Foodie Book Club: Four Fish

By Kay Steiger

Paul Greenberg's Four FishI read Four Fish by Paul Greenberg this summer, a book that Food & Think put on its summer reading list for foodies. The book is definitely worth reading, recounting the fascinating history of domesticating cod, tuna, salmon, and sea bass over the last few decades.

One interesting point that Greenberg brings up toward the end of the book, however, is about overall conservation of fish. He notes that those little cards distributed by environmental groups, like this one from the Environmental Defense Fund, are often sold as a “guide” to consuming fish that are good for the environment. But Greenberg argues that even though such guides may make people feel good about consuming eco-friendly fish, individual choices about fish consumption have virtually no impact on the overall survival of fish populations.

That part, he argues, is more in the court of countries’ regulations on fishing and the actions of commercial fishers. He argues that in order to preserve fish populations, it will take a concerted international cooperative effort to actually manage fish populations. What kind of fish we eat for dinner, he says, just won’t make that much of an impact. Besides, he says, those groups that put out the green, yellow, and red fish guides say the tools are really about awareness anyway.

This is an interesting — and frankly — controversial point. The same could perhaps be argued about factory farming practices or even vegetarianism, although fish is perhaps a unique case because of its inherently international nature. I’m interested to see what folks think about this. The pro is that you can help create demand for eco-friendly fish by having a widespread enough movement. The con is that it can create overwhelming feelings of guilt when you do consume fish on the “red” list.

My perspective has been that boosting awareness and encouraging folks to consume foods that are good for the environment is valuable in that it creates a sense of value about these issues and creates pressure for laws and regulations to accommodate that  perspective, but such behaviors are not really in and of themselves making an impactful difference.

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Do Not Want You, Frozen Yo

By Kay Steiger

Frozen Yo in Columbia Heights (Flickr/Mr. T in DC)

Yesterday, as is a haphazard tradition in my office, we brought one of our interns out for frozen yogurt on her last day as a way of thanking her for all her hard work over the summer. We decided to walk to Frozen Yo in Metro Center. Afterward I felt sick.

Perhaps it was the heat. Or the fact that I had just eaten beforehand. Or perhaps it’s the fact that Frozen Yo serves their self-serve yogurt in gigantic freaking containers. They have to be at least twice to three times the size of the containers you get at other fro yo places in town like Mr. Yogoto, Sweetgreen, or Tangysweet.

The first time I walked into Frozen Yo, I noticed how much it was like a buffet, where you load a bunch of crap onto your plate and see what you like best but ultimately end up eating way more than you planned. It just seemed so — American. And I say that as a born-and-raised, third-generation, 14th Amendment-style American. But come on, a huge container where you load up whatever you mix then pay by the pound? That screams excess.

Granted, I’m not much of a dessert person in general — I far prefer a savory treat. I would probably take french fries over frozen yogurt any day, so it’s not some kind of strange diet I’m on. I’ll say it, at risk of pissing off all the native Californians out there (where I understand this tradition comes from): This enormous tub o’ fro yo thing just turned me off.

Rich Kids Go to Cooking Camp

By Kay Steiger

(Flickr/woodleywonderworks)

Well, the rich sure are different. The Wall Street Journal recently profiled a few cooking camps for the 10-17 year old demographic. Tuition or fees for these camps and competitions range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars:  Dorette Snover takes a group of teenagers on a 12-day trip to Paris that runs $4,750 per child; the Baltimore-based camp called For the Love of Food charges $395 for tuition; and chef Kelly Dietrich charges $2,695 for a one-week course and $4,900 for a two-week session at the Kids Culinary Academy of Vermont.

But as amusing as the story about a small army of tiny gourmet chefs is, it’s hard for me to think about the children who aren’t so lucky. America has roughly 14.1 million children that still live in poverty and an estimated 6.5 million children who live in food deserts. Even if you don’t want to talk about the children growing up in poverty, not all parents have the time or inclination to cook and teach their children to cook.

My critique of this article isn’t meant to be an attack on the rich. The parents who can afford the $5,000 tuition should by all means buy a two-week course at the Kids Culinary Academy of Vermont. But as cooking gets more bourgeois, it’s easy to remember that there are lots of children who don’t even have access to regular and healthy meals. In that light, profiling these youthful gourmet chefs is just a startling reminder of how wide that gap really is.

You Have To Go To Afghanistan To Get Good Kebab And Melons

By Spencer Ackerman

Luckily, I did.

This was lunch today: a succulent, spicy lamb (I… think) kebab, dusted with smoky paprika, cumin and other spices that I can’t identify. Gloriously greasy — they didn’t trim any of the luscious, gelatinous fat off the meat, so the flavor soaked through each lovely piece and down through the naan. As you can see, I opted not to try the ominous chili pepper that came wrapped in my sandwich. Braver men than myself — in particular, Army National Guard Major Fred Bates — turned bright red after biting in, proclaiming it habanero-like in its intensity. Thanks but no thanks.

Clearing our palettes were chunks of locally-grown melons. One reason to feel optimistic about Afghanistan: the Afghans have cultivated a melon that’s like a honeydew but has flavor. Firm but juicy, a bit fibrous — and, most importantly, sweet and ever so slightly sour. A dude sold me one inside the compound of the agricultural chief of Kapisa Province. I gave him five dollars before he ran to his car to retrieve a ten pound melon shaped like an overinflated football and appearing outwardly like the head of a Tenctonese Newcomer. As we drove back to Bagram Air Field, it occurred to me that the plasticware distributed for on-base dining wouldn’t be up to the job, and even if I wasted $40 on a knife at the PX that I’d have to give up when I leave here, that wouldn’t cut the damn thing either. I opted to donate it to a captain in the unit that I accompanied out to Kapisa who ogled my melon with very hungry eyes.

Chipotle Mayo Is Delicious

By Kay Steiger

Sweet Potato Fries with Chipotle Mayo
(Flickr/su-lin)

Tonight I made a pretty epic sandwich for dinner: provolone cheese, roasted portabella mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, and chipotle mayo. While it’s typically paired with sweet potato fries, I’d like to gently remind everyone that it’s really tasty on sandwiches and really easy to make. Just mix mayo (or light mayo, in my case) with some pureed chipotle chilies in adobo sauce and add a bit of citrus juice. Mmmm.

Chill Dat Soup

by Amanda Mattos

This weekend I had some amazing chilled tomato and cantaloupe soup at Tallula. It took cues from gazpacho but used the melon instead of cucumber. It had good heat but not too much acidity. The flavor was incredibly full, but I didn’t detect any garlic or much onion. But the most amazing part was the broth. Sure, in this case it was probably technically just juice. But having that clear liquid to float the finely chopped veggies and lumps of crab meat on really set it apart from so many gazpachos, which can sometimes end up tasting like salsa on a spoon. It was so damn good. Knowing the farmer’s market was the next day and that I had a dinner to go to, I set out to mimic the soup myself.

What I made was delicious! I took the approach of pureeing about 2/3 of the fruit, hoping juice would pour out, and then I could chop the rest. I knew I’d get some smashed bits in there and it wouldn’t be clear juice. I food processed, in stages, about 2/3 of a perfectly ripe cantaloupe, about a pound of tomatoes, a jalapeno, a sweet pepper, one small sliver of onion, salt, and a little lime juice. I stirred them all together, and added a handful of roughly chopped basil and some super sweet halved cherry tomatoes, and let that sit in my fridge until it was time to serve. Then I topped each bowl with lump crab meat. It was stupendous!

But it was nowhere close to Tallulah’s soup, as far as texture is concerned. I got the flavors right, but it was a denser pureed soup rather than a cool liquid with chopped bits. I’m guessing they actually have a juicer, which they used to make the “broth”, maybe thinned it out with some water, maybe some chili infused oil, and then topped with the chopped veggies. Or maybe they actually cooked the fruit down until they got a liquid and chilled that. I’m not sure! All I know is: I don’t have a juicer. And I’m not sure what other approaches I could take in my own kitchen to reach similar ends. Anybody have an idea?

What Should I Do With These Adorable Little Plums?

This weeks CSA haul included a bag of these adorable little green plums. I’m slightly at a loss as to what to do with them. I tasted one last night, and they seem fine to eat plain, but with this volume of plums I feel like I should do something with them–any suggestions?

Also in this week’s CSA haul: 1 bundle of Swiss chard, 1 box heirloom cherry tomatoes (so yummy!), 1 red tomato, 1 green pepper, 1 onion, 1 bag Yukon Gold potatoes. I feel like a pepper/onion/potato hash is clearly in my future this weekend.

by Sara Mead