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Guest blogger, chef and rad skier...Cody LaPlante
Something I haven't done yet at Food Chronicles is have a guest blogger. Pretty standard stuff for most blogs. Guess I was waiting for just the right contributor! Wait no longer. I would like to introduce my first guest, Cody LaPlante. Cody is 11yrs. old and a great storyteller.

Cody is a member of the Squaw Valley Institute Kid's Club. The club came out to the Growing Dome for an evening tour to learn about the dome and discover cool things about 4-season growing. Everyone got to help Cody harvest veggies that he later used in a seasonal meal prepared for his family. BIG thanks to Carolyn Hamilton who organizes this talented and motivated bunch of kids who are developing a better connection to their food in anticipation of Joel Salatin's visit on Feb. 13th. Here's Cody...

One time my class went to the Growing Dome in Truckee. It was full of vegetables and frogs. I saw a water tank with fish and asked what if was for. Susie said that the fish poop fertilizes the plants in a system called aquaponics. The Dome has solar panels to power the water tank's pump and fans to circulate air. When it gets hot in the Dome the wax on the cooling vents melts and opens the vents so cool air can come in. When the dome starts to cool down the wax hardens and closes the vents. That's cool!  At the Dome we harvested parsley, chard, carrots, one beat, radishes, and spinach leaves.

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Great Basin Community Food Cooperative in Reno is a little market that only sells local, organic foods from farmers around our area. There we got some cabbage and ground beef. The meat was all grass fed from Albaugh Farms in Fallon, Nevada. I visited this farm last fall and we got to see all the cows, sheep, goats, and chickens, and we got to play on the tree swing. The cabbage was from Riverdog Farms in California.

After the LONG process of getting all the food I finally got to make my meal. We made a salad with chard, beat leaves, carrots, and radishes. My favorite part of the salad was the beat leaves! We boiled the beat and sliced it up and put a little vinegar on it. It was really sweet! We added parsley, salt, pepper, and honey from beehives in Sparks, Nevada to the ground beef. Then we cooked it up and made cabbage wraps. It was so good we had it for lunch the next day.

                - Cody LaPlante, 11yrs. old - Truckee, CA

 
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One complaint about organics is that it too expensive. I'm not so sure about that...I just made an awesome organic, meal for six people under $35! I'm calling it, sweet potato wrapped chard enchiladas. And was accompanied by a lovely, green salad with slices of blood oranges. I made the dish last Friday after first having it the day before on Thursday. That's how much I loved it...I had to taste it again. and quick! It was that good!

When I handed the clerk my credit card to pay for the ingredients, I thought to myself, "A family of six probably couldn't get out of McDonald's for much cheaper at $5/person." Not only is it price comparable but it is healthier, organic and made in a kitchen hopefully with family and friends laughing and talking as the meal gets assembled. That's exactly what happened on both of my recent cooking occasions. The first occasion was with a group of kids who were learning about one of the fundamental principles to having a sustainable food system...eating seasonally and as locally as possible. The second occasion was with a group of friends that i wanted to share this culinary delight.

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The kids, were the real inspiration! They are part of a program which studies the monthly lecturers hosted by the Squaw Valley Institute. The next speaker is farmer, Joel Salatin! One of Joel's suggestions for re-normalizing society...is to get our hands on our food coming together in community to tell the story of our food and make a wonderful meal which can be shared together.

Want to make this amazing feast? First I have to give props to Aaron at New Moon Natural Foods in Truckee, CA. This incredible combination of flavors and textures is his own creation crafted on the fly when asked to participate in this worthy program. He led a group of 9 kids through the gastro-technical process each taking pride in their contribution later licking the platter clean. Had these children been fed blanched chard leaves with no connection to the meal, they would have probably snubbed their noses. But having all participated in the preparation, they wanted to savor their hard work. Not longer was it wilted green leaves but green pockets with yummy filling. Get cooking in the kitchen and brings lots of people with you!

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SWEET POTATO WRAPPED CHARD ENCHILADAS:

1 bunch         rainbow chard
3 medium       sweet potatoes
2 large           leeks  
1 small           block of parmesan
1 ball              fresh mozzarella
2 cans            crushed tomatoes
1 head           garlic
1 bunch          parsley
1 cup              pine nuts
1 TBSP           sugar
To taste          salt & pepper

Boil and mash the sweet potatoes (optional: add butter and cream). Chop and saute leeks adding them to the mashers. Grate parm into mashers adding salt & pepper to taste. In a large sauce pan, saute whole garlic cloves adding crushed tomatoes. Add in chopped ends of the rainbow chard and parsley. Finish with sugar and salt & pepper to taste. Blanch the chard leaves then wrap them with a large serving spoon full of masher filling. Place in a large casserole dish stacked tight like enchiladas. Pour the tomato sauce over top. Grate mozzarella over top and sprinkle with pine nuts. Bake for 20-30 minutes @ 350°.          

 
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For every action there is a reaction. But I think we forget this sometimes. Or, is it because something doesn't get talked about or reported, that we don't think critically about all the repercussions. As is the case with fracking for natural gas...Fracking: the water-intensive, carcinogen-laden practice of unlocking deep reservoirs of fossil fuels in the earth's crust. Films, books and articles have exposed what fracking can do to the water, air, land and people living near these drilling sites. One thing is missing from this line-up, our food!

On December 17th, Elizabeth Royte, published an article in The Nation entitled, "What the Frack is in Our Food?" It pointed out the obvious, or perhaps not so obvious...the action of injecting high-powered chemicals into the earth creates a negative reaction that ripples well past the water and people it directly impacts but one that extends throughout the food chain. If you didn't think fracking affects you because it isn't in your backyard (yet), look no further than the food on your plate (queue the Pyscho movie tune, ehehehehe).

The national conversation on natural gas is dominated by the energy independence it can provide the United States. It's like an ostrich with its head in the sand. If it can't see the water it is contaminating, the environmental degradation it is causing and the people and livestock it is making sick and killing, then it is happening. Well, its happening. We say we are addicted to oil & gas, but we have to remember that addiction kills.

There are conflicting reports whether the Volatile Organic Compounds found in fracking fluids such as benzene can  accumulate in animals and plants. The reason so little is known is because not enough research has been completed to evaluate the long term effects of these chemicals and how they move through the food chain. But there is definitely enough evidence by the number of illnesses diagnosed in the people who drink the water and inhale the air around fracking wells as well as the number of dead cows and farm animals living in close proximity.

In the article, Elizabet reported, "The World Wildlife Fund identified 632 chemicals used in 
natural-gas production. More than 75 percent of them, could affect sensory organs and the respiratory and 
gastrointestinal systems; 40 to 50 percent have potential impacts on the kidneys and on the nervous, immune and 
cardiovascular systems; 37 percent act on the hormone system; and 25 percent are linked with cancer or mutations."

If we want to believe that these chemicals aren't working their way up the food chain, then we might as well stick our head back in the sand.

 
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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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This morning I saw the sunrise! No, it's not what you think. I was not out all night celebrating New Year's. Although, that would have been fun too. Instead, i was clear headed and full of hope and possibility.

I was up at 3:45am to work a side job with a private limousine service taking people from Tahoe to the Reno airport. It meant going to bed by 9:30pm and required missing my first ball-drop in Susie recorded memory.

At 6am, I had already delivered my first of five passengers for the day to their curbside destination. I was driving back to Tahoe on I-80 looking over my left shoulder to the horizon. The first light had started to illuminate the sky to the east silhouetting the pine trees along the ridge tops. The sky to the west was still asleep in darkness. House lights speckled the wooded hillside and sparkled in the distance. The sun would not crest for another hour but pink and orange were already kissing the scattered clouds overhead. It was one of those memorable sunrises. Made even more symbolic by the New Year. Hence, the feeling of hope and possibility for the pursuit of my new food career.

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1976 Scamp trailer
Looking for further inspiration, I turned to one of my favorite sources, the podcasts on the The Dirtbag Diaries. With earbud in one ear, I scrolled to the appropriate app on my iPhone and clicked play. Show host, Fitz Cahall, was taking about life transitions. Considering I am in the middle of such a transition, my attention was immediately captured. He and his wife Becka, are expecting their first child. To ensure they still had an "escape hatch" for family adventures, he purchased a 1976 Scamp trailer to refurbish and ready for weekend mountain retreats. Pending fatherhood was feeling bittersweet. He anxiously awaited the next phase in his life and all the new stories it would bring but lamented the untethered freedom to romp in the hills and climb craggy peaks at will. The scamp was an effort to bridge those two worlds.

I don't have kids. And if I don't have a family in my lifetime, it doesn't mean I can't completely and selfishly devote myself to something that will last longer in this world than me. My commitment to changing the food system is 'my baby." Hearing Fitz characterize his transition validated my own.

 
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On this Labor Day, I'm going to share an inspirational story for all the hard work we are doing to better the way we grow and distribute food.

I'm reading the new book by Oran Hesterman, Fair Food. It's right up my alley..."growing a healthy, sustainable food system for ALL!" At the end of Chapter 1, Oran shared a metaphor for how this change will be realized. He compared the fall of the Berlin Wall to the change in our food system. Here's the excerpt...

"In 1988, it would have been nearly impossible to find a political analyst predicting the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet, one year later that is exactly what occurred. It surprised everyone. So how did this happen? I think of all the political activists in East Germany who spent years working to erode an ineffective political system. In metaphorical terms, they each had a small chisel and hammer and were chipping away at the wall day by day, each in their own way, often disconnected from each other. And then these same folks used actual hammers and chisels to start banging against the stones. A point occurred in 1989 when enough activists had been at work with their tools that the political infrastructure and the foundation of the wall were sufficiently weakened, and the wall came tumbling down.

In the same way, we have had food system activists chipping away at the current broken food system for many years. Countless farmers, gardeners, leaders, students, teachers, writers, politicians, businesspeople, academics, and moms and dads, with the equivalent of chisels and hammers in their hands, have been challenging the current food system brick by brick. Every time someone decides to get their food at a farmers' market, establishes a small-scale organic farm, or develops a new sustainable supply chain for their company, they are attempting to change the current system, one step at a time. Just as we will never know who removed the actual brick that caused the Berlin Wall to collapse, we don't know which specific innovation will serve as the tipping point for change in the food system, but it will happen, sooner or later."

After reading, I was filled with so much hope. I could all of a sudden see the forest for the trees in the food movement demonstrating that no one action is alone. We are not individual trees. We are a forest all working together. But we need more trees in our forest so start planting seeds. With a critical mass and a little more unification, we will do this!

 
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Sexy, isn't she? This is the Somat Pulper 3000. Okay, it's just called the Somat Pulper but 3000 better describes its powers. It looks like a widget maker but this little beauty gives a whole new meaning to "it slices, it dices." Feed it a mixture of food scraps and paper products and it will excrete a pulpy slurry that can be used in farming and garden compost. It's being used by institutions like schools, corporate dining rooms, hospitals, etc. that want to reclaim their food waste. Not only does it save them money at the dump but it is good for the earth too.

No, I didn't see it on a rerun of Home Improvement with Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor - although it is right up his alley - but I did see it an unveiling yesterday at Oberlin College's dining hall. It was the inaugural demonstration. Oohs and aahhs went up from those in attendance as the waste went in and even smaller waste spat out. The water used to process the waste is recycled versus being flushed down the drain like a conventional, garbage disposal. The Pulper can handle not only fruits and vegetables but also meat, dairy, napkins, cardboard, paper plates and even the bones. Typically, meat and dairy can't go in regular composting projects because there is not enough heat generated to break them down. But with the pulper, everything gets pulverized allowing the meat and dairy to decompose easier requiring less heat. The process is speed up even faster when composting with earthworms known as vermiculture. The relationship between Oberlin College and George Jones Memorial Farm where I work is the ultimate closed loop...food comes in from George Jones to the college cafe and then goes back as vermiculture compost. Pretty nifty!

I haven't visited a college dining hall since i graduated in 1992. Boy, have things come a long way. Felt more like a restaurant than a cafeteria. I realize that Oberlin is not indicative of most colleges but it is a good model to follow. In advance of the pulper's arrival, Oberlin initiated two policies to make students more aware of how much food is wasted when they take more than will be eaten...first, food scraps were collected and weighed in effort to challenge students to reduce their food waste and second, trays were removed so students could take only what they could carry. Programs like this were the collaborative brain child of both Oberlin staff and their ecologically conscious dining service, Bon Appetit Management.

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The dining hall is called a "cafe" versus a "cafeteria" to suggest an eating experience instead of just a feeding. Bon Appetit creates a space where food can be appreciated...recessed and natural light, appetizing displays and stories about the food and where it comes from - as pictured here with Executive Chef, Dean Holliday. Dean told me how the college sources 23% of their food locally. "Local" is defined by Oberlin as food purchased within 150 miles or from companies smaller than $5 million. In addition to George Jones and other area farms there is a campus garden and a kitchen garden for easy, on-site picking. To get local food in the off-season, they enlist the technology of companies like CIFT which can flash freeze vegetables such as beans, peas, strawberries and more during the summer/fall harvest which can later be enjoyed in winter months. It's frontier days meets the 21st century!

 
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Arrived back into Truckee jonesin' for a Burger Me burger. They source their meat from local ranches where the cows roam free on grassy pastures. And they proudly display the relationships they have with their food producers on the chalkboard. It's food you can feel good about. Restaurants and markets should be proud to tell their stories. If your local eatery doesn't wear it's sources on its sleeve, then ask, "where do you get your meat?" If you get a blank stare in response, chances are your meat didn't have a happy ending. All food has a story. And if its good food, it will be a good story - who doesn't like a good story?? Perhaps a local gal makes jam from fruit grown within 100 miles. Maybe the new farmer at the farmer's market use to work on Wall Street till he gave it all up to own and operate an organic farm. Even if it is box of Annie's Mac & Cheese, there is a story you can feel good about. The more we demand transparency from our food producers, the better the stories will become. Those with foodlust are good story tellers. And the people who grow our food should have foodlust. If they don't, we should be concerned because it's not food they are producing its just fuel for the "machine." Get the full story!