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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

It’s finally all over. I just got back from the Choices Conference I mentioned the other day, and it really was fantastic. Here’s a quick rundown of the two-day event:

The Dinner:

Last night was the Slow Food dinner, a fundraiser for the conference and the inaugural meal for the Slow Food Red Cedar convivium. I spoke at length concerning my reservations about Slow Food, so I’ll be brief this time. Were there some awfully wealthy snobs in attendance? Yes. Were there numerous mentions of Slow Food being “for all people of all income levels,” with no effort made to make Slow Food available to them? Yes. Did I manage to have fun anyway? Absolutely.

I manned (womanned) a booth selling pretty tote bags for the C.S. Mott Group for a couple of hours, and made friends with the son of the owners of AlMar Orchards, a market manager and fruit grower in his own right, who also managed to sneak over plenty of his delicious hard cider. Fortunately, I had a four course meal, the brainchild of Chef Nick Seccia, to soak it up.

Course one was pretty fantastic: local sweet corn polenta with cornmeal from Westwind Milling (fairly local), local greens, local creme fraiche from Calder’s dairy, a cracker made with Detroit Asiago cheese, and a canellini bean ragout (I can’t remember if anything in that was local, but I’m pretty sure at least part of it was). The polenta was light and fluffy (there must have been eggs involved somewhere in there) and cheesy and delicious – the greens were bitter, but not too bitter to handle, and the ragout was wonderful.

Course two was a local (superlocal – grown just a mile or two away at the student organic farm) butternut squash bisque with local creme fraiche (again from Calder’s). It was amazing – hands down the best thing on the menu. It wasn’t really sweet at all, unlike most winter squash soups I’ve had/made. I loved it, and would have been plenty happy if the dinner had stopped there.

Course three, the main one, was a bit of letdown. Most everyone had a glazed chicken breast. I, of course, got the veg option. I assumed it would be comparably tasty, but they kind of dropped the ball on this one. It was literally a plain brick of silken tofu with the chicken glaze (a cherry sauce – cherries from Traverse City, no surprise there) drizzled over it, shoved under a broiler for a minute. It was barely warmed all the way through. I was pretty disappointed, particularly because there’s a farm in Ann Arbor that makes amazingly wonderful tofu, and this stuff obviously came from one of those aseptic packages at the grocery store. There was “wild rice” on the side, from Minnesota. That was also not so great – flavorless, mushy, and clearly cultivated rather than wild. The tastiest thing on the plate was the asparagus, which, for a meal parading its terroir as this one did, is a pretty bad sign.

The final course, dessert, was an improvement: Michigan apple pithivier (apples from AlMar again), which is apparently a pastry filled with an almond paste, topped with apples simmered in a local wine. I normally hate anything almond-flavored (although I like almonds themselves), but this was quite good. Texturally, it was a bit difficult to work with, as the pastry itself was quite brittle, and the apples were still rather firm. The flavors were wonderful though, not too sweet at all, rounded out by the pear espuma (also from AlMar, if I’m not mistaken), caramel, and coffee zabaglione (yeah, i had to read off the menu for that one).

So the meal was, overall, a success. I had a ton of fun, which had a lot to do with the fact that I was sitting at a table with, not snobs, but organic farmers, as unpretentious and charming as they come. It was the fanciest meal I’ve ever eaten, and no, I won’t be paying $45 for another, but it was an experience worth having. Now if only they could make it an experience others could afford as well…

Later today or tomorrow I’ll be posting on day 2: the Main Event.

Until then, guess what? I got my application for a community garden plot in the mail. You can’t imagine how happy this makes me. And in somewhat related news, I head a rumor that John Jeavons will be hosting a free workshop in East Lansing at the end of the month, which is just about enough to make me start dancing.

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I’d been thinking recently about how exactly my interest in all-things-food-related came about, and I decided it really had a lot to do with cooking. I really didn’t care about food until after I’d dropped out of college after 1 semester. After that, I started working at a restaurant. There, I started as a prep cook, chopping vegetables and making sauces. I graduated to fry cook shortly thereafter and discovered that I really enjoyed working in a kitchen. At the same time, actually handling the ingredients that went into these meals made me start thinking about where dinner actually comes from – something I’d never had to consider when my mom was making all of my meals. I was struck by the enormous food waste created by the food industry, something that appalled me almost to the point of physical illness.

One morning, while I was busy scrambling five million eggs for the breakfast rush, a woman came through the kitchen door with a dolly stacked with crates of food. The eggs were speckled, the carrots had dirt on them, and her hands were rough and ridged with hard labor. The head cook told me that she was a local farmer who provided the restaurant with eggs and whatever vegetables were in season. All of a sudden, farms became a big deal to me, and I had to know more.

Now, my cooking is a part of my interest in local food issues. Just as with the second-wave feminists, political action is first encited by personal experience. I will never again be able to look at my dinner without thinking about the systems that created it, and its consequences. A step in the right direction.

I was thinking about this today because my friend Lauren just sent me an article from Grist on the revolutionary nature of the cookbook, and the way they have changed the way Americans think about food in all of its permutations. Go read it.

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