Sunday, June 13, 2010

Farm to Table: Finger Lakes - wellness and health, done local

It makes sense that last weekend’s Farm to Table Finger Lakes event was produced by Pathways to SmartCare: “Make Smart Choices.” Eating fresh, local foods, keeping food dollars local … promoting wellness through healthy choices … it all came together last weekend through regionally produced foods and service providers. Here’s how it unfolded.

The Friday night wine and cheese tasting was full of fun and energy. I got to say hello to the folks of Muranda Cheese (I just love their roasted garlic Cheddar; and bless their hearts, they remembered me from my visit during the cheese trail open house!). Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery was also present and accounted for, with their incredible kefir cheeses … including an Ooey Gooey Bleu that just blew me away. J.J. from Red Jacket Orchards served up sample after sample of incredible 100% fruit juice.

That's not all there was, though. Such delights as grape pie (a renowned local treat that I wish more people could experience) and Mercer Dairy’s award-winning wine ice cream (peach white zinfandel, red raspberry chardonnay and cherry merlot, if I remember correctly) bowled me over, and John was ever so tolerant of my ooohs and ahhhhs at his booth.

The raw food treats whipped up by Roxanne Gupta, Ph.D. and certified Hippocrates Health Educator, and Sue Petersen, M.S.A.C.N. and applied clinical nutritionist, demonstrated that raw smoothies and cookies can be delicious and oh-so good for you. (They’re presenting a Raw Energy: Jump Start Your Life with Raw and Vegan Foods weekend retreat July 16 – 18 at Cayuga Sunrise, a yoga bed and breakfast retreat that features gourmet vegan, raw and vegetarian cuisine in a 200-year-old country estate on 80 acres overlooking Cayuga Lake.)

And the wine!

The gentleman from Bilsboro Winery ever so patiently walked me through a Pinot Noir, a Riesling and a Cabernet Franc – sweet to dry – and my eyes were opened! Five or so other wineries further represented the Finger Lakes region with a broad selection of varieties. Many thanks to the good folks at Ventosa Vineyards, Zugibe Vineyards, Knapp Winery, Eleven Lakes Winery and Glenora Wine Cellars for the opportunity to explore their fine wines. (Ventosa's Tocai Friulano was exquisite.)

I got a late start to Saturday thanks to a headache that just wouldn’t quit (nooo, not a hangover - just exhaustion from a schedule that just won't quit), so I regretfully missed the talk on CSAs that I’d really wanted to hear. When I finally made it, I saw that the scene was completely different from what it had been the night before. Wellness had become the theme.

I was so engrossed in learning about essential oils from Seneca Falls-based Dr. Rebecca VonBergen, the whole-food nutritional supplements of Standard Process, Animal Welfare Approved (which, incidentally, applies to Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery), Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty and the amazing dinner that is held once a year (I do NOT want to miss it this year) … and so much more … that I missed the talks on “The history, nutrition and health of chocolate,” “You’re the customer,” “Utilizing local products,” “Empowering wellness: Secrets for a long and lusty life” and “Farm to school: Healthy kids, healthy farms, healthy communities.” I was delighted to find Keeley’s Cheese Co. and chat with Keeley’s mom while tasting their mild, fruity “stinky cheese.” My husband loved the chunk I brought home :)

I was given an incredible amount of information on all sorts of subjects, including the Weston A. Price Foundation. I’d never heard of it but what I learned made it worth investigating further. I learned so much in just one weekend, and I have lots yet to learn. My education promises to be a delicious and healthy one!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cheese, Louise!

I have to admit, until recently I was pretty much in the dark about just how much food is produced within an hour's drive west of my home. Sure, I knew there was wine and lots of it, thanks to the 30+ wineries (and distilleries and cideries!) that line the Finger Lakes; and I knew about the organic meats and the fabulous greens; but when it came to other stuff you can chew, I had merely an inkling.

It started with a visit to the Regional Market in Syracuse two weeks ago. I was innocently minding my own business, trying to fill my grocery list, when I spotted a woman selling cheese at a booth. Hmmm, cheese. By the time I made it to her table, she'd just sold her last bit of cheese and was packing up to go home. Awww. But at her urging I helped dispatch the remaining samples ... omg. Delicious!

That's when I learned about the newly formed Finger Lakes Cheese Trail. Because what goes with wine better than cheese? (I'm open to suggestions!) And what better trail to complement the existing Finger Lakes wine trails?

The cheese trail's first open house event was the following Saturday, May 29, and I managed to make it to precisely two dairies: Muranda Cheese Co. and Lively Run Goat Farm. What a lovely day, and what fun visiting with folks who clearly love what they're doing and have a passion for sharing it! I got to meet the goats who produce the milk that became that creamy, tangy chevre that topped that crustless leek and kale quiche I made last week. And I'm still savoring that incredible roasted garlic cheddar from Muranda ...

There are nearly a dozen artisanal cheesemakers in the Finger Lakes; Muranda and Lively Run are but two. I'm definitely looking to the next cheese trail open house on July 10. I just need to remember to get out of the house a lot earlier ...

Monday, May 31, 2010

Healthy eating, locally

For most folks, food is easy. We go to the store, pick out some goodies and go home. Not a lot of thought goes into it beyond whether we can afford what we want. After all, vegetables are vegetables, right? And all those veggies are good for our bodies, right?

But some have begun to ask questions. Where did that green pepper come from? How about those apples? How were these cucumbers grown? How was the animal that became this steak treated during its life? And why do these tomatoes have that strange plastic taste 9 months of the year?

The healthfulness of food has come into question in recent years. Genetic modification, harsh pesticides and other issues have caused many to look closer at the food they eat. How far can one trust a faceless corporation that mass-produces food with little regard for the well-being of the animals raised, the soil being used and the water that is consumed? What effect does buying food produced 3,000 away have on the local economy, the local landscape and one’s wellness? And how sustainable, ultimately, is that?

Enter the local food producer.

An increasing number of people are utilizing their local farmer’s market for fresh, wholesome food. There’s a certain exhilaration that comes from picking out a choice carrot or radish bunch, looking up into the face of the farmer who harvested it just hours before and thanking them as you pay them for your prized find, confident that your purchase is healthful, real food. Knowing that you’ve contributed to your local economy rather than sent your dollars to a distant corporation, and made face-to-face contact with the people who help put food on your plate, is a fulfilling feeling.

Interest in “eating local,” in sustainable agriculture, in consuming foods grown and raised within one’s geographic region, is on the rise. In fact, the word “locavore” – one whose diet consists of food grown/produced locally – was selected by the New Oxford American Dictionary as its word of the year in 2007.

But interest in local foods brings with it questions of a different kind. What are the health benefits of locally grown or produced food? How exactly does my purchase of local food affect my region, my state, my community? And how do I even cook this stuff?

For those of us in upstate New York and the surrounding region, answers to these questions can be found at the Finger Lakes Farm to Table: Nourishing a Sustainable Finger Lakes Region conference, June 4 – 5, 2010, at the New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls, N.Y. With the aim of educating consumers about the health benefits of eating natural foods that are grown or produced within the Finger Lakes region, the conference will showcase new local food resources from exhibitors, teach how to cook the local harvest from professional chefs and hear about the issues concerning eating local from expert speakers.

On June 4 from 4-7 pm, attendees can partake of an evening of local food and wine tasting in an intimate gathering with exhibitors. And on June 5 from 10 am – 5 pm, cooking demonstrations and a farmer’s market will support the speakers and presentations who will talk about the benefits of eating local food.

Learn more about the conference by visiting

Monday, June 30, 2008

Farm stands and fresh veggies

I can tell it's almost time for local produce at the market: my garden has really taken off in the past week. And if my garden is growing, you can bet the farmers are way ahead of me.

So while I've been watching my broccoli grow like a weed and the tomatoes threaten to rise up and shake off the fetters of their cages, I've also been keeping an eye out for roadside stands. Thus far I've run into one: the award-winning Kubecka Farms in Kirkville.

Tonight I swung by the stand briefly after work to take a look at what was available. I saw, yes, dearly familiar broccoli and some lovely-looking zucchini and summer squash keeping watch over a container of deep red strawberries that you just know are incredibly sweet and delightful. Unfortunately I didn't happen to need these particular items for my menus this week, so I continued on my way ... but I'll keep an eye out to see what becomes available, day by day.

I wonder if Vollmer Farms is still around on Collamer Road? I'll have to check it out tomorrow on my way home. It'll be fun to find farm stands around the county and see what's available and when, and I'd love to know where to go for fresh veggies in weeks when I know I won't be able to make a trip down to the Regional Market. As much as I love the market, if I can pick something up from a farmer on my way home, it's that much gas I'm saving by not making that Saturday morning trip into the city.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How you know you're just too busy

My little soap business has exploded in the last month or so, as I think I mentioned in my last post a couple of days ago. Between it and my full-time job at the paper, I haven't had time for much other than sleep and foraging at local eateries (nothing notable, trust me).

Yesterday I finally realized that the refrigerator was empty except for stuff like Thai red curry paste, Azuki bean paste and sambal oelek. Because of course everyone's refrigerator has a jar of sambal oelek, right? And two bottles of ketchup. There isn't enough ketchup in my diet. That was just in the door. In the back, I found a bottle of lemon juice and a half-gallon jug of real maple syrup keeping company with the nutritional yeast and golden flax seeds.

I am not Iron Chef; I cannot create five masterpieces from a single ingredient. I had run out of creative uses for stuff like Chef Shaikh's hot sauce that hadn't already made my head blow off my neck like the Apollo spacecraft at liftoff. And I just didn't have the heart for one more supper of lingonberry jam on toasted roggenbrot while I packed yet another 3784563487563047 orders.

So I broke down and got some groceries, some of it being produce from local farmers. I'm glad to know that I don't have to wait till mid-July for the locally produced fruits and veggies. Now the fridge is happy and full of veggies. I just need the time to figure out what to do with it all!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Garden update

A sudden, sharp uptick in activity with my soap business has temporarily sidetracked me from blogging in recent weeks ... but life still goes on! When I haven't been busily packing orders and updating spreadsheets (or warming a chair at my day job), I've been tending the garden.

This year's garden promises great things to come. We managed to put together a third garden box to accommodate the broccoli and lettuce plants. I've already picked some tender broccoli "crowns," having learned from last year's crop that the best thing you can do with broccoli is pick it as soon as it begins to look like broccoli. Delicious!

As usual, we have far too many tomato plants, but can it really be too many when you have so many different varieties? Early Girls, Better Boys and standard beefsteaks, not to mention the three or four heirloom varieties I brought home from the plant sale at the co-op a month or so ago. It's a matter of hurry-up-and-wait, as I want a nice thick drippy homegrown tomato sandwich now.

The strawberries are doing well, judging by the nibble marks from some hungry predator (note to self: Must make the time to set up the chicken wire, maybe that'll keep the neighborhood bunnies away). I managed to actually pick and eat a ripe one that survived ... and it was good. We have over a dozen individual plants at one end of the long bed beside the house.

The bell peppers are looking good as well. I have one plant that's actually producing a pepper! Very exciting stuff. Last year's pepper plant fell victim to a tomato plant that grew so large that eventually I was unable to even enter the garden. Let's just say things are laid out a little differently this year.

This year, I have an entire garden bed devoted to herbs! In addition to sweet basil and Greek oregano, I have rosemary, cilantro, Thai basil, mints (peppermint, pineapple mint and chocolate mint), wormwood, and lemon balm. Plus I threw in a random heirloom pea plant and an eggplant just because it looked like there was enough room.

Off to one side, I planted "double yield cucumber." Hmmm ... double yield: is that a threat or a promise? I expect it will eventually rear up on rudimentary hind legs and emit a feral roar as it overtakes the garden.

So far everything is off to a wonderful start. The mints are definitely feeling at home and in fact, all the herbs are quite large and bushy already. Time to get cooking! There are the beginnings of actual tomatoes on the Early Girls and the cherry tomato plants are in full bloom. As I mentioned earlier, the peppers and broccoli are doing nicely.

It's a bit late right now but I want to post some pictures of the garden. Coming soon!

Monday, May 26, 2008

What's for dinner this week?

There's something about a pot of kale simmered in hot broth that makes me expect to find cannellini and tender bits of sausage waiting for me at the bottom. However, last night's Portuguese Green Soup had neither beans nor sausage. It did, however, feature mashed red potatoes that thickened the liqueur of the soup nicely (silky-smooth!), as well as a chopped onion and some fresh garlic (my addition). Oh yes ... and a few drops of hickory smoke flavor snuck into the recipe, too.

The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, but I figure I need more oil in my life like I need a hole in my head. And instead of water, I used what I found in my fridge: some beef stock and lots of chicken broth, topped off with water. I was very pleased with how my version came out!

Gina's Portuguese Green Soup
(Adapted from Faye Levy's International Vegetable Cookbook)
Serves 3-4 as an appetizer

1-1/4 lb. boiling potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
5 cups beef stock, chicken broth, or water
Salt & freshly ground pepper
3/4 lb. kale, stalks discarded, leaves rinsed well
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Hickory smoke flavoring

In a large saucepan, combine potatoes with the liquid of choice and bring to a boil. Cook over low heat for 25 minutes or until very tender.

Meanwhile, pile kale leaves on a cutting board and, with a sharp knife, shred the kale leaves in crosswise strips as thin as possible.

With a slotted spoon, transfer potatoes to a bowl. Mash 'em with a hand masher. The skins will mostly stick to the masher, leaving you with mostly mashed potato - add just the potato to the cooking liquid.

Just before serving, bring soup to a boil, stirring. Scoop out the remaining skins from the pot. Add onion, garlic and kale. Boil uncovered over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until kale has reduced in volume and is crisp-tender. Add smoke flavor to taste; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.