicing for when my parents get down there with their boat!

ST. JOHN–these aren’t food, but pics of sugar mill ruins

Ye olde windmill stand used for power

Remnants of copper vat used to cook down sugar
Mill was constructed of any viable building materials, including coral
PUERTO RICO

Conch salad in vinegar dressing with green peppers and white onions. Fanflippintastic!

Cerveza El Presidente (from Domican Republic). Usually not a fan of pilsner type beers, but El Pres tasted damn good. The soup is called sancocho--yam or squash-based broth with big hunks of different kinds of meat, corn, yuca. The turnover thing on the right is called a mofongo--made from friend yuca and ripe plantain. Yum!

Until next time...


Life and Death: The San Saba Feral Hog Harvest

*Please note, these are photos of a hog harvest; if you do not wish to see these, do not continue reading*

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting my friend, Liz, in San Saba, TX (2 hours NW of Austin). For the past 3 summers, Liz has been doing her field work for her PhD. Liz studies bats and her work is specifically looking at whether or not increased bat numbers, species and activity correlates with decreased insect numbers, and specifically the insects that eat pecan trees and nuts. In other words, would bats be a resource for those wanting to use organic or natural methods to control the bug populations so they would not have to spray chemicals on their pecan orchards? Pretty interesting, I think! Liz has based her research out of an organic pecan orchard along the San Saba river, owned by John and Jimma Byrd, one of the neatest couples I’ve ever met. Both John and Jimma are from the San Saba area, so they are true Texans. However, unlike the stereotypical Texas rancher or pecan grower, they are very progressive in their way of life–they only use organic methods in their orchards and vegetable garden; John rigged up a solar system so they are now “off the grid” as far as energy is concerned; Gimma feeds the hummingbirds daily (and believe you me, there are LOTS), but refuses to put red food dye in their syrup; Sally Fallon and Joel Salatin are household names–you get the picture.

Not surprisingly, John and Jimma are fantastic stewards of their land and the organisms that call it home; and this includes population management, aka hunting and fishing. On a typical day, you will find venison, squirrel, feral hog, and fish in their deep freezer. All of this food was hunted or fished right on their own land. They take only what they can use and they use it all.

The feral pig population is out of control in Texas. The first pigs were brought to Texas by the Spanish in the 1600s. More were brought over by additional settlers in the centuries following. Eventually enough of them escaped domestic life and are now essentially wild. They are incredibly adaptive, smart animals. They are omnivores and can adjust to whatever life throws them. Also contributing to their population explosion is their high reproductive rate.

The Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texas Dept. of Wildlife have given Texans the green light to harvesting as many feral hogs as possible. Sadly, many hunters kill the feral hogs only to let their carcasses rot under the hot Texas sun. This unnerves John as he only “harvests what [he] will eat” and doesn’t waste the meat. Despite the government encouraging the hunting of hogs, the population is still growing and expanding. In fact, my co-worker, who lives in North Austin near the Samsung campus said that feral pigs have now invaded their residential neighborhood, tearing up flowers, gardens and trees.

When I arrived to the Byrd property on Saturday morning, Liz and John were out in the orchard studying the damage caused by one of the moths species. They were both perplexed to see the damage considering there was a very active bat population that lived in that orchard.

Liz observing the damage caused by moths; John in the tractor. There is an elevated "bat house" in the background.

As we were riding across the orchard in the electric golf cart I could see “my hog” in it’s pen over by the compost pile. John had caught it for me, knowing I wanted to harvest one during my time out there. The trap is such that it lures the hog into the pen with corn, and then the hog trips the door, it shuts and the animal is stuck.

So there I was in the field, looking at my hog and Liz says, “Well, there’s your hog, enjoying it’s last few minutes…”

That’s when I took a breath. Ok, we really are going to kill this feral hog because I want the meat. And the population is out of control.

We zoomed around the orchard in the golf cart, taking care of a few odds and ends. We stopped over by the “butchering station” where John grabbed his .22. This is real, I thought to myself.

On the short trip back over to the cage, I thought, maybe I should pull the trigger and kill it. After all, I’m the one who wants to eat it. My biggest hesitation (besides the fact that my own hands were going to cause something to die for me to eat it) was the fact that I’ve only shot a gun once. What if I didn’t shoot it well and the hog suffered?

“BAM….BAM” The gun is shot twice. The hog is lying on the ground, bleeding through it’s nose, kicking wildly.

“Is it dead?” ask Liz and I in unison.

“Oh, it’s dead. And that kicking, that’s just a reflex. It’s dead,” said John again.

So before I could even get the words out of my mouth, that ok, maybe I will shoot the hog, it was done. Fast. No suffering. John, Liz and I hoisted it up into the back of the golf cart and made a b-line for the “slaughter” station. The pictures below capture the actual butchering.

Liz and John heading over to the honors

The hog has just been shot

Joy and John smelling the hog--it doesn't smell bad (some have stronger smells than others and that can affect the meat)

I think the look on my face says a lot...

Making the first incision to extract the organs, They need to be taken out fast so as to not ruin the meat.

Hoisting up the hog to skin

John skins the hog

Now chopping up the cuts

Now chopping up the cuts of meat

The meat I will go home with.

After carving up the meat, we put it in a dry freezer overnight that John built. In the morning John taught me how to make sausage using the hams from the feral hog and pork fat from Sand Creek Farm in Cameron, TX. We didn’t have casings, so what we made is more of a breakfast sausage. And boy, is it delicious!

John cutting up the pork fat

Cutting up the hams

Mixing the meat, fat and spices. I used lots of powdered garlic, pepper and homemade chipotle powder from John and Jimma.

And the grinding starts!

Out it comes!

All in all, I made 14 pounds of sausage. Additionally, I had two shoulders (I plan to make pulled pork), the back (good for roasts), ribs, and the tenderloins. But, I do I feel strongly that for small, local farms and producers to survive, that we have to eat all of the animal. That being said, I need to figure out how to cook (and eat) the organs.

For several days following the harvest and butchering, I woke up at night, picturing the hog in it’s final moments in life, standing in the cage, watching us from across the field. This is the closest I’ve ever come to life, death and the making of a meal. A friend with whom I served in the Peace Corps once told me that he no longer would eat beef; he said he had had to butcher cows in Bolivia and felt that he really couldn’t do that again, so he have up beef. I share similar sentiments; if I’m going to eat animals shouldn’t I feel comfortable killing and butchering them? I can only speak for myself, but for me, as someone who seeks out an intimate relationship with food and the surrounding land,  I’d have to say, yes, I should feel comfortable. Do I, in reality? No. But I am starting to warm up to it.


How ’bout Them Veggies Under the Train?

I just had to share this video–my co-worker, the market manager, sent it out to us today with the line, “Ok, maybe our market set-up and operation isn’t so tough afterall…”

When traveling internationally, markets are always part of my itinerary–you learn so much about the culture by shopping there and observing the locals.


The Clear Waters of Northern Florida

Last week I had the pleasure of taking a trip to see one of my best friends, Susan, in Gainesville, FL, her new home. The area around Gainesville is, literally, teaming with wildlife and outdoor adventures. Most of Florida is atop of what is called karst topography, which is basically porous limestone (think swiss cheese) with many springs, rivers and streams above and below ground. Sinkholes are very common in Florida because the limestone can be dissolved from beneath and then –boom–the earth falls in. Luckily, I did not get sucked into one of these.

I personally think Florida’s amazing rivers and springs get overshadowed by beaches, fake blonds and Disney. As you might guess, I did not make it to Disney (though I will admit I went multiple times as a child and loved it), nor did I dye my hair blond, but I did spend time exploring the outdoors. Needless to say, I am ready to go back any time!

First picture taken on the six hour canoe ride down the Santa Fe Fiver. And I wasn't even sore the next day!

Susan and Prairie

Parking the canoe at Lily Springs

Lily Spring--The Santa Fe River is dotted with crystal clear springs. The ripples in the water are where the springs are bubbling up.

The sign reads "Naked Ed Ahead;" Naked Ed is the real life caretaker of Lily Springs and hangs out in his bday suit all day long; we had a nice chat with him.

The Rainbow River

The Rainbow River swimming hole. And no, no one dyed the water turquoise.

The water is so gorgeous! In the background is the tallest magnolia tree I had ever seen--amazing.

Picture taken from the dock looking into the water

Yours truly swimming in Rainbow Springs