Saturday, July 24, 2010

MANY THINGS FOOD RELATED

This weekend I took my show on the road and did my first real interview for my media class.  Meeting up with my co-worker and his wife out at the Countryside Conservency Farm Market (learn more about the market here) at Howe Meadow we had a discussion about a new topic for me - Slow Food.

Although the concept of Slow Food is not new to me, the idea that there is an actual movement towards this was new.  As Nicole described, Slow Food is a response to our society's obsession with fast food and it's tendencies to make us unaware of what we're actually putting into our bodies.  It pushes us to slow down, to learn more about our food, where it comes from and ultimately to find more enjoyment out of our meals, both nutritionally and socially. 

By finding out more about where our food comes from and how it's processed before we buy it, we educate ourselves about things that we take for granted every day.  Those of us born after 1960 or so have lost touch with these things.  Small farms have given way to large agricultural businesses whose main concern is the bottom line, not necessarily our health.  In our quest to feed the world's hungry, the US took the lead in producing massive quantities of wheat and corn to feed hungry people in countries we've never heard of.  That quest led small farmers to give way to big combines that could reach those international consumers efficiently. 

Meanwhile back home, we began demanding more seasonal foods on a year round basis and as shipping became more efficient, we imported foods from all over the world allowing us to eat fresh tomatoes and asparagus year round. 

At right - summer days enjoying our
family version of Slow Food - picnicing
at a campground with Grandma and Grandpa, 1961.
Then came the mass movement to eating on the go - families going 6 different directions with no time to bond over a home cooked meal, no more time to prepare that meal by the newly employed Mothers who were now busy choosing careers over staying at home - home economics no longer taught in schools since cooking has become passe.  We turn around and find that there's no one in our homes that can fix us a meal because we either don't have the time or the know-how. 

Suddenly food choices burst at the seams - fast food burgers, pizza joints on every block, deep fried foods available at drive-thru's and gas stations doubling as dinner take out's serving up hot dogs and slushies.  Frozen dinners evolve from the original Swenson TV dinner to frozen grilled cheese sandwiches that heat up in the microwave.  We got used to eating on the run, literally.  Pretty soon it's surprising that families ever share a meal together at all.  Where did our dinner table conversation go to?  How do the kids learn to cook if no one is doing it at home?  Where do they learn table manners from if we don't even give kids anything but finger foods until they're in junior high school?  And more importantly - what is actually IN that food and why is it making us so fat and unhealthy? 

WHERE DID THAT FOOD COME FROM?
Over the past decade or so we've begun to realize that things like chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not good for us.  We've also become aware of how our food is made - how the animals are housed and slaughtered in order to provide our daily requirement of meat - how vegetables are processed within an inch of their original nutritional value.  Read the back on any food container and learn a whole new language, finally understanding that our food is more a product of science laboratories rather than kichens.

In what may feel like a throwback to the 1950's, we're slowly coming around to asking about where our food comes from again.  Now we have an urge to meet the people who are growing and producing our food and we're finding some pretty eye-opening things.  By now, if you're paying attention at all you've heard about genetic altering, growth hormones, pesticides, chemically created foods and the generally deplorable treatment of our farm animals.  Farmer John has given way to Farmer Conglomerate. Our food moves hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of miles before we pluck it off the grocery shelf.  We've begun to believe that hot house tomatoes taste good and it's ok to eat chickens who've been raised to become so fat they cannot walk even if they had the space or opportunity to do so. 

WHAT ARE THESE THINGS?
In response to many of these issues, along comes some new food movements.  We begin to hear terms like 'organic' agriculture, 'sustainable' farming, 'land conservancy', 'locavore', vegetarian and vegan eating, and 'slow food'.  Along with the economic downturn, we're now trying to catch up with our Grandparents by learning about things we weren't taught at home or school as kids - how to cook a full meal at home for our families - how to grocery shop - and how to do these things economically and with our family's health in mind.  We're taking a new approach to buying our foods by shopping at farm markets rather than big box groceries, looking for meat that is carved from animals that are free-ranging and grass fed, and vegetables free of pesticides and other chemicals.  And not just at home, but when we eat out at restaurants where many chefs are embracing these same ideas and bringing them to the comunal table.

As I understand Slow Food, we should be learning to shop inquisitively, cook with purpose and enthusiasm, and share that food with family and friends over conversation and laughter.  Sharing meals should make us healthy in body and spirit and do it with an eye on our environment. 

During my research into foods in the local area for my media class I will be looking into all of these ideas and offering up thoughts, ideas, hints and recipes to make that journey educational and fun for anyone reading.  Frankly, I am finding a lot of people with passion for the topics and am looking forward to my journey.  Come along with me, offer up ideas or just read as I go. 

HOT SUMMER NIGHT SIMPLE MEAL
At the Countryside Conservancy Market on Saturday I found some eggs from Brunty Farm, a local organic chicken farm.  I tried to get in a few questions at the booth but they were so packed I couldn't get a word in edgewise.  Obviously they are very popular and a visit to them for an article will be nearly mandatory.  My pack of eggs ran to all sizes and colors, which is a part of the charm of buying from vendors like Brunty.

At another booth I tried some organicly produced cheese from Meadow Maid.  They had several flavors but I especially liked the tomato, basil and pine nut variety and brought a block home with me.  With a final stop on my way home at Kreigers, I picked up an all natural Sweet Apple Chicken Sausage that sounded like it would be terrific grilled.  Finally, Sunday morning I managed to harvest some of those small, sweet, brightly colored tomatoes from our garden.  So tonight I brought all of these together for a super-simple hot weather dinner. 

EASY CHEESE OMELET WITH SAUSAGE AND TOMATO GARNISH

Omelets are as simple as eggs and seasonings and yet can be so complicated that entire cooking shows have been dedicated to the turning out of the perfect one.  They come flat and pale yellow or fluffy and golden brown, filled with a cornucopia of vegetables or simple with no additions at all.  My personal preference is for a fluffy, golden two-egg version sprinkled with a few herbs plucked from the garden and simply filled with cheese and maybe some finely diced ham.  Tonight I used the organic eggs and cheese from the farm market.  A link of that maple-tinged apple chicken sausage baked to go with it and a few of those pretty little tomatoes cut along-side and I had the perfect after-work meal.

There's no real recipe here other than two eggs, 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, sprinkle of salt and papper all whisked up well.  The perfect omelet is more about technique in the pan than what goes inside.  A non-stick, 6-inch skillet over medium high heat and a soft spatula to churn the eggs with are keys to the process.  Simple additions allow the taste of good eggs to shine through, especially wonderful for good, fresh, organic eggs. 

The process:

Melt small pat of butter in the skillet and pour in the eggs.  Allow to set softly, much like making scrambled eggs only allowing a layer of eggs to remain covering the entire cooking surface.  I like to shake my pan (pretend there's popcorn in the pan instead of eggs) to keep the eggs on the fluffy side and to keep them from sticking to the pan.

Once it's mostly set, add the cheese or other additions.  Don't go overboard with the filling - the simpler the better unless you're making those gigundo omelets from a fancy diner somewhere.  To me, those are more about the filling than the eggs and for me, it's all about that fresh, organic egg.









When chese is beginning to melt and eggs have begun to turn golden on the bottom, use the spatula to fold the third of eggs closest to the handle over the middle third of the eggs.  This allows you to turn the omelet out onto the plate smoothly.








Tilt the pan over the plate and turn until the omelet turns out.  Garnish as desired.  Enjoy!

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