Ms. Madison is not a vegetarian, and meat figures in more than one of her other cookbooks. But it was Ms. Madison—as a founder of the San Francisco restaurant Greens, which opened in 1979—who gave America its first taste of delicious menus of food that deliberately did not include any meat or fish. Having cooked for two years at Chez Panisse, probably the first American restaurant to focus on seasonal, local ingredients, and having later been a student (and cook) for many years at the San Francisco Zen Center, of which Greens was a part, Ms. Madison created arguably the first vegetarian restaurant to appeal to everyone.
I recently emailed Ruth Reichl, who I knew had written about California’s restaurant scene in the 1970s and ’80s, asking what she recalled of Greens when it opened. “It was a very big deal,” she responded. “The only vegetarian restaurants at the time were horrible macrobiotic places, and along comes this beautiful place on the water with such delicious food. James Beard and Chuck Williams were both fans, as I recall. Marion Cunningham too.”
I was thrilled to see that her brief discussion on knives, originally subtitled “Your Most Important Tool,” is now called: “Your Other Most Important Tool.”
What does she now recognize as your most important tool? “Your hands.” Thank you, chef.
Then she wrote a book to figure out what understanding such botanical connections could mean to a cook: “Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening With Twelve Families From the Edible Plant Kingdom” (2013). “When we look closely at the plants we eat and begin to discern their similarities,” she writes in the introduction to this substantial and lovely volume, “that intelligence comes with us into the kitchen and articulates our cooking in a new way.” She considers lily (including onions), grass, mint, knotweed (including rhubarb), legume and morning glory (sweet potatoes), among other groups of foods.
I loved her chapter on the alluring and dangerous nightshade family: belladonna (deadly nightshade), eggplants, husk tomatoes, peppers and chiles, potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco. The alkaloids in these plants can be toxic, yet it’s hard to imagine a kitchen without peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. Ms. Madison gives us history, botanical facts and, ultimately, recipes. And guess what? These related ingredients—eggplants and tomatoes and potatoes and peppers—pair fabulously well for countless dishes.
It is astonishing (and delightful) to learn that the cabbage family, which she calls “the sometimes difficult crucifers,” includes such diverse plants as arugula, bok choy, cauliflower, collards, horseradish and wasabi, tatsoi and turnips. And not a poisonous plant among them.
You are in good hands here.
1. Rachel Laudan: Is the fresh the enemy of good canned food?
2. Bill Marler: Raw Milk is a Risky Elixir
3. Michael Ruhlman and Donna Turner Ruhlman: Vegetable Porn
4. Erin Durkin – Daily News: Mayor de Blasio 5. Supports Ban On Using Food Stamps For Sugary Drinks
5. AP/USA Today: The new face of food stamps: working-age Americans
6. Jenny Hopkinson – Politico: USDA wades into unpaid meals issue – Chipotle at it again – States seek to limit farm surveillance by drones
7. Bettina Elias Seigal – Civil Eats: State of the Tray: Will Recent Improvements in School Food be Rolled Back?
8. Luke Runyon – Harvest Media: USDA predicts low corn prices here to stay
9. Layla Eplett – Food Matters – Scientific American: Seeing The Forest Through The Trees: How Wild Foods May Contribute To Food Security
10. Stephan Guyenet – Whole Health Source: Mindless Eating
This Thanksgiving, Be More Grateful than Wasteful
Dana Gunders | Switchboard | NRDC | November 13, 2013
Nationwide, consumers will purchase around 736 million pounds of turkey this Thanksgiving, of which about 581 million pounds will be actual meat. The USDA reports that 35% of perfectly good turkey meat in the U.S. does not get eaten after it is purchased by consumers (and that’s not including bones). This compares with only 15% for chicken. Why is so much more turkey wasted than chicken? “Possibly because turkey is more often eaten during holidays when consumers may tend to discard relatively more uneaten food than on other days,” the USDA writes.
And unless we take action to prove the USDA wrong, we’ll be throwing away about 204 million pounds of that meat and about 1 million tons of CO2 and 105 billion gallons of water with it. Per pound, the resources needed to produce that turkey are equivalent to driving your car 11 miles and taking a 130-minute shower (at 4 gallons/minute).* The price tag on that nationwide will be $282 million, according to prices from the Farm Bureau’s annual Thanksgiving price survey. And that’s to say nothing of the vast amounts of antibiotics used to produce turkey meat, leading to antibiotic resistance, which you can read more about here.
This T-Day, Buy Less Than You Think
Dana Gunders | The Switchboard | NRDC | November 20, 2013
Here’s a hint: Buy less than you think. If you’re hosting anything like the average Thanksgiving dinner for ten, almost a third of that dinner will go to waste this year.
In fact, across the nation, about 204 million pounds of turkey will get thrown away over this Thanksgiving. This costs us money – about $277 million as a nation – and is a waste of all the resources it took to get that turkey to our table. Resources for which, in theory, we are supposed to be celebrating on this exact holiday!
How many resources? Depending on which estimate you use, that amount of discarded turkey required over 100 billion gallons of water – enough to supply New York City for 100 days — and created somewhere between 230,000 – 1 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions.
And it’s not just turkey. If we apply the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates of how much food is never eaten to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual informal survey of the cost of Thanksgiving dinner, here’s a tally of what actually gets wasted over the average Thanksgiving dinner for ten:
This Thanksgiving, Shop Smart: Buy a Turkey Raised Without Antibiotics
Sasha Lyutse | Civil Eats | November 22, 2013
This Thanksgiving, you can do your part to support farmers who are keeping antibiotics working for people by shopping smart. By choosing USDA Organic or turkey sold under a “No Antibiotics Administered” label, consumers can reward turkey farmers who are using best practices. Under the organic standard, meat producers are not allowed to use antibiotics, with some exceptions. The “No antibiotics administered” or similar labels, such as “No antibiotics ever” are regulated by USDA but are not verified. These claims are more reliable if they are coupled with a “USDA Process Verified” seal. Also consider other labels, such as “animal welfare approved” and “certified humane,” which mean that antibiotics were only used to treat sick animals.
But shoppers beware: “All Natural” has nothing to do with how an animal is raised.
USDA plan to speed up poultry-processing lines could increase risk of bird abuse
Kimberly Kindy | The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Nearly 1 million chickens and turkeys are unintentionally boiled alive each year in U.S. slaughterhouses, often because fast-moving lines fail to kill the birds before they are dropped into scalding water, Agriculture Department records show.
Now the USDA is finalizing a proposal that will allow poultry companies to accelerate their processing lines, with the aim of removing pathogens from the food supply and making plants more efficient. But that would also make the problem of inhumane treatment worse, according to government inspectors and experts in poultry slaughter.
What’s for Thanksgiving? Hopefully Not More Crippling Pain for Poultry Workers
Rena Steinzor | The Huffington Post | November 26, 2013
Thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), ever the mindless booster of corporate profits, that turkey at the center of the table already disappoints both expectations, and if USDA has its way, matters are about to get much worse. Hiding behind disingenuous promises to “modernize” the food safety system, USDA has decided to pull federal food inspectors off the line at poultry processing plants across the nation. No new preventative measures to ensure that poultry is free of salmonella would happen. And already crowded, bloody, stinking lines would speed up dramatically — to as many as 175 birds per minute, or three birds/second. Workers who suffer grave ergonomic injuries from the repetitive motions of hanging, cutting, and packing the birds would endure conditions that are two or three times worse than the status quo.
Sen. Tester asks USDA to postpone plans to finalize poultry inspection program
Kimberly Kindy | The Washington Post | November 12, 2013
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester wrote to the USDA secretary last week, asking that he postpone plans to finalize a new poultry inspection program, saying to move forward now is “misguided and premature.”
Tester (D-Mont.) also asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to suspend agreements with foreign countries that are now allowed to use the alternative inspection program for meat they import into the United States. Millions of pounds of contaminated meat from plants using the system were either recalled or rejected by USDA inspectors over the past two years.
Is The Butterball Turkey Shortage For Real?
Tom Philpott | Mother Jones | November 20, 2013
Butterball is vague about the reasons for the shortage, citing only a “decline in weight gains on some of our farms.” In other words, the turkeys that Butterball’s contract farmers raise aren’t growing as quickly as expected.
Let’s talk turkey! Tom Philpott will be holding a live Twitter chat the Thursday before Thanksgiving—look him up at @TomPhilpott starting at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, November 21. Ask him anything—from cooking tips (two words: dry brine) to the latest dirt on industrial turkey.
This is odd. If there’s one thing the modern poultry industry has mastered, it’s fattening millions of fowl extremely quickly. And turkeys have been getting bigger and bigger for decades. “[T]urkeys have increased in average weight annually for at least the past 40 years,” the US Department of Agriculture revealed in a 2005 report. The USDA added that the average weight of a turkey at slaughter jumped from 18 pounds in 1965 to an enormous 28.2 pounds in 2005—a 57 percent increase. By 2012, the average had inched up to a hefty 29.8 pounds. This is not an industry that’s typically plagued by size issues.
Illinois farmers put the pumpkin in your Thanksgiving pie
Peter Grey | Harvest Public Media | November 26, 2013
Why is Illinois the pumpkin state? Mostly because Libby’s brand is the canned pumpkin king. The company is owned by Nestlé and says 8 of every ten cans of pumpkin sold last year was Libby’s.
So it comes down to fertile pumpkin soil – and gravity.
“Pumpkins are heavy and, of course, expensive to transport.” said Roz O’Hearn, with Nestlé’s prepared foods division. “We have tested growing pumpkin in other areas, and we just find the Morton pumpkin just to be perfect for our purposes.”
In Vermont, A Wild Game Church Supper Feeds The Multitudes
Charlotte Albright | The Salt | NPR | November 26, 2013
The colonists supplied the fowl, including, possibly, duck, geese, and turkey.
Diners head into the Bradford United Church of Christ before the start of this year’s Wild Game Supper. Food writer Calvin Trillin has dubbed the event “the superbowl of church suppers.”
A pretty tame menu, actually, compared to the venison, bear, moose, rabbit, pheasant, buffalo, and boar served up at an annual event in Bradford, Vt., that food writer Calvin Trillin has called “.”
For almost 60 years, adventuresome carnivores from all over New England have lined up outside the white-steepled United Church of Christ in the center of this close-knit hamlet along the Connecticut River. A couple of decades ago, volunteers fed 1,200 people in one day, but that proved unworkable, so now seats, reserved well in advance, are capped at 800 for $25 a plate. Proceeds benefit the church’s capital fund, and charity.
Holiday Classic Dishes: Braised & Roast Turkey
Michael Ruhlman | Ruhlman.com
My view is why mess with what works? For important occasions, the rule is: go with what works. And of all my years roasting a turkey, I’ve found that the braise/roast method works best, as I wrote last year.
The reason is that this method solves the two great Turkey Conundrums: 1) how to have both juicy breast meat and tender dark meat, and 2) how to serve it all hot to a lot of people.
Answer: the roast/braise method.
Three years ago, I was chatting with my neighbor, the excellent chef Doug Katz (Fire Food & Drink), and he described how he cooks the turkey in stock up to the drumstick so that the legs braise while the breast and skin cook in dry heat. Last year I tried it and it works brilliantly.
[My twist on this is to separate the legs and thighs from the breast and wings. This makes it easier to fit into a container to brine, but more strategically, it allows me to give the dark meat a 45 minute head start in the mire poix and braising liquid. At the 45 minute mark I put my buttered and season breasts right on top with a loose foil cover. 30 minutes before it’s done I take the foil off to brown the skin. Best turkey off my life and one of the most complimented meals I’ve ever served.]
Cranberry Sauce and Thanksgiving Gravy
When Thanksgiving Meant a Fancy Night Out on the Town
John Hanc | Food and Think | Smithsonian
A few years back, when she was the director and librarian of the Pilgrim Hall Museum, Peggy Baker came across a fascinating document at a rare book and ephemera sale in Hartford, Connecticut. It was a four-course menu for a luxurious dinner at the Hotel Vendome in Boston for November 29, 1894 – Thanksgiving.
Appetizers consisted of Blue Point oysters or oyster crabs in béarnaise sauce. The soup is consumee Marie Stuart, with carrots and turnips; or, a real delicacy, terrapin a la gastronome (that’s turtle soup to you).
The choice of entrees included mousee de foie graise with cauliflower au gratin, prime ribs with Yorkshire pudding, Peking Duck with onions and squash and…a nod to the traditionalists…roasted turkey with cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes.
Then, salad—at the end of the meal, as they do in Europe—followed by a plethora of desserts: Petit fours, plum pudding with maple brandy sauce, Neapolitan ice cream; mince, apple and pumpkin pie, and almond cake with maple frosting. To round out the meal, coffee or sweet cider with assorted cheeses and nuts.
Baker’s discovery of this belt-busting tour de force sent her on a mission to shed light back on a long forgotten chapter of the history of this holiday; a time when wealthy Americans celebrated their Thanksgivings not in the confines of the home with family, but at fancy hotels and restaurants, with extravagant, haute cuisine dinners and entertainments.
“I was thoroughly entranced, having no idea any such thing existed,” recalls Baker. She began collecting similar bills of fare from other establishments, in other cities.
“It was like an anthropological expedition to a different culture,” recalls Baker, “I wasn’t aware people dined out as a regular annual event for Thanksgiving. It was just so foreign to me.”