Wednesday, September 12, 2007

ELC Day 12

ELC Epiphany
I've always been loathe to waste food that I made (not so much leftovers, but loaves of bread, jars of sauce, baked goods, etc) because, well duh, I put effort into. I saw it transform from raw ingredients into something else entirely, as if by magic.

But I had an epiphany this morning while eating breakfast. Maybe epiphany is too strong a word; let's say I had a sudden realization. When I know where my food comes from, I am loathe to waste any. I was inhaling my toasted peanut butter and local raspberry jam sandwich on rye this morning (I woke up ravenous, omg, thought I would die). And since I had toasted the bread prior to making the sandwich, all the pb&j were getting melty and squishing out the sides of the sandwich. And I thought, "I'm not wasting this jam! Someone made this jam with their hands. With real raspberries. In their kitchen. " So I started using my finger to mop it up and lick it off. Now, it might have been low blood sugar at the time, but thinking back on it, I really think that it's true: when you have a more personal connection to your food, you really want to, sort of, well, honor the food. And the people who made it/grew it for you. When your food isn't coming from a faceless corporate factory, the connection to other people becomes more transparent. I want to honor the farmer that grew the raspberries, the person who stood in the kitchen making jam, and poured it into jars, made labels and brought it to the farmer's market. It's easier to imagine human faces behind this food I'm eating, and that makes it more special.

Now, I'm not about wasting food in general, but it's hard to care quite as much about food that you know was mass produced. It's a little more soulless, a little less there there. I've worked in an industrial food setting before, and I know what that's like (I wasn't in the food prep areas, I was in admin, but believe me, I've seen what happens there). Underpaid people doing hard physical labor with few benefits and long hours. The cheapest ingredients. Giant giant giant vats of food. It's just plain creepy. I'm sure not all industrial food settings are the same, but I still contend that as the process of growing/cooking/packaging becomes further and further fragmented, the person-to-person connection to the food grows weaker and weaker. And we all suffer for it. It's like when Thich Nhat Hanh talks about interbeing:
"If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are" (Essential Writings, p. 55).
Like seeing the cloud in the paper, eating locally is opening my eyes to the farmers and artisans in my food. It is a very peaceful realization. If I were a great buddhist, I would be able to see them in the mass-produced food, too. But I kind of have to wonder: are they even in there anymore? Does any love at all go into the products at the industrial level? If so, t's definitely harder to detect.

On a totally different subject: Making Seitan
For dinner, I tried making seitan using vital wheat gluten for the first time. Previously we had only had seitan purchased already made from the freezer case and we've always been sort of mediocre fans (a distant third to tofu and tempeh on the pseudo meat product scale). But since we can't find local tempeh in any shape or form, I decided to give it a go. I realize that the vital wheat gluten isn't local, either, BUT you can make seitan using just wheat flour. Which I can get locally, so there. But before going to the trouble I wanted to see if homemade would turn out at all.

So I followed the directions on the back of the box, but used a broth recipe from La Dolce Vegan ("beef" flavored). I realized after I started making the broth that it was probably for only half as much seitan, but I thought, it's just simmering in the broth, so there'll be enough, right? Eh. It looked fine when I dropped all my little seitan steak-lets in the broth, but holy crap, when I checked on it a few minutes later it had EXPANDED. Quite a bit. So I poured some more water in and added a little concentrated broth goop to make up for the diluted broth recipe.

And it turned out great! It seemed to be more strongly flavored than the store bought stuff - in a good way. We only used half of what the recipe made, but it keeps for about a week in the fridge, so we'll just use it up later in some other dish. And now I'm ready to try it from just wheat flour. The real scratch method. In a couple of weeks.

And with that I bring you our menu from today (I should note that I haven't felt well for a few days, but today I realllly got my appetite back!):

Peanut butter (from Costco, ack!) and red raspberry jam (from the Lansing City Market) on toasted rye bread (from Strawberry Moon bakery in Ferndale).
Yogurt with fresh peaches (from Lansing)
Strawberry kefir (purchased from the local HFS in Ferndale, Natural Food Patch)

Poor man's omelet: rye bread cubes toasted in local butter, with 2 local eggs poured over. And a little local gouda shredded on top.
Rye toast
Local apple

Chocolate with hazelnuts (from TJ's - I know, it's my weakness)
Kettle corn (from Lansing)
Mint tea (fresh peppermint and chocolate mint from the backyard)

Marrakesh Vegetable Curry (using local peppers, squash, carrots, onions, garlic, chickpeas, dried cherries, ginger juice, sunflower seeds; non-local spices, oil, OJ, raisins)*
Homemade seitan (using vital wheat gluten mix)
Whole-wheat couscous (purchased in bulk from local HFS)

Local cinnamon ice cream (OMG YUM!)

*Marrakesh Vegetable Curry is sooooooo good. This is the second time we've made it, and it rocks. Use whatever vegetables seem appropriate, it's a very flexible recipe.


Bettina Stern said...

Browsing the Eat Local Challenge, I found your blog. I thought that you might be interested in our website Loulies which has two features: (1) "e-bites" which are sent out , on average, twice a week via email. The are short musings on anything and everything inspired by food and always include a great recipe, must-have tip, menu idea, new ingredient discovered etc. You must sign-up to receive the e-bites. (2) A Cook the Book club for those who want to learn to cook better with us (like a traditional book club, but we cook instead of read - this is how Suzanne and I met over 10 years ago and have learned to cook better with friends - it is really a great concept).

Please go to our website and sign-up to gain a better sense of who we are and how our site works. Everything we have written so far is archived on our home page.


Woolfairy said...

I always loved making seitan. If you like it, there used to be a great recipe at vegsource for a soy seitan turkey, which basically was a Tofurkey. The recipe was intended for the bread machine and is hands down the best seitan I ever made (and I made tons of it through the years of being vegan) Bryanna Clarke Grogan wrote the recipe. OK, I am lame and so I went and found it for you -

Also Joanne Stepaniak has a recipe for Vegan Pot Roast which is a seitan pot roast that is also super amazing. *sigh* I miss seitan...

keeta said...

Woolfairy -
Awesome! Thanks for that link, I know I've tried some of her recipes in the past and been pleased, so I'll have to try that out!

Bettina - I checked out your blog and signed up! It looks really cool, thanks for the heads up.

Cathe Olson said...

Keeta - You can freeze seitan, too. I use the recipe from Real Food Daily cookbook. When I make a batch, I divide it into four parts. One portion is all I need for a meal so I put the other 3 into the freezer for later. It's handy to have some already made when I need it.