Saturday, March 24, 2007

CSA in Westchester

For years I have wanted to participate in a CSA with local farms. With CSA (community supported agriculture) you get the best vegetables at their peak directly from the field of a local farm in exchange for paying the farm at the beginning of the season so the farmers can buy seed, invest in farming equipment and otherwise support their farm for the year.
With CSA you know that every week from spring through fall you will get the pick of the crop at the tastiest moment and at a very good price. CSA must also be the world's most delicious way to do good; you help small local organic farms to survive and prosper by eating some of the freshest, tastiest food the planet has found a way to make possible. Eat to save the planet! I like it.

I've never been able connect with a CSA from a local farm though because, like most mere mortals, I work and can't drive across county during the day on a weekday to pick up my share from volunteers at a church. What's a working family to do? Pay outrageous amounts each weekend at the Whole Foods for stuff flown in from California? Yes. But no more: Problem solved.

Now, we can get great produce from local farms that is actually delivered to our home! The farms still get the help. We get great fresh produce from local farms and we don't have to quit our jobs to get it.

A few months back I wrote about home delivery of milk in Westchester. Nostalgia and convenience met, took a walk down the road of commerce and voila, milk in a bottle at your door in 2007.
right here in Westchester, works with local milk delivery men to deliver produce from local farms to homes in Westchester. Slurpingly good Ronnybrook milk, mouth re-orienting heirloom tomatoes, crispy lettuces freshly torn from the earth, regal cabbage, sweet melons. Oh mercy. The good Earth has found a passage to my door and its a temperature controlled van.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Ya mon, there’s nothing like homegrown. I speak of tomatoes, cucumbers and the like, of course. But there was that friend’s dad in High School with six foot plants in his Brooklyn apartment, but let’s not stray from the path…..

Nothing breaks the gloom and forsaken dank of a cold March like seeing seedlings sprouting. They have no doubt that summer is coming even when your rational mind gives way to an uneasy suspicion that winter will linger without end.

Homegrown crops are far superior to what you can get at even the best farmers markets in Westchester (and the Community Markets are very good). And, yes, homegrown takes the store bought stuff by its scruffy limp neck and shakes it out all across town. So don’t buy veg in the stores after June and before Thanksgiving, it’s just not right. But why better than the farmers market? you ask.

First, variety – there is no limit to the obscure deliciousness you can grow in your own backyard. As previously reported, the Seed Savers exchange lists 1,518 different types of tomatoes available for growing (and that does not include the inferior hybrids such as Big Boy and its ilk). Have you ever eaten a Sudduth’s Strain Brandywine tomato? Do. Because these fist-sized pink fruits have a sweet tomato flavor that deepens as you indulge in the meaty flesh. An unctuousness that is incomparable. It’s the “ugly ripes” from the super market times twelve. Sudduth, by the way, is the family that kept this variety in existence for over one hundred years. They may be old, they may be odd shaped, but the eating is good!

Second freshness – even if you get the crop that was just picked by the farmers there still is not the same moment of perfection that can be achieved on a micro-scale in your own yard.

Third, sweat of the brow – if you work for it you’re just going to enjoy it more. Think of your kids. Almost. But growing a plant from seed (or seedling), watching it mature, flower and ultimately bear fruit makes one enjoy the produce more.

So git out there and grow some. If you can’t or don’t want to try growing from seed a terrific source for great heirloom variety seedlings (from tomatoes to leeks to melons) is Silver Heights farm in Jeffersonville – they have a stand at the Union Square Farmers Market in NYC. Here are some great places to get seeds for the most green thumbed readers and those who aspire to be such:

Seed Savers

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

WesFoodie Fact

America's eating is a rutterless ship bouncing uneasily in a sea of random trends and born again solutions. And no wonder, when it comes to gastronomy and health, most of us don't believe in "truth."

RANDOM WESFOODIE FACT: 80% of Americans believe that the advice experts will give five years from now about what to eat and what not to eat will be completely different from current accepted theory. Let us call this the Woody Allen Syndrome after the scientists in Sleeper who, in the future, reveal that junk food is actually healthy for humans.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mayonnaise Soda

From, eh, Channel Ate, one of the great food related songs: Lou Reed's What's Good.

Reed uses food to express his odd pop wisdom about experiencing life as he copes with the loss of a friend.

Not incidentally, looking back to the WesFoodie's Yiddish Walkabout of the Palate, Lou Reed was a student (at Syracuse U.) of Delmore Schwartz and not accidentally, a Jew as well. So in his own beautiful and idiosyncratic way, Lou Reed has carried forward the great Yiddish tradition - he is of the Zscheni (Yiddish for "genius").

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Modern Times Taste Bad

As winter finally descends on the freshly wind chapped suburbs and hopelessness hangs heavy in the air threatening to settle amongst those who love to work the earth, through the symmetry of nature and the ingenious ways of marketers, a ray of light arrives. It’s in the mailbox. It’s made of paper. Something seedy this way comes. Yes, the farm catalogs have arrived!

Not to get to gardeny on you, I promise not to talk about arrangements of ferns and such, but ever since I learned of an effort under way in the former Iron Curtain countries to save the quickly disappearing genetic diversity in plant varieties (particularly the tasty kinds) I have been fascinated and occasionally obsessed with seeds. There are amazing, scrumptious, gorgeous plants, fruits and vegetables out there that need to be saved – Amen! And there are many at work in the U.S. and across the world now saving seeds. Forget the lame supermarket stuff (you knew that), but also get beyond the heirlooms at most high end restaurants; it’s bigger than that.

1,518 unique varieties of tomatoes! 186 different kinds of watermelons. 127 types of carrots. That is just the start for what’s available through the Seed Savers Exchange. At Heritage Farm, the group grows 24,000 varieties of heirloom vegetables. As I start to select which plants I will grow in my garden come spring, I am once again taken by the open pollinated varieties available. Open pollinated? Oh yes, OP.

Open pollinated plants are varieties that will reproduce true to their parents. Unlike hybrids, which are the result of crossing two different parents and the offspring of which will be something very different containing “break-out” features of each of its parent’s genomes, OP plants can be reproduced generation after generation in the same form as their parents so long as both parents are of the same OP variety. Heirloom vegetables and flowers are open pollinated varieties that date back to previous generations (of gardeners – and plants). With heirlooms, adventurous gardeners can try out the same tomatoes as were eaten during the Civil War, taste the apples Thomas Jefferson cultivated at Monticello and eat squash favored by Native American tribes. Or you can make a new heirloom by crossing two OP varieties and “stabilizing” the cross (and keeping them for a long time). Stabilizing involves creating enough generations of the crossed variety that all variables are expressed and remain constant.

I highly recommend experimenting with heirloom OP varieties. They tend to be more delicious than hybrids because the varieties date back to a time before breeding was done for reasons other than taste (like how long they would last in a supermarket display or how many could be packed into an airplane cargo hold). Modern Times taste bad. Sepia tastes bad too; but ole time flavor hits the spot. Many heirlooms were bred and maintained for taste. And taste you will find.

The most popular heirloom vegetable is the Brandywine tomato. Like all things popular, the Brandywine name is used to mean a lot of different things. What’s the true Brandywine? Well, what’s a true “prophet” or a real “Democrat?” No one really knows but I find the Sudduth’s Strain of Brandywine to be the very finest Brandwine. According to the Seed Savers, Brandywine “first appeared in the 1889 catalog of Johnson & Stokes of Philadelphia and by 1902 was also offered by four additional seed companies.” The Sudduth’s strain “was obtained by tomato collector Ben Quisenberry of Big Tomato Gardens in 1980 from Dorris Sudduth Hill whose family grew them for 80 years.” According to my calculations that puts the strain’s use by the Sudduth family beginning at around 1900. It’s a darn good To – Mater. It is large, unevenly shaped, pink-ish red and meaty but moist. When you first bite into a Brandywine you taste the slightly citric, hushed sweetness and true old time tomato flavor. But then there is a second flush – deep flavor that is sensed at the back of the mouth and tongue; something more complex and almost earthy; it completes the taste sensation, lending a fullness; it is lush-ess.

Seed Savers can be found at Another terrific source for heirlooms from around the world is, aka Baker’s Creek Seeds. Make history, taste history. Grow em!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Viva - Vegetables for Cheap

I did it. No, I’m not entirely proud. I speak about it carefully, to a selective audience; and only with a full explanation.

So it wasn’t organic. No, none of it. But prices for organic red leaf lettuce were up 20% in one week at Whole Foods and the heads were small. They were $2.50 each! The cucumbers were limp and pricey. They didn’t even have long ones other than overpriced English types. They were mushy too. And you know the English – all tidy and put together on the outside but inside, brutal.

This week, instead of shelling out top dollar for Whole Foods vegetables I went to a super-discount store in New Rochelle: Viva Ranch. For what I would pay for a single limp cuke at Whole Foods, I got five long green crispy cucumbers at Viva. Yeah, five for a single dollar! And the Kirby cukes were cheap too. And crisp, and crisp. The lettuce was full leafed and cost ninety nine cents. Pomegranates for a buck a piece were piled in huge boxes up front. Mangoes cost the same – mangoes with a sweet ambrosial scent with undertones of limes and honey. Not the diseased stiff kind from Stop and Shop mind you. It cost me one fifty for a quart of California strawberries. Yes they were ripe. No, not overripe. They were small and tender with a wet sweetness that bloomed with berry tang. There is no way I could get out of Whole Foods with the same product for less than twice as much (legally). Plus they have Mexican herbs (and salt) for sale along with piles of fresh and dried chili peppers. Parking is free. For the language impaired, English is spoken.

Now, I am a firm believer in personally subsidizing local farms and small scale organic production. I will gladly, well reluctantly but consistently, pay double for organic because it supports The Movement. In fact, I have dreams of myself bringing locally farmed delectibles to the masses. I’m working on it. But all too often these days the organic is unavailable or unfit in the off-season and I wind up paying top dollar at W.F. for conventional produce. Now there is a good alternative – Viva!

There are two Viva markets in New Rochelle. Both are excellent, well stocked (actually amazingly well stocked) and cheap-adi-cheap. Parking is available at the Centre Street location. On Main, it’s the street.

Viva Ranch Fruit Market
477 Main Street
38 Centre Street
New Rochelle

Thursday, January 11, 2007


1: Okay, one question: What did Casper eat? Yes, the friendly ghost.

2: Well, yeah, he ate those white Styrofoam packing peanuts. Right?

3: No, that’s not what he ate.

1: Ok - then what did he eat?

3: Meringue. He ate meringue.

2: You mean like Baked Alaska?

3: Yes, Baked Alaska for instance. Ghosts eat that. That’s why the Titanic went down because of all the Baked Alaska they were serving to the passengers – it took them too close to the spirit world. It’s ghost food.

Meringue can be tricky to work with but there are always some beautiful moments in its preparation – owing perhaps to its delectability to the other side, or not.

I recently made cookies with a meringue base that were light with air, sweet with cane juice and filled with melting away dulce de leche and three variations on chocolate ganache.

Meringue is air, air held together by tiny strands of egg whites. With their minute white points and billowing bottoms, they are as ghosts visiting from beyond. A cookie made with meringue is like a sweet little edible cloud. Cloud cookies.

There comes a moment in the preparation of a proper meringue cookie when the egg whites, already stiff with air, are forcefully whisked into a sugar emulsion. This moment is magic. The buoyant whites become stretched and glossy with the sugar. What was bubbles transforms into a sleek translucent sheen. Ordinary egg whites give way to shiny candy skinned foam.

Here is the recipe for the cookies (adapted from a recipe in Gourmet Mag):

For Cookies

6 oz sliced blanched almonds (not slivered – the skins must be removed;
2 cups)
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar (if you can get raw confectioners sugar – it will be tastier but the cookies will be brown, not pink but this can be compensated for with a simple sugar, water and dye icing)
3 large egg whites
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Red or pink food coloring

For chocolate ganache
3 oz good bittersweet chocolate – chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon softened butter
Various flavoring can be used such as almond extract, strawberry syrup, etc. – just a dab will do ya

For Dulce de Leche
1 cup Good quality dulce – or bake a can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of water in the over for an hour on high heat – let cool before opening
½ cup natural cream cheese
¼ cup confectioners sugar

To Make Cookies:
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a food processor, process almonds with 1/2 cup confectioners sugar until the mixture is a very fine crumb. Sift in and mix with the remaining cup of confectioners sugar in a bowl.

Beat egg whites with salt in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Here comes the magic party - add the granulated sugar, a little at a time, beating, then increase speed to high and continue to beat until whites just hold stiff, glossy peaks. If using white confectioners sugar (don’t bother if using the raw sugar) add a drop or two of food coloring to the desired shade and mix at low speed until evenly combined.

Stir almond mixture into meringue until completely incorporated. (Meringue will deflate.)

Spoon batter into bag, pressing out excess air, and snip off 1 corner of plastic bag to create a 1/4-inch opening. Twist bag firmly just above batter, then pipe peaked mounds of batter (the size of a chocolate kiss) onto lined sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart.

Let cookies stand, uncovered, at room temperature until tops are no longer sticky and a light crust forms, 20 to 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until crisp and edges are just slightly darker, 20 to 25 minutes.

Cool completely on sheets on racks, about 30 minutes.

Make ganache:

Melt chocolate with cream in a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water or in top of a double boiler, stirring until smooth. (Bowl should not touch water.) Remove bowl from heat, then add butter, stirring until butter is melted. Separate into individual small batches, each to be flavored with a drop or two of your favorite flavorings (e.g., almond extract). Let stand at room temperature until cooled completely and slightly thickened.

Make Dulce de Leche filling:

Mix dulce de leche with cream cheese and sweeten with confectioners sugar to taste. Assemble cookies:Carefully peel cookies from parchment (they will be fragile). Sandwich a thin layer of ganache or ducle filling (about 1/2 teaspoon) between flat sides of cookies.

I think these cookies are better the second day. The resting time allows the moisture from the fillings to permeate the crisp cookie, softening it and making it tender with a slightly wet sweetness.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.