Thursday, December 15, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Though Chef Kevin Campbell, above, has a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Colorado State University, he claims to be largely self-taught as a chef... and what a chef he is! His appreciation of the best quality ingredients and his deft creativity in the kitchen all spring from one basic inspiration: he loves to eat. He came from one of those classic Southern families where cooking and eating were celebrated among life's greatest pleasures.
Kevin hosted a dinner for the local Catamount Institute at Ranch Foods Direct that was delicious and seasonal from beginning to end, with some wonderful little surprises along the way. He served butternut acorn squash soup (with mushroom Jack cheese and truffle oil) in rustic canning jars to start. As a "nest" for his tender roasted vegetables, he created a bed of what he calls "dirt:" an earthy crunchy combo of dried mushrooms, whole wheat bread crumbs, sesame, hemp and flex seeds studded with broccoli sprouts and arugula. He infused the warm mashed potatoes with beef marrow. Another ingenious addition was the farm fresh egg, soft-boiled, battered and fried to resemble a hush-puppy. Cutting into it released the golden yoke, which was intended to gently cascade over the top of the sliced prime rib roast for his decadent version of steak-and-eggs. (Whoa!) The caramel toffee apple pie to end was a typical autumn classic that was anything but ordinary.
Monday, October 31, 2011
When stuffing a pumpkin, the hardest part is cleaning out the cavity at the beginning. In fact, I can't help comparing it to butchering a chicken! You have to continually reach into the slimy insides and pull out all of those slick but tough inner fibers to do it. Still, the effort is worth it. While many cooks will tell you canned pumpkin actually has the ideal texture for breads, pies and soups (and I would agree) a fresh pumpkin is the perfect vessel for cooking a savory stuffing and scraping the baked flesh from the hot shell is the best way to appreciate it in all of its culinary glory.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Today, that calf, along with the rest of his herd mates, is reaching full maturity. Like the rest of us, he and his friends are enjoying these golden fall days while they last. He's clearly well-fed and content, a gentle spirit. And so it is that we get to experience and steward this precious cycle of life. Farming has always been a profession that kept its practitioners grounded and humbled by nature's mystery and wonder. We're not a predominantly agrarian culture anymore and that's unfortunate. Few things are as satisfying as watching and participating in the continual evolution and renewal of the natural world.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Friday, July 22, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Chef Bob Blair and Fuel Cafe, a unique restaurant in a unique setting, hosted the inaugural Slow Food Denver "Community, Art, Food and Education" (C.A.F.E.) dinner last night. Three wonderful food projects in Denver were awarded $1,000 micro-grants from the evening's proceeds; they included a mobile farmer's market that will travel to under-served areas, a horticultural therapy program for at-risk teens, and a community garden emphasizing heirloom vegetables and seed-saving. For the main course, Bob Blair prepared a Callicrate Beef flank steak, cooked to a perfect deep crimson and presented against a beautiful palette of salsa verde and salsa rossa sauces, in green and chili red shades. The art of the food complimented the artwork exhibited throughout Fuel's unusual spaces (its high ceilings, wide halls and garage door openings.) Herbs and tomato plants were flourishing on the rain-washed patio outside.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
"From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all..."
Blind rush and bald pleasure aside, peaches do lend themselves to slightly more complex compilations of food bliss, blessings which include peach salsa, peaches grilled, peach pie or cobbler. The fruit's sensual sweetness stands out in a dish or lends delight to a minimal mix of ingredients. Here's a perfect demonstration: Martha Stewart Living's simple side salad of peaches, basil and red onion marries three of summer's most memorable flavors in an elegant splash of sunny golden colors. Art for the table, rendered effortless.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Steve and John Trivelli originally planned to keep Trivelli's 35th anniversary low-key. But their mother, Barbara, was having none of it. The timing also happens to coincide with the passing of family patriarch, John Sr., in 2005. "She wanted to make it a memorial," Steve says, adding that when Italians do something, they typically do it big. "At Trivelli's, we like to party; we like to have fun!"
The tiny sub-shop - famous locally for its Philly cheese steak-style sandwiches - will have special festivities from 11 to 2 p.m. Friday, July 15, showcasing neighborhood businesses (including Ranch Foods Direct) grilling burgers and hot dogs, and offering hoagie specials throughout the day. John Jr., who plans to leave the shop in August to focus on marketing a line of children's books, will be signing copies of his delightful Wanna Bee series, which playfully introduces kids to various professions.
Trivelli's, still holding down the fort at the original 2927 N. Nevada, is a local institution. "We belong in an institution, that's for sure," Steve quips. Back in August 2005, Ranch Foods Direct ran an article on the family business in the newsletter to honor John Sr's passing. Since that time, brother Tony has left the former sub-and-pizza shop at Barnes and Austin Bluffs and moved to Florida. Steve says his mom (whom he calls "4-foot-8-inches of dynamite") is still "ornery as all get out" and, at 74, only just retired from working at the shop three months ago to do more traveling. She's planning to be at the store on the 15th to enjoy the celebration. (Steve and John also have two sisters, Barbie and Lynn, who both live in Mississippi.)
Steve admits the restaurant business is tough but says things have never been better at Trivelli's, which is seeing double digit growth in traffic every month. "We've done more advertising and direct mailing," he says. "But what's going on at a deeper level is that people are sick of the $5 sandwiches at Subway. Their meats and cheeses are the bottom of the line, and people are getting their fill of it." A 6-inch hoagie at Trivelli's is $5, bringing the price of the full meal deal to just under $8. The monster 12-incher goes for $10. "The value's there," Steve says. "There's no question about that."
One of the big selling points at Trivelli's is, of course, the tender beef from nearby Ranch Foods Direct. "I've got to buy good food; otherwise, I'll be a Subway," Steve says. "Our name is on the building. It means something to me. Everybody knows Trivelli's."
Roughly 200 customers a day rotate through the closet-size space, which also features a handy drive-through window, open Monday through Friday 10-8 p.m. and Saturdays 10-5 p.m.
Come by their celebration and show them some love on Friday, July 15!
Read a recent review from the Dine and Dash feature in the CS Indy.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Sweet revenge for all those who believe academic programs are too focused on athletics: A small college in Dallas has transformed its "hallowed field" into hallowed ground of a different type, one capable of helping to feed the surrounding community. The gridiron has given way to a garden between the goalposts. Their new mascot? The "fighting okra," according to a delightful article by Mark Wynne, a food activist, writer and author of Closing the Food Gap. (For more about him, visit www.markwinne.com.
Read his article atfoodfreedom.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/texas-college-converts-football-field-into-organic-farm)
Some of the food the students now grow is served at Cowboys Stadium as well as at the city's restaurants, on campus and through nonprofit hunger programs. Eventually, they want to add an on-site store and a farmers market. These attributes are being used as broader learning tools; the garden also anchors a class in "social entrepreneurship." The college president says the goal isn't to turn students into farmers but into problem-solvers, something a life in agriculture helped forge in our country's bedrock generations.
Apparently schools all over the country have been contacting Paul Quinn's mentor, Yale University, about starting similar programs, so this idea is like a thriving bed of strawberries, sending out loads of vigorous runners.
(Read the Associated Press story at www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/7544934.html)
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Science writer Gary Taubes is back, this time with a piece about an insidious but plentiful dietary compound that in all likelihood is far more dangerous than fat and red meat: sugar. His recent article in the New York Times Magazine, "Is Sugar Toxic?" combs through the research to find out how much is too much. Americans, by the way, eat a lot.
His digging shows that if sugar is toxic, it is of the "chronic" versus "acute" form, which means that while humans can tolerate high sugar in a meal or two, it might blind them to the impact it has over thousands of meals (which actually transpires over a period of mere months.) His investigation also shows that diabetes and metabolic syndrome are very likely triggered by fat we can't see: fat that accumulates in the liver as it attempts to metabolize large amounts of sweetened food. There's even a potential link to many common cancers: elevated insulin and related hormones (needed to process sugar-laden diets) appear to feed and accelerate tumor growth.
Perhaps most telling in his article: the researchers who study the connection between cancer and sugars (here we are talking about the added stuff, not what is naturally occurring in fruits and other foods) have tried to eliminate it from their own diets. They admit that to them sugar is "scary."
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Now a fascinating new opposition movement is going public in a big way. Rural communities in New England that have been cultivating local food economies in order to revitalize are pushing "food sovereignty" initiatives. They want federal and state food inspectors and onerous regulations out of their hair. As blogger Kimberly Hartke writes, it's necessary to clear the way for more "home kitchen entrepreneurship."
"The town of Sedgwick, Maine, population 1,012 (according to the 2000 census), has become the first town in the United States to pass a Food Sovereignty ordinance. In doing so, the town declared their right to produce and sell local foods of their choosing, without the oversight of State or federal regulation.
What does this mean? In the debate over raw milk, for example, the law opens the gate for consumer and producer to enter a purchasing agreement without interference from state or federal health regulators."
On that note, don't forget that tax filing deadline day is fast approaching.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
A life lived with artful intention becomes a work of art. Honoring the creative impulse, however odd or unusual it might seem — and perhaps especially when it seems odd or unusual — often leads to the accidental masterpiece.
So concludes the pre-imminent art writer of our time, Michael Kimmelman, who explores this idea in a thoughtful collection of essays on contemporary, timeless and even eccentric amateur artists. (Among other things, he profiles a dentist and self-made curator who amassed a collection of 75,000 lightbulbs, turning his basement into what he billed the Museum of Incandescent Lighting. As a consequence of obsessively narrowing the lens, even this seemingly mundane object — man-made lighting — becomes a canvas for surprising revelations about human history, discovery, evolution, beauty, mastery and wonder: the curiosities of life.)
Journalist Kimmelman (a sensitive observer who is not to be confused with a mere critic) recently produced another one of his small masterpieces for the New York Times Magazine, this time on the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. The article reveals the character of one marginally famous man working in a creative field, what he stood for, and, by standing true, what his art conveys. Here’s a description of the hauntingly simple chapel-built-for-one pictured above right:
“(Zumthor’s Bruder Klaus chapel, in western Germany) rises from a modest ridge above the farming village of Wachendorf. In winter, a few deer gambol through crunching snow from the surrounding forest, sniff then retreat. The uphill trek from the nearest road, across an empty field, acts like a natural decompression chamber before the first glimpse of the building: an abrupt concrete block with an odd triangular door on one end.
Inside, pitched walls lead to a sort of cave or teepee with a high, teardrop oculus, open to the sky. A handful of people fit comfortably in the space, but ideally it’s made for one or two. Bruder Klaus was a hermit. There are no windows; there is no electricity or running water. Where a central altar might be, there’s a shallow pool of water, formed of rain and snow falling through the oculus. Small bottle-glass portholes add points of light, and undulating walls bear the imprints of 112 spruce trees, chopped down from Zumthor’s clients’ farm, then slowly burned, leaving blackened traces in the thick concrete.
“A small space to be quiet” is how Zumthor described the chapel to me. For the few solitary minutes I spent inside it, it seemed like the most peaceful and secret spot on earth.
The story goes that a family of devout farmers wrote to Zumthor, out of the blue, having hardly a clue of who he was, knowing only that the archbishop in nearby Cologne had hired him to plan a museum, and they asked him to build a field chapel for them — and Zumthor agreed, as long as they could wait a decade. I visited the family at their home. They turned out not to be yokels but prosperous and sophisticated, and they were perfectly aware of who he was. Zumthor, who waived his fee because he found the project intriguing, and who devoted years, as it turned out, to devising the chapel with a construction method that would allow villagers to build it themselves, house-raising-style, now grumbles about how much the chapel ultimately cost him, and how his clients kept trying to cut corners, although he said they ultimately acceded to everything.
Still, the original story has a kernel of truth, because with Zumthor a client is entering, firstly, into a relationship that entails Talmudic discussions and Job-like patience. Ask for an appointment with him, and you may get no response for days or weeks. He employs no publicist, dedicates no aide to media relations. Zumthor has long done what he wants and only what he wants. This has been his virtue and burden, inviting comparison with the late American genius Louis Kahn, another proud perfectionist who built just a few buildings, making the most of a coterie of committed clients to leave behind a handful of masterpieces.”
So many little revelations are packed into this one small slice of story. But most of all, it serves to illuminate the creative impulse that lies at the heart of the artist (dreamer, visionary) versus the mere conveyer of “product.”
In a lengthy, friendly phone conversation with Bob Blair, the chef/owner of Denver’s Fuel Café, many of the same themes arose: the importance of integrity and authenticity, of honoring quality ingredients (Zumthor, the architect, likes to work with real wood, which he says feels healthier to the body and even has an effect on the skin, but which most architects now consider “too expensive, too complicated and too old-fashioned”) and of deliberately choosing to be small and “off the beaten path” as a way to ultimately make a big impression.
Feel-good marketing aside, there still aren’t a lot of chefs who exhibit Zumthor’s level of missionary zeal. Or Bob Blair’s. As he described to me his quest to track down a non-GMO cooking oil, his level of commitment to sourcing wholesome, sustainably grown products was abundantly clear. It’s exciting to find examples of such artists in our midst: architects who take their cues from nature, history and a sense of place; chefs and farmers who remain first-and-foremost dedicated craftsmen; writers who unearth the complex and subtle truths about what it means to be fully and deeply human. In a time when so much of what surrounds us has been reduced to assembly line commodity, these “accidental masterpieces” stand out, give us pause, light up our imagination.
Friday, March 11, 2011
The latest issue of Spirituality and Health magazine includes a beautiful article on something called “transhumance,” a term I had never heard despite growing up on a farm and earning a degree in agriculture. It’s apparently “the seasonal movement of livestock from lowlands, where they’re fed in the winter, to high mountain areas, where they graze in the summer.” To get a taste of this tradition, travel writer Judith Fein, accompanied by a small band of curious city dwellers, tags along as Portuguese shepherds finish moving their flocks. Along the way she notices the curving horns, dark faces and other unique characteristics of the individual sheep, the ancient stone road beneath them constructed by “Roman hands” and a fig tree sagging under the weight of ripe fruit too luscious to ignore. Once they arrive in town, musicians are playing their accordions and guitars, the homes are brightly decorated and the locals are offering an array of goods and services. She discovers an elderly basket-weaver, one of the last living practitioners of his craft, who reminisces about the colorful local market he still remembers from his childhood.
She finds the people around her deeply moved by the experience of participating in this ancient pastoral tradition. “The main by-product of transhumance is fresh, natural dairy products from cows, goats and sheep, but equally significant is the nature-based, communal way of life that is now teetering on the edge of extinction,” she writes. She quotes another woman nearby as saying: “I loathe the idea of going back to the modern world, with all the noise, chaos and buzz of electronics.”
Here and around the world, the agrarian culture is fading away in the name of progress, taking with it a way of life uniquely suited to feeding the human spirit. At the Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture last month, futurist and keynote speaker Lowell Catlett cited fascinating research from the Institute of HeartMath that showed 90 percent of the time when women and horses are around each other, their cardiac rhythms synchronize, evidence of the mysterious depth of the animal-plant-people connection that we are only just beginning to fathom. (Interestingly, heart entrainment only happens 10 percent of the time between horses and men.) Despite a widening disconnect between field and table, this time of year seems to tie everyone inevitably back to a nature-based life, with the early fruit trees blooming, new calves appearing in pastures, the first vegetables sprouting in gardens, the farmers busily preparing to supply another season of abundant summer markets! And it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that we humans have the parasympathetic powers to tap into the vitality of all those flowering bulbs bursting up through the earth or the first sweet blossoms popping out of their buds.
Award winning writer Fein reminds us to open ourselves to the subtle magic surrounding us — whether we are traveling around the globe or just around the corner — and to live with the awareness of a pilgrim seeking to be transformed rather than a tourist looking for momentary amusements. She’s collected her 14 most memorable travel experiences into a book, Life Is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel, assuredly a fascinating and uplifting read, inspiration for the journey.
Friday, March 4, 2011
At the recent Governor's Forum on Colorado Agriculture, keynoter and New Mexico State University agricultural economist Lowell Catlett (shown at right) sought to broaden the definition of agriculture beyond the production of commodities like corn and wheat by pointing to its vast potential contributions to human health and well-being. One of the pioneering programs he mentioned involves putting returning soldiers afflicted with PTSD to work on NMSU's extension research farms. Having a regimented schedule of what his father's generation simply called "chores," plus working around plants and animals, is proving to be one of the most successful treatments available for suffering soldiers, he said.
It reminded me of a recent program I'd heard on American Public Media's The Story, called "Warrior to Farmer." New Mexico native Matthew McCue served in Iraq, but while there he was struck by the important role of farmers' market in that culture and eventually came to the conclusion that he could do "more good with a shovel" than a gun. He's now engaged in sustainable agriculture. He wants to return to Iraq someday, this time as a farmer rather than a soldier.
Monday, February 21, 2011
In the increasingly popular food nonfiction genre, William Alexander offers up compulsively readable stories. Never preachy, he poses as an unassuming middle class East Coast professional whose wit and self-deprecating humor, curiosity and willingness to learn lead him into intricate adventures growing his own apples and tomatoes, and making his own peasant bread in his home kitchen.
In his latest, 52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust, he chronicles his education as he makes one loaf a week for a year in hopes of achieving bread perfection. Along the way, he dispenses crumbs of fascinating cultural and scientific trivia. For example, the reader learns early on that Sunni militants in Baghdad drove the Shiites out of targeted neighborhoods by killing the bakers: “To shut down a well-known bakery in a neighborhood, that means you paralyze life there,” one man explained. After months of research and experimentation, Alexander ends up in an ancient French monastery, rigging a sourdough variation that will fit into the regimented schedule of monks who still pray seven times a day, as they have since the 600s. In the pages between, he consults experts like Peter Reinhart and a grain scientist at Bay States Milling for bread-making insight, and goes through the laborious process of raising, threshing and stone-grinding his own wheat.
His first book, The $64 Tomato — subtitled “How one man nearly lost his sanity, spent a fortune, and endured an existential crisis in the quest for the perfect garden” — takes its title from an accounting toward the end of the summer in which he attempts to put a dollar figure to each of his beautiful ripe late summer Brandywine tomatoes. As he meticulously adds them all up, the figures startle him. He easily computes the privilege of growing each palm-sized gem at $64.
“Food is cheap,” Alexander writes, as he muses on his self-imposed accounting exercise. “I actually grew a fair amount of food; it just wasn't worth much. For example, my local green market is selling a ten-pound bag of white potatoes for $1.50 - just 15¢ a pound. A person could probably eat well from that buck-fifty bag for several days. (For this exercise I valued my Yukon Gold and fingerling potatoes at $1.50 per pound.) Every time I'm done picking sugar snap peas or rise from my stoop, aching, from picking green beans, I marvel that I can buy this stuff in the green market for a dollar a pound. How can anyone possibly grow green beans for a dollar a pound? I can't even pick them for a dollar a pound, it takes so long. It's a miracle that any farmer stays in business, but God bless them.”
His good-humored calculations raise a serious point, of course, one which confronts agriculturalists everyday: the difference between what it costs to grow food compared to how it’s priced at the store, in many cases far below a realistic cost for the vagaries of production. For a home gardener (in this case, one who plans to keep his day job at the nearby research institute) it isn’t an issue, but just the number alone exposes a startling gap that is not easily or often explained well, even while we note the obvious: rural towns in decline and family farm business structures that have been forced to change, in some cases, dramatically, to achieve the scale and efficiency to survive economically. This is all happening at the same time as an increasing number of shoppers seem to be demanding a more romantic, sensual, traditional style of food production.
Alexander seems to have inadvertently put his finger on a modern dilemma (Yes, you can have a lovingly raised, lavishly indulged tomato, but it will cost you $64 a pop.) By documenting his own experiences, he reveals the timeless — and time-consuming — nature of the arts of food and agriculture, which are impossible to mass produce without compromising something. Read him to understand why even relatively pricey food is often still a bargain, and find yourself smiling (or chuckling) as you do.