Seven Stars of Winter

cropped foods_wheel2

 BY JESSICA PRENTICE
LINE DRAWINGS BY SARAH KLEIN • COLORING BY MAGGIE GOSSELIN

Jessica Prentice, Maggie Gosselin, and Sarah Klein created the Local Foods Wheel to help us all enjoy the freshest, tastiest, and most ecologically sound food choices month by month. Here are seven of Jessica’s seasonal favorites. You can learn more about the Local Foods Wheel and the group’s other ventures at localfoodswheel.com.

 

wines

The older I get, the more I appreciate a glass of wine with a meal, and as a dedicated locavore, I especially like that I can now get excellent wines that were vinified mere miles from my home. The urban wineries of Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda have put the East Bay on wine lovers’ maps. Speaking of maps: did you know that all 50 states now have at least one winery operating? Still, almost 90 percent of American wine is produced in California, and this is a mixed blessing, since profitable vineyards in some California counties have pushed aside other forms of agriculture. Biodiversity is important in any ecosystem, and it demands that pleasure and subsistence each find enough space in our fields and on our tables.

kaleIt seems that everywhere I go people are extolling the pleasures of kale baked into chips or shredded in salads and eaten raw. While I appreciate these popular treatments of the easy-to-grow, leafy green vegetable, I positively swoon over an old-fashioned “mess of greens” on my plate in the form of ultra-tender kale that’s been slow-braised in bacon fat and chicken broth. I could eat that nearly every night, and in fact I do. We’ve found lacinato (aka dinosaur) kale easy to grow and harvest from our garden practically year round.

pomeloWhen living in Thailand 20 years ago, I fell in love with a giant, nubby orb of a fruit called som-o. I had no idea what the English translation could be, and it wasn’t until at least a decade later, when back in the U.S., that I found som-o labeled pomelo in a farmers’ market. Of the familiar fruits, the pomelo most closely resembles a grapefruit, although the big pieces of pulp are often dryer, sweeter, and milder in flavor than a grapefruit’s. I know of no elegant way of presenting a whole pomelo to company, since its very thick layer of pith has to be removed before the big pieces of fruit can be eaten. With luck (or skill) you can perhaps extract the sections intact, but it’s just as good to tear the thing apart however you can and eat the big pulpy
pieces with gusto.

napa cabbageNapa cabbage, a long-leafed, thick-stemmed brassica, does not originate from our local Napa County. The name is derived from a regional and colloquial Japanese word, “nappa,” which refers to the leaves of a plant, especially when they are edible. While I love napa cabbage in stir-fries, I think it meets its most irresistible end when salted, cultured, and turned into kimchi. Baechu kimchi, the most common Korean version, is made by seasoning whole, uncut napa cabbages with salt, chiles, and other ingredients and then fermenting them for months in a crock.

winter_radishesThe kimchi I eat most often is the one we make in the Three Stone Hearth kitchen. We use slices of napa cabbage, carrot, burdock root (if we can get it), and winter radish, such as daikon or black Spanish radish. (Watermelon radish, another tempting winter radish some are tempted to add, turns the mixture an unappealing pink.) We mix these vegetables with plenty of sea salt, chopped fresh ginger, garlic, scallions, and just enough red pepper to give the concoction some heat. My idea of winter comfort food extraordinaire is a bowl of broth-based noodle soup seasoned with tamari and mirin, and topped with kimchi.

breadAn archetypal food in the Western culinary tradition, bread shows up in infinite variations, from quick breads and flat breads to gluten-free incarnations. For me the quintessential bread is a loaf made of wheat and/or rye flour that’s been naturally fermented and leavened with a sourdough starter—a colony of wild yeasts and beneficial bacteria that a baker feeds and protects over many years—rather than commercial yeasts that have been isolated in a laboratory and sold in a package. In our current stage of consciousness about food, we are beginning to acknowledge the power of the wild to heal us and restore our relationships to nature. Mysterious yet powerful, wild yeasts raise a loaf slowly and holistically, yielding many health-benefitting factors. Among our local bakers using natural leavening instead of commercial yeast is Eduardo Morell, who has been selling at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market for years and is currently moving his bakery operation to the East Bay from Marin. Try Morell’s Local Loaf, which Eduardo makes with locally grown flour.

There is plenty of great, locally made charcuterie available at our shops and farmers’ markets, but I prefer the bacon made in my own kitchen by my partner Jake, who was inspired by his new favorite chef-author, Michael Ruhlman. Jake starts by massaging a large piece of pasture-raised pork belly with a mixture of kosher salt, sweetener (try honey or apple-syrup for a very local version), curing salt, and spices. The belly then spends a week in the fridge curing inside a ceramic baking dish.

WATCH JAKE MAKIN’ BACON!
That’s Jake in the last frame
Photos by Foster Wiley

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