The Great Grocery Smackdown [The Atlantic] – on buying organic at…Walmart? Plus a blind cookoff between Walmart and Whole Foods. Some interesting results…
The Spotless Garden [New York Times] – a great article about backyard and basement aquaponics systems and the ‘otherworldly yields’ from this type of growing. ‘It is either a glimpse into the future of food growing or a very strange hobby — possibly both.’
More photos and cool stuff here. All credits to NYTimes.
I’ve got an absolutely amazing brownie recipe for you. Dense, fudgy, moist, a resounding wallop of chocolate amidst an unexpected touch of spices and a subtle nudge of saltiness upon encountering a buried almond. Now, I’m fully aware that I am often given to hyperbole, but I’m not exaggerating when I say these brownies are some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Make them yourself and I bet you’ll feel the same.
It’s not because of my skill at baking, which can more accurately be described as the ability to read and generally follow instructions. This brownie is based on a great recipe from Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from another great recipe from Baked in Brooklyn. Eat anything from these justly celebrated dessert creators and you’ll probably bust out the superlatives too. Plus, it’s got a lot of butter in it, and we all know the important kitchen equation: butter = awesome.
But the brownie got me thinking more about the food we eat and how it’s produced. If you just want to skip ahead to learn how to make these brownies yourself, scroll all the way down. But first, some brownie pondering…
Sometimes you get really lucky when you’re randomly screwing around online. Exciting things are happening all over the world and every so often you happen to be there at the perfect moment to observe them. And by ‘there’ I mean ‘a very large ocean away’ from the PopTech conference in Camden, Maine, a yearly event that brings together ‘world changing people, projects and ideas.’ But thanks to live streamed video, timely Twitter updates, and the Miracle of the Internet, on Saturday I was able to watch, in real-time from 3,000 miles away, the inspiring talks of two of my favorite sustainable and good eating visionaries: Michael Pollan and Will Allen.
I’m psyched I managed to catch part of both their talks live because the full videos don’t appear to be online. However, you can see a brief minute-and-a-half recap of several speeches on PopTech 2009: Saturday Highlights and read well-written, comprehensive overviews on the PopTech blog as well. If you’re interested in food and don’t know about either of these guys, start reading now…
Read about ‘Michael Pollan’s Gospel of Sustainable Food’. His talk was full of great quotes – like how a vegan in a Hummer uses less energy than a meat eater in a Prius and how our generation in America will be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than our parents. Below, he grins next to a double Quarter Pounder and the equivalent 26 ounces of oil needed to produce the burger. This is right before he dips a finger into the viscous black liquid in the glasses, sticks it in his mouth..and then tells the shocked audience that it’s actually chocolate syrup.
And while I’m busy linking, read about the talk given by Marije Vogelzang – a Dutch designer who does edible art projects and installations. I like that she got vegetable-hating preschoolers to eat their greens by gnawing fun shapes into their vegetables using their teeth. Play + Food = Fun and Delicious. And it’s given me some good ideas for Rambling Restaurant…
You can read about the rest of the America Reimagined conference and watch some more videos here. And the PopTech website has tons of other amazing videos, blog posts, useful links, profiles of fascinating people and projects and companies, and an inspiring social innovation fellows program. Click around the site and you’ll almost get overwhelmed with all the interesting material. So go check it out – you don’t even need to be in the right place at the right time. You could be in your underwear in your closet in the middle of the night and still learn about world-changing ideas at PopTech – now that’s the Miracle of the Internet.
UPDATE: Apparently the quote on the vegan in the Hummer is not statistically accurate. Pollan acknowledges and chooses to refocus on the general message of the environmental concerns against industrialized meat. It’s basically just a pithy soundbite anyway…but too bad cause it was a good one.
there are all types of exciting things going on in the world of technology and activism these days. my friend, former go game co-worker, and all-around awesome guy, brent schulkin, co-founded a company called virgance. virgance is a fascinating and truly one-of-a-kind ‘activism 2.0’ company that works on a number of projects harnessing the power of social networking for the collective good including carrotmob, 1BOG, and as of this week, green options media.
for my friends back in SF, go to the Virgance/GO Media/GOOD magazine (i’m obsessed with them too) party at 111 minna tonight! the go game is running a game there and it should be awesome. i’ll be across the country, jealous. click the image below for more details. don’t have too much fun without me…
i just spent a fantastic weekend eating my way through the fantastic food paradise of new york city with my sister irene (recently somewhat MIA co-blogger) and cousin lexi (maybe sometime guest blogger). in the family spirit of this blog, irene bean, lexi and i are going to do a couple of joint posts on our nyc food tour.
stop one: bean and i kicked things off by exploring the hustle and the bustle of the union square greenmarket. here are some photos and random comments from our adventure.
mei: one of my favorite things to do is wander around farmers markets for hours while sampling food, ogling tasty looking displays, and meeting and chatting with the cool people who locally raise/grow/bake/create deliciousness. also, farmers markets are generally very aesthetically pleasing. yes, there are quite often cute farmer boys, but also so many beautiful colorful flowers. we’ll start with those:
mei: back to food now. here irene, aka vanna white, showcases the tart and creamy honey lemon drinkable yogurt from donnybrook farms you will win if you correctly guess the answer to the wheel of fortune puzzle:
irene: probiotic goodness can turn anyone into vanna white. grow that good fungus, dude!
mei: farmers markets bring such joy! check out the girl on the left and the ecstasy she is experiencing as she purchases fungicide-free items to put in her belly:
irene: i think i can relate to her in many ways, namely, that i feel equally smug and gleeful when purchasing tasty greens.
i am way into chickens. not chicken as in roast chicken with forty cloves of garlic or as in beer can barbecue chicken on the grill (although those are two dishes i’ve been planning to make), but as in real, live, squawking, peck-you-if-you-get-too-close, yes-i-will-bestow-upon-you-many-fresh-and-delicious-eggs kind of chickens.
throughout sxsw, i was lucky enough to stay at the wonderfully warm and welcoming home of aris, orion, and mark. these three played host to a bunch of loud and crazy go gamers who took over the living room with about 9243 huge suitcases of gear. people even slept in tents in the backyard, where they shared sleeping space with six chickens, all with their own funny name, unique coloring, and distinct personality.
i’ve recently been really into buying good eggs from humanely treated chickens and making dishes that showcase the taste of the egg. the yolks are so much deeper in color and in flavor and make some seriously delicious scrambled eggs. but who needs local, cage-free, farm-fresh eggs when you can have BACKYARD FRESH EGGS? imagine being able to step outside every day and pick up a half dozen of the most gorgeous and subtly colored just-laid eggs from happy chickens who have just spent the whole day exploring the backyard, rooting around in the dirt,and eating scrumptious feed pellets and leftover dinner. don’t these dirty, irregularly shaped, pale sea foam green and brown eggs look like they will be the best tasting eggs in the world?
i made some slow scrambled eggs for breakfast one morning in austin and there were undeniably the best eggs i’ve ever had. the oblong slightly-skinnier-than-supermarket-eggs had a tougher shell and a larger, deeper orange yolk, and turned out to have a phenomenally rich taste and a seriously sublime texture. it’s really hard to describe, but imagine…you’re eating your down comforter. okay, that doesn’t really work. imagine your scrambled eggs with the lightness and fluffiness of the best quality down, but also the solid weight and heft of having a thick comforter wrapped around you, all combined with the luxurious satisfaction and comfort of snuggling up in a warm bed on a cold day. that’s what those eggs tasted like. that’s what scrambled eggs should taste like, and i can personally attest to the huge difference between scrambling your eggs in a bowl and tossing them onto high heat for three minutes and the magic of taking twenty minutes to make your eggs.
until very recently, i was all about the quick and dirty eggs. however, at some point, i started reading more and more about cooking your eggs extremely slowly. apparently the proteins in the egg bond quickly over high heat, resulting in a much tougher, rubbery texture. this article from the northen michigan record-eagle (you know, i follow them on twitter:) does a great job explaining the process. i also watched kwame produce his amuse bouche of slow scrambled eggs topped with a sprinkle of bacon bits at the bacon smackdown and i remember being shocked that he just left the pan on the stove, had people stir it fairly constantly, and ran about the house doing other things for over twenty minutes. of course, the eggs turned out to be smooth, creamy curds of happiness.
but enough about the eggs. part of the concept of slow or real food is understanding where your food came from.when you go to visit afarm, you don’t just get introduced to the strawberries and the cow and the potatoes and the pig, do you? no, you meet the producer. you meet the farmer who grows the crops or raises the goats, or in this case, you meet the chickens who laid those delicious treasures.
tatum o’neal, on the left, is pleased to make your acquaintance. josephine p. feathers, however, is bored by you. she would rather eat feed pellets from marko’s hands. no offense or anything, but you are not of much interest when there is a belly to fill.
magua, named after the bad guy in last of the mohicans, was on his way over to say hello, but got distracted by something.
in case you’re wondering if i had to risk life and limb to get up in some chicken faces to take these photos, the answer is yes. with no regard for my own safety but focused on the ultimate goal, i stuck my camera right up close to their beaks while they jostled for position around the pot of food. most of the chickens weren’t too bothered by it, but one chicken particularly resented my intrusion on her eating time and showed it by aggressively going after me with her dangerously sharp beak. meet my nemesis, the fearsome and terrifyingly evil ruler of the chicken coop, DARTH PECKA.
click below to send dark chills of foreboding down your spine while you gaze into the face of pure evil.
yes, that is actually her real name, although apparently orion named her before she started aggressively pecking people and trying to destroy the rebel alliance. sometimes the power of the dark side can be intuitively sensed by those who are one with the force. she went after me with her most deadly weapon (beak, not light saber) and i still have the scar to prove it.
here’s a group photo of a bunch of the chickens eating aris’s leftover lentil soup deliciousness. i believe the only one who has not yet been introduced is the uniquely colored koschka who shines almost like mother-of-pearl all the way on the left.
i’ve saved my favorite picture for last. chupacabra, the sixth and final chicken of the roost, has no idea of the sick joke he has unwittingly gotten himself into. or, to be precise, stepped onto.
waiter, i’d like a plate of your most delicious chicken. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
oh chickens and your yummy eggs, someday you will be mine. aris, marko, orion, tim, and ian (the o.g. chicken farmer in my life), thanks for dropping some chicken-owning knowledge. i’m inspired to join your ranks.
woohoo! i think this quote from the above article is right on: “The power of Michelle Obama and the garden can create a very powerful message about eating healthy and more delicious food,” said Dan Barber, an owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., an organic restaurant that grows many of its own ingredients. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it could translate into real change.”
if the one of the most admired and influential women in the world is talking about healthy eating, local food, the joy of cooking, and the nutritional problems with processed food, then our dysfunctional relationship with food in this country might finally be changing for the better. i have HOPE.
i also have GARDEN ENVY. butter lettuce? sugar snap peas? rhubarb and fennel and hyssop? someday i will have this too…
and even though i don’t have a massive garden (yet) or all the imaginable resources as the partner of the most powerful person on the planet right now to marshal as gardeners, there’s still stuff you can do. quoth michelle, ‘“You can begin in your own cupboard by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables.” daaamn straight.
i went to an absolutely fantastic event called the ‘sunday supper’ eat-in at the yerba buena center gallery space over the weekend. an eat-in, as you can see on the eat-ins website, is a shared group meal, a public potluck, a community food event designed to get people together to share real food and conversation. in addition, eat-ins are meant to get people talking and thinking about ”good, clean, fair food’ and hopefully using that dialogue as a catalyst for action. there’s so much that needs to be done to make sure it’s a right and not a privilege to have food that is just and healthy and sustainable. it was great to have this event to get people reflecting on all the complex issues inextricably tied to the food we put in our mouths on a daily basis.
about 100 people showed up bearing overflowing bowls of salad, fresh-baked bread and arugula pesto, pie pans full of corn fritters, chocolate bread and olive oil cake, spicy cabbage rice, prosciutto and dates, olive and onion tarts, and even a huge bucket full of sweet hibiscus tea, plus so much more. there were a lot of regular people interested in food, as well as a number of invited food activists, authors, chef, and organizers who were there to spark conversation around their work. we all sat around the long table like a family reunion, piled our plates high, and chatted with our neighbors about all things food. irene, you would have loved it.
after letting the ideas from the 826 food politics discussion marinate in my brain, i’ve decided to serve up some thoughts in bite-size morsels rather than one huge and indigestible essay. sorry, the whole evening ended with a nod to bad food puns, i can’t help myself. i’m doling out ladlefuls from the jumbled soup pot of topics and carving off idea slices from the humongous turducken of food politics thought in my brain (that’s a gross mental picture. i’ll stop now).
here’s some details about the evening and the panelists, thoughts about food culture and ecology and production systems, and a whole lot of michael pollan…
i’m having issues distilling the immense amount of information from last night’s panel, so here’s a quick snippet of an issue i wanted to address. i took a brief glance at Ethicurean.com before the panel last night (the group blog of the panelist Bonnie Azab Powell), and I’m intrigued by their explanation and definition of the blog title:
eth•i•cu•re•ann. (also adj.) Someone who seeks out tasty things that are also sustainable, organic, local, and/or ethical — SOLE food, for short.
i’ve been searching for a concise way to describe my personal food choices recently, and this definition encapsulates many of the considerations i try to keep in mind when deciding what to eat. the word ‘tasty’ is a key point in the definition, and i appreciate inclusion of all four of the SOLE initials (oh acronyms..so often ridiculous yet also so useful). what is organic isn’t necessarily local, what is local isn’t always ethical, etc., but it’s important to try to cover as many bases whenever possible. however, i also feel a bit pretentious and preachy describing myself as an ethicurean or someone who eats SOLE food. aron, a friend in one of the food photos last night, suggests the phrase eco-gastronome to address both the love of food but also the environmental angle, but that doesn’t really do it for me either. i’d like to just say i care about food and i care about how it becomes food, but there often seems to be a need to define yourself in just a few words.