Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Better food; where it started, where it's going

With so much going on in the world of food lately, I feel I can barely keep up!

There are gardens to tend, harvests to share, farmers markets to shop, books to read and causes to join--- all in the name of better, healthier, more sustainable foods.

Check it out:

The new book 40 Years at Chez Panisse by Alice Waters is featured on the WGBH (Boston's local PBS station) website. Check out the really interesting interview.

Next, have you heard about FoodCorps? This is exciting! This is the future. If you know young gardening/ farming types ages 18-30 who want to build a healthier tomorrow, you need to check out FoodCorps. You can read a great article in the NY Times as well.

I will have more exciting news from the world of food soon, so stay tuned!

Happy Eating
Margie

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fall Food Workshops. What do you want to learn?

I am gearing up to offer a few workshops in the fall. Typically, I invite people I know to my home, where I bring an expert to showcase a particular skill. My guests each pay a "tuition" fee which covers that experts' costs and time. I can also arrange these workshops so you can host them in your home.
Here's what I'm hoping to offer:
*Basic Bread Baking
*Canning, Freezing, Preserving
*Pressure Cooking
*Keen-What? Or Everything you wanted to know about cooking with Quinoa (keen-wah) and other fancy grains.

Tell me what you'd like to learn about food, cooking and living with food. If I can't present it, I am sure I can point you in the right direction.
Happy Eating!
Margie

Monday, August 8, 2011

Organic or Conventional?



Organic or conventional? If you aren't sure how to choose your produce, you should check out the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15 list, courtesy of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit group that uses "the power of public information to protect public health and the environment."

The list explains why we should take care to purchase certain produce (the Dirty Dozen) from certified organic growers because their conventionally grown counterparts are too unsafe due to pesticides or other contaminants. But it also lists the Clean 15, crops that are safe despite their conventional production. It's good to know what's what, especially when considering the cost of organic food.

Go to that link (above) and print out the list and post it on your fridge, like I just did. Next time you go to Whole Foods, you'll understand why there are so many choices, and you'll be ready to make the best choices for you and your family.
Happy and healthy eating!
Margie

Friday, July 8, 2011

Food Lessons and Confessions

First, a Food Lesson:
This Saturday, at the Attleboro Farmers Market, A Teachable Feast will be presenting a very simple and fun food demonstration by a friend and local chef, Peter Brown. Peter will be showing us how to grill pineapples and peaches to bring a whole new kind of flavor to summer meals.
I know grilling fruit is not exactly a new idea, but for some people, it really is. This demonstration will show us how to shop for pineapples and peaches—what do they look and feel like when they are ripe or over-ripe? Then we'll learn how to properly—and safely—cut them, especially pineapples. Grilling is likely the easiest part, but Peter will show us how to know when to take fruit off the grill, at the moment when the sweet caramelization happens, right before things go all mushy. That's where a little knowledge can make a big difference between happy eating and no eating at all.

That's the thing about food: if you know what you're doing with it, you can find endless joy and satisfaction. If you don't, you may well find frustration, hunger, and lots of extra garbage.

Which brings me to a Food Confession:
Last week, at the very first Attleboro Farmers Market, I challenged myself (and readers of this blog) to buy one item that was new to me. I ended up with a beautiful bunch of fennel—which ended up in the trash. How?! Well, I had a crazy week, the meal I planned that included the fennel was changed, then we had a few meals away from home so that, when I reached into the vegetable crisper in the fridge yesterday, I pulled out a droopy, un-yummy-looking piece of green vegetation formerly known as fennel. So, what did I learn from this? First, when you are buying a new-to-you fresh food, be sure to ask not only how to cook and serve it, but HOW TO STORE IT. I may have been able to get a week of life out of that fennel with proper storage. Of course, the whole point of buying fresh and local is to use what you buy immediately in order to get the most out of it. But I am a flawed human being (yes, I know that's not easy to read..) and I can't always run home from the market and whip up an amazing meal. There are kids to chase and a house to fix, and oh yes, there's that job.

In any case, no use in beating oneself up over droopy fennel. There are newer, fresher things in my immediate future. See you at the market!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

To market! To market! Taste the joy!

The Attleboro Farmers Market opens today, just up the road apiece from my house. I am thrilled to have the chance to shop local without even driving! I've told everyone I know and I hope folks will make the trip into the center of town, to the parking lot of the Attleboro Public Library, to support the many local farmers, artisans and craftspeople who have vendor booths there. You can get the full list at the AFM website. The list of vendors is expected to change weekly, so be sure you make the AFM the first stop on your Saturday errands from now until October.
The market's manager, Heather Porreca, has been an amazing whirlwind of positive energy around town all spring as she and a small crew of dedicated citizens worked to bring the new market to life. I look forward to working with them this summer, to help tell the story of the market and create opportunities for all kinds of learning about food and the local food economy.

You can start learning today at the AFM. Here's how:
When I go to any kind of farmers' market, I make a point of buying something I may not have tried before. I challenge each of you to do the same. Maybe you've never had Brussels Sprouts, or Dinosaur Kale, or even some of the fancier varieties of tomatoes now available. Buy a few. Ask the farmer how to cook it. Or go home and look it up. Try it. Do this every week. You may not love everything, but you will be surprised at how much you will like, and discover by season's end, that your menus at home and your palette have broadened in new ways. You may even feel proud when you mention the fabulous dinner you had last night, with the zebra tomatoes or the banana peppers. There's joy in these subtle changes. Taste it! And then come back to the market and do it again!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

All the news that's fresh and local

I have been absent from A Teachable Feast for almost a month, and I must beg your forgiveness (um, anyone still out there?). I had no idea the time had flown by! I've been so busy getting our school garden launched and planted and funded, that I've barely had time to even tend my own humble salsa garden in my backyard, nevermind compose mellifluous blog entries on food and learning.

But that doesn't mean I don't have lots to share! For starters, our garden is wonderful! We have six raised beds that are planted with tomatoes, onions, broccoli, peppers, squash, pumpkins, beans and even a few mystery plants. The children planted most of them, with help from teachers and parents, during what was a crazy end of the school year. Now our Willett Summer Garden Club has taken over, and several families will visit our garden over the course of the summer to weed, water and harvest, and to share their experiences and observations on a website so all of our children can participate in the learning during the summer. I am often there myself, making sure all is going smoothly, moving plants around and watering. It's been amazing, because every time I go, someone else stops by, to see how we're doing, or to help in some way. People are genuinely excited at the thought that children have planted this garden and children will benefit from it. We have big plans for the future, and I am optimistic that we'll succeed in all our efforts to make the teaching garden an integral piece of every child's experience at Willett School.

In related food news, our Attleboro Farmer's Market opens this Saturday, July 2! I couldn't be more excited about it. It's another opportunity to show children where their food comes from, while supporting local farms and crafts people. The buzz about the market has been electric around town, both among those of us who intend to shop there and among the farm vendors who will be selling there. I have a good feeling this market is going to take off. A Teachable Feast hopes to play a small role in the area of food knowledge. I may be contributing some short articles for the Market's website, and will work to plug in some food experts to share their knowledge at the market. Make sure you check out the market's site for details, a calendar and awesome links to other local food resources. Watch this space as well, since I'll be reporting about the market here as well.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Attention Sustainable Food Entrepreneurs!

To anyone interested in pursuing a small food-based business, this looks like a great learning opportunity: (passing this on from a posting I just received)

What You Need To Know When Looking For Investors: A primer for Slow Money businesses

When: Thursday June 23, 6pm – 9pm
Where: The Democracy Center, 45 Mount Auburn St. Cambridge, MA 02138
$25 – You can pay at the door, but please RSVP for this event: slowmoneygreaterboston@gmail.com

The main event - a presentation by John Friedman beginning at 6:30pm:

Farmers and small food producers are increasingly savvy about marketing their own products and very often need investors to help move their business to the next level. John's experience in this niche is exceptional and he will introduce the basic concepts necessary when approaching potential funders. And, all class attendees will receive a free copy of the Slow Money Primer, authored by John Friedman

Come join us to learn more about garnering investment for your farm or food-related business. You’ll have time to network with friends and meet new people while enjoying snacks from Basil Tree Catering (a local, sustainable business).

John Friedman is an attorney specializing in corporate development for entrepreneurial and emerging businesses in the sustainable agriculture and technology industries. He counsels clients refining their business plans, creating financial models, raising outside capital, developing and maintaining distribution channels, and seeing to their other transactional, regulatory and litigation needs. He is a member of the American Agricultural Law Association, Slow Food, and the Slow Money Alliance, among many other organizational affiliations.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lester's Food Tour Hits the Big Time

Last summer, my friend, Lester Esser and I organized a Farmer's Market Shopping Tour as a way of helping people get the most our of what they could find there. We had a blast, and learned a lot from Lester, a personal chef. And that was the point: how many times have you been to a farmer's market and come home with the same four veggies you always buy in any supermarket? Having a chef lead us in our shopping experience meant we could ask questions-- what IS that? How would I cook this? We challenged our shoppers to buy one thing they'd never tried before and incorporate it into their meals that evening. Lester also brought us to his favorite gourmet food shops that are peppered around Rozzie Square, so we got to discover secret places to find the most amazing balsamic vinegar, fresh cheeses, fresh-cut meats and many ethnic ingredients. In all, it was a fantastic afternoon, and we all came away with a renewed enthusiasm for shopping farmer's markets.

Now Lester has developed a regular schedule of market tours. You can read about his new program, featured here on Boston.com today (Congrats Lester! A Teachable Feast is very proud!)

Watch here for info on a potential Lester Esser tour of Attleboro's Farmer's Market, later this season.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A farmer's market is the ultimate teachable feast

In just under an hour from now, I will go to my local library to attend an organizing meeting for a new farmer's market that's slated to launch in about a month's time here in Attleboro.

I am thrilled at the prospect. I'd been experiencing some farmer's market envy after touring the amazing and beautiful Roslindale market with A Teachable Feast and Chef Lester Esser last summer. I know there are other good markets nearby, but to have the chance to help create an awesome market right here--one that I can walk to (selfish of me, I know)--is really wonderful.

Of course, being able to buy fresh local produce and support local food artisans and growers is also a huge attraction.

But there is another: it's the chance to bond with my community as I ponder a head of lettuce or wonder how to cook that dinosaur kale. A farmer's market is a wonderful place to meet my neighbors and talk face to face, no electronic medium in the way, and learn something new.

In my continuing quest to learn—and share knowledge— about food, I see the farmer's market as a central kind of living textbook. You simply have to ask the farmer-- What is this? How do I cook it? How do I store it? What shall I serve with it? How do I know when it is ripe/fresh/sour/rotten?

I am the kind of learner who wants my teacher by my side as I discover something new, so I can say "Am I doing this right?" or "Why did that happen?"

I love cooking classes for this reason, and will soon launch a new season of food learning opportunities. My good friend Lester Esser, chef par excellence, will be leading more market tours in Roslindale this year. And now, with the new market coming to Attleboro, we hope to collaborate on a few local market tours as well. These tours give shoppers the chance to learn from a chef (and Lester has deep and wide food knowledge) about the foods you'll find in a farmer's market. He can tell you how to choose the right peppers for the job, for example, or tell you about the subtle taste differences in tomato varieties. You can go tent-to-tent, table-to-table with him, and ask him "what IS this thing anyway?" He's fairly tough to stump, so you'll learn a lot.

I do hope the new market is open to having a food knowledge program attached to the selling operation. I know several cooks and gardeners right in our community who could share their passion for food in a way that helps customers go home excited to try their fresh goodies. This learning connection will bring them back, and strengthen the bonds between growers and buyers, neighbors to neighbors. People will want to shop in the farmer's market, because the fresh food is not only better tasting and better for them, but because it comes with new ideas, and new relationships with their community, and that is well worth their support.

Well, I'm off to the meeting... stay tuned!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Helping a School Learn to Grow

OK OK I know I've been gone a while. I do apologize. But you see, I've been busy gardening for the last 8 months. Yes, gardening. Since September, when I first proposed a school garden to the PTO at my daughter's school, I've been tending to its needs: getting approvals from the city and the school department; writing a grant (which we did not win, but there are others), preparing a written plan, gathering the support of parents and teachers, and finding people in our community to lend their expertise. Since then, I have collected a wonderful, enthusiastic crew of dedicated professionals who share my vision for a garden that will give our children not only a wonderful outdoor classroom for exploring and experimenting, but also lifelong skills for growing their own nutritious foods.
In addition to a most enthusiastic principal, I now have, as co-chair, a fantastic teacher who is leading the way for the rest of the teaching staff, helping them wade into the dirt and try their hand at planting a more effective kind of seeds in the heads of their little charges.
I have an amazing master gardener, a woman whose own child attended our school many years ago. She has been a gift to us, sharing her expertise on this and that vegetable, flower or herb.
One of our parents is an art student, who volunteered to design our garden logo for our t-shirts, and it came out better than anyone could have hoped.
Another dad, who works in the landscaping industry, had the soil tested and then surveyed and marked the grass for excavation by another local landscaper who wanted to help.
Our PTO president, whose family business is dirt, acquired a great mountain of arable composted clean loam for our six raised beds.
Our facilities manager gave us the go for water and composting and fencing and has been a key player in making it all work.

This weekend, we will gather to build our garden. I don't yet have lumber, wood chips, or weed fabric, but I have faith they will materialize.

For me, this is like the first sprout of a bean, popping out of the soil for its first bath in sunshine:
parents coming together to build a school garden I have tended all year long.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bread intuition

Anyone who knows me well would NOT call me a great cook. Adequate maybe. No one would associate me with words like "foodie" or "chef" or "gourmand."
Growing up, my dad was a picky eater, and my mom (who loved all kinds of foods) tended to cook to his fussy tastes: lots of meat and potatoes, bread and butter, fried eggs and home fries and greasy bacon. Vegetables? Um, well carrots were plentiful, and usually bought fresh. But green beans came from a can for all I knew. I don't think I ate a tomato until I tried one in college. The same goes for tuna, broccoli and about a half dozen other foods. I just wasn't very tuned in to what I ate.
Now I most certainly am. And I try very hard to not only eat better, tastier, fresher foods, I also try to cook more things myself, rather than buy things prepared. And I have discovered something—I'm pretty good at it. Now, I won't pretend I'm a great cook, but people I feed seem to go away smiling. But I could almost dare to say I am a great baker. I make terrific cookies, cakes, and muffins. And lately I'm all about the bread. When I'm in the process of making it , I can get completely lost. I love everything about it: reading recipes, shopping for ingredients, pulling everything together on the counter before I start. I love making messes and wearing flour on my apron, and having my family walk in and say oh wow what smells so good in here?
I love the dicey moment when I have to put the warm water in with the yeast-- there's a moment of hesitation when I hope it's not too hot— and then there's the decisive feeling I get, knowing I'm committed to it now. The kneading, too, makes me feel strong, as I work the dough just enough to do its magic. It all seems vaguely familiar---like I've always known how to make bread, though I only just learned last winter.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Considering the vegetarian life

I recently read a great interview with a vegan that I found online. I think this guy is right about a lot of things. Eating local, organic food is an act of awareness and also of protest, against an industry that has put profits ahead of food quality. I am inspired to ease in to the vegetarian lifestyle. I am not a big meat eater in general, especially red meat. I am curious to see how I will feel with no meat at all, and perhaps eventually no dairy.

You can see the article here at Attleboro.Patch.com. I'd love to know what you think and if you're inspired to make any changes.

I learned a lot while I was gone...




















Hello out there...if anyone is still out there... I'm back after having to take a short break from A Teachable Feast so I could adjust to a new job. If you're reading this, I want to thank you for waiting, and for coming back. I hope I won't need any more breaks anytime soon!

In the time I was "away" I continued my food education. Lester Esser, my friend the chef, taught a class here called "Taking the Eew Out of Tofu." It was pretty fantastic. He showed us the difference between soft and hard tofu and how to handle them. We learned how to make stir-fried tofu with noodles and veggies, a tofu fruit smoothie, Buffalo tofu, and wow---a tofu creme brulee that was as good as the real deal.

The four guests in the class came away excited to have another element to add to their usual line-up of meals. I hope to work with Lester to offer this class again in the spring or summer. If you'd like to host the class in your house, post a comment here and I'll contact you to make arrangements.