Wednesday, July 29, 2009

America, the land of Corny McFatterson

I watched a funny, disturbing and occasionally nauseating documentary a few weeks ago, “King Corn.” The film traces the invasive nature of corn into America’s food system — mainly via high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) — its role in the obesity epidemic and the seemingly backwards and frankly, upsetting government-subsidized program that fuels the growth of trillions of bushels of “non-edible” corn in Iowa each year. The mountains — literally — of excess corn go on for days because the silos are so full … Why isn’t the government subsidizing the growth of heirloom tomatoes, radicchio, and kumquats? I am convinced they are afraid we would wither away to mere shadows of our former corn-fed selves. Especially disconcerting is the revelation that the average American’s biological makeup is about 40 percent corn-based. That is, the amount of your body made from corn, a.k.a. your corn carbon count. “You are what you eat” is right on. Corn is in everything — even Tylenol!

I like to think I eat fairly well; watching what I put in my mouth and reading ingredient lists, but this film set-off screeching alarm bells and has caused me to become especially cautious / conscious as of late — issues such as buying local and eating non-processed foods are becoming more of a priority. The film also profiles the slow extinction of the American family homestead and it’s terribly, terribly depressing. I encourage you to support your local family farms — even if your pocketbook and/or your husband complain! On the upside, however, some corn has its place. We just need to steer farther away from the variety that finds its way into our food via the HFCS highway and stick to the unprocessed stuff. Here’s a great recipe that I’ve made a few times this summer (including for my brother's birthday dinner) — thanks to my friend, Jen, a fabulous cook, who introduced me to it. The salad is crisp, tangy and refreshing and pairs perfectly with just about anything else you throw on the grill. It may be the most perfect summer side dish I’ve ever encountered. Bobby Flay definitely moved up a notch in my book with this one.

Grilled Corn and Tomato-Sweet Onion Salad with Fresh Basil Dressing and Crumbled Blue Cheese

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 ears corn, grilled in the husk, kernels removed
1 sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla), halved and thinly sliced
1 pint Sweet 100 tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, halved
8 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
Fresh basil sprigs, for garnish

Combine the vinegar, basil, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Can be made two hours in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using.

Combine the corn kernels, onion and tomato in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat, season with salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Top with crumbled blue cheese and garnish with basil sprigs just before serving. Salad can be made one day in advance and served cold or at room temperature.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer Rundown

A lot has happened since we last chatted. Some of it actually before we last chatted — things I just haven’t shared yet. Sorry I've been so absent. Summer = sun in Seattle = as little time in front of the computer as possible. So here's my quick and dirty list, recapping summer 2009 so far ...

1. I acquired one sister.
Morgan’s brother, Peter, found an excellent candidate for the sister I’ve been patiently awaiting for 30 years. And, like the wise man he is, asked her to marry him. She said, “Yes!” So they got all dressed up, exchanged rings and said their “I dos” at a lovely country church in Bow, Wash., followed by a fantastic reception on Samish Island. Welcome to Omdalhood, Emily! And thank you, Peter, for my new sister. Excellent choice.
Photo credit: Jean-Marcus Strole Photography and Design
2. I met my “new” Swedish relatives.
They’ve technically been my “family” for nearly two years, but I hadn’t yet met most of Morgan’s extended Swedish family on his mom’s side. They bundled up and traversed the north pole to attend the wedding and we were thrilled to have them stay with us for two weeks. It was incredibly fascinating learning more about their culture and customs (especially Jantelagen) — I could have talked to them for days on end. They even taught me table manners so I don’t embarrass myself when we visit them in Stockholm next month. I hope they were real table manners and the whole lesson wasn’t some cruel joke. I don’t want to get 86’d from the wedding for not toasting in the correct order (Very important. Can’t mess up.). 3. We spent Fourth of July on Samish Island. Classic Americana at its best.
I love the old-time parade on the island each year. Anyone can participate, which makes for a fun, festive and varied celebration. The parade participants throw treats at the kids and I’ve officially decided there’s nothing better than watching a two-year-old scramble for candy.
4. We’re crossing the pond.
Yes, I am horribly clich√© and said "crossing the pond." Sue me. As I mentioned above, we’re off to Europe next month, with planned stops in Stockholm, Paris, Brussels and Munich. I may die of anticipation before boarding the plane. I’ve been waiting for this trip nearly as long as I had been waiting for a sister. My biggest plans are to eat and drink copious amounts of cheese, chocolate and schnapps. When I’m done with that, I’ll probably eat and drink some more.

I also plan to take my bazillion years of rusty French language education on a serious test drive. Unfortunately, the only things I can say in Swedish are, “Bork, bork, bork,” a la the Swedish Chef, my favorite Muppets character; and Jag √§lskar dig (I love you). Between those two phrases, I will probably end up in a mental institution, or find myself fleeing for the embassy, lest I get arrested for an indecent proposal. I am completely reliant on Morgan for that leg of our journey.

If you have traveling tips for any of our planned stops, please share.

5. My name is Hillary, but you can call me Nebuchadnezzar.
The hanging gardens are coming along quite nicely. It’s probably an exaggeration (probably, however, not certainly) to claim they rival those of Babylon, but who am I to say? We enjoyed a delicious cucumber last week and the tomatoes look like they’re well on their way to gracing our plates. The squash took off like maniacs, but many started to rot while still very small, before we learned they were not being properly pollinated by the male flowers. Hopefully we will still get a few good ones out of the crop, now that we know how to "mate" them by hand. We will definitely be hanging the bags higher next year, too, as the tomato vines are already brushing the ground. 6. I made an awesome dinner for my brother's 26th birthday, but I'm going to spread the recipes out over several posts. We'll start with dessert, because I know that's what everyone really wants to do, anyway.

Blueberry-Nectarine Crisp

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, melted

2 pounds large nectarines (about 6), pitted and diced
4 cups fresh blueberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.

For topping:
In a medium bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and melted butter. Mix until crumbly. Set aside.

For filling:
In a large bowl, toss the blueberries and nectarines. In a small bowl, combine the granulated sugar with the cornstarch, nutmeg, and the remaining 1/8 tsp. salt and toss this mixture with the fruit.
Transfer filling to prepared baking dish. Sprinkle topping evenly over filling. Bake crisp until nectarines are tender, filling bubbles thickly, and topping is crisp and brown, about 40 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Note: I was in a huge hurry when I made this and forgot to toss the fruit with the cornstarch, etc., but it was still awesome.

And that's that.