sustainable food

Growing your own edible garden

Growing up we were lucky to have a Mom passionate about growing food.

I didn't appreciate then the tender asparagus shoots each spring coaxed from the hard earth or the lovely ruby red raspberries prized from brambly bush.

While my friends ate slippery. soft canned vegetables, I ate a wide variety of fresh garden treats - Swiss chard, sugar snap peas, asparagus, buttercrunch lettuce and delicate squash blossoms.

I didn't know then the tasty fried squash blooms were an Italian delicacy known as Fiori di Zucca. I probably wouldn't have eaten it!

Even if you haven't much space, you can tend your own edible garden. Mine is not much more than some pots planted with herbs - basil, rosemary and thyme along with mesclun.  Soon I'll add beefsteak tomatoes, Italian green beans, garlic and zucchini.

The edible garden is more relevant than ever. Use your imagination and be inspired by your kitchen.

Farm to Fork local NC fundraiser set May 23

Farm To Fork Fundraiser Join a remarkable group of NC Piedmont and cooks for an evening of food, live music, and fun!

W.C. Breeze Family Farm
Extension and Research Center
4909 Walnut Grove Church Road
Hurdle Mills, Orange County
(A few miles north of Hillsborough)

Organized by Slow Food Triangle, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, and Orange County.

Proceeds will benefit the PLANT at Breeze Farm Enterprise Incubator, an innovative and important sustainable agriculture program in Orange County, and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.

Last year,  more than $10,000  was raised.

Tickets are available now and must be purchased in advance at

$50 for members of Slow Food, CEFS, and Friends of Breeze Farm.

$60 for non-members.

What's for dinner: Bison burgers

Square like Wendy's but a whole lot better for you

Last Saturday we got up early to make it to the Durham Farmers Market before all the sweet corn disappeared. We were well rewarded with beautiful plump kerneled ears.

Soooo sweet silver queen  Overall, the market offers a good selection of fresh produce, baked goods, organic eggs, poultry, meats and cheeses. Additionally, we have soap makers (goat's milk!) as well as chocolatiers (DollyMama, a playful take on the Dalai Lama, whose chocolates include the Buddha box), and artists and craftsmen selling everything from jewelry to stained glass baubles to handmade cards to pottery.

But the booth that we kept gravitating to was Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farms' bison meat.  You too can buy Rocky Mountain Oysters (ugh, no thanks) as my younger brother did or you can be more conservative (a term rarely applicable to me) and buy kabobs or burgers, roasts or stew meat.

Bison is pricey. The average price per pound for most cuts is between $7 and $10.  Organ meats are cheaper, starting at $3.  Prime cuts like steak as high as $20. 

My son, the 11-year-old epicure, was dying to try bison.  We bought kabobs (and unbeknownst to us, my older brother had already been shopping and bought burgers). Around five, we got a call to come over for Buff Burgers on the Barbie. So, we did.

Loading up the bison burger

Bison doesn't look that much different from ground beef, but is leaner and nutritionally superior according to some experts.

Sunset Ridge buffalos are grass-fed, and are not given growth hormones, low-level antibiotics, or animal by-products

According to the National Bison Association:

Research by Dr. M. Marchello at North Dakota State University has shown that the meat from Bison is a highly nutrient dense food because of the proportion of protein, fat, mineral, and fatty acids to its caloric value. Comparisons to other meat sources have also shown that Bison has a greater concentration of iron as well as some of the essential fatty acids necessary for human well being.

Secrets of the French kitchen with Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard

Behind the scenes at Bistro de Leon

The French have a reputation for creating gastronomic delights from the simplest ingredients.  

Think pot au feu, a hearty beef stew whose literal name means pot on fire, or cassoulet, a slow-cooked white bean stew with various meat from sausage to duck or mutton.  

The traditional French kitchen always has been stocked with the freshest ingredients, locally grown and produced.  But, while most of us associate a typical French kitchen with savory and sweet delicacies, we usually don't recognize it for the place of economy and thrift that it is.

Generally, we think of luxury and expensive ingredients when we think of French cuisine. However, eating well shouldn't be a luxury and the French kitchen is the perfect place to learn this lesson.

In a recent conversation with Bistro de Leon restaurateur Jean-Stephane Poinard, the Paul Bocuse-mentored chef generously shared secrets of his kitchen - many learned in the kitchens of his Maman and Grand-mère, masters of French comfort food or la cuisine de nos mères.  

Chef Poinard is a native of Lyon and a member of the elite Les Toques Blanches Lyonnaise.  He currently is collaborating on a book about absinthe (including 18 of his recipes).

The French are reknowned for their inventive cuisine and for very little waste in the kitchen. What are some smart ways for home cooks to make the most of their food budget?

People used to cook whatever they wanted.  They didn't worry much about its cost, where it came from or how it made them feel.  Now people are beginning to realize that if they eat crappy food, they feel bad. They are interested in the long term plan.

Feeding yourself is a pleasure. We can do small things that make food more flavorful and more interesting and we can save too.

A baguette, if it is made with good quality flour and yeast, you have to see all the little bubbles inside like Swiss cheese, can be frozen if you are not using it all right away.  Save half in the freezer and reheat it in the oven at 350º.

You recommend re-purposing day-old baguettes as well.

Don't throw away dry bread. There are many ways you can use bread.  A plain salad is not very fun - even for kids.  Make little croutons, add egg, a little lardon (thick bits of slab bacon).  It's a little appetizer with lots of tasty treats.

You can dry the bread all the way through and process in the food processor to make bread crumbs.  Mashed potatoes with cheese and bread crumbs make a nice gratin.

French toast is a good way to use the baguette.  When the bread soaks in the milk and egg, it's very rich, very filling.  

Just with the baguette, we can do a lot of stuff.  Goat cheese melted on a crispy baguette makes a nice appetizer or crouton for a salad.

There are so many ways we can economize and make healthy flavorful foods, reducing waste.
Chicken stock is very flavorful when its made from the carcass of a roasted chicken. Don't throw out the bones. Why buy chicken stock when you can make your own? It's very cheap.

Add the carcass, garlic, celery, onions, thyme and carrots to water in a stockpot. Boil for 15-20 minutes, then strain through cheesecloth.   Believe me, it will be delicious.

You can make a Bouillon aux petites pâtes to give people when they are sick and the kids like it.  You add alphabet pasta or little stars to the chicken stock to make it even healthier.

Freeze the stock as well or reduce it a lot to make a glaze or base to flavor a lot of dishes.

We all would love to eat fantastic flavorful meals every evening, but the reality is that busy days and long commutes can cut into our time for cooking. 

Cooking a big meal on Sunday, you have many ways to use the leftovers during the week.  This saves time and money by using seasonal ingredients.

What is your favorite, quick meal that is simple to prepare, nourishing and fabulous? 

Pot au Feu is a wonderful Sunday dinner.  It's flavorful and healthy.  Leeks, chard and celery are all very juicy vegetables. You make a little extra and you can make many nice meals during the week.  

You can take the leeks and use a vinaigrette.  Leeks are a great detox. The celery cleanses your liver. 

You can make a Pistou or Pesto soup with the leftover vegetables and meat. Pistou is so easy to make and very inexpensive.

What are some inexpensive cuts of meat that can be prepared elegantly and simply?

London Broil is the cheapest cut of meat. It's pretty tough, but we cook it in the pressure cooker to make it very tender with stock, potatoes, turnips and carrots. 

You can use the leftover meat for stuffed tomatoes or to make a dish like Shepherd's pie.  You grind the meat to stuff the tomatoes, to use in a gratin with mashed potatoes.  It's very nice.

Do you have a favorite recipe you would share? 

Pistou. Compare the price in the store. Basil in season costs nothing.  You make 4-5 times more for the same cost and you can store extra in the freezer.  

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts 
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup good olive oil 
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 fresh ground black pepper 
  Process until smooth in a food processor or blender.  Seal with a thin layer of olive oil.

Can you recommend some value wines and some menu items that pair well with them? 

Don't buy wine according to the label.  You pay for the label.  Sometimes you get a very nice tasting wine for a very good value.  In Lyon many people go to the domaine to buy the wine the winemakers declassify.  They can't sell more than a certain number of AOC or appellation d'origine contrôlée bottles so they sell it as vins de pays or table wine.  You get the same wine at a much lower price.

What are some wines you recommend?

I love Cote du Rhone.  You can buy a Ville Fleurie for $6-7 a bottle.  Another is the southwestern French Rosé, Costières de Nîmes. Viognier - this wine is amazing.  It's very tasty, very floral. 

Don't be afraid of the box. If you find a good value, you can buy three liters for about $19.  Black Box is nice, the sauvignon blanc and the Merlot, a little more forte or strong.

People are focused on the label. It's not the label. It's what's inside the bottle. You serve it in the carafe. People love the carafe and it's good for the wine. It's oxygenated.

What are some exciting food combinations that home cooks can use to liven up their meals?

Strawberries, basil and balsamic vinegar make a nice salad.  An avocado mousse with shrimp and cumin mayonnaise.

Hotel Shangri-la to open The Dining Room with Noah Rosen at the helm

Find Nirvana at The Dining Room in the Shangr-La Hotel Find your way  to Shangri- La. Then have dinner - creative, simple and fresh.  Leave satisfied by a good meal and the knowledge that you've helped reduce the carbon footprint. 

Hotel Shangri-La, Santa Monica's "iconic architectural gem, anticipates its first restaurant, The Dining Room, in May 2009.

Owned by veteran restaurateur and nightlife impresario, Marc Smith, who also designed the 71-room hotel, the restaurant will be new American with a California fresh feel. Far from your grandmother's dining room table, this ocean front restaurant will offer the cuisine of one of the West coast's top chefs.

Executive chef Noah Rosen will oversee the restaurant as well as all of the hotel's food and beverage outlets.

"I like Noah's approach to life. His surfer mentality is calming in the kitchen and he works really well with the team- doesn't let ego get in the way, and he uses ingredients in the way they are intended. In this sense, he is seeking to cook for the sake of cooking versus celebrity, which truly makes him a chef of a dying breed," says Smith. 

Rosen is a Southern California native with extensive experience working with some of the West coast's finest culinary establishments including Patina, Melisse, Mini Bar, Wilshire, and most recently as Chef de Cuisine at BLT.  His new menu for The Dining Room showcases his American Farmer's Market Cuisine with French sensibilities and is priced in alignment with the current economy.

The executive chef's mandate is to be as green as possible, reducing its carbon footprint and sourcing as much as possible from local California farmers. His wine list features a predominately large selection of California wines, supporting Rosen's vision ofsupporting the local economy while minimizing the impact on the environment.

To experience Rosen's culinary skills firsthand, intimate dining experiences can be arranged for select private parties and cooking retreats. This opportunity will allow guests to shop with Rosen at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market and work with him to learn his innovative approach to the culinary arts.

Southside CSA offers wine shares, oh my


Ordinarily I would not find myself coveting my neighbor's wife as it were.  But I have to make an exception in this case.  

I, who have been pondering a share in my local CSA, buying direct from farms to nourish myself and support my local farmers, am now wishing I lived in South Williamsburg, or at least a little closer.

Why all the covetouus behavior?

Well. my local CSA sounds terrific, but they don't offer a share in locally grown wines from Long Island's Bridge Vineyard (or wine tastings at their Williamsburg tasting room Bridget on Broadway). Southside CSA does this and more.

Southside CSA is the first to offer wine shares.  Full shares from Bridge are $360 for 20 weeks or half share $180 for 10 distributions.  New York state offerings are $400, full share, and $200, half share.

I'm more than a little green.  I want my super-fresh squash blossoms to stuff with ricotta and finish with Fleur de Sel and my little sip too.

Slow Food London presents a Southbank edible feast

Hold your horses...Slow Down London 

Southbank Centre’s Food Market presents the Slow Feast, Sunday May 3.

Dawdle the afternoon away and put together your own edible feast, selecting from an array of artisan food and drink vendors.  

Gather family and friends for a meal along the Festival Riverside, in the adjacent Jubilee Gardens or on Southbank Centre Square itself.

The feast is the brainchild of Slow Down London – a new project to inspire Londoners to challenge the cult of speed and to appreciate the world around us. And the market will be packed with excellent produce to help make it happen. 

According to market organizer, Silvija Davidson, 40 stalls will furnish fresh mezze and salads, new season English tomatoes, the last of the Native oysters, olives, platters of salumi/charcuterie and cheeses from England and the continent. Those preferring cooked comestibles may select from chargrilled new season English asparagus, sautéed mushrooms, fennel-roasted pork, seafood paella, spicy stir fries, 21-day hung, grass-fed beef or rare breed lamb. Home-made cakes, baklawa or freshly flipped pancakes offer a final sweet finish.

“You’ll find everything that you need from craft bakery bread and farm butter, even down to basics like a drizzle of salad dressing, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper," Davidson said


Dates and times:

The Food Market runs from Friday to Monday, May 1-4, from 11-8 each day (6 pm on the Monday) and is located on Southbank Centre Square outside the Royal Festival Hall (alongside Belvedere Road). A program of free access demos, tastings and workshops runs each day.

Virginia entrepreneur supports local farmers and economy


Maura_badji The original batch of fresh produce and herbs harvested from his grandmother’s garden that would one day lead to the award-winning “fire-blended” Sabrosa Salsa, was whipped up by Duane Thompson in his Virginia State University dorm room in 1991.

Then a football player and criminal justice major, Thompson found that hunger was the mother of invention the night he returned from a losing game to find his room-mates had eaten almost all the garden bounty his grandmother had dropped off for him.  Scrounging around for a meal, he boiled up a hot-plate full of onions, celery, peppers, and tomatoes. The resulting salsa satisfied him and sparked his curiosity about this essential Latin American condiment tracing its roots to Aztec cultures.

While researching his new-found passion, Thompson, a self-described “salsaholic”, found that what most run-of-the-mill salsas had in common was an acidic tomato base and preservatives which often led to heart-burn and acid reflux. Many batches and years of research later, Sabrosa, Spanish for “great flavor”, is an all-natural, all-local, low-pH, low acid salsa with a rich, smoky taste imparted by its distinctive fire-roasted bell pepper base.

Blended with aged balsamic vinegar, cilantro, onion, and tomato puree extracted in a unique process which lowers the natural acidic level, Sabrosa Salsa packs a powerful punch. Humble corn tortilla chips accompanied that first prototypical condiment in Thompson’s dorm room, but today’s Sabrosa Salsa is a versatile gourmet treat and a flavorful addition to roasted chicken, beef brisket, or grilled fish or vegetables.

An energetic proponent of sustainable agriculture, Thompson says, “We need to support our local economy—we have so much here.   We need to support our local farms, and by extension, local jobs.” True to his word, the Hampton, VA, native uses only select produce from local Hampton Roads farms and packs the tasty salsa in a pristine co-packing plant in Pungo.  

As part of his “go local” philosophy, Thompson also supports the local community by volunteering his time, business expertise, and knowledge about healthy eating to children in area schools from early childhood programs with An Achievable Dream, to Biz4Kidz, an international entrepreneurship program which developed The Edible Garden project at Norview High School in Norfolk, VA in partnership with Regent University in Virginia Beach.

Local, however, does not mean small potatoes. Sabrosa Foods, Inc. has garnered national attention on MSNBC’s “Your Business” and CNBC’S The Big Idea with Danny Deutsch. Sabrosa also won the Best New Food Product Diamond Award at the 2008 Virginia Food and Beverage Expo.  Thompson’s positive outlook and attention to detail have kept Sabrosa Foods growing, even in a rocky economy; look for Sabrosa Foods to go international and national in the next few years.

Available in mild or medium heat, Sabrosa Salsa is sold on and at Duane Thompson’s store in the Five Points Community Farmer’s Market (2500 Church Street, Norfolk, VA) for $6.50 per 12 oz jar. 

The naturally colorful, and very addictive, condiment is also stocked throughout Virginia by Farm Fresh (Hampton Roads), Ukrops Grocery (Williamsburg to Richmond), many specialty shops such as Kitchen Koop and Organic Depot (both in Portsmouth, VA),  The Sauce Shop (Virginia Beach, VA) and in the Farmers Markets in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton, Yorktown and Williamsburg.

A native New Yorker living an dworking in Virginia Beach, VA, Maura Alia Badji is a poet, writer, teacher and mother. Her article originally ran on her blog at Skirt!

Will Work for Food Project promotes small farms & sustainable food


Too many American children are so far removed from their food sources that they think chicken is a little deep-fried, processed nugget.

Now at a time when the fast food nation falls deeper into an economic slump, more Americans are re-thinking their relationships with the food that they eat. Yearning for simpler times, foods that comfort and nourish, Americans are rediscovering small farms and sustainable foods.

How timely that Valerie Gates, graphic designer and creative director of Gates Studio in Boston, began the Will Work for Food Project.   Gates' incredible project - where she barters her design services to small farmers for their locally grown and produced food products - grew out of her own exploration and wonder about sustainable food and the people who produce that food. 

"Farming is a dying art," said Gates, who has begun working with six small farms in her area to develop logos, branding and websites.  "The people who run these farms work incredibly hard. They start the day at 6 in the morning and end at 11 at night. They want to make it hip again to get back to the land."

Two books influenced Gates' decision to do something positive and creative for small farmers as well as her family.  After reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, a book that considers what we eat, how we make those decisions and the implications of those choices, and  Barbara Kinsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Magic, the author's chronicle of a year in eating locally and seasonally, Gates dreamed up her project.

Will Work for Food gives farmers access to branding and marketing skills to grow and sustain their way of life and, at the same time, teaches her family about where good food comes from while  putting healthier food on the table each day.

The entire family is in on the project.  From Dad and business partner, Barry, who is learning to cook all the great food stuffs, to Gates and their children -eight-year-old Olivia, a vegetarian, and 13-year-old, Cameron - the family is on a journey to discover the wonder of where food comes from and the people who grow it the slow and natural way.

"It's fun for me," said Gates, whose energy and enthusiasm is contagious. "I'm pretty much a city girl. I appreciate my food more. I appreciate where my food is coming from more now."

The family went on one of their first farm visits today, an event televised by the local news. The big news? Olivia held a newborn lamb, the family learned farmers don't name their animals (for obvious reasons), and they got to see an ingenious mobile hen house. Better news yet? The family is gaining a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the natural world, the pressing need to be sensitive to the earth, and the vital role of food in daily life.

And the farmers are equally thrilled. Sixteen have lined up to work with Gates Studios. Gates and her family are at the precipice of a trend. 

Now, someone get Barry a copy of Ruth Reichl's classic Gourmet Cookbook and Deborah Madison's fabulous Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Photo: ©2008 Gates Studio