Local Food

The Chestnut’s Cousin

One of my favorite things about shopping at farmers markets is trying new things. This has been a big part of how I learned to cook. I buy things that catch my eye and figure out what to do with them later.

Here in Hong Kong, I go to Island East Market. While there are a lot of non-farmers hawking their wares as well (baby clothes, jewelry, err..imported olive oil?), I still love going there every Sunday for the fresh, local produce. Yes, you can farm in this concrete jungle of a city!

As with ramps and fiddlehead ferns back in NYC, I get a little sucked into the hype of buying things I don’t particularly need but have a short growing season. I came across this funny-looking thing:


I asked the lady what is was, and she explained it was similar to a chestnut but has a very short growing season so it wouldn’t be available by next week. So obviously I had to buy this unidentifiable nut! I believe she said it’s called “fung ngang guo” but I have no clue how to write that in Chinese and if I even got the right name. Can anyone confirm this? Or know what it’s called in English?

Boiling unidentifiable Hong Kong nut

Following her instructions, I went home and boiled the nuts, which were sticky to the touch, for about 10 minutes.

Peeled unidentifiable Hong Kong nut

After letting them cool, I peeled them and had them as a snack. They were more difficult to peel, but were indeed a lot like chestnuts in texture and taste. Though, these being summer nuts, their taste is more subtle and lighter.

And by the time you read this…these nuts are probably long gone from the market!

Local Food

A Blogger Event: Whole Foods, Local Food, and a YouTube Celebrity Chef

Last week I got to attend a cool little blogger meet-up with my friend Laurel (check out her healthy eating blog). It was hosted by Everyday Health and The Wellness Club at Whole Foods Market TriBeCa here in New York. They had representatives from Hudson Valley Harvest and Chef Laura Vitale come to discuss eating locally. I buy almost 70% of my ingredients from the farmers market so you know I didn’t need any convincing that eating local is a good way to go, but it was cool to learn about a couple of things and taste some delicious local produce.

The Wellness Club at Whole Foods

I had never heard of The Wellness Club at Whole Foods. There are currently five of these Whole Foods Wellness Clubs in the country. Essentially, The Wellness Club is a community and lifestyle program for people who are enthusiastic about healthy living (especially when it comes to food, but a little bit of everything else too) and who want to learn more. Members get all kinds of cool perks like a 10% store discount, a supper club, all kinds of cooking, nutrition, and other healthy living classes, as well as cooking demos and other community events. Definitely something I would look into if I lived closer.

Hudson Valley Harvest

Hudson Valley Harvest is a fairly new company located in upstate new York that sells minimally processed, local food. They source their food from a collection of sustainable, small-scale farms in their area and sell beef, pork, and flash-frozen vegetable products. I got to take home a bottle of their tomato juice. I’m very keen to try it as, believe it or not, I’ve only ever had the mass produced canned stuff. Local Bloody Marys anyone? Oh wait, we don’t make vodka here. Damn.

Laura in the Kitchen

Laura Vitale is a YouTube celebrity chef. She and her husband started her own YouTube show as a means to get her name out there so she could eventually publish the cookbook she dreamed of. This self-taught home cook’s show got a really great response and she is now very much a YouTube celebrity chef and a regular on the channel, “Recipe Rehab.” Laura talked a bit about her story and did a quick healthy cooking demo (well, technically a no-cook demo) using fresh ingredients from Hudson Valley Harvest. She made a raw corn salad which I thought was going to be okay, but it was surprisingly really flavorful and satisfying! Who knew raw corn could be so tasty with a bit of bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, cumin, cilantro, and lime juice?

One attendee asked her a great question–it’s easy to shop local in the spring and summer when farmers markets are full of exciting produce, but how do we get out of our kale and potato rut in the winter? Laura suggested switching up your preparation of a winter vegetable to keep some variety going so you don’t get bored of winter produce. I thought that was a really great tip and a reminder that we have no excuse not to shop local in the winter months! Thinking back, I definitely wasn’t bored of sweet potatoes this past winter. They were great baked whole, or as sweet potato fries, or mashed with kale and bacon, or as hash with sausage and eggs, or as mini egg bakes. You just need a little creativity, that’s all.

Local Food, Lunch and Dinner

Eating with the Seasons

I’m currently reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. (Loving it so far. Pick up a copy.) It’s about her family’s story of how they committed to eat local for one year. They only consumed what they bought raised in their own neighborhood or grew themselves, and learned to pretty much live without the rest.

The idea wasn’t new to me–I’m an advocate for local food, and both volunteer and shop at farmers markets. I know I’ll never take it to the extreme that Kingsolver did, but I felt good that I bought local more than most people do. What was new to me was the thought of living without what you can’t get locally. I shop based on what recipe I want to make, meaning I’ll buy what happens to be available at the farmers market and get the rest from the health food store, not caring where it traveled from nor whether or not it’s in season.

Inspired by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’ve decided to commit a little further to local food. Or at least get in the habit of eating with the seasons. We’re currently getting this bizarre hot weather for March here in NYC. I left work on Tuesday feeling like it was a summer’s evening. I kept imagining going home and making myself a big sexy plate of salad greens and lots of juicy raw tomatoes, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I loooove tomatoes. They’re my fave. But then I thought of the book and it occurred to me that it wasn’t remotely close to tomato season here in New York. I wanted a tomato, and while I could technically get one, it was grown far, far away. I would go without that night.

You know what is in season, though? Kale. I adapted this recipe from the Kitchn using kale instead of collard greens. I cooked it up with onion and bacon while I simultaneously made some leftover quick-cooking polenta I had in the cupboard. I topped the polenta with the kale and bacon mixture and a fried egg, threw some parmesan and a few drops of hot sauce on top, and had an extremely satisfying meal. This is a well-balanced dish (especially if you’re generous with the kale), and would make a delicious breakfast too.

I see why they call it food porn. It feels so dirty getting all up in my dish to snap sexy pictures of her bits.

I’ve gotten rid of everything on my to-make recipe list that isn’t mainly comprised of food I can get locally right now. Moving forward, I’m planning the recipes around the produce and not vice versa. No, not all parts of this meal was local, and yes I will probably end up buying a tomato or two next winter. But hey, it’s a start.