Sunday, March 30, 2008

no place like home

kansas. all 7 hours of it. i really wanted a picture of one of the signs reading "1 kansas farmer feeds 128 people and you", but you take what you can get in a speeding car.
on our trips out west when i was a kid, kansas was the dreaded mundanity in the middle. however, now i look at kansas through a whole other set of lenses. kansas is a wheat state. hard white wheat in particular, i recently learned, which is used for bread flour. the wide expanse of fields has a certain beauty, even at this gray time of year, when i think about the path our food takes. the grain silos rise up from the grasses. railcars wind, serpentine, across the landscape. i start to think about the people on the farms and the processes that bring me my food. it makes the state look entirely different.
i don't know much about farming, or the plight of the farmer in the u.s. i have read a little about corn and what government subsidies and inflated production have done to the market. i don't know if wheat farmers face a similar scenario, but it is mind-boggling to consider how so many things are interconnected. the way i understand it with corn, subsidies increase production, which floods the market, which drives the price down, which means farmers have to use more of their land to produce to make up for losses. then we have to find all kinds of interesting uses for the surplus, including training cattle to eat it instead of grasses. yikes. my head is spinning, and that's the oversimplified version. (time has an article this week about corn-based ethanol called 'the clean energy scam':,9171,1725975,00.html)
i have always been a huge fan of the wizard of oz (the books and the movie). awhile ago, i attempted to read 'the historian's wizard of oz', which discusses the wizard of oz as an allegory for the politics of the 19th century, in particular the people's party and the western farmer's opposition to the gold standard. i did not understand most of what i was reading and stopped after the first chapter. it seems like something i should revisit, especially since understanding the politics (even through allegory) during that time will aid my understanding of the food industry as it stands today.
unfortunately, i did not get to visit the oz museum. it was closed by the time we reached it. i also did not get to see the world's largest prairie dog, who on some signage is purported to weigh 8000 pounds. i do have to say, however, kansas does have some beautiful stars.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

local eating confabulation

michelle and her husband, dion, wanted to take us snowboarding today. heights, snow and i do not mix. even the promise of sharing the slopes of vail with the likes of cameron diaz was not enticement enough. so, i have been left to my own devices, giving me the opportunity to 'riff' about local eating.
the movement towards eating local came as kind of a surprise to me. i have spent years globalizing my eats, developing tastes for indian, mediterrean, thai, etc. this is what being a worldly and well informed eater meant. hometown cuisine, farmers, grits, were all things to be scoffed at and disregarded as plebeian.
enter the eating local fad. similar to the arts and crafts movement of the 19th century, which attempted to retrieve the soul lost in the machine-made production of the industrial revolution, local eating strives to recapture the soul of eating: restore the seasonality, bring greater appreciation to production, and reduce the strains to the environment a global dinner plate causes. this is beyond organic. this is knowing your food and where it came from, and enjoying your local community on a different level. kind of makes you want to host a barn-raising.
eating local presented me with several questions. first- what radius is considered 'local'? half a day's drive? 100 miles? i'm still not sure, but i have commonly seen the 100 mile figure. secondly, what diversity of food grows in ohio? i think green bean casserole has been known to grow wild, but i am uncertain about what else is attainable. when i was a kid, we used to go to 'the farm'. it was a local farmer who sold seasonal fruits and corn and gave away free barn kittens to any willing child. when i questioned my mom about it, she said she thought they didn't sell anymore. there is always findlay market to consider. i have unfortunately not been able to schedule a visit yet. going to kroger's (esp. since i work in the pharmacy there) is so much easier. which brings me to another point - eating local takes a level of dedication. most people do not have the willingness or time to devote to scouring cincinnati for local sources of food. i have been told there are services that send you information of local eating resources; however, a quick google search was unfruitful, at least for cincinnati. luckily, beth found someone to do the scouring for us:
i do want to give local eating a go, especially since in michael pollan's 'the omnivore's dilemma', he provided me with a solution to one of my other deterrents - i really like some foods that i am not going to find locally produced in cincinnati. he talks briefly about the concept of 'foodshed'. basically, it is ok to trade for products not able to be locally produced, something mankind has been doing for thousands of years. this does seem a bit conflicted, however, and i think i may be oversimplifying. i need to do some more research.
years ago in college, i was privileged to visit the hometown of my very good friend and at the time roommate, crystal. crystal is from a small town in southeastern ohio right near bob evans' original farm. in fact, her family used to get a christmas card from bob evans himself. crystal's dad hunts and her mom has a fantastic garden. at the time, i did not appreciate what i was witnessing. i was particularly appalled by the bucket of beheaded, skinned squirrels in the refrigerator. however, what urbanites are striving to do today is something crystal's parents and other people in their town have been doing forever. they know the value of using the land around them to its fullest potential. i wonder if they realize how trendy they are?

some resources:

on the reading list:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle : A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp, Camille Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp

Plenty : One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith, J. B. MacKinnon, J. B. Mackinnon

Eat Local Farm Tour April 5, 2008
The Greater Cincinnati Master Gardener’s Association and Findlay Market are sponsoring a fun filled day of learning about how we can eat locally. Your guides will share their knowledge and resources on your opportunities for supporting local agriculture.
The group then travels to Grailville to visit an environmental, education and retreat center. Activities will include a tour of the organic farm, attendance at the Holistic Health Fair and lunch, prepared using all locally grown ingredients.
In the afternoon, the group will visit Turner Farm, a Findlay Market farmers market vendor, and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) site. The group will tour Turner’s growing operation and be able to purchase produce from their store.
The tour group will return to Findlay Market by 4:00pm.
For more information and to sign up for the tour, contact Bobbi Strangfeld at 513.948.1071.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

monkey picked oolong

yesterday brian and i drove 18 hours with a geriatric (and may i add, flatulent) dog in the back seat to see my sister in colorado springs. oscar, the dog, really belongs to michelle, my sister, and now that she is settled, we were delivering oscar to his new home. i can say nothing more about the drive except now i know what purgatory will be like. the last 60 miles was on the longest, darkest road ever, in a car filled with stale dog breath.
colorado springs is a town of urban sprawl full of hippies and military personnel. michelle has her milk delivered weekly by royal crest dairy, a local antibiotic, growth hormone free dairy. they have a milk called royal rich, a step above whole milk. i am looking forward to trying it after the delivery later this week.

michelle has also become a tea snob during her time in colorado, her current indulgence being monkey picked oolong. apparently monkeys can get at the younger leaves higher in the trees, which enhances the flavor of the tea. buddist monks once trained monkeys just for this purpose. michelle also has silver needle tea, which is supposed to be the rarest tea in the world. it can only be harvested two days out of the year. the monkey picked oolong was pretty exceptional stuff, not bitter or overstated. and i used to think celestial seasonings was the height of sophistication.
my favorite, which i have at home, is a mixture of dragon perles and rooibos tropica. it is a more fruity, flowery tasting tea and really good in a huge cup to keep me focused while studying.
for more on tea passionately picked by primates, visit
you can also get lots of fun tea accessories.

i would like to add, for dinner tonight we had grilled bison. not being a real red meat eater, i tried it more for the experience than enjoyment. it was similar to free range beef. brian practically licked his plate clean.

Monday, March 24, 2008

a shared passion

my friend beth and i discovered not so long ago that we had each developed an obsession for food. the excitement was similar to when we found we both adored anne of green gables. i was finally able to discuss food without the accompaniment of a glazed expression, and we have often explored together. i have coerced her into contributing to this blog, especially since she is planning an amazing garden this year.
are you reading this, beth? the pressure is on. write something. soon. please.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

a quick note

just wanted to give a shout out to one of my favorite finds - dagoba organic chocolate. heard about it on the food network awhile ago, and thought about ordering from the website, but the quantity requirements put me off.
where might a vigilant westsider find said chocolate? world market carries a few varieties. the rich dark, at 74% cacao, will just about murder you and the lavendar blueberry is a good way.

check it out at


the husband and i went to frisch's for lunch today, as i won free big boys in a coworker's fundraising raffle. there is one main thing i love about frisch's - today i went in there wearing an air force pt shirt, tan corduroys, my hair completely unkept (it's saturday, at the end of exam week, for god's sake) and NO ONE batted an eye. fabulous! i do have nostalgia for the days when the servers wore the orange and brown jumpers with the dark suntan stockings. whatever happened to those uniforms? did hooters sue for copyright infringement over those suntan stockings? who can say.
tartar sauce is the one trick wonder of the condiment world. i am certain the only place it is acceptable and delicious is at the big boy, where you can feel free to slather it on anything from beef to fish to fried potatoes. i actually sent some last lent to my italian penpal, susanna (without going into too much detail, we were matched up by a penpal service when we were 16 and have been writing ever since). i am pretty sure she was horrified and probably thinks american food is ridiculously disgusting, but was too polite to say more than she found the tartar sauce 'interesting'. i feel kind of bad about it, because right after that she sent me this italian seasoning which is amazing, salamoia bolognese.
a trip to frisch's is only done rightly if finished with a hot fudge cake. the cherry being the best part, of course.

good friday

last night we were meeting friends for dinner. we had just had larosa's thursday night, so that was ruled out. john, who was joining us, said he had no desire to be around a bunch of screaming kids at a fish fry, so that was a no go as well. we settled on dewey's in clifton, home of my favorite pizza, the green lantern. we were actually almost on time, arriving before jenny and john. this made beth and eric believe the apocalypse was upon us. no matter.
eating with me sometimes resembles dinner with sally from 'when harry met sally'. on the side is a very big thing for me. i ordered the peppercorn ranch salad, sans bacon, dressing on the side, followed by a calzone with artichokes, pesto and tomatoes. i have been trying to cut back on the food intake, because, unlike my husband who can maintain his girlish figure (6'1", 165 lb) even though he is consuming an entire pizza and two beers for dinner, my ass continues to expand. i ate half the calzone. my weakness is dessert, especially opera cream torte from the bonbonerie. i did give up dessert for lent, but that pretty much went to hell the last couple weeks of the quarter (sorry, jesus). i had introduced brian to the opera cream torte on one of our first dates, and he has been obsessed ever since. it was even our wedding cake. we each had a piece. i didn't want to have food envy. and i didn't mean to eat the whole piece. but it was right in front of me.
after dinner we debated about where to have more drinks. several clifton bars were eliminated because of an unacceptable level of dirtiness. as one approaches 30, dirt is suddenly visible that would never be noticed by the average college-aged cliftonite. and, as my friend beth so eloquently stated, now that smoking has been banned in the bars, you can smell what they really smell like, and you almost wish for the smoke. divine inspiration led brian to suggest cactus pear. margaritas...mmm. the perfect ending.
eating in clifton is enjoyable because the restaurants are small, good for the most part, and the crowd is diverse. you'll see as many lip rings as business suits. it was a sad day when they tore down blocks of what i remembered from my undergrad days - how i mourn the loss of inn the wood!

Friday, March 21, 2008

in defense of larosa's

this is in response to cincinnati magazine's recent restaurant issue in which local chefs gave their two cents on local diners. one comment i took particularly to heart was "they like larosa's". what in the hell is wrong with larosa's? i know it is not fine italian dining, but it is comforting. i grew up in cincinnati, and grew up on larosa's. every sunday night for years and years we went to my grandparents and had larosa's for dinner. it was a treat and the only time during the week we had restaurant food unless it was a special occasion.
nowadays, it's an easy dinner choice for two reasons. 1) my husband will eat it, no complaints or suspiciously raised eyebrows. 2) it comes right to my house. besides, what else is a good catholic girl from the westside going to eat on friday nights in lent? certainly she can't be expected to frequent the fish fry exclusively.
another charge against cincinnati diners was that there are "no real foodies, only wannabes". now, i don't consider myself trendy enough to warrant the title of 'foodie', which to me conjures up images of emo glasses and gray ribbed turtlenecks, something i just don't feel connected with. in fact, when i have visited the restaurants touted as the best of the city, i have felt undeniably awkward and out of place. i would consider myself an educated eater - i have cooked with fennel (vegetable, not just seed), tried kumquats, watch the food network regularly, and have read books by michael pollan. i even have ratatouille on dvd. blue ray, actually. i think about my food enough that i've started growing my own herbs and am planning to trade them for vegetables from two friends with larger yards and more patience (thanks, ladies). eating is something we do everyday. if we're lucky, three times a day. as a pharmacy student, i spend a lot of time reading about therapeutics for disease states intrinsically linked to food choices, such as type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia. so to me, it's something that should be a priority on the thinking agenda. i try to make conscientious decisions.
i am fortunate that my mother was experimental in the kitchen, and while this sometimes went awry (ie the orange juice rice incident of 1991), it instilled in me a love of "adventurous" eating. my husband, however, does not possess this same devotion to culinary exploration (hence the aforementioned raised eyebrows). to rally against the charges of the cincinnati chefs can be a challenge when half the dining party is still hungry after dinner at nada. when we ventured to melt, we hadn't even left the restaurant before my husband was telling me we needed to get more to eat, possibly at price hill chili. or maybe, we needed to order some larosa's.