Monday, August 29, 2011

Proofreading goof: maple syrup

This is a huge apology to all those who've purchased How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers' Market. The maple syrup muffin recipe on page five omits the most important ingredient: maple syrup. One cup is required.

Immense thanks to Meredith Goad, food writer at the Portland Press Herald, for having the skill to discover this embarrassing omission. The book is also in the process of getting a larger, more professional publisher, so hopefully these proof reading humiliations will go away.

Again, profound apologies. One cup maple syrup for those maple syrup muffins!

Thank you for understanding that despite the best of intentions, oops happens.

Sandy Garson

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fast Food

When somebody tells you about a meal that's fast and easy, you have to consider the source because this is a relative judgment. Something a little less complicated than a four-star restaurant plate may seem fast and easy to a professional chef but certainly not to you or me. There is of course no getting around the fact that food preparation does need a few minutes here, a few minutes there. But if your shopping prep has been done right, it really can be just a few minutes.

And there's no need to feel guilty about "fast" food. Some of the best eating in the world comes quickly: gobbling fresh raspberries right off the vine or biting into an apple pulled from a tree or dipping a spoon into thick, creamy yogurt. How about shaving a piece of fresh cheese onto fresh bread? Speed is not the issue.

Here to prove that point are some bad Iphone photos of produce that was for sale at the farmers' market in the morning and on my table in the evening, last night to be exact.

The photo on the left shows French or breakfast radishes ready to dip into softened butter and roll in coarse salt for a truly taste bite. Salty, sweet, crunchy, pungent all at once. I carefully chose a bunch of small, uniform sized ones and left a bit of the stem on for picking them up. These were out at cocktail time with a bowl of fresh high bush blueberries, a dish of roasted almonds and two hard cheeses to be eaten in chunks without bread.

The photo on the right was the undressed phase of a crunchy refreshing salad I concocted to complement a shellfish main dish. All I had to do was chop half a bunch of celery, two small carrots, half a small kohlrabi and about a third of a fennel bulb. I sliced some baby radishes too small to serve in the preparation discussed above and threw them in for color. I minced half a bunch of flat leaf parsley in my mini processor, tossed that in and dressing that all colorful crunch with the juice of a lemon and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Salt and pepper and it was good to go. A picture of good health and great taste. Every one of my guests remarked how perfect it was.

And finally, because they really are too precious and perfect to ignore right now, I cut some really juicy, ripe heirloom tomatoes into mouth watering chunks, piled them on an oblong platter and seasoned them with freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sea salt. I minced a handful of basil leaves in my mini processor and sprinkled them all over. With a splash of olive oil, this simple but luscious dish was ready to serve.

There it was, dinner for six. Yes it took some time- about an hour with just me doing all. But it was easy and pretty fast for all that followed: French breakfast radishes with fresh butter and coarse salt, high bush blueberries, local artisan cheese, local mussels and scallops with Sardinian fregola, crunchy salad, fresh tomatoes with basil and for dessert, that blackberry clafoutis so simple and delicious I actually got a reluctant 15-year old boy to make his own this week.

So, here's to fast food and fine friends.

Monday, August 22, 2011


The sweetest words I've ever heard--right up there with: "will you marry me?"--burst from the lips of a shopkeeper who specializes in Middle Eastern food. I'd just announced my reason for coming into his store: "I've just come from the farmers' market with, finally, exquisite tomatoes, so I need to get some really good sheep milk feta and a few Greek olives. Gotta honor those tomatoes properly."

"You know how to eat," he said.

When a farmer hands over something as purely perfect in its natural state as a juicy thin skinned tomato or a plump ear of old fashioned corn or a green pint box of high bush blueberries, it's no-brainer easy. You just celebrate your good fortune in making such a catch by honoring the honest flavor of that food. Serve those height of summer blueberries in a bowl as you would cocktail nuts or a raisin snack. You cannot do this in January so it practically screams July and the special joys of summertime. It puts you in time and place; feng shui for the stomach.

Serve the gloriously succulent tomatoes ripening now simply sliced and seasoned with pinches of salt and pepper and a sprinkle of basil or parsley or cilantro and a smattering of salty feta cheese. That's the Mediterranean way that's been pleasing people for millenniums, so why mess with it.

Actually, now when the produce tide is running so high, there's not much to mess with. Just serve straight up. Celebrate the heat seeking plants in bloom with a traditional Greek salad, farmer's salad it's called: chunks of freshly picked tomatoes with slices of cucumber (pickling or Persian work best as they are closer to the original in the recipe), strips of crisp green pepper, chunks of salty sheep milk feta and a handful of fat black olives. Dress with fresh lemon juice and olive oil (2 tsp oil to 1 tsp lemon juice ), season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and enjoy the sensation of summer. Save lettuce salads for the colder times: it's a cold weather crop.

I've had a lot of company at my table this week and I've been pleasing everyone with a vibrant array of produce from the market. I boiled a bunch of beets with their greens, peeled and thinly sliced those beets into a serving bowl and added the rings of two very thinly sliced new red/purple onions that were no more than an inch in diameter. I dressed the combination with balsamic vinegar and a splash of not so fruity olive oil (which means you can't really distinguish the taste of olives in it)--3 parts vinegar to 1 part oil, seasoned it with salt and pepper and chopped a quarter of a bunch of fresh dill onto the finished product. I put out a platter of bright red tomatoes laying on a bed of fresh basil leaves along with the Moroccan carrots in my book How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers Market, as well as fresh yogurt from a local farm turned lickety split into tsatziki by the addition of salt, a pickling cucumber, two cloves of garlic and a handful of mint leaves all chopped together in my mini processor.

Magenta, crimson, orange and white touched with brilliant green: what a colorful feast for the eye! Served with fresh local crab meat adulterated only with a squirt of lemon juice, a teaspoon of capers and 1/2 cup chopped fresh chives--and served on a bed of the celery leaves cut from stalks the farmer had just harvested. Finally a wooden board of artisan cheeses, goat and cow, from my local markets and olive bread from the local bakery. Farmer's market watermelon and cookies for dessert. No muss, no fuss and not too many calories to burden the body in the heat.

For another meal, I served up those beets along with my beloved Greek farmer's salad and a big bowl of spicy new potatoes that had been parboiled and then quickly stir fried til crisp in corn oil with chilies, garlic, salt and other spices. I cooked up ears of corn, broke them in half and served in a bowl doused with fresh cilantro pesto. And finally, I diced those celery stalks into their own salad with diced radishes, fennel, pitted black olives and those sweet tokyo turnips. All of it with some smoked chicken I found.

For tonight's guests, the main dish is going to be penne with summer squash (yellow), basil, a red bell pepper and new red onions sauteed in olive oil with pine nuts, red pepper flakes, and pepperoni. Coming with it will be sliced tomatoes with chunks of fresh goat cheese and the remains of that celery salad. For dessert, blackberry clafouti, one of the easiest recipes in my book.

Right now feeding people boils down to perusing and picking luscious products at the local markets. If it's good to go, you don't have to go to much trouble to serve it up.

P.S. You may have noticed these height of summer meals do not much feature meat. That is deliberate, part of knowing how to eat. I've learned to save the heavy meat eating for cooler weather, when the body heat generated by the burning of those meaty calories is more useful and thus welcome. I start with stews in early autumn, mixing meat with the bevy of root vegetables, and move on into winter with more substantial servings. But that said, I am not thoroughly carnivorous. I am managing three to four days a week now without the help of meat/fish/chicken, and with the help of cornmeal pancakes, pasta, eggs, dairy and all sorts of beans.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Farmers Markets offer more than just food to eat

Recent book signing events have taken me to more farmers markets and let me spend more time than I normally do. The first thing I've noticed is they're astonishingly well attended, whether at 4 PM on a Monday afternoon, 2 PM on Wednesday or 11 AM on a sunny Saturday. They are powerful people magnets, even when hastily improvised in black paved parking lots--one is actually in a Wal-Mart lot-- because these somehow magically morph into colorful and lively carnivals. No wonder a market that used to be one day a week is now five days, another that used to be two is now three.

I'm also thrilled to report I never saw anyone at any farmers' market looking sad or mopey. How could they be? Food is life, so the abundance of vegetables, fruits, meats, coffee, pastries and cheese assaulting the eye at every turn makes farmers' markets founts of joy. Lots of people bring their kids and lots of kids walk away eating a freshly baked raspberry bar or with grandma wiping blueberry smush off their face. My favorite was a tow headed four-year old waving a bunch of baby carrots like a carousel ring. Hopefully it gets to be a habit.

The organic vegetable stands get as mobbed as the gluten free bakeries. People are hungry for real sun ripened tomatoes (you can tell by the cracks around the stem) heirloom or not, and good old-fashioned, non-genetically engineered corn. Interestingly, while there has been plenty of corn available in the southern tier, the difference in climate and latitude has kept it from ripening yet for northern markets. Over and over yesterday I kept hearing: "No we don't have any corn...yet." But I have been getting it 2 ears for $1 for weeks now.

Closer to sophisticated enclaves, farmers manage to show up with artichokes, microgreens and leeks. One farmers has dozens of different lettuces all started for you to grow in your yard so you can pick your own just in time for dinner. I watched one farmer sell out of green tomatoes. One woman who stopped to talk to me told me how much she loved Tokyo/salad turnips, adding that she hated regular turnips and especially "those orange Thanksgiving ones. But these little white turnips are so sweet I just eat 'em up!" Three people asked me what to do with kale.

Raspberries are gone, blackberries are moving in. Early apples are on tap. The blueberry people all sell out. Everybody is fascinated by my blueberry apple chutney; they want to rush home to make it and save it for Thanksgiving dinner.

At one market I counted five families walking away with quarts of fresh goat milk. At another they were scoring raw milk and thick freshly made yogurt--super stuff you don't find in any super market. Every Saturday people stand patiently in a long line to get extraordinary, prize winning cow milk cheeses from a local farm "where the cheese stands alone" because this is the only outlet. Yesterday people kept coming to the baker set up next to me asking for his pretzels. He sold out the first hour, disappointing not just lots of passersby but half a dozen folks who said they'd driven all the way there just to get one. "Guess I gotta come early," I heard over and over.

There were distinctly dressed Amish farmers at one market. There have been grandmothers behind stands of traditional cucumbers, potatoes and zucchini. There are always now twenty something young couples purveying snappy looking organic herbs, roots and greens. A retired schoolteacher has taken up cheese making and offers delicious fromage blanc marinated in herb infused oil. A now middle aged couple has made a smashing success of a flower farm whose stand is consistently festooned with all sorts of bouquets and colorful plants. One nurseryman drives three hours each way to sell his perennials and hanging baskets.

And then there are the three different markets every week. They come from Fresh Start Farm, a miraculous social integration scheme figured out by an NGO called The New American Sustainable Agriculture Project. Its program Cultivating Community provides these refugees with farm plots for which they are totally responsible. They choose what to raise and how; they figure out how to market it. Most now go to farmers' markets where they meet and mingle with the surrounding community. At one market, I stopped to ask them if they had fava beans and if they made a traditional fava bean dish of the region: ful mudammas. No, they weren't growing the beans but yes, the smiles on their faces grew large talking about ful. Talking about food, anywhere in the world, always becomes instant integration. Eating is what we all share.

At one book signing this week, I was stationed right next to another group of Somalis and watched as almost everybody who came to that market came to their stand. Many sported such big smiles and gave such friendly hellos to the couple sitting behind the carrots and cabbages, I thought they were old friends, then rationalized maybe just steady customers. But most were neither. They were just trying to be polite, decent folks. Several gray haired men stopped to talk because they'd somehow been involved in the region and had memories. The teenager was sprawled on the back seat of the truck sound asleep but as his parents chatted away, their piles of produce sinking down to nothing, the planet seemed suddenly civilized and glorious.

And even though some who stopped to talk to me told me their troubles, which were considerable, they were at that precious moment so happy to talk about turnips or making an apricot tart or eating the dandelion greens grandmother pulled and served. So at this time when the world is laid very very low, farmers markets are a real high because there's nothing like the taste of joie de vivre.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Raw Power

For the past few weeks, I have been introducing people--at my house and at my talks and cooking demos--to Tokyo turnips, aka salad turnips and Hakurei turnips. These are those small white orbs that, bunched together, look like fat radishes or perhaps albino beets. I only discovered them myself two years ago when they started showing up at farmers' markets. I've not seen them in supermarkets at all.

Tokyo turnips are usually sold with their greens attached. The greens are where most of the nutrition is; they are in fact a healthful powerhouse. But the greens need to be cooked so it's best to separate them immediately from the turnips, which you can eat raw. Rinse just before using and pat dry. Last week I chopped the greens up with all the greens from a bunch of beets that I normally would have thrown out. I sauteed the mess of greens in olive oil, black pepper and garlic with a pinch of ground coriander. I served this beside roasted chicken and, frankly, there was something spiritually satisfying about knowing my body was absorbing super food for good health. Cheap food too. And to be honest, food that a year ago I would've trashed as useless. This is the joy of cooking: new discovery of old wisdom.

As for the turnips themselves, a fine source of vitamin C, so few people have ever experienced them that I've had to pass out small chunks to encourage them to taste. One bite hooks them. After all, what can be easier than just slicing something up and serving it? If the turnips are young and fresh, you don't even have to bother to peel them, unless they've sprouted root hairs. That's fast food! And a grail for those who want to join the raw craze.

These little turnips do not have pungency; like kohlabi, they are meek and mild. Normally I just slice a few turnips into my green salads, where they contribute crunch and white color. Sometimes I peel off thin slices with a peeler and combine them with thin strips of carrot and daikon, for an unusual slaw I season with salt, pepper, dill seeds and apple cider vinegar with just a splash of olive oil. This past week when a friend came for lunch, I sliced four turnips into thin disks and combined them in a bowl with fresh, crisp snow peas, also from the farmers' market. With salt and pepper, I added toasted sesame seeds and dressed the crunchy salad with just a splash of pure sesame oil. My friend loved it so much, she took home all the turnips I had left.

Two days later I did the same thing, only first I quickly stir fried the turnips and snow peas with a minced garlic clove in a bit of corn oil. This made a colorful side dish for fish. Other friends are coming soon and I'm going to make the recipe in my book, How to Fix a Leek and Other Food from Your Farmers' Market. that combines the greens with the turnips in a pretty presentation. It's really fun to turn people on to something good to eat, especially when it's cheap, fast and extremely healthy food. I'm so glad I was adventurous enough to try these turnips when I first spotted them two years ago.