Cookbooks: Green Plate Special by Christine Burns Rudalevige

The first time I met Christine Burns Rudalevige was at a potluck held in honor of the release of the New York Times Cookbook. Christine had driven in from Carlisle, PA to join the party and fit right into our crew of giddy, early career food writers, all bursting with excitement over the fact that we were there to meet Amanda Hesser.

Since then, Christine has moved from Pennsylvania to Maine. Thanks to the wonders of social media, we’ve stayed in touch and I’ve followed her progress as she began writing a weekly column on sustainable home cooking. More recently, she published her very first cookbook, which is what I’m here to share with you today.

Called Green Plate Special (and published by Islandport Press), this lovely book is built on the foundation of Christine’s columns and is dedicated to helping all of us making our home cooking and eating just a little bit greener. Instead of my regular tour through a cookbook, I’ve got a short Q&A with Christine to share with you all.

FIJ: Could you tell us a little about Green Plate Special?

CBR: The book, a spinoff of the weekly column I’ve been writing for three years in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source, a section dedicated to living and eating sustainably, helps home cooks navigate the mountains of information available regarding eating sustainably in the modern age and then apply that information in a practical way in their own kitchens.

Many people want to eat in a way that ensures there will be good, healthy food for future generations, but have limited time, money and energy to put toward that goal. My book breaks down dozens of sustainable tenets regarding sourcing, cooking and not wasting food, explains them in a down-to-earth fashion, and demonstrates each point with a great recipe.

FIJ: What does sustainability mean to you?

CBR: It means shopping, cooking and eating in such a way that I am not harming the environment or taking more than my fair share of natural resources. And, the critical point of my book, taking on these measures as habit at a rate you can sustain over time. You don’t have to be homesteading to be part of the sustainable food movement.

FIJ: How did your time living in Europe impact your food philosophy?

CBR: When we lived in England, where the price of food is almost twice as much as it is here in the United States, I really honed my skills for not wasting a morsel of food while still making interesting meals.

When we spent a semester in France, where meat products are most often pasture-raised and the prices reflect a fair price for the farmer, I found myself “right-sizing” my omnivore family’s meat portions to reflect both the higher price and the stronger flavor. There, we learned we needed less meat to be satisfied if it was sustainably raised.

FIJ: I first met you when you were living in Pennsylvania. Did your family’s move to Maine change how you cooked at all?

CBR: Living in Central Pennsylvania was a just a fully on feast because the vegetable and fruit farmers kept me in gorgeous produce year-round. In Maine, we’ve got a shorter growing season, and to my dismay, very few stone fruit trees. But our state’s 400-miles of coastline give us access to fantastic seafood.

It’s been a learning curve to understand which fishes make the greenest dishes, but I’ve had a delicious time working that all out. People know Maine for lobsters, but there are certainly a whole lot more fish in the swimming in the sea at sustainable levels.

It’s important to know that if the seafood in the fishmonger’s case in Maine or in Pennsylvania was caught in American waters, it was done so within the confines of very strict fishery management plans. Eaters should buy more seafood and feel good eating it because they are supporting the rock star fishermen who are reeling it in according to the rules.

FIJ: What’s one easy change that people can make to help them make their culinary lives a bit more sustainable?

CBR: Be flexible. If you’ve gone to the farmer’s market looking for spinach, but the farmer only has chard left, understand that it’s a great substitute, one that supports your farmer. Don’t go to the fish market fixed on buying cod, but keep an open mind, knowing that any white flaky fish will work just fine. And if you have a hectic day that ends with a meal less green than you’d like, forgive yourself and try again tomorrow.

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