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Ask Umbra on making yogurt at home, with or without electricity

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, I bought a yogurt maker in Germany eight years ago that consists of a glass jar and a sturdy styrofoam container. It cost about $20, works wonderfully, and doesn't require electricity. Why can't I find a similar product in the U.S.? KatherineCupertino, CA DIY that's easy to digest.Photo: Johnny StilettoA. Dearest Katherine, It’s not every day someone writes to ask a homemade yogurt question. DIY yogurt has some hippie stigma around it. It’s as if yogurt-making is something only crunchy types who make their own granola do. (Also an unfortunate stigma, as homemade …

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What doesn’t kill you makes you gourmet

Editor's note: The following essay and map are excerpted from Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas and are republished with permission by UC Press as part of Grist's California agriculture series, an exploration of the people, farms, and issues shaping the state. Click for a larger version. The Bay Area is a tale of two valleys, places that call up very different associations. Napa Valley is the opposite of Silicon Valley, or likes to think so. Napa Valley is how the region is marketed, as upscale, arcadian, sensual, and leisurely; Silicon Valley is its other face, hectic, disembodied, corporate, and …

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Reinventing the supermarket: How New York’s Eataly falls short

Eataly is nice, but there's still plenty of room left to reinvent the supermarket.Photo: Samantha DeckerThe American supermarket experience hasn't changed much in a half century. It's basically a connect-the-dots problem each consumer solves differently: How do you get in, get the things on your list, avoid those annoying people with the slow-moving carts, and get out as swiftly as possible?  In the process of solving the puzzle, we all get to know the commercial topography of our chief foraging zones very well: dairy, meat, breakfast cereals, canned soups. But then this: We get to the end of our shopping …

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Why playing with your food is serious business

Sometimes, you just want to get your hands on some food and goof around. Don't worry; it just means you're human.  Sometimes, I cook when I’m hungry. Then there are those times I find myself heading into the kitchen with a strong drive for ... well ... nothing in particular. And I'm not even hungry. I just want to prepare some food. That's all. I want to mess with food. And that can lead to an extra unneeded meal. We humans do more and more complex food manipulation and preparation than any other creature. I speculate that the drive to …

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Killing a bison and eating it raw [VIDEO]

My vegetarian girlfriend/camera operator refuses to watch this week's video, so I won't be insulted if you skip over it. I'll be more impressed, though, if you watch. The slaughter is followed by a recipe for bison tartare. When you've seen the farm, and the butchering process, raw is a non-issue. For those of you who have the lust for blood, or like to see where your meat comes from, this is another one for you. If you can call killing an animal humane, this is probably the most humane killing I've ever seen. The two bison were dead before …

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Ask Umbra Book Club: The history of ‘adulterated’ food and gross-food urban legends

Give us this day our daily bread, as long as we know what went into it.Photo: LaCheryl PorterDearest readers, Last week, we kicked off our discussion of Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life. You can catch up here. Let’s move our conversation into what is perhaps the heart of a house: its kitchen. And let's talk about a touchy subject: food adulteration. No, not "food adultery." (I'm not quite sure what that would be, although it sounds kinda titillating.) Food adulteration -- the tainting of food with dangerous and disgusting additives -- was something of a …

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Turning cows into steaks: inside a mid-scale slaughterhouse [VIDEO]

Photo: Kate SommersThere are many levels of animal eaters, farmers, and processors in this country. Even among the green-minded, we have passionate vegans and rampant paleo-style carnivores. There are those who support large farms for their efficiency, and those who want every farm to have only an acre of produce, a cow, and five chickens. As for meat processing, nearly everyone is freaked out for one reason or another. Most of us hate industrial meat processing; others fret that small-scale operations are dying out. Lorentz Meats is on the small side, but it's growing. The small-is-beautiful types think Lorentz is …

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Keeping farm animals alive in a freezing Nebraska winter

Don't let the Arctic look fool you -- Thistle Root Farm is a beehive of activity. Photo: Steph LarsenSparkling snow blankets a dormant pasture, and a red barn stands out starkly against a sea of white. Winter is a beautiful season on the prairie. Everything looks quiet and peaceful, but there's still a lot of activity at Thistle Root Farm -- most of it indoors. Winter is planning time on our rural Nebraska farm, and we've already ordered our seeds and trees, mapped out the 2011 garden rotation, ordered a new tiller, and started preparing for the animal babies that …

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How to milk goats in freezing weather — and make chevre [VIDEO]

On the coldest day of the year (-25 degrees F), I went milking goats with my friend Lisa Ringer from Two Pony Gardens. The milk froze to the side of the pail in an instant, but the rest came inside for cheese making. Milking on that cold morning, I never thought that holding the warm teats of a goat could feel so good.  Chevre is about the easiest thing in the world to make -- as long as you've got a packet of starter and a goat on hand. Well, don't sweat the goat. High-quality store-bought goat milk works, too. …