Once upon a time, my friend’s preteen daughter had a girlfriend over and the two decided to make hot chocolate.
“There’s only one packet left,” her daughter lamented, exhibiting the depleted Swiss Miss box.
Her mom offered, “There’s milk and cocoa and sugar, you could make your own hot chocolate.”
“Okay which do you want,” the daughter asked her friend, “the milk and cocoa and sugar or real hot chocolate?”
I was struck by how processed and packaged foods have become “real” food; the norm, while scratch cooking seems an old-fashioned, quaint, almost deviant behavior.
Enter Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” explores the question of “What should we eat?” with a level of fascination that is contagious. Pollan argues that how we answer this question has a staggering impact on our health, environment, natural resources, food safety, and local economies. Pollan traces the source of a fast food hamburger through the entire food production chain, through industrial farms and feedlots; and discusses the grave repercussions to our health and climate caused by “industrial eating.”
Some of Pollan’s conclusions are summarized in this brief interview (from michaelpollan.com):
Which is more important: buying locally made or grown foods or organic foods?
Given the choice, buy local over organic. Often local food is organic, but farmers may not have the capital to deal with all the paperwork involved.
But I do buy organic chickens because they aren’t fed antibiotics or growth hormones. And I buy organic milk — but I look for milk from cows that have been grass-fed. Sometimes you can find that information on the label.
Doesn’t organic food often cost more?
It’s a crime that only the fairly affluent in this country can afford to eat healthy food. But the problem is not that food is so expensive. It’s that industrial food is so cheap. And the real cost is being charged to the public health. If we spent more on healthier food, my guess is we could spend a lot less on health care.
So what’s an ordinary supermarket shopper to do?
Shop somewhere else. Get out of the supermarket and go to farmers markets, where the food is fresh, tastes better, is more nutritious, and you know it hasn’t been processed. It forces you to be a non-industrial eater, and your children learn that carrots are not industrially lathed little bullets.
Enter Christina Pirello
I remember when I first read Pirello’s recommendation in “Cooking the Whole Foods Way” that we should change the way we shop. Instead of going to the store with a list, we should see what looks freshest and best and make something with that. It’s funny how backward that seemed to me at the time. But in the past few years I’ve re-wired my thinking, so I do go to the store and ask “what can I buy here that’s local?”
“Food miles” account for a surprisingly large portion of the average American carbon footprint. Sierra Club website reports that the average meal travels 1500 miles before reaching our plates.
Buying local is good for the environment and good for the local economy. It’s fun to discover what foods are grown and products are made locally.
The selection in the middle of the winter can be scarce, but there’s no better time than September for eating local in MN!
Enter Kingfield Farmers Market
8:30-1:00pm Sundays, May through October, 4310 Nicollet Ave South
You will not find bananas at Kingfield Farmer’s Market, as all the produce, sauces, salsas, pickles, and jams are grown/canned locally. There are also food stands to die for, like Foxy Falafel and Chef Shack. Yum!
On Sunday I hit the market hoping to score some Zestar Apples, as my friend and apple enthusiast John Jerry reminded me that the peak season for this fantastic University of MN bred apple ends early.
While I was at the market, I loaded up with all the produce that would fit in my bike panniers. I chose red potatoes, beets, green beans, and cherry tomatoes. I thought I’d make a hearty potato salad with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in to make it a full meal.
I started with a simple potato salad recipe I’ve made before, and riffed on it according to what I had at home and what I bought at the farmers market. Here’s what I came up with:
My husband Brian said, “It looks a little gory.” Thanks, honey! “But I’m sure it will taste good!” And he was right, it did. Here’s the recipe, and you can easily omit the beets if you’re not into the pink thing.
Allison’s Pink Potato Salad
1.5 cups dry kidney beans
12 small red potatoes-the size of a kiwi.
6 small red beets (the size of a ping-pong ball) with beet greens
1 lb of green beans
1/2 pound of cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup Cider Vinegar
1/4 cup Stone ground Mustard, Local Folks brand
1/4 cup Canola Oil
3 large cloves of garlic
1 bunch of parsley
2 tsp sugar
salt to taste (start with a 1/2 tsp?)
beet stems, steamed
2 TBS minced shallot added after processing.
Rinse and soak dry Kidney Beans overnight, or to “fast soak” bring to a boil in 6 cups of water, cover, turn off the heat and let soak for an hour. They still need to be cooked, but this replaces soaking them overnight. To cook, simmer on low for 1-1.5 hours, until tender. The liquid left can be reserved and used for soup stock.
Cut the the tops and tails off the beets and the eyes out of the potatoes but don’t peel either of them. Put them into a large pot and filled with salted water. Bring to a boil and cook for 20-25 minutes. Pierce a potato with a fork to make sure it’s tender, but still firm. Best not to overcook potatoes for potato salad. The beets I had were very small, smaller than the potatoes, so I knew the beets would be done if the potatoes were. If you have larger potatoes/beets you could cut them in half before boiling to reduce cooking time.
Rinse the green beans and cut the stems off. Rinse beet greens, leave the stems on. I have a two tiered bamboo steamer so I put the rinsed beets greens (with stems) in one basket and green beans in the other. I steamed them on top of the potato pot as the potatoes were cooking. Both of the steamer baskets were crammed full, so the steaming took longer than usual, over 15 minutes. The green beans were still crisp but good. Depending on your set up, steaming usually takes 5-10 minutes.
I thought the beet stems might be too fibrous for the salad, so I decided to grind them up into the dressing. They gave it an extra beet-y flavor and pink color.
Cut the green beans in thirds, cut the potatoes in the quarters, peel the cooked beets with a paring knife and cut them into quarters, and load them all into a large mixing bowl with the beet greens and kidney beans.
First I used the food processor to mince the shallots. Then I took the shallots out and set them aside because I didn’t want to liquefy them in the dressing. Next I put all the other dressing ingredients in the food processor and blended until smooth. Then I tossed the dressing and shallots into the salad. I served it garnished with cherry tomatoes.
And we all ate happily ever after.