World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: August, 2005

Local Food Challenge Wrap Up – Part I

Slow Our American culture is all about faster, quicker and having whatever we need doing, done.  Although the warning signs are everywhere we don’t seem to heed them. We work more hours than Europeans; most of us don’t take our hard-earned vacation time every year; Americans are sleeping less than we did 100 years ago and as a result we are losing touch with our families, friends, our communities and ourselves.  But there’s hope in the form of a book called, "In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed", by Canadian journalist Carl Honore. 

Honore says he wants to find a balance between fast and slow, not eliminate speed altogether. In Praise Of Slowness is the first comprehensive look at the worldwide Slow movements making their way into the mainstream — in offices, factories, neighborhoods, kitchens, hospitals, concert halls, bedrooms, gyms, and schools.

The book, now in its ninth printing, is striking a chord worldwide with its simple but far-reaching suggestions. The concepts are straightforward and the writing is easy, well researched and is a mix of reportage, intellectual inquiry tempered with a dose of humor. It will serve to improve people’s lives by showing them how others are re-establishing our relationship to speed and time.

Chapters cover the familiar, including the Slow Food Movement.  “A Slow dish can be quick and simple…Another way round the time crunch is to cook more than you need when you can and freeze the surplus.”  Other explorations revolve around the late 80s movement of New Urbanism with its walkable neighborhoods, public spaces and mixed income housing allowing for community to thrive.  The importance of leisure expressed through the “new yoga”—knitting, where “Knitting is one way of taking time to appreciate life, to find that meaning and make those connections.” 

While this all might sound esoteric the book is well grounded and full of common sense. This slow lifestyle revolution is about quality beating out quantity. In the end a slower, more relaxed approach to life is about balance between fast and slow.  Sometimes we all need a little reminding and this book will bring inspiration toward that goal. 

I’m learning to slow down but it’s not easy. Tomorrow my life examined via my wrap up of the month long Eat Local Food challenge.

Here are tips from Carl Honore, author of "In Praise of Slowness," to help you decelerate:

Leave entire time slots unbooked in your schedule rather than filling up every moment with activity. Easing the pressure on your time helps you slow down.

Set aside a time of day to turn off all electronics that keeps us connected—literally unplugged– phones, computers, pagers, e-mail, television, and radio.  Sit quietly somewhere, alone with your thoughts.

Make time for at least one hobby that slows you down, such as knitting, reading, painting, gardening or yoga.

Taste and savor dinner at the kitchen table instead of balancing it on your lap it in front of the TV.

Keep checking in on your “speed.” If you’re doing something more quickly than you need to, take a deep breath and slow down

Supply & Demand

The entire premise of the Local Food Challenge is to seek and if you don’t find, keep asking for a local equivalent food product.  While there has been public dissention and debate over the long ranging impact of this notion I do believe that collectively we can bring about change in our food system.  In fact I read somewhere recently that if we were to be attacked (remember we’re constantly being watched these days!) our "local food system" otherwise known as Albertson’s or Safeway, would keep that service area supplied for just three days at the most.

Viewed in this prism, I do get more than a little concerned. 

Conventional produce costs are low, so low that without subsidies it can’t be profitable. So, how would a family farmer expect to compete.  Most made a decision from a mix of philosophy and economics to become organic farmers. But this choice is not without its challenges and the number of fewer and fewer family-owned farms is our proof. The number of previously certified organic farmers who are still organic but not certified is growing also.

In the past month, when I’ve mentioned the Local Food Challenge I’ve received a wide mix of responses. One of the most common being, ‘Organics is so expensive, I have a family.’  All the more reason you might want to look closer.

The University of California-Davis recently conducted a study and reported that U.S. shoppers who consistently choose healthy foods spend nearly 20 percent more on groceries.  Two of the findings of this study were the following:

    • "organics represent only 2 percent of the food industry, both in the U.S. and worldwide. And less than 10 percent of U.S. consumers buy organic items regularly, according to survey data from Nutrition Business Journal and the Hartman Group, a research firm specializing in the natural-products market. The $10.8 billion industry may be booming, but it’s not even close to overtaking conventional sales."
    • "Most organic fruits and vegetables — the largest sector of the organics market — are only 10 to 30 percent more expensive than their conventionally grown counterparts."

The findings of this study and a perspective is offered in a recent Grist article.  While the author articulates it well, what’s missing is some basic grounding in economic theory.  And this is were the debate comes in. Costs will only decrease if supply is not limited to a few.  We need more producers and suppliers so that many of us don’t get annoyed at paying $6 for a half gallon of Horizon Organic milk.  It certainly does get expensive being so principled.  One commenter switched to organics and did a year to year comparison and while yes it was more expensive per item she realized that the family food bill decreased by 20%.  She had omitted a lot of impulse buying of junk food.

Interviewed in this article is Thomas Dobbs,  a sustainable-agriculture economist, who offers  "if just one-third of American shoppers bought organic foods on a regular basis, most prices would come down to that 10 to 30 percent markup we’re seeing on produce today." 

One of the reasons that organic food is more expensive is because it reflects more of the real costs of growing food.  Currently there are no subsidies in place for organic farmers. I’m not sure this is a good idea given the present practice and the intangible and tangible "rewards."  U.S. agriculture could take a lesson from our European counterparts who are approaching wider adoption of organics with  ‘agri-environmental’ measures.  The organic farmer is seen as an environmental steward. 

So what’s a hungry concerned person to do?  Keep asking for organic, for local and for quality food goods made by artisan food producers.  This will create an environment and preception of opportunity.  More producers and manufacturers will want a piece of the pie.  And who wins?  We all do.  It will also make us all heatlhy in mind, body, spirit and purse.

IMBB #18 – BLT & Buttermilk Cornmeal Onion Rings


Summer’s Flying, Let’s Get Frying  hosted by Linda of At Our Table is here. Already this international virtual cook off has served up Cappuccino Semifreddo with Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts in Singapore; Zucchini Rutabaga Cakes with Tomato Marmalade in Maine and Vietnamese Bahn Xeo Crispy Pancakes in Sydney. So many tasty possibilities!

The BLT, bacon, lettuce and tomato, sandwich is the ultimate summer sandwich.  All ingredients, particularly when locally sourced, say summer at every bite.  The clean, fresh taste of tomato offsets the deep smoky saltiness of crisp-chewy bacon, while lettuce adds cool crunch. Over the years, and usually only in summer, I have worked on many variations on this theme. 

Today’s lunch included the addition of Bay Bread sliced sourdough, Laura Chenel goat cheese, Brokaw Haas avocado, Eatwell rosemary sea salt, and a touch of McEvoy olive oil, to the Early Girl tomatoes, Fatted Calf bacon and Heirloom greens. Yes, yes I know iceberg is the classic but I’m not a fan and it has zero nutritional value. I know I also skipped the mayo for olive oil–variations allow for creativity.

I’ve been thinking about this sandwich all week. I also had picked up some Walla Walla sweet onions from the Healdsburg farmers market.  Homemade onion rings would accompany this beauty.

The onion rings were a bit of a made up recipe.  I knew I wanted them to be buttermilk but I wanted a crunch.  In to a bowl filled with room temperature water went the rings of sliced onions. This is something I learned from Marcella Hazen. It removes any bitterness. Based on another chef’s tip for an extra crispy exterior from Michael Chiarello (dreamy boy to have in the kitchen) and his show Napa Style I made a flour mixture of organic brown rice flour and organic cornmeal with a bit of Tierra Vegetables paprika. (Note it turns out the show was over simplifying the process–it’s an aborino rice flour mix you create.)  In yet another bowl I placed some panko, (Japanese bread crumbs).

Fryer These were cooked in my Waring Pro 200 deep fryer.  This fryer is a workhorse.  It has a built-in temperature gauge, timer and draining basket. In all seriousness I shouldn’t have a deep fryer in my kitchen as the temptation for homemade donuts, plantain chips and now onion rings is too easy.   

And, sweet mother I may have over done it.   Yesterday’s lunch necessitated a 2 hour post-lunch hike to work off the indulgence. But if I do say so myself, this was the most satisfying lunch I’ve made in a long time.

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Artichoke – Pablo Neruda


The artichoke

of delicate heart


in its battle-dress, builds

its minimal cupola;



in its scallop of


Around it,

demoniac vegetables

bristle their thickness,


tendrils and belfries,

the bulb’s agistations;

while under the subsoil

the carrot

sleeps sound in its

rusty mustaches.

Runner and filmaments

bleach in the vineyards,

whereon rise the vines.

The sedulous cabbage

arranges its petticoats;


sweetens a world;

and the artichoke

dulcetly there in a gardenplot,

armed fora skirmish,

goes proud

in its pomegranate


Poem:  Pablo Neruda "Artichoke" (partial)

from Sustenance & Deisre, an anthlogy

Image credit: J.Brophy

Food Related Podcasts

Podcast_1Recently Apple and it’s ITUNES product (v4.6) made subscribing to podcasts a lot simpler.  As a result I track a lot of podcasts–food, environment, cultural. Essentially there are two groupings and the audio quality often reflects the definition. Indies which are home-brewed, with audio quality that is uneven and the others coming from larger media holdings such as local NPR stations. I’m starting a list here, that I hope will grow over time, of new favorites to help you save time. 

If you are feeling eager and in need of more food podcasts Podcast Alley provides more. If you come across a new one that’s worthwhile let me know as I’m hoping to keep a roll of the better ones. 

I know, I know, as if we all need more food-related reading in our lives. I’m drowning already. Next up wine-related podcasts.


Average length:  30-40 minutes/3x month       Audio Quality:  Medium – High

This show rocks. The staff behind this effort is what makes it shine–the founder and editor of Food History News, a SF restaurant manager.  It’s an indie show  that probably won’t be for long.  The content and audio quality (if listen to on headphones and not via your car speakers) is top-flight. The podcast, hosted by Anne Bramley, the 2001 Jane Grigson award for food studies is "for a generation that has grown up in a world-wide food revolution."  The show once had a singular theme per show but that’s changed, without a loss of interest.   "Fresh from the Field", the current show , includes a home recipe for making fruit shrub–an acid fruit drink.  Past show of interest to those on the Left Coast offers a visit to the Cheeseboard Collective, an interview with the Center for Ecoliteracy on school lunches and Crushpad, the new community winery in San Francisco.  If you are curious and have a passion for food this is your show.

San Francisco Chronicle: Food for Your Ears 

Average length:  6-12 minutes/2x  a week         Audio Quality:  Poor

Food writers of the newspaper dine out with friends known and wider known. This is a new podcast as of late June.  So while it may be unfair to pass early judgement nonetheless I can’t help myself.   The recent two-part series on Dim Sum where Oliva Wu and a fellow editor goes to Daly City’s Koi Palace for Dim Sum offers great content and audio quality. She gives tips such as signaling your need for more tea by flipping the lid of your teapot lid over and how to approach ordering. Grace Walden’s lunch with Tyler Florence (whom I swoon over) and Anwas mildly interesting but seemed awkward leaning toward an ego dance. Not to mention that you will have to listen through them talking through mouthfuls of food.  A bit like eavesdropping on the table next to you. If you can stand the background noise. I recommend with reservation as I’m moving toward ambivalent.  Listen to it on headphones and it’s tolerable.

KCRW Good Food

Average length:  60 minutes/4x a month        Audio Quality:  Medium

Host of the show is chef and cookbook author Evan Klieman. With perspective as an executive chef (Angeli Cafe), a teacher, and a scholar of traditional cooking methods and culture of the Italian kitchen the content is excellent and made approachable. I like this show slightly better than Splendid Table. Ms. Klieman doesn’t speak as if to an uninformed general food lover but as if you are having a conversation. There’s also an underlying assumption that if you are listening to such a specialized radio program, well you know a thing or two about food.  Note, for Los Angeles readers, this podcast is essentially just a new distribution medium for the existing public radio program. The show description reads, "discover delicious recipes, great restaurants, and unique places to buy authentic ingredients; find out how to prepare the newest foods in the marketplace; learn techniques of master chefs and ideas for novices; and listen to discussions about food politics and the latest trends in food and eating." And while it does have a local (LA) slant if you are on the West Coast and visit the City of Angels it’ll keep you relevant.

AllRecipes – All To Go

                                        Recipecard is a very, very large serving of recipes.  It’s a virtual cooking community where 10,000,000 home cooks from around the world come to share, rate and download recipes and meal ideas every year.  Now, if you find yourself at the grocery store and wondering what to make for dinner or perhaps curious about how what to do with an unfamiliar ingredient, you will hold a solution in your hand.

Now with your smart phone or web-enabled PDA along with free software from AvantGo all of the 28,000+ recipes, quick and easy search tools, real time personalized shopping lists, your personalized recipe box and more than 500 food and cooking advice articles are with you, ready to come to your rescue.

Most visitors to are predominantly in the 25-34 age group (72%), and  are female (77%). If you are female, and in this age group, tell me if this is something you would find useful.  Simply because I am missing something.  I suppose there’s a need for this, right?

Image: Knauss Food

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Bouchon Photos


                                          A.’s Birthday Lunch at Bouchon, Yountville, CA

More of a, hmmm, Picassa can do that to…I’ve said it before Picassa’s great.  A birthday lunch of a half dozen oysters, a Dungeness crab and Maine lobster cake topped with mache in a lemon vinagrette, moules au safran et a la moutarde avec pomme frites, sauteed spinach with garlic, followed by mousse au chocolate noir at Bouchon was indulgent, divine and special.  All for A.s special day.

Shucking Corn



   Shucking Corn

    Do it outside
    Inside would make a mess

    Break off the stem
    Peel back the tassel and husk
    Don’t think about the taste
    The sweet crunchy kernels
    Or how your salty lips will pucker
    Concentrate on your work

    Peel most of the silk then rub off the rest
    It’s not time for dinner yet
    Don’t think about the glistening rows
    After the golden ear is buttered up
    Or about the crunchy sounds
    When your teeth munch into the kernels

    Now bring the ears to the cook
    Put the husks and silk in the garbage
    And forget about the coming joy

               from Hero Island, a book of poems by Stephen B. Wiley

High Zen Tea Time

Charbay Green Tea vodka created by master distiller and winemaker  Miles Charbay_greentea_2 Karakasevic took five years to formulate and perfect.

The bright green liquid contains extractions of four tea varieties from China’s famed Anhwei province, a prime source and growing region along China’s Silk Route. The result is a blend akin to how perfumes are formulated, with a top-note fragrance, middle structure and long, smooth base finish.

Charbay cultivated its own vodka niche back in 1998 with flavored vodkas distilled exclusively from the real fruit–virtually unheard of in the commercial market. Charbay classics are Blood Orange, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Meyer Lemon and Key Lime Vodka–next up is raspberry.

It’s recommended that this blend be served on the rocks or simply chilled in a martini glass. It’s a bit more in cost than you might expect–$35 for a 750ml bottle. Certainly a curious idea given that most of us drink green tea for it’s health benefits.  Could be a whole new taste sensation!

Summery Fast Food

Summertime makes us all busier than usual. Grabbing a piece of fruit or a container of yogurt often stems the hunger pains for a bit. With just a few minutes time and a blender there are a range of tasty, quick and portable drinks that are healthy, if made with low-fat ingredients such as tofu and fat-free yogurt. These drinks are an excellent way to get extra fruit into your diet and fulfill or even exceed the five-a-day recommendation for fruits and veggies. Refreshing and tasting good is just an added bonus.

With a lighter consistency and texture than the American milkshake licuados, pronounced lee-kwa-dos, can be found throughout Mexico and Central America. A combination of cold milk and fruit juices such as mango, apple or plantains these drinks can be a snack or a light meal. Okay, this one is not entirely low in calories but isn’t chocolate suppose to be good for you?

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