Archive for category kitchen

Leftovers? Cover them with DIY bowl covers.

We have a problem in our house and it goes something like this:

Child: Can I have some  (juice, kefir, water, milk, moonshine)?

Adult:  Why, of course! pulls out cup, fills it halfway with desired liquid.

Child:  Thanks! proceeds to drink 1/2 – 2/3rd of liquid, leaving the rest and runs off.

Adult:  Sigh…

The truth is, my family doesn’t belong to the clean plate club.  And given the strange feeding habits of the very young, my girls often pick at their plates, decide they’re not hungry, only to return – totally famished – sometime later.  Thus, I was looking for a way to keep food and drink fresh for exactly these occasions, while avoiding plastic wrap – which is not only wasteful, but annoying to use. The collective wisdom of the Internet has a number of tutorials, all variations on this project, and they looked easy enough to try.  My first instinct was to go with oilcloth, since I love all those cheerful Mexican designs, but unfortunately oilcloth isn’t food safe (and its phthalate level makes it unsafe for use around children in general).  However, a good substitute is laminated cotton (which is laminated with polyurethane, not PVC).  Now, I will be the first to admit that I’m not exactly sure how “green” laminated cotton is – but it’s reusability make it a step up from plastic wrap.  Plus, there are a lot of beautiful laminated cotton designs to choose from.  My favorites are from Michael Miller, Amy Butler, and Heather Bailey.  I ordered enough to create a tablecloth and then cut off the rest to make various bowl covers.

The first step was to pull out the glasses and bowls we use most to see how many I could make:

This was also a chance to unearth my sewing machine – a 1970’s Singer that I inherited from my dear grandmother.  I’m not a very good seamstress, but I have kept this machine throughout my travels out of a mixture of nostalgia and optimism.

Aside from the cotton laminate, you need a few other supplies:

  1. A good pair of scissors
  2. A pencil
  3. 1/4″ wide elastic
  4. The compass and ruler are handy, but actually not essential (unless you are a perfectionist).

Step 1:  Take your cup or bowl and trace around it.  You will then want to cut the fabric at a circumference roughly 1-2 inches larger than the rim of your dish.  You can either use the compass or eyeball it. I chose the latter.

Step 2:  Set your sewing machine to a zigzag stitch and adjust it so that the stitch is short and fairly wide. You will want to sew your elastic in the area between the circle you drew and the edge of your fabric. Make sure to back-stitch at the beginning to hold the elastic in place.  The trick is to stretch the elastic while sewing in a circle – which, frankly, isn’t that easy.  Mine looks like I started this project by tossing back several mojitos in quick succession (I didn’t), but they are functional despite the somewhat inebriated nature of the stitching.

When you are finished, your circle will be gathered like a little shower cap and should stretch right over the dish you started with.

I will admit to a bit of a learning curve to the first couple, but once I got the hang of the sewing I was able to make a dozen of these in a little over an hour.  Now, each morning when my daughters inevitably fail to finish whatever they are drinking, we put a little hat on their glass and save it for when they get home from school.  Problem solved!

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On the Tyranny of the Refrigerator

© Jihyun Ryou

Awhile back, I posted some alternatives to food gathering.  In researching that post, I was pleasantly surprised to find so many alternative sources for finding groceries.  But no matter where your provisions originate, the question persists: what is the best way to store it once you are home?  Last year, we managed to successfully reorganize our dry foods storage, but the fridge can be a black hole.  So much so that there are times I open mine with trepidation over what is going to fall out onto the floor.

Artist Jihyun Ryou addresses this issue with her brilliant design project, Shaping Traditional Oral Knowledge, where she created five beautiful storage solutions for various foods that take into account the history of how they were stored before refrigeration was ubiquitous. It is a perfect blending of the oral history of food storage (i.e. the habits of your grandmother) with modern design.  In one example, she stores apples and potatoes in a symbiotic container: the potatoes in a dark box (as they like it), with a perforated top for apple storage.  Apples – like many other fruits – give off ethylene gas that hasten the ripening and subsequent over-ripening of certain types of produce.  However, their effect on potatoes is different: instead, they keep potatoes from sprouting.  Thus, Ryou’s solution is to store apples and potatoes together, but away from other foods:

© Jihyun Ryou

Another interesting food storage issue she addresses is that of the egg.  How do you store an egg? Most would say inside the refrigerator and, indeed, many doors come with a space made just them, but current wisdom dictates that eggs should be stored in the carton inside the fridge, not in the door.  Ryou, counters that eggs can and should be stored at room temperature and created a solution that includes a freshness tester based on the time-tested method of seeing if it will sink or float.  A bad egg will float, and a fresh one will sink :

© Jihyun Ryou

Unlike in Europe, where Ryou lives and works, the U.S. mandates that eggs be washed before being sold, which strips them of their protective coating and makes room temperature storage less reliable.  So, unless you are lucky enough to get your eggs straight from your own hens, this method might not be so viable here.  Still, I love the way it looks.

The point of this project is to get people to re-examine their assumptions about how we treat food and Ryou also keeps a Tumblr site where she invites people to post their anecdotal wisdom on how to store food – some intriguing (store a chili pepper in your rice to prevent bugs), some questionable (cover your eggs with vaseline to block the pores), but all fascinating. Her work asks you to consider the way each type of food wants to be treated, but also succeeds in conveying the visual beauty of food.  By displaying it on the wall, you can see what you have and are more likely to use it.  If these were for sale, I would be first in line.

In reconsidering food storage, there are number of issues to take into account beyond refrigeration:  Do you wash your produce when you buy it or wait until you use it? Do you use plastic or not?  Do you treat your herbs like flowers? Or wrap them in damp paper towels?  A quick trip around the internet will give you multiple answers to these questions, but here are a few sources I think are helpful:

  • Food52 recently ran a couple of useful posts on food storage, organized by counter, pantry and refrigerator.  It’s a good outline on what to store where, but relies heavily on plastic containers and bags.
  • The Berkeley Farmer’s Market was the first to eliminate plastic bags as part of their Zero Waste initiative back in 2009. They have published this handy guide for plastic-free food storage Berkeley Farmers Market Tips for Storing Produce .
  • Last but not least, the Zero Waste Home, has a lot of great advice on waste-free food storage, my favorite being freezing bread in pillowcases!
  • And if you are wondering how long something keeps, check out Still Tasty!

I am inspired to spend the next few weeks rummaging through the fridge to re-think what we are keeping in there. For full disclosure, here is how it looks today:

So let the excavation begin! For more fridge-related voyeurism, check out artist Mark Menjivar’s portrait series on people’s refrigerators entitled, You Are What You Eat.  It speaks volumes.

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The Local Foods Wheel

Although there a number of great iphone apps to help you find local food no matter where you are, I love my analog version:  The Local Foods Wheel.  It’s populated with delightful little drawings that give you an appetizing visual of what you should be eating right this moment.  Because it can’t include everything in pictures, the back of the wheel contains a more comprehensive alphabetical list of foods and when they are harvested and available. Wondering about lima beans? They’re harvested and available between August and October. Lavender is harvested as early as June. Oysters, thank goodness, are always seasonal.

The project is the result of a collaboration between three impressive women:  Jessica Prentice, a chef and one of the founders of the locavore movement, came up with the idea. Sarah Klein, an artists whose work is informed by the domestic world, created the drawings. And designer Maggie Gosselin put it all together. Their first wheel focused on the San Francisco Bay Area, where they live, but now they have wheels for the New York Metro Area (mine), the Upper Midwest, and they are currently working on one for Southern California. You can buy them through their web site.

It’s a particularly fun visual way to share with children the mysteries of seasonal food.  Right now, for instance, we are reminded to finish up with the brussel sprouts, start tapping our maple syrup and can anticipate all of the delicate foods of Spring.  I just keep it floating around the kitchen, reminding me that nettles, morels and fiddlehead ferns will all be in season soon!

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Curried Butternut Squash Soup

The weather is chilly again. Time for soup.  It has been a month since we terminated our experiment in virtuous eating –  ending it with a Dim Sum bang followed up by a heavy festival of schnitzel.  Now we are back to the conventional arc of caffeine to wine that makes us better parents.  Well, sort of.  We still begin our day with a delicious smoothie.  And sometimes we end it with this butternut squash soup, the result of a triumphant attempt on the part of my husband to convert our standard recipe  – Bon Appetit’s Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream (which I also highly recommend) – into something essentially vegan. The key is the curry powder, a pinch of cayenne,  and the inspired addition of coconut kefir to finish. It’s both comforting and wholesome – perfect for this gloomy weather.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Curry Soup

1 medium to large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
Salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ – 1 cup plain coconut kefir (cultured coconut milk)
water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Toss squash, sweet potato, carrots, onion, curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste in a large mixing bowl with enough oil to coat well. Roast in a large cast iron skilled or roasting pan until very soft and slightly caramelized (45-60 minutes).

Cool slightly and transfer vegetables (in batches, if necessary) to a blender or food processor. Add cinnamon and cayenne. Puree while adding kefir and enough water to desired consistency. Correct seasoning.

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Food Gathering: Beyond the Supermarket.

I’m sorry to have missed this weekend’s annual JustFood Conference, because the panel discussions and workshops all looked so fascinating.  There were sessions covering everything from understanding the Farm Bill to what it takes to start your own farm (or at least start a CSA at your office, if you’re not ready to pack it in and head for the hills).  The event was sold out, which is a testament to how many people are thinking about these issues.

Reading through the conference program got me thinking about food sourcing. Many CSAs offer more than just produce – often you can get meat, eggs, dairy, honey, even grains.   We try to supplement our share with trips to the farmer’s market, but let’s be honest: in the wintertime especially, the majority of our food and household products arrive on our door courtesy of Fresh Direct, Whole Foods, or the Associated.

Not that I have anything against supermarkets, they certainly serve an important purpose, but I do think we take their convenience for granted at the expense of not knowing exactly where our food is coming from and what is in it.  Now, more than ever it seems, there are a myriad of creative ways to find food – sometimes local, sometimes organic, often sustainable and usually an interesting alternative to the standard supermarket fare.

So, how does one go about foraging online for food?  I have compiled a list of my favorite resources, some are general and nation-wide, but many are specific to the New York region.  If the Northeast isn’t local for you, start with the general national resources and you can narrow your results to your area.  I’m also looking to expand this list, so if you know of a resource or farm or food-type that belongs here, please let me know!

GENERAL

  • Local Harvest is a nationwide guide to finding local and sustainable food resources in your area.  Everything from farmer’s markets to CSA’s to grocery stores and food co-ops.  You can even purchase food (and CSA shares) through them – it’s a little like Etsy.  Looking for Emu steaks? Well, there’s a farm in Kansas that specializes in that very thing.  Not exactly local – unless you are in Kansas, that is.
  • FarmPlate is a recently launched online resource dedicated to connecting food producers and consumers across the country.  Their elegant database is searchable by location and producer, but you can also spend a lot of time browsing for things like seaweed harvesters (there’s one 86 miles from NYC), mushroom foragers (64 miles) and truck farms (nearest one in Brooklyn, of course!).  They also cover artisans, restaurants and markets.
  • RealTimeFarms is a crowd-sourced online food guide dedicated to connecting (you guessed it) farms, artisans and consumers.  Content can be added by members, making this a fascinating experiment to watch. They also have a cool Portlandia-like feature where restaurants can “share their menu’s story” by showcasing the source of their ingredients. None of them seem to come from hippie cults, however.
  • JustFood is one of my very favorite organizations connecting New Yorkers to local farms and galvanizing people around food issues.  If you are in New York, you can use their handy CSA finder.
  • GrowNYC is a city-wide non-profit agency dedicated to environmental awareness and improving the quality of life in New York.   They are responsible for the flourishing Greenmarkets in our city and their website is a treasure trove of information about local producers, seasonal food, and sustainability.  They are active in food equality issues and advocating for their farmers, as evidenced by their recently published report assessing the challenges local farmers face in retaining their farmland (full disclosure, my dear friend is a co-author of this extremely well-researched and important document).

MEAT

Many CSA’s offer meat shares on a limited basis, but if you are really hankering for sustainable grass-fed meat, you have a number of options that you can ponder while you set up your chest freezer:

  • EatWild is an online directory of over 1,300 grass fed farms nationwide.  Their map will connect you directly to producers in your area, or you can purchase items through their online store.
  • High Point Farms is an example of one of the many meat-only CSA’s that you can find through EatWild.  They offer shares of beef, pork, poultry and eggs for pick-up in various neighborhoods in NYC.
  • Grazin’ Angus Acres is one of the farms supported by the Greenmarket, selling their meat at area farmer’s markets.

FISH

Finding sustainable seafood can be a challenge, and Community Supported Fisheries are a recent development with most existing along the New England and Mid-Atlantic Coast.  One of the most interesting organizations is Walking Fish, a CSF started in 2009 by 5 graduate students at Duke University’s School the Environment in partnership with local fishermen.

  • The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance is an organization dedicated to restoring our marine system by supporting responsible and sustainable fishing.  Their site includes a list of community supported fisheries around the country and even includes a “find your CSF” feature.  According to their site, the nearest CSF to Manhattan is the Cape Ann Fresh Catch in Bolton, MA.  Not exactly local, so I’m still looking.
  • With no obvious CSF sources in NYC (please, correct me if I am wrong!), the next best option seems to be the Greenmarket Fishermen, one of which is American Seafood.  Check out GrowNYC’s Seafood Calendar, too.
  • i love blue sea is an innovated online source for sustainable fish.  Partnering with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, they provide direct access to sustainable seafood.  If you live near San Francisco, you get the added bonus of it being local, too!  However, they will ship all over the US.
  • Sea2Table is an inspiring story of how an American family took a vacation to Tobago, met some fishermen and decided to figure out a way to get their sustainably caught fish to restaurants in the United States.  Although their fish doesn’t appear to be sold retail, they have expanded their model to include fisheries all over the world.

DAIRY

When I was growing up (in the ’70’s) we still had a milkman.  He delivered a few half-gallons of milk to a little box outside our door once a week.  It wasn’t organic and it didn’t even come in glass bottles (just paper cartons), but it was local.  In the past 15 years, organic milk has become as common as any other supermarket staple, and local milk is making a retail comeback, too.  You can even get milk in glass bottles again at Whole Foods or your Farmer’s market.  Two of the best local brands around NYC are MilkThistle and Ronnybrook.  But what if you want raw milk? Or even raw camel milk?

  • Udder Milk Creamery is a cooperative that provides 100% grass-fed, raw, organic dairy – along with many other raw and fermented products – to its members.  Once you have signed up, you can order online and they will deliver. They also offer alternative health and beauty products, so if you are in the market for edible clay and bee sting therapy, this will be one-stop shopping for you.
  • Traditional Nutrition Guild is a non-profit organization that follows the nutritional guidelines of the Weston A. Price Foundation.  It started in 2002 in Brooklyn as a way of delivering raw milk to its members, and has since expanded to include 4 of the 5 boroughs.

COFFEE

Coffee is an intrinsically non-local (at least for North America) product, but yet essential to a large number of us.  Fair-trade coffee is now easy to find from Starbucks to Whole Foods and beyond, but CoffeeCSA.org takes it to another level, allowing you to invest in a specific coffee farm with the return of regular direct coffee shipments.  For $650/year, you can receive monthly shipments of 5 lbs. of coffee (about what my family consumes), which comes out to about $12.50/lb.  The last pound of coffee I bought at Starbucks cost about the same and frankly, I would rather give all of my $12.50 to the farmer, wouldn’t you?

GRAINS

Local grains seem to be the next frontier in food and some CSAs offer shares of beans and wheat.  According to a recent New York Magazine article, 2012 is the year of the local grain – with many bakeries paying attention to where their ingredients are coming from.  But finding the actual grains themselves is still a bit of a challenge.  For locally cultivated grains like wheat, corn, spelt and rye, check out your local farmer’s market.  If rice is your thing (as it is mine), think about starting a paddy in your apartment (I’m totally serious about doing this).

  • Cayuga Organics is a purveyor of local, organic grains grown on farms around NYC.  You can find their heirloom grains at farmer’s markets, or buy directly from them online.  Their grains include, wheat, spelt, rye, farro, freekah, corn, and beans.
  • Wild Hive Farm is a community mill in upstate New York that process local, organic grains.  They have a commercial CSA that provides large quantities of flour to bakeries, but they also sell their products at the Greenmarket.
  • Farmer Ground Flour is a mill located in Trumansburg, New York, co-owned by the miller and the farmers that grow the grain.  Started in 2008, FGF is committed to organic, sustainable agriculture and the promotion of heirloom varieties.  They sell their flour at various NYC farmer’s markets, but will also custom blend flour for those interested customers who “want to try a new direction in flour”.  I wish that was me.

HONEY

Some people believe that consuming local honey can alleviate allergies.  Although the scientific data doesn’t seem to back up the claim, there are other compelling reasons to seek out local honey.  For one thing, it supports your local producers.  Contrary to what you might think, there are a fair number of honey producing bees in NYC -and you can find their liquid gold at the greenmarket.  A number of CSA’s also offer honey shares.  But if you are looking for a honey-only CSA, look no further than Brooklyn Homesteader.  The next best thing to getting your own bees.

OTHER NON-CSA, NON-SUPERMARKET, DELIVERY SOURCES

Aside from the specialized sources above and the CSA model, there are a number of other organizations that are in the business of connecting you to local and/or organic foods via delivery.  Places like Urban Organics, SPUD and Door-to-Door Organics that give you a little more flexibility than a standard CSA.  A nice description of these alternatives can be found in this Treehugger article.

Another new hybrid-CSA model a friend just told me about yesterday is This Batch.  Operating out of a restaurant in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, This Batch is a service that allows people to buy food from local farmers, but allows a little more flexibility than than a CSA.  Each week, members receive an email of options from which to choose.  Sounds intriguing, and I would be interested to find out how it works. The first season could be an interesting exercise in the trends of taste.  What will happen to all that unwanted celery root? Or rutabega?  Or what if everyone wants kale and there isn’t enough?  Stay tuned!

This list is a work in progress and I hope to add to it moving forward. I would be interest in hearing your own non-supermarket food sources?

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On the sublime qualities of the Andalusian Gazpacho

Gazpacho. It’s a classic Seinfeldian conundrum. Is it a cold soup? A savory smoothie? A drinkable salad? What’s the deal?

It’s also a perfect and simple summer staple that hasn’t fared well in the US. Sure, you could say that about lots of far-flung foods that have been adapted and adulterated through the generations. But let’s just say that whatever the dubious qualities of Campbell’s canned tomato juice from concentrate may be—viscosity, high-fructosity—they are not improved by chunks of assorted garden vegetables.

Generally associated with Moorish Spain, gazpacho has a murky past. There are several etymological traces–to the Latin word caspa, meaning “little pieces,” and the Hebrew word gazaz, meaning “to break into little pieces,” among others–and its ancient origins point to the central ingredients of bread soaked in water, olive oil, and vinegar. There are versions with grapes and almonds. New World ingredients like tomatoes and cucumbers came later.

The version I grew up with—the one that dominated the daily specials boards at every university-town vegetarian cafe—is that chunky Osterized medley with too much red onion, old vinegar, and dried herbs. Not that there isn’t good chunky gazpacho out there—I’ve enjoyed the version at Good & Plenty to Go on W. 43rd and 9th Ave. There’s just so much bad chunky gazpacho.

It wasn’t until a trip to Spain, in the spring of 2005, that I discovered a way to leave all those chunks behind. Being our first trip abroad as parents, it was momentous. Our firstborn was 20 months, and we were offered a free house with a pool in Estapona, on the Costa del Sol. When that turned out to be less than the dream set-up it seemed to be at first, we jumped in the car and toured Andalucía. Quick stops in Cádiz and Jerez before we rolled into Seville in the early evening.

That was when we lost power steering on the rental car just before the left turn to the hotel in the Jewish quarter and ended up in Medieval blind alley, where we had to make a painstaking 15-point turn. But why dwell on that? Or the time our daughter, in an awesome display of defiance, squatted in a plaza, dredged her hand along the cobblestones, then slowly licked her open palm all the way up to her finger tips while the abuelas cried out in disgust. Or the day we spent cancelling credit cards and cursing our bad luck after we thought my husband lost his wallet—and before we found it that evening, resting conspicuously on the coffee table of our turned-down hotel room. (Memories!)

Let’s focus instead on those clean, crisp 1 Euro cervezas that were so perfectly refreshing after a day of humping through Seville in the June heat. And the fact that Spaniards (with the exception of the Iberian Airlines flight attendants) love small children, who make great dinner companions when you can park them, asleep in the stroller, next to your two-top on the plaza for tapas at 10 o’clock.

And let’s recall the lunch at that archetypal “nondescript outdoor cafe” where we first had red Andalusian gazpacho. It came silky smooth, bright with just enough garlic and sherry vinegar, and creamy with the bread that’d been soaked and blended in. Golden drops of olive oil pooled on the surface. And this time, the chunks were on the side: little condiment bowls filled with diced cucumbers, green peppers, hard-boiled eggs, and avocado.

It was transporting and provided brief lull before the next mishap (waiting for la grúa to come and tow away our broke-down car).

When we returned to the States, we quickly found a cookbook, ¡Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain by Penelope Casas, with a recipe for Andalusian gazpacho (from Bar Bahia in Cádiz) that will convert any gazpacho hater into a thirsty salad drinker. Straining the blended ingredients is worth the effort and produces a vibrant liquid infused with the ghosts of the vegetables. We make several batches between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which help us get through the sweat-soaked summer evenings in New York City like real Spaniards. ¡Joder! ¡Hace calor! Time for a dish of olives, some Marcona almonds, a glass of chilly rose, and a bowl of silky smooth, chunk-free gazpacho. ¡Disfrute!

Gazpacho Andaluz, Estilo Salvador
From ¡Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain by Penelope Casas (Knopf, 2004)
Serves 8-10

A 4 1/2-inch length of bread, cut from a long narrow loaf, crusts removed
2 pounds tomatoes, coarsely chopped
3 green frying peppers (about 6 ounces), coarsely chopped (Note: cubanelles work well here)
1 kirby cucumber, about 5 inches long, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, preferably Vidalia or Spanish, coarsely chopped
6-7 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup mild extra virgin olive oil
Salt
1 teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 cups cold water
Finely chopped tomato, green pepper, cucumber, hard-boiled egg, and/or avocado for garnish (optional).

Soak the bread in water and squeeze dry. Place the tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, onion, and garlic in a large food processor or blender with the olive oil, salt, sugar, vinegars, and bread. Process/blend until as smooth as possible (do this in two steps/batches if necessary). Pass through a strainer or chinois into a bowl, pressing with the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid from the remaining solid pieces as possible. Stir in the water. Add more vinegar and salt, a little at a time, tasting after each addition, until the flavors are fully developed. Chill thoroughly. Taste again for salt and vinegar, and serve in chilled bowls with an ice cube in each, if necessary, to keep the chill (several mini ice cubes are more attractive). If you like, pass small bowls with the chopped vegetables so each diner can garnish to taste.

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World Without Fish.

Remember Orange Roughy? Doesn’t it remind you of the 80’s?  Growing up, there was a period of time that we must have had it once a week and I remember wondering about its funny name. Living in the midwest, our ocean fish came frozen and, frankly, “fish night” wasn’t my favorite night of the week.  In high school, I became a vegetarian and didn’t think about fish for several years until I moved to Portland, Oregon in 1994. Suddenly, a whole new world of fresh seafood became an option and my vegetarian convictions were shaken.  Back then, it was all about Salmon and Halibut.  Swordfish and Chilean Sea Bass were on every menu, too.   But no Orange Roughy.  I just figured it wasn’t cool enough. But I was wrong.

Last month, Mark Bittman wrote an excellent New York Times Editorial calling attention to the acidification of our oceans and the deleterious effect on fish, and ultimately on our ecosystem.  He followed it up with another column discussing the recent study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature that says over 40 species of fish will disappear in the Mediterranean in the next few years.  We have already seen the effects of overfishing at the market with species familiar to us a few years ago now conspicuously absent.  Cod and Chilean Sea Bass are said to be making a “comeback”, but Bluefin Tuna and Atlantic Salmon may never return to their once bountiful numbers.

All of this can make choosing which fish to eat a somewhat stressful experience.  While there may be ethical issues with the raising and processing of meat and poultry, we are not at risk of running out of them.  But fish? That is a whole other story.  One that is beautifully written by Mark Kurlansky in his new book, World Without Fish.  A graphic novel written for ages 9 and up,  it covers the history of the fishing industry and explains how we got to where we are now – with our oceans acidifying and some of our fish stocks on the verge of extinction.  A fisherman himself, it is clear he has a deep respect and understanding of the ocean and those who fish for a living.  Not to give away the ending, but the story is a grim one.  There is a whole chapter devoted to the sad fate of the Orange Roughy (turns out this fish – which by the way is actually red – can live up to 150 years and doesn’t even produce offspring until the age of 20).  The intensive fishing in the 70’s and 80’s killed off most of the Orange Roughy before they even reached the age of reproduction, making them one of the most threatened species of fish within decades of their discovery by humans.  By chapter  five, you might decide never to eat fish again, but Mr. Kurlansky makes a compelling argument about why we cannot simply stop consuming fish to solve this problem.  Instead, he gives plenty of information about how to get involved both politically and as a consumer.  By choosing responsibly caught wild fish – and paying more for it – you are supporting the fisherman who are practicing their trade in a sustainable way.  But how do you know what fish to buy?  There are a few environmental organizations that are in the business of both supporting sustainable fishing practices and giving consumers the tools to help them choose well.

One is the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Their Seafood Watch Program is probably the best known and they publish their guides by region.  They even have a guide devoted to sushi.  You can either download a PDF their pocket guide here: (MBA_SeafoodWatch_NortheastGuide-1) or get the app to your mobile phone.  Keep it with your Clean 15 guide and going to the market will be a breeze.

The Marine Stewardship Council is an organization that developed out of a partnership between the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever, an international seafood retailer.  Their mission is to make the idea of sustainable fishing marketable by evaluating fishing operations and assigning labels to seafood products at the consumer level.  You have probably seen their logo at restaurants and grocery stores indicating that a particular fish has passed their rigorous environmental standards.

At the end of the day, Mr. Kurlansky points out that these guides, however helpful, cannot be completely accurate.  They label some fish as verboten that are, in fact, being fished sustainably in some places.  The only way to really know what you are getting is to choose a reputable fish monger, get to know him or her and start asking questions.  World without Fish empowers you to do this.  Buy it for your favorite 9 year old and read it with them.  You won’t be sorry.

In the meantime, I’m looking for recipes for sardines.  Any ideas?

Further Reading:

Four Fish: the future of the last wild food.  By Paul Greenberg

Cod. By Mark Kurlansky

The Big Oyster: history on the half shell. By Mark Kurlansky


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