Talking About the Bug Banquet

Barbara (with glasses) eating Cricket and Silkworm Tempura Skewers

Barbara (with glasses) eating Cricket and Silkworm Tempura Skewers

Barbara:  “Yuck, I don’t think I feel well.”
Mary:  “What, like you want to throw-up?”
Barbara:  “Maybe. I feel like I just ate bugs.”
Mary:  “No kidding. That’s why I didn’t eat any.”

Here, I am talking with my dear friend, Barbara, also a dietitian, in the car on the way home from The Bug Banquet. My long-term readers might Barbara from past blogs, Talking About “What Not to Do” on the BQE and Talking About Oxtails in Brooklyn. Lucy and Ethel-style, Barbara hauled me to an event where insects were on the menu.

As a Johnson & Wales University Professor, Barbara got a special invitation and I was her guest. She was kind of obligated to eat bugs with her colleagues and students there. No one noticed me flitting around, chatting it up, and passing on the bugs. As a product of the western world, I offer no apologies. As a near vegetarian, I am doing the sustainability thing.

Read about the banquet and “cricket flour” in my article for DietsInReview,
The Bug Banquet: Serving Sustainability in a Cricket Pesto Flatbread

Your thoughts: Would you eat insects? Have you? How were they?

Nutrients from the Sky. The Upside of Snow.

       "Winter I"  by Bob Zuck

“Winter I” by Bob Zuck

Juno, Linus, Marcus, Neptune, Pandora…. What now? We’re running out of names for snowstorms in New England. 

Can you believe our good fortune? 

I feel so much better now that my buddy, artist farmer Bob Zuck, introduced me to the nutritional benefits of snow. As it turns out, we are flush in nutrients falling from the sky.

Snow is more than moisture. It is also rich in nitrogen, a nutrient that makes up every living cell in plants and animals. Nitrogen is what makes protein unique. Nitrogen comprises 80% of the atmosphere, but it’s in a form that can’t be used. Snow grabs that nitrogen and deposits it into the soil where bacteria “fix” it for absorption into plants. We then eat the plants directly or we eat herbivorous animals. Nitrogen fixing plants include legumes (peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, and peanuts) and cover crops from the Fabaceae family (alfalfa, clover, and vetch).

Atmospheric nitrogen is exceptionally abundant a result of burning fossil fuels and manufacturing. To an industrial farmer, the nitrogen in snow can’t hold a candle to commercial fertilizer, but harsh chemical fertilizers damage the soil’s microbes and so they would need more.

New England, look on the bright side. Prepare to feast on sustainable local food this summer. California, eat my dust. Wait. Eat your own dust.

Your thoughts: Do you feel better about the snow?

Little Green Algae Saves the Day

Truth be told, it’s going outside that gets me to exercise at all. I’m dependent on the beauty of nature. The gym is not for me. On most days, I walk outside in the gardens and parks and on the sidewalks because I don’t own a car. I made a Prospect Park Pinterest page to post some of the photos I take in Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden and Prospect Park with my crappy phone. This week I am gaga about the pond scum – algae – growing on the water in the ancient artificial pond in The Vale of Cashmere. The Vale is aptly described as “a strangely forsaken forest idyll in Prospect Park” in this photo essay. The lush formal garden is sunk into a glacial kettle where the wildlife live and play.

I ♥ Pond Scum

Pond scum – algae – are as much animal as plant. They contain chlorophyll and other plant pigments, but they don’t have stems, roots, or leaves. They have a true nucleus (plant cells do not) enclosed in a cell membrane with lots of DNA functions going on inside.

Someday, algae could save the world. Scientists are growing algae that convert sugars into hydrocarbon fuel to replace oil, plus algae can convert sugars into fat that, compared to traditional fats, has a healthier nutrient composition, a smooth mouth-feel and a rich taste that makes it perfect for baked goods. This new, sustainable fat works as a partial substitute for butter, eggs and even meat and growing it takes up so little space. We already eat algae as carrageenan, Irish moss seaweed, in ice cream, soy milk, and beer. Craig Venter, algae geneticist and entrepreneur, tells Scientific American, “Algae is a farming problem: growing, harvesting, extracting. It’s a work in progress, and we’re working hard.”

Pond scum saves the world! How great is that?

Your thoughts: Are you an algae fan?

Farming Is Charming at Stone Barns

“It’s nice to see the animals roaming free, not sad.”
“Oh, like in Food, Inc?”
“Right.”

If and when I get a pile of money, I’m moving to a gentleman’s farm. (No fancy-pants Hamptons for me.)  I’ll get a place like Stone Barns Farm, where I went today. The Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture is an idyllic working farm and educational center dedicated to sustainable agriculture, located 50 miles north of New York City in Pocantico Hills next to Tarrytown.

Over one hundred years ago, Stone Barns was a dairy farm owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr.  This, that, the other, and nothing much happened until 2004, when David Rockefeller, John D’s grandson, turned the 80 acre farm – backed by his 30 million dollars – into an environmental education center dedicated to showing urban dwellers the source of their food. Bless his heart. Martha Stewart’s favorite restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, is a part of the center. Both the fancy restaurant and the café, where I ate, serve dishes made of local ingredients, preferably from the farm. I ate in the sunny courtyard.

Besides the animals, the greenhouse, and the trails, the Farmer’s Market was open. It’s almost wintertime on the farm, and so the market sold mostly carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, celery root, “rouge chicken”, baked goods, yarn, and a very nice raspberry leaf tea that is soothing to the reproductive systems of women and men alike.

I hope you enjoy my pictures from the farm. I’m psyched to return. Meanwhile, I plan to start reading Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens as soon as the library opens tomorrow.  You know, you just can’t start raising chickens overnight!  I have to get to studying now.