Thursday, August 13, 2009

Literary Bite: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingslover

This book,  “part memoir, part journalistic investigation,” – is the story of a family that decided to eat only home-grown and locally produced food for a year.

I’ve enjoyed Kingsolver’s other books – namely The Poisonwood Bible, and The Bean Trees. My mom and sister read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle last summer and LOVED it – I just never got around to it. I starting listening to it as an audiobook about a month ago…but then my ipod died, so I’m still hovering around chapter 8 (praying that my ipod makes a miraculous recovery).

Kingslover combines a nice ration of anecdote to fun fact (and I always love a fun fact – for example, did you know that most Asian people are lactose intolerant because they did not evolve as a pastoralist society? And that explains why my Asian friends just don’t get the American obsession with cheese!).  She is more witty than preachy, which is a rare talent in this genre of literature. Kingslover's prose is offset by the additions of sidebars by her husband, who investigates the science and industry aspects of food production, and essays and meal-plans by her 17-year-old daughter, Camille. 

P.S. I really like audio-books! They’re great to listen to while walking to work, riding the metro, even while running! (Haha, me: running the Mall, sweating profusely, and listening to a chapter all about making your own cheese!)

I’m all about recycling and being “Green” in general, but in all honesty eating only locally produced food is a bit too much for me. I’ve become too accustomed to my apple every morning, and I do enjoy the occasional un-environmental hamburger. Luckily, as I said, this book is not preachy, merely informative. And it’s more about what you can have than what you can’t have.

But the great thing about this book is that it’s not just promoting locavore-ism for its own sake. Kingslover makes the very good point that local and in season foods taste better! I mean really, anyone who has tried to eat a peach mid-winter knows that there is no way it can match the deliciousness of the in-season summer fruit.  Or things like butternut squash (fall/winter), asparagus (spring), or blueberries (now!) – all delicious, but best when eaten at the right time.

So my take-away from Animal, Vegetable, Mineral (which I will finish listening too, once my technology decides to agree with me), is an emphasis on in-season fruits and vegetables.

Luckily, now is high season for fresh fruits and veggies! Hitting up the Farmer’s Market is great if you have the dollars to spend…If not, even Safeway produce, if it’s in season, is probably semi-local. 

To find out what’s in season when:

Another great way to know what’s in season (not guaranteed, but a good rule of thumb), is to look in the food section of your local newspaper (Wednesdays), or to just note what’s on sale at the grocery store.

If this book inspires you to cook something delicious (which it should!), try these recipes for in-season summery goodness:
- Corn, Basil, and Mozzarella Omelet
- Plum Crisp
- Corn Broth

Corn, Basil, and Mozzarella Omelet 

 I found this recipe in the local newspaper, and as a long-time omelet-lover I had to try it. It was really easy (obviously – that’s why omelets are great). I added chopped tomatoes, because they’re just good, and always go well with mozzarella and basil.  If you have trouble flipping your omelet, just turn it into a scramble!

I served it with roast sweet potatoes and zucchini. And ketchup – don’t judge me, ketchup is just so good with eggs.

And with the leftover corn husks from this recipe, as well as a few others from a corn salad I made the day before, I made corn broth.  I’ve never been one to make my own chicken broth – too many ingredients, too messy. But tossing the corn leftovers (that I would normally throw away) into a pot and leaving them to boil is really the epitome of easy. 

Corn broth is a great chicken broth substitute.  Or even better, a water substitute. Anything that you would normally cook with water, you can add corn broth for a bit more flavor. I used it to make rice last night, which was pretty good – and I think corn risotto would be phenomenal!

And for dessert, plums are in season July, August, and September. I bought a variety of plums the other day – some black and some yellow. Plum Crisp has always been a staple at my house in the late summer, thanks to my grandmother’s over-producing ancient plum tree. She would give us brown grocery bags, lined with paper towels, full of more plums than we knew what to do with. Thus, plum crisp!

It’s super-easy to make, and like all these recipes, captures the essence of summer. (Per usual, I recommend serving with vanilla ice cream!)
For topping:
  • 3/4 cup sliced toasted almonds or walnuts (optional)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
For filling:
-       3 lbs plums
-       1 tsp. cinnamon
-       3 Tbsp. sugar
-       Preheat oven to 375°F. 

Make topping:
Cut butter into bits. In a food processor (or with your fingers) blend flour, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, salt, and butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Then mix in chopped nuts

Make filling:
Pit and slice plums (no need to be exact here – they end up all mushed together anyways, so I kind of like big chunks). Gently mix in the cinnamon and sugar. Pour mixture into a 15 x 9-inch (3-quart) baking dish.

Sprinkle topping over plums. Bake mixture in middle of oven 40 to 45 minutes, or until topping is crisp and golden, and cool on a rack 10 minutes.