World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Local Food Challenge

Meatrix II is Here

            M2poster2_1

It’s here. Meatrix II is loud and clear on its message. Long time readers know that nothing gets my bloomers in a bunch more than corporate dairy farms factories. Just say no to rGBH.

After viewing this animated bit think about joining Life Begins at Thirty in the second Eat Local Food Challenge.

Learn more about local food:

Local Food Challenge – Part II

Eat_local_huge_1 As the Eat Local Challenge drew to an official close yesterday it’s time to take a cold hard look at my findings.  Yesterday’s prelude post, helped to set the context of what my story is, overextended.  Most of you are aware of my philosophy on local, organic and artisan foods.  It’s good for the environment, the local economy, the producer and well, as CookieCrumb will tell you, "it tastes great."

First, the hard truth. I think I’m running 50-50.  I’ve had bright moments including, organic cornmeal muffins studded with Swanton strawberries, substituting Jamba Juice for homemade ones of Crane melon and Swanton strawberries with Strauss organic yogurt, an exceptional BLAT. But this month has been more of an awakening that this type of change can’t be done in isolation.  I’ve had dark moments, that I’ve enjoyed, one Jamba Juice, a dinner at Maverick’s that I excused myself from everything.

Without stating the obvious, often the reasons we eat the way we eat is dictated by our lifestyle, work style and more simply put, time.

Not only do you need time to shop but you need time to prepare meals.  I leave my house at 6:30am. I return typically around 7:30/8:00pm. Or later. Sure, some of you are saying, ‘well on the weekend plan your meals, shop, freeze, can and prepare your meals ahead of time.’ I did that two weekends.  One of them was because I worked at the farmers market!  So, I’m sorry I have  two days in which to do all those errands that don’t get done during the week, see friends, do laundry, and cultivate what energy I do have for a hike or to write or photograph.   I do send out my laundry, which I have to say is something I never thought I’d do.  This is not something in this New Englander’s actions.  But it saves me three very valuable hours on the weekend. See how much guilt I have?

So while yes the upside is that while I started up my CSA subscription it  certainly doesn’t help that I wasn’t home to prepare meals.  I’ve put that on vacation hold while I’m off retooling myself in Banff next week.  Which brings me to another revelation.

I eat out a lot more than I thought. This is entirely due to my work schedule. Some nights I just ate a piece or two of local cheese and fruit on principle. However, some dinners out were wonderful discoveries such as Small Shed in Mill Valley (rockin’ pizza ALL local goods). I know what your thinking now, I need a lifestyle change, starting with a new job. That’s being actively addressed.  So if you know of any senior-level marketing positions in San Francisco or within 25 miles of the city drop me a line. 

So, the positives to this month-long challenge has been that I have included more organic foods mixed with local goods.  I’m also more aware of how much day-to-day responsibilities influences who and what you are.  I also ask more questions–which I’m certain others will find trying! 

Thanks to Jen who pulled this effort together.  I proud to know her and to be a friend. It’s amazing what power the intersection of one woman, a blog and an idea can have on people around the world. Smart people are neat, eh? 

Oh yes, I’ve given up the microwave.  It’s now the largest bread box/digital timer you’ll ever come across! (So, how does one ethically dispose of these things?)

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

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Local SF Lunch Cafe Desiree

   

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                                    Blackberry Lemon Napoleon, Cafe Desiree, San Francisco

Much has been written about San Francisco’s Desiree Cafe.  I think that everyone in the place was taking about wine or food.  I’m convinced the solo female diner at the next table was a cookbook author that I just can’t place.  Annie Gingrass, the owner and chef, has a superior level of experience having contributed to the success of Hawthorne Lane (those bread baskets!) and prior to that, Postrio and Spago.  This simple home-style cafe and menu supports local California Certified Organic farmers making it a perfect fit and spot for a Local Food Challenge meal.  A BLT with fried egg offered a perfect balance of tomato to bacon.  But the dessert (above) was exceptional–rich, not overly sweet, the lemon curd, Chantilly cream and flaky pastry singular and divine. Living local sure tastes good.   

Desiree Cafe

San Francisco Film Centre, Presidio, 39 Mesa Street, San Francisco,(415) 561-2336

Clint, Make my BLT

                                        Hierloom

Gary Ibsen is a long-time advocate of certified organic, sustainable farming and the practice of seed saving. He has grown heirloom tomatoes for more than 30 years and is currently growing more than 500 heirloom tomato varieties from seeds he has personally harvested. Heirloom seeds are originally sourced from family farms around the world and typically over many generations.

Now Ibsen has announced a new variety called ‘Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Red’ all in honor of Carmel’s most famous resident. This new heirloom tomato possesses a deep-red color, with a beefsteak fruit that has the kind of robust, tomatoey flavor that many prefer. He chose to name it ‘Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Red,’ after the actor’s character named Rowdy Yates in the Rawhide television series."   

For the past 14 years Ibsen has celebrated the love apple with his Carmel TomatoFest. The festival offers a tomato “tasting” of 350 varieties, including the recently released “Julia Child”, an extravagant country BBQ and a sampling of exemplary gourmet tomato entrees created by top chefs from 60 of America’s finest restaurants. The festival also includes a tasting of more than 100 Monterey County and California premium wines, a savory salsa showcase featuring 90 of the nation’s best tomato salsas, and an international olive oil tasting featuring extra-virgin oils from eight countries and California. Attendees can also purchase hard-to-find heirloom tomato seeds. 

Monterey is 115-miles from San Francisco. Reservations are required in advance by ticket purchase. General admission tickets are $85. Special VIP/Hosted Entrance tickets are $150, and a Deluxe Package ticket including a dinner-dance on September 10 at Carmel Valley Ranch Resort is $220. Tickets may be purchased through the Website at www.tomatofest.com or by calling 1-800-965-4827. Net proceeds are donated to local youth charities. The event is a sellout every year, so interested persons are encouraged to buy their tickets early.

Image: Poster by Gary Ibsen

Paper Chef #9 – Sweet Heat

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This is my first effort at Paper Chef.  If you aren’t familiar, essentially it’s similar to Iron Chef in that the ingredients are nominated and then participants have the weekend to pull an original recipe together. 

This round requests that, dried chili peppers, edible flowers, peaches and a local ingredient appear in the recipe.  The only non-local ingredient in this recipe was a pinch of salt and organic sugar (Paraguay). My choice of local ingredient is Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese.  Everything is better with this cheese. The locally-grown variety of peach is Indian Blood Red.

I’ve been experimenting now with chili peppers for about two years. My fascination deepened on a culinary vacation to Oaxaca. This simple syrup was a idea that came to me late one night after reading Southwestern cookbooks. Thanks go out out to Owen at Tomatilla and the Paper Chef event who have provided the inspiration for bringing the mix of ingredients for this dessert.  It has a mellow, sweet heat that is sure to please.

Sweet Summer Heat

Serves 2

Pepper Pulp

1 dried Ancho chile  (make sure it’s pliable & about 4-5" in length)
2 cups water

Simple Syrup

1 cup water

1/2 cup organic sugar

1/2 cup fresh raspberries

Other

1 firm-ripe large peach

1/8 cup Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese

Organic Dried Lavender

Method

Simmer chile in 2 cups water in a medium saucepan, uncovered. Turning the chile over once or twice, until softened, about 15 minutes. Transfer chile to a cutting board. The pepper "broth" can be saved for another use or discarded.

When cool enough to handle, de-stem and de-seed chile. Now here’s the patience part. You want to separate the pulp from the skin. Take a sharp paring knife and carefully scrape the inside pulp from the skin.  Put this in a prep bowl and cover to keep moist.

Ancho-Raspberry Simple Syrup

Transfer chile pulp to a clean pot. Add sugar, 1/2 cup raspberries, a pinch of salt, and remaining cup water. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove syrup from heat and cover pan with lid, then let steep, covered, 20 minutes.

Pour syrup through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing gently on solids. Careful you don’t want the solids; toss the solids.

Assembly

Halve peach lengthwise, pit, and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Divide, along with remaining cup raspberries, among 2 shallow bowls or plates with recess.  Spoon syrup over fruit. Sprinkle with crumbles of blue cheese and lavender.

Eating Local – Week One

Seascape

Life at the day job has been grueling bordering on abusive.  So without dwelling here’s my report on the first week. I think I was a bit burnt out from the Tour de France effort. Image: (c) J.Brophy, Seascape, Tomales Bay

Week One got off to a less than ideal start.  On Day 2, at 8:15pm after a 12 hour work day, with the Clash’s "Lost in the Supermarket" playing on my IPOD I could be found wheeling a grocery cart up and down Trader Joe’s. 

So what crosses my mind as I carefully read labels and consulted the map of California in my head is that this is going to be more of a re-education than I anticipated.  What I’m also thinking, is that eating "local" as defined by the Localvores and others (within 100 miles) may not be the easiest thing to do if you work 50 hours a week, commute another 20, or have family responsibilities. And while I’m not here to make excuses, I think we need to be aware that defining our foodshed as 100 miles while living in a city may be a bigger challenge than simply saying, eating organic is OK.

Historically, many cities started as trade centers for agriculture. A recent Earthwatch Radio show (a podcast) reported on a Canadian government survey on agriculture land use in Canada. Only about 5% of its land is suitable for agriculture, and most of it is being consumed by urban development.  This is forcing farmers to work land that can be less than desirable. 

In fact the loss of agriculture land is being felt around the world. Just look for urban sprawl as confirmation. City dwellers, such as myself, like to think we are entirely self-sufficient. Clearly after Week One I know that we are not. 

So over the weekend I stocked the larder with local cheese, dairy, fruits and vegetables.  I am easing up on the 100-mile rule.  I’m moving out by 25-mile increments. Giving up Brokaw’s Hass avocados is not a long term proposition.  My overarching goal is to make a sustaining change. The question, then becomes, if I can’t get <insert food item> within 100-miles how far do I need to go.  Why substitute or omit a food from my diet particularly if it’s of inferior quality or simply available within another 25 miles?  I’ve also replaced my brown and white sugars with organic versions.

The other solution is to renew my CSA membership with Eatwell.  This will hopefully help me with getting fresh local eggs, veggies and fruit during a very busy work week. 

So here we are at the start of Week Two. My head is a lot clearer and I have a new resolve.  Maybe due to yesterday’s outing to Tomales Bay with MALT on a two-farm tour. One of those farms Sartori Strawberries, where the owner, Russell Sartori sold his herd of dairy cows years ago to begin focusing his attention on organic strawberries.  The former 100-year dairy farm now grows several acres of this sweet, juicy coastal variety.  Taste is after all, reason enough.

Local Food Challenge

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1.  What’s your definition of local for this challenge?

I’m going to start with the Locavores criteria and work with the 100-mile radius around San Francisco. This also means if not local, then organic and if neither small family farm and then move the radius out in 25-mile increments. I expect I’ll be learning some much-needed geography.  I’m a city dweller.  My extended environs go to Sonoma, Yosemite and Santa Cruz.  I’m lost anywhere else!

2.  What exemptions will you claim?

Although it’s impossible to source Jamba Juice locally they are a local company (wink).  No, I may need to give this up.  Along with my "why bothers" (non-fat decaf latte) and my weekly veggie burrito. I’m also not sure what I’ll do about tortillas and lavash. I will make exemptions around tea with organic or fair trade.  What I’m looking to do is bring in some new food products into my everyday life.  I do a fair amount of baking and cooking for myself and will be specifically looking at how to bake in an organic manner and find spices that are sustainably grown and/or organic.  So spending the month of July raising my awareness and working to find quality-tasting substitutes for everyday products is my ultimate goal.

3.  What is your personal goal for the month?

Realistically, and maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I, nor any of us, can eat 100% local but this effort for me is to learn what is lacking in the foodshed.  Open space is a problem in most urban areas is a huge concern.  Granted living where I do we have a very progressive movement here so it’s better than most.  I cite Pt. Reyes, Tomales Bay, both a huge effort of Marin Open Space, and Sonoma Open Space as examples.  So my goal is awareness and active improvement.  I may even toss out my Teflon. No, I will throw out my Teflon.