Learning and sharing Seylou's grain and bread philosophy.Read More
Feeling grateful for the deliciousness delivered after Anna-Mags came home.Read More
Anna-Magnolia made her TV debut in the Capital Area Food Bank's garden!Read More
What we learned from a comms campaign about the food bank's push towards wellness.Read More
Can you believe today is November 1st, and just like that, the season of giving is upon us? Maybe it's because the election is shining light on the struggles many Americans face every day, or maybe it's because bringing a little girl into the world fills the well with limitless love to share....but I hope you all are, like me, thinking about who you can give to before year end, if you're able.
One idea: the Capital Area Food Bank, which I have to admit I miss thinking about daily now that I'm on maternity leave! Speaking of, if you have 25 minutes, I invite you to have a listen to an interview I gave last month about the food bank's work for a new podcast, Breaking Bread--a few listening options are here:
If you've ever been curious to learn more about the CAFB, here it is through my eyes. As always, welcome questions or feedback :-)
Here's to health and sharing!
What happens when you get two optimistic home chefs into a newly owned house with an outdated kitchen? Nick and Kiko's first renovation!
When we moved into our Bloomingdale rowhouse in 2014, we knew there were some fish to fry before we could build the kitchen of our dreams; 2015 was mostly occupied with getting hitched. But with that joy behind us, we moved on to the next one, feeling so lucky that we could create a space to anchor our home our way, and hopefully grow a family in.
So we began meetings with fellow Crispus Attucks neighbor Charles Warren of Teas Warren Architects. This being a first renovation for both Nick and I, we were open to his (and let's be honest, our parents') wisdom, based on the following sure-fire goals:
- Bring the outside inside, and re-orient the kitchen to open up towards the greenery of the park out our back door, through knocking down a structural wall and installing big old casement windows. This is the wall we would lose:
- Re-orient how we move into and out of our house, with most of that happening through the back of the house. This would involve creating a mudroom-like portion of our new kitchen, and some kind of bike shed for the back yard so we could stop hauling them in and out to commute to work every day.
- Replacing EVERYTHING from the old kitchen--from the appliances, to the cabinets, floors and countertops, it all had to go. Literally the only thing we kept was the garbage disposal.
- Replace our big black "disco bathroom" and its unnecessary bath with a smaller powder room.
- Open up the pathway between the kitchen and dining room to let that great light flow from the park towards the front of the house.
We chose to work with Something Different as our contractor, based on a recommendation from our neighbor down the block, and navigated through the contract negotiations as we learned about concepts like "allowances" and "punch lists."
We were told four months, but did add a couple elements like a skylight on our roof, so six months later, we are able to move into our new kitchen!
Spring is really here, and we celebrated last night by cooking my buddy Samin Nosrat's Persian Kuku--a frittata stuffed with chard, dill, cilantro and leeks. Like a champ she of course uses the chard stems and leek greens. Here's the dramatic flip moment--success! Delish, and next time we'll try adding mozzarella.
Enough with the dismal stats about how much food is wasted at each point on the food chain--the unharvested crop that's tilled under, the unsold merchandise at the grocery store, the leftovers uneaten at restaurants, the food that rots in many of our fridges.
Today I'm proud to share some good news about food waste, via work that's been done right under our noses for decades--at food banks! The two hundred food banks across the US don't get as much buzz as a great ugly fruit campaign, or the new grocery stores selling food that would otherwise go bad. But get a load of how the food bank I work for, which serves 530,000+ people across DC, Maryland and Virginia, tackles waste every day:
- Of the 42 million pounds of food the Capital Area Food Bank distributed last year, 33 million was food that would have otherwise gone to landfills. Food banks are inherently food waste fighters.
- When grocery stores buy more than they can sell, food banks come in to pick up that excess food, sort it, pack it up by category, and get it into the hands of non-profits and neighbors who need it. The Capital Area Food Bank's trucks make on average 100 pickups at grocery stores every week!
My job is to spread awareness about how the Capital Area Food Bank is working to improve access to healthy food in the Washington metro area, so last week I hosted a group of young professional women who work in the food sector. As I explained while awkwardly walking backwards in giving a tour of our facility (check out one of their insta-shares above!), food banks connect the food waste issue with our food insecurity problem through their very existence. From their inception in the late 70's and early 80's, food banks have focused on collecting and redistributing excess food from the community to feed the hungry. The CAFB works aggressively to collect nutritious excess food from retailers, restaurants, gleaners, farms, and others.
Despite the fact that grocery stores are getting increasingly smart in managing their inventory (more good news!), and therefore have less to donate, in the past year the CAFB has increased the amount of excess food donated by retailers by 50 percent. Most of that was driven by an increase in new retail donors coupled with more frequency in pickups. Another factor was an increase in meat donations that was made possible by collaborating with retailers to improve our pickup process. We had to upgrade our own meat sorting capability to make sure that we were able to distribute the higher volume, and set up special meat shopping days so our partner non-profits knew it was available.
Going forward, we will continue to work with retailers and others to make it easier for them to set aside excess food for the benefit of the community. We are currently meeting with retailers to begin a dialogue about the kind of food most desired--which is NOT sheet cakes, or snacks made of corn. Only once we have reduced the amount of soda and candies in our inventory that come in via retail donations, will we be able to use our facility to store the kind of food we are committed to distributing: fresh fruits and vegetables, and shelf stable food that is low in sugar and salt, and high in protein and fiber.
I don't think there's any sense in masking who we are. My friend Caroline pegged me as a "chouchou" (teacher's pet) back in middle school French class, and sure I like pleasing the chief. But I swear that's not why I wrote about my newish boss, Capital Area Food Bank's CEO Nancy Roman, in the recent issue of Edible DC.
Susan Able, the super fun publisher of Edible DC, has an eye towards including articles about the more challenging issues in our local food system. She liked my idea to create a column in each issue of the magazine called "Department of Homefood Security" to that end, and so allowed me to author the second piece for it.
Having worked at the Food Bank for half a year now, it's ever clear that people don't understand the difference between a food BANK, and the partners who receive food from the bank to distribute to neighbors in need. So in writing this I aimed to clarify that straight out of the gates. Nancy Roman is the kind of leader who has wisdom to spare--both about hunger work through the decades and about management in this field--and is worth a great profile. So I had fun interviewing her for this article.
Hopefully, the Edible team will let me write some more interviews for the Department of Homefood Security in future issues. I have my eye on Councilmember Mary Cheh, who has been a champion of healthy and local food on DC's city council thus far, and Imar Hutchins, who's using his historic Florida Avenue Grill to promote fair wages for food workers and a move towards healthier soul food. But the possibilities are endless!
Hi yogis! We really put in our time this winter, and I think that's earned us a good Naylor Court stretch sesh. It's time for me to roll out the canvas "floor," turn on Nick's Burning Man music, and get you breathing in the fresh air!
If you were considering leaving town for Memorial Weekend, stop that and instead join me for the Naylor Court Yoga season opener, Sunday 5/25 at 10 am. And mark your calendars for one of the following dates; my Naylor Court classes are all levels, and free! Bring your own mat, I've got you covered on blocks and straps.
Where: Naylor Court, in Shaw
Sunday 5/25, 10 am
Sunday 6/15, 10 am
Sunday 7/27, 10 am
Please reply with a comment to this blog post to let me know if you're coming to the 5/25 class, feel free to email me with any questions, and spread the word--there's room for everyone on the alley!
As if my reading a book about the connection between farm health and our personal health doesn't already reek of preaching to the choir, I'll preface this first Kiko's Food News book review by admitting that in this case, I'm biased. Farmacology was written last year by a physician named Daphne Miller (bias #1: Daphne is my and my mom's middle name, and my grandmother's first name, so I have a soft spot). Miller was schooled at Brown undergrad and Harvard grad (bias #2: so was my boyfriend Nick, and we think it's a pretty good combo). She visits a handful of farms while researching for this book, one of which is Scribe Winery in Sonoma (bias #3: Andrew Mariani, the owner/vintner, is a friend from my Hayes Valley days). And Miller has a medical practice in San Francisco (bias #4: I was a client back in college, and it helped to know while reading that she puts this "whole person" mentality to work in her San Francisco practice. At an appointment with one of the other physicians there, I was recommended a treatment of lavender oil as an alternative to medicine for a particular health issue, and was impressed with the sliding scale payment options which allow people of broader economic means to see them).
I've been known to say that the American medical community seems too often to not know shit about shit, so I had a feeling I would resonate with this book offering an alternative lens through which to assess and improve health. As a departure from our status quo of black holes between popular medical disciplines, Dr. Miller asserts that just as a whole-system approach is transformative for farms, a shift in focus from 'plant' to 'soil' proves equally valuable for human health. I'll offer here a few facts and vignettes that I found compelling, in hopes that you pick up this quick read to find more of your own.
Remember Rudolf Steiner, the father of biodynamic farming? Turns out we can send our children to Steiner schools around the world, each located on or near a biodynamic farm and offering lunches sourced from the farm. Researchers have found that suburban children who attend Steiner schools have fewer colds, and suffer less from asthma or allergies, than the control (p. 48). Speaking of biodynamic farming, I find it compelling that whereas organic food, despite its benefits for environmental, livestock and farmworker health, has been found to lack much nutritional advantage over conventionally grown, the same cannot be said of biodynamically grown food: "When researchers have looked at the impact of organic systems on both soil quality and food nutrient levels, they have found that they often fare no better than conventional farms. Sustainable or biodynamic farming, on the other hand, seems to consistently score better on both measures" (p. 49). Of course we need to look beyond the simple organic label when selecting our favorite farms to buy meat and produce from; Miller offers Wendell Berry's (if you eat food and you don't know Wendell, you should--look him up!) favorite question to ask the farmer: "Do you live on your farm?" The answer speaks volumes about the health of a farm, and will weed out the big industrial guys.
I don't think we urban consumers realize that the same farmers who are pumping their animals with antibiotic and hormone inputs often keep a few animals out, to be injection-free, for their families. Miller spends time with one farmer who did just that with his cattle before quitting cold turkey on purchasing soil amendments, animal feed, and injections (which had been costing him so much as to render his farm unprofitable until he did so). When he decided to go au naturel, he cut his herd of Angus beef cows from 1,200 to 700, but with this "lower production, higher profits" model he was able to earn more per pound of beef because he relied on free worm labor and no longer purchased inputs.
Miller draws other parallels that are simple but important. With insights from experts on human and animal stress, she compares one of her patient's overstressed lives, lack of control over his professional day-to-day, and lack of time for exercise with the livelihood of chickens she encountered in very overcrowded henhouses. Just like an office worker who mindlessly snacks his way through an uninspiring work day, the chickens she visited "had nothing better to do than eat all day."
And lessons from soil management are transferrable to cancer prevention and care. Miller proposes we consider cancer not as "a frightening invader that must be eradicated before it kills its host", but "more like a pest in an integratively managed field--it will always be there to some degree, but not so much that it overwhelms the beneficials and destroys the crops. In this view...as we have seen with adaptive therapy, striving for containment rather than eradication is more likely to control the disease in the long run" (157).
In one of the book's last chapters, Miller idolizes older women who have been her role models for natural aging, and says, "I realized that the one thing these idealized older women have in common is that they spend a lot of time outdoors and communicate with weather, animals, plants and soil on a regular basis" (220). Seems I've found my own model in Miller, and I can't wait until I have occasion to buy the seed packets I ogle over at the hardware store and build a small garden lab in my own home to teach me and my family more about our relatedness to its dirt and what grows there.
We're coming up on a big weekend for the 'chi in this girl's life. Not only am I co-hosting (with Nick, who's as of this year indoctrinated into the home kimchi-making tribe) a Kimjang harvest festival party on Saturday, but then on Sunday I'll barter away a dozen or so jars at my first Alexandria Food Swap. Both occasions warrant having my recipe at the ready, so I'm repurposing from its original home on the blog I created back in '09 (warranting my first ever deployment of "#TBT", rebelliously two days before its usual use occasion).
So here's my recipe, and below it some quick facts about the Kimjang festival, an annual Korean tradition that brings moms and grannies and anyone in charge of plying their family with kimchi together to don rubber gloves in the spirit of group pickling.
Since last time I published Susan's mom's recipe, I've apparently changed the way I spell this favorite of foods--replacing the "-ee" with a tighter "-i"--and moved my operation to D.C. Tasters of first batches made in the east coast kitchen report that flavor remains in tact.
Recipe: Mrs. Kim's Bangin' Kimchi
-6 small or 4 large Napa cabbages, salted overnight with coarse rock salt (make a salt and water solution, immerse cabbage heads, remove, rub salt on leaves of each head, leave in fridge overnight, next morning take out, rinse and let sit to drain and dry)
-2 daikon radishes: peel, then grate one of them into long thin strips using a carrot peeler (save the liquid). The other dice into 1-inch chunks
-1/3 c garlic, pounded with a mortar and pestle
-1 bunch chives (long, wide asian ones)
-2 bunches green onions
-korean dried chili flakes (mama Kim tells Sus to keep hers in the freezer so it stays fresh)
-8 oz frozen or fresh oysters (with their juices)
-1/2 c fermented anchovy juice (other asian fish sauce will do)
-1/3 c salted baby shrimp (Mrs. Kim sent Susan ours in a maxwell house coffee jar)
-add rice flour to 3 cups water until you have a loose batter; add the radish liquid, fish sauce, and dehydrated shrimp.
-add the chili flakes to the batter until it becomes a thick paste
-add the shredded daikon, garlic, chives (cut into 2" long pieces) & scallions (cut into 1" long pieces), and half the oysters with all their juice
-don your rubber gloves, and rub each head of cabbage with the paste--cover the front and back of each leaf and then use your hand to close each head tightly, then submerge it leaf side down into the jar. Stuff each jar with as many cabbage heads as will fit, maybe mixing in a few covered daikon pieces to fill the empty spots. Continue until all of your cabbage is in jars, but make sure you leave a few leaves out of the jars
Leave jars outside for a day or two, on a tray that you don't mind getting dirty if a jar leaks or explodes. Then transfer to your fridge and taste, eat and enjoy over the coming weeks!
-Don't forget the Kim house special raw kimchi treat! Wrap a leaf covered in chili paste around an oyster and plop it into your mouth. I couldn't handle how good this was the first time I tasted it, the oyster unbelievably creamy (granted we shucked our own fresh hog island oysters) against the spicy, crunchy kimchi leaf. Not something you get to taste every day.
-Wait a few weeks for your 'chi to get funky, then get thyself in a room with someone who can teach you how to make a pork belly and soft tofu kimchi stew!
The Kimjang Tradition
The arrival of fall signals harvest time in korea, and one of the most famous fall events is kimjang, the renowned cabbage harvest, which is followed by kimchi making. Due to korea’s long, cold winters, and before the advent of refrigeration, kimjang was an important annual rite marking fall’s transition to winter. Making kimchi was the only means of preserving the harvest vegetables, along with their nutrients, for the frigid months ahead.
Unlike the flavors of spring/summer kimchi, which require little fermentation and result in a lighter touch on the palate, the flavors of cold-weather kimchi are bold and complex. They’re the result of a longer fermentation time--anywhere from just a few days to several months.
The event, which brings together neighbors and relatives like a block party, usually involves several households that, over the course of a few days, make enough kimchi to last for several months. Prior to refrigeration, making your own batch of kimchi was the only way to ensure that you had an ample supply of vegetables to last you through the winter.
We got Naylor Court buzzing Sunday morning with a partner yoga class I taught through the amazing Knowledge Commons DC, a self-described "free school for thinkers, doers, and tinkerers – taught anywhere, by anyone, for everyone." Ten brave yogis descended on the historic alleyway outside of my house in Shaw, and together we stretched and massaged our partners silly.
KCDC operates on a couple key principles, one being the idea that everyone has something to teach. This is particularly true for yoga, where we are always our own teachers. We commit to focusing our attention on the sensations of our own body to guide our movement, and heeding our own limits. Second, KCDC thrives by making new use out of public spaces. Our class had a great time looking up at the clouds as we opened our chests in ustrasana (camel pose), hearing the church bells from the many steeples that pepper our neighborhood while lying in savasana, and holding our poses strong as onlookers peeked down the alley and wondered what was UP!
Personally, I felt that while teaching, I was in a mode of flow as layed out by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the founders of Positive Psychology. In this state, we are fully immersed in something that make us feel happy, alive and engaged, so much that it gives us sensation of time standing still. In order for a flow state to occur, you must see the activity as voluntary, enjoyable (intrinsically motivating), and it must require skill and be challenging (but not too challenging) with clear goals towards success.
Next up: getting more neighbors on board! If you're reading this and you like practicing yoga outside, please add your email in the signup field. That way, when I start teaching more Naylor Court yoga come spring, you'll be the first to know.
Since September is National Yoga Month--everybody go take advantage of a free week at a new studio!--guess it's now or never: teachers gotta be teachin'!
The timing couldn't be better for this girl--I'm settled into DC, and have begun teaching classes in Naylor Court, the historic alleyway around the corner from my place. I've also been able to line up a few yoga classes around town in some unique venues, where I hope you'll join me as I cut my chops as a new teacher:
- Monday 9/16, 7 pm on Naylor Court (email me if you want to join)
- Sunday 9/22, 11 am: Ooooh Yeeeeah: Stretching Together with DC Knowledge Commons on Naylor Court
- Wednesday 9/25, 6:30 pm: Weeknight Yoga for Neighbors, at Glen's Garden Market, the awesome new Dupont grocery store
I'm doing what I can to demystify yoga for people, by trying to make it more accessible to those who have never taken a class or have heard of it but have no idea what goes on in that mysterious incense-perfumed studio. This is why I teach classes in a public alleyway--the faces on people who turn the corner and stumble upon us in cat/cow breathing postures are priceless!
I'm also looking into teaching in some other new places around DC, including the brand new, gawgeous YMCA on W St NW, and at Shaw neighborhood library (of which I'm proudly a member as of yesterday!)...if you have any ideas for a venue I might not have thought of, please holler in a comment!
P.S. Thanks to my brother John and our friend Hilary for modeling the partner stretches for this post :-)
This week I played pickle apprentice while staying with my good friend and former Bi-Rite co-worker Rosie's family in the centuries-old tavern house that has become their home in upper Vermont. Their front door opens directly onto the cozy kitchen, and it's there that most of our time was spent, baking bread or perfecting cocktails or toasting their amazing family granola, heavy in coconut, almonds and seeds. Rosie's mom Johanna was raised in Kansas by a mother who sounds like she was a force to be reckoned with, especially in the kitchen. Johanna clearly inherited her depth of recipes and natural ability to effortlessly work any food that comes through the door into a dish, with a propensity to teach those of us around her through the process. I watched she and Rosie in their much-practiced kitchen rhythm intently, and was able to bring my pickling expertise to a new level as they guided me through a big batch of bread and butter pickles and watermelon rind pickles.
I have surface level experience with pickling, having experimented with beets, turnips, and other roots, and having over the past three years worked on perfecting my kimchi technique. But it's easy to get out of the habit, so it felt good to be playing with brininess, sweetness, and acidity again in the name of putting up summers' high supply of cukes and melons. It was simple, really--make sure the jars are clean, then heat up a brine made with some combination of vinegar, salt, a couple spices and a sweetener (we did a batch of watermelon rinds with Vermont Maple syrup to really seize the moment). Add the veggie or fruit to be pickled, and after a slow simmer, jar and cool.
Admiring the rainbow of pickles cooling in their Ball jars, I thought about how easy the process had been...and then I remembered back to a less "savory" pickling moment that happened last month.
I had gone to the hardware store to grab yet another case of Ball jars--the kombucha and kimchi production in our house lately has us whipping through them--and when I unwrapped the jars at home, I found a curious little seed-like packet tucked beneath. Well ain't that neat, I thought upon first glance. The Ball company, America's trusted brand for anything that goes in a glass jar, is demystifying pickling by providing us with a spice blend to make the process that much easier!
But then I turned the packet over to take a closer look, which revealed an ingredient list containing not just the usual lineup of dill, garlic, and other spices, but a laundry list of additives like calcium chloride, dextrose, maltodextrin and silicon dioxide! Apparently the folks at Ball have gone ahead and patented this chemists' dream of a pickle mix--sorry folks but don't even think of naming your own blend of pickle spices "Pickle Crisp Granules"!!
GREAT. Now people who are pickling for the first time are going to think they need all of these chemicals, or this exact ratio of spices, in order to make the crunchy pickles of their dreams. This is disempowering people from thinking they can do it on their own with classic household spice staples. What happens after we finish this little spice and chemical packet? Will our pickles be limp and bland if we don't have the special lab formula blend provided by the chemists at Ball? Guess we need to keep buying more and more Ball jars if we want our pickles to come out right!! As an aside, let me just say that this is so par for the course these days. It's like we HAVE TO HAVE the special tool or widget or ingredient for every little thing we do, whether it's a special baby bed or playpen for each phase of the baby's day, or a special gadget for each kind of vegetable or fruit we aim to chop. I was never going to be a Williams-Sonoma customer...
Of all things, now the big manufacturer needs to go and over-process, overcomplicate the pickle?? I don't know what to say.
What's missing from DC's food scene? This outsider may have some ideas.
Two months ago I left my post as Marketing Director for the Bi-Rite Family of Businesses in San Francisco and embarked on a journey back to the East Coast, settling not in my hometown near New York City but in our nation's capital. I was hungry to step out of my San Francisco food bubble.
I've since chipped away at the google doc I crammed with the names of restaurants, retailers and food makers to try. To get a sense of how the District's food scene measures up against my San Francisco and New York City templates, I've drilled new friends who work in the DC food business about how they engage the community and where they like to eat.
Mark Furstenberg's critique of the DC food-scape in the Washington Post last week invited me to pause and think about what I've digested here. At this point I'm still an outsider getting my bearings, but now that I'm working with retailers and food makers to strengthen the community around their brands, I want the best for everyone involved in getting good food into Washingtonians' mouths. Having worked for four years telling the story for Bi-Rite, the first business Furstenberg lists as setting a standard, I have some good reference points.
Here's what I think DC's got going on, where props are due:
- Un-jadedness. By this I mean that Washingtonians don't need the prospect of eating sea urchin gonads to get them excited--a great foie gras will do just fine. They line up to taste Number 1 Sons' pickles, still appreciating the novelty of kimchi which for New Yorkers or San Franciscans can feel so last year.
- Technologically enhanced systems for handling the dining experience. Somehow San Francisco, a city of web coders, Googlers and Apple staffers, hasn't connected the dots that a restaurant can manage its wait by leveraging the power of the cell phone. When my boyfriend and I put our name on the list at Little Serow we were met with a daunting three hour wait (well worth it!), but the hostess managed us beautifully by sending us texts with updates until we were happily seated. Hostesses successfully use texting to manage the wait at Le Diplomate too, so we could enjoy our campari and soda at the bar knowing where we stood.
- Eagerness. Speaking of Le Diplomate, Furstenberg bashes it as "a Disney World caricature", but after two weeks in France last month I can say there's a lot of authenticity here, and they've hired a staff who will stop short of nothing to endear themselves to the diner. Our server went out of his way to volunteer favorite rock albums that he didn't want us to miss. And whoever Sam Groh has volunteering to peddle his Grohnola at Columbia Heights and other farmers markets knows how to get me excited about the only granola made in DC. (Worth mentioning that Grohnola wasn't even on the list of DC artisan food makers that Sam Hiersteiner compiled in rebuttal to Furstenberg's critique, which leads me to believe many others were probably missed).
- Ethiopian food. Can we give a holler for eating with our hands?? Things just taste better without a metal spike delivering them to the mouth. And fingers are so good at sopping the right amount of sauce into the crannies of the injera. Plus, when my meal comes with a pulsing dance and singing performance as it does at Dukem, we're really celebrating. There's a quote I love from an Ethiopian text that says "those who eat from the same plate will not betray each other." It's a blessing that the friendship and loyalty inherent in this style of eating graces our capital, where connection and understanding is so important. Next on my Ethiopian bucket list is Sidamo, where I'll see how this ethos translates to coffee culture.
- Beauty that comes from smaller scale. Give me the stripes of summer squash lined up in little baskets, mushrooms that look like seashells, and hydroponically grown lettuces so beautiful they could double as a centerpiece at the Dupont Circle farmer's market...I'll take these over the throngs that line up at San Francisco's Ferry Building market any day and jaded sales people who don't have time to engage.
- Patbingsu. Pat is the Korean shave ice dessert that I fell in love with last summer in Seoul and have hunted down across LA, San Francisco, New York and now the broader DC area. The best version I've found state-side is at Shilla Bakery in Annandale, a haven for everything sweet. This was a perfect interlude between the Korean BBQ at Honeypig and kimchi ingredient shopping at H Mart.
- Roof decks! Screw any contest between bartenders, mixologists or whatever we want to call people who make our cocktails--I'll take any cocktail they give me up in the open air on a DC summer eve over one I have to drink inside a San Francisco bar, cozied up from the windy, grey winter in July.
So what are the next steps? How can the food scene get even better here?
- We need to do a better job telling the story behind the great food that is available. I'm getting the sense, for example, that people here don't realize how big of a deal it is that Glen's Garden Market in Dupont sells, aside from a handful of staples, exclusively foods grown or created by farmers and artisans in DC, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York. So I'm working with them to spread the word. It takes a LOT more time and energy to buy food directly from the people who produce it than through distributors, so retailers who are going to the trouble to offer such special products need to make sure customers know it.
- Make a bigger deal of natural, healthy, organic foods, wherever available, than is being made. There's a full on smoothie and juice bar in the Chinatown Walgreen's and no one's talking about it! That's a BIG deal, a nod to health I haven't seen in Duane Reade, CVS, or any other national pharmacy chain--DC media needs to celebrate it. Similarly, I'd heard that Gary Cha's Yes! Organic Market was pioneering a healthier assortment of fresh foods in DC neighborhoods that didn't have access, but after visiting a couple locations I left disappointed that the produce was limited, prepared foods were nil and no cues were given to customers about what to get excited about. A better story needs to be told on the store floor if Yes! is truly selling "all these cereals and breads that you don’t see in Giant", because I didn't notice them. If Cha's product is tastier than what we find at the grocery chain, healthier for the environment, or more unique, he needs to invest in signage that tells that story and a staff who understands how what they sell is special and is enthusiastic about communicating it.
- Large chains need to keep their DC locations up to speed with the globalized character of their audiences. Just like Furstenberg on his own Persian ingredient hunt, I went to Whole Foods, Yes!, and Giant in search of Sumac and left empty-handed. We live in an utter melting pot so stores should help us cook like it.
- Be a leader in combatting food waste. Did you know that about 3.25 billion pounds of food waste from supermarkets was sent to the landfill in 2008, and that's only climbing? It's our responsibility as the nation's capital to push retailers in our city to lead the charge on ground-breaking ways to minimize what they throw out. Retailers should create seamless programs whereby they either use bruised fruit and vegetables, meat nearing expiration, day old bread, and other unsellable but perfectly good food in their kitchens for prepared foods (like the folks at Bi-Rite), or partner seamlessly with local organizations to get it into the mouths of hungry residents.
OK now I'm going to get all yogic on ya. Ever wonder what our favorite Top Chef hostess's last name means? Lakshmi is the goddess of abundance in the Hindu tradition, reminding us of the "enoughness" in both our life and within ourselves. In this spirit, let's keep our attention on the places where the District is innovating and leading the way. There's more international flair in the sandwiches and love in the service at Sundevich, just a pop around the corner from where I live, than in any deli I've walked into in San Francisco. Way to go, all you businessmen in your slacks and collared shirts, sprawling out right on the Farragut Square grass to enjoy your food truck lunch--would not see that in Bryant park, NYC! And the vegan cafe Everlasting Life serves healthy dishes in the African American tradition like I've never tasted before; never before had tahini, blackstrap molasses, spirulina or brewer’s yeast made it into my smoothie, and I was blown away.
My point here is that just as in New York, San Francisco or any other city where one goes in search of the food they consider "good", there are discoveries and appreciation to be had. I look forward to working with retailers and food makers in the District to make sure what they're putting out for us is picked up by (judging from rebuttals to Furstenberg's article like this in City Paper and this in Huff Po), a vast hungry audience.
Walking down Connecticut Ave. on the way to my first DC Jewish deli brunch (YEAH!), I passed a retail setup that made me smile a silly smile. Here we have downstairs a restaurant that sells homemade donuts and fried chicken and encourages their consumption together....and then we have upstairs a yoga studio. They sit one atop the other, almost diametrically opposed to the idea of moderation. Well, I should say, the restaurant sits ready to undo any notion of moderation achieved on the mat upstairs.
While noticing these two very different manifestations of American small business, my kneejerk reaction is to judge the upstairs as superior, and feel that "I know better" than the downstairs. But then I'm struck by how healthy indulgence can be, especially when juxtaposed with the discipline of a good yoga practice.
I recognize a certain brand of health in indulging (in this case, on donuts and fried chicken) vs. the health of yogic ascetism . It's all about mindfulness and awareness. The key is to be able to indulge in moderation--that's what gets lots of us. We have to notice we're indulging and enjoy the flavors of the glaze and crispy skin, but then notice not doing it all the time :-)
In yoga we learn about five Niyamas, which are universal rules of conduct that lay the ethical groundwork for yogis. Among the five is Sauca, which stands for cleanliness, purity of body and moderation in diet. In his famous book Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar teaches a yoga where
"Food should be taken to promote health, strength, energy and life. It should be simple, nourishing, juicy and soothing. Avoid foods which are sour, bitter, salty, pungent, burning, stale, tasteless, heavy and unclean....Character is moulded by the type of food we take and by how we eat it. Men are the only creatures that eat when not hungry and generally live to eat rather than eat to live. If we eat for flavours of the tongue, we over-eat and so suffer from digestive disorders which throw our system out of gear. The yogi believes in harmony, so he eats for the sake of sustenance only." (37)
Well, by this definition, I think we're all screwed! I often choose foods because they're sour, bitter, salty, or pungent. HELLO kimchi, blue cheese and anchovies!
So how does a 20th century foodie reconcile this? I do think that in recent years I've naturally gravitated more towards simpler foods like braised cabbage, soft scrambled eggs, or yogurt with walnuts. But this particular Niyama reminds me of the need to apply the ancient teachings in a way that makes sense for our individual modern lives. Times have changed and I can say that many of the sour, bitter, and pungent foods I like to eat feel very healthy for my body, and eating them doesn't get in the way of my feeling pure, clean and moderate.
Furthermore, Desikachar in his book Heart of Yoga asserts that the yoga tradition looks down on leftovers, and that it's not good for the body to eat day old food. Sorry but this just cannot fly in our modern society, with so many people going hungry and horrifying statistics out there about how much uneaten food we throw out. If a goal of the yamas and niyamas is to employ the practice of discipline as an access to the divine truth in ourselves, I feel empowered to navigate these kind of choices and decide which make me feel, to quote my teacher Janet Stone, that I'm "shoring up my container".
I've spent enough time working in "triple bottom line", "mission-driven" environments to know that these days, businesses and organizations are wise to measure success not only by their profits but by how they affect the involved stakeholders and society more broadly. But lately I've been reading more and more from people saying we not only have a new bottom line for business, but we have a new bottom line for ourselves, and our own happiness.
The New York Times recently termed this a Third Metric of Success, the author discussing a new notion of fulfillment in life where being--or hiring--"a go-giver is as desirable as a go-getter". Few things get me down worse than our status quo and default of a stressed, sleep-deprived, burned out life, but t's undeniable that America’s workplace culture is by and large fueled by these things. Call me a Californian but I'm seeing more and more conferences, lectures and books that talk about simplifying life, managing anxiety, and not constantly striving for what's bigger or more lucrative.
Although part of me feels my typical Jewish/Catholic guilt that I even have the luxury to focus on this kind of re-thinking, the other part of me has to believe that if enough people start talking about it, it could spill mainstream and somehow influence the work or personal lives of all engaged people in society.
What's exciting is that pop cultural icons are already being admired for thinking about these things. In the Hudson News at JFK I flipped through a new magazine called Du Jour that interviewed Julianne Moore, a personal fave. I was struck by the way a colleague describes her work: "She believes very much in being present in the moment of performance...but she doesn't carry it with her when she leaves." It goes on to say that "between takes, Moore would swiftly drop character to be a 'comforting colleague' to her young co-star." How refreshing, that the flattery given is not for her around-the-clock work ethic but her ability to be present for herself and others.
Julianne ain't alone--the number one New York Times business bestseller for weeks has been Lean In, written by Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg, in which she devotes many pages to re-defining what a successful work-life balance looks like. Clearly, people want to read about this stuff!
I'd also argue that having money or material security is not a prerequisite for turning attention towards more elemental notions of happiness (sleeping enough, noticing our breathing throughout the day, feeling satisfaction from giving up our seat on the bus to someone more cumbersome) and benefiting from that.
There are so many FREE ways to put more emphasis on balance in our lives! Leading yourself through a yoga flow in the backyard and realizing that you've taken ahold of the present moment to take some deep breaths would be a good one. Or take my cousin with whom I just travelled to France: I couldn't help my bossy self from encouraging him at several meals to eat slower so he could spend more time savoring the flavors in his meal [he calls himself a foodie but finishes his plate in 3 minutes!].
The author discusses how "we shouldn’t always aim for the extraordinary, but celebrate the ordinary. " How might I do this in the next few days?? I might see myself saying out loud one weekend morning, "I am SO lucky I get to sleep in today!" Or tonight, maybe I'll plan to walk to my work event across town, whiffing the metallic smell of oil oozing forth from the sidewalk after the fresh rain. None of these pleasures cost anything, they just take noticing a simple, sweet moment.
I feel lucky to exist at the same time as this movement to embrace the idea that physical and spiritual wellness are integral to, not separate from, a successful life. If I have my way, within my lifetime someone will be admired much more if they can say "I was able to take time out of my day for a walk, it felt so good and I'm so grateful" than for coming home with a fatty paycheck.
I was at a British-themed party recently and came across the tome to the right, which included instructions for US personnel headed to Britain during World War II.
As you can see in the text I photographed below, the manual has some explicit advice for American Servicemen regarding waste. In short, “…when you destroy or waste food you have wasted the life of another sailor.”
“The instructions are also enlightening on what food and fuel meant in wartime Britain. In contrast to the food-rich US, Britain relied upon imported food (and fuel). During World War II, when the German navy threatened all shipments, British sailors risked their lives to secure such supplies. In addition to the need to feed soldiers, this risk provided all the more reason not to waste food.
I’ve never seen stronger anti-waste words. And I’d never heard such a direct correlation between food waste and ‘the ultimate sacrifice.’ Hopefully the below passage reminds us how fortunate most of us are and inspires us to avoid waste in honor of those past sacrifices.”
Communities come in all shapes and forms. We like to talk about how the relationships we build through buying and selling food strengthen our Bi-Rite community–our staff, guests, and food producers. But it’s times like last weekend that remind me how broad our community really is.
For the first time I got my act together to venture northeast of SF to Yolo County, the home of Full Belly Farm, for their annual Hoes Down Harvest Festival. We celebrate Full Belly throughout the year in the form of the amazing melons, squashes, potatoes and more they send us to sell in our produce section. Sam, Anne, Simon and the rest of our staff who make this an annual getaway had raved about how good the air feels up there, but I couldn’t have imagined quite how special this coming together of farmers, cooks, eaters, kids, animals, and every other happy being there could be.
Highlights of the day included:
- The parking lot volunteers! These were the first people I interacted with upon arriving, and the grins on these guys’ faces said it all. Talk about pride–from all of the volunteers to the Full Belly staff to the hundreds of visitors, we all knew how fortunate we were to be celebrating this amazing
- family’s work and land.
- The farm tour given by Hallie (the daughter of Dru and Paul, Full Belly’s owners, who grew up on the farm and now coordinates the Hoes Down) and farmer Andrew. As we stood in a grove of walnut trees, Andrew talked about the wonder that is soil: how alive it is, how many billions of organisms it contains. When we’re standing on a farm, we may be blown away by fruit trees over our heads or veggie vines at our ankles, but what’s really amazing at Full Belly is the health of the soil underneath our feet. It was on this tour that Simon turned to me and said “This is the part where I start to cry!”
- The food! Man can the farm crowd cook–I started with an avocado lime popsicle, then moved on to tackle a plate of the most succulent grilled lamb and falafel (around the campfire we plotted a new dish for Bi-Rite–a lamb falafel ball–we’ll see if that comes to pass!)
- The camping groves: take your pick between pitching your tent under almond trees, walnut trees, and more.
- Square dancing–they made it look so easy!
And I couldn’t believe that we were swimming on an October day! Wading around in the beautiful, calm river that borders the farm, I felt like one of a herd of human elephants.
The Full Belly crew literally had to push people off the farm come Monday morning; the support of all of us who drove hours to the farm is testament to the relationships they’ve built over the years, and the secret to their success!
“One half of the food prepared in the US and Europe never gets eaten.”–Dive!, the movie
We as a society might waste this much food, but we’re also coming up with good ideas about how not to. Here are just a few ways we’ve already talked about combating the problem:
- Finding inspiration at our screening ofDive! the movie at 18 Reasons, tomorrow from 7-9 pm.
- Picking up a book on the topic to dig a little deeper into the issues; in our own book section you’ll find Economy Gastronomy and American Wasteland.
- Keeping your eggs, veggies and other food fresh without refrigeration (and possibly better tasting!) with these funky designs for your kitchen.
- Getting involved with one of the organizations that have cropped up in the past couple of years to solve our country’s waste issues. Halfsies offers restaurant-goers a choice that provides a healthier portion size, reduces food waste, and supports the fight against hunger; Food Shift works with consumers, businesses and communities to build awareness and close the gaps in food delivery and consumption; and Marin Organic hosts a gleaning program which gathers excess produce from farms and delivers it to public schools, to name a few.
- Reconsidering what you think of as food waste, and thinking about your options before you throw food in the trash.
It’s this last point that brings me to the matter at hand today….I’m pleased to announceBi-Rite’s first Earth Day Food Waste Challenge! Yes, the name could be sexier. But the idea couldn’t, because the point of this challenge is for us all to practice how we asindividuals can put a dent in the amount of food that goes to waste. For an issue as complicated and overwhelming as our waste-disposal system and the challenge of feeding everyone who’s hungry, I’m empowered by the ability each of us have to waste less in our own day-to-day. So how will the challenge work, you ask.
1. We want to hear from you, our community, about what foods you find yourself throwing out most often. First that comes to mind for me is herbs; I’m always challenged to finish the whole bunch (although the “Any Greens Pesto” recipe from Eat Good Food makes it easy!). Tell us in a comment here which foods you can never seem to use up before they go bad.
2. We’ll take the answers we hear most from you, and make those our target foods for our Food Waste Challenge, which will take place at Bi-Rite Market the week leading up to Earth Day (Sunday, April 22nd).
3. During that week, we’ll give you recipe cards for each of the target foods. Each card will have a few different recipes that make use of its featured ingredient. We’ll invite you to email us a photo of any dish you cook from it–I’ll post each photo sent in on our blog.
4. We’ll donate 10% of proceeds from sales of the target foods that week (up to $1,000) to Three Squares, an organization that works throughout the Bay Area to provide nutrition education and improved access to healthy food in low-income communities. They’re teaching people how to shop for ingredients and cook smartly, and this will help them towards the 600 classes they teach every year!
So without further ado, let’s kick this thing off! Please reply to this post with a comment on what foods you find yourself throwing out most often, so we can help you find creative ways to use them up next month!