First Ratatouille of the Season

On day 9 of 12 covering for Mom’s pet sitting clients. 2 dogs and 2 cats. Fortunately, everyone gets along! The biggest challenge is getting into the mood to do some real cooking. It’s hard because you have to look for everything you need. Tools, spices, side dishes, etc. An even bigger challenge is depending upon the client to have the tools you’re used to.
I just recently purchased a 10″ Wusthoff chefs knife, and I really wish I had brought it with me. Really need to find a cool little knife carrier so I can do that easily. The knives that are in this house are pretty dismal. Unfortunately people think they are buying great knives because they spend big money; the reality is they are buying crap that gets dull and transforms into even more crap πŸ™
This is my 3rd time staying here and I just today found a wooden cutting board. Ever try to use a total crap, dull knife on a glass cutting surface? Ahhhhhh!!!!
I hit the Verde Valley Farmer’s Market down in Camp Verde yesterday and got some nice fresh produce. Zucchini, yellow squash, garlic, baby red and white onions, purple carrots, romaine lettuce (that stuff is a trip!), and beets. In fact, I bought 3 bunches of beets because I want to start putting them up in the freezer to make sure I have plenty during the off season.
Oh, almost forgot. I picked up a couple of Japanese eggplants so I decided to make my first ratatouille of the season. It’s in the oven now simmering away. I’ve just removed the lid of the casserole to allow some of the liquid to evaporate off.
In the meantime, I popped a top sirloin into my crock pot, turned on the PID controller to 125 degrees and inserted my salt and peppered beef. I’m really digging how this sous vide cooking is going. Super #yumbo!
Finally, I’ve got some long grain white rice steaming away on the stove top right now. Should really make for a lovely Sunday dinner. Wish you could be here to enjoy it with me!

Happy Birthday America!

It’s July 4th here in America (and presumably around the globe!) and I’m doing what I’ve done way too much over the past year or so. Just sitting on my ass and messing around with the computer. Oh, I’m also doing some back up pet sitting for my Mother.
It’s hot out in Sedona, AZ today. But then you’d expect that in the middle of summer, right? I’ve discovered that swamp coolers have an interesting effect on my sinuses. I’ve also discovered that it’s not groovy to keep the cooler blowing on high with a ceiling fan swirling over the bed I’m sleeping in. Suffice it to say I’m hoping I’ve fended off a potential sinus infection. Never any fun πŸ™
But this blog is about food, not my nostrils! And this post is about expressing my gratitude for living in a great country, despite some of the obvious set backs over the past few years. Financial declines and general economic havoc aside, America is still (and hopefully, always will be) a wonderful, diverse and unique place on the planet.
Are we the best there is? Hopefully not. Is any place truly better than any other? I have my doubts. Do I want to see it all, experience it all, live to tell about it all? Oh, yeah.
But for now, I’m “stuck” living here in Northern Arizona, and today, on the symbolic anniversary of our country’s independence, I am pleased to be able to say that I live in America. For all its good, bad, ugly and other. It’s important to express the fact that today is a day to celebrate not just our independence, but a deep, bone marrow tingling gratitude to the millions of men and women of our military. Past, present, and (unfortunately, likely) future soldiers who’ve given all, or nearly all they have.
It’s easy to express thanks for the sacrifices of others. We should. Constantly. I personally feel that its good to always be broadcasting that gratitude. One really easy way to express this is by heading over to the ReMIND website and do something. Just last night I ordered 10 of their dog tags. My thought was to share some of them with my family and close friends. When I checked out, though, I decided to double the order and will have 20 of the tags coming my way.
Thanks to Craig Newmark for posting about ReMIND and the work they are doing for our country’s veterans.
Okay, back to thinking about food for me. Watching the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” marathon. Now that I’ve read (finally) Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential I can really get into his TV show. In fact, I’ve just started his latest book, “Medium Raw“. Nice continuation (albeit, 10 years after KC) about his life after his time as a chef. If you’re interested in “the life”, or various aspects of food and cooking, check out these books when you have a chance. They’re definitely great reads.

Potatoes From Farm Fresh Direct in Colorado

p in a b
Creative Commons License photo credit: realSMILEY

Have you ever thought about where your food comes from and exactly how it gets to you? Sure, you got most of what you eat from your local grocery store. Or you might get some portion of what you need to survive from a restaurant or fast food joint. I have often been curious about where the food I’m eating comes from and what it had to go through in order to get to my plate.
Recently, I thought I’d look into some of what I was purchasing for consumption. As you may know, after 26 years I’ve started eating meat again. And with any yummy steak comes a light and fluffy baked potato (hopefully!) Just last week I picked up a bag of organic potatoes from the veggie department at my local Walmart. The journey my potatoes might have traveled from Farm Fresh Direct, LLC in Colorado:

The challenge with this “direct” route, is I’m pretty sure there is no way in hell that my potatoes only traveled 544 miles from Colorado to my local Walmart (I’m pretty sure that’s where I picked up the bag of organic potatoes.)
I plan on doing some analysis and have an email into their company to hopefully get a better understanding of just how much impact these good for me, good for the soil veggies really are. Hopefully, they were taken to a Walmart distribution center on the way from there to here.
The reason I got really interested in the journey my food takes came as a direct result of this post which discusses the Deconstruction of a Taco. This is truly an amazing story that details the diverse origins and routes of foods required to make a taco at a mobile food truck in San Francisco. Clearly a lot of work and energy went into ferreting out every last ingredient, including the spices used.
My biggest take away is that while it is not cheaper to eat locally, there are just some ingredients you cannot expect to get from the farms just outside of town. And I wonder if that’s simply an okay thing. Is it okay that we expect to get ingredients transported to us when they would otherwise never be grown nearby?
I have to answer this a big yes with a caveat. If you’re in business solely to make a profit then clearly making your tacos with the absolute lowest priced ingredients makes sense to your bottom line. If you’re competing to attract clients that take their environment seriously you obviously will have to charge more for your products.
Plus, unless I move to Costa Rica, I’m never going to be close to coffee producers. And I HAVE TO HAVE MY COFFEE! Please send my apologies to the planet!

How Local Food Can Push the Line Back

Re-branding this site to local food from technology, social media, various other technical conversations can definitely be a tough nut to crack. Like many of the current readers of this blog, we all tend to follow similar “A list” types of online personalities. You know Chris Brogan, Darren Rowse, Brian Clark of CopyBlogger.com, Sonia Simone, Seth Godin.
I never cared to be one that simply posted echo chamber fodder after the big boys and girls published. After reading Seth’s post today, “Moving the line (the power of a zealot)” I was struck by just how it related to the prospect of local foods. Specifically how the industrialized food corporations in this country have moved that line closer and closer towards themselves.

Food today is not what it was even 25 years ago. Fewer companies control greater percentages of the food production in this country. Traditional farmers are barely recognizable. And fewer of them have the ability to support their farms, families and produce more than a few crops for the corporations. Local food banks see more of their stock filled with the non-perishable products able to sit on shelves for months and months.
My belief is the emerging local food movement, or being a locavore, is beginning, albeit, slowly, to move the line back towards the center. Away from the titans of the food industry. They, we, have a tough row to hoe, however. Why? Well quotes like this from Seth Godin help to exemplify the hurdles to overcome:

It’s not the principle, in fact, it’s just the degree of compromise we’re comfortable with and content to argue over.

The way I’m interpreting this as it relates to local food has to do with the skillful way industrialized food producers have made the argument about compromise. The world has to eat, so they have to produce massive amounts of product. Over the years, as we’ve become comfortable with more highly processed foodstuffs invading our pantry fewer of us are seeking out that which is grown or produced in our local areas.
There are quite a number of reasons for supporting local, smaller farmers and meat producers. My personal goal is to explore more of those issues in the upcoming weeks. For now, though, I make this point: if the locavore’s don’t begin to fanatically push the line back towards center, how comfortable can we eventually be just arguing over the compromises of processed foods?
The food industry would have us believe that the small town farmer is not able to feed us. My guess is that’s not completely accurate. In my next post on this topic, I’ll share some research from the various books and sites I’ve been reading the past 6 months.
My gut tells me that we can eat off the hard work done locally. It won’t always be the smorgasbord available year round at the grocery store. And it won’t be as cheap. But the food will be fresher. It will be better for the planet. Buying locally produced foods will help support the families who bring it to us. And eventually it might just redraw that line away from greedy corporate food interests.

Would Grandma Recognize My Breakfast?

Two eggs sunny side up, bacon, and home fries with cheddar cheese
Creative Commons License photo credit: @joefoodie

Do you ever have brief moments where some out of the random blue mental event occurs and you’re flashing on a concept you had no recognition about just moments before? As I continue to inundate my brain and some other senses with all of this food stuff, I believe a slow, almost imperceptible transformation is occurring in how I’m conceptualizing what food really is.
Well, really is to me anyway. Speaking for others and their relationships to food is not something I’m qualified to do now. Or ever, I suspect. My journey thus far has made it clear that like most things in our world, you can lead the horse to water, but not have it produce a triple macchiato for you!
An overriding theme of the Michael Pollan book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” relates to “real food“. He essentially boils it down to whether or not your grandmother would recognize that which you call food. Obviously, there’s much more to his theories, however, at the nutshell level of things, this really encapsulates the concept.
Would she recognize yogurt in the tube as a real food? Some of the products populating the interior grocery store aisles might have little if any recognition by our ancestors.
My question then becomes just what do we recognize as real food? How much processing and industrialization can be considered okay and not harmful to the status of ingredients which make up a food product?
Allow me to illustrate this grand maternal query with discussion of my breakfast today. Well, okay, if you follow me on twitter you know that breakfast was clearly timed during the traditional lunch hours. But what I had for “lunch” was very clearly breakfast foods, and if I’d asked the question “Would Grandma recognize my lunch?” the easy answer would have been, Uhm, no dude. Your lunch is any sane individuals breakfast. Hence the post title. Don’t hate me, you eat breakfast for dinner πŸ˜‰
On my plate were 4 eggs cooked sunny side up, with only a small bit of runny yolks. These are not organic, farm fresh eggs whose producers actually understand there is a real world outside that little hen door to the pasture. Please try not to tell me about how bad it was to eat 4 eggs at one meal. I did it. Enough!
There was 4 slices of 12 grain bread. Ironically, on the shelf at the store was 12 grain right next to 7 grain. I remember when reaching for a loaf do they think someone stands here asking themselves if they really need those extra 5 grains? Or the flip side of that question, I can get 5 more grains for the same price? What, they think me a sucker?
5 slices of bacon. No, not the super yummy real pork bacon, but turkey bacon. It’s good too. It really tries to be bacon. When you close your eyes and inhale the aromas of the frying turkey bacon, you can almost, for the briefest of moments convince yourself its real bacon. But it’s not. It is a nice substitute for those that have perfectly legitimate reasons for not wanting to eat pork bacon. But it’s not bacon.
Oh, almost forgot the hash browns. These came from a package, industrial sized pack, of the little hash brown patties. You know the ones I’m referring to? Little rectangles of frozen, previously, mostly cooked hashed potatoes about 3/8 in thick. Rounded corners.
On my plate, I believe grandma would know that I was indeed eating breakfast (for lunch) and be able to identify the various foods. Maybe not the bacon. It does look like a caricature of bacon, so she’d be able to guess what it was supposed to be.
More importantly, however, to the concept of eating foods grown and raised locally, is whether she would have recognized how my meal had gotten to my plate from its various points of origin. Would she recognize the industrial farming practices that produced my eggs from animals whose sole purpose is to lay egg after egg with little to no consideration for the hen’s quality of life?
Would she even begin to understand that the bacon-like product on my plate was simply manufactured bits and pieces left over at the bottom of the barrel after turkey meat is harvested and ever divided into one form or another? Many of those forms being meat substitutes like this very bacon.
The hash browns? I’d bet she couldn’t even predict what continent they were grown on nor how long it had been since they were pulled from the ground (by a mechanical arm most likely).
And the bread. I’ve never seen a homemade loaf look as perfect as store bought bread. My herculean efforts and breadmaker product never even comes remotely close to that product I pull out of a bag.
But she would recognize what was on the plate. And that’s exactly how the industrialized food businesses of our modern world want it to be. Real food has but a distant memory imprinted, somewhere, in our brains. Food manufacturers only need to do just enough with sights, sounds, and smells of what ends up on the plate to fool even my grandma into believing she is actually eating breakfast (for lunch!)
So, yeah. All that ran through my head as I ate my lunch (er, breakfast.) Was it the best I’d ever had? Can’t honestly say that it was. Definitely not the worst meal by any stretch of the imagination. I just don’t know that it was a “Real Food Meal“. And it is real food that I’m hoping to start experiencing much more regularly.
Hopefully, you’re interested in learning more about real food that is locally grown using sustainable, ethical, and healthy practices. If you are, be sure to subscribe to the feed for this site. My plans are to continue sharing what I learn on being a locavore, as well as how to cook that food and make it the most yummy real food you can eat.
Hoping to hear your thoughts, if you have any, on the concept of how the food industry has manipulated your grandma’s perceptions of food.
Have a great weekend!

The Superiority of Fresh Vegetables

HEB in the 1980's
Creative Commons License photo credit: rutlo

So there appears to be a previously overlooked benefit to my sinus challenges of late (and let me apologize for continually bringing up the state of my head!) A symptom I’m suffering is that the muscles which allow me to move my eyes left and right (without turning my head that way) are fatigued and motion makes it hard for me to focus on an end point.
Okay. But with care and by slowing down, I’m able to get around, to the store, bank, etc. I try to do all that late at night with less traffic and light (seems to bother me right now.) Don’t worry, though. I don’t think I’m much more of a concern on the road that normal 😐
I make it to the grocery over the weekend. As much as I wanted to buy something fresh, natural and yummy to cook I just knew I wasn’t going to be able to stand and focus (literally!) long enough to do a meal justice.
(Please don’t share this with anyone. I’ll deny it vehemently!)
I end up buying some of the store’s deli cooked chicken (fried. Of all things πŸ™ ) A loaf of crusty sour dough (best part of the meal.) And a bottle of Central California Coast Pinot Noir. Oh, and a bottle of Oregon Pinot as a back up in case the first was not very good. (I’ll relay the atrocities of the wines in another post. Have to remind myself I live in Northern Arizona. They no not how to handle wines, apparently.)
The point of all the above blather is that while in checkout line I strike a conversation with the gentleman behind me. I noticed a nice array of yams, carrots and some other fresh veggies. Remarking that he must be planning something nice and yummy, he took a gander at my purchases.
I actually tried to cover the fried chicken with my reusable tote bag (see how I referenced that so you wouldn’t completely hate me πŸ˜‰ ) but he caught site and commented that I must be “taking the night off from cooking”.
Ugh. Yup. Caught. Busted. I tried to explain that it had been a long week (I’d just gotten off the day job, away from home for 8 days.) He nodded politely as folks born in other countries tend to pleasantly do to those of us that think fried chicken is a food group. Just to clarify, I do not think that fried chicken is a food group!
In an effort to regain some sense that I was worthy to even speak to this man with fresh vegetation I pointed out my wholesome, and bound to be yummy Pinot Noir sampling.
He just smiled and nodded appropriately somehow sensing that these wines would end up being undrinkable. I’m sure their was inner laughter occurring as well.
Would love to hear your favorite grocery store checkout story. Drop a comment when you have a chance.

Steak and Potato

This was just me playing around with my food! Actually, I wanted to see what sort of quality my old Samsung NV7 camera could shoot. Have to say I was not unimpressed. The key, I think will be to use my tripods and do better with lighting. Oh, I suppose shaving and having less of a rats nest for a hair cut might also improve the visuals!
Oh, and a little YouTube optimization for you. When I uploaded this footage, I originally named it Steak & Potatoes. A few days afterward I got my new Bluray Disc player with Netflix and YouTube connectivity. Just had to run the cat 5 cable to the back of the box. In fact, I’ve not even watched a Bluray disc yet, but I just got Sideways in from Netflix, so I can hardly wait!
Anyway, I mention the naming of the video because I was a total failure at searching for it through the Bluray box. Apparently the application they use is pretty much the same as the mobile app that you’d use on your smart phone. And even though Google owns YouTube and they are the worldwide leader in search, they have a tough time with the Ampersand! So, in the future, I won’t be using anything other than easily searchable letters and (maybe?) numbers. If you have any insight on this sort of thing, please leave a comment so we can all learn more about optimizing our video titles. Thanks!