Posts Tagged ‘Local food’

Is Junk Food Taking Over the World?

FoodBuzz Screen Shot

Sweet snacks on my FoodBuzz

As I return to the office after a long season of bidding, planning, preparing, serving and cleaning up after events, I renew my interest in blogging on a regular basis in order to connect with the food community at large. I logged back into FoodBuzz after a long hiatus, noting that my last post was something along the lines of “….too busy to even check in, much less blog and share…” dated somewhere south of last May. As I plowed through the 200+ messages from fellow “Foodies” on the site, I noticed an alarming trend. Recipe after recipe was for gooey, sweet, elaborate baked goods! Are the cookie makers, cake bakers, pie aficionados taking over the world? I searched in vain for a savory recipe, finally working my way down the list to someone’s mother’s wonton soup. Have the food bloggers of America and beyond run out of ideas for delicious foods that are not breakfast pastries, snacks or desserts? Or is something more sinister afoot? Could this be the hand of corporate America, gently guiding the thought processes of these bloggers and cooks by sponsoring bake-off’s, dessert recipe contests and the like? Is this the result of companies giving away sets of baking pans, stand mixers and convection ovens?

A friend of mine recently posted a recipe from CHOW for, of all things, a Thanksgiving Turkey Cake. The recipe calls for baking seasoned ground turkey in cake pans, which is then layered with stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pureed sweet potatoes, all “frosted” with more mashed potatoes and topped with toasted baby marshmallows. The entire dish has the appearance of an oversized layer cake with a strangely matte finish. Are we Americans so jaded that we have to turn even our holiday meals into something else?

Now I am all for the elevation of food and eating above the singular status of fuel for our bodies. The joys of sharing the table with family and friends are a big part of what I teach when instructing my cooking students or clients on reclaiming their culinary heritage. I do, however, find the trend toward obesity amongst my fellow foodies disturbing. In subscribing to various food-related news sources, I am bombarded with stories about new and exciting prepared foods, chock full of unpronounceable ingredients and dubious preservatives, all wrapped up in visually appealing packaging. As I prepare to attend the annual Fancy Food Show in San Francisco this January, I continue to be overwhelmed by the increasing number of these types of foods; all are laden with empty calories, but designed to entice volume consumption.

Today’s food scene has become a microcosm of our American economy. We are harangued daily to buy and consume, buy and consume; or face the next Great Depression. Most experts agree that in order to avoid obesity and the associated health risks, we must reduced our overall caloric intake, especially the engineered fats, carbohydrates and sugars that form the foundation of these prepared foods. Yet I see very few food bloggers or celebrity chefs touting the virtues of a perfect whole roast chicken, accompanied by a few artfully prepared seasonal vegetables. Where are the simple preparations that depend solely on the quality ingredients? The other night, my husband and I shared a single small T-bone steak, seared in a cast iron skillet, topped with caramelized sweet yellow onion and served with fresh steamed Yukon gold potatoes mashed with a little bit of truffle butter. The entire dinner took less than half an hour to prepare and cost less then $10 for the two of us, yet was as flavorful and satisfying as any expensive restaurant meal. The added value was that I knew exactly what we ate; a 4-6 ounce portion of lean protein, about ½ cup each of the potatoes and one large onion. The “additives” consisted of salt and pepper to taste, a tablespoon of truffle butter (ingredients: white truffle shavings and sweet butter) and a couple of tablespoons of whole milk. The meal featured simple ingredients, simple preparations; and was a whole lot healthier than the “convenient” prepackaged alternatives.

Our food community must take a more responsible, and albeit frugal view of what we promote. A life of consuming snacks and desserts, accompanied by the latest cocktail concoctions is certainly sexier, absolutely more exciting and promotes the illusion of economic and physical health through excess. A life of balanced, thoughtful consumption is much more mundane and ordinary. I personally promote eating and cooking with all of our senses, and perhaps we should add our common sense as well. I’d love to see my fellow food advocates debate the merits of extra-virgin olive oils, or explore innovative ways to serve locally produced meats and vegetables. The food community has enormous reach, via television, the internet and print media. Imagine what we could do if we use that influence to improve the foods that our fans and readers consume every day. It is not about the next contest we can run to drive a specific number of “clicks” to our websites. It is not about how many “likes” we can collect. It is not even about attracting advertising underwriters to our blogs or selling our concepts to cookbook publishers or the Food Network. It is about being endowed with the gift of influence, communicated by the written word and by images, to impact the health and well-being of those who look to us for guidance.

Post by Julia Conway on November 11th, 2010

Real Eats at Eat Real

BBQ Pig Truck

A fitting motto for the Eat Real Festival

Doing something out of the ordinary seemed like the thing to do this past Saturday.  Rather than spend the day running the usual round of errands, I packed up the car with a water bottle and a few snacks, and drove to Oakland to attend the second annual Eat Real Festival in Jack London Square.  Eat Real is the brainchild of my friend and colleague Anya Fernald.  After cutting her teeth on the inaugural Slow Food Nation, she decided to take good food to the streets, literally.  Eat Real brings a multitude of food trucks, artisan producers, restaurants, and food stands to the Oakland waterfront.  The festival itself is free.  It pays its way through sponsorships and sale of beverage tickets.  The food vendors are paid cash by the patrons, and nothing cost more than $6!  How can I lose?  I parked the car in the underground garage, stuffed my pockets with about $30 in cash, and ventured into the already busy street.

First stop was the event office, to trade in my VIP pass for a logo Mason jar and six drink tickets.  I received an invitation to attend a tour and coffee “cupping” at the popular Blue Bottle Coffee Company, a block and a half up the hill from the festival itself.  I had a few minutes to spare before the noon start time, so I wandered over to the “Wine Barn,” where my friends from Mendocino County were setting up.  The prior day’s tastings had been well received, and the group was gearing up for the second day of the three day festival.  With a promise to return later in the afternoon, I wandered off to the south end of the grounds in search of my favorite 4505 Chicharrones.  I found the stand, immediately recognizable by the fluttering paper pig cutouts, strung across the front of the service counter.  Three dollars would buy me a small bag of the delectable savory bits of fried pork skins, and I asked the girl for a bag.  “Only one” she asked.  “Two then” I replied, as no one could possibly eat just one.  Munching on a handful of the sweet, spicy and salty puffs, I wandered up the street to Blue Bottle.

It turns out that “cupping” is exactly what it sounds like.  Freshly roasted and ground coffee is carefully measured into a cup, and topped with steaming water, heated to a specific temperature.  The idea is to replicate the exact same brewing conditions for each batch of beans to be evaluated.  The first of three cups remains dry in order to allow you to inhale the aroma of the freshly ground coffee.  The second cup steeps for four minutes, and then a spoon is used to break the foam crust on the coffee and inhale the first whiffs of the aroma of the freshly brewed coffee.  After that, the foam is removed from the second and third cups, and the coffee is actually tasted with a clean spoon.  The coffee is tasted just like wine or olive oil, drawing air in across your palate with your mouth open in order to experience the flavor and the aroma combined.  Who knew that coffee could be as interesting as wine?  After the “cupping,” we were served another batch of the same coffee, brewed in a Chemex, for drinking this time.

Returning to the festival grounds, munching on the second bag of chicharrones, I realized I was finally hungry enough to brave the lines for some real food.  The smells were amazing.  Behind Chop Barn’s stall, a row of Caja China grills were set up with whole pigs roasting over the coals and flatbreads toasting on the grill above.  Unable to resist, I joined the line and handed over another $6.  In exchange, I received a warm flatbread, topped with both moist and crispy bits of pulled pork.  On the adjacent table, I had a choice of freshly grilled peach salsa, watermelon rind pickle, tomatillo salsa or chili oil with orange peels.  After dressing the pork with peaches and the orange chili oil, I took my first bite.  Belatedly remembering the camera, I found a concrete wall to sit on, and snapped a quick picture before polishing off the entire thing.

Pork from Chop Bar

Roast Pork Flatbread from Chop Bar

After surveying the long lines at the more popular taco trucks (traditional Mexican, Salvadorian, Philipino and Korean), I chose a piroshky stand.  Three beautiful young Russian women were heating and serving a choice of chicken, beef and onion, or vegetarian spinach and cheese.  Being the unabashed carnivore that I am, I opted for the traditional beef and onion.  The crust was golden and flaky, and the filling almost hot enough to burn my tongue.  Once again, the photograph was an afterthought, as I captured the image with a bite taken out of it.  Since I was close to the Wine Barn, I swung by and picked up a glass of Navarro gewürztraminer.  It was perfectly chilled, and the fruity spiciness was a perfect counterpoint to the rich piroshky.


Beef and Onion Piroshky

A friend was finished with her shift at the Meet the Winemaker booth, so we struck out to further peruse the food offerings.  Her goal was the Beer Shed, at the far south end of the festival grounds.  On the way, we passed by what had to be the largest paella pan I have seen to date.  The vendor had several staff members tending the over 8’ diameter pan, with its specially-constructed gas burners that allowed the paella to cook slowly and evenly.  The line wound around the booth and up the aisle, so we deferred, pushing on through the crowd.


Custom Paella Trailer

Our next stop was the falafel truck, where we purchased a “sampler” cone of two falafels, hot from the deep fryer served with tahini and a fresh herb puree.  Biting through the crisp crust, I encountered a creamy yet toothsome center, owing to the fact they were made with freshly cooked favas and chickpeas, rather than the ubiquitous ground mix.  They were vegetal and savory, and went perfectly with the microbrew beers procured when we finally reached the Beer Shed.


Falafel Cone

We couldn’t leave that end of the festival until we sampled the marvelous pork and beans served by Rancho Gordo New World Beans and Boccalone.  The huge and tender cannellini beans were stewed with nduja, a soft Calabrian pork sausage and favorite of local chefs who frequent Boccalone’s stand in San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Market.  The creaminess of the beans offset the spicy bite of the sausage, which literally melted into the sauce.  On the way back, I also sampled a sweet potato-Thai tea popsicle from Fat Face, and an incredible spoonful of pistachio sorbet.  Even though I was trying to avoid the multitude of sweets, I succumbed to temptation for these two, which were worth the splurge.

Returning to the main square, we entered Bocanova, the restaurant hosting the VIP reception and cocktail hour.  More delectable goodies awaited us, along with a great selection of our favorite Mendocino County wines.  I was able to sample a variety of empanadas, meatball sliders, olive-oil confit pork on a crostini, and incredible deep-fried Japanese mini peppers.  They literally burst in your mouth, with a balance of heat from the pepper and heat from the frying, with a slightly salty finish.  I couldn’t resist popping several more into my mouth, even when warned that eventually, I would encounter a spicy one.  When I finally rolled down the stairs of the parking garage to the car, I was surprised that I could even fasten the seatbelt.  I was stuffed, and yet, had not even begun to taste everything available at the festival.  Even if I had attended all three days, I doubt I could have tried all the dishes.  Some of what I missed, I circled for next year; artisan dim sum, Philippine Sisig tacos, lobster rolls, and a miscellany of dessert items.



Mendocino Wines

Our favorite Mendocino Wines

In retrospect, examining whether this flavorful mélange of food offerings served to encourage patrons to “eat real” is the point around which the entire concept revolves.  Truthfully, many of the food cultures represented support a tradition of artisan or hand-made foods.  In addition, these traditions are not always well known to the average American.  By broadening the patrons’ horizons a bit, new possibilities are explored.  In reality, it takes a truly adventurous home cook to attempt to replicate some of these dishes.  However, food trucks and stalls bring variety and breadth to the urban eating experience, and offer real alternatives to American fast food.  Here in Mendocino County, where even Mexican taco trucks are not widespread, it presents somewhat of an insurmountable challenge.  My departure was somewhat bittersweet, knowing that if I wanted to experience these dishes again, I would either need to duplicate the recipes at home, or return on a regular basis to the San Francisco Bay area to stalk the food trucks.  I was particularly impressed by the demographic diversity of the attendees, and the presence of so many young families.  This next generation is the foundation of fundamental change in our food system, and will become the evangelists that carry the message beyond the urban landscape.

Post by Julia Conway on September 3rd, 2010