Radical & Conservative
In recent years in reference to both our politics and our gastronomy, the labels radical and conservative have been tossed about with increasing abandon, and the words have come to lose their meaning. A previous president who lost the popular election but won the Supreme Court appointment, and who desecrated the Bill of rights, invaded a country which didn't attack us, and pursued environmental policies designed to leave his own grandchildren a planet with irreversible climate change - was considered conservative. Meanwhile, the current President, the most centrist in a generation, is accused of being a Socialist.
To review the dictionary definition, the root of the word conservative is to preserve, which implies valuing and holding on to the past. Radical means an extreme departure from usual and normal traditions.
We live in a time of such enormous and rapid change, that it is hard to keep track of perspective. Like Einstein's consideration of two passengers on 2 separate moving trains, it is sometimes difficult to determine which train is moving, and if so, in which direction.
When it comes to how and what we eat, who are the real radicals today?
At the turn of the last century, the vast majority of Americans lived on farms and at least produced some of their own food. That is no longer true. Americans spend the majority of their total food dollars on prepared food or food eaten outside the home, and most of the grain, beef, and poultry processed and distributed in this country is controlled by a small handful of giant agribusiness.
The Robber Barons of the 19th century who created this country's first industrial wealth did so largely through a combination of monopoly, intimidation, and lack of government regulation. But at least the Carnegies, Rockfellers and Mellens had a sense of noblesse oblige and stewardship, and they also left a legacy of libraries, land conservation, and universities. That is almost entirely absent in today's global corporate world of Monsanto, McDonalds, and Cargill.
The food writer Michael Pollan has written that the single most radical thing someone can do in America today is to grow some of their own food. In the popular culture, those who shop at food co-ops and farmers markets are somehow depicted as Birkenstock wearing hippies or children of hippies, Flower Children, or their descendents. Yet I submit that the impulse to try and preserve some element of the Agrarian ideal is not radical at all, but rather deeply conservative, in the true dictionary meaning of the word. A wide range of writers, chefs, and activists, including Mr. Pollan, Francis Moore Lappe, and our own Berkshire Locavore Amy Cotler, recognize how critical it is to retain some control over the food supply.
So who are the real radicals? Those seed companies who patent life and deny farmers their age old heritage, industrial confined feeding operations with their gigantic manure lagoons, and those food companies who increasingly turn food into manufactured imitation food products, primarily through the addition of salt, fats, sugar, and unpronounceable chemicals.
After a long winter of cold and ice, we yearn for the first sign of green. Among the first crops out of the ground are both spinach and asparagus, and the following recipe for asparagus and Spinach & Asparagus Timbale makes use of each. It is perfect with fish or chicken.
Spinach & Asparagus Timbale
Timbales are round or oval shaped molds which are used to make a variety of vegetable puree accompaniments. They are a somewhere between a vegetable soufflé and a quiche, and make an unusual and colorful vegetable side dish which can be served with either fish or meat. Unlike a soufflé, which depends on beaten egg whites, timbales combine a vegetable puree with eggs and cream to make a rich vegetable pudding. They are baked in small molds which sit in a pan surrounded by water, and cooked at low temperatures. Bon Appetite!
1 lb spinach
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup diced asparagus
1 bunch chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper
1. Remove the stems from the spinach, and place the cleaned, washed
leaves in a sauce pot with 1/4 cup of water, and steam for about 2
minutes in a cover pot.
2. Remove the spinach from the pot, rinse in cold water, and drain as
much of the excess water from the spinach.
3. Puree the spinach in a blender with the eggs.
4 Combine the spinach and egg puree with the heavy cream, dill, diced
asparagus, and salt and pepper, and mix well.
5. Lightly grease the timbale molds (ceramic ramekins may be used), and
fill them with the vegetable mix.
6. Place the timbales in a pan filled with water, and bake at 300 for
about 40 minutes. remove from the oven, unmold, and serve with fish or