King Corn Forlorn

In an effort to underail myself: I will extend myself to include a movie review (woohoo!).  I went on a documentary-downloading spree recently when I realized how sweet they actually are.  Maybe it’s my post-college “i want to learn about real world things” spree, but they are probably just totally cool.  In my younger life I became disillusioned by documentaries because I perceived them as being boring (ahem, winged migration), but now I am totally digging them along with non-fiction books.  In any case, I am playing catch-up watching all of my documentaries currently.  Excuse the sidenote, but I recently watched King Corn.

King Corn or Crown of the Cob

This entertaining doc takes on the American industry that surrounds, you guessed it: corn.  The story is told by two young men who buy 1 acre of land in Iowa to grow corn.  From tilling to planting to fertilizing to spraying to harvesting and selling, the documentary illuminates the realities of the American industrial agriculture industry.  If you are familiar with this subject matter, then the takehome messages probably aren’t revolutionary (aka everything mass produced derives from corn), but the storytelling and characters make this film worth-seeing.

Some thoughts this film nails home:

1) Government Subsidies are Backwards – in the 1970s the government subsidy system switched from trying to limit corn production and upholding the market price, to rewarding farmers for expanding and using all available land for corn production.  In the process the increased yield degraded land, relied on fertilizers and herbicides to grow, AND decreased the nutritional value of the product.  The government subsidy program gives $28 per acre of corn produced, without which the farmers would pull a loss for each acre harvested.  Hence farmers rely on the government subsidies to live and can only really compete if they are cultivating loads o’ corn.

2) Corn is in Everything – corn syrup is in most processed foods.  Corn-fed beef is in most cheap meat.  And it is not good for you.  Corn that specializes in high yield, which in this case means not so much a high yield plant as a high yield area (corn that can grow while packed close together), is a high starch, low protein crop.  AKA all simple sugars – not good for you.  The dangerous part is: this stuff is sweet (literally)!  Unfortunately it is quickly increasing the prevalence of diabetes and obesity across the country because our bodies are not built for these high levels of processed sugar.

3) Farmers Aren’t the Bad Guys – the biggest takehome: farmers aren’t trying to make our country an unhealthy place filled with highly processed foods.  They are only playing into a model that was put forth by our US government and they must do what it takes to make a living.  If that money is in growing thousands of acres of land, then that’s what they must do.  Obviously, there is always free choice involved, but when there is a demand for corn like we have in the US, if one farmer doesn’t do it, another will.  These principles extend to ranchers who own feedlots too.  Some don’t have the financial capability to break free of the established system of subsidies that support the growth of cheap food.  The only way to break this cycle in the long term is to a) change governmental policy at the highest level, or b) change the food that we buy on a regular basis and spread that change to the people around us.  Which one is more feasible?  I’ll let you decide.

Lets stop spending our money on health care expenses and put it towards getting better food on our plates.

Rejected Cartoons - the sustainable edition

In any case, didn’t mean to get all preachy there.  In summary: King Corn – good flick.  Entertaining, educational, extra barrel of laughs (the three E’s, what more could you ask for?)  Interesting fact: if you eat lots of things with corn, it will be traceable in your hair.  You are what you eat.  Pretty corny, huh?

Image 1: http://www.norcalblogs.com/sustainable/king-corn.jpg
Image 2: http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/cleanplatecharlie/kingcornisinyou.jpg

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Good Food Awards Blind Tasting Shout Out

Just posted a recap of last Sunday’s Good Food Awards Blind Tasting event at the The Hub SoMa.  Great space, great people, great food, great time!  Wanna holler at my Seedling Projects peops for being the coolest kids on the block and really fun to work with.

Here is the link: http://seedlingprojects.org/blog/goodfoodawardstasting/

This blog to be resurrected in due time.

Creamin’ it Rite

Been slackin big time, but I am back.  Tell you the truth, I have been busy smeeshing on home-made ice-cream sandwiches, in addition to things heating up with my day job (Good Food Awards shout out.  Woot woot!).  This post will detail my excitement about the former.

As promised, I laid down a first attempt at making It’s-It-like treats.  Needless to say, this resulted in failure, but delicious failure at that.  My basic rubric entailed:

1. oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
2. locally made ice cream
3. a delicious darker chocolate dip

Here is how the steps panned out:

1. I found a great recipe for on AllRecipes.com for Chewy Chocolate Chip cookies.  I chose the “chewy” because I have had experience with jawbreaker cookies emerging from the freezer before.  In any case.  The cookies were bomb!  Had a great chew with chocolate balancing oatmeal very nicely.  Cookies: check.

2. Here comes the fun part.  I wanted to source my ice cream from a local ice cream hot spot.  I have tried Mitchell’s before, and was deterred by its Noe Valley isolation and also the number calling for orders.  So I had to go with Bi-Rite Creamery. Bi-Rite is a locally-sourcing, sustainable grocery store with a green mind and warm heart.  The store sources from local farmers and gives them the credit they deserve.  Their website, as well as the store, gives amazing transparency to the food on the shelves and provides a palpable connection to the growers and producers.  If all grocery stores operated like Bi-Rite we would not be in the mess that we are in.  The care that goes into the products for sale is blatantly missing is most grocery stores across the country.  And that is a mountainous problem, which may take more a than a few mountaineers and a couple basecamps to summit.  But Bi-Rite and we the consumers (as Carlo Petrini of Slow Food says) are the co-producers.  We can decide what ends up on the shelves and what goes in our mouthes.

In any case Bi-Rite Creamery lives by the same ethos.  Sustainable, local, organic.  The ice-cream itself is made from Straus Family Creamery milk, cream and eggs.  Healthy cows, happy cows.  I got a double pint of vanilla.  The ice cream itself is light but SUPER flavorful and creamy.  Way good.  Unfortunately I couldn’t enjoy the whole container, because it was for official ice cream cookie sandwich business.

As for the spreading of the ice cream on the freshly baked cookies.  I softened the ice cream, spread it and closed the sandwich.  The picture makes my venture seem like a great success.  If I were smart I would have eaten the cookie cookie sandwich straight away.  But being greedy for It’s-Its, I placed the cookie ice cream cookie in the freezer in a small plastic bag.

Lookin' good so far...cookie cream cookie. Now for the magic trick!

RESULT: the order of contents mysteriously rearranged to be cookie cookie ice cream!  Oops!  I suppose the freezer was not cold enough to freeze the ice cream fast, so it all dripped out; then gravity made it into upside down icing on the bottom of the sandwich.  While it was a complete mess to eat and hold, it was still one of the best deserts I have ever eaten.

A great cold, chewy cookie with hard choc chips and deliciously light, yet creamy, vanilla ice cream.  I had to go to great efforts to control my intake.

3. Chocolate dip: aborted.  Next time.

Great adventure exploring local ice cream in fun ways!  I liked this treat so much I am committed to perfecting it and making non-fail sandwiches.  And hopefully my own ice cream soon.  Any recommendations on makers?  For 4 to 6 qts?

Fits It, Spits It, we all scream for It’s-It!

I know my sustainable food rating is probably dropping faster than Obamarama’s approval rating, but I just finished my first (ahem, box of) IT’S-IT.  As my good friend would say: woof.  A worthy snack.  Truly San Francisco since 1928, when George Whitney (brother of Eli) sold them down at Playland-at-the-Beach.  A good bunch of years later, they pump out 100 Thou per day.  That’s a lot of cookies, a lot of IT’S-IT.

Who ate all my It's-Its! Because I'm still hungry...

For those of you who don’t know (I was oblivious until my big bro brought some home and my IT’S-IT gorging commenced three days ago), this tasty treat consists of ice cream sandwiched by two oatmeal cookies and dipped in a thin layer of dark chocolate.  Whatever magic they put in these babies, they certainly spent their summer studying The Standard Book of Spells.  I hate to bring more processed poison (haha) into the blog, but it’s like the first time you bite into an Oreo or TimTam (an Australian treat that you must seek out when South of the Equator) – that “where have you been all my life feeling.”  Or maybe that was just me.

Available with vanilla, choc, mint and cappucino ice cream, these can be found in most grocery stores and corner stops in California and probably West of the Continental Divide.  While I am not at the point where I can investigate sustainable methods or supply chain, this is purely San Francisco and that is certainly added value in my book.  Buying local means supporting the people and community around you.  Like buying jam from your neighbor and see them use the money to expand their beautiful garden that you get to google (not dot com) at all day.  Support your neighbor and your community.

What I am most exited about, besides the IT’S-IT a day diet, is the fact that I could probably make this fairly successfully in a home kitchen with a 6 gallon hand-crank ice cream maker, a killer oatmeal cookie recipe and some premiere dipping chocolate.  That’s a future project.  Next up is figuring out how to buy them 6 to a package!

BTW…a fun It’s-It Factory Video: http://www.itsiticecream.com/media.cfm

Parfait Partay with INNA Jam and Skyhill Casa Delle Capre

And so the solo adventures of SF food begins.  To clarify, when I say SF I mean things that are local to/available in the Bay Area, but not necessarily produced in the city.  So Bay Area and surrounding areas are totally fair game.

My new favorite dessert is a yogurt parfait with strawberry jam mixed in.  My first love in the category was actually a Trader Joe’s Vanilla Yogurt (none of the non-fat stuff which are the first line of defense in TJ’s) and a strawberry jam from a local hobby jammer by the name of Katie. I scarf it like ice cream.  But this time I tried to take it slow to describe to you what it is that you could expect.

Today’s magic combo: Skyhill Casa Delle Capre Natural Plain Goat Milk Yogurt mixed with INNA Jam Seascape Strawberry Jam.  I bought both of these tasty treats from the Rainbow Grocery, at which I can’t wait to dive into the bulk foods section!

Sky Hill and INNA enjoying the view, while I enjoy them!

INNA Jam are Berkeley-located jammers who make fresh, seasonal jam with fruits and vegetables grown within the 100 mile Locavore radius.  Dafna Kory, owner of INNA Jam, started as a hobbyist making a spicy Jalapeno jam.  She now makes nine different jams which can be stacked to make pretty jam towers (see website).  All jars contain fruit from a single fruit source!  My favorite part about the jam (aside from the taste and the clever name) is the fact that you can see sliced strawberries pressed against the glass wall of the jar.  They are practically waving you over and saying “eat me, I’m jam!”.  This ain’t no seeded emulsion that you find in some mass-produced jams.  This strawberry jam proclaims an ethos to maximize the fruit flavor, with a little bit of pectin for jam stability and some organic sugar to augment natural flavor.  When you taste it (I have been eating it by the spoonful while writing!) it screams the freshest strawberries in the patch.  The way Dafna crafts her jams preserves and enhances the strawberry flavor in a way only possible in small batch hand-crafted jam.

Skyhill Casa Delle Capre Goat’s Milk Plain Yogurt (quite a mouthful, I’m just gonna switch back to the simplicity of Go-Gurt…just kidding) is produced by a family farm located in nearby Napa, CA.  The first thing I noticed is the pretty floppy-eared Emily (the farm’s first goat) illustrated on the front of the container.  Emily looks like a nice healthy goat (very stunning eyelashes, actually!) and I would love to drink her milk.  The illustration provides a nice reminder that this isn’t just anonymous milk from some overly-hormoned cow, but that these are hand-milked goats who pass their time during the day foraging in the pastures, playfully butting heads and running up and down small mounds of dirt.  Next time you see a goat give them a nice taste of one of your fingers.  They love to gnaw on fingers and they have no top row of teeth, so it makes for an exceedingly entertaining game.  Skyhill yogurt: friendly goats, skilled farmers, happy people.

On to the main course: the parfait!  In terms of mixing proportions, it really depends how much fruit you want in each bite.  Going light on the yogurt results in hidden strawberry surprises within a strong layering of yogurt taste.  Going heavier makes this a vibrant strawberry yogurt!  The taste of this parfait is out of this world.  Each bite begins with a solid base of plain yogurt, which is very smooth, but with a good heaviness, and a classic slightly sour plain yogurt taste.  That base-layer seeps down to the sides of your tongue and then ZING! the jam blasts you right in the middle.  It overpowers the mouth for a second and you widen your eyes in satisfaction, then the yogurt restabilizes.  Until the next bite!

Enjoy.

Best Advertising Ever

Sidenote: While biking to work today invented a new award for the day of 9/10/10.  So from now on the September 10th is AdvertWOW Day.  Keep your eyes open today for the best, most in your face, most hilarious advertising you see.  And don’t forget to celebrate next year and every year to come!

Best Advertising ever:

SF Party on Post St. – MONSTER inflatable pumpkin in the parking lane(/half of the left lane of traffic).  My guess is that Halloween is right around the corner and costumes are stocked, so unless you want to dress up as the frumpy pumpkin again, now would be a good time to get your mask and costume.  Advanced planning never hurts.  While you are there see if you can pick up a 6ft Monster Butler for me.

[I’m sorry if my partiality for inflatable objects influenced the outcome of this award.  But when you invest in an inflatable hot tub for your dorm room, it is hard not to be swayed slightly.]

 

This pumpkin is HUGE! Let me know if you find a bigger one and what it tastes like...

 

Local Food Heroes

Live from the Terroir Natural Wine Bar.  Free ticket my way compliments of Event Brite via Seedling Projects.  (My current part-time gig)  This was my intro to the SF local food crowd.  I’ll admit, a little hard to break in and meet people for me with no reliable company and many intimate private conversations.  Attempt number one: kind of a fail from a regular folk standpoint, but that meant that instead of standing around awkwardly with a glass of wine pretending to be interested in the wine bottles on the rack, I got to go talk to the featured producers!

As an important aside the event was a book signing for Georgia Pellegrini’s new book Food Heroes, which documents the stories of preserving many artisan food traditions.  Sounds like a great read but they were sold out and I have enough reading on my plate.  Further aside, my current read is Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food International.  It may soon become my bible.

Back to the food samples.  These, in fact, were akin to farmers’ market freebies, which are the joy of a Saturday summer morning stroll through the market: more peach and nectarine slices than you can possibly consume.  Luckily they serve them on toothpicks, otherwise there would be sticky, juicy fingers galore soiling all pants in sight.

At the event they featured many great Bay Area artisan producers and one grower, all for our tasting delight:

Fra’ Mani Salami : My first stop.  Paula, my go-to for someone to chat to throughout the night served up a mean Soppresatta sandwich on a slice of white baguette.  A smooth zing of humanely raised pork hit my tongue with specks of peppercorns beautifully littered throughout the slice.  Paula cuts the Soppresatta into paper-thin flexible slices that fold onto your tongue.  Hard to stop once you start.  The delicious fat and protein combo littered with pepper and clove draws you in and keeps your there.  Don’t tell anyone, but she served it to me wrapped around a Frog Hollow Farm peach slice (delicious.).  In slight contrast was the chorizo, which had a little bit more spice and was thicker cut, which made for a more meaty, hearty chew.  It bursts with flavor and spice with each chew.  Thank you Paula for accommodating my excessive yearning for samples.

Oren’s Kitchen :  Serving napkin-fulls of every spice combination on nuts that you can imagine. (Maybe not every, but some great ones!)  The products: wild rosemary almonds, cumin flavored cashews, smoked paprika pecans and coconut chili macadamia nuts.  Let your imaginations take your there.  Oren’s perfectly matches the spices to the nuts in this melange of nuttiness.  If you are bored of your run-of-the-mill unsalted almond or cashew, try a few of Oren’s blends to wet your palate with the wild, exotic and spicy flavor!

Four Barrel Coffee :  I admitted this in other places on the web tonight, but I do not drink coffee.  That doesn’t mean that I am sleeping 24/7, but it does mean that I am fairly stimulant free and have no palate for judging coffee.  (My first experience of coffee was tasting my grandma’s Folgers in 2nd grade.  No offense intended, but I didn’t try coffee again for about twelve years)  All I will say is that this direct-trade coffee roaster brewed something that I liked and would love to try again.  Maybe my coffee debacles come from low-quality product rather than faulty taste-buds, but props to Four Barrel to holding their own against sweets and meats in the darkest corner of the room.

CMB Sweets :  The self-proclaimed “best jam in the world”.  She boasted a trio of preserves.  Raspberry jam = classic natural goodness with maximum fruit for your buck (10:1, fruit:sugar).  Apricot jam = tastes of summer, a smooth juicy flavor with slightly chunky consistency.  Something butter = actually lost track of what the last flavor was.  It was a total change of pace; much more mild and subtle taste.  BIG shoutout to the CMB website, featuring funny-faced fruits for each different flavor.  I love the Kid Pix-esque design quality and would buy the jams just for that hilarity.  Boasts products at Whole Foods, Andronico’s and Sunday taste/selling at Village Market in the Ferry Building.  It’s hard to match the spirit and enthusiam of a jammer, but I tried.

Charles Chocolates :  The peanut butter inside the chocolate butterfly.  Way delicious.  Ultimate natural smoothness of peanut butter combined with chocolate.  Very addicting (I admit to eating five, but will not admit to eating another five).  Other favorite: Fall leaves imprinted on a flat chocolate covered caramel.  Nice, soft, but firm, caramel with a great chocolate combo.   An intense liqueur flavored truffle knocked me back a few steps but I forget the filling contents!

Clarine’ s Florentines :  Clarine is admittedly not an expert in many other culinary disciplines, but florentines she has perfected since she was a kid.  What is a florentine?  It is baked chopped almonds on top of a thin chocolate slab, expertly broken into edible smeeshable pieces [Footnote: add word ‘smeesh’ to loco sf dictionary; official definition: to smeesh (verb) = to eat carelessly and joyfully in excess quantities]  They are great nutty little treats, available in the SF at Bi-Rite, Rainbow and Cheese Plus, plus various other places listed on her website.

Pizza Politana :  The welcoming party were Joel Baeker and Naomi Crawford churning out pizzas in their 750 degree wood-fired trailer pizza oven.  Serving a thin crust pizza with Fra’ Mani Salami, fresh basil and mozzarella.  Great simple taste.  They are students of Alice Waters using delicious seasonal ingredients from local farmers.  A great light meal in a world of prepared products.

Frog Hollow Farm :  Great to have the farmer representation amongst so many artisan producers (not that farming isn’t a supreme art).  Frog Hollow served up juicy stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums, etc.) all night.  A juicy change of pace and a reminder that all of the products have ingredients grown by farmers which work hard every day to grow and harvest the best, nutritious produce possible.

On that note, all of the producers boasted all natural, humane, sustainable practices, supporting mostly family farms in the California (and necessarily beyond for chocolate and coffee).  Great to hear farmer information being passed on to consumers by the producers.  Great artisan producers need to be a relay of information about their suppliers, growers and distributors.  We can be on our way to creating a great, happy sustainable food network where roots of food are visible to the public.  I tried to become a more informed consumer by talking directly to producers.  If they are proud of what they do, they will go out of their way to talk to you.  Talk to your local, sustainable producers today and check out these locos!