Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tales of local food, blueberry soda, and tofu

By the time I arrived at the Boston Local Food Festival (held next to the Boston Children's Museum on October 2) it was in full swing, and frankly, quite crowded. I took this as a positive. The local, slow food movement is far from fringe now; it is front and center and taking off.
There were dozens of entrepreneurs at the festival, showcasing all manner of local, organic, and artisanal foods. Local chefs gave demonstrations, including the carving of a whole roasted pig (but I did not want to see this--I just heard it was spectacular!) We sampled cinnamon-chocolate chip ice cream, purchased fresh produce from a community garden in Roxbury and fresh mozzarella from the Narragansett Creamery (RI), and drank the best root beer in the world from Maine Root, who also make a mean and surprisingly delicious blueberry soda. Other vendors sold vegan cookies and pastry, seaweed salsa, locally-caught seafood and organic pizza.
The place smelled heavenly, and it was a glorious breezy sunny fall day, with live music and dancing babies and people looking pretty happy. Of course, food tends to make most of us pretty happy.
To my great delight, the festival also featured dozens of nonprofit organizations that work to promote everything from the banning of bottled water, to zero-waste events, to helping neighborhoods launch their own community gardens. I got a fantastic agricultural map of Massachusetts, that identifies every farm in the state and what it produces. I met an urban gardening advocate who teaches Boston residents how get a vegetable garden growing, no matter how small their outdoor spaces might be (they use paint buckets if that's what it takes!).
I met the folks at Green City Growers, who will come to your house and build your organic garden and get it growing for you, for a fee. I came away inspired and also newly armed the with information I need to propose that school garden to my PTO. That will be happening this week. I'll post the outcome as soon as I can.

Later this week, A Teachable Feast will hold its third food workshop, "Taking the Eeew Out of Tofu", taught by personal chef Lester Esser. We have a small but enthusiastic group of students who are curious about the best ways to prepare this enigmatic curd. We had an interesting thing happen while enrolling folks for this class. A person dropped out, saying her health-conscious neighbor told her that tofu "is not good for you anymore."

I was surprised by this comment, and looked it up. Sure enough, tofu has come under fire in recent years, with some people denouncing it for causing deforestation as rainforests were cleared to plant more soy farms. Others say it messes with your digestion in large quantities. But there are plenty of soy defenders who say it is still a healthy source of protein-- especially if you are a vegan and don't have other traditional options. Lester and I both feel that moderation with any food is the key to health and happiness. You wouldn't expect to eat cheesecake every day, but I bet you would still take a cheesecake-making class. You wouldn't eat a whole loaf of bread every day, but still you might be glad to take our breadmaking workshop. Moderation, people, is the sweet spot of life.

Happy eating,

Friday, October 1, 2010

Come to the Boston Local Food Fest, Oct. 2

Tomorrow, my chef pal, Lester, and I will head out to the Boston Local Food Festival in Fort Point Channel. I have never attended one before, but have high hopes of meeting people and finding resources that will help me to bring food knowledge to you .

If you have any interest at all in slow food, local food or sustainability, you may want to get yourself and your appetite over there.

You can find details here. I will post my own impressions on Sunday, and welcome your comments, if you also attend.

Happy eating,

Monday, September 27, 2010

It's a beginning

I've started the ball rolling towards one day having a garden at my child's elementary school. I'm getting lots of support, inspiration and guidance online at these wonderful sites, posted here so you can consider a garden at your local school....

The Edible Schoolyard


Sustainable Table

Slow Food in Schools

Friday, September 24, 2010

See what the future can be

Sustainability is our future. Kids get it. See what kids at the Boston Latin School have figured out:

BLS Youth Climate Action Network

I know I'm inspired. How about you?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dig these links

The Boston Local Food Festival is coming up on October 2.

When is your favorite produce "in season" ? Check out this availability calendar.

Need help building your organic garden? Check out Green City Growers, a local company that does all the heavy lifting to get your garden growing. Now you have no excuses!

On October 10, 2010, (10/10/10) organizations and individuals around the world will be taking actions to raise awareness about climate change and how to stop it. See to get involved.

Do you know what's really in your food? Find out at Food
You can look up those hard-to-pronounce ingredients and find out what they're all about. I looked up an easy-to-pronounce one and this is what I learned:

"RED 40 ... Artificial coloring: Soda pop, candy, gelatin desserts, pastry, sausage. The most widely used food dye. While this is one of the most-tested food dyes, the key mouse tests were flawed and inconclusive. An FDA review committee acknowledged problems, but said evidence of harm was not "consistent" or "substantial." Like other dyes, Red 40 is used mainly in junk foods. Ref : Center for science in the public interest. Banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Norway."

Food Food Everywhere

In case you haven't noticed, we seem to be experiencing a Food Renaissance here in America. Look in your local newspaper, turn on the TV, go anywhere online, and you will find ads and programs and articles about cooking schools and urban gardens and the slow-food movement. Entire TV networks are devoted to food, and other networks—like the History Channel— can't resist offering full-on food-focused programs. Boutique cooking schools touting classes for kids or moms' groups or bachelors seem to be popping up by the dozens, and I just read about a company that sends chefs across the country to give live cooking demos to large audiences in restaurants and expo centers.

Local food, slow food, real food, fresh food. Whatever you call it, food is on our collective mind. No wonder I have a food-related blog! And I am not even a "foodie"!

Still, we have good reason to bring our focus back to food. We have learned that our food isn't always treated very well by big corporations that grow, harvest, process, and distribute it. Issues with food safety, the environment, workers' rights, international trade and inspections, and costs add up to a growing distrust of the food industry as a whole.

So it follows that we are taking a whole new look at how and what we eat these days.

Food is at the center of our personal economics.
Food is about health — if you're eating right, you're hopefully going to be healthier, and that should keep your health care costs down.
Food is about the earth. If you buy locally-produced foods, you are no longer contributing to a global distribution system that requires huge outputs of energy to get those apples from, say, New Zealand, to your lunchbox in Boston. You also support agriculture in your own community, and you have the chance to learn about and contribute to a sustainable local economy.
Food is about community. Humans have always connected around food. It is celebratory, ritual, spiritual, divine. We live or die by its availability and quality. We work together for it and share in its abundance. Have you ever celebrated something, anything, without food?

I guess what I'm saying is,well, food is life.
Old idea, basic truth.
But modern living has had a way of distracting us from the basics. In America at least, we can really get a lot of food without knowing one thing about who made it, how they made it, or where they made it. We've become lazy-- we can grab the loaf of bread off the shelf instead of harvesting the wheat or at least kneading the dough. We're obese and disconnected and half-asleep and trusting our very lives to a system that's too large to take our welfare into consideration. That's a kind of trust we need to reconsider. I doubt the global food industry will collapse if I buy local or grow my own veggies. But maybe if enough of us do it, that industry will get wise that we're getting wiser, and good changes might come.

So hail the Food Renaissance. Let the local food fests flourish! Let the cooking classes multiply! Let the gardens grow!

Happy eating & thinking,

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shine on, Harvest Moon!

I've been thinking about the fall, and the harvest, and suddenly wondered about the origin of the Harvest Moon, the full moon of September in the Northern Hemisphere. I looked it up online and found this cool explanation on

"A Harvest Moon, also known as a Singing Moon or an Elk Call Moon, is the name given to the full moon right before the autumn equinox, around 22-23 September in the Northern Hemisphere, and around 21 March in the Southern Hemisphere. The first full moon right after the autumn equinox is known as a Hunter's Moon. In fact, all full moons have names. For example, the full moon in May is known as a Hare Moon, and the full moon in November is a Snow Moon.

The Harvest Moon is so named because, traditionally, it helped farmers work on their crops at night. Its spatial location in relation to the earth means the moon rises 50 minutes later each evening, except around the time of the Harvest Moon, when the moon rises only 30 minutes later. This means that moonlight shines on for longer, thus helping farmers who are still working on their crops after sundown. Other cultures considered the Harvest Moon as the last full moon before autumn started, and so it became the time mark for when all crops had to be picked up.

While the Harvest Moon seems larger than other moons, this is only because the Harvest Moon is lower in the sky, which gives the viewer the impression that it is bigger. This has originated a series of myths and traditions. In Wales, for example, people climb to the top of the Snowden mountain range to wait for the rising of the Harvest Moon. The climb is done at night, guided only by the light of the moon. Celebrations and candle festivals are carried on at the top."

If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, look for the Harvest Moon this year (weather permitting) on September 23, 2010 (check out this UK middle school's great Moon page. )

For me, Harvest Moon may as well mean FOOD Moon! When I think of fall in New England, I automatically think of apples and pumpkins, and pulling in the last bounty from gardens. I think apple pie and cider donuts and mashed potatoes and beef stew and deep-dish chicken pot pie and vegetable soup and... Well, you get my drift. Fall is about FOOD. It's about the final harvest from field and farm to fill our tables and our cupboards for the long winter ahead. The summer heat is behind us now, and we can't wait to spark up the stove and start baking until our houses explode with sweet aromas.

Around here, farmer's markets are offering the widest array of locally-grown produce right about now, until roughly the end of October. I urge everyone to take advantage of these last 6 or so weeks to get out and support your local farmers and take home this fresh local bounty while you still can.

Here are some helpful websites to help you connect with your locally-grown markets:

Massachusetts Federation of Farmers' Markets

Local Harvest

Farm Fresh (Rhode Island)

And don't forget to check this out:

Boston Local Food Festival

Enjoy the bounty!


Monday, September 6, 2010

My first homemade salsa

I made my very first salsa this weekend. I used the fresh tomatoes from my garden, and mixed them with garlic, red onion, cilantro, salt and a chili pepper. I was not confident as I prepared and chopped and minced these very spicy veggies and herbs. I was nervous. I like salsa, but peppers--especially hot peppers-- are unexplored territory for me. And then there was the cilantro. I looked at the bunch, the first bunch I'd ever purchased, and wondered what end was I supposed to be using? The leaves? The stems? Both? These are the kinds of questions that have kept me from trying new dishes. But no more. I had a question, and I was going to get it answered. First, I thought of Lester, my chef pal, but I knew he was away. So I called a friend down the street. She wasn't sure and searched online, only to read two different recipes--one said stems, one said leaves. Great. Then it dawned on me: YouTube! I punched in the words "how to chop cilantro." Instantly I found a dozen videos offering answers. The answer, according to one excellent clip, is to chop the leaves and just the very tops of the stems. The bottom of the stems, it said, would be too tough to eat.
So, with my question answered, I was able to finish my salsa. I put it in the refrigerator for the night, to let the flavors really fall together. The result? "Excellent" said one food-savvy friend. Whew! I know I still have lots to learn though, because handling the red chili pepper left me with a burning feeling on my hands. I am told there is a proper way to handle the hotter peppers. I 'll need to find out. YouTube, here I come.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dinosaur kale and other tales from the market tour..

Until yesterday, I had never heard of dinosaur kale. Now I have a bunch in my fridge, waiting for me to steam it with salt & pepper and then drizzle with lemon juice and serve alongside, say, the turkey burgers I'm fixin' to grill up this Labor Day weekend. I hope it tastes as good as it sounds.
Dinokale, as I've decided to call it, was just one of the "new-to-me" foods I found during yesterday's shopping tour of the Roslindale Farmers' Market, sponsored by A Teachable Feast and guided by Rozzi chef Lester Esser. There were 6 of us, 4 from out of town, and 2 Rozzi locals, following Lester from farm stand to farm stand in the center of Roslindale Square, listening with rapt attention as he picked up and described both familiar and strange foods, from zebra tomatoes to purslane, an edible and highly nutritious wild succulent. The market, with its crisp white tents billowing gently in the breezy sunshine, was abuzz with smiling shoppers toting their eco-friendly bags, pushing baby strollers or tugging their pups along. Live Celtic-inspired music filled the fresh air as we made our way around the market. Lester and I gave the group a challenge: buy at least one thing that you've never had before, an "adventure food." Lester would then give tips on how to eat that thing. We then spent a little over three hours exploring the farmers' goods, and then the many amazing shops surrounding the market square. [Watch this blog for a complete list of shops by name and location.] Lester brought us to a fantastic cheese shop, where you can ask for a taste if you want to try something new and where you can buy outrageously delicious balsamic vinegar and olive oil and then come back to refill your bottles from beautiful self-serve tanks. They also sell locally made chocolates, salsas and other treats. I will definitely go back there often. We also visited a market specializing in halal foods—typically Middle Eastern foods that are sanctioned for a Muslim diet, similar to kosher foods. That market was great because you can get super-fresh pita bread, tons of spices at rock-bottom prices, limes and lemons @ 4 for $1, and wow--sesame seeds by the pound for around $3 ! If you like tahini, falafel, olives and dates you'd love that shop. We went to a couple of great bakeries, one of which was Greek, and of course, I left with a big serving of baklava! yum! Lester couldn't wait to show us Tony's Market, an Italian deli/meat market where Tony stands in the back of the store and cuts the meat to your liking, while you watch from a small viewing area. I've never seen a knife move so fast— and no one got hurt! We also ducked into a small Mexican market where you can find authentic Mexican ingredients for your next tamale feast or fajita night. The proud young shopkeeper, from Oaxaca, said people come from far and wide to find the real Mexican food that his shop offers. In that shop, my friend and fellow shopper Shari managed to stump the chef when she showed Lester a package of what looked like plastic tiles. We had to ask the owner who explained it was a kind of hardened paste that could be melted and used to make, what? I'm not sure. But Shari bought it for Lester as a challenge to see what he can make from it.

At tour's end, we were tired but excited to get home and try out what we found. As I mentioned, I bought the dinosaur kale as my adventure food. Others bought the purslane, a "hot" kind of garlic, a chili pepper, and black cherry tomatoes. I can't wait to hear how everyone experiences these new tastes at home. Of course, we all bought lots of other foods as well--baguettes and cheese, peaches, and sausages, chocolates and pastries. In all, we had a blast spending time outside in the glorious day, talking with a universally happy crowd of farmers (perhaps there's something to that!), and finding unique new places to add to our shopping itineraries. Lester was a magnificent and deeply knowledgeable guide who could answer just about every question we had about the foods we found. How lucky we were! I mean, how many times do you find something in a store or at a market and say to yourself--what IS that? or how would I use that? It was great to have someone right there to answer us.

A Teachable Feast will sponsor more trips with Lester in the near future. If you want to join us, leave a comment here and I'll get back to you! Until then, happy shopping and eating!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Farmers' Market Tour

Boston-based personal chef Lester Esser is taking a group of us to the Village Main Street Farmers' Market in Boston's Roslindale neighborhood this Saturday. Lester is passionate about food and cooking, and has one of the coolest, most crowded and colorful pantries I've ever seen. He thinks a lot about ingredients, pondering the finer distinctions among say, olive oils, or rice varieties. He likes to search for that elusive spice or the best cheese and has, over many years, developed a relationship with many shop keepers and food producers who have given him the inside scoop on what's best for any number of recipes. On Saturday, he's guiding us through some of his favorite places and will show us how to look for fresh produce, what to ask farmers and local producers and where, tucked here and there in his neighborhood, we can find that special something to make better tamales, maybe, or the best tomato sauce. I feel lucky to have a chance to shop with him.
This tour is booked solid, but more are planned. If you want to tag along next time, post your email here and I'll get back to you. You can see Lester's food blog at

Hurricanes make me hungry

Ever since Hurricane Earl booked a night in New England, people all around me have been talking about food. They're getting their milk and bread and lots of water. On the TV news, the supermarkets in North Carolina, where Earl will visit on his way north, were empty. One shopper left the store with a cart loaded with meat. "We'll grill our way through the storm," she said. Someone else said she'll be baking. It occurred to me that cookies might help the cause in my house, too.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bread, the first lesson in food

It all started last winter when I was looking for a whole grain bread for my family that didn't contain high fructose corn syrup-- an additive that, as I will discuss in a later post, has no upside nutritionally speaking, but is known to contribute to the epidemic of obesity we are seeing today.

Unfortunately, what I found in syrup-free bread was either tasteless or required a mortgage payment to take home. That's when I recalled the wonderful homemade wheat bread I had at a friend's party some time ago. I wondered if Emily, the woman who baked it, would be willing to show me how to make my own, so I called her. The next thing I knew, I had booked her to come to my house to teach me and a handful of friends how to make bread from scratch. The class was so successful—we even asked everyone to pitch in $15 to cover Emily's expenses—that we talked about doing it again.

That was the beginning of A Teachable Feast, which I guess is a venture to bring food knowledge to people in small friendly groups, in my kitchen, or yours. There are a lot of things about food that I have yet to learn, and instead of being embarrassed that I've never made a pot roast, or used a pressure cooker, I am going to arrange small workshops and find friends who are passionate about cooking to share what they know. I have two cooks already planning their workshops—demystifying that pressure cooker, making homemade yogurt, etc. One course we're hoping to offer might be called "Taking the 'eew' out of Tofu."

This fall, my friend Lester Esser, a local personal chef, is leading several guided shopping tours of his local farmers' market, to help people get the most out of the best in fresh local food.
You can follow Lester's fun and delicious blog at:

My friend, Emily Lisker, the bread afficionado, will be leading a pressure cooker class, and both a beginner's breadmaking and an advanced breadmaking class in the months to come.
You can follow her thoughts on food and cooking at:

A Teachable Feast will be part personal and educational blog, and part Community College, where you can learn directly from a growing list of food practitioners who will show you how to cook , but also maybe how to think differently about how you get your food and why it makes a difference.

A Teachable Feast will also give you links to great food resources touching on everything from gardening and local farms to food politics and economics, and everything in between.

Watch this blog for postings about workshops in and around Boston and Providence, and feel free to send me your ideas and suggestions.

One last note for now: I came up with the name, A Teachable Feast, as a riff from the Hemingway novel, to remind you (and me, mostly) to keep learning about what you eat—how did it get to your plate?, what's in it?, how will it help or harm you? why are you eating it? There is nothing more essential.