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Po’Boys Are Getting Poorer

4 Mar


Po’Boys Are Getting Poorer

By Irena Chalmers

When the New Orleans streetcar drivers went on strike in 1929, the unemployed workers showed up at a restaurant’s back door. Greeted with the cry,

they were given a hunk of crusty bread stuffed with “debris.” This consisted of trimmings of roast beef and gravy, Creole sausage or any other scraps of meat or fried oysters and shrimp from the Gulf.The times are not changing — much. As we plunge into another real or feared depression we are fast becoming a mighty global heap of po’ folks.

Pendulums swing, but never go back entirely to the way we were. There’ll always be luxury in the midst of plenty. French Laundry workers are dishing up dinners for dapper dudes at a staggering $300, per. This is a huge leap. When Joe Baum opened The Four Seasons in 1958, it was one of the most expensive palaces of gastronomy in Manhattan. On the menu were: Meadow Veal Cutlet with Morels, $5.75, Two Thrush en Brochette, $7.50, Beefsteak Tomato, Carved at the Table, $1.25 (and served with a steak knife,) Baby Pheasant in Golden Sauce, $6.25, Twin Tournedos with Woodland Mushrooms, $7.00, The Youngest Carrots in Butter, $1.25, Nasturtium Leaves .95 cents. At that time the average price of a car was $2,200, gasoline was thirty cents a gallon, and the average annual income was $5,565, with minimum wage set at one dollar an hour. Today the fingerling potatoes cost as much as the roasted chicken.

Recently Navy wives posted this recipe in its entirety on their web site:

  • 2 pkgs Ramen Noodles
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 small can tuna

You’d think we’d be drowning our sorrows in spirited drink. Not so. The restaurant consulting company Technomatic, reports, the awful news that some restaurant goers are skipping emphatic drinks entirely and sales of grown up beverages have plummeted. Yikes. Could it be that we are skidding towards temperance?Some have an even worse time than the rest of us. $2.52 a day is the total allowance to cover three meals a day in the Federal penitentiary. Today 2,258,983 prisoners are held in Federal or State prisons or in local jails.

So here’s a way to deal with our problems. To save gas, let’s ‘free” the offenders (fitted with GPS-monitored anklets.) so they can grow vegetables and plant fruit trees along our highways. All our food will thus be produced locally.

Estimates vary but some suggest there are close to 90,000 students currently enrolled in culinary schools — maybe even more. I’ve found jobs for all of them. In community kitchens, they can cook all the food farmed by felons.

As fewer people can afford to go to the gym, they can, instead, get on their bikes and pedal the food by foot — or pick up passengers and deliver them by rickshaw to local eateries where they will dine convivially at communal tables. All wine and beer will be produced locally. We will be encouraged to drink red wine because we all know it is good for us. The most athletic will jog from bar to bar.

Then we can convert aging buildings into vertical farms. “Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world’s urban centers. If successfully implemented, they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.” (You can read all about it at Hydrogen-producing algae will power these, buildings as well as clean fuel for all methods of transportation. (This technology also exists right now.)

We may have to make a few more dietary adjustments…d’you remember the craze for keeping pot-bellied pigs as pets? I’ll bet hardly any of the little darlings ended up on the dinner plate. It would make far more sense, particularly for those living in small apartments, to keep a couple of cute chickens as egg-producing pets. We could count on Martha Stewart to create a whole new empire, producing the kind of exotic breeds we’d be thrilled to show off to our friends.

The bad news, (all the foregoing has been quite good news,) is that we’re going to have to give up those monster steaks and downscale from red meat, to white. PETA is urging us to give up our truly terrible habit of eating animals. Instead we’ll produce protein from stem cells. Of course there’ll be an awful fuss about this idea so we’ll have to introduce the idea in animated cartoon form on Super Bowl Sunday. I suggest we name the new stuff Hypp—O (Have Your Pure Protein — Organically.) The logo will be a frolicking hippo fashioned in the likeness of the Metropolitan Museum of Art cutie.Corn is becoming a big issue in these hard times. We’ve made the eminently foolish decision to convert it into inefficient bio-fuel, thus creating a shortage. It looks as if we’re going to have to rethink this basic foodstuff. Scarcity will enhance its appeal, but if we used the methodology that gave us red, orange, yellow, purple and black peppers, we can surely color all the golden corn green. Green is what we’re into now. Big time.

Speaking of big, we are frowning on big people especially large people like Henry VIII. We’re disapproving even kings with multiple wives (and children) so we need to keep history in mind as we reorder our priorities. It is an indisputable fact that if most of the poor can no longer afford to shop or drive to the beach, or go to fancy restaurants. They’ll have to stay at home and stare at all those flat screen TV’s they bought in the good old days. But, and this is a big But, we know from past experience when blackouts and other catastrophic world events keep the public off the streets, this results in a heap of begetting. Here’s the silver lining though: this behavioral shift could point the way out of our current economic woes. Little babies are incredibly demanding. They need stuff: diapers, sun hats, crayons, piano lessons, little league uniforms, schools, toys, cell phones and tons of other things. There’s nothing like a new baby to get consumers dashing into the stores and spending without ceasing.

As you see, we just need to look at the future with a telescope instead of a microscope. Long term, we’ve got to change our policies. This, of course means changing our current form of government. I propose we establish a new jury system. Each new problem will be solved by picking twelve jurors, randomly, just as we do for each new court case. The judges will be chosen democratically too. We’ll qualify them first by requiring them to dance with a star and then have an American Idol-type democratic vote.(Just let me know if you have any more problems you’d like me to solve.)

Irena Chalmers is a professor at the Culinary Institute of America and is the author of Food Jobs:150 Great Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers and Food Lovers. Publication Date September 2008

Grow the Good Life

1 Mar


Grow the Good Life

Michele Owens is a renowned writer and gardener who lives in Saratoga Springs. She is one of the founding partners of the gardening blog Garden Rant and has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, Garden Design, and Organic Gardening. Here is an excerpt from her latest book Grow the Good Life

Reprinted from Grow the Good Life by Michele Owens. Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Owens. By permission of Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098



If You Haven’t Grown It, You Haven’t Tasted It

One of the best reasons to garden is the fact that homegrown fruits and vegetables just taste so transcendentally wonderful.

So incredible that they can turn anybody into a magnificent cook. Even if you are merely a happy amateur in the kitchen, as I am, you may find yourself becoming grandiose as the summer wears on. By mid-September, when harvest season is at its peak, I often mistake myself for Alice Waters, the chef who revolutionized American cooking in the 1970s by emphasizing the fresh and the local at her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse.

Alas, when January rolls around and the only homegrown food I have left is a last parsnip in the cellar, I’m once again an enthusiastic but fairly ordinary cook. It’s the ingredients, stupid.

Homegrown food tastes better than supermarket conventional produce, better than supermarket organic. It’s better even than farmers’ market produce, excellent as that usually is, and we’ll talk about why in a minute. The truth is, if you haven’t grown a vegetable, you may never have really tasted it. Tomatoes and other fruits, with their complex acid/sweet flavors and dramatic transformations on ripening, are classic examples of things supermarkets simply cannot do well. However, even humble staples that taste just fine from the supermarket are an absolute revelation from the garden.

I’m talking about such ignorable items as curly parsley, escarole, potatoes, onions, or dried beans for a chili–perfectly serviceable when purchased from the Price Chopper, but another thing entirely from the garden. It seems as if every year, another unassuming vegetable suddenly turns into a star in my garden and opens up a new frontier in my life as a cook and eater.

Last year’s revelation was a green named mache, very popular in France, that I’ve planted a few times and ignored. It forms low-growing little rosettes, irritatingly tiny, too small to be worth the bother of cutting and washing, mainly because I never found the flavor particularly interesting. But it has been discreetly seeding itself in my garden in a bed of ever-bearing strawberries, and I haven’t been weeding it out.

About a year ago, however, I took notice because as soon as the snow retreated in late March–long before any gardener in my part of the world even thinks about seeding salad greens–there the mache was, all perky and inviting. Then I popped a plant into my mouth. Allowed to germinate and grow on its own schedule, the leaves were so tender and melting and the flavor so powerful, it was like eating a strong and expensive French perfume, something on the order of Chanel Coco. Amazing.

Let’s talk about why food harvested fresh from the garden, still warm from the sun or wet from the rain, offers the greatest possible interest for palate and spirit. It has to do with the nature of plants, of us, and of the food industry in all its desperate attempts to feign naturalness while undercutting nature at every turn.

The important thing to understand about plants is that because they can’t run for their lives or do a mating dance, they manufacture chemicals of diabolical subtlety and effectiveness to achieve their goals. They produce chemicals to attract–for example, the chemicals that create the luscious flavor and glorious color of ripe fruit, all designed to draw seed-dispersing animals. On the other hand, some of the chemicals produced by plants are designed to repel hungry herbivores that range from bacteria to groundhogs. Some plants are so subtle that when attacked, they produce a chemical designed to attract the predator of the insect that is eating them.

These chemicals give plants their flavor. One of the theories for why organic foods taste better than the conventionally grown is because organic plants actually face some threats and are forced to mount some tasty defenses, rather than living in a stupid utopia created by pesticides that keeps their flesh bland. Because we adult humans are thrill-seekers, some of the repellent chemicals are part of the enjoyment.

In fact, I sometimes wonder if the difference between my 7-year-old’s palate and mine is that her more sensitive palate responds to plants’ attempts to seduce–and I appreciate the bite or burn of their attempts to repel. “It’s spicy!” she says in an accusatory tone almost every night as dinner is served. Spicy is an all-purpose term that covers far more than hot peppers–raw garlic, horseradish, ginger, and arugula all fit her definition of spicy.

Our perception of flavor is incredibly subtle, and taste is only part of it. Almost all of our senses are involved. The feel of food in our mouths is significant. Appearance, temperature, and memory also contribute. Smell especially is essential to our idea of flavor, which is why it’s difficult to appreciate good food with a bad cold. Brain imaging has demonstrated that our perception of flavor is more than the sum of its parts, too. More areas of our brain are activated by the combination of taste and smell that determines flavor than by smell alone plus taste alone.

Taste is, if anything, the blunter part of the system. Taste receptor cells are each tuned to one of five different sensations: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. In contrast, there are an estimated 350 different kinds of odor receptor cells in the human nose. Each one detects a very specific and limited number of substances. And because individual odors are multifaceted combinations that light up different combinations of receptors, we are able to recognize more than 10,000 different odors.

When it comes to flavor, the apparatus for fussiness is definitely in place!

Buy Grow the Good Life

A Guide to Buying Farm Fresh: Eating Well and Safely in Upstate New York

26 Feb


A Guide to Buying Farm Fresh: Eating Well and Safely in Upstate New York

Julie Cushine-Rigg

Juliecover-199x300Chapter 9 – Chefs

There are many local chefs who are incorporating local foods into their seasonal restaurant menus. For example, you may have noticed local greens featured in salads at New World Bistro in Albany. This is just one example of how chefs like Ric Orlando at the bistro serve as critical links between farmers and consumers. They’re serving products that farmers are raising, and influencing food trends.

It may seem like a new trend, but “cooking with local and fresh ingredients” has actually been common practice among chefs for a long time. As almost any chef will say, “Be sure to get the freshest ingredients you can!”

Cooking at home with local and fresh ingredients is just as important as it is at restaurants. While most of us don’t cook like restaurant chefs every day, we can borrow techniques and recipes from them. And it’s relatively easy, with access to popular cooking shows, and the ability to “Google” recipes. Whether you want to master a soufflé or just get a healthy dinner on the table in under an hour, there is a lot of information available on how to reach your cooking goals.

Famed chef, Julia Child puts the idea of cooking nicely in her book from 1989 – The Way to Cook. The opening paragraphs, read, in part:

…we are becoming more health conscious and more aware of what is in our food. That very awareness is the best of all reasons for learning ‘The Way to Cook’.

While attitudes about food have changed…the principles of good cooking have not. The more one knows about it, the less mystery there is, the faster cooking becomes and the easier it is to be creative and to embrace new trends and ideas – in addition, the more pleasure one has in the kitchen.

That Julia! She was onto something hey?

Let’s take some of the mystery out of the art of cooking, as Child suggests, by getting to know a little about what some of our local chefs are doing. Maybe you’ll discover a new love for cooking, rekindle one you had, or just plain be inspired!

Chef Nicci Cagan

Chef Nicci Cagan is a coordinator of Farm to School in Ulster County’s Roundout Valley Central School District, member of the Chefs Consortium, and director of From the Ground Up, (a garden based wellness initiative).

The Chefs Consortium is “a group of chefs those who advocate sustainability to raise awareness of local food systems and regional history through the creation of dynamic events, market and cooking demonstrations, culinary and sustainability education, seed to table initiatives, farm to school programming, and work with regional food pantries and other deserving organizations. We believe that all food has a story, and we are out to celebrate communities and change lives one bite at a time,” as stated on

The Chefs Consortium formed in spring 2010, and has been a steady and growing network among local chefs. Sharing ideas, cooking together and interacting with audiences about ingredients and using local foods is what it’s all about. Since The Chefs Consortium started, member chefs have participated in food events up and down the Hudson Valley from the Adirondacks to New York City.

Some of the most successful recipes, especially with Farm to School, Chef Cagan says, are ones where kids can be involved with the process of cooking. Often when you start in the classroom and let the children know where the food comes from, what it’s all about – it can be a wonderful starting point. They’re more likely to try recipes they know something about (or they’ve had a hand in making).

“Crepes were a big hit. We did some up in the classroom and the kids just loved them!” she says of one such experience.

Add to that a little taste testing, bringing agriculture into the classroom and you’ve got kids bringing home ideas to parents!

‘Specials’ that have worked nicely – that can just as well be adapted at home – include; Fresh Food on Fridays and Try it Tuesdays.

When it comes to home cooking, Cagan advises to think about simplicity and flavor: just a few simple ingredients. A good combination she says, is roasted vegetables with herbs from the garden, olive oil and salt and pepper. There, you’ve got a side dish! Boil up some noodles, toss with the vegetables, and top with a little good quality shaved parmesan cheese and you’ve got a meal!

“Food has its own integrity,” she says. Letting that shine is important. Whether the flavors are sweet, or sour, Cagan suggests, “Wake up your mouth with your food!”

Noah Sheetz

I met Chef Noah Sheetz for an interview at a community garden in Albany, on a very hot July day. Before he arrived, I had a few minutes to look around at what was being grown. I was surprised to see the variety in what seemed like a pretty small parcel of land in the middle of the city!

There were cucumbers, corn, a few different types of squash, at least three different varieties of lettuce, kale, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, mustard greens, peppers, pumpkins, grapes, and garlic. That wasn’t even everything in the way of edible crops.

There were also herbs and flowers; coneflower, day lilies, dill, basil, zinnias, yarrow, and marigolds. Just beautiful. In just a little corner near Lincoln Park not far from the Governor’s Mansion was all of this variety! Kind of made me feel guilty for not having put in my own garden that year. Sheetz was as gracious with his time as the land was bountiful.

“Just look at this, it takes practically nothing [to plant]!” was his proclamation to me when we got chatting about how accessible fresh ingredients can be to everybody, especially through gardening. Even in the small urban garden, variety was plenty!

Sheetz is originally from Texas, he moved to the Hudson Valley to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. His philosophy – “To buy fresh, local, and seasonal foods.”

He regularly participates in events with Nicci Cagan and others from the Chefs Consortium, spreading the word about supporting a sustainable food system.

Learn more about A Guide to Buying Farm Fresh and Julie Cushine Rigg

Pasta photograph by Jane Feldman