Last semester, when I was supposed to be studying for my finals and writing my final papers, I found myself devouring a copy of the Omnivore’s Dilemma instead. During my summer in New York, I vowed to live as “wholesomely” as I could on my stipend. I bought free range chicken. I went to the Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market and bought greens, berries, apples, and yogurt. When I was craving snacks and desserts, I either made them using organic whole wheat flours with locally grown summer squashes, organic fair-trade chocolate (since, unfortunately, cocoa beans can hardly be local to these parts), etc. I tried. And, to be honest, living my life that way made me feel really good about myself. But it was hard to stick to. The Waffle and Dinges truck on 7th Ave. called to me every time I left the house. I couldn’t live in Brooklyn and not give in to a chewy bagel baked with the kneading of generations of Brooklyn’s Jewish artisans every bite. What was the most difficult part about living this way? I started to realize that there were so many foods I loved that my newly informed mind was “morally” opposed to eating. And my wallet started wincing every time I needed groceries.
I found eggs to have one of the greatest disparities in price between the “eco-friendly” version and the typical grocery store, industrial farm-produced cartons. One half-dozen of free-range eggs, sold by farmers who let their chickens graze and run free in a grassy pasture, at least for some period of their lives, cost me six bucks. Back in my world as a student, cage-free organic eggs, which are the closest to food godliness at Shaw’s, cost me about $3.60.
What does it mean to be cage-free? According to Pete and Gerry’s website, one of the most visible companies that sells cage-free organic eggs, their hens are fed organic grain from birth and live in spacious barn space, free to lay their eggs wherever they may like inside a large barn. There are several third party certifications that you might find on egg cartons, which aren’t approved or officially recognized by the USDA, but if you’re curious enough, you can look them up online. “Certified Humane” is one example of those labels/organizations. The free-range eggs aforementioned mean that the hens who hatched them literally run around (heads on) and spend a good period of time outside pecking for worms.
Recently in New Haven, the city passed a bill that legalized backyard chicken coops. It’s kind of weird; I never thought that backyard chicken coops would develop this kind of Beanie Baby following, to the point where significant numbers of homeowners would demand their right to keep these birds, their molted feathers, and their chicken poo all in the convenience of their yard. Of course, there is the obvious plus side: eggs that you’ve tended from lay to stomach. The right to good food. This recipe for black bean dark-chocolate cake, inspired by this one here, incorporates sustainable and local ingredients in the best way I could manage. It is surprisingly intense, moist, and rich.
1 15 oz. can unseasoned black beans (organic)
1 3.5 oz container of Greek Yogurt (Stonyfield Organic)
6 tablespoons Organic and Fair Trade baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 cage-free, organically fed eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1 locally grown pear for garnish (in season!)
1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Rinse the beans and puree them with the vanilla extract in a blender. If the mixture stalls, add a little bit of water to help it along.
2. In a bowl, mix together cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and yogurt together.
3. Add the bean puree to the egg, sugar, and yogurt mixture until well-mixed.
4. Gently mix in the cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder.
5. Grease a 9-inch cake pan (PAM or butter, your choice) and pour the batter in. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.