Upper West Side I

Battled the mist, and ignored the intermittent rain, Sunday to find one of the Upper West Side's many greenmarkets. Despite what the CENYC says, the market is no longer at 77th and Columbus although the flea market at that location was a welcome surprise. I left it laden with horseradish pickles, fresh local mozzarella and chocolate chip cookies. The farmers’ market was only a couple more blocks up Columbus at 79th. Roughly eight tents were braving the cold haze, offering pretzels, produce and potted plants. (The flowers bobbed in the breeze, like bright aliens stuck on a forlorn planet). Grazin’ Angus and Milk Thistle, both from Ghent, NY, were also on hand, although no cheese, yogurt, pork or poultry providers were found. (Dan Gibson of Grazin' Angus Acres was just interviewed about their beef; to listen, go here.)

All in all, I think it was worth the trip, not only because of the market’s proximity to that old-school foodie classic – Zabars (80th and Broadway) – which offered a dozen more yummy things to taste, mostly from farms far far away.

photo by David Anderson


Why "HungryNibbler"?

Because this blog is about what happens before we eat. Planting, raising, harvesting, viewing, touching, buying, chopping and cooking. Hunger is the drive that inspires all of the above. Today’s hunger, tomorrow’s hunger, next year’s hunger.

And I’m a farm-ophile, but not a farmer (although a girl can dream, right?). While I mostly miss out on the growing and butchering, I embrace the shopping and preparation stages of a meal. Anyone who handles these later stages without tasting and sampling is more disciplined than I. My palate enjoys the education. What does this taste like raw, cooked slightly, cooked thoroughly…

Appetite. Flavor curiousity. HungryNibbler.


Cooking Brain Drain

A reason for avoiding processed foods, when possible, that has nothing to do with cancer, campaigns or carbon footprints:

“The whole trend of American family cooking, since the 1940s, had been toward faster and easier, and things that were already prepared. It was gradually whittling away the very essence of what it meant to cook dinner for your family.

It’s like the story of the farmer who decided that his mule was eating too much and he gradually fed the mule less and less. And just when he’d trained the mule to live on nothing, the damn mule died on him. That’s kind of what’d happened to American family cooking.”

-David Goines -- known for his Art Nouveau posters (here is the first for Chez Panisse) and for being an early boyfriend, and later collaborator, of Alice Waters -- quoted in The United States of Arugula, by David Kamp.

photo by Dstudio


Parsley's Second Act

My kitchen’s most perishable item is always my most demanding boss. It breathes down my neck, threatening to wilt or rot if I don’t do something already. As nerve-wracking as this can be, at least this manager, perhaps out of desperation, espouses belief in me.

We always seem to have too much fresh parsley. It comes in a big bunch and a few sprigs get used. This has resulted in a house staple: Parsto!

A simple variation on the basil standby, it can be spread on warm bread, mixed with pasta, brushed on large mushrooms before roasting or, my favorite (not only because it gets rid of two perishable items), blended with leftover cooked rice and served as a dip. It also freezes well, so I usually make as much as I can.

Parsley Pesto

1 cup packed fresh parsley
1 shallot (optional)
3 cloves garlic
3 Tbs walnuts
4 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs white wine vinegar
salt, ground pepper and crushed red pepper to taste

Combine first four ingredients in a food processor. Process until garlic looks like corn meal. Add the liquids and seasonings. Process to mix.

photo by Sefaoncul


From Phish to Farm?

The Greenhorns is an upcoming documentary, by Severine Von Tscharner Fleming, about young people, going against The Man, by becoming farmers.

Here’s the trailer.

These ‘hipster farmers’ have also been covered by the NYT, the Huffington Post, The Boston Globe and several other notable publications.

The articles are compelling but are these just a few starry eyed hippies, with good PR skills, born in the wrong decade? Or is this a full-fledged movement?

My science background compels me to find the hard numbers behind tales of young faces rescuing ancient seeds. So I countered counterculture rules and turned to, that’s right, The Man.

Any census is going to miss some rural and small-scale operations, but the USDA has been (arguably) doing their best to keep tabs. Here’s some of their data:

Since World War II, the numbers of farms in the US has generally been declining. But between 2002 and 2007, that trend reversed. In five years, 300,000 new farms were created and “these new farms tend to have more diversified production, fewer acres, lower sales and younger operators who also work off farm,” reports the USDA.

Almost 40% of male farmers under 25, and more than half of those between 25-34, have no inter-generational mentor working along side them. This doesn’t tell us definitively whether or not they were born into the business, but it does suggest that many young people, like Benjamin Shute (formerly of hip-central Williamsburg) and partner Miriam Latzer, are indeed “first-generation farmers.” (Latzer told the NYT, her parents “wonder what planet I am from.”)

Despite an increase in organic farms, New York is one of only a handful of states that has seen a reduction in local farms. Still, the greenhorns are rising. In 1997, there were 156 New Yorkers under the age of 25 running farms. Five years later, there were 228. Among those under 35, the number rose from 1344 to 1874 during the same period. That’s almost a 40% increase.

Now the psych-trained part of me is intrigued. What is drawing young people to this way of life? Added to the process-it-yourself food movement, I have to ask:

Is domesticity the new rebellion?

picture by Niderlander


Flower Children - They're what's for dinner

I love the over-sized smile of a sunflower just as much as the next gal, but what I found at Fort Greene’s greenmarket one Saturday, has made me all set to start murdering her young. Veal de flower!

Warm Wilted Sunflower Sprout Salad

(serves two)

2 large shallots, chopped
2-4 slices of pancetta, chopped
1 Tbs fennel seeds
6 cups sunflower sprouts
1 cup baby watercress (optional)

Sauté shallots in oil-coated pan. Add pancetta; brown slightly. Add fennel seeds and allow to toast in pan. Stir. Add sprouts; don’t stir. If pan is very dry, cover. Wait for sprouts to wilt ever so slightly. Uncover, stir in watercress. Dish and drizzle with lemon juice or balsamic. Serve immediately.

Sunflower photo by Petr Vaclavek


Obamas to Plant Vegetable Garden on White House Lawn!

I wonder what that terroir is like!

NYT coverage: The president has promised to help pull weeds.

Map of planned garden, on the south lawn, where the Obama girls can keep watch from their swing set.

illustration by Marincas Andrei


Slow Food Mother

The philosophy?

“I just was looking for flavor.” (video)

Here, here Ms. Waters!

(Her daughter, featured in the accompanying clip Exclusive: Home Cooking, reminds me of my younger sister: ‘McDonalds French fries??? Eeeew...’)


Nice to Meet You

Discovering a new ingredient at a farmer’s market is like meeting a potential new friend at a party. The small talk is basically the same, and when the answers click, excitement grows, and before you know it you are going home together. (Fortunately, my hubby is open to this sort of threesome.)

I tried to play it cool this weekend but when bright greens winked at me with yellow flowers, I stumbled over myself to ask, who are you?
Choy sum, of course.

Oh, okay. And where are you from?
China, by way, of upstate New York.

What do you do for a living?
What? Have you been living under a rock? Think of me as the savoir-faire of greens. More tender then kale or spinach, but not meek like arugula and romaine. All the sweetness, but none of the bloat, of Bibb and generally refraining from any ornery bitterness no matter my situation...

Its brag was not unfounded:

Some Choy Sum Dish

Olive oil
~ ½ cup Broth (optional)
3 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2-3 inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled, minced or pressed
3 medium shallots, slices
1 cup fresh soybeans, shelled
1 small bell pepper (preferably not green), diced
2 bunches choy sum, bottom stems mostly removed (about 4 cups leaves and flowers)
2 Tbs sesame seeds
Fish sauce and cayenne to taste.

Coat a pan in olive oil. Sauté on medium heat garlic, ginger, shallots - with or without broth - until tender, adding fish sauce and cayenne as the shallots begin to release some of their liquid.

Add soybeans and sauté until no longer crisp but still firm. Add pepper and half of the sesame seeds. Sauté 30 seconds before adding choy sum. Cover and allow greens to wilt, stirring intermittently. Adjust seasonings. Serve with steamed rice.


Back to Our Salad Days

My former mentor at Psychology Today magazine, Hara Estroff Marano, chose to highlight salad dressings in the current issue. (Why does a psych publication have a recipe section? No idea, but they are usually healthy, simple and good.) She points out that the right oil helps the body absorb all the benefits of vegetables and describes dressing as the critical choice for your next salad treat.

Treat? Salads have become so familiar, almost obligatory, that their potential pleasure is often snowed out in a blizzard of mayo or, worse, suffered through dry and parched under the glare of lemon.

Perhaps it would help to remember that salads were, for a time, forbidden. They were the pork rinds, trans fats and Twinkies of the Middle Ages -- particularly in England.

Doctors advised meat and starch diets, coupled with strong warnings against salads. It was believed that fresh greens would spoil in the belly and anyone who could afford to avoid them, should.

So the savages ate sorrel while the well-to-do ate stale crust. This was, of course, after the wisdom of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, avid salad-chompers, had been lost.

To get in touch with my inner savage (or Plato?), I turn to the below standby. Yesterday, I used frisee and Italian arugula from Rexcroft Farm in Athens, NY, which, thanks to their greenhouse and hydroponic techniques, have lettuce all year long. As for the dressing, don’t forget the salt – it’s the ingredient that gives salad its name.

Primal Salad

4 cups any fresh lettuce
¼ cup pine nuts or any nut that’s handy (toasted)
shaved hard cheese to taste (parm is perfect)

Dressingadapted from the Psychology Today recipe mentioned above
¼ cup Olive oil
2 Tbs Vinegar
1/2 Tbs Zest*
½ tsp Ground mustard powder
½ tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste.

Mix and toss with salad greens. Top with nuts and cheese.

*I used Buddha hand – a beautiful and creepy fruit that grabbed me by the elbow as I was shopping on a non-farmer market day. Lemon or orange would work just as well.

Picture by Andreja Donko


Double Market Day

Ventured over to Fort Greene in Brooklyn yesterday and – after circling three quarters of the park, losing hope and cursing the official schedule – found a dozen tents selling produce, turkey, an array of meats, Ronnybrook dairy, Cato Cheese, potted herbs and baked goods. Almost all the farms represented also have a presence at Grand Army Plaza (also on Saturdays). That market is at least double in size and I enjoy the stand comparisons that are possible in the bigger markets but if Fort Greene is more convenient it will provide almost everything, including a spot to drop your compost and a park for a hilly walk.

Borough Hall’s farmer’s market (Thursday and Saturday, most of the year; Tuesday when it is nice out) is in sore need of dairy and meat providers. Its produce and plant selections, however, are extensive and, combined with a trip to Fort Greene (20 minute walk), it can provide a week’s needs.

I went to Borough first and, to fuel the walk to Greene, I grabbed a berry muffin (GF) from Wilklow Orchards, which has the good fortune to be located on Pancake Hollow Rd in Highland, NY. Nestled against a bench arm, I dove into the muffin’s ultra-sweet top un-explicably adorned with a slice of apple. There is something to a freshly-baked treat on a crisp day, eaten outside, gumming up your mittens… It was so satisfying I grabbed another for the man of the house on the way home. Positive reviews all ‘round.


Breaking Research on Affects of Farmers' Markets

Many research studies, to be frank, read to me like, “Well, duh.” Major finding such as “Children suffer when parents are depressed,” “Poor more likely to be neglected by doctors,” and “Teenage mothers at risk for cigarette-related lung cancer” give me the overwhelming need to sit back with “Well…”

Often (but not always), these are correlation-based findings. I do not mean to discount this type of research. It can be extremely valuable, especially in the long-term. It’s just… I’m more a causation gal.

Tell me the nitty-gritty of HOW it gets from A to Z, and I’ll get on the train. That often means the train runs late (and admittedly, sometimes too late – which is why I follow schedule changes), but at least I know it is on track and not headed off a cliff.

Here’s one such “beat-rush-hour” special that came out yesterday. For this evening, I’ll push the cynic out the caboose and belt what my gut is telling me, “Well… Duh!”

Farmer’s Market Improves Healthy Eating Habits of Shoppers


Egg Fortunes from the Fertile Crescent

As we ate lunch, I asked a colleague what foods are grown nearby. He became obviously offended, as if I had called his country Hicksville. I backpedaled, explaining that I understood Iraq has modernized and now gets imports from all over; I was simply curious what is possible to grow. “Nothing… except lamb,” he said, laughing over his lamb kebab.

This is, of course, untrue. Iraq was once considered the bread basket of the Middle East and even if agriculture has suffered in recent decades, in many areas, as much as 80% of the population are farmers. What do they grow other than meat? Wheat, barley, corn, dates, grapes, olives… This time of year, there are oranges hanging from trees even in cities and I see weeds peeping out of cracks in the street that might as well be salad. The Kurdish countryside is just getting green, although not as lush as it will be in a few weeks. Soon, it will hurry to decorate the hills and mountainsides in time for the spring holiday, Newroz.

Judging on the change in scenery, I decide to try the eggs again. Chickens are raised primarily at city perimeters in Iraq, and my guess is, this time of year, they snatch up some of those luscious looking weeds I am tempted to sauté in garlic and olive oil.

During two previous trips to Iraq, last October and January, I ate more boiled eggs than I care to remember. (Reader, please note, this was out of hunger and lack of options, not desire.) What struck me about these eggs (and where I placed the blame for their inability to satiate) was the yolk. It was white – identical in hue to its surrounding. The yolk’s flavor had none of the sultry flavor I have come to expect. It was nothing but texture. A flavorless white crumble.

This morning, though, I unpeeled a small hard-boiled egg and bit through egg white into a tulip-yellow yolk, slightly coated in blue grey. (Most yolks have this coat when boiled; we just forget about it until Easter.) The flavor was so satisfying I was happy with one (although I’ll need to add another to tomorrow’s breakfast) and I am giving all credit to the weather. Spring has sprung here. The weather has all the fickle moodiness of late March/early April back home – and the prickly grass to match.

So based on my unscientific analysis, I would like to make a prediction: pastured eggs from NJ and NY are on the verge of getting very very good.

photo by Darren Fisher


Missing the Forbidden

I’ve been in Iraq only a few days and already I am craving the most heavenly of animals, which this whole region, sadly, never puts to tongue. Yes, I am talking PIG.

Luckily, I have an active imagination and will pretend I am eating grass-finished pork ribs from the Hudson Valley while I polish off whatever actually ends up on my plate --most likely charred kebab or rice and beans (think, Campbell’s Pork ‘n Beans, minus the sugar and, of course, the pork.)

Strategizing in advance, I tried out the below shortly before I left the US. I bought the pork in December, with the knowledge it would keep in the freezer for six months but ignorant of how necessary they would become. (Indeed, they will be polished off twice!) They were (are?) from Hawthorne Valley farm, which we visited in February. Happy to report that the pigs looked as happy as I do when swallowing their flesh.

Cocoa Pork Ribs

4 Pork Ribs

Cocoa rub
2 Tbs whole cardamom seeds
2 Tbs fennel seeds
3 Tbs unsweetened cocoa
2 Tbs brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cayenne (or more)
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste)

Grind cardamom and fennel seeds in food processor until fine. Add other ingredients and stir until well mixed. Rub thickly on rinsed and patted dry meat, up to a day in advance.

Sear on both sides, on medium heat. Cook through.

* picture by Robyn Mackenzie


Green Purses: When Veggies get Rich

A few days ago, I found myself with a need to kill time and hunger pangs in the dimly-lit outer section of the Istanbul airport. A scheduling issue had forced me from the rather benign, if too bright, international zone; I was banned from all things duty-free and restaurant-y until 11 pm. The clock, impaled in the middle of a walk way, stubbornly kept insisting it was just after four. I paced. And then, following a sign for Burger King, happened upon a circle of food stands.

Each stall, whether it was offering Chinese, Italian or Turkish had its red dish (ravioli, Manchurian chicken, sambal-sauced meat), its grey dish (old pesto, sautéed veal, lamb kekabs) and tan-green sandwiches. (Yes, it is a color; I saw it there, with my own eyes.) I circled. Circled again.

Still baffled by my options (floured-this and dough-stuffed-or-topped-that), I went around a third time, now in the familiar hunch of forlorn stomachs everywhere. A man approached (a Messiah? A flirt?) with "You are a celiac, aren’t you?"

Within minutes he was scooping me dolma, stuffed vegetables, in this case, green bell peppers. Yes, they too were grey, but they were also oozing with olive oil and I was reminded, once again, of my fondness for rich savory mixtures wrapped in tangy accommodating vegetables. (Stuffed grape leaves are among my very favorites, but you gotta take what you can get.)

Even their name, to my mouth, seems to recreate the experience of eating a stuffed vegetable; the "d’s" slightly firm but never crisp beginning, releases into the unctuous chew "ol", and then a closing bite against succulent veggie skin: "ma!"

Last week, a craving for stuffed cabbage hit me when I only had napa in the house. It turned out to be a blessing (I add oh, so, modestly), even if it was slightly harder to work with small leaves. Napa is sweet, so go savory on the beef seasoning – and avoid any temptation to add tomato. (Really, some will disagree, but the acid will drown all the other flavors out.) The Napa’s contrast with the earthiness of the portabellos caused my fork to bounce between the two like a ball at a tennis match.

The cabbage came from D and J organics at the Monday market in Union Square. The portabellas were from Madura Farm on Pine Island, which sells mushrooms and lots of other produce in Union Square, but really only mushrooms (Shiitake, Maitake, Portobello, Crimini, Oyster…) at Prospect Park on Saturdays. According to the Valley Table, Madura plans to start offering morels and heirloom apples in the near future. My mouth is watering already.

Stuffed Napa Cabbage and Portabellas
Serves 2-3

Outside of Napa Cabbage head – about 16 leaves
6-8 small deep portabellos
2 cups ground beef sautéed in garlic and onions, seasoned to taste
2/3 cup bread crumbs
1 small egg
½ chopped parsley (optional)

Place the leaves in boiling water, using tongs to protect the tops while the stems become slightly tender. (Keep in mind leaf will continue to cook once removed and cooling down.) Then submerge entire leaf for about 30 seconds. Remove and allow to cool on dry towels.

Place mushrooms, stems removed, in boiling water. Boil until slightly tender, about 3-4 minutes. This will turn the water a deep flavorful chestnut color – which I stashed into my freezer for a future, as yet un-conjured, dish. Cool and drain on towels, hollow side down.

Whisk egg in medium bowl. Add cool ground beef (I used leftovers from a previous meal). Add bread crumbs, 1/3 cup at a time and mix. (It is rather fun to mix this with your hands.) Stir in parsley.

Smooth oil over the bottom of a baking dish. Set oven to 350. Place spoonful of beef mixture in the middle of a leaf. Fold tender sides around and curl stem up. Secure with a tooth pick. Place in pan. Repeat for each leaf.

Pack meat mixture into the bottom of a portabella cap – working in small spoonfuls, until deeply and securely packed. Place in pan, meat side up.

Bake for about an hour. Serve with wild rice.


Childhood Tossed with Pasta

Dandelions make me remember

being five in Texas. I know these greens more for their yellow flowers that sprouted over the yard and drove my father crazy. I would wait with great anticipation as these lovely weeds turned into delicate fluffy balls that simply had to be blown as hard as I could, sending all those seeds soaring out over the yard swinging gaily from their fuzzy parachutes – and ultimately planting more for next year. (Sorry, Dad.) Not sure I ever decided which is more fun: blowing bubbles or blowing dandelion seeds. But now I know which can ultimately taste better.

The following came together as fast as makeshift pesto. Dandelion can be bitter, so I went heavy on the pasta, light on the sauce.

Dandelion Pasta

1½ cup minced (read, food processed) dandelion greens, lower stems discarded.
2 shallots, finally chopped or processed
4 large garlic cloves
2 Tbs olive oil
½ cup broth
Kosher salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper to taste
¼ cup toasted pine nuts

Shaved parmesan

Heat oil in sauté pan. Add shallots; sauté until soft. Use garlic press to add garlic (or mince garlic and add.) When shallots have caramelized, add dandelion greens and broth. Season and simmer until soft.

Use to dress prepared pasta or spread on bread as an app. Sprinkle with pine nuts.

dandelion photo © Sherri Camp