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Tom Philpott is one of my most favorite food and agriculture writers. I first started reading his stories when he was at Grist.org. The other day, a friend forwarded me his May 2012 article in Mother Jones entitled, "Economies of Kale."

Catchy name aside, this article contains the meat and potatoes of how a regional food system can single-handedly stimulate local economies. For example...bookstores and clothing stores most often have to buy their goods from far away but food can, and should, be sourced locally. When sourced locally, $.45 of every dollar stays in the greater region versus a measly $.15 when spent at chain stores. Studies have shown that when money circulates locally, economies become stronger because there is more sales tax revenue which stimulates the economy.

In the article, Tom quotes, economist, Ken Meter. I had a brief encounter with Ken a few months ago but I had no idea he was so well-known in the field. It was during an ice breaker exercise at a Slow Food  conference this past April! I had all of 60-seconds to introduce myself but knew enough from his introduction to get his business card. He has since been a tremendous help in gathering data for our North Tahoe foodshed assessment.

 
 
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Beet Ravilois (sample photo, not from the actual recipe)
One thing I didn't want this blog to become was another recipe site. But one's love for food is what drives them in their fight to protect it. Recipes are a reminder that food is something to be celebrated and enjoyed.

I know I like something if...I close my eyes, start to chew slowly and try to unravel the flavors parading down the runway of my tounge. We've all been there. At least I hope!

At our Slow Food Lake Tahoe's annual fundraiser two weeks ago, Cooking Outside the (CSA) Box, Dragonfly chef/owner, Bill McCullough put a spin on two rooted vegetables like I've never seen. It was the epitome of "cooking outside the box." I fell compelled to share them both.

The first recipe is...roasted beets, delicately sliced to form raviolis then stuffed with a truffle infused goat cheese and dressed with a balsamic glaze and arugula salad. OMG! The second is...scalloped turnips! Like scalloped potatoes but better and it opens up a whole new door to what you can do with this funky, rooted veggie. Let's get cookin...

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Beet raviolis (sample photo, not from the actual recipe)
BEET RAVIOLIS W/ TRUFFLED GOAT CHEESE

3 each- Red Beets- similar sizes
3 each- Yellow Beets- similar sizes

    In deep hotel pans- or heavy pots,  place beets- with no tops. Red in one and Yellow in the other. For each container: Fill with water ½ up beets. Then, add olive oil until the beets are covered. Add 2 T chopped parsley, 4T kosher salt, 2 cloves- chopped garlic, 6 black pepper and juice of 3 lemons.  Bring liquid up to quick boil- cover and roast in oven for 35 minutes or until you can just easily put a knife into the beet.  Cool beet a bit- peel with hands then cool all the way.

Truffled Goat Cheese Filling:
1 ½ #- Cheve Goat Cheese- room temperature
4T-      White Truffle Oil
4T-      Basil- chopped
Mix together

To Make Ravioli:
Slice beet on a mandolin slicer so they are about 1/16” thick. Basically, they should be a little bigger than transparent.  Lay beets out on a sheet tray putting matching sizes next to each other. Lay about 2t of filling in middle of beet, but this also depends on beet size. Use your judgment! Then put a similar size beet over the goat cheese. Press down sides.

Balsamic Glaze:
Reduce 4 cups of balsamic until syrupy. Reduce at a simmer and when you have tight bubbles, it should be done. This will make extra, but you can put it on strawberries for dessert! 


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SCALLOPED TURNIPS

Makes hotel pan- 18 x 12
Pre-Heat Oven to 375 degrees

8 cups-      Turnips- peeled and thinly sliced
1 ½ cups- Yellow Onion- thinly sliced
5 T-          Garlic- chopped
10 T-        Butter
4T-           Flour
1 T-          Salt
1 ½ cups- Milk
2/3 cup-    Heavy Cream
1 t-            Black Pepper
3 cups-      Gruyere Cheese- grated

-Spray hotel pan with pan spray
-Melt butter in sauté pan- sauté onion and garlic until just soft
-In a bowl,  mix everything together- except cheese.
-Once well mixed, layer in pan so turnips are flat and even
-Sprinkle cheese evenly over top
-Cover with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil then bake for another 40 minutes or until top is golden brown.


 
 
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Spring Bounty
Nothing gets me more fired up then a farm tour. Yesterday I traveled to North San Juan outside of Nevada City, CA to pick-up veggies from Mountain Bounty Farm for our annual Slow Food Lake Tahoe fundraiser.

Mountain Bounty Farm is Tahoe's largest CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture) with close to 400 veggie shares. Owner, John Tecklin, is also a big supporter of all things Slow Food managing a 15-acre, organic farm.

For a budding farmer, I soaked up everything John was saying as we toured the rolling fields inquiring about planting tips, trellising ideas and crop suggestions. I was enamored by the abundance. Acres and acres of food popping out of the ground. It was glorious! No better time to be on a farm than late Spring...everything is so green and a cool breeze still lingers in the air before the dog days of summer settle in. As we passed by a row of lettuces, John volunteered the role a food hub could play in his business. I was delighted to hear his interest...John is a successful direct-to-consumer farmer not needing to depend on other retail markets to make a living. As much as I want a farmer like John to participate in the food hub, a part of me thought he may not have the need. On the contrary!

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John Tecklin - Mountain Bounty Farm, North San Juan Ridge, CA
He may not need a food hub to make a living but it is not to say he doesn't have food to contribute or that he doesn't see an opportunity to make a little more money...He points to the row of lettuce and says, " See this crop here, we will harvest it tomorrow but we only need 2/3 of it. The rest will get turned under as green manure. My first priority is my obligation to deliver quality, on-time produce to my customers not to manage the wasted food. But it kills me to see it go uneaten,"

John plants six successions of crops in a summer. That way he has a new crop to harvest every two weeks. He has to plant enough in each succession to factor in crop failure, low yields and last minute orders. But when the crop comes in full and healthy, what do you do with the surplus?

He doesn't have orders lined up for surplus. Nor is it cost effective to call around trying to sell a few heads here and a few heads there to area restaurants. But one call to a food hub and that's 1000 more heads of lettuce in the regional food system and $750 more in the bank account of a small farmer. It affirmed even more the necessity of a food hub...to rescue the food that goes unharvested.

When we talk about feeding the world, we don't need to look much further than the amount of food wasted in this country. The average hovers around 40%. As we just saw, the waste starts on the farm. Once at market and after it pasts its sell-by-date, it gets thrown away. What makes it home, often times doesn't get eaten and spoils. If we just learned to manage our food better, we could feed a lot more people. And organic farmers like John Tecklin are proving you can grow strong yields sustainably. Combined with a food hub to help move food through a community more equitably and we've solved a lot more than one farmer's dilemma!

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Billy McCullough - owner/chef, Dragonfly Restaurant
A COUPLE SIDE STORIES...

Side Story #1: On the drive home, NPR's Neil Cohen was interviewing first lady, Michelle Obama on Talk of the Nation. It couldn't have been more timely. Until listening to her, I was starting to think her backyard garden, school lunch and Let's Move campaigns were little more than green washing. But hearing her speak, helped me see how genuine she is in her quest. She talked about the initial transition that she made with her family from processed foods to whole, natural and real foods. It wasn't easy but they did it together. They worked in the garden together, went to farmer's markets together and experimented in the kitchen together. By including her kids in the process and not just making them eat their broccoli, they transformed.

Kids are adaptable! They aren't callused with years of poor diets like adults whose eating habits are hard to breakdown. They can change and they can help lead the change. With the parents involved, the kids will change and they will be hardwired to lead healthier lifestyles. "It starts with the kids," Michelle commented.

My favorite part of the interview was an anecdote she shared from a garden class she had at the White House, "I asked the kids, would you water your plants with soda? And they all crinkled their noses, shook their heads and said no! I reminded them, we are living organisms too just like those plants. What you feed the plants, like our own bodies, affects how it grows." Hearing her retell the story, gave me goose pimples just thinking about all the light bulbs that were going off in the brains of those little kids standing in that garden on the front lawn.

Side Story #2: To bring the conversation full circle, and then I will close...tonight at the Slow Food event mentioned earlier, "Cooking Outside the Box, "Chef Billy McCullough of Dragonfly Restaurant in Truckee, CA, took the veggies of Mountain Bounty Farm's CSA box and created the most delicious and simple recipes."Many of my recipes include just five, whole ingredients. I like to keep it basic and let the flavors shine," he said.

Six tastings were paired with local wines for people to savor. He blew everyone away with samples of scalloped turnips and curried carrot salad but the showstopper of the night was the thin slivers of golden beets stuffed like raviolis with herbed, goat, cheese drizzled with balsamic vinegar and dressed with fresh arugula! Oh my goodness!

As he addressed the crowd during his cooking demo, he advocated for the importance of good, clean and fair food. "We are co-producers of our food! The choices we make drives what is produced. Safeway didn't start carrying organic because they wanted to save the world. They did it because they saw a business opportunity. There was a demand for better, healthier, more ecologically grown. By embracing our role in the produce what we eat, we can change the way food is grown.

 
 
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The Kompost Kraft table at Tahoe Truckee Earth Day celebration.

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Last Saturday the 21st marked the 42nd Earth Day! Hopefully, you all got out to hug Mother Earth and honor her magnificence! The Tahoe-Truckee Earth Day Foundation has been hosting a ragingly, successful celebration for the past eight years in the village at Squaw Valley, CA. I wore two hats running back and forth between our Slow Food Lake Tahoe booth and the kids' zone where the grow dome had a craft project to decorate compost buckets...

At the grow dome, we will be embarking upon a relatively large, composting program. We will be collecting yard waste from an eco-friendly landscaper, Green Envy, and organic coffee grounds from Sierra Pacific Coffee Roasters. To feed enough greens and nitrogen to the compost pile, we will be recruiting the veggie and fruit scraps from friends and family. We are supplying each contributor with a 5gl pickle bucket to keep their food scraps smell-tight. We will schedule weekly pick-ups and feed the compost pile the organic waste collected. To make it fun and encourage participation,we wanted to have kids decorate the buckets. Each art piece was transferred to a sticker which could be applied to the bucket so it provided an easy to clean surface. We got a variety of great submissions, see below.

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How to make paper seedling pots: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VW4t_6dTAvA
Over at the Slow Food booth, we had a festive seedling table where we helped kids make seedling pots out of newsprint! Each child got to take home at least one seedling in a cute caring case made out of milk cartons. This is a great project for all kinds of events from birthday parties and school projects to just a fun way to brighten up a rainy day! Kids and volunteers had a blast and got way into it!


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Seedlings planting seedlings!
Paper Seedling Pots Recipe:
  • Strips of newsprint cut to 4"x10"
  • V-8 Juice can and a golf ball. Roll the newsprint around the can to shape the pot and use the golf ball to twist and lock the 1" of paper hanging off the bottom. Or, buy a wooden pot maker.
  • Large bowl of organic, potting soil
  • Variety of organic, seed packets
  • Spray bottle for giving seedlings a drink after planting :)
  • Crop stakes for labeling the seed in the pot. Fun Note: make a seedling wish on the other side!
  • Single serving milk cartons cut in half for carrying the seedling pot. Or, use a 1/2gl carton to carry six

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The compost bays outside the grow dome and more happy artists decorating compost buckets.

 
 
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The Slow Food snail
I pulled out my wooden, travel utensils; opened my reusable container; and began eating my seasonal, organic broccoli and asparagus tossed in pasta and olive oil. Admittedly, I sat smugly enjoying  my pack lunch and the cacophony of crunching that filled my head. When I looked up, my green balloon quickly deflated. The man sitting across from me in the airport waiting area at Gate B16 wore a polo shirt with the Monsanto logo emblazoned in the upper left-hand corner…the enemy! I smirked at the irony. I looked down and admired my version of a happy meal and kept eating. My neighbor to my right was reading a newspaper. The headline read, “Fast Food on the Rise.” I looked to my left thinking I was maybe on candid camera. But instead, I saw a heavyset man hand his overweight mother a large, Ziploc bag full of prescriptions. She was slouched in a wheelchair. Her skin gray and sunken and dark bags hung heavily from her eyes. She fumbled with the bag. With shaky hands, she gave the bag back to her son and in exchange, he gave her a 6-Piece Chicken McNuggets.

She was dressed nicely in blue capris and a tailored, jean jacket. Her red Mary-Jane shoes matched her red cap and her white blouse stood in bright contrast. I lowered my fork and slowed my chewing. They didn’t notice my anthropologetic stare (I made that word up). But the social commentary was flashing in neon lights…Taking pills for the poison she is about to consume. Really?

It is hard to believe she doesn’t see the irony in her actions or make the connection between her health and nutrition. Is it apathy, education, denial, economic status? Comparing her outfit to her health, it is obvious that being treated for a disease seems to be more socially acceptable than not sporting a fashionable style. People will spend $100 for a pair of jeans but spend only $2.22 for a sandwich. Where are the priorities? A healthy meal will help you live a long life, a nice outfit will get you to the next season.

The real irony is…I was headed to the Slow Food National Congress in Louisville, Kentucky (pronounced Loul-ville). It was this past weekend.

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Going through airport security on the way home, this sign made us chuckle.
Slow Food is an international organization which advocates for "good, clean and fair food;" and the systems we need to fulfill that vision. Slow Food celebrates the pleasure of the table, community and the responsibility that comes with being an informed eater. Essentially, it is the opposite of fast food as depicted in the photo to the right. The movement got started in Italy in 1989 when the founder, Carlo Petrini, was appalled to see a McDonald's at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

There are Slow Food chapters in over 150 countries and roughly 2000 members in the United Sates alone. The National Congress is an opportunity for elected delegates from U.S. chapters, typically board members, to gather, share ideas, learn new organizing skills, vote on amendments and pull from our collective power to be successful back at home in our shared pursuits.

Slow Food is seen by many to be an elitist, affluent group of foodies looking more like a scene out of Sunset Magazine than an engaged group of activists seeking fundamental change in the food system. I knew my own chapter was a progressive group of go-getters who saw the potential of a national organization to give a voice to food justice in our small, mountain community. But what I found is that the feeling is mutual and universal among all chapters. I discovered genuine, motivated people inspired by Slow Food's mission to restore the connection we share with our food. The conference reinforced that Slow Food is an organization focused on serious issues aimed at fixing our broken food economy from pushing legislation in the 2012 Farm Bill and protecting SNAP benefits for food insecure populations to petitioning to get GMO foods labeled, educating children about good nutrition and unveiling the true cost of food.

All assembled, there were 150 delegates united and dedicated to making ecologically grown food a right not a privilege. It makes sense that Slow Food is comprised of grassroots activists. Otherwise, we would be just as disconnected from our food system as the ones we hope to transform. Sauteing Swiss chard, having a developed palette and postering over the latest issue of Food & Wine does not make a person better than someone who does not share or know these interests. Having the knowledge is one thing. Doing something with it is another and that is what Slow Food is all about; channeling that passion to make a difference.

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a blurr of swing dancing to Kentucky bluegrass the night of our barn dinner
During closing remarks on the last day, the floor was open to comments. A gal named Eve from Chicago raised her arm and was handed the mic. She stood up and shared a story about meeting the hotel's parking lot attendant earlier that day. The employee asked what conference they were attending. The gave a concise description of Slow Food not expecting it to resonate. Quite the contrary. His eyes lite up and demonstrated that he understood the basic issues, "That's good work! You're helping to make food healthier with less chemical pesticides and fertilizers, right?"

It proved that people get it! They know! They know that much of the food out there is bad for us and the environment. It affirmed the good work they are doing and that all the volunteer hours are worth it because they are fighting for people like that employee of the hotel. Eve finished with this simple and profound statement. I think it is my favorite from the weekend, "Change is hard, but the need is universal!"

Executive Director, Josh Viertel, closed the conference reminding us to celebrate! Celebrate food with music and friends. Without, our work is meaningless! We need both both the pleasure and the responsibility to have balance and be effective.

It reminded me of one of the first potlucks I attended after college. During college I took food for granted and after graduation, I didn't want to spend the money. That all changed the night I was invited to a dinner party by my friend Mel. It was at the house of Byron and Shalley. People I did not know, yet! I was greeted by the wafting smells of salmon being smoked on the back deck as I arrived. The meal was an explosion of flavors I had never tasted. I remember we started calling Byron's food Byranian because it was so unique; a fusion of Asian, Thai and Hawaiian. We still reference that moniker to this day. As the dishes piled up in the sink, an array of instruments started emerging from cases and behind chairs. A 3-hour jam session ensued. I had never experienced anything like it before, twenty or more people making music on the fly just feeding off the energy and direction of their fellow players. I have no musical talent but i played a pretty good set of wood sticks. I struck the wood sticks to the beat smiling from ear to ear. I was so happy to be apart of this gathering, this celebration and new friends! I didn't know it at the time but it was when I first learned about Slow Food!