Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Have you seen this glove?

Nooooooo!!! Not again!

Somewhere between my seat on the bus up from DC and my friend John's apartment in Manhattan, the right half of the pair of my beloved new pearl izumi lobster claw winter bike gloves went missing.

This marks the second straight pair of gifted gloves from mom that were separated within 48 hours of receipt. The other pair, a birthday gift last year, lost Lefty after just one wearing somewhere in San Fran's Mission District. Those were just simple, black fleece ones from a drugstore. These were the finest REI has to offer and one of the nicest birthday gifts ever. Curses. What are the chances? Is there a single-glove-eating monster hiding in my shadow?

Only after retracing my steps from John's apartment all the way down Broadway to the metro stop 8 blocks away, after asking at the MTA's Lost and Found, after inquiring at a number of reception desks along Columbia's nearby campus, after e mailing Megabus with a desperate plea to search the top level of the bus (with a full description of all salient details as well as photos like this one, taken just yesterday), did John and his girlfriend and I give up and go out for Mexican food. A beer and veggie burrito bigger than my head were both delicious, but did little to comfort me.

After making a big pot of creamy hot chocolate for the three of us back at the apartment, I finally pulled myself together enough to call home and fess up. At least mom helped put things in perspective: "At least *you're* okay. They're just gloves." (Just gloves! I LOVED those gloves! But she's right. I guess that's why she's a good social worker.) Still, Burlington is going to be awfully cold with only one lined lobster claw this weekend....

Ah, Righty, we hardly knew ye!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The claw

Lobster claw bike gloves are my new favorite thing. They keep my hands warm and toasty, even when saluting Dr. Spock look-alikes on the street while riding my bike in the dead of winter.

They're almost as warm as the birthday hugs that came with them. Thanks mom and dad!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

XXXIII

There are twelve days of Christmas, so why not seven days of Ibti's Birthday? Wouldn't you know that I spent much of the past week completely immersed in food. Actually, the Madeira wine sauce I spent much of Sunday evening concocting is something I would consider literally immersing myself in: I could bathe in the stuff. But I'm getting ahead of myself (as usual).

Dad had been pestering me since Thanksgiving about my insistence on cooking for my own birthday dinner. Please. What do I love more than cooking for and with people I care about? Plus, you only turn thirty-three once, you know, and I had a fairly elaborate plan in mind for this year's dinner, something along the lines of Babette's Feast (with perhaps a little less expensive french wine, but dad, to his credit, did try to break out a bottle of champagne). Our little family tradition is that whoever's birthday it is gets to determine the dinner menu. While my family also loves food I could not picture my parents spending 6-8 hours making the mushroom-pecan pate or slaving through the Madeira sauce's 4 reductions. And then there was working with pastry dough.... Me? I love that stuff. Everyone else was assigned other elements of the meal, but I insisted on making the main course: the Portobello Wellington that my friend Meghan has been raving about since she made it a number of months ago. (And now I have my very own copy of the Cafe Flora Cookbook from whence it came, thanks to a little birthday care package from the same Meghan in question.)

Yesterday morning I awoke to the aroma of the velvety rich mushroom and wine sauce that had been simmering on my stove over the course of 4 hours the previous evening. After a double espresso and a chocolate cupcake (the breakfast of champions... not my usual, but nice) and writing belated Christmas cards -- um, I mean early New Years cards -- and just generally lounging around in my pajamas for a few hours, it was time to return to the kitchen. But this time it was not my own kitchen: mom and I had signed up to volunteer at a local soup kitchen....



After mom helped to peel the biggest crate of carrots ever and I aided in the assembly of a couple hundred bag lunches at Food & Friends, dad picked us up and after a quick stop at my apartment to pick up a few ingredients we went back to my parents' house where we proceeded to tackle the final stages of preparation for Ibti's Feast. My brother was already finished making the first of two -- yes, two -- key lime pies; dad's ratatouille was ready to go and he was beginning to tinker with the clams for our appetizer; mom was about to get cracking on the salad; I began the final assembly of the Wellingtons. Here they are just about to go into the oven to be transformed into flaky, garlicky, mushroomy goodness. Soon they would be drizzled with that divine Madeira sauce alongside a dollop of mashed sweet potatoes and celeriac. Ohhhh....



(See? And people complain there are so few pictures of me on this blog! There I am, but, really, how gorgeous are those little Wellingtons?)

It was one of those long, lingering, conversation-filled dinners. We actually had to take a walk after dinner to make room for the key lime pie and dessert wine. Ahhhh. I have no idea what my thirty-fourth year will bring, but along with a job working with food (please, please, please) I hope it includes many more of these dinners with friends and family. Especially if it involves that Madeira sauce. I'm a little obsessed....

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A mighty wind

Mother. Of. God. This weather has got to stop.



Do you see that? It's ICE. On the Potomac River -- a constantly moving body of water (but apparently consisting of water not moving fast enough to combat the consistent temperatures below freezing for well over three weeks now). Too bad my crummy blackberry camera didn't capture the whitecaps blowing past, but you get the idea. I was out biking in that! By choice! (I'm not saying it was a good choice....)

I had an appointment at 10:00 this morning in Old Town Alexandria, at a location not far from a turnoff from the Mount Vernon Trail. It's cold, I thought, but sunny at least. Most of the snow has been cleared and it's only 11 miles each way along mostly bike lanes and bike trails. Little did I know that I would be nearly blown off the GW Bridge not once, not twice, but three times. And that was just on the way over.... I actually got blown into the railing three times crossing the bridge on my way home before I decided to walk Ollie to the other side. (I swear in the midst of the creaking along Ollie mumbled something about how we should've taken the metro, but with wind whipping into my ears and nearly choking myself when the draft pulled my helmet back, I can't be sure. Why didn't we take the metro, indeed. Outsmarted by my bicycle. Great.)



We're glad to be back inside again. And I'm not going back outside until the climate gets its act together. Or until my yoga class at 6....

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

After School Special: Kids Cook!

I love working with kids and food. (Now, if I can just find a job that pays me to do it....)

In early November, I began helping out as a volunteer food educator through the Capital Area Food Bank. I'd signed up as a Kids Cook assistant on Wednesday afternoons and would be helping Stacy, one of the program's developers, run the 4-week after school program that teaches kids basic nutrition concepts and how to make healthy, low-cost snacks for themselves. I'd taught a few youth cooking classes before, but I've tended to work with slightly older kids. I learned my first afternoon at the nearby elementary school that the 8-10-year-olds had been in testing all day. (Read: lots of pent up energy ready to let loose. Oh boy....)



Week one's session focused on identifying different food groups and introducing students to the idea of balanced eating. Under Stacy's patient guidance, we tried to "pack our snacks" with at least three food groups, using ingredients that included grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, and dairy. After much face-making and loud insistence that "I'm not gonna eat that, it's nasty!" I couldn't help but notice third and fourth graders awkwardly grinning and asking for second helpings of the bean-corn-cheddar-pineapple-salsa mix on wheat thins. (Some even took ziploc bags of the mixture home.) As we nibbled, we discussed things like how things tasted in comparison to their preconceptions, whether they would make it at home, what ingredients they might change. Some would add more pineapple, others might leave out the cheese... There are few things I love more than trying new foods and helping people figure out their personal eater identity.

The second week, Stacy let me take the lead, and wouldn't you know it, we were focusing on whole grains. These youngsters who were unabashed and loud and silly as they came into the room, as they flailed around during our warm-up and stretching, as they poked and teased each other through most of the hour-long session, well, these same kids turned bright pink in the face when I mentioned fiber. It was hilarious. "Aw, Miss Ibti, you don't need to talk about that!" they squealed. We agreed to the statement that it "helps to clean you out" and moved on to the afternoon's recipe: trail mix and yoghurt parfait. This one was even more of a hit than the previous week's salsa, I noted, as students vigorously stirred the sunflower seeds, cheerios, chocolate chips, raisins, and dried cranberries before scooping the homemade trail mix between layers of vanilla yoghurt.



The final week we focused on calcium's role in building strong teeth and bones and learning to determine which foods are high in calcium. (Milk: excellent source of calcium; cheese-flavored goldfish: not a good source of calcium.) Our final session ended with the group assembling "pizza kabobs" with chunks of whole wheat bagels, mozzarella cheese, and bell peppers -- "Ahem, nobody who looks like they might try and poke their neighbor or start a sword fight will be given a bamboo skewer" -- dipped in pasta sauce. I have to say, for a crowd that insisted they hated vegetables, the big bag of green, yellow, red, and orange bell pepper chunks mysteriously disappeared. What a fun group. I'm going to miss those kids....

As we move close to a new year and you're considering ways to make a difference, I'd encourage folks interested in food education to check out the next round of volunteer programs starting soon at the Capital Area Food Bank.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

An engaged community

How cold was it today? Do you see these baby greens? That's frost along the edges of those leaves... and they were inside the hoophouse at the farm where I spent most of this morning and early afternoon.



I'll tell you what I was wearing when I biked over to Vinnie's place about half a mile away: a long-sleeved shirt, a short-sleeved shirt, a turtleneck sweater, a sweatshirt, a fleece vest, a jacket, a scarf, a bandana, a knit hat, 2 pairs of knee-high wool socks, wool legwarmers, long underwear, an old pair of jeans, and 2 pairs of gloves. It was like that scene in A Christmas Story with Ralphie's brother so bundled up he can't move his arms. While I did know I would be joining Vinnie for a day helping out at ECO -- Engaged Community Offshoots' farm in Edmonston, MD -- I wasn't sure if we'd be biking or taking his truck, so I wanted to be sure I was warm enough for the 7-mile ride.

I HATE the cold. Why does it feel like I'm living in Nebraska or North Dakota these days? Somebody please tell me why I don't live in southern Louisiana or Mississippi or, heck, the Caribbean! I am a warm-blooded girl!! I love DC, but the weather these days... not so much.

[End of rant.]

Vinnie and I made our way -- in his truck -- to the farm and we soon got to work putting up some rowcovers to protect the spinach, kale, chard, turnips, and lettuce mix from the bitter cold. (Oh, here I am talking about cold again, but today's high was 27 degrees. Come on!)



I'd first met Vinnie a couple of years ago at a Farm to School panel discussion downtown and had volunteered at the Master Peace Community Garden (part of UMD's Engaged University) in College Park soon afterwards. As we worked together this morning, I learned that due to university budget cuts, the Master Peace Garden was disbanded about a year ago. But its ideas lived on. A core group of the committed folks who were behind it -- including Vinnie (pictured here pounding in a stake to anchor our rowcover support string) -- started ECO: a new nonprofit which developed the working farm with four hoop houses and solar panels, an impressive composting facility (I do believe my friend is more enamored with compost than I am, and that's saying something), and a new/immigrant farmer training program on land leased from the Park and Planning Commission.



I helped Christian (the farm manager) harvest a few crates of gorgeous Swiss chard while Vinnie and a few other volunteers harvested turnips in the next hoophouse over. Crops from the farm, I learned, are sold to two food co-ops in the area: Glut, where we stopped for a few things on the ride home (hello, bulk rate coconut date bars), and the student co-op at UMD's College Park campus. Produce also makes its way to a few local restaurants. Today's harvest was bound for Eatonville, in nearby Columbia Heights. (Oh, goody, a new restaurant to check out when friends are in town for the holidays).

Now, talk about devoted farmers: does your farmer harvest in the snow? Incidentally, if you want to be a part of the great work going on here, ECO welcomes volunteers. (And I promise they don't normally make people work in the snow. Honest. I was just really, really antsy to check things out and do some meaningful work. Not that the piecemeal writing and editing and food education I am doing these days isn't meaningful, but it doesn't leave my body contentedly tired the way that working on an organic farm does.) There are urban farming workshops that you can check out, too, including a few this coming spring.



And talk about devoted cyclists: do you bike in the snow? Me, I don't: I'm too chicken. After a lift back to Vinnie's in the truck, Ollie and I walked our way back home to my snuggly studio apartment, where I immediately changed into dry flannel pants and got a big pot of potato, chard, and celeriac soup simmering on the stove.

It's been a good day, in spite of the cold.



("What's that lashed to the back?" you ask. It's my second jacket... just in case I got cold.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Acting up


[photo courtesy of Katherine Bryant, DC Farm to School]

Hooray! Lots to celebrate in recent weeks in terms of improving school food -- both in our nation's capital and around the country.

Just yesterday, my favorite president (okay, well, he's in the top three -- Lincoln and FDR are tough acts to follow) signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, giving more funding to federal school lunch programs, boosting both the variety and the quality of food in schools, and facilitating local farm to school networks and the development of school gardens. It was signed right in the auditorium of nearby Tubman Elementary School, where I've spent the past 4 Wednesday afternoons as a volunteer food educator teaching kids how to make healthy snacks! Too bad I wasn't there for the signing, but it's for the best: there is no way I would've been able to keep myself from hugging the President and First Lady.



But that's not all. Last week, with the help of many, many e mails and phone calls from my fellow DCists, the DC Healthy Schools Act was passed, allowing for similar reforms on a local scale that the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act does nationally. Better food at last for DC schoolkids! Thank goodness! You'd think a 6-cents-per-child increase would be no big deal, but it is. I do believe I've mentioned the atrocious food at the public charter school where I used to teach. (It will remain nameless to protect its identity, but really, from what I've heard from teacher friends at other schools in town, the "food" there is comparable to other District schools.) Oh, and mandatory testing of water for lead in school drinking fountains? Yeah, it's about time that was enforced.

This is not to say that the implementation of these important programs comes without a price: SNAP (aka food stamp) programs have taken a cut to fund the former (federal) program, while the welfare program in the District will be curtailed to finance the latter (local) program. Still, I think both pieces of legislation are major victories, if bittersweet ones, along the road to school food reform.

Oh, and speaking of the road to food reform, check out this Washington Post article, hot off the presses. Looks like sustainable food education, production, and distribution in the DC metro area is about to get a little more interesting, come spring....

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Leveling the farming field


[photo courtesy of Ed Coper, New Media, Slow Food USA]

Yep, that's me with my big mouth open, standing among fellow Slow Foodies on the steps of the USDA during the lunch break. I swear I thought Ed had already snapped the picture when I turned to... actually, I have no idea what I was doing. Yelling? Singing? Talking with someone coming out of a door? Yawning? Hmmm. Reason #423 there aren't more photos of me on this blog: I don't stand still very well.

I spent most of yesterday at the last of a 5-part series of workshops on Competition and Antitrust issues in the agricultural sector. (Funny, I've lived in DC on and off since the late 1980s and been obsessed with food my entire life, and yet this was my first time inside the USDA building. Next time I need to scope out the People's Garden.) The sessions mark an unprecedented joint effort led by the USDA and the Department of Justice to learn from producers and consumers about the current state of agriculture in this country and possible paths forward, with a specific eye to cultivating a playing field in which small, sustainable producers have a fighting chance to get (and stay) in business. At least that's my take on it. It was quite a diverse group, from the panelists to the onlookers to the folks giving testimony. People from across the spectrum of the food reform movement and around the country sidled up to the microphone during the public testimony segments and I had a chance to hear folks offer their stories, their suggestions, their hopes for a fairer food system. If our country is going to be able to feed itself, each speaker urged, we're going to need to level the playing field.

I'd first heard of the meetings a number of months ago from the folks at Food Democracy Now. (Hold on. Are you on their mailing list yet? You should be. Even my mom is impressed with the advocacy work they are doing. I get an e mail from her every time she signs a petition. Ah, moms. I'm proud of her.) I ran into the FDN dream team (Dave, Lisa, and Paul) in the hallway between sessions, returning from the Hill where they'd delivered a giant box of comments -- printouts from nearly a quarter of a million concerned citizens around the country, pleas for policymakers to break up domineering food monopolies and give family farmers a chance. It's always good to see some of my favorite food advocates. While the sessions themselves were somewhat meandering -- I don't want to say that the questions panel leaders posed could've been better, but, well, they could've been more probing -- I was proud to be a part of the larger effort of groups ranging from Slow Food USA to Why Hunger to Food & Water Watch to Farm Aid who had come together to demand safer, healthier food and support for the dedicated farmers who produce it.

During the session, I learned that our country has lost more than 800,000 farmers over the past 40 years and meanwhile the remaining farming population continues to age. While many of the folks going into organic farming are relatively young -- at least according to the informal data I gathered from farms around the country during the bikeable feast -- the recent trend of young people going into farming is not on a large enough scale to compensate for the aging general farming population. Not only is the work incredibly hard and poorly paid (reminds me of my days as a high school teacher), I also worry about the ability of these young farmers to handle the debt they are taking on to start these small but critical operations. In an economy like the one we're in, will they be around in 5 years? Then there is the competition they are facing from large, commodity-focused farms subsidized by the government and a food system that depends on cheap labor and low-quality products. My take home message: we need to encourage and support regional food systems led by these small, sustainable farmers. We cannot continue to be controlled by gigantic, self-interested food conglomerates that rake what few farmers remain over the coals.

While the next Farm Bill isn't up for debate until 2012, this first dipping of my toe into federal ag policy has definitely shown me that I've much to learn between now and then so that I can be a more educated and effective advocate for regional, responsible food systems. I'm hoping such learning opportunities in the future don't involve biking in 20-degree headwinds at 7am....

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fly by

Here we are about three and a half months into The Great Worm Bin Experiment and I'm still a bit high strung when it comes to my first batch of wigglers. I've been advised by seasoned vermiculturists that the best way to go is something akin to benevolent neglect, but to be honest I live in constant fear of inadvertently killing them. Too much food? Too little? Too much moisture? Too little? Too hot? Too cold? And what's with all of the flies lately?

So here we are midway through the second try with the under-sink worm bin. (Those of you following along may recall the premature sifting through castings just before Halloween, when my beloved little guys almost drowned in a poop lagoon.) Things have been going alright this time around... Well, mostly. You see, there has been a noticeable proliferation of flies in the bin in recent weeks. And, more disturbingly, a noticeable lack of worms. Crud. I hope nobody from Worm Protective Services comes knocking on my door. (Earlier today I had to submit an FBI background check form to work with one of the after school cooking programs. Will this mar my otherwise stellar record? I can see it now: Violation of section 27d of the Invertebrate Guardian Clause -- negligence and second-degree wormslaughter.)

I dragged my bin outside during a freakishly warm afternoon earlier this week and took the lid off, trying to shoo most of the flies out. At least there wasn't standing water this time, but where were the worms? I saw a few 1/2-inch white worms squirming around, but mostly lots of flies. I began to worry. Did I mess things up irreparably? Would it be better for me to bequeath my wormies to a better caretaker, entrust them to Mother Nature? Am I a terrible mother??

As usual, Susie -- my calm and reassuring worm expert on call -- talked me down from the proverbial ledge. The flies can be a nuisance, she admitted, but there are a few ways to curb their numbers. I already had one of the fly traps that the Worm Ladies website suggested (filled with fancy, organic apple cider vinegar -- well, I'm not going to the store in this 30-degree weather just for a bottle of the cheap stuff). I realized that rather than burying the food scraps, which discourages egg-laying by flies, I'd simply been lifting the lid a crack and tossing a handful of vegetable scraps on top as I was cooking dinner every few evenings. But -- not to defend my total failure to follow these basic instructions, I'll admit I missed that part -- wouldn't I be disrupting the worms too much if I was stuffing scraps into the bottom of the bin every time?

My worm guru suggested that I cut a piece of cardboard to fit the top of my bin, run it under the water in the sink so it gets wet/damp, and lay it inside over the scraps. A fly egg barrier, I like it. I learned that putting food scraps in the freezer overnight also interferes with the flies' egg-laying activities. Huh. Who knew?

Finally, Susie pointed out, the presence of small, white worms was encouraging. It meant that the worms were reproducing. (What? My worms are old enough to kiss other worms and go on dates and...? Oh.) My little wormies are growing up. But they'd better get cracking to be able to keep up with my holiday vegetable scrap production. Maybe I need to put on a little Marvin Gaye to get them in the right mood....

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Respect my authoritah!

(Hmmm, I have a feeling there are a lot of misdirected South Park fans suddenly finding themselves reading a sustainable food blog....)

This Sunday's New York Times
featured an op-ed that defended the apparently quite contentious Food Safety Modernization Bill. (What's that? Yes, though I spent Thanksgiving weekend in New York City, where the paper is available on every street corner, I didn't have a chance to read the article until today.) It was a hotly debated piece of legislation ostensibly because of criteria that some argued would unfairly penalize some small-scale producers. What? No! We need to help small, local producers who are doing things responsibly, who focus on quality over quantity! They're not the ones behind the giant food recalls in recent decades! Most of them only sell within a few hundred miles and any questionable items can be easily traced back to the source.

The anti-small-farm bias of the bill had been played up in recent weeks and I was a little uncertain about how I felt -- not that food safety was unimportant, but I had been concerned about how small farms would be able to make the necessary modifications in their systems and not lose the farm, so to speak, in the process of complying with more stringent standards. (I feared something akin to the passing of USDA organic certification standards a few years ago whose cost and inspection regimens have, at least according to a number of farmers I spoke and worked with around the country, been a major barrier to more widespread organically-certified produce.) What I hadn't known before co-authors Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan brought it up is that concerns about the small farmers affected by prohibitive costs and regulations had already been addressed by an amendment that allowed for state and local government control of these matters. The bill passed yesterday, and it's a good thing, too: it finally gives the US Food and Drug Administration the funding and authority to keep our food safe.

Admittedly my understanding of who does what in the USDA vs. the FDA is a little fuzzy. But then, my friends who work at both organizations are also a little fuzzy on who is responsible for what (and why). Food safety? Well, that's the FDA's role... usually. (The best explanation I have yet to hear about the two organizations is actually here.) As far as I can piece together, the USDA is much larger and handles all things food except nutritional labeling and food safety -- these fall under the purview of the FDA. Why, then, has this very important enforcement agency been given so little power to enforce food safety violations? I'd gotten the impression when reading Schlosser's (in)famous Fast Food Nation a few years ago that food safety was a major concern in our country. I just kind of figured that someone with political clout and a conscience had read the book, too. I was mortified to learn in this recent op-ed that only with the passing of this new food safety legislation do the USDA (for meat, poultry, and eggs) and the FDA (for all other food products) finally have the power to enforce recalls for contaminated food. Yes, folks, prior to this, the majority of recalls were not mandatory but simply requested. (WHAT?? Yes, requested.) A voluntary recall. "Please, can you recall those half a billion contaminated eggs from grocery stores around the country? No? Pretty please?"

Now let's look at who is against effective food safety enforcement: large-scale producers, who also happen to be the ones behind repeated food safety violations. (And, of course, the politicians who are financed by them.) Hmmm, how interesting. Yes, and they also argue that these new requirements are too... costly. Please. If you want to talk about unreasonable requirements and atrocious spending, try going through one of the new fancy(under)pants scanning booths at the airport. And at $150,000 per unit, I wonder how the budget for the high-tech groin inspection devices compares to that for improved food safety. (Sorry, I guess I'm still grumpy after being manhandled during my travel back from Vegas a few weeks ago where I was helping my brother launch his small business.)

For the record, I do think that safety -- in airports, in our food system, on bicycles (ahem, wear a helmet) -- is important and needs to be handled appropriately by the government to protect its citizens. The prevention-vs-treatment costs cited in the NY Times article are pretty compelling: $300 million for improved food-borne illness prevention as compared with $152 billion spent for treatment. Per year. Seems like a no brainer to me. But who knows, maybe the bill's opponents are using some kind of new math (similar to the calculations that suggest tax cuts for the wealthy will stimulate the economy).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The girl with the pearl barley



If you've been following the blog for awhile, you may have the impression that I have somewhat unethical views on what can (or even should) be combined in terms of ingredients. And I'm always fiddling. I like the challenge of adapting recipes, pulling a general flavor profile from one or two or five recipes, seeing what I have on hand, and going from there. There are occasional culinary casualties, but in general things turn out well enough....

As I tried to unwind from an afternoon of waiting in various lines -- first at the pharmacy, then the grocery store (for ONE ingredient, and let me tell you those folks in the 12-items-or-less line were certainly 12-degrees-less-than-cheerful) -- and clear out a few things that would not be coming with me to Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, I had risotto on the brain. Part of this was due to some recipes I'd been perusing in the post-errand-running late afternoon, including a lovely sounding butternut squash risotto recipe with mascarpone and roasted sage. But I had no arborio rice. Or mascarpone. Or enough sage. Or any chicken stock in the freezer. Or white wine. And I would be darned if I was going to face those lines at Giant again. Oh, but I was seriously craving risotto. I started rummaging around the cupboards and refrigerator to see what I had to work with. Some fresh parsley. Okay, that's something. Dried mushrooms, shallots, garlic. A bunch of beets. Some -- wooh! -- fermenting apple cider. A bit of parmesan in the fridge, some beet stock in the freezer. Okay. This could be something, but I still had my heart set on risotto. Just then I noticed a bag of pearled barley stuffed on the top shelf in the back of the pantry.... Hmmm....

I'd tried a version of risotto using something other than arborio rice once before. It was a recipe using brown jasmine rice and some Louisiana shrimp on my way through New Orleans last May. Delicious, but not really risotto. My friend Nathan suggested I call it a pilaf, but it wasn't really. An etouffee? No, not quite right either. Pseudotto? Anyway. Tonight beet and barley pseudo-risotto made it onto my dinner plate. And you know what, it was pretty tasty. In fact, bowl number 2 is steaming right next to me as I type. If only I had a nice, chilled glass of Pinot Grigio to wash it down. And a dinner companion. (Everyone's already left town. Except for the 17 people in front of me in line and the dozens of others mobbing the registers at the grocery store earlier today, obviously.)

The Girl with the Pearl Barley Risotto

Heat 1T olive oil + 2 T butter in a medium pot.

Add in 3 diced shallots + 3 cloves of minced garlic and sauté until soft.

Add ½ t sea salt + 1 cup pearled barley and stir until barley is coated.

Stir in ½ cup fermented apple cider and simmer until most liquid has been absorbed.

In ½-cup increments, add 3 cups of stock (I used 1 ½ cups mushroom stock + 1 ½ cups vegetable stock), letting the barley absorb most of the liquid before adding the next dose, but stirring frequently – just like regular risotto – so the grains don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. It should be done in 30-40 minutes.

At the end I added in some chopped dried mushrooms (well, they weren’t dry any more: I’d soaked a handful in 1 ½ cups of boiling water to make stock) + 2T or so of whole milk + about 2T grated parmesan.

Scoop risotto onto plates (2 large or 4 small portions) and garnish with a handful of chopped fresh parsley and a sprinkle of parmesan.

I topped my barley risotto with beets -- partly because I had some around, partly because I am determined to introduce more people to beets through flavorful and not overly complicated recipes. (Me, I make borscht from scratch for fun, but I know it's not for everyone.)



If you want to replicate the dish with beets, first remove greens (for use another time) and scrub 2-3 beets in cool water. Chop into bite-sized pieces and sauté in a small saucepan with a bit of olive oil and butter for a few minutes. Add a pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and 1 or 2 T of vegetable stock. Simmer on low until tender -- about 20 minutes. (It worked out that they finished just as the risotto was ready. How nice.)

I suspect this recipe would also work well with butternut squash. I really must try that other, real risotto recipe when I get my hands on some arborio....

My second favorite holiday

Not surprisingly, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Food, family, friends, more food... what's not to like?

My favorite Thanksgiving celebration ever was six years ago. At the time, I was living in the most beautiful house I will probably ever inhabit, up in a tiny mountain village in central Mexico. My boss, Jenny, and I were two of only about five Americans working with the crop research program, and we thought it only proper that we introduce our international circle of friends to a true American tradition. No, not the holiday celebrating imperialism, the subjugation of native people, and the spread of disease and violence -- that's Columbus Day. No, I mean the one about sharing good food and spreading goodwill among different cultures. You know, the holiday with the pilgrims and cranberry sauce?

Jenny and I manhandled a rather large frozen turkey for much of Thanksgiving morning and tried desperately to quickly defrost it in a bath of cold water, finally marinating it and cramming it into my rather small oven for about half a day. (It wasn't technically a holiday, but if my boss is in the kitchen with me, it's not really playing hooky, right?) Everyone else brought food from their country: Maru cooked up some Mexican tlacoyos (little masa canoes filled with cheese and beans and topped with sauteed cactus), Eric and Christelle supplied some French salt cake (by special request -- I am hooked on that stuff), Guy and Gianina arrived with a bevy of pecan pies (which are neither English nor Peruvian pastries, but they were delicious), Kaitlin brought a broccoli and cheese casserole (thus identifying herself as one of the other Americans in the crowd), Nick supplied the homebrew, Alessandra arrived with a pan of fresh focaccia, bottles of wine and tequila seemed to materialize out of thin air.... It was lovely. I have vague memories of sacking out sometime around 11pm, well before Nick ushered the remainder of guests out of the house. (Falling asleep at my own party? Who am I, my mother?) Well, I had been cooking all day.

The runner up for the Favorite Thanksgiving Award was in 2003, which I celebrated with my family and the Zeiglers at my Aunt Martha's home in Queens. That was the year of pumpkin homebrew, wild mushroom soup, and the first time I'd ever had a bacon-wrapped turkey. Looks like mom, dad, my brother, and I are trucking back up to Queens for the holiday this year. Bummer there's no pumpkin ale this year, but I'm looking forward to trying out a new recipe for roasted chestnut soup.

Anyhow, as we all gear up for the culinary extravaganza that is Thanksgiving, I just wanted to take a moment to say thanks. Thank you to friends and family and even the total strangers (now friends) who have helped me along this journey toward a life devoted to food. Thank you for the continuing hugs, advice, job leads, recipe ideas, fodder for my compost bins, and general encouragement. (Don't think this means I'm sharing my tamales, though....)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tamale fever

I've been missing Mexico quite a bit these days. One of the things I miss most about my time living there was the ritual of gorging myself on fresh tamales every Friday. (Another was hitting the dancefloor at my favorite salsa club in San Angel.) The only somewhat self-respecting tamale I have identified in the past five years living in DC has been at Trader Joe's. I know. I've spent the better part of the past three and a half years intensively scouring Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan -- DC's Little Mexico -- and alas, I have yet to find a decent tamale (and only one semi-decent salsa club). But last night during another volunteer shift at CulinAerie, under the capable guidance of Chef Eliza Gonzales, I made my first successful corn and pepper tamale. Delicious. And as we had some leftover ingredients from this last class before Thanksgiving break, Eliza sent me home with a large sack of tamale dough and some queso blanco so that I could practice at home. (She was also good enough to pose with the tamales before we scarfed them, along with the chili rubbed beef fillets and a to-die-for warm pumpkin salad.)



So what do you think I did this morning? I biked on over to a latino grocery store I'd seen on 11th Street and bought myself some poblano peppers and frozen banana leaves and got cracking. Sure, not all local ingredients, and some were most likely not sustainably produced -- I mean, come on, some baby seals must've been clubbed somewhere along the line in order for me to be able to buy banana leaves shipped from the Philippines for $1.49 a package -- but as I've mentioned, I'm not a purist. For the record, I would've paid extra for fair trade certified, organic banana leaves. (You know, a brand with the seal of approval. Har, har.)



To the beat of my most beloved salsa tunes pulsing from the speakers, and with the aroma of sweet banana and savory roasting peppers wafting through the air, I found myself quite literally dancing around the kitchen. In line with the Mexican sensibility of improvisation, and in light of my rather sparse food funds these days, I fiddled with Eliza's recipe a little bit, sauteing some shallots and sweet potatoes I had around with strips of the roasted poblanos for the filling.



Toss in a little crumbled cheese...



roll 'em up... stuff 'em in a pot of steaming water... cover it with some kitchen towels... and an hour later: viola!



Dad and Uncle Teddy and I had some this afternoon -- how convenient that they happened to stop by around lunchtime -- and Dad gave them the thumbs up. I've just wrapped the remaining tamales in banana leaves and stuffed them into a ziploc bag in the freezer. The dozen or so remaining should keep me satisfied for at least... a week.



Want to learn to make your own tamales? Swing by my place in a couple of weeks with some fillings and we'll get cooking. Or better yet, sign up for a class with Eliza (who teaches around town at both CulinAerie and Sur la Table). She even has an adaptation to accommodate vegetarians (or those otherwise opposed to the flagrant but delicious use of lard and chicken broth the more traditional recipe entails).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No, no, thank YOU

So yesterday evening Ollie and I made our way to Cleveland Park for a little get together, a happy hour of sorts coordinated by the lovely crew over at the Capital Area Food Bank to thank all of the folks who volunteered their time and energy (and in some cases, their much-sought-after apple slicing skills) during DC Farm to School Week last month. I should say that generally just a verbal "thank you" suffices when I volunteer somewhere -- I mean, I'm not doing it to get something but because I believe in the work. However, I am certainly not one to turn down an opportunity to celebrate, especially with such a friendly, thoughtful crowd... and especially when the food and wine are stellar, as they were at Ripple. (I think perhaps this wine bar/foodie haven will become my new favorite spot. With a creative menu, exceptional cheese selection, affordable and unusual wine list, and friendly staff, really, what's not to like? Also, it's a scenic, fun ride when the H3 bus isn't trying to run me over. Buddy, I have the right of way here in the bike lane.)

Where was I?

Oh, yes: Ripple. Love that place. Incidentally, it was the first time I had ever worn a nametag that had "food educator" under my name. (Well, actually, Marjorie abbreviated it to "food educ" but we all know what it means. Yes, it means that I am now officially a food educator. It says so right there on my badge.) It was also the first time I filled out a survey form as Chris P. Carrot (har, har). Oops, now my secret identity is out. Darn it.



Anyway, I just wanted to thank the DC Farm to School ladies over at the CAFB. Seriously, I love the work you all are doing, so thanks for letting me be a part of it. And of course plying me with good cheese and wine and conversation will keep me coming back for more. Ah, who am I kidding, I'd come back anyway to volunteer. Which reminds me: I should get some rest. Tomorrow is my second shift with the food bank's Kids Cook after school program and I need to be well rested. Those kids have a lot of energy....

Saturday, November 13, 2010

And now...?



(Well, I'd need a good whisk, a pepper grinder, and a pair of tongs, too, but you get the idea....)

I've been having a lot of Bridget Jones moments lately. Not in the drinking a bottle of wine and singing sad songs at the top of my lungs and smoking a pack of cigarettes in my pajamas (or, alas, making out with the smolderingly handsome Colin Firth) kind of way, but more in the reflecting on where is my life going kind of way. I have to admit, I'm having a hard time settling into normal -- or if not normal, at least more sedentary and gainfully employed -- life.

I mean, what does one do after more than a year on the road, with its constant biking and exploring and learning and writing and farming and cooking and problem solving and meeting a ridiculous number of amazing, inspiring people -- in short, immersing oneself completely in the things that one loves most? It's a tough act to follow.

In the four months since my return, I've continued volunteering with community garden and sustainable food groups, writing, talking with people, and getting the lay of the land. Just last Wednesday I volunteered at an after school cooking class at a nearby elementary school (and am looking forward to my next three shifts with the group of hilarious, even-more-hyper-than-me kiddos). I've started doing a little paid editing work, which is nice in that it helps pay for some of the things I can't barter for (you know, like rent and school loans and health insurance). I think I'm pretty decent at it, but it's not what I want to do for a career. Plus, it's hard for me to sit still for days at a time in front of a computer. I make up all kinds of errands to run around town so that Ollie and I get at least a handful of miles in each day. Like yesterday -- so gorgeous and sunny and in the upper 60s -- after some morning editing work we rode an easy 8 miles out to Pentagon City to peruse the cooking and travel sections at Borders for a couple of hours before making it over to my cousin Sonia's place for a multi-hour cooking extravaganza.

As I look around and contemplate what it is that I want to do next, how I can help make the world a better place, I find myself drawn back to the kitchen again and again, both literally and figuratively. All I want is a job in food -- cooking, writing, celebrating, teaching -- is that so difficult? We'll see.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The virtues that made Virginia: good food, drink, and people

Okay, it turns out that "Arcadia" is now not only my favorite Tom Stoppard play but also the most exciting new sustainable food project to hit the DC metro area since my return. And I'm not just saying that because of the outstanding local food, drinks, and hand-rolled cigars at last night's kickoff event (but they sure sweetened the deal). "The Vices that made Virginia" was the first major event to raise awareness and garner support for The Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture which will be breaking ground this March on the historic Woodlawn Plantation property (home to Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Pope Leighy house -- see, dad, I pay attention to architecture even when nursing a bourbon slush).

Proud to have been chosen by the farm's manager, Mo, to represent the group at the event's farm information table, I babbled with passersby about the vision for the 100-acre space, beginning with a 3-acre educational garden for school groups and community members to learn about different styles of gardens in all different sizes and shapes. The first order of business, I explained, was to kill the grass. Not using chemicals, but rather a combination of trampling (which is partly why the event was held in tents quite literally on top of the first field to be cultivated, so get dancing) and lasagne composting (which is slated to begin tomorrow and which I've been *dying* to see in practice for some time now... Mo may have been alarmed at how excitable I got talking about composting). We're also seeking used gardening tools and money to buy tools and seeds, I continued, so if you're looking to help out with a little seed money (har, har), a $25 contribution means you can sponsor a row of vegetables. ("The Ibti Memorial Rainbow Chard Garden"? Or, wait, "The J. Olympia Surly Rutabaga Row." Yes. Yes, I like that.) These were the sorts of conversations happening amid live bluegrass and in between mouthfuls of local oysters, sweet potatoes, duck, cornbread, and pints of beer.

Wait, did I mention the event featured chefs from the various Neighborhood Restaurant Group kitchens? Arcadia is actually the brainchild of NRG co-owner Michael Babin (who kindly gave a group of us, including me and Ollie, a lift to the metro afterwards) and former DC Central Kitchen farm coordinator Erin Littlestar. (What's that? Sure, I thought about biking the 24 miles back home, as it'd been a beautiful ride out during the brisk, sunny afternoon. But when things wrapped up around 9pm, it was cold. And dark. And I was underdressed. And maybe the local wines were a little stronger than I realized.)

Right. Back to Arcadia. The vision is to develop a 3-acre demonstration farm, young farmer incubation program, local food hub (where DC-area schools, restaurants, grocers, and other businesses can source local, responsibly grown produce), and, eventually, an on-site restaurant. I know things are still in the early stages, but I can hardly sit still from giddiness!

Here's a pic of Erin (Arcadia's executive director) and farm manager Mo (not in her usual farm gear) -- the dynamic duo who will be managing the exciting new project. (See what I mean about hand-rolled cigars? Don't worry, dad, I saved one for you.) Come join these inspiring ladies in early spring when we'll be building raised beds and planting. You can sign up to be on the mailing list at www.arcadiafood.org. We're going to need a lot of hands come spring. And there is always the possibility of good food showing up....

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

"There should be more school gardens than McDonalds franchises"

I thought only Oprah was outspoken enough of a public figure to malign a subgroup within the food industry and get away with it, but no: thus spoke Slow Food USA president Josh Viertel during the well-attended US-member meeting at Terra Madre last week. (Holy heck, was I in Italy just last week? Mama mia!) And what a meeting it was, also featuring Edible Schoolyard patroness Alice Waters, rockstar economist Raj Patel, feminist farmer and activist Denise O'Brien, and the man himself, Slow Food International founder Carlo Patrini. I left the meeting galvanized for action... slow but steady action. (Well, the Slow Food mascot *is* the snail, after all.)

"You can't just vote with your fork," Josh urged some 500+ Slow Foodies at the US community meeting, "you have to vote with your vote." Turns out it's no longer enough to support local producers at the market with your individual or family food dollars. (I still plan to continue that practice while getting involved with food advocacy work.) "You're not going to get into heaven based on the contents of your tote bag at the farmers' market... though it is a prerequisite," quipped Slow Food USA's dynamic new leader, "We need to band together to affect change at the policy level." He's right.

What's this, Slow Food getting political? Yes. Finally. Under the banner of "the universal right to good, clean, and fair food," Slow Food, it seems, is in the process of transitioning from an elitist group of foodies into a community of activists. In a way, it is a return to the roots of the movement, which started as a response to the vagaries of Fast Food in Italy. Moving beyond the traditional fine dining events and artisanal food worship (though plenty of both remain for those on the lookout), Slow Foodies are building gardens, hosting Eat-Ins, and talking to politicians. Near the end of his Terra Madre talk, Josh encouraged members to learn about the Farm Bill coming up for review, legislation which has the potential to advance (or undo) the way food is produced, and the kind of farms and farmers we support across the country. The membership is substantial enough that we can, if we so mobilize, be heard. "Yes!" I thought, "We can save our food system yet! Put me to work!" I left the meeting downright giddy. (The four hours of sleep and two espressos may, admittedly, have been partly to blame for this, but it was an amazing meeting nonetheless.) A belated thank you to those who helped me attend the conference: Jim, Martha, Paul, Dad, and Uncle Sam.

Maybe you're wondering how you can get involved with Slow Food's important work. Well, you can attend an event in your area -- activities range from potlucks to film screenings to farm field trips. Some chapters have even sponsored (and built) gardens, like the SF Charlotte chapter I learned about during my time at Friendship Trays. You can join your local SF chapter. (Annual membership is a steep $60, but there are periodic reduced-rate opportunities, so keep your eyes peeled. Last autumn I joined my DC chapter during a $1 membership drive; this year I renewed for $25.) And if there isn't a chapter near you, start one.

More gardens, less McDonalds. Together we can make it happen.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

More pancakes, less hate

Today's post was inspired by my favorite sign at the weekend's Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear). It was an amazing event and after seeing this sign I got to thinking, you know, when it comes down to it, more people sharing a few pancakes with each other can only help foster peace, love, and understanding. In his closing speech, Jon Stewart quipped about Muslims and Jews building on their shared rejection of pork products, but for my part I think an Israeli-Palestinian pancake breakfast might be just the ticket to peace in the Middle East. (I can see my dad shaking his head as he reads this....)

They may be the perfect comfort food: inexpensive, easy to make en masse, and inviting infinite possibilities for toppings and fillings.

Honestly, who can say no to pancakes?

I've dabbling a bit more in the breakfast arts lately, and with my recent discovery of the joys of fermented foods it's only natural that I should start tinkering with sourdough... especially since the acquisition of a sourdough starter a couple of months ago from my friend Katie, made from authentic, wild DC yeast caught on her windowsill. (How cool is that?) I've made sourdough pancakes a few times now and I must say they're as easy as they are tasty. And the toppings -- oh, the toppings! You can go the sweet route with maple syrup, cardamom fig jam, or peach preserves. Or you can take a more savory approach, topping each stack with mushrooms in a garlic bechamel sauce, asparagus with smoked salmon and goat cheese, or roasted vegetables.

Here's the basic recipe (a modification of one posted on the nourishing gourmet website):

Sourdough Pancakes

3 to 24 hours before you want to eat, combine in a large bowl:
1 cup of sourdough starter
2 cups of water
3 1/2 cups of whole grain flour
(This is approximate: how much flour you need will depend on how thick your starter is.)

Just before cooking (3-24 hours later), mix in:
3 large, farm fresh eggs
4 tablespoons of honey
1/4 cup of melted butter
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
(If you want thinner pancakes you can thin with water or milk.)

Drop 1/4 cup of batter at a time on a lightly oiled hot griddle on medium-high heat. Cook until the top begins to bubble. Flip the pancake and cook until lightly browned on the other side. Makes about 25-30 pancakes.

It's getting to be autumn in earnest now -- I know because of the frost warnings on the weather reports. This means that along with a wide variety of apples, all kinds of crazy fall vegetables are showing up at farmers' markets: celeriac, romanesco cauliflower, winter squashes. Go on, make a big batch of pancakes for your friends and family and experiment with some savory toppings...

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

A test of the Wormergency Broadcast System

Readers, if I am famous one day -- and in the unlikely event that I get too big for my britches -- you can remind me of today: my first experience sifting through poop with my bare hands.

It's not the kind of thing I would usually do on a Thursday afternoon, mind you, but I had no rubber gloves and no alternative during the code brown wormergency. My newly returned under-the-sink compost bin had mysteriously developed a thick layer of sludge during my time cavorting around New Orleans and Turin and I had a nagging feeling that something had gone terribly wrong. I mean, I know worms breathe through their skin, and actually prefer a moist environment, but sludge?? Not good.

The problem was not simply the distinctly swampy consistency (though that would've been reason enough for concern). I also noted that it was smelling a little like a dirty diaper in there. (Faint but distinct -- parents, you know what I'm talking about here.) Something was definitely off, and the wobbling, slow moving fruitflies were making me suspicious that they were tipsy. Hey, I'm all for invertebrates enjoying a drink now and again, but I'm pretty sure worm bin fermentation is a warning sign of things going awry.

[Note: I do not believe the recent downturn of the bin is in any way due to negligence on the part of my wormsitter, who returned my herd of red wigglers when he came by for dinner last night. I'd still write Mike a glowing reference letter for future wormsitting gigs. I mean, the man is devoted to developing the optimal fruitfly trap and the high quality food scraps over at his apartment are almost on par with my own.]

I recalled reading that too much water could wipe out a whole herd of wigglers. There wasn't exactly standing water, but such a development seemed imminent. (Drowning in a pool of fermenting poop -- what a way to go.) "Quick!" I thought, "I need to add something to absorb some of the moisture!" I scoured the apartment, tossing in a dry coffee filter and shoving some pieces of ripped up cardboard along the bottom. Then I sent off a panicked message to The Worm Ladies.

Within an hour or two, Susie, my friendly neighborhood WMT (Wormergency Medical Technician), wrote back to tell me that my instinct was correct, that there was too much moisture and I should add more dry material. Oh, and she also said to dump the bin out on a black garbage bag and sift through everything -- the "everything" being a big mess of stinky excrement -- to rescue the worms and any uneaten food, transferring them to a new bin. So I did.

Well, I didn't have a second container, so I dragged everything out to the garden, rinsed out the existing bin (while its contents were smeared across a Hefty bag for God and my neighbors to see), layered in some fresh brown paper and cardboard and food scraps (not too many high water content ones this time), and moved my wriggling wormies one by one into their remodeled home. (No, I didn't rinse them off first...but I sure was tempted to.) The drippy, aromatic remains on the garbage bag found a new home in the outdoor composter. Actually, maybe it'll make my regular compost even more amazing for the spring.

I checked on the shell shocked wigglers again a few minutes ago. They seem a little sluggish -- maybe they're hung over -- but I'll be sure to post an update on their recovery soon. Oh, man, I hope I don't lose my vermiculture merit badge for this....

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

School food revolution

Poor-quality (not to mention downright repulsive) cafeteria food has long been the bane of schoolchildren, nutritionists, and educators around the country. In recent years, the issue has been getting attention from community activists, celebrity chefs, Slow Food, and the First Lady. And it turns out that last week was not only DC Farm to School Week, but also School Lunch Week. As such there have been all kinds of fun, food-related educational activities going on around the country. (See? It was more than just my group's apple tasting station at the DC Farm to School kickoff event. Those local WV apples do look tasty though, no? Go on and try one.)

School food is finally getting the attention it deserves -- I mean, cripes, how are kids supposed to learn when they're eating junk, or nothing at all?? Local policies like DC's Healthy Schools Act are allowing schools to put more money where their mouths are, allotting funds to get healthier food to more schoolchildren. While the additional money for food, training, and infrastructure going toward improving food quality and access in our public schools pales in comparison to, say, what we spend on our country's military or penal systems, it is something. We're talking a rise of 10 cents per child per meal in DC schools, with an additional 5 cents for locally-sourced ingredients. It may not sound like much, but considering the 2009 $2.68 per meal rate, those pennies can add up.

There also appears to be an unprecedented empowerment of schools and students to demand better food...and some of them are getting it. One of the success stories I recently learned about is the work being done right here in New Orleans. It involves some unlikely partners including a city-wide, student-driven activist group (known as "Rethinkers" in the most recent issue of Edible New Orleans) that has been issuing school food report cards and corporate catering giants like Sodexo (a group which I have long held in low esteem for their poor quality and unfair labor practices, but who seem to be turning over a new leaf -- which is good, even if the leaf turning is entirely profit-driven) changing their offerings accordingly. School food has long been contracted out to corporate catering giants like Sodexo, Chartwells, and Aramark. While I am inherently suspicious of the ability of such groups to produce anything resembling fresh or high-quality food, it turns out that technically these Food Service Providers (FSPs) are supposed to answer to their customers -- the school district, school boards, and even students. It is possible for a school district to demand something better, and groups like New Orleans' FirstLine Schools (which include Samuel Green Charter School, home to NOLA's Edible Schoolyard, which I visited last May) are demanding exactly that from their provider, Sodexo: three servings of fresh fruits and veggies each day, a salad bar, healthier versions of native cuisine. (And let me just say that to describe the native cuisine here in NOLA as "delicious" is a vast understatement.)

Want to know what's going on with school food in your area? For national programs, I'd recommend checking out the National Farm to School website (www.farmtoschool.org) and the First Lady's website (www.letsmove.gov).

For my fellow DCers, there are resources like the DC Farm to School site (http://dcfarmtoschool.org/healthy-schools-act/) and councilwoman Mary Cheh's website (www.marycheh.com). Incidentally, I spotted both Ms. Cheh and USDA deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan -- both champions for improved school food -- at last Tuesday's DC Farm To School Week kickoff event. Neither stopped by my apple tasting station, though, so I didn't have a chance to gush about their work in person. Maybe I should drop them a postcard saying as much when I get to Italy tomorrow.

Apologies in advance for a week unplugged from the crackberry, but international data plans are, shall we say, astronomically expensive. Also, I'll be busy gorging myself on local wine and gelato.

More on the Community Food Security Coalition and Terra Madre conferences to come when I return from Italy.... Oops, sounds like they're boarding my flight. Ciao regazzi!

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