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Understanding food through your environment

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

I recently watched a program that featured Rene Redzepi whom is the chef of Noma

 

This really changed my perception of food and what I should be doing with it. Culturally we grow up with certain foods and food related traditions. They become commonplace to us. For me as a child born in the late seventies in the US this meant we already had mass market foods - processed foods, trans-fats galore, ingredients flown in from all of the place regardless of season. Not to mention the industrial convenience/fast food that sprung up. As part of my culture I consider many of those foods to be comfort foods as they were things my mother provided to us with love and every good intention of nutrition, or in other ways associated with memories of my childhood.

 

Still, this mass market aspect has decoupled our culture from our environment. Jamaicans living in Nebraska are likely to be able to get spiny lobster, plantains, jerk spices, etc. although they won't be sourced locally or necessarily fresh. I think this is a blessing of modern life, but as I have continued on my own journey to explore food it can get a bit muddled when there are no limitations. I can at my local grocer source products to cook african, asian, french, south american, indian, american, etc. foods.

 

I think that is great for most of us. We can also play with lots of techniques that are being created in modern cuisine that don't belong to a single culture or influence. Yet I feel disconnected at times. After watching Rene, and understanding his philosophy I think I know why. Maybe it's different for me than others. I was born where I still live, and by choice I have remained here. I love my environment and want to appreciate it even more through the culinary potential it has.

 

I feel like I need to step back from the grocery store, and step into the forest, walk along the beaches, or freshwater shorelines and force myself to use my environment as an ingredient. Florida obviously has wonderful seafood and freshwater game. I also want to try to incorporate things like hickory nuts, wild garlic, "duck potato", etc. Then there are going to be some things that are maybe harder to appreciate. Mullet roe? It would be difficult for me to jump into that but I think it is a gem in our resources and so I feel like it's ME that needs to change and appreciate those things. More so to challenge myself to take what is available around me and create dishes that are still enjoyable to a person that grew up eating pizza and drinking chocolate milk, yet represent the essence of where I live.

post #2 of 14
Yes!

Pizza is so good though.
post #3 of 14

Since I've cut back on salt the past couple of months everything I don't make myself tastes salty.  I read labels and am aghast at the sodium content!!  I had a slice of pizza from my regular joint a couple weeks ago and I couldn't finish it.  It's been a challenge to season when cooking, but I'm getting a handle on it.

post #4 of 14

Don't expect this to happen over night.  It takes time to adjust to the type of eating you describe.  You build new habits a little at a time, like avoiding walking down the aisles of the grocery store and shop only the perimeter.  Something I like to do is to skip the grocery store altogether and shop at individual stores - the vegetable market, the butcher's, the italian specialty store, the fish monger, etc.  It's not so difficult for me to do this though since all those are within walking distance from me, I have no excuse but to do that.  

 

Eating and finding food the way you describe requires building a network of relationships.  Visit farms, meet a fisherman, get involved with those who source food and then go from there.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #5 of 14

I'm going to probably hijack the thread a bit. Apologies.

 

 

Coffee? Tea? Chocolate? Somehow those foods are always the exception to the locovore. 

 

Or why one arbitrary range limit over another one to define local. 

 

Look at a population distribution map of your nation or of the world. The population is concentrated around big water. Ocean, Lake, River. The locovore principles can not feed those population concentrations. My desert state is largely an exception to that rule, but the population is small by many standards. And still it would be a struggle or impossible to feed us locally let alone off of indigenous food items. It's hard enough to water us locally. 

 

Certainly there is insight to be gained  and great food to be had. But the locovore movement is simultaneously first world wealthy and small population third world poverty. That disparity strikes me stronger than the claims of the locovore movment. 

 

While Rene Redzepi didn't say what I'm about to say, it is what it boils down to from my perspective. Marketing. He is able to present himself as offering something different, special and ethical (for certain values of ethical) to a market willing to reward those claims (as being about themselves). 

 

Yeah, I'm a grouch this morning. I didn't sleep well and my back hurts--first world problems in their own right. I may have a different perspective when I'm in a better mood. 

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 

Phatch I agree completely. Take chicken, lamb, goat, or cattle - they are almost universally included in some variation in the diet of people world wide that partake in eating meat. Sure places that are close to abundant fish resources may include more fish in their diet. In my mind I wasn't suggesting that we could sustain ourselves entirely off of food sourced of indigenous ingredients. Instead, what it seems to me is that with so many possibilities, so much resource at our fingers, it muddles the concept of what it means to be deeply connected to your food and to understand the connection it has to where you call home. Sometimes when you can freely paint with every conceivable color, you lose the appreciation for what a color is; for the discipline and creativity required to produce something beautiful when limited.

 

That said, Rene has a unique advantage of having a tremendous amount of wild resource. I got a book on wild edibles in Florida and we are pretty limited in comparison to areas in say Finland or Denmark. Sure we have some berries and nuts, and a few other nice plants but nowhere around here are you going to find wild asparagus or cilantro next to the ocean.

 

I've been watching episodes now featuring Magnus Nilsson and it is more of the same. A lot of great wild resources that he is able to include in a tasting menu. Not all of it mind you, but simply having a real connection to the forests and wilderness, seems to help create a very clear vision in the dishes he creates.

 

To some degree I think I am having a food identity crisis. Partly because I guess I don't feel like there was ever an identifiable food culture in my area. I suppose the idea of cracker food/culture would be focused on fresh water fish, gator, wild birds such as turkey, dove, duck, etc. Certainly shrimp, oysters, clams, and saltwater fish for the coastal towns. Still how do we prepare them? Well with clams I end up making New England chowder - I know of no Florida dish featuring clams. Oysters, why not fry them? It just seems so pathetically detached and generic to me. I have to do better than that.

post #7 of 14

If you've lived your whole life in one place then you might not be aware of your own food culture, because you have nothing to compare it to.  Move somewhere else for a while, at least visit another part of the country.  I didn't know that virginia had a food culture until I left it.  And now I miss it terribly from time to time.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #8 of 14
What I like about Noma, in spite of the talk about hyper localism, is that they are firmly grounded in technique. In other words, it's not that he serves lichen, but rather they have put a lot of effort into figuring out not only how to make edible, but (by accounts) delicious.

That said, I am not a fan of foraging just for the hell of it. I had a dish last year that I was informed was made with blue foot mushrooms that the "kitchen" (field trip?) Had foraged. They were muddy, and limp tasting. Screwing up rare, hard to get product, that really is lame.
post #9 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by eastshores View Post

To some degree I think I am having a food identity crisis. Partly because I guess I don't feel like there was ever an identifiable food culture in my area. I suppose the idea of cracker food/culture would be focused on fresh water fish, gator, wild birds such as turkey, dove, duck, etc. Certainly shrimp, oysters, clams, and saltwater fish for the coastal towns. Still how do we prepare them?

To get a glimpse into old time Florida cuisine and culture, check out Cross Creek Cookery by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. It is a great read and not just a cookbook. It really captures the time and lifestyle of rural Florida. She is more well known for writing The Yearling which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.

 

If you ever around Alachua county (Gainesville) you can also check out her homestead which is now a state park. In addition close by there is the Yearling Restaurant which opened in 1952 and serves traditional Florida cuisine with items such as venison, quail, cooter, froglegs, alligator and quail. Florida Trend magazine rated it as one of Florida's top restaurants 2002-2011.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks cheflayne, I ordered the book, it looks great. I don't get up to Gainesville too often since it's about a 2.5 hour drive but it sounds like a fun road trip. I've found one thing that looks exciting but I will have to wait until the spring. Some call it cossacks asparagus. It's the tender new shoots from the Cattail plant that grows around wetlands. I live walking distance from a lake connected to the St. John's River. From what I see online it looks very tender and tasty. Online posts describe it as being somewhere between sweet corn and asparagus which sounds delicious to me.

 

I am already plating in my mind similar to what Rene was doing on the show. Just very carefully placed and gently prepared ingredients that express a flavor profile of the area. We have a lot of sunshine and bright windy days in the spring where I live so something like grilled cossacks asparagus, seared redfish (if I can catch one!), maybe a few kernels of quickly poached sweet corn and something like a light tomato broth. We have a lot of citrus in FL so some citrus zest (or oil) could brighten things up.

 

Thank you everyone for the insightful feedback.

post #11 of 14

Cattail, which I have always been intrigued by but haven't tried yet, made me think of hearts of palm which is another goodie when sourced fresh, not the canned crap. Just thought of poke salat as well. Just research the toxicity aspect before preparing, kind of like rhubarb in that aspect although it certainly doesn't slow down from people consuming rhubarb.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #12 of 14
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cheflayne View Post
 

Cattail, which I have always been intrigued by but haven't tried yet, made me think of hearts of palm which is another goodie when sourced fresh, not the canned crap. Just thought of poke salat as well. Just research the toxicity aspect before preparing, kind of like rhubarb in that aspect although it certainly doesn't slow down from people consuming rhubarb.

 

Thanks I'm actually quite familiar with both. The downside to heart of palm is it kills the tree and you get very little yield. I don't have a lot of sable palms on my land either, and it is fairly illegal to go tromping around on public land killing trees. There are probably some farms so I'll definitely investigate that. My father was a true Florida cracker, born in his grandmothers home and so poor at times growing up that eating heart of palm, squirrel, and wild birds was simply required to stay alive. Back then there was a lot more game and fish. The population was much smaller and housing encroachment hadn't had any huge impact yet.

 

Poke salad is something my next door neighbor talked about. She would boil them, I think three times? Discarding the liquid each time. I've never tried it but polk weed does grow wild on my property. The berries create a potent purple dye too. It's something I'll definitely consider if I can research enough to be sure not to poison myself! I've heard it is very similar to spinach and it's probably the only indigenous plant that would fit that flavor profile.

post #13 of 14
Thread Starter 

After reading again about poke weed.. that is a bit scary! The poison saturation in the plant varies based on the maturity of the plant. So you can't be sure after three purges that the toxins are gone. And they are some nasty toxins, including hemoglobin toxins. No thanks! I'd certainly never try to serve that to someone and I wouldn't gamble on it myself.

post #14 of 14

Eastshores said-

 

"I feel like I need to step back from the grocery store, and step into the forest, walk along the beaches, or freshwater shorelines and force myself to use my environment as an ingredient. Florida obviously has wonderful seafood and freshwater game. I also want to try..."

 

You want to learn to nibble on your environment?

 

OK, learn from Euell Gibbons:

 

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0911469036/?tag=mh0b-20&hvadid=3485852041&ref=pd_sl_lwvcjm2fi_b

 

He wrote Stalking the Wild Asparagus as well as Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop and several other fascinating 

books on foraging in your neighborhood and eating very well.  We found these books when we lived on a semi-rural island in Puget Sound and had a wonderful time rummaging through the woods and shorelines and finding great things to eat.

 

We also went on a couple of wonderful mushroom hunts in season - and with a well-qualified guide - to feast on fresh chanterelles and other treats. 

 

These rather old books seem to be still very much in print.

 

Mike

travelling gourmand
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travelling gourmand
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