Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Back to the Start

Simple. Sweet. Back to the start.

Invasivore > Vegetarian

It's no secret that becoming a vegetarian is one of the best things you can do for the environment. Take it a step further and aim to eat local, in-season produce and you may just get a personal thank you note from Mother Earth. Take it several steps further and you may find yourself stepping outside the vegetarian menu and into a growing culinary trend: eating invasive species.

Thanks to some courageous Baltimore chefs, the option to eat invasive may be coming to a restaurant near you.

Last week, I sat down with 49 other adventurous and environmentally conscious eaters who entered their names into a raffle in hopes to win a seat at Alewife Baltimore's Snakehead Fish dinner. The dinner consisted of four courses centered around the invasive snakehead fish. Chef Joe Edwardsen of Joe Squared, Chef Dave Newman of Brewer's Art, Alewife Executive Chef Chad Wells, and Alewife's Grace Gonzalez each contributed a dish. As you look at their delicious, inspired twists on the fish, consider the fact that consuming these critters helps protect native aquatic life.

Chef Joe Edwardsen's Smoked Snakehead Risotto with Arugula

Chef Dave Newman's Tempura Snakehead and Green Papaya Salad
with Peanuts, Spicy Ginger Aioli and Yuzu Scallion Vinaigrette

Chef Chad Wells' Grilled Snakehead, Chimichurri, Blistered Tomato
Chipotle Mecco Salsa with Black Bean Croquette, Micro Salad,
Orange Cumin Vinaigrette

Grace Gonzalez' Coconut Mousse with Caramel Ginger Sauce,
Tropical Fruit Salsa and Candied Snakehead Skin

As always, the saying goes: Everything in moderation - including moderation. Few human beings can completely restrict their diets to local produce and invasive species alone. Life gets busy, the joy of cooking relegated to holidays and Sundays, we have children with nutritional needs paramount to our ideals, and the organic market closes before you can say, "Is it September already?!" So think of it like this: When given the opportunity to do the best possible thing for the environment, seize the snakehead!

New Food Rules

Michael Pollan, in association with Penguin Press, will be publishing the expanded edition of Food Rules with illustrations by Maira Kalman on November 1, 2011. According to Slow Food USA, the three rules selected to add to this edition are as follows:

Place a bouquet on the table and everything will taste twice as good. – Gisbert P. Auwaerter, Cutchogue, NY

Love your spices. They add richness and depth to food without salt. – Claire Cheney, Jamaica Plain, MA

When you eat real food, you don’t need rules. – Mandy Gerth

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I know everyone is dying to see pics of the snakehead dinner but I haven't had a chance to scan in the menu and write the full post so... in the meantime, please enjoy this picture of our delicious University of Maryland Public Health Garden grown watermelon.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Eating Invasives

Earlier this year, I was invited to dine on a Canada goose and Maryland deer (pictured right) hunted, prepared and cooked by my hosts and long-time friends: Heather and Michael Havlik. Although the menu wasn't suited for a traditional vegetarian (which I am often mistaken for), it was ideal for an exercise in local, sustainable eating. Not to mention, the meat was so tender and full of flavor I nearly forgot I was eating animals.

Throughout our often holiday-therefore-dinner-party-centered relationship, the subject of what we eat, don't eat and why has often been debated. Michael Havlik, like most hunters, fishermen and outdoors men, is a conservationist at heart. His wife Heather will stalk over-populated deer and shuck local oysters with the best of 'em. Years ago, they opened my eyes to the dangers of non-native birds and helped shape my current respect and admiration for hunters - particularly those who set their sites on species that threaten the local eco-system. This year, they ignited my curiosity and taste for another level of eco-eating: dining on invasive species.

While the adorable waddle of Canada geese and smile-inducing relationships between mother and fawn prevent me from going forest-to-table alongside the Havliks, the newest "invasivore" movement in town, aimed at eradicating the snakehead fish, is one almost all of us can endorse without remorse.

Alewife Executive Chef and sustainable seafood steward, Chad Wells (pictured), has made it his mission to get these creatures out of the waterways and into the kitchens of environmentally conscious restaurants locally and nationwide. He recently told The Baltimore Sun, "We've proved time and again, the best way to destroy something is get humans involved."

The aggressive and predatory snakehead fish, well-known for their canine-like teeth, are thought to have entered U.S. waterways via aquarium owners and the live fish food market. The fish reproduce rapidly and, during all of their life stages, compete with native species for food. If left to their own devices, the snakeheads could drastically effect biodiversity and forever disrupt the ecological balance of native aquatic systems.

This Tuesday, August 23, 2011, Chef Chad Wells is teaming up with fellow chefs and conservationists Dave Newman of Brewer's Art, Joe Edwardsen of Joe Squared, and Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisinal Ales for an official snakehead dinner kicked off by a talk from Steve Vilnit of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources fisheries service.

I have the honor of an invitation to the dinner and am as excited about Steve Vilnit's talk as I am about being a part of  snakehead eradication. There has been some debate in the scientific community as to how and why we, as human beings, get to designate plant and animal species as invasive. In an article published in the Boston Globe in July, The Invasive Species War, Leon Neyfakh highlighted various movements and opinions both popular and scientific. After reading the article, Brian Knox, President of Sustainable Resource Management, Inc and co-snakehead-diner this coming Tuesday, pointed out the importance of distinguishing between non-native species and invasives.

"We have loads of non-native plants everywhere," Knox explained. "Any plant can become a problem if it spreads aggressively and pushes out diverse native vegetation replacing it with a monoculture desert. It is important to remember that ecosystems are dynamic and will change naturally over time (succession) but many invasives (mile-a-minute, kudzu, autumn olive, bittersweet, etc) spread at a speed only matched by developers on bulldozers."

Luckily, there isn't much debate about the environmental dangers of snakeheads however Chef Chad Wells doesn't intend to stop his crusade at the river bank. He is currently experimenting with invasive plants like Kudzu for an upcoming event with Baltimore's Food = Art.

Proof of a growing interest in invasive eating graces the pages of the September-October issue of Mental Floss magazine in The Joy of Cooking Invasive Speicies: Recipes for American Cannonball Jellyfish, Nutria, Kudzu, Lionfish and Canada Geese. Snakehead fish, and an accompanying recipe for it, is noticeably absent from the Mental Floss feature but Wells' new recipe is due to publish in an upcoming issue of Maryland Natural Resource Magazine and will most certainly be raved about on this blog after Tuesday's tasting.

For more information about invasive species in Maryland, check out the DNR's Invasive Speices Resource Center. For further reading on our relationships with and interest (or lack-thereof) in eating animals, I recommend Hal Herzog's Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat and Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Public Health Garden at University of Maryland, College Park

If you haven't stopped by the garden site or blogspot of the new University of Maryland Community and Teaching Garden lately, we've got lots of new fruits, vegetables, flowers, friends and projects in bloom for you to check out and enjoy. In a few short months we have produced an average of ten pounds of produce weekly, overseen the installation of permeable pavers, hosted hundreds of eager TerpQuest campers, learned quite a bit about pest management, gratefully welcomed tons of donations and most recently begun the construction of beautiful raised beds.

In fact, we've had so much fun and success with the growing hillside farm that several news publications have picked up on the enthusiasm. The PHGarden recently appeared in CollegeParkPatch and has been a mainstay on the University Homepage.

For regular up-to-date details, please visit the Public Health Garden website. Feel free to 'like' the Public Health Garden on Facebook and browse our Flickr pictures as well. Stay tuned for details about new volunteer days/hours and crops come September.

Standard American Diet

Grains provided nearly a quarter of daily calories to the average American in 2009 - which is more than any other food group (fruits, veggies, meats, eggs, nuts, etc). Such a percentage sounds okay at first but upon closer inspection you will see that the next largest pieces of the pie are added fats, oils, dairy fats and caloric sweeteners rather than the real foods. Ugh.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Parents' Garden

This beautiful 1.13 pound tomato is one of many exciting thing to come out of my parents' garden this summer. They've produced, enjoyed and gifted bunches of herbs, zinnias and leafy greens, and even have a surprise pumpkin that popped up from the remains of Halloween 2010 decor. Stay tuned for more pics.

Eco-Goats in the Wall Street Journal

What's better than waking up at the crack of dawn in a camper, reaching the herd's food buckets while they are still yawning, and seeing the little sleepy heads stumble down a wooded hillside to get breakfast and snuggles?

Not much.

But waking up post-dawn, in a warm bed in an air conditioned house, and seeing/hearing them hop on and off the trailer and eat weeds (like it is going out of style) -  via the Wall Street Journal - is pretty awesome. Great to see the Isaac Walton League Ladies on film as well. They have been incredibly kind and welcoming to the herd and yours truly. Hope you enjoy the video as much as I enjoy this herd of hard-working goats.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Urban Tree Benefits

  • Trees provide climate control year round. In the spring and summer, they cool the air through transpiration, and shade sidewalks and streets.
  • Year round, trees help prevent soil erosion, provide wildlife habitats, and reduce noise, glare and particulates in the air.
  • A single acre of trees absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and produces four tons of oxygen (which is enough for 18 people).
  • Trees make property more valuable!
  • There are psychological and social benefits of being around trees in terms of health and welfare, stress reduction, reduced crime, and even higher test scores.

In light of recent controversy regarding the removal of trees in and around Baltimore City for the upcoming Grand Prix, this seemed like a good time to put highlight urban tree benefits, direct readers to my favorite Tree Benefit Calculator, and suggest that all you tree-huggers stop into change.org and sign the petition to halt any further tree removal. As I promised on Facebook last night, I will continue to post benefits until this matter is resolved.

(Special thanks to Ken Ingram, who calculated the benefit of the pictured Willow Oak and has given me a greater, more educated understanding of them.)