Chef thrives on desire to perfect skills

58ac8e0564e5f-image

Check out this story I wrote for the Wisconsin State Journal about how to become a chef! 

By Holly Henschen

When Daniel Bonanno was a teenager, he used to whip up pasta from scratch and garden-fresh marinara sauce for his hungry — and very impressed — friends.

“I don’t think their mothers ever believed I made the food — they thought my mom did it,” said Bonanno, executive chef and owner of Madison’s Pig in a Fur Coat, a Mediterranean comfort-food bistro in Madison’s hip Williamson Street neighborhood.

Bonanno was raised in the kitchen by his food-loving Italian immigrant parents who still run their Kenosha deli. Striking out on his own, Bonanno’s hunger for knowledge has propelled his career. Success in the culinary industry hinges on dedication to mastering the trade, he says.

Chefs and skilled culinary workers are in high demand as the restaurant industry evolves. Training opportunities have grown through fast-casual chains and restaurant groups that operate collections of casual and fine-dining establishments.

“The food-service industry is definitely experiencing a labor shortage right now,” says Connie Fedor, executive director at the Wisconsin Restaurant Association Education Foundation. “Our members are actively looking to fill chef and kitchen staff positions in particular.”

The National Restaurant Association projects that 1.7 million restaurant jobs will be added in the next 10 years as openings for cooks and chefs grow by 15 percent nationwide.

But working as a chef is nothing like the dramatic lifestyle portrayed by reality TV. The work is difficult. The hours are mostly nights, weekends and holidays. The pay is nothing to write home about. But the job can be as rewarding as the work invested in it.

After high school, Bonanno enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis for a year. The traditional French curriculum raises as many questions as it answered.

“Like, does it have to be this way? Is this the best way to do it? Some of the best chefs question everything,” Bonanno says.

After finishing school and interning at Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva for a year, he worked for eight months at the Italian restaurant Mangia in Kenosha. After that, Bonanno, relocated to Italy for more education at the age of 20.

During a year of formal studies, he also performed free prep work at restaurants in Florence in order to learn from the masters. In this way, he acquired skills like butchering and making gelato.

“Whatever experience I could get, I just tried to indulge in it,” Bonanno says.

But one needn’t travel so far for culinary schooling. Trade schools like Madison Area Technical College (MATC) offer associate’s degree programs with classes in food preparation and restaurant management.

In the food courses, students learn to prepare all varieties of foods, from salads to charcuterie. They’re trained on kitchen equipment and sanitary practices. After an internship a year into the program, students are schooled on the hospitality and business end of restaurants — leadership, cost control and writing a menu to attract local target demographics.

“If you’re going to be a chef and have a restaurant, your ability to handle finances is a big deal,” says Paul Short, program chair of MATC’s Culinary Arts Program.

Short sees a booming job market for his students in the “farm-to-table mecca” of Madison’s food scene.

“With all of that comes a high need for cooks and chefs and managers to take on those responsibilities,” Short says. Institutional food settings like UW-Madison, Epic and hospitals also employ culinary students.

That food mecca attracted Bonanno. He returned to the United States, starting as a line cook at Spiaggia’s in Chicago before working his way up to sous chef. Next, at age 26, he built Pig in a Fur Coat with a friend he met in Italy.

Bonanno’s work is his life. He arrives at Pig in a Fur Coat late in the morning and begins prepping food. Along with the sous chef, he prepares the bases of recipes and butchering. Later, after he checks work emails, the cooks arrive. Then the food conversation begins with Bonanno acting as a mentor, a crucial role in a repetitive environment.

“One important thing that people have to learn about working in restaurants: you do the same thing over and over again every day. Just because you’ve done it maybe 10, 20, 100 times doesn’t make you an expert,” Bonanno says.

That passion to grow sustains many food workers as knowledge and experience pad their salaries.

Entry-level wages for line cooks in Wisconsin, typically part-time employees due to restaurant hours, are around $10 to $12 an hour or an estimated $17,000 to $18,000 annually, according to Jeff Sachse, an economist at the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Pay varies by establishment. Sous chefs can also work part-time hours, earning between $15 and $18 hourly or $25,000 to $27,000 annually on average in Wisconsin, Sachse says.

Chefs and head cooks earn a median annual salary of around $36,000 in Wisconsin. Skill level, experience and place of employment affect pay.

Larger scale institutional operations offer similar wages, more stability, longer-term employment and well-defined training, Sachse says. Incomes for chefs like Bonanno, who start and run their own restaurants, are less uniform and difficult to track.

The best chefs thrive on their desire to learn and putting in the work to become experts, Bonanno says.

“No matter what your age, expect to work at the bottom first. It takes a long time. Cooking is ultimately a trade job. It’s experience that you need.”

Wake Up and Smell the Fake Coffee

I drink fake coffee. In fact, I’m drinking it right now.

The blasphemy, the horror! Won’t someone think of the coffee-guzzling American children?! (I kid. A little.)

“What’s the point?” was a response I heard often when I opted for decaf in public. But drinking a coffee substitute is generally so baffling that people are more intrigued than turned off. Several have even been keen to sample it.

decaf_comicCaffeine and I have a love hate relationship. I love caffeinated beverages, but they hate my relaxation and sleep. Tea works for me. Decaf, which still contains caffeine, and diet soda, even precious Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi, do not.

I wasn’t always this way. In my youth, I slurped multiple espressos and French press-fuls a day. In fact, I reported or the world coffee market. I was co-chair of the Fair Trade Coalition chapter in college and successfully campaigned to get it in our student union and a local, small-town grocery store. Coffee and I go way back.

But somewhere along the line, I developed a sensitivity to the drink of the gods. It took many incidents to come to terms with the fact that the magic bean cramping my style. Particularly because coffee has always held a place of comfort and sustenance in my palatte. First, I down-shifted to occasional decaf, but knew in my heart that it had to go.  For weeks after giving up low-octane coffee, I yearned for it. A whiff of fresh beans in a friend’s tote or simply walking by a coffee shop set off a cavalcade of obsessive cravings. I desparately needed a hot cuppa! With a splash of soy creamer.

dscf2079Then, friend turned me on to my fake coffee of choice: Dandy Blend Herbal Coffee Substitute. I had actually scoffed at it about four months prior. Dandy Blend is roasted dandelion root, roasted chicory (the same stuff that makes world-famous Cafe Mundo coffee distinct) and roasted barley and rye (don’t worry, it’s gluten-free). Dandelion is known as a rich source of B vitamins and a liver cleanser in Chinese traditional medicine.

The instant powder is also less acidicless acidic and, I’m going to aruge, better for the environment.

Coffee is actually the most water-intensive commodity in the world. Water is not only used to cultivate the crop and prepare its end product, but to process it. In the commonly used wet process, or washed method, the ripe crimson coffee cherries that surround the raw beans are poured into a vat, which is then flooded with water. When immersed, the pulpy berry eventually separates from the bean and floats to the top, along with any of the thin skin that surrounds it, known as parchment. This berry scum is skimmed from the top, along with any of the lighter, deficient beans. Then the water is drained and the beans are dried. If every bean that’s roasted and ground to make your coffee undergoes this process, that’s a lot of H20 in your water footprint.

Let’s also not forget that coffee is among the most widely-used and socially-acceptable drugs in the world. Ahem. 

ea1da4b156b73f0c9ab52c2491c3f479But back to fake coffee. Dandy Blend is one of several coffee substitutes. Celestial Seasonings has a tea called Roastaroma (which is a little to grain-flavored for my liking). There are a few I have yet to try that include ingredients like dried figs and sugar beets. If you’re feeling jittery and not sleeping well, I suggest you give one a shot. If you’re drinking decaf, make sure you’re drinking water-decaffeinated coffee rather than chemically-decaffeinated. I think it’s obvious why.

Drinking fake coffee is much like drinking non-alcoholic beer (which I’ve done once, out of curiousity, but if that’s your thing, right on). It’s bizarre. You expect to get a buzz going because your body associates that effect with beer. But nothing happens. Of course, there will be no caffeine high from a coffee substitute.

Nonetheless, on a March day with a winter storm raging outside, fake coffee does something for me that a cup of tea can’t. But I’m still going to have tea next.

 

 

 

Hellooooooooo, Hummus!

olive-oil-heart-hummus-1024x768Hummus and I have been reunited and it feels so good!

My love affair with hummus started with my long stint of vegetarian/veganism during my sophomore year of college. One viewing of PETA’s “Meet Your Meat” was all it took (not recommended). A co-worker’s girlfriend shared her recipe and I became a hummus connoisseur. My family called me Hummus Holly and my siblings would tease me by saying “Hummus, Hummus, Hummus!” ala Jan Brady’s middle-child lament, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” such was my enthusiasm for this delicious dip. It hurt me, but I had to break up with hummus as I distanced myself from carbohydrates over the last 2-3 years. But those days are gone. Hummus and I are back! With a vengeance. (Editor’s note: This experienced diet-tryer is now hip to the Leptin Diet and diggin’ it.)

If you’re buying hummus instead of making it, you’re wasting money and depriving yourself and your loved ones of healthy delisciousness. All it takes is a can of beans, traditionally garbanzo, some lemon juice, tahini (sesame seed paste), salt, some seasonings and you’re off!

You can make hummus with any kind of bean and any kind of flavoring. For a party this weekend, I made double-layer hummus and sang an impromptu song about it, I was so over-joyed. The bottom layer was black bean with lime juice, cumin and cayenne. The top later was Sriracha hummus with garbanzos. So, I present to you, without further ado, a hummus how-to.

Basic Hummus Recipe
1 15-oz. can of beans – garbanzo, black, white, edamame, get crazy with it!
2 cloves of garlic, more if you’re awesome and like garlic
1/4-1/2 t salt or more to taste
2 T. tahnini, available either by the peanut butter or in the international foods aisle
Herbs, spices, flavorings: This is where you can get creative and experiment. Add a handful of pitted kalamata olives, a T or two of your favorite barbecue, hot, jerk or curry sauce, 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro, fresh herbs like thyme and basil, roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, whatever your heart desires.
1-2 T of lemon juice, if it matches your flavor profile. You can also use lime juice, or probably even orange, depending on what you’re going for. Dessert hummus is a thing!
A splash of olive oil, depending on bean consistency: Garbanzos are a bit dry, so you may want to add a T or so of olive oil -or- some olive oil and some water. Just a splash! Too much will leave you with a gross, soupy mess. Don’t do it!
A splash of soy sauce or Bragg’s Aminos: I used to do this, but prefer it without these days.

Blend these in a food processor, adding extra olive oil and water as needed. You’ll likely have to scrape down the sides and reblend a few times to reach the consistency you desire. If you want to up the presentation for a party, make a dip in the middle of the hummus with a spoon and add a bit of olive oil, then sprinkle the spices or sauce you flavored the hummus with in the the middle. Que elegante!

Eat your delicious hummus with veggies, crackers or on a pita or wrap. Hummus is super healthy, with a mix of unsaturated fats, carbs and protein, as well as the added benefits from the herbs and spices you may include.

So there you have it! Friends don’t let friends eat Sabra. It’s the junkfood of hummus because it’s full of cheap, nutritionally-deficient vegetable oil. Make your own, save money and enjoy the experience! And eat it in good health.

Have any awesome hummus ideas? I’d love to hear about them!

 

 

Food Resolutions for Thought

How’s that New Year’s Resolution going? Perhaps you vowed to drink less or hit the gym more? Maybe you promised to eat healthier food.

f3b8The Washington Post must have resolved to knock it out of the park with food-related columns and articles this year. For instance, food isn’t healthy, NOT EVEN KALE. Before you toss the device you’re reading this on away from you in disgust, check out the article. Or read my summary: foods hold different nutrients. It’s how we nourish ourselves with them makes us healthy. The whole of our diet matters more than kale or bacon alone.

Moving on, this WaPo column, The surprising truth about the food movement, details the chronic over-hyping of the Food Movement, the fruit of self-sufficient ideas planted by Back-to-the-Land hippies in the 1960s. Their ethos grew into the ideologies behind bestsellers, such as anything by Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and the evolution of New York Times columnist Mark Bittman from a foodie to the founder of vegan-ish-ism.

phpthumb_generated_thumbnailjpg-225x300

The Food Movement’s message is loud clear: people want real food. Real food is nutritious, lacks pesticides, local and doesn’t hurt anyone in its production. It’s also nice to the animals you’re eating. Wild is better than farmed. Foraged is best. (Note: This last point may be a sentiment confined to Wisconsin thing.)

But, in general, Americans aren’t so clear about whether they want a food movement. The amount of processed foods purchases barely budged from 2002-2012.

What’s more: it’s a bit of nostalgic fantasy that Americans in general have the time and money to buy, prepare and eat all whole, local, sustainable foods while living modern lifestyles. Who has time to prepare 21 fresh meals each week? Who’s going to give up their guilty-pleasure Girl Scout cookies and Bagel Bites? Luckily for today’s Americans, it’s that whole-shebang diet, not just an heirloom tomato or a Twinkie, that makes up our diet.

So, the column continues, food manufacturers are producing the next best thing to Food Movement-friendly, whole foods: processed perishables produced with more natural ingredients that are closer to foods than, as Polan would say, food-like substances.

Nonetheless, people are thinking more about food, and it’s grown into a conversation that’s taking root in public policy. SNAP money is redeemable at farmers markets. More insurance companies (at least in the Madison, Wisconsin, area) are offering to pony up for part of your CSA (community-share agriculture, which is kind of like a ritzy subscription to a farm). As increasing numbers of consumers seek sustainability and food transparency, the big players in an industry starved for profits are listening more closely.

Campbell’s Soup Co. announced it’s in favor of GMO labeling on products, a food fight that’s been raging nationally for more than a decade. Kellogg’s has resolved to remove all artificial ingredients in its cereals by 2018. Food industry consultancy and thought leader Euromonitor named sustainability one of the top trends of 2016.

The WaPo column says these food formulation changes are a pittance in regards to the big picture. But I disagree.

Food tells a story about how we once lived. The United States was, at one time, a patchwork of farming communities. But we’ve been uprooted. The most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Census showed that those who count farming as their livelihoods is decreasing rapidly as farmers age.

Humans, being the hunters and eaters that we are, have been disconnected from our natural habitat. Our bodies weren’t designed for a leisure-rich technological age. But reconnecting to our food, even if it’s just through naturally colored Annie’s Homegrown White Cheddar Bunnies crackers, is important. It reminds us of where we came from. Because that means we’re thinking about it. We want to be healthier, like nearly every New Year’s resolutioner.

Change to a more nutritious food system won’t happen overnight. But moves toward more natural products, ingredients and production methods help us feel more connected to the land that sustains us, the land we’re all joint stewards of. And that keeps us thinking.

So maybe you haven’t completely followed through on your New Year’s Resolution. But you’re thinking about it, right? An extra trip to the gym and a few fewer drinks or donuts each week make a significant cumulative difference. Small changes incrementally result in a new norm, leading to large and long-lasting results.

Fat-Free to Fat Bomb: Amber waves of grain meet everything coconut

 

stop-the-insanityAmericans and food: we’re a fun pairing. Take a hodge-podge of cultures, unleash them on a virgin landmass, throw in a few major wars victories and you’re in for an interesting culinary ride.

My most recent food musing is how the pendulum has swung toward eating fat. For background, I recommend In Defense of Food by Michael Polan. Polan explains how American dietary habits were politicized through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Association. Essentially, what we consider rule-of-thumb healthy eating habits resulted from elites bargaining for daily food recommendations that benefited their states’ agricultural producers. National health and food trade associations also lobbied to represent their interests. Polan’s take-away is that the fat-phobia that manifested in the last quarter of the 20th century led to high levels of heart disease. This is because fat is actually healthy for your body, moreso than cheap grains, which have been sustaining societies since agrarianism became the norm, ca. 8,000-10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent.

Fast forward to 2015 and spin 180 degrees toward the Atkins Diet, which (still) hasn’t died out, and prevailing Paleo, Ketogenic and Low-Carb High-Fat (LCHF) diets. American culture has a habit of moving from one end of a spectrum to the other every 20-25 years or so.

lchf diet

Historically, dietary trends have shifted with populations and the available resources. In the past, when nutrient-deficient sugar was scarce and costly, Americans walked, biked and performed manual labor on a daily basis. At that point, people ate whatever they could get, which was undoubtedly in season. But these days, sugar is abundant, the food on store shelves has enviable travel experience no matter the time of the year, and we’re generally parked in front of screens during the bulk of our waking hours. Cue the low-energy diets, please!

No matter which lineage of LCHF diet one follows, fat, rather than carbohydrates (glucose, fructose and sucrose), is the your primary source of energy And not just animal fat, mind you. A major market has developed around the new superfood, coconut. Truly, calling coco a superfood in today’s environment is an understatement. The wondrous coconut, which, like quinoa, is technically a seed, is a source of products including: coconut water, oil, sugar, flour, butter, milk, “milk” and shredded coconut. Once a niche product found in the international food aisle, coconut product are now a money maker throught the perishable goods market, which has thin margins and requires constant innovation to increase sales and show profits.

53340690

The world coconut market reached $71 million in 2014, showing a compound annual growth rate of 103% from just two years earlier, according to a recent report from IndexBox Marketing. Top coconut exporters are Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Mexico, with the latter two countries boosting their market share in recent years. (Note: I did not create that image. Nonetheless, it’s fantastic.)

China is the leading importer of coconuts, accounting for 87% of the global market. Take note of your lables: many coconut products are produced in China, as well as their countries of origin, for example, the Philipinnes. The United States, along with Australia and Italy, each accounted for 2% of global coconut imports. The combined imports of these countries totaled 93% of the world market in 2014. The United States’ coconut imports rose 2 percentage points from the the previous year in the same timeframe.

If you’re a coconut oil user, I urge you to purchase the Dr. Bronner’s Fair Trade variety. It’s a bit pricier, but the Fair Trade certification guarantees that the people producing the product are being paid a living wage and the company is investing in their community. You can pick it up at your local food co-op or Whole Foods.

You can also use it to make fat bombs, which are actually much more delicious than they sound. Eat your fat bombs with a side of social responsibility, I say! (Note: I was introduced to coconuts by my holistic chiropractor. She suggested them, so I consume them under doctor’s orders!) I’m experimenting with some fat bomb recipes I’ll share just in time for holiday merrymaking.

I can’t help but wonder where our culture will be dietarily in another 20 years and what the hot superfoods will be. Dare to venture a guess? Leave your ideas in the comment section below!

Here’s another use for coconuts and a few thoughts about their export…

This is Your Brain on Sardines

Gross no more! Sardines are packed with biovailable Omega Fatty Acids. They’re cost-effective and surprisingly tasty.

Sardines: not gross.

That’s news, right? I grew up on a cattle farm in the Midwest. The amount of beef I ate through age 17 is enough for my entire lifetime. It did send me into a decade-long vegetarian and vegan cycle, from which I’ve recovered. But my current protein kick is sardines.

I’ve always equated sardines with anchovies, the tiny little fishes used as pizza toppings. And though I’ve often turned to canned tuna for a cost-effective, ready-to-eat source of protein, I shuddered at the thought of sardines. Grossness.

However, I was recently discussing Omega 3s with my chiropractor, a happy, healthy, holistic paleo-enthusiast. She’s of such sound mind and body that her word is gospel to me. She recommended I lay off of the Omega supplements (super costly, btw) and eat fish. Daily. And not tuna, which is a larger fish that’s likely to contain more mercury, so it should only be eaten a few times a week. She recommended salmon, scallops, oysters (which even she admitted to finding unpalatable) and shared that one of her favorite fishes is sardines. I nearly scoffed and gagged at the same time. The odor of anchovies from grade school pizza parties flooded my memory as she assured me they were delicious on salads and in a variety of dishes. Eating Omega 3s as part of food makes the fatty acid much more easily available (bioavailable) to your body. You have to eat anyway, she argued. Why not get your nutrients in the form of food?

It made sense. And, as a primarily paleo eater, I’m always on the hunt for a bargain. Omegas are mega important to me in the winter, as seasonal affective disorder is part of my life I combat with Vitamin D, a light lamp, a gym membership and lots of hot baths. I actually wrote a song about it that’s a hit with folks who hear it. So, I strode into the food co-op with a mission. On the shelf above the wild-caught tuna fish were rows of sardines: in water, in oil, in tomato sauce. I opted for a variety in oil with lemon. You can’t go wrong with that combo. I also grabbed a box of herring kippering snacks for good measure. The fish revolution was beginning.

I got this boxed tin of sardines home ( Wild Planet is my preferred brand) with little idea what to do with it. I didn’t want to eat them cold on a salad; the idea of those textures didn’t appeal to me. So I sautéed some chard and kale in bacon fat with garlic and threw the sardines and the oil in, just long enough to heat them up. I plated the weird stir fry, along with my typical carb of choice: a mashed sweet potato with butter. Then I hungrily dug in.

It was awesome! My brain tried to cling to memories of anchovial disgust, but my tastebuds embraced the smoky flavor and robust texture. Canned tuna pales in comparison to sardines, which are typically deboned and beheaded before canning. I was in. Sardines are now an item on my shopping list.

Here are a few recipes I’ve tried or look forward to trying. I probably won’t eat them every day, but 3-4 times a week as an easy fallback meal is likely. Please let me know if you have any sardine insights to share!

And here’s your somewhat topical music video.

Wicked Gardener

The next cover of

The next cover of “Worst Homes & Gardens.”

My name is Holly and I’m a bad gardener. But let me explain.

Despite my best intentions, the ol’ community garden plot slowly grew into a weed jungle again this year. You leave a piece of land to its own devices for a week and it does its damnedest to erase all evidence of your interference. (Also, you sow your seeds on Labor Day Weekend and then vacate out of state for a week or two, as I have the past few years, and … yeah.) The plot was lousy with the scourge that is bindweed, aka Convolvulus arvensis, a cousin of the morning glory that invades the soil and winds its way up plants, pulling them down, strangling them in the process and blocking their sun exposure. The only known ways to kill bindweed are 1) RoundUp, which is strictly verboten in the community garden and nothing I’m inclined to use; 2) Pouring boiling water all over the plot, which, like a normal garden, isn’t flanked by electric outlets and I don’t own a cauldron; and 3) Covering the 17’x10′ plot with a black tarp or sheets of plastic for, oh, say three years.

The other way to get rid of it: hours upon hours of weed pulling all summer.

Now, let’s stop and think about summer. Just yesterday, the blitzkrieg of weddings, birthday parties, cookouts, campouts, neighborhood festivals, street parties and such had many of us booked up for weeks on end. If you have time for weed pulling in the summer, you are likely retired or an extreme introvert who wouldn’t mind being introduced to this garden plot, thick with accursed weeds, that I waited three years to get.

Did I mention the plot is about 1.5 miles from my house? Definitely not too far, but given a day at work and an evening activity, I generally made it to the garden once or twice a week early in the season to check the weed progress and water the tomatoes, peppers and cabbage.

There were several survivors. Plenty of summer squash and zucchini, a decent amount of kale and rainbow chard, and the odd wild raspberries made stopping by the garden a bit fun. I also discovered two tiny peppers and a lone radish. All delicious. Maybe it’s my agrarian genes, but there is no satisfaction like eating food that you and the earth collaborated on. And I assume the brussels sprouts are still growing …

Out of shame of its shabbiness, I often visited my garden under the cover of night. The weed bed was beneath a streetlight, glowing yellow on the bikepath beside it. I would fill my plastic grocery bag with what I could carry while swatting at the army of mosquitoes intent on inserting their thirsty probiscuses into my flesh.

Next to the the seasoned lifestyle farmers of Madison, Wisconsin, my paltry plot was an eyesore on the verdant landscape. Beautiful strawberries in the early summer, carrots, cabbages, lettuce, peas, green beans dancing up poles and enough tomatoes and peppers to exceed every salsa and marinara sauce canning dream. And nary an unchecked weed.

Madison is a master gardener’s playground. I simply cannot compete. Next season, I’ll plant some store-bought herbs and tomatoes in buckets and pots on my porch. There’s plenty of to sunshine be soaked up around the flat. Plants located just steps away have a much higher likelihood of flourishing.

Until then, I will machete my way through the weeds to recover the wheelbarrow and shovel I bought at the beginning of the season, presuming they’re still in there.

I hope to convert the wheelbarrow into a kayak cart (or bribe a friend to). But that’s another blog post.

Here’s a ’90s video for you. (Before Scott Weiland got too deep into the Layne Staley bit!)

Paleo Gimlet a la Friday

Gimli probably wouldn’t care much for Gimlets, but I do. So there. Did his axe have a name? I can’t remember it. For some reason, I remember weapon names. For instance, there’s a hair salon about a mile away called Glamdring, which is Frodo’s sword. Apparently they cut your hair with Frodo’s sword.

It’s Friday night and I’m burned out from the ol’ working week. Yet there’s still some life in me! So I sat a spell (ok, laid under my down comforter and looked at FB), then trotted over to the liquor store, followed by the food co-op for some gimlet fixins. Cheers to the liquor store proprietor who helped my tired soul chose this drink over white wine.

Behold! The paleo gimlet recipe I whipped up! Gimlets: no calories, no carbs, super easy! Sidenote: I’ve always wanted to name a pet Gimlet, ever since I had my first one in some fancy bar near Washington Square Park. My memory of the night is blurry, but I was in love. With lime and vodka in a martini glass. Without further ado…

PALEO GIMLET

1 oz. vodka (Just buy good vodka. I’ve been digging Real Russian, the name of which doesn’t do it justice. It’s made by a Ruski. Tito’s (Texan) Vodka is highly regarded by people I regard highly. Ketel One’s quite passable.)

0.5 oz. lime juice

2-3 oz. club soda (I used lime-flavored Klarbrunn, which is my local sparkling soda from Watertown, Wisconsin!)

2-3 drops of liquid stevia or the equivalent of powdered stevia

Mix in a shaker with ice (or, if you’re minus a shaker like me, in your Kleen Kanteen!) and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with lime if you’re feelin’ fancy.

Then write and listen to the new Sleater-Kinney. The combo is to die for. Have a great weekend!

(Gimlets always make me think of Gimli, the dwarf from LOTR. You know, son of Gloin? I’m really not that big of a stereotypical nerd. I just retain words and literature. Cheers!)

In Which I Fall into Food

This mouse was found in the toy aisles of Target, trying to pass off his bananas as freshly harvested. I don't buy it, food elitist! Unless you're speaking English with a Latin-American accent, you're a food elitist! BUSTED!!!

This mouse was found in the toy aisles of Target, trying to pass off his bananas as freshly harvested. I don’t buy it, food elitist! Unless you’re speaking English with a Latin-American accent, you’re a food elitist! BUSTED!!!

The coming winter will soon find itself in my firm mental embrace and me swathed in layers of materials designed to evade its cold clutches.

But til then, fall is rockin’ the food kasbah. Listen up!

Rainy Saturdays are the best time to visit the Madison Farmers Market. My eyes were relieved to see no more than 2, possibly 1, strollers around the entire Capitol Square! Our haul included 1 medium buttercup squash ($4), 3 small spaghetti squash ($2), a vege-fractal broccoli romano (broccoli romanesco if you’re Americani or simply anywhere but Roma) ($4), one 4-pound, local, antibiotic-free chicken carcass ($12) and one Chai-der from Espresso Royale ($3ish). Yes, that last one is a mix of chai and cider. You need it inside of you. Oh! And the best farmers market find was a Hen of the Woods mushroom, ½ pound at $6 a pound. Local food proprietors claim that this is their season to flourish. A fantastic risotto was made with the chickeny hen and a few shitakes for good measure. The next day found the chicken (roasted), buttercup squash (also roasted) and broccoli romano (sautéed in butter) in tonight’s dinner, inspired by this bitchin’ recipe and wine suggestion compliments of the Willy Street Coop and Star Liquor.

Want to try: “cheddar” cauliflower. It’s orange cauliflower. I uncertain if its taste varies from the uncolored counterpart. It may be a well-engineered Sconnie food ploy… Please advise if you have insight.

As climatical greyness encroaches, I’m picking through what remains of my backyard and community gardens. A multitude of baby kale spurred a stem-in roasted kale chip experiment. Tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, cumin and salt and baked at 400F for about 12 minutes, the stem added structural integrity to the wee leaves. Do it! A bunch of purple kale and a generous half cup of Thai basil remain for the backyard haul, in addition to a few green-and-yellow, tiger-striped heirloom tomatoes that escaped the clutches of squirrels who eat one bite and leave the rest to rot. Squirrels …

A jog past the community garden Sunday yielded a cup of Brussels sprouts, a few nearly-ripe San Martino tomatoes and last fresh raspberries I’ll pull from that and surrounding plots this season. The former were toted home in an unused doggie bag donated by a kindly passerby. After a season of mythically proportioned weeds, I’ve decided to give the bit of land another go. A season of late planting and unexpectedly draining travel messed up my gardening groove. And a new job. That’ll do it! I’ll garden more prioritiously next year. The satisfaction of preparing and digesting nourishment from plants coaxed out of the earth with nature’s permission is incomparable.

As the summer slides into fall, I look forward to clearing my plots of the detritus of plants that were born and flowered that year. I’m grateful for the opportunity to interact with nature on a more intimate level next year, with a more knowledgeable, understanding care and respect. With a better idea of what to expect.

TL;DR: Squash is brilliant, as will be what lies ahead.

Yum! Invasive Fish Species!

Graphic by whyfiles.org.

Graphic by whyfiles.org.

I want to eat all the invasive fish species. Not right now, of course. But over time.

Did you know many common fish like tilapia and smallmouth bass are actually invasive species? Probably not. Over time and generations, it’s been forgotten that these fish are not native. That takes the stigma out of eating them. After all, who wants to eat something considered “invasive”?

I do. Because invasive fish are wild caught, rather than farmed. Eating them is helping the environment along with providing nutrients. I want to try all of these fish fried, in ceviche, grilled, smoked, maybe some fusion methods of cooking I’m not yet privy to.

Technology is helping me, and all of the invasive fish lovers out there, get one step closer to that delicious, nutritious dream.

The New Yorker describes the case of the lionfish, an invasive species plaguing parts of the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States. USGS created an app that helps researchers and fisherman track lionfish. The app lets users document how fish many are in a given area and what methods are used to catch them.

For many fishermen, either professional or hobby, this app could turn fishing for invasive species into a high-precision endeavor. But first, in the name of sustainability, the market for invasive fish species must be established close to home.

Chicago’s WGN TV reported 15 million pounds of Asian Carp are caught annually by one seafood processor. But the market for Asian Carp, a name that refers to four types of fish invading U.S. waterways via the Mississippi River, is in China. It’s fantastic that there’s a market for these fish. But it seems excessive that they’re shipped halfway across the globe when the healthy appetites of Midwestern fish fries could polish off tons of them.

If companies like Sea to Table can partner with local sustainable fisherman to overnight their catch to restaurants around the U.S., certainly a Midwestern seafood processor can flash freeze Asian Carp and sell it throughout the region.

It may take a media campaign from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and it will definitely take the opening of many minds, but we owe it to our waterways and overall ecosystems to eat invasive species near the regions they’re invading. Not only does it save fossil fuels, but it raises awareness.

Current cultural food trends, like local food and foraging, as well as developing cheap food sources, feed right into eating invasive species locally. C’mon foodies and food advocates: give an invasive fish species a taste.

For more information on eating invasive species, check out conservation biologist Joe Roman’s website and call to action, eattheinvaders.org.