Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Afterthought #32 - Wait! Wait!

Back in April, I gushed about how, as a devoted fan of National Public Radio (NPR), I had toured NPR national headquarters in Washington, DC.  I also admitted that I often listen to podcasts of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me (WWDTM) on my walks, laughing out loud as host Peter Sagal quizzes a team of comedians about the week’s “news.”

So.  My husband wasn’t surprised when I suggested for our anniversary that we buy tickets to be in the audience when WWDTM came to Seattle’s Paramount Theater. We laughed together as panelists Maz Jobrani, Paula Poundstone and Luke Burbank joked their way through some of the week’s headlines. Their confusion about the United Kingdom is especially funny.

We also cheered as native Washingtonian and travel guru Rick Steves played “Not My Job.”  I’ve long appreciated Rick’s approach to travel as a way to broaden our perspectives and promote understanding of our world.  That value came through in Rick’s lighthearted interview with Peter, along with his advocacy for drug reform.  When I visited Rick’s website, I also learned about how his faith influences his activism, particularly related to homelessness.

You can listen to the show that aired Sept. 20.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget to contribute to your local affiliate of this listener-supported broadcasting organization.  It will make you smile.

 “Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning's worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, comments overheard, maybe even bumper stickers.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Eating Real*

*Warning to non-meat eaters:  this post includes stories and images about beef, chicken, and lamb.  Dark chocolate and salt appear, too.

A school bus-yellow forklift hummed through the crowd at last Saturday’s Eat Real Fest at Jack London Square in Oakland, CA. People veered to the left or right, like an opening stage curtain.

“Stand back, folks,” called two guys, one on each side of half of the carcass of a butchered cow swinging from an S-hook on the forklift’s overhead bar. Bystanders’ mouths dropped open as they reached for their phones, snapped photos, and followed the procession to a butchering demonstration at one of the Festival’s stages.  Sweat trickled down my back in the afternoon heat as I joined the throng.

As the carcass coursed through the foodie crowd, comments such as “Wow, beautiful!” outnumbered the few, “Eww, gross!” reactions. Four teams of award-winning butchers  awaited the arrival of the half of beef at the festival’s makeshift butcher shop.  Fifty or so festival-goers perched on hay bales as Eat Real Festival founder Anya Fernald gave some background on this event, now in its sixth year.

Eat Real, a three-day festival of “food-centric fun and epicurious education,” brings together seventy-plus Bay area food-makers to focus on food craft, street food, artisan beers, local wines, and food choices that feature sustainable, local ingredients. There’s no admission fee for the almost 200,000 people who attend the festival, and vendors charge no more than $8 for the foods they serve (many items cost $5 or less, and free samples were abundant). The festival was founded by a group of people with a social change agenda to promote delicious, convenient, affordable, and sustainable food.  In addition, 100% of the festival’s profits go to the Food Craft Institute (FCI), a non-profit educational institution, also started by Anya. FCI combines classroom and hands-on teaching of traditional food-making techniques that date back centuries, alongside contemporary entrepreneurship, to create viable food-related businesses.

I first learned about the festival from my daughter, who works for Anya at her other food venture, Belcampo, a farm-to-fork organic meat production company (read about our visit to the farm in my August 25 post, "Vacation Time").  Belcampo provided the grass-fed beef for the Eat Real butchery demonstration, and more than one of the butchers praised the meat’s quality and its high level of marbling (those bits of fat that add so much to the flavor).  

I’m an enthusiastic omnivore, and I’ve learned a lot in recent years about the downside of the U.S. food industry as well as efforts to improve it, so I was delighted to attend this celebration of good food. 

But, the festival isn’t all about meat  (though there was plenty of that, including lamb gyros and grilled chicken). 

The first stop on my tour among the food trucks and tents was at Sweet Bar Bakery. Who could pass up S’mores on home-made graham crackers with dark chocolate ganache, surrounded by marshmallow crème (carmelized before my eyes with a mini-blow torch)?

And there were fresh vegetable juices by the Beet Generation Juice Co.,

organic pickles,

and wood-fired Margherita pizza.

Cooking demonstrations broke up the eating, and I picked up some tips about making soup from scratch (good stock and fresh veggies are key) and Indian curries.

Chef Preeti Mistry of Juhu Beach Club advised roasting spices that may have been languishing on the spice rack to bring out their flavors; she also whipped up a mouth-tingling curry of chicken thighs, kale, onion, and jasmine rice (more free samples).

I couldn’t resist bringing home a few treats such as a unique finishing salt created by Omnivore Salt

(visit the company’s website for a charming food story about owner Angelo Carro and the recipe he learned from his grandmother during his boyhood in Sicily). I bought a small pack of the salt and was happy, though skeptical, when the vender (photo) told me the company recently shipped some packages to Lopez Island. Sure enough, earlier this week when I went to Blossom Grocery, Omnivore Salt was on the shelf. 

Blossom co-owner, Brian Kvistad, confirmed the story I’d heard at Eat Real that the company persevered through shipping challenges to get their product to our community’s small natural foods store.

Wondering what happened at the butchering demonstration? In the afternoon sun, the butchers wielded knives and hand saws (“cross-fit with half a beef,” Anya said), pausing occasionally to wipe sweat from their foreheads and to slide knife blades on the sharpening rods they all wore in the belts around their waists.  Anya’s questions about the characteristics of the various cuts led the butchers to explain flavors and cooking techniques, the kind of consumer education they all provide in their respective butcher shops.  And for the Eat Real crowd,  a few lessons in how using the whole animal adds to the viability of organic meat production.

Over the course of an hour, that half beef became roasts, steaks, ribs, bone marrow, and flank steak.  

Doesn’t get much more real than that.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Community-Supported Grape Harvest

Photo by Sue Roundy

The sun warmed my back as the thermometer inched toward                   eighty last Saturday morning when I joined in at the harvest of Siegerrebe grapes at Lopez Island Vineyards.  I’ve been part of the crew many times over the past fifteen years or so, but this time I was especially noticing how this vineyard is part of our island’s local food story.  It’s among the twenty-five farms involved in BOUNTY - Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, a project of the Lopez Community Land Trust (LCLT).  Read more about BOUNTY in my July post.

BOUNTY project manager Sue Roundy,  LCLT Assistant Director Rhea Miller, and BOUNTY participants Bruce Dunlop and Debbie Young of Lopez Island Farm, along with a couple dozen other folks, were on hand for the LIV harvest, too. Conversations swirled among the vines as locals and visitors clipped the salmon-colored clusters. Vitrologist (grape-grower), enologist (winemaker), and former LCLT board member, Brent Charnley, has been growing this German-bred varietal on Lopez since 1987. That’s when he and his partner, Maggie Nilan, collected cedar posts off the beach for stakes and sowed three acres of plants they had rooted and grown themselves.  “The only purchase we made was a small John Deere tractor and implements,”  Brent explains.

Bounty is the right word to apply to this year’s LIV harvest.  Brent went so far as to call it “historic,” with a record-breaking yield of 1000 – 1500 pounds of grapes per block (five rows), almost twice the usual production. Brent attributes the abundance to the maturity of the vines (they’re a couple years older than the LCLT!) and the warm summer that stayed dry long enough for the grapes to ripen to perfection.

It’s likely that Brent’s choice of land and farming practices has something to do with this year’s bounty, too. All those years ago, Brent recognized that the sparse and rocky soil would help reduce vine vigor and thus improve the fruit quality. The site’s southwest exposure and slope provides good air and water drainage. Perhaps most important is that the fields had been farmed without pesticides since they were first cleared over a hundred years earlier. Brent continues to follow pesticide-free farming and LIV is one of only four certified organic vineyards in the State.

The BOUNTY subtitle—Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community—also was in full evidence that day at the vineyard. Ever since the first planting, through the vineyard’s growth to six acres, Brent and Maggie have relied on the help of the Lopez community (and beyond) to bring in the grapes each fall.  A long list of visitors and locals looks forward to e-mails notifying them of the harvest dates.
Spending a few hours in the vineyard was a treat. Voices danced among the vines as people philosophized and clipped, commented on the state of the world and clipped, and caught up about work and families - and clipped. Mid-morning, Brent urged everyone to break for water or coffee, fruit, nuts, and home-baked zucchini bread.  Soon, everyone gathered clippers and buckets and returned to the vineyard, adding more grapes to the bins at the end of the rows.

Just before one o’clock, Maggie and Rhea filled a long table with spanakopita, green salad, roasted beets, and dolmas (made with Siegerrebe grape leaves).  Brent called everyone in from the vineyards, and as we clasped hands, he expressed thanks for the bounty of fruit, food, friendship, and good work.

It’s no surprise that lunch included wine, and this year, there was an added bonus. Brent set up a vertical tasting  (different vintages of the same wine type from the same winery) of LIV Siegerrebe, starting with a bottle from 2006. 

We noted some of the variations from one year to the next, but each vintage’s off-dry finish and flavor notes of grapefruit, litchi fruit, flowers, and spice complemented the harvest lunch.  When we polished off those bottles (well, there were quite a few thirsty pickers), Brent poured Dry Rosé and Sangiovese, just right with the apple crisp dessert.

(Tracey Cottingham photo)

“Growing grapes is an ancient human task,” Brent says.  
“Weather ultimately determines the size of harvest,
 but the labor of human hands can help nudge this event 
 in the right direction.”

Because of the high volume of grapes, Brent put out a call for volunteers the following two days, too; more folks appeared, clippers in hand. 

Our connection to our community is part of who Lopez Island Vineyards is,” Brent said in his e-mail invitation. “Your smiling faces and best wishes mean a lot to us.  The wine is looking like a real winner!”

Brent’s smiling face that day was a real winner, too.