“GREEN PLATE SPECIAL: SUSTAINABLE AND DELICIOUS RECIPES.” By Christine Burns Rudalevige. Islandport Press. May 9, 2017. $24.95.

The Maine Sunday Telegram Green Plate Special columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige began cooking at age 12. Her mother, a nurse, was working a 3 to 11 p.m. shift, so Rudalevige stepped up to cook dinners for herself, her four siblings and her father. “I wanted to eat what I wanted to eat,” she recalls. It didn’t always work out. There was the time she was cooking pot roast when a friend called to tell Rudalevige about her first kiss. This was when phones had cords, and Rudalevige walked away from the searing meat to give her full attention to the engrossing conversation. The meat burned, but she served it anyway, telling her brothers it was barbecue pot roast. They didn’t buy it, not for a minute, and to this day Rudalevige, now a cooking school graduate, cooking school teacher, weekly food columnist and the author of the just published “Green Plate Special: Sustainable and Delicious Recipes,” still hears about that infamous roast. “And I have made thousands of dinners since then!” she protests.

We chatted with Rudalevige, who lives in Brunswick, about her new book, which is based on her column of the same name. She told us about the 15 years she spent in computer networking technology while her husband went to graduate school and worked his way up to tenured professor (he teaches government at Bowdoin). Once he had, “it was time I could step back from big salary and do what I wanted,” she said. At age 42, she enrolled in cooking school and subsequently returned to journalism. Returned? She had delivered papers as a kid, “my first journalism job,” she says.

Q: Can you explain what the Green Plate Special column is for our readers who don’t know it (shame on them)?

A: Each week, it takes a look at some aspect of sustainable eating, whether it’s how (food) is sourced, how you are cooking it, how you are using leftovers. I write about it in the column and include a recipe that illustrates that point.

Q: Has writing this column changed how you cook, shop, eat or think about food?

A: Oh definitely. Each place that we lived I picked up some aspect of sustainable eating. When we lived in England, food was twice the price. That’s where I learned not wasting a morsel. When we were back in central Pennsylvania, after I had gone to cooking school – which doesn’t teach you how to cook sustainably at all – I was living in the middle of central Pennsylvania with the Amish all around. There is a huge influential organization called The Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture. I was very involved in that. I ran a farmers market. I was catering some of their events – I would go to a farm and cook a meal on a farm.

And then when we lived in France – that’s when I got onto the protein part of it. It’s hard not to buy really good, seasonably raised animal protein in France. You get used to its taste. It’s a stronger taste, so you need less of it. When we moved to Maine, I got the sustainable seafood part of it.

What the column, and subsequently the book, has done is had me look a little deeper into why you do things. Why do you shop at the farmers market? Yes, there is that local angle and you want to support local. But it’s also the biggest profit margin that farmer will get, because they are selling direct. And why should I eat Jonah crab? Because there is plenty of it. It gets caught in lobster traps and the lobstermen can actually make some money on it instead of just throwing it away. (In the column,) I focus on the why. That’s been the personal development for me as a person and an eater.

Q: Name your guilty, non-sustainable culinary pleasure.

A: French cheese.

Q: Which is non-sustainable because it’s coming from so far away?

A: Yes. And it’s also non-sustainable because it’s very expensive. (Laughter.) Also bananas and avocados and lemons. I’m always going to use lemons. I think the success of the column is that I’m conscious that not everybody has the time, the money, the inclination or the wherewithal to eat 100 percent sustainably. I really believe that you have to get the everyday, ordinary eaters thinking more sustainably if it’s going to work, if we’re going to see any “gets.” We are going to have to get sustainable eating out of the homestead and into middle American kitchens. It’s accessible sustainable food. The way I explain to my mother and her friends – it’s how your grandmothers ate. They didn’t waste anything. They only ate within season. They didn’t have the money to buy big hunks of meat.

Q: What’s the nicest response you’ve gotten to a column?

A: I don’t think you ever get tired of hearing “I read your column every week.”

Q: How about the least nice?

A: Online comments are the worst. People are out there trolling. They might write, “I’m going to eat whatever I damn well want to eat.” I really try not to be preachy. So when I get accused of being preachy, I guess those are the worse comments.

Q: Where did the idea for a book come from?

A: It was the positive feedback, people saying, “We like what you are doing. Are you going to write a book?”

Q: So is the book a collection of your columns for the Maine Sunday Telegram or something different?

A: I would say it is about 60 percent new content. Topically, it’s a 100 percent crossover. But things change over the years, and we needed to add more recipes. There were a lot of segues that had to be written. It’s not just a straight collection of columns. I’m not (New York Times columnist) Tom Friedman. I needed to do a lot of work to make it flow. There was a lot of rewriting and consolidating and new information as things evolved.

Q: Among the several thousand cookbooks published every year in English, how would you persuade readers they should buy this one?

A: The food is delicious. The food is the forefront reason for buying it, but then you also learn a lesson about how to incorporate sustainable practices into your busy life.

Q: Which comes first? Recipes or columns?

A: I’m very proud of the column, but I really think the draw is the food. I want (the book) displayed next to the cookbooks, not with (political food writer) Barry Estabrook. I think he’s great. I quote him all the time, but this is a cookbook. Being a cookbook, it’s more accessible to more people. Everybody has to eat, not everybody has the time to read an opus about sustainable meat.

Q: Anything I neglected to ask you that you’d like to add?

A: Sustainable doesn’t have to be impractical. You can be sustainable and practical at the same time. You don’t have to unplug or live off the grid. You have to find where it fits into your own life.

CLAMS WITH FARRO AND BABY KALE

From “Green Plate Special: Sustainable and Delicious Recipes” by Christine Burns Rudalevige: This recipe was adapted from a dish I ate the Palace Diner in Biddeford, made with Mahogany clams, which are bigger and taste a little more metallic than the littlenecks I suggest here.

It will be featured at a Cook the Book dinner on May 9 at the Brunswick Inn. You can use wheat berries, barley or rye berries in place of the farro.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup chopped fennel

1/4 cup minced shallots

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

1 cup clam juice

4 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed

2 cups cooked, warm farro

1/2 cup heavy cream

Kosher salt and white pepper

4 cups washed baby kale leaves

Chili oil

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pot large enough to hold all of the clams. Add the fennel and shallots. Cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes to soften. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook for 1 minute more. Add the clam juice and bring the liquid to a steady simmer. Carefully scatter the clams into the pan and cover. Cook until most of the clams have opened, 5-7 minutes. Discard any clams that fail to open.

Just as the clams finish cooking, divvy up the warm farro among 4 warm bowls. Divide the clams among the bowls, too.

Return the pot to the stove over low heat, add the cream and bring it to a simmer. Turn off the heat, season with salt and white pepper, and fold in the baby kale leaves.

Split the kale and cream sauce among the bowls, pouring it over the clams. Finish each bowl with a swirl of chili oil.