Archive for May, 2011

Substitution: Walnut Pesto

Posted on May 26, 2011. Filed under: chicken, easy, pasta, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , , |

 I don’t have a “signature” dish, per se. I like to play, I like to make new discoveries. But I do have a few standby dishes that I know and love. Penne pesto with chicken breast is one of them. Trouble in River City: I wanted to make the dish, but someone I was cooking for has a pine nut allergy. Pine nuts are an integral component of my pesto. Oh boy. It was time to experiment.

Sometimes you have to change a dish a little bit. Perhaps someone you’re cooking for is a bit finicky, or, as in this case, they have a food allergy. This can freak out people with limited experience in the kitchen. People with a lot of experience might scoff at the idea of messing with what they know is the “right” way. This is stupid. A good cook shouldn’t be snotty about his or her recipes. Look at it as a chance to experiment. Change the flavor profile a little bit. That’s why I did with this. Goodbye pine nuts, hello walnuts.

For the pesto, blend:
1 4oz. package Basil
1/4 Cup Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
1/2 Cup Toasted Walnut Pieces
3 Cloves Garlic
1/8 Cup Olive Oil
1 1/2 Cups Milk
Mix into cooked pasta and Super Simple Chicken.
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A Visit to Frog Hollow Farm

Posted on May 12, 2011. Filed under: hodgepodge, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

Last semester I took a class on Sustainable Agriculture. It’s no state secret that I didn’t really want to take the class. I’m interested in what happens to food after it’s been grown and harvested; what is available at the market, why people make the choices they make, how to get people to be less timid in the kitchen. So I wasn’t totally thrilled about driving 45 minutes to a 9AM agriculture class. What do I care about weeds that don’t, at least according to the great state of California, help my migraines? But a funny thing happened sometime during Pittsburgh’s bleak winter. I stated to care. For real. The more I learned about the complexities of growing food in a sustainable food system, about the hard work farmers have to put in to do so, the more I began to think how much these farmers needed to be appreciated. I’m never going to be a farmer, but I want to know them.

Last week I was invited to visit Frog Hollow Farm. They’re a sustainable fruit orchard located in Northern California. I wrote about the farm in my final Ag class paper, and since I was going to be home in Danville, I figured I’d ask them if I could visit. They were happy to have me. (Try asking a corporate megafarm if you could visit them. See what happens…) I met with co-owner and head farmer Al Courchesne on a sunny Thursday morning, and he took me on a tour of the farm.

A little background: Courchesne and Sarah Coddington founded Frog Hollow Farm in 1976 on a thirteen-acre lot purchased from Coddinton’s great-uncle in Brentwood, California. Thirty-five years later, Frog Hollow farm is now over 130 acres. The farm, which began as a corn, mixed vegetable, and fruit tree operation, now grows nearly 100 varieties of stone and tree fruits as well as olives and table grapes. Courchesne as also recently introduced an experimental heirloom tomato plot, something he’s quite excited about. Although they began as a conventional farm, Frog Hollow has been certified as organic by Certified California Organic Farmers (CCOF) since 1989. All the farmland is connected, they grew the farm a few acres at a time. Doing this allowed Courchesne to slowly develop the land, experimenting with sustainable agricultural methods as he did.

Frog Hollow Farm’s sustainable growing incorporates the practice of agroecology. You might be thinking, “what the heck is that strange word, Hal B? It doesn’t spell check at all.” It’s true. Most people don’t know what it means. I didn’t either. Lucky for me, one of the books I read last semester was titled Agroecology, so I was able to get a pretty good idea of what it means. In short, agroecology is a systemic approach to growing; it’s not just about the output of what’s being grown, it’s about the overall health of the land and the community that surrounds it. If you visited a conventional orchard, you’d see neat rows of trees with pristinely manicured undergrowth. It’s different at Frog Hollow.

Frog Hollow’s land is wild. Grasses and weeds grow beneath the trees, and masses of native wild flowers populate the space in between the rows. At first glance, you’d almost think it’s neglected. You’d be so wrong. Trees have deep roots, so the weeds don’t compete with them. In fact, at Frog Hollow they help the trees. Courchesne and his staff will occasionally pull the weeds. The pulled weeds are then used as mulch, helping to reduce the water needs of the trees. In an area with hot, dry summers, this is a clever way to reduce environmental impact of fruit growing. Eventually the weeds decay back into the soil, feeding the trees. Smart, right? The wild flowers? They’re not just pretty, they’re part of a native bee experiment the farm is running with U.C. Davis. See…whole system approach.

Just how integrated is the farm with the land? Well, in the middle of my tour, I saw what I thought was a small deer flying through the plants. It was actually a giant jackrabbit. Huge ears, leaping through the wild. Amazing.

(Also…terribly sorry for the lack of pictures. I was so caught up in the tour I didn’t take any…oops.)

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Spring into Green Dinner

Posted on May 4, 2011. Filed under: hodgepodge, local, review, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

I celebrated my birthday by attending Wild Purveyors Spring Into Green dinner. The dinner was held in a barn at the Beechwood Farms Nature Preserve, and was a benefit for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. All the food was either foraged by Cavan and Tom from Wild Purveyors or sourced locally. Blackberry Meadows Farm provided much of the produce, and Horizon View Farms provided the beautiful grass fed ribeye steaks. Food was prepared by Restaurant Echo.

There were about 40 of us in the barn. It was a dreary late spring day, with temperatures in the mid 50s. Happily, we were warmed with beer, not-too-shabby locally made wine, and Boyd & Blair’s ramp infused vodka. The meal itself was a bit uneven; certain items (braised pork shoulder, luscious goldenrod honey sherbet, strawberry and rhubarb panna cotta, pickled wild ramps) really shined, while other items (I’m looking at you oddly savory and BabyFoodLike chilled pea soup) missed the mark. If the meal was uneven, why am I posting something about it? I’m not a restaurant reviewer, and it’s really not too terribly terribly interesting that I spent my birthday drinking and eating in a barn. Believe me, there are much crazier birthday stories.

I’m writing because the event itself was something important. Foraged food and respect for farmers. Each course was preceded by a little story about where the food came from. Although this might sound silly or boring to some people, it’s important. I’m not saying that every time you eat you need to hear a tale about sunlight, water conservation, and moonbeams. But it’s good to know where your food comes from. We live in a society that’s so disconnected from our food supply, and we’re not going to be able to change that unless we make an effort to connect those who eat with those who grow. And that’s what an event like this does. When you’re hearing stories about the heritage seed saving efforts of Blackberry Meadows or sitting next to the parents of the dudes who did the foraging, it’s hard not to be inspired to think more about where your dinner came from.

I should point out tickets to this were superduper expensive. I was lucky enough to be given a wonderful birthday gift and get to go for free. But the sad fact is most people who would benefit from a reconnection to their food wouldn’t be able to afford to go to something like this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for fancy-pants parties, and for having those who can afford to attend them donate to support organizations like the Audubon Society. I’m not knocking it at all. It’s good. This was a super fun evening. People who can afford events like this need to be connected to their food too, and will hopefully use their economic and political influence to make the system better. But while we celebrate spring and foraging and rainbows and pickled wild ramps, we also need to make sure we’re working on solutions to the problems food deserts, cheap calorie processed foods, and educating people that meat doesn’t come pre-packaged in a Styrofoam tray. Change needs to happen from the top-down and the bottom-up.

Finally, an update on my quest to become a Less Picky Eater: I tried mushrooms. Three times in one night. Mostly without the “I’m Not Going to Like This” face. Foraged morels. They were…well, not too bad. In two cases, I more or less enjoyed them, though the aftertaste wasn’t quite as nice as the first bite. Would I try them again? I do believe I would.

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