Because a bare cupboard and an empty fridge are sad sights to behold, the Urban Forager hunts through food & wine shops bringing home tasty morsels that make your kitchen table the best place to eat in town.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Out With The Old, In With The New

The Urban Forager was my very first blog, a site I started as a way to write regularly about food. In this way, it has been a success. However, recently I was beginning to feel its limitations and was itching for something new. I needed a new challenge to inspire my writing and so The (modern) Busy Girls' Cookbook was born. Like all writers, I'm a dreamer, and so for awhile I thought I could keep both blogs going. But the truth is that there is only so much unpaid writing that girl has time for (if she still wants to have a life beyond her computer, that is). And so, Urban Forager is a blog that has reached it's end. I encourage you to visit my new blog, The (modern) Busy Girls' Cookbook.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fat, Salt and Sugar

A month or two ago former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, David Kessler, was making the rounds of radio shows talking about his new book, "The End of Overeating." His theory, backed by scientific research, is that foods high in fat, salt and sugar turn on a little switch in our brain that says "Eat! Eat more! Keep eating!" This neurological response is what keeps our hand going back into that bag of Cheetos long after we've had our fill.

Of course none of us want to admit that we are weak enough to be trapped in this way. What ever happened to self control? But after a recent visit to Chicago I am here to tell you that David Kessler is right. The magic combination of fat, salt and sugar is truly, unquestionably evil. And also very delicious.

The long line at Garrett's Popcorn Shop is proof of what suckers we all are. What they serve at Garrett's doesn't even taste like popcorn. It doesn't taste like real food at all. Real food doesn't leave a neon yellow stain on you fingers that is difficult to wash off, even with soap. To experience the ultimate fat, salt and sugar triumvirate that David Kessler warns us about, you have to order the Chicago Mix, a blend of caramel and cheese popcorn. I know, I was skeptical too. I was even slightly grossed out by what I was eating the whole time I was eating it, but I couldn't stop. Garrett's Chicago Mix is the ultimate junk food. If you don't believe me, (or if you don't believe David Kessler) next time you're in Chicago get yourself a bag of Chicago Mix and see for yourself how one bite abolishes all self control.

The combination of the sweet caramel corn and salty cheese corn was so tasty I considered re-creating it at home. I imagined making a slightly healthier, more gourmet version of what Garrett's has going on. And then I came to my senses. Trying to make gourmet Chicago Mix is like trying to make gourmet Cheetos. Eating junk food every once in awhile is one of the great things about being human. And, one of the great things about visiting Chicago.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rogue Lettuce

A few of you may remember last summer when I made my first attempt at planting lettuce. I chose the perfect spot. I lovingly watered the seeds. I sprang out of bed each morning and ran out to the garden, hoping that day would be the day I could finally make a salad. A few of you may also remember that after months of waiting, my lettuce garden looked like this:

I gave up my dreams of growing lettuce. Winter came, then spring. I left town for three months, leaving my yard abandoned and in the clutches of a drought. When I returned from my absence, I arrived late at night. When I woke in the morning I wandered outside and what do you think I found? This beautiful head of lettuce had somehow managed to grow in my absence. Not only was it lush and green, it was growing in a container five feet from the box I had originally planted my lettuce seeds in. This little miracle could mean one of two things. 1. Human intervention is pretty much pointless in the plant world and we're all over estimating how much control we have over our yard. 2. If you have faith, good things will come to you, although rarely at the time or in the form you think they will come to you.

Tonight, I am happy to say, I harvested my lettuce. It deserved nothing but the best, so I dressed it up in my favorite and slightly decadent summer dressing, courtesy of Mom:

Summer Lettuce Salad with Creamy Dill Dressing:

1/2 cup half and half or whole cream
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider or white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp Sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp Salt
3 tablespoons fresh dill

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mint Therapy

Remember the days when throwing your real or imaginary money around was the newest pastime and people indulged in things like vinotherapy without feeling at all like an idiot? For you sensible folk who missed out on this trend, vinotherapy refers to a multitude of spa treatments that involve soaking or rubbing down your body with red wine and its by-products. Supposedly, your skin soaks all those antioxidants right up and it's like dipping into the fountain of youth. I might be able to handle a body scrub made from "antioxidant-rich crushed grape seeds simmered in red wine" (like the one offered at Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley) but if I'm going to soak in a bathtub filled with red wine you better believe I'm bringing a straw. I don't know about you but these days if there is a bottle of wine around, it's going into my wine glass, not my bathtub.

But I'm not one to discard of all ridiculous indulgences just because the economy has changed. Indulging was exactly what was on my mind the other night when I started to fill the tub and then realized I didn't have a drop of bubble bath in the house. But what I did have was a front yard full of spearmint. For weeks I'd been trying to make a dent in the ever-growing cluster of spearmint taking over the garden. I put mint leaves in salads, I put them pasta, I put them in drinks. It made no difference - in terms of over-abundance during the summer, spearmint puts zucchini to shame. But abundance breeds creativity. And that is exactly how dozens of mint sprigs ended up in my tub. The hot water releases a subtle, but invigorating aroma of clean, tingly mint as you bathe. It's like soaking in a giant mug of mint tea. Completely lovely and completely free if you have any spearmint in your yard. Or, in your neighbor's yard. Trust me, they won't mind if you pick some.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Oregon Sparkling Wine

Once a year, I get together with a few girlfriends who are otherwise scattered across the country leading busy lives in different states. These are not outrageous lets-go-dancing-all-night or lets-go-to-vegas weekends.
The Husband has actually started referring to these all-female getaways as "Girls Gone Mild" weekends, ever since he realized (happily, I think) the wildest thing that usually happens is we stumble upon a sea sponge on the beach.

For my girlfriends and I, the weekend is solely about hunkering down, blocking out our regular lives and focusing on the things we really love most: eating, drinking and talking. Since what we talk about is not for public consumption and what we eat is mostly cheese and chocolate (this year, Seastack from Mt. Townsend Creamery and truffles from Fran's Chocolates) I'm going to expand on what we drank: J.Albin sparkling wine from Oregon.

Oregon sparkling wine gets better and better every year - if you've tasted any of the sparkling wines from Argyle Winery you know what I'm talking about. J. Albin is a smaller venture (no website, even) and a little harder to find, but it's out there and incredibly tasty. By now we all know Oregon produces some great Pinot Noir - well, J. Albin's sparkling wine is blanc de noir, meaning it's made with Pinot Noir grapes. In this economy, a bottle of sparkling wine from Oregon might be considered special occasion stuff (prices start around $25/bottle) but it's worth the splurge and still less than Champagne from France. If you buy Champagne frequently or once in blue moon and tend to be drawn to bottles with a bright orange label, for the love of god, put the bottle down and buy sparkling wine that is not only tastier, but will teach you a little bit about what the great winemakers in Oregon are up to.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

God Bless America and Our Lumpy Vegetables

America, at least the one I grew up in, takes great pride in its misshapen fruits and vegetables. You only have to attend one county fair in any small town to know this is true. The large and misshapen vegetable display at the Benton County Fair my family went to every summer was one of my favorite exhibits (less favorite than the pig barn, more favorite than the quilting displays).

I remember walking through the rows of vegetables that people had entered and actually aspiring to enter it myself one day. I really believed that if I worked hard enough, I too could grow a potato that looked like a hippopotamus or a pumpkin that weighed more than my Dad or a zucchini that had naturally taken the shape of a VW bug.

But where one person sees a work of art, another sees a piece of produce that society needs to be protected from. For the last twenty years most of Europe has regulated the shape and size of 36 fruits and vegetables that are sold in supermarkets. Cucumbers, for example, must not be bent by a curve of more than 10mm per 10cm. It is illegal to sell cauliflower that is less than 11cm in diameter. In order for a banana to be a proper banana, "the thickness of a transverse section of the fruit, between the lateral faces and the middle, perpendicular to the longitudinal axis, must be at a minimum of 27 millimeters."


I am happy to report that I heard on NPR yesterday the EU has rescinded the ban on 26 of the 36 fruits and vegetables that have been regulated. Ugly, misshapen fruits and vegetables are now free to co-mingle with the pretty ones! Hopefully, the last ten will soon be free as well. Although I have to admit, I kind of like the regulation on pears that states, "Pears must not be gritty." In some cases, those Europeans have their priorities straight.

Happy 4th of July everyone.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pea Soup - Not Just for Winter Anymore

When you have a small kitchen, choosing which tools and gadgets deserve a drawer or cupboard or spot on the counter involves ruthless triage. A toaster, coffee maker, food processor and KitchenAid mixer are the only large items that make the cut in my kitchen. The crockpot (I miss it) and microwave (don't miss it at all) had to be banished to the garage. I gave the breadmaker away and the ice-cream maker is in my bedroom closet (which doesn't inspire much hope that I'll suddenly start churning ice-cream every week. Anyone want an ice-cream maker?)

Smaller items I give a little more leeway to. Certain kitchen tools stay in one of my three kitchen drawers not because I use the tools all the time, but because they do one specific job really well. Like a tiny sieve I use to make Summer Pea Soup with Cardamom. Whenever I make this soup I am reminded how much I love this little sieve, even though I honestly don't remember how or when it even ended up in my kitchen. From where does this love spring? From the silky smooth texture of the soup, that's where.

This soup involves three steps: simmer the peas, puree the peas, push the peas through a sieve. This third step traps the chunky insides and skin of the peas and releases their essence, a liquid form of pure flavor. Do not try this soup without a sieve - both a colander and cheese cloth will result in a soup texture that is unappealingly babyfood-like. But when the soup is made right, it's hard to believe such a simple process can yield such a lovely soup.

Summer Pea Soup with Cardamom
3 cups fresh peas or a 16 oz bag of frozen peas
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/8 tsp cardamom or more to taste (but don't overdo it - the cardamom should be very subtle)
Optional garnish: fresh parsley and a swirl of creme fraiche

Simmer the peas in the broth for five minutes or until just soft. Puree in a blender or food processor. Pour a little bit of the puree into the sieve at a time. Hold the sieve over a medium-sized bowl, or the pot you simmered the peas in. Push a spoon against the peas, mashing them so their liquid drips into the bowl. Discard the chunky remains of the peas (or eat them later with salt). Re-warm the pea soup, adding more broth if you want the texture to be thinner. Add the cardamom and a pinch of salt.
Garnish with parsley and/or creme fraiche.

Recipe by J.Meier