Urbana cooks up seasonal pasta with some young sous chefs

“It’s important to any good chef to use what’s grown nearby. It’s fresher and it tastes better,” Chef Ethan McKee explained to Ms. Burkett’s 3rd grade class as the group stood at the entrance to the school garden at Francis Stevens Elementary, with me, their FoodPrints* teacher, nodding enthusiastically and passing out harvest scissors. “That’s why today we’re going to use what’s growing in your garden to fill the raviolis and make the sauce for the fettuccine noodles. It’s early spring, so we have spinach and collards and fresh herbs to work with. If we were making pasta at my restaurant, Urbana, in the summertime, we’d be using lots of tomatoes. But it’s too cold for tomatoes to be growing now. Speaking of cold weather, what do you think we could use in the fall? Can anyone think of a fall vegetable?”

“Pumpkin?” a shy 3rd grader offered.

“Yes!” Urbana’s executive chef beamed, “It’s one of our most popular ravioli fillings in the fall. Nice work. Okay, now let’s get harvesting some spinach for our spring pasta!”

 

Twenty minutes later,  we were back in the FoodPrints teaching kitchen giving our hands a good scrub with soap and water before student groups dove hands first into the flour set up at the cooking stations around the room. Over the next two hours, the Snail of Approval-winning chef talked us through separating eggs, making the dough and then rolling it through a series of settings on the pasta machines he’d brought along, then cutting and filling our fresh pasta.

We were a good team: I washed and minced our garden harvest and cooked things up with lots of garlic for the ravioli filling (it was a FoodPrints class after all, and we always use lots of garlic) and the sauce while Chef Ethan moved about the room offering guidance and suggestions, pointing out how nice and smooth one group’s dough had become, complimenting another group on their patience as different students rolled it through the machine, smiling reassuringly at our parent volunteers who had never made noodles from scratch before. As Ethan dished up our freshly cooked up pasta, ours mouths all began to water, and I marveled at this wonderful 3rd year of partnership between a public elementary school, a nearby restaurant, and a local nonprofit.

Seriously, though, third graders making pasta from a pile of flour and eggs? How did it all come out?? 

Delicious!

 

*FoodPrints is the education program of FreshFarm, another DC-area Snail of Approval winner! If you’re interested in volunteering with FoodPrints classes at one of the program’s 13 DCPS partner schools, contact FreshFarm.

Bountiful Gardening

It may still feel like winter, but gardeners in the region have our sights set on springtime….

Last weekend, many hundreds of DC-area gardeners and food activists converged on Wilson High School in Tenleytown for Rooting DC — a free, day-long conference that has been going since 2008. SFDC has been a part of this event for a number of years, with board members hosting an info table and hands-on workshops on seed saving and pickling.

At this year’s RDC, board members Mark Haskell and Ibti Vincent led a group of nearly 50 beginning gardeners through the process of planning an urban, small space garden plot. The group shared ideas and anecdotes about selecting plants and configuring small spaces to maximize food production. From basic considerations about sunlight needs to more advanced planning for succession planting and interplanting for low-input, high-yield production, we looked at ways to keep our gardens growing through all four seasons. We offered suggestions to cut down on labor and costs, and to increase the likelihood of success in the garden for beginners: using some perennials and self-seeding varieties, limiting the number of crops during times we tend to be out of the area (deep winter, summer vacation), companion planting to deter pests without chemicals, and finding friends and neighbors to help with the garden. (Who are we kidding, they are tricks useful for experienced gardeners, too.) It was a lot of fun, and we’re looking forward to using some of these strategies with our school garden partners in the coming year.

Interested in volunteering at a garden-based SFDC event and flexing your (experienced or aspiring) gardening muscles after a long winter? Sign up for our free SFDC monthly e-newsletter to keep up with events we’re planning.

Happy (almost) springtime, DC gardeners!

Cultivating Coffee Appreciation with Vigilante Coffee

In addition to being pioneers of specialty coffee in the Washington, DC area, Snail of Approval winner Vigilante Coffee is also dedicated to increasing the coffee knowledge of both retailers and consumers.  Working from the perspective that coffee should never be intimidating, Vigilante has developed a special “Lab Series” designed to present the world’s most interesting coffees in an intimate, engaging, and comfortable environment.

During a special Slow Food DC Lab Series on July 23, local Slow Foodies learned all about Panamanian Gesha coffee from Ninety Plus Coffee, a single-origin, single-variety grower and producer in both Panama and Ethiopia. In addition to the rarity of this particular varietal, the Gesha coffee’s uniqueness also comes from the special natural processing methods Ninety Plus uses to emphasize and preserve the bean’s flavor and aroma characteristics.

Along with producing award-winning coffees, Ninety Plus is known for their ecological and sustainable cultivation methods, principles Vigilante Coffee also embodies.

Owner and founder Chris Vigilante explained during the event that he personally visits each and every producer the company buys from and when possible, imports beans directly from the source, allowing growers to recoup a higher percentage of profits.  This hands-on approach is also an avenue for encouraging and sharing sustainable business practices, enabling Vigilante to offer harvest incentives for producing higher quality beans.

Director of Retail and Marketing Austin Redington demonstrated four different ways to brew these special Gesha coffee beans, including cold brew, espresso, aeropress, and siphon.  Each method highlighted different aspects of the coffee’s unique flavor profile that participants could compare and contrast.

Lab Series participants were fortunate enough to take home their very own sample of Gesha, roasted during the class by Vigilante’s expert roaster Franklin Ventura.  Each coffee that Vigilante offers is specially roasted on site at their Hyattsville location, according to what level of roast will showcase the best of that bean’s flavor and aroma profile.

This special Lab Series was a great way to learn why Vigilante is known for their award-winning, single origin coffee and there’s much more to learn!

Vigilante Coffee offers classes at their Hyattsville location several times a week that are open to both wholesale partners and the general public.  Classes cover everything from different brew methods to coffee cupping to latte art basic.  Find out more on their website at:  http://vigilantecoffee.com/classes/.

Growing hyperlocal ice cream flavors with Cultivate the City

On August 16, Slow Food DC and Snail of Approval winning Cultivate the City held an ice cream making demonstration in a slightly unusual location: the rooftop of a hardware store on Bladensburg Avenue! This particular rooftop has been transformed into the home base for an urban garden center and CSA that is changing how we think about growing food in dense urban areas.

Cultivate the City is the work of many people in the community, with Niraj Ray running the show and Dan Weisshaar managing the farm. Their focus is on maximizing growing potential by implementing vertical gardens and building a steadfast volunteer force rooted in existing communities. Cultivate now has 25 gardens throughout the city, a full-fledged CSA program for both produce and seedlings, and they’re always trying out new things including growing plants from the Slow Food Ark of Taste catalog.

For our H Street Farm rooftop garden tour and frozen treat session, Chef/Farmer Dan introduced us to lemon basil and melon sorbet and chocolate mint ice cream featuring herbs from their garden, of course. The delicious cantaloupe melon had been a volunteer that sprouted in the compost pile from last season! We also taste-tested papaloquelite (a common Mexican culinary herb that tastes a little like cilantro) and bitter melon (a fascinating and unusual plant that’s also full of nutritional value) along the way.

Also on the rooftop were three greenhouses and an aquaponics operation: a closed loop growing system featuring basil, tomatoes, and tilapia sharing the circulated water. (Fish fry later this fall, btw.) Niraj emphasized that some people have misconceptions about hydroponics being less flavorful than soil-grown, but this is because the hydroponic tomatoes we usually have access to have been shipped great distances. Produce that is picked at peak when fully ripe and fresh — including hydroponically grown veggies and herbs — and served immediately, locally, has absolutely the best flavor!

One of the major goals Cultivate aims for is to help people understand farming, gardening, and cooking as viable occupations.  The H Street Farm aggregates produce from their 25 gardens across the city and distributes it to CSA clients, local restaurants, and locals who volunteer with them. The business also focus on working with the communities around their gardens to help locals learn to grow their own food, offering services such as a home consultation for just $100 or the option to work at the farm for discounted CSA shares and event passes.

The ice cream was tasty, the garden beautiful, and Cultivate the City is truly Good, Clean and Fair! Check out Cultivate’s upcoming volunteer opportunities and events here.

Preserved strawberries and ground cherries!

Slow Food Nations: Going Beyond the Fork

The concept of identity is a complex one that brings up some deep questions when we consider its meaning. What is the identity of the Slow Food movement, for example? What is my identity as a food and farm advocate, and how do other “slow foodies” identify themselves? These questions have been on my mind over the last month, since I attended Slow Food Nations in Denver, CO July 14-16.

Carlo Petrini, the founder of the slow food movement, opened Slow Food Nations with this proclamation: “We don’t want food that doesn’t have an identity.” When we think about food and identity we often think about having an understanding of where our food comes from, who produces it, and under what circumstances it came to be on our plates. One way we could also consider this concept, however, is through our own identities as eaters, growers, and advocates of good, clean, fair food.

I was fortunate to be invited to speak to Slow Food Nations Delegates as part of a panel discussion on Federal Food and Farm Policy, which covered an array of issues including the Farm Bill, SNAP, Child Nutrition, and fisheries. The goal of the workshop was not only to discuss public policy’s role in food and agriculture, but also to give attendees strategies on how they could have a positive impact. My fellow panelists inspired me – and no doubt many others in the room – with their stories, their advice, and their passion for a good, clean, and fair food and farm system.

One thing I found surprising, however, was that our panel was one of the few Delegate workshops that dealt directly with public policy. Slow Food today is perhaps most closely associated with the act of eating, but it started as an act of advocacy. Carlo Petrini didn’t just fight against the expansion of the fast food empire in Italy by patronizing and celebrating chefs and restaurants who were doing things right; he launched a grassroots campaign to protect good food and farms that eventually went global. Petrini has been politically active his entire life, and I have no doubt he understands the role that governments and policy have to play in shaping our food and farm system – but do we as Slow Food members?

In some sense, I worry that we have lost track of the original identity of Slow Food as an advocacy movement. Our own identities as Slow Food members are often firmly rooted on the farm or in the kitchen, but rarely in the halls of Congress or even our local city councils. Whether or not we want to admit or acknowledge it, the fact remains that policy dictates much of the shape of our food and farm system – everything from the price of the foods we eat, to the rights of food and farm workers, to agricultural conservation requirements that protect the water we drink and air we breathe.

Voting with our forks is not enough. If we truly wish to keep the Slow Food movement alive, we cannot shrink from engagement with policy. We all have a role to play; together we can reclaim our identity as advocates for good, clean, fair food and become a force that drives local, regional, and federal policies.

Slow Food Nations was in many ways a love letter to good food. It was also a time to commune with one another, and to get inspired. In all, 25,000 people attended Slow Food Nations’ 155 events featuring 305 speakers and 70 exhibitors. For many, the amazing food is what they’ll remember most. Personally, however, I came away with much more than just a full belly – I came away energized to amplify the policy conversations within this community of foodies, and to help build back up the historic identity of Slow Food as a food and farm advocacy powerhouse.

Our thanks to Reana Kovalcik, Slow Food DC Board Member, for this outtake from Slow Food Nations and her inspiration for us all to be advocates for good, clean, and fair food for everyone.

Snail Winner Catoctin Creek is Raising the Standard of Rye, Locally and Sustainably

About 20 Slow Food DC members and friends took advantage of a warm spring evening on April 29 to visit Snail of Approval winner Catoctin Creek for an exclusive, hands-on cocktail making class and distillery tour.  The first distillery to operate in Loudoun County since Prohibition, Catoctin is making a big name for itself with its award winning craft spirits and community-driven approach.  Located in a former car dealership in the heart of Purvellville, VA, our group was warmly welcomed with a cocktail made from Mosby’s Spirit, Catoctin’s version of white whisky.  

This refresher prepared us for the distillery tour portion of the evening, during which our kilt-wearing guide Jonathan introduced us to the two stills responsible for producing all of the company’s spirits:  Barney and Ron Swanson.  Barney apparently gained his purple hue fromdistilling pear brandy and Ron, well, he’s just a whisky-loving type of guy.  Committed to producing spirits from locally sourced and organic ingredients, all of Catoctin’s whisky – as well as their gin – is produced using 100% organic rye. 

If you’re wondering how gin snuck into a rye whisky producer’s rotation, know that it’s all part of Catoctin’s plan to be a zero waste facility.  By redistilling the byproduct of the whisky making process (the “tails,” for you hard-core distillers) with traditional gin botanicals, such as juniper, citrus, and coriander, Catoctin produces a smooth and lovely gin that started from rye mash. 

After distillation, Catoctin’s Roundstone whisky is aged for just under two years in new white new oak barrels from Minnesota, lending the spirit a dark caramel color and deep flavor and aroma.  Whisky that is not barrel-aged is bottled as Mosby’s Spirit. Sustainability is in practice at this stage as well.  Each run through the still produces enough spirit to exactly fill one barrel.  Catoctin also readily supplies spent whisky mash to local farms, and sells used whisky barrels to beer distillers. 

After the tour, our group sidled up to the horseshoe-shaped bar where our bartender Chad gave a brief and illuminating history of how rye became the grain of choice in early American cocktails.  Although early settlers to the area attempted to grow crops they were familiar with at home, rye was one of the few that flourished in the warm, muggy region of Virginia.

Armed with jiggers and cocktail shakers, Chad then guided us through the process of recreating a few of these early American, rye-based cocktails with Catoctin’s signature Roundstone Rye and Watershed Gin.  Despite some shaky pouring skills, Catoctin’s expertly crafted spirits helpful guides ensured we couldn’t fail to make some superb cocktails. 

The next time you’re in Loudoun County, stop by Catoctin’s welcoming facility for a visit or even better, sign up for one of the distillery’s many events. We’re already looking forward to our next visit!

 

Snail of Approval Auction Challenge – Win a Seasons Olive Oil & Vinegar Gift Set!

Did you have fun at our February 28 Snail of Approval party? We sure did, especially jockeying for those awesome silent auction goodies! If you were a silent auction winner, we want to see how you’re using the items you won! Post a photo of you using the Snail of Approval silent auction item(s) you won in February – hashtagged with #SnailAuctioninAction – to our Facebook or Twitter page for a chance to win a Seasons Olive Oil & Vinegar Taproom gift set!

Entries will be accepted until May 30 and a winner will be selected at random. Keep the Snail of Approval momentum going and show us your #SnailAuctioninAction!

 

“All Roads Lead Back to Food” – Food Tank’s Third Washington, DC Summit

Partnering with the World Resources Institute and the George Washington University’s Sustainability Center, Food Tank hosted its third annual Washington, DC Summit on February 2.  With a nod to the political changes that emerged from 2016, the focus of this year’s summit was “Let’s Build a Better Food Policy,” offering perspectives and recommendations for improving food systems both domestically and internationally.  Once again, the summit featured an impressive line-up of speakers, moderators, and panelists touching on nearly the full spectrum of food issues, including food policy, trade, climate change, labor, infrastructure, nutrition, and food access.

Closely tied to food policy in the United States is the farm bill, an omnibus, multi-year law that governs a wide spectrum of agricultural and food programs.  With the farm bill up for renewal in 2018, speculation about how the new administration will shape this piece of legislation is off and running.  Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director of the GW Sustainability Center, predicted there could be a push to “sharpen the knives” on the organic portions of the farm bill.  While this might have been a fairly easy cut several years ago, today more and more consumers are seeking out organic products, and companies are responding.  Anne O’Connor from Organic Valley, the largest farmer-owned organic cooperative in the U.S., pointed out that organics are a $43 billion industry and the fastest growing sector of the food industry.  Organic Valley alone is a $1 billion company working with 2,000 farmers across 35 states, producing only organic products.  This type of consumer driven demand, which now has the attention of major corporations, will not be easy for legislators to ignore.

Likewise, the popularity of farmers markets and demand for seasonally grown foods is also growing, but that demand must also be accompanied by consumer awareness of what it actually costs to produce food.  With more than two-thirds of farmers working second jobs just to make farming viable FRESHFARM Markets Executive Director Mike Koch, stressed that the perception of farmers markets as expensive flies in the face of economic reality.  As a small organic farmer herself, Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree knows these challenges firsthand.  Shifting more funds toward local food programs and infrastructure, said Pingree, is critical to keeping farms connected, solvent, and a viable option for new, young farmers.

Food access is another important and politically charged issue that will certainly be part of the next farm bill discussion.  Matthew Herrick, a senior Vice President at the public affairs firm Story Partners, noted that certain members of Congress are already proposing to decrease the budget of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), despite the program’s proven success in achieving the lowest rate of child food insecurity in our nation’s history.  Reduced federal funding for these types of programs could mobilize local governments to become more proactive, as exemplified by Washington DC’s Food Policy Council, which brings together stakeholders and government officials to discuss local food business, access to food and nutrition education, urban agriculture, and food-system education.

While many other threads emerged from the one-day conference, each speaker was clear that none of these issues can be considered in a vacuum.  To paraphrase the World Resources Institute’s Janet Ranganathanj, “All roads lead back to food.”

 

 

Seasonal Recipe: Spring Panzanella

Spring Panzanella

This lovely recipe from Smitten Kitchen captures the essence of spring.

Serves about 4 as a main and 6 as a side

For the croutons:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 cups day-old bread, crust removed, cubed
6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the vinaigrette:
Half a red onion, finely diced
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

For the salad:
4 large leeks
2 teaspoons salt
1 pound asparagus
1 19-ounce can of white beans, rinsed and drained or 1 1/2 cups cooked white beans

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Mix the bread cubes with the garlic, olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss to coat well. Transfer bread to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake stirring once or twice, until the croutons are crisp and lightly colored on the outside but still soft within, about 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

Mix the red onion with the vinegar and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside for a few minutes before whisking in the remaining vinaigrette ingredients: olive oil and dijon. Set aside.

Cut off dark green tops of leeks and trim root ends. Halve each leek lengthwise to within 2 inches of root end. Rinse well under cold running water to wash away sand. Cover leeks with cold water in a 12-inch heavy skillet. Add salt and simmer leeks, uncovered, until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Without draining the cooking water (you will reuse it for the asparagus), transfer leeks to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then pat the leeks dry with paper towels. Break off tough ends of asparagus and cook it in the boiling water until crisp-tender, no more than three minutes if they’re pencil-thin, more if your asparagus is thicker. Transfer it to another bowl of ice water, drain and pat it dry.

Cut the leeks and the asparagus each into one-inch segments–the leeks will be especially slippery and prone to separating; hold firm and use a sharp knife! Place pieces in a large bowl and mix in beans and cooled parmesan croutons. Pour vinaigrette over and toss well. Season with salt and pepper.

Why Do We Need To Support the Slow Food Movement?

Apr. 6, 2016

Slow Food USA

As children, we have all heard the proverb slow and steady wins the race, and enjoyed the epic anecdote that goes with it.  Speaking of childhood, it makes us nostalgic to think of all those lousy days when all that was required of us was to giggle with anyone and everyone, play around, and have our glass of milk.  Life was slow, but simple and happy. What went wrong?

Thank Heavens, there still are people who work solely to remind the world to sit back, have a glass of fresh milk, and enjoy good, natural food without a care in the world.  There are people who extend their unconditional love and care to the degraded, global south humans and other deploring species that share the planet with us; all this, by reviving faith in good, clean, and fair food. Slow Food, we owe you!

Operation Falafel and Slow Food’s share a mutual love for

  • preserving old age traditions
  • cultural food
  • sustainable food production
  • valuing grassroots constituents

It has brought the two together on this emergent global bereave.  The fast food culture has gashed numerous cultural strings which linked us to our purer, cleaner past.

As a prompt amendment, we must introduce to the world “Slow Food,” as a means of bringing humans together, conserving biodiversity, and transitioning our lifestyles from fast and furious to slow and steady.

Slow Food Movement is exactly the Good Samaritan our bruised Earth needed.  Present Earthlings better succumb to its terms and conditions and get in line to sign up if they wish to leave convivial home for future baby Earthlings. Why?

Here’s why:

It’s a Slow Movement

What is slow and gradual stays for longer.  We don’t ask for bloody revolutions to fill that hole up in the Ozone layer.  We don’t ask for fast paced internet lives to connect the world.

We ask for backyard food tastings and low-key meet ups where people from all ethnic and national backgrounds are invited to share their views on conserving biodiversity and defending bees.

Vegetable Soup

Slow Food is a Healthy Alternative to Fast Food

When you think of fast food, the daunting images of burgers, deep fryers, and obesity cloud your mind, don’t they?  As a solution to these nightmares, we suggest you move onto fresh farm food and traditional street food.  Not just adopt it as a lifestyle, but also promote and preserve it as a cause.

Vegetables

Slow Food Cares for the Earth

Dear planet Earth,

We, Earthlings, are extremely sorry for turning you into a trashcanAs a result, we humans suffer losses and near our extinction with each species we lose and each gallon on carbon we expel into the air.

However, we are working to fix that.  Slow Food is very vigilant about climatic havocs.  It is taking steps to improve industrial food production process, and curtail mindless exploitation and exhaustion of natural resources.

Root Vegetables

Slow Food is Animal Friendly

When we say animals, we refer to all species biologically considered animals and not just humans.

Slow Food ensures that all animals that contribute to our daily meals live and die with as little pain and fear as possible.  They are constantly shedding sweat, blood, and tears to get this ideology viral globally.

These kind people are raising their voices for a number of causes that interlink food and people.  Below are some of the many people’s problems Slow Food takes under its wing:

Garden
  • the land grabbing prevalent in global south countries
  • protecting the rights and promoting the welfare of family farms
  • bringing biodiversity through restoring the cultures and customs of indigenous people
  • registering concern and disapproval for GM food and GMOs
  • convincing EU into coming up with more holistic food and farming policies that, above all, go in line with the interests of the people and the Earth

Slow Food is Educating the World

A major part of all campaigns and conferences, Slow Food designates some time in making people understand how their food comes into being.  This initiative urges one to reflect upon how easily we cast away uneaten food as waste; the very food which was made available to us after hefty, tiring hours of cultivating, cooking, and processing.

Vegetable Basket

Not only do they make people realize this global fault, but also work towards seeking solutions for it.

Slow Food Knows and Respects the People Who Farm our Food

Food and Taste Education also specifically mentions where and by whom our easy, canned food was first cared for.  This helps develop a beautiful link among cultures and people, and shows how our food choices impact the lives of people living oceans apart from us.

Slow Food is among the pioneering world saver organizations.  Operation Falafel feels great pride in befriending this association of merry convivium working towards making this world a better place.

 Thankfully, we are somewhat doing our bit in saving mother Earth, are you?

(Photo Credits: Shutterstock)

Rachel Stinson

Rachel Stinson

Dubai

An avid reader and writer, love music and movies.