If I were to look back on my life and find myself eating a bowl of muesli, it would most likely mean I was with my brother and sister at my dad’s house for the weekend. We would have found the box, the only cereal option, nestled with the Jaffa Cakes, the After Eights, and the Earl Grey tea in the kitchen cupboard, and it would likely be several months old, its powdery contents stale, any dried fruit petrified.
If we were in luck, there might be some milk in the fridge. If we were in more luck, that milk might be just a day or two past expiration. And if the stars were really aligning for us, we would avoid getting our fingers pinched in the mousetrap set in the silverware drawer while searching for a spoon. My English father is many things: a man of the kitchen he is not.
I often read about how well children do in routine, how structure makes them feel secure, how a schedule offers comfort. But the older I get — just celebrated a birthday — the more I realize how well I do in routine, how happy I am when my life feels like Groundhog Day, how I thrive when my schedule looks like this: breakfast, park, lunch, naps, park, dinner, bed.
But every time I find the gumption — I know, pathetic — to get away, I realize how important it is to get away. Last week, while Ben finished up work in Virginia, I trekked across Massachusetts with the kids to meet up with a college roommate home from Abu Dhabi for the summer, living with her two boys in the seaside hamlet of Duxbury, a well-kept secret so I’m told by the locals.
It felt like such an ordeal — packing the car, timing the traffic — but had I never braved that drive, my summer would have passed without squeezing lemon over a Snug Harbor lobster roll, without commencing the cocktail hour with a Mount Gay and tonic, without satisfying the post-dinner sweet tooth with a scoop of Farfar’s Danish sweet cream.
So, the funny thing about blogging for what now feels like a long time is that I feel I have to tell you everything. I can’t just say, “Hey, I’ve moved to Schenectady! And I have a kitchen with a teensy strip of pegboard and cabinets with awesome blue knobs. And in my corner cupboard I have a lazy Susan on top of which sits ANOTHER lazy Susan. And I have a pear and an apple tree bearing fruit in my backyard. And I have a landlord that advises me to get a cat because the mice and squirrels sometimes take over the house. I love her.”
I can’t just mention these things without offering any explanation. If you don’t want to listen, just scroll down to the olive oil toast. It’s a particularly handy thing to know how to make if, say, you’ve misplaced your toaster or are considering downsizing. It’s also about my favorite thing to eat these days.
OK, so, when I was a freshman in college, there was a boy, Ewan, who lived on the first floor of my entryway. Several times a week when I passed his room, I would spot him on the floor of his room in his dark green sweats and t-shirt doing push-ups and sit-ups. The scene always struck me as odd but I never gave it much thought. “Ewan’s intense,” I would think, as I, without a worry in the world, would skip up my steps heading to my room, hoping perhaps to find my roommates and maybe convince them it was time to go get some fro-yo.
It pains me to admit how clueless I was in the fall of 1999. The dark green getup should have been a giveaway. I would later learn that Ewan was in training to be a Marine Corps Officer, and even later learn that shortly after college Ewan would lead a platoon of Marines to Iraq.
Our great eating adventure 2010 began at home with champagne and oysters. Oh champagne and oysters! Is anything more celebratory? I suppose you have to like oysters. Champagne is a given. The last time Ben and I had champagne and oysters together was at Balthazar, the morning after we wed, nearly five years ago now … ahhh memories.
Anywho, last Friday, we commenced a little long weekend getaway with a dozen and a half oysters, a bottle of Piper Hiedsieck, a wedge of Tomme de Savoie, Marcona almonds, a beet salad, and grilled flatbread topped with grapes and a wee too much cheese. It was a fun little spread.
The following morning we headed north to Solvang stopping first in Los Angeles for dinner at Ganda, a Thai restaurant reviewed in the March issue of Saveur by James Oseland, the magazine’s editor-in-chief. Apparently Oseland, on a recent visit to LA, went to Ganda five days in a row for the pla duk pad ped, or crispy catfish — catfish dry-braised in galangal, Kaffir lime leaves, and an abundance of spices. He declared the dish his favorite thing to eat in LA. Strong endorsement, si or no? Well, while I can’t see myself going to Ganda five days in a row for pla duk pad ped, the dish was delicious, and Ganda didn’t disappoint. I could eat that food all night long.
Now, where I can see myself going five nights in a row is a little place called Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, CA. Full of Life Flatbread is not dissimilar to my favorite restaurants, Bar, in New Haven, CT, and Pizzeria Mozza, in Los Angeles. What can I say? Ben and I basically fell in love over a thin-crust white clam pizza, and when a restautant offers this very pie, never are we happier. But FLF offered more than just a delectable white clam, bacon and leek flatbread. Our appetizer — a grilled asparagus and chanterelle salad tossed with prosciutto, wilted frisée and Parmigiano — couldn’t have been more delicious; neither could the wine, a local Grenache, nor our sausage, onion and cheese flatbread. Yum yum yum.
You’ve all seen Sideways, right? Well, if you visit these parts, you can do the whole Sideways tour if you’d like, stopping at the various vineyards, tasting rooms, restaurants, attractions, etc. The only Sideways spot we came close to experiencing was the Los Olivos Cafe — where Miles drunk dials his ex-wife Vicki — located in the heart of Los Olivos, an adorable town with a great lunch spot — Panino — and some great tasting rooms and shops.
Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Buellton — I can’t say enough about the whole Santa Ynez valley. It is a beautiful part of the country. Ben and I have visited the area three times now and discover new must-try spots every time. If you are looking for a wine country get away but can’t fit Napa into your budget, consider this area. It is a blast. Apparently there’s a dude ranch in the area as well. We’ll have to scope that out next time.
By the way, we stayed in a great hotel, Hotel Corque. A little photo tour of our long weekend continues below:
In Los Angeles, we stayed at the Buky House, a wonderful Bed and Breakfast located in the La Brea (maybe?) neighborhood of the city.
Downtown Solvang. We had fun cruising the streets. So did the bebeka.
There are a ton of bakeries in Solvang each offering many Danish specialties. We particularly enjoyed the kringle and cheese danish at Olsen’s on Mission Drive.
For lunch both days we picked up sandwiches, once at The Chef’s Touch in Solvang and once at Panino in Los Olivos. There are several nice patches of grass in Solvang as well as countless vineyards with rolling hills perfect for picnicking.
Full of Life Flatbread in Los Olivos. Amazing restaurant. Only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A must-try spot if you are vising this area.
Aebleskivers. Another must-try spot is Arne’s Famous Aebleskivers in Solvang. Arne’s is a dine-in restaurant but you can also purchase aebleskivers — pancake like donut holes — drizzled with raspberry jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar right from a walk-up window on the street. They are delicious.
Los Olivos. A beautiful little town with great tasting rooms, shops and restaurants.
Bridlewood Winery. Bridlewood is located in Santa Ynez. It is beautiful — a perfect spot to picnic. They only have one rule: If you picnic on their grounds, you have to drink their wine. Fair enough. We bought a bottle of Grenache to enjoy with our sandwiches from Panino. It was a beautiful afternoon.
root 246. On Monday evening, we ate at root 246. We kept it simple, splitting a caesar salad topped with a poached egg to start and sharing the burger and a Mexican flatbread as our entrées. Everything was fabulous. root 246 is a must-try spot as well.
Finally, we headed home, stopping in Los Angeles to meet a dear friend for lunch at Cafe Midi and dessert — some amazing cookies — at Milk. Isn’t Harry adorable?
I never expected to receive a return phone call. I had been agonizing over how I was going to make my bread pudding … with fruit baked in it or without? Did Tartine really not add any fruit to the bread pudding while it baked? Their cookbook says without, but I thought I remembered bits of warm peaches dotting the pudding throughout. I needed affirmation before proceeding, and so I placed a call to Tartine itself.
I called about 10 times before leaving a message. I explained that I had read the preface to the brioche bread pudding recipe in the cookbook, which explains that Tartine serves their bread pudding with seasonal fruit lightly sautéed in butter and then heated in a caramel sauce. Was this accurate, I asked? Or did Tartine sometimes bake the fruit right in with the custard and brioche? I left my number, hung up the phone, accepting I would likely have to make the decision on my own.
Not so. Later that day, I turned on my phone to find a message from Suzanne, a lovely Tartine employee. She confirmed exactly what the cookbook says, that Tartine indeed bakes the bread pudding without any fruit in it. They do also warm a seasonal fruit of choice — peaches, berries, apples, pears — in a caramel sauce, the recipe for which I have included below though have yet to test. Moreover, when the busy bees in the bakery remove the pans of bread pudding from the oven, they poke holes in it to let steam out and to create space, and then they pour the warm fruit in caramel sauce over top. Brilliant! Thank you, Suzanne.
I have been meaning to post this for months now, and I am afraid peach season is long over. So, while my picture below is a little dated, I write this with even more confidence in this recipe. You see, I have just returned from a most wonderful wedding of two most wonderful people in San Francisco, where I was able to sneak in a visit to Tartine with five friends. Together we ate two bowls of bread pudding, one slice of quiche, one croque monsieur, one croissant and one chocolate croissant. As anticipated, the bread pudding triumphed as the table’s favorite. With my new knowledge, too, I was able to discern a caramel flavor permeating the pudding. I must note, too, that the Tartine caramel sauce is as light as a caramel sauce can be. It adds a subtle yet critical flavor, and I most definitely will make it the next time I prepare this bread pudding.
Hooray for apple season! I imagine apples warmed in caramel sauce will make a lovely topping for this most delicious bread pudding.
Just some quick notes here about the recipe:
• I decided to make the brioche from scratch, which was well worth the effort, but also a two-day affair. If you have a good source for brioche, by all means, buy it! The recipe for the bread pudding itself is quite simple and so long as the brioche you purchase is baked in a standard loaf pan and you can slice it into one-inch pieces, you should be able to add an accurate amount of bread to your pudding.
• Really follow the instructions about the ratio of bread to custard. I was shocked by how much more custard there was in my pan than bread, but I trusted the recipe and went with it. That is the key! The bread soaks up all the custard. The key to producing a moist bread pudding is to not crowd the pan with bread. This is by far the best bread pudding I have ever made and I attribute that mostly to sticking to the proportions prescribed in the cookbook.
• The cookbook suggests using a 9X5-inch glass loaf pan. When I made this, I hadn’t yet purchased this size pan but had success with an 8X8-inch pyrex pan I happened to have on hand. I am looking forward to using the real deal next time around.
Below are some invaluable notes from the Tartine cookbook. I took their suggestion for what to do with remaining custard. Delectable!
• Never crowd the bread slices in the mold — when a bread pudding is dry, crowding is usually the cause.
• If you use a shallower mold (than a loaf pan), reduce the baking time.
• If you end up with more custard than you need, transform it into a simple dessert: pour it into ramekins, place them in a hot-water bath, and bake in a 350ºF oven until set, about 40 minutes.
• If you have left over bread pudding, chill it, slice it, and fry it as you would French toast.
• This recipe works equally well with croissants, chocolate-filled croissants, challah or panettone
Brioche Bread Pudding
Yield = one 9×5-inch pudding, 6 to 8 servings
6 brioche slices*, cut 1-inch thick, see recipe below
8 large eggs
3/4 cup + 2 T. sugar
4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
* I did in fact make the brioche for this recipe, and it is a great recipe. Just a warning, it is quite a process … it takes literally about 2 days to make. If you have a source for good brioche, by all means, use it — buy the brioche … your bread-pudding-making experience will be all the more enjoyable.
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9×5-inch glass loaf dish. Arrange the brioche slices on a baking sheet. Place in the oven until lightly toasted, 4 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
2. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the sugar and whisk until smooth. Add the milk, vanilla and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve.
3. Place the toasted bread slices in the prepared loaf pan, cutting the slices to fit as needed. Pour the custard evenly over the bread, filling the dish to the top. You may not be able to add all of the custard at this point. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, so that the bread can absorb the custard.
4. Just before baking, top off the dish with more of the custard if the previous addition has been completely absorbed. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, place in the oven, and bake the pudding for about 1 hour. To test for doneness, uncover the dish, slip a knife into the center, and push the bread aside. If the custard is still very liquid, re-cover the dish and return the pudding to the oven for another 10 minutes. If only a little liquid remains, the pudding is ready to come out of the oven. The custard will continue to cook after it is removed from the oven and it will set up as it cools.
5. Let the pudding cool for about 10 minutes before serving. You can serve the bread pudding by slicing it and removing each slice with an offset spatula, or by scooping it out with a serving spoon.
¾ cup nonfat milk
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 ¾ cups bread flour = 8 ¾ oz.
2 T. + 1 tsp. active dry yeast
5 large eggs
1 ¼ cups whole milk
3 ½ cups bread flour
¼ cup sugar
1 T. salt
1 cup + 2 T. unsalted butter, chilled but pliable
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup heavy cream
pinch of salt
1. To make the preferment, in a small saucepan, warm the milk only enough to take the chill off. The milk should not be warm or cold to the touch but in between the two (80º to 90ºF). Pour the milk into a mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk, stir to dissolve the yeast with a wooden spoon, and then add the flour, mixing with the spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and place in a cool, draft-free area for 1 hour and then refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 3 hours to cool down. The mixture will rise until doubled in volume and not yet collapsing.
2. Meanwhile, measure all the ingredients for the dough. Once you measure the butter, cut into cubes and return the eggs, milk and butter to the refrigerator to chill.
3. To make the dough, transfer the preferment and then the yeast to the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter, which will take a minute or two. Stop the mixer as needed and use a spatula to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl, folding the loosened portion into the mixture to incorporate all the elements fully. When the mixture has come together into an even, well-mixed mass, begin to add the eggs one by one, increasing the mixer speed to medium or medium-high to incorporate the eggs and stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
4. Once all the eggs are incorporated, reduce the mixer speed to low and begin slowly to add 1 cup of the milk. When the milk is fully incorporated, stop the mixer and add the flour, sugar and salt. Engage the mixer again on low speed and mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix until you see a dough forming and it starts to come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Turn off the mixer and let dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes. While the dough is resting, place the chilled butter cubes into a separate mixer bowl. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and mix the butter on medium speed until the cubes are pliable but not soft and are still chilled.
6. Remove the bowl holding the butter from the mixer and replace it with the bowl holding the now-rested first-stage dough. Refit the mixer with the dough hook and begin mixing on medium speed. When the dough again starts to come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, increase the speed to medium-high. At this stage the dough will appear very silky and elastic. With the mixing speed still on medium-high, add small amounts of the butter, squeezing the cubes through your fingers so that they become ribbons as they drop into the bowl. Stop the mixer to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed with the spatula. Make sure that you don’t add too much butter too quickly and also make sure that you don’t mix the butter too long after each addition or you will heat up the dough. When all the butter has been added, allow the mixer to run for another 2 minutes to make sure the butter is fully incorporated. The dough should still be coming away cleanly from the sides of the bowl at this point.
7. Now, slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup milk in increments of 1 tablespoon and increase the mixer speed to high. Mix until the dough is very smooth and silky and continues to pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. This should take another 2 minutes.
8. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Spread the dough evenly on the prepared pan. Dust the top lightly with flour and cover with cheesecloth. Put the pan in the freezer for at least 3 hours and then transfer to the refrigerator overnight.
9. Brush three 9X5 loaf pans with melted butter. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured work surface in a cool kitchen. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Press each portion into a rectangle the length of a loaf pan and slightly wider than the pan. Starting from a narrow end, roll up the rectangle tightly, pinch the ends and seam to seal, and place seam side down in a prepared pan. The pan should be no more than one-third full. The dough increases substantially during rising, and if you fill the pan any fuller, the brioche will bake up too large for the pan. When the pans are filled, place them in a draft-free area with relatively high humidity. Let rise for 2 to 3 hours. During this final rising, the brioche should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy but still be resilient to the touch.
10. Preheat the oven to 425ºF for at least 20 minutes before you want to begin baking. About 10 minutes before you want to begin baking, make the egg wash: whisk together the yolks, cream and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, brush the wash on tops of the loaves. Let the wash dry for about 10 minutes before baking.
11. Place the loaves in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350ºF and bake until the loaves are a uniformly dark golden brown on the bottom, sides and top, about 45 minutes longer. Remove the pans from the oven, immediately rap the bottoms on a tabletop to release the loaves, and then turn the loaves out onto wire racks to cool. The loaves can be eaten warm from the oven or allowed to cool and eaten within the day at room temperature or toasted. If you keep them longer than a day, wrap them in plastic wrap or parchment paper and freeze them indefinitely.
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 of one vanilla bean
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 T. light corn syrup
3/4 tsp lemon juice
4 T. unsalted butter
• Use a good-sized pan when preparing this caramel. When the hot cream is added, the caramel will boil furiously at first, increasing dramatically in volume. Have ice water nearby in case of burns.
1. Pour the cream into a small, heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the cream. Place over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm.
2. In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, salt and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until the mixture is amber colored, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.
3. The mixture will continue to cook off the heat and become darker, so make sure to have your cream close by. Carefully and slowly add the cream to the sugar syrup. The mixture will boil vigorously at first. Let the mixture simmer down, and then whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice. Let cool for about 10 minutes.
4. Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add them to the caramel one at a time, whisking constantly after each addition. Then whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool.
The caramel will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.
I’m not even the Bloody Mary type. And had my friend not encouraged me so, I wouldn’t have thought to order one. But I do as I’m told, generally, and I began my breakfast at The Ramos House Cafe with a Bloody Mary. A Bloody Mary teeming with pickled green beans, sprinkled with shredded basil and chives, and topped — completed — with a scotch quail egg that is.
What, might you ask, is a scotch quail egg? A scotch quail egg is a soft-boiled quail egg, wrapped in ham, breaded and deep fried. And it is insanely delicious. Had I ordered nothing else that morning, I would have been completely content.
Well, in theory, I would have been completely content. Had I never tasted the apple cinnamon beignets, had I never spread the buttermilk biscuits with homemade apple jam, and had I never run my fork through the wild mushroom scramble into crispy sweet potato shavings, I would have been completely content.
I’ve been to Ramos House now several times and can’t say enough about it. For one, it’s hands down one of the most charming restaurants I’ve ever stepped foot in. I could spend hours in the bathroom alone. Truly. Go. You’ll understand.
But even if Ramos House wasn’t rooted in an idyllic garden, flanked by lemon trees and gurgling fountains, stationed next to a railway leading to, perhaps, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the food would make up for any lack of ambience.
This place is worth a trip across the country. Seriously. All of you East Coasters who have yet to come visit me in sunny California, here’s some more fodder. It has been a little over a year now since I moved, and I am finally feeling settled. Meaning, I have finally found some food outlets that rival, in their own way, Ding Ho noodles, Fisher’s soft pretzles, and Melograno’s mushroom pappardelle.
My most recent visitors, pictured here standing outside Pannikin on PCH, another favorite spot, shared my enthusiasm for Ramos House. And, before leaving the OC last week, they managed to so kindly buy me a copy of the Ramos House Cafe cookbook. Words cannot describe my excitement. While I haven’t tested the recipe below, I have a feeling it’s a winner.
1 liter Clamato
Vodka or Soju
1 T. prepared horseradish
2 T. wild hot sauce (not sure what “wild” means)
1 T. black pepper
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon, blanched (not sure why it must be blanched)
1 clove garlic
¼ cup pitted green olives, chopped
salt to taste
1. Place all ingredients except for the vodka in a blender or food processor and puree. Fill a glass with ice and add desired amount of vodka. Fill remainder of glass with Bloody Mary mix.
2. Garnish with Pickled Green Beans (recipe below), crab claw, herb salad and diced bell peppers.
Pickled Green Beans
2 lbs. green beans
5½ cups rice wine vinegar, unseasoned
½ small onion, sliced
¼ cup crushed, dried red chiles
1/8 cup coriander seeds
5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¾ cup water
4 T. salt
1 oz. whole black peppercorns
6 T. sugar
1. Bring all ingredients except for the green beans to a boil. Skim. Allow mixture to steep for at least 30 minutes, then strain.
2. Bring to a boil, blanch beans in brine (add to water for about 15 seconds, then remove), then cool on sheet trays in the refrigerator.
3. Strain pickling brine again. Cool. Return vegetables to cool in pickling liquid. Refrigerate for up to one month.
Scotch Quail Eggs
10 quail eggs
½ pound bulk sausage, raw
2 eggs, beaten
flour for dredging
bread crumbs for dredging
1. Place quail eggs in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Drain off hot water and cover with ice to stop the cooking process.
2. When cool, peel the shells off the eggs. Flatten sausage into 10 pieces. The pieces should be big enough to encase the egg, but not too thick.
3. Roll the eggs in flour then wrap the eggs with the flattened sausage. Bread the wrapped eggs by rolling them in flour, dipping them in raw beaten eggs and rolling in the bread crumbs.
4. Deep fry in 350ºF oil for approximately 4 minutes.
Murdock’s Magic Mustard
1 cup Coleman’s dry mustard
1 cup sugar
1 cup tarragon vinegar
3 large eggs
1. Whisk together all ingredients in a stainless steel mixing bowl. Set bowl on top of a pot of simmering water. Stirring constantly, cook mustard sauce until it thickens. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and chill immediately. Murdock’s magic mustard will keep in the refrigerator for up to one month.
I left Slow Food Nation feeling inspired yet overwhelmed by the many issues facing this country (and the world) regarding food production.
Perhaps what I thought was most interesting, however, was hearing the many speakers collectively criticize both Obama and McCain for failing to discuss reformation of our food system. The panelists noted that if politicians could pass laws that promote sustainable agriculture, they would solve (or begin to solve) many other problems along the way.
But the “slow food” or “local food” movement has always been driven by the people. Wendell Berry described the ongoing revolutions as a “leaderless movement.” Below I have summarized what I learned from the various Food For Thought sessions I attended.
Slow Food: ‘A Leaderless Movement’
When asked how our presidential candidates stand on the subject of food and agriculture, author Michael Pollan responded frankly: “They don’t stand.”
Among the many challenges the next president of the United States faces, three remain at the forefront: limiting our country’s dependence on foreign oil, reducing the high costs of health care, and fighting global warming. Senators Barack Obama and John McCain have proposed various solutions to these problems ranging from off-shore drilling to universal health coverage to cap-and-trade policies. Absent from any discussion thus far, however, has been a plan to reform our food system.
But food, noted Pollan at the Slow Food Nation event in San Francisco over Labor Day weekend, is the common link among all of these subjects. If we want to become energy independent, if we want to reduce health care costs, if we want to reverse climate change, we must reform our food system. Today it takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce one calorie of food energy; today an abundance of cheap, nutrient-deficient food has caused a national obesity epidemic; today 25 to 30 percent of global warming is caused by industrial agriculture. Food production, energy, health and the environment are indisputably connected.
The many activists, including authors, chefs and farmers, speaking at Slow Food Nation criticized Obama and McCain equally for failing to recognize the far-reaching effects of our food system. Pollan acknowledged that elected officials have always had a political interest in keeping food cheap.
Ironically, cheap food — created largely by a system of subsidy payments to corn and soybean farmers, a dated policy the new farm bill continues to allow — is the chief cause of our dependence on foreign oil, elevated healthcare costs and increasing global warming, the very problems our politicians aim to solve.
If keeping food cheap is an axiom politicians continue to heed, then the push for sustainable agriculture, it seems, will continue to be, as described by Wendell Berry, “a leaderless movement.” Berry, a farmer and author, has been a principal thinker influencing the Slow Food movement in this country.
But if Slow Food International is any example, in spite of the absence of political leadership, agricultural reformation has gathered momentum. What began in 1986 as a demonstration in Rome to protest the building of a McDonalds near the steps of the Piazza di Spagna has grown into a worldwide movement with over 85,000 members in 132 countries. Slow Food Nation drew over 60,000 supporters to San Francisco over Labor Day weekend. More and more Americans are shopping at farmers’ markets, participating in CSAs (community supported agriculture) and advocating fair trade and sustainable farming practices. A revolution is taking place thanks to the many people “voting with their forks,” as Michael Pollan says.
While Wendell Berry confessed to having given up on the political system in 1990, today he has faith in a “growing cooperative spirit” and believes that “if the right thing has a loud enough voice, [politicians] will do the right thing because they have to.”
Alice Waters, who dreams of installing a victory garden on the White House front lawn, said, “We need to feed the politicians.” Waters recounted filling the lunch boxes of Obama’s campaign staff with the juiciest peaches and plums, food she claims “awakens the senses.” If political leaders could only taste this local, organically grown food, believes Waters, perhaps change will happen more quickly.
Time will tell if a political leader will find the gumption to make agricultural policy the forefront of a national discussion. But until a Slow Food chapter exists in central Iowa, the responsibility for driving an agricultural revolution will remain with the people. As author and activist Dr. Vandana Shiva said during the final panel discussion at Slow Food Nation, “Every one of us has to be the Rosa Parks of food.”
Vintage posters lining the walls of the bread stalls at Slow Food Nation’s Taste Pavillion:
Meeting Michael Pollan
I had waited in line for one hour with six books in hand, when I saw him stand up. He’s leaving, I thought. Michael Pollan is leaving. My heart sunk. I considered jumping out of line like a crazy woman to beg him to sign one more book before he left. An act of craziness, fortunately, was unnecessary.
Michael Pollan, who, next to Wendell Berry, was receiving little action at the book-signing table, had stepped out to meet the people in line. One by one, he greeted Slow Food devotees, engaged in small talk and signed books. When he reached me, I could hardly utter a word.
“Who should I make this out to?” he asked.
“Well, I’m Ali,” I said. “And, I love your books,” I blurted out.
“Well, Thanks Ali,” he replied.
And that was it. A 30-second conversation. My heart was racing. But I’m not going to lie — I’m pretty psyched to have my copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma signed by Michael Pollan. (See picture below. In case you cannot read his writing, he wrote: “For Ali, Vote With Your Fork.”) Click here to see more photos from Slow Food Nation including a blurry picture of Pollan from the event described above. What can I say, my hands were shaking.
Now, about the above-pictured corn burger. I recently finished an intro graphic design course at UCLA Extension. One of our projects was to create a teaser movie poster. Teasers are the posters released months before a film hits the studios — the ones that include little written information about the film (no credits, no photos from the screening, etc.). Often even the title is absent from the poster. I chose King Corn, a documentary released in 2007 about corn production in this country. Corn, the two college friends and movie protagonists learned, is ubiquitous in our food supply, from the burgers and breads we eat to the beer and soda we drink — an idea Michael Pollan explored in depth in the Omnivore’s Dilemma. (The corn burger is something I imagine starring in a Michael Pollan nightmare.) King Corn is very interesting and can be rented at Blockbuster or purchased from the movie’s Web site.
Two years ago, while visiting San Francisco for a wedding, Ben and I discovered the Primavera Mexican stand at the Saturday Ferry Building farmers’ market. I have not stopped dreaming about the guajillo-chile chilaquiles since. Yesterday, for breakfast, after waiting in line for 30 minutes, Ben and I savored this dish again, washing it all down with a watermelon-lime agua fresca. We didn’t eat again until dinner.
Anyway, I assure you this is not a comprehensive showing of everything we’ve been eating the past few days during our drive from L.A. to San Francisco. Two of the best meals — dinner at Burma Superstar last night with five friends and breakfast at Tartine this morning — in fact, have not been photo-documented at all. I am overwhelmed by all of the good food we are finding in San Francisco, including a home-cooked meal prepared by friends beginning with Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, starring a lentil and grape salad and ending with thinly sliced melon drizzled with freshly grated ginger. (So yummy!) The tea leaf salad (allegedly seasoned with one million spices) at the Burmese restaurant and everything we sampled this morning at Tartine — a frangipane croissant, a morning bun and a slice of ham quiche — also top the list of particularly memorable bites.
Red Snapper tacos and a red snapper sandwich at the Sea Shanty in Cayucos (located just north of San Luis Obispo).
Cocktails and a cheese plate at Nepenthe in Big Sur.
Last night at 10:30 p.m., Ben and I finally dined at Pizzeria Mozza, the Nancy Silverton-Mario Batali-Joseph Bastianich pizza joint in Hollywood.
To start, we shared one order of fried squash blossoms — one order of delicately battered, ricotta-filled, piping-hot blossoms. Unbelievably tasty. For pizzas, we ordered the Ipswich clam (clams, oregano, pecorino and Parmigiano) and the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella and basil.) These wood-fired pizzas, I hate to admit, rival Bar’s, my absolute favorite spot on earth to eat pizza. (I’ve never been to Italy.) Two Amy’s in northwest Washington D.C. is a close second. Pizzeria Mozza, if I lived closer and if I didn’t need to make a reservation a month in advance, would surely be third. I loved everything about this place.
Well, nearly everything. Last year, shortly after Pizzeria Mozza opened, NY Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni gave it rave reviews, lauding in particular the butterscotch budino. The Times even provided the recipe. Ben took one bite and put his spoon down, declaring it cloyingly sweet. I agreed and then polished off the rest. No seriously, this dessert does not deserve the hype it has received. The little rosemary-pine nut short bread cookies provided on the side would have been the perfect finale to this long-anticipated dinner.