November 2, 2012

Nourishing Collaboration: The Rebirth of Salvation Farms




One rainy October night a few weeks ago, I attended a reception at Sterling College.  As I got out of the car, the rain increased to a downpour and I moved quickly toward the porch of Housten House, formerly known as the Old Inn on the Common.  The scene inside contrasted sharply with the dismal weather outside- that is to say, the light was warm, the people smiling and the smell of fall harvest food wafted through the air.  The purpose of the event was to celebrate the publication of Vermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook.  The handbook is a collaborative effort between the college, Salvation Farms and Vermont Foodbank and focuses on providing information about vegetables suitable to Vermont including growing tips, storage, nutritional benefits and recipes. What followed was a reflection by each of the contributors and dinner prepared by Sterling students with donations from local farms. Listening to these reflections and talking with the people present left me with the feeling that as important as the other contributors were to this publication, the evening also felt like a celebration of the re-launch of Salvation Farms, an organization whose conception and development began here, at Sterling College. Following her study in sustainable agricultural and natural resource management at Sterling College, Director Theresa Snow was inspired to simultaneously address farm fresh food waste and food inequality in her community.  Consequently, she spent her time gathering volunteers to “glean” or gather that surplus produce to give to needy folks. Snow’s work clearly fell in line with the college’s mission and she found abundant support to help her develop her program. From there, Salvation Farms was born.

The organization is one that is in the same constant motion as its creator.  It evolved from having an impact on a local scale to a statewide scale as Snow was eventually hired on at the Vermont Foodbank as Director of Agricultural Resources to institute a gleaning program into their operations, build food donor relationships with farmers and increase the organizations capacity to handle fresh foods. But as Snow dug in deeper to the complexities of her evolving vision- a systemic change in the way we depend on food sources and how to feed vulnerable populations- she couldn’t help but evolve herself, searching out new ideas and after almost four years she left Vermont Foodbank to reinvent Salvation Farms. In reflecting on Snow and her ultimate decision to leave the Foodbank, CEO John Sayles said with a smile, “We just couldn’t contain her and now Salvation Farms has burst out again!” And if you have ever met Theresa Snow, you could see why he said that. Snow is a fix it girl.  In her professional and personal life she has been moved to action by injustices she sees- globally and locally.

Theresa Snow, Director of Salvation Farms
Snow’s ‘bursting out’ took on a physical motion as well as a philosophical one.  She struck out on a road trip across the country to meet others with similar visions as hers and learn from their strategies. What struck her most is how the different scale of agriculture in many other parts of the country differs from Vermont’s. Much of the country’s large-scale agriculture is automated and mechanized contrasting with Vermont’s smaller scale version, based more on human labor. This lead Snow to the practical realization that depending on people power helps strengthen appreciation, understanding of farmers and creates community through ownership. She realized that what is most important to succeeding is collaboration and the cultivation of relationships.  For Salvation Farms, that meant more than just a focus on picking surplus vegetables. Instead it became one that combines- at the very least- advocacy, education, resource management, diverse and cross-sector partnerships and lots of logistical coordination.

When Snow returned home she began to redesign and restructure Salvation Farms to support these new goals in an effort to return to its original philosophies- a movement back toward creative engagement of more Vermonters in managing food resources to provide our state’s own needs.  Snow remained dedicated to education, as evidenced by the Vermont Fresh publication, but now took things one step further by teaching others how to set up these types of initiatives and working as a vocal representative of these ideals.  One project she is currently working on includes fostering the conversation and partnership to bring an agricultural industry component to Vermont’s correctional facilities. Another project involves working with Green Mountain College’s Farm and Food Project to research the production and integration of frozen food into Vermont’s food charity system. And in addition to all this, Snow is constantly sharing the story of the organization’s development, its vision, and her observations from the road trip. Salvation Farms has become, in essence, one collaborator establishing and maintaining a comprehensive web of connections in an effort to manage statewide agriculture surplus.

The reception at Sterling College symbolizes that spirit of collaboration. The folks who came to celebrate had a broad interest and connection to these groups- they were coworkers, former coworkers, volunteers, board members, former steering committee members, Sterling College students and alumni and they were all united by one thing: connecting through food.

You can learn more about Salvation Farms and Theresa Snow by visiting her blog at http://salvationfarms.wordpress.com/ or emailing info@ourfarmsourfood.org


Allison VanAkkeren of Sterling College and her students that prepared the celebratory meal with local produce.















May 13, 2012

On Knowing...




I can’t remember the first time I noticed that I ever indulged in drinking a beer in the shower but I remember when my mother noticed it. 

It was Christmas break my junior year at college.  I had been waiting tables to earn money for books and fun for the upcoming semester and I was inarguably the worst waitress on the planet. I am not indulging in hyperbole. Usually, by the end of the night neither the chefs nor the bartenders would care to talk to me. To them, I was nothing more than a serious irritant.  Drink orders confused me as I had no experience other than a very, very limited knowledge of wine and beer, dinner orders sometimes came out before appetizers, soup and desserts were forgotten, and inevitably every night at least one costly dinner had to be comped because of my error.  My wine service was as embarrassing to the restaurant owner as my inability to up sell was frustrating. I think he only kept me on because I was pretty good at smiling.

But I wasn’t smiling the night I came home after a particularly dreadful day to see that some official looking mail from my college had been opened by my mother.  In hindsight, she opened all official looking mail since, afterall, she was taking care of the bills and, I didn’t want to open that kind of correspondence anyway.  However, this particular piece of mail did not hold financial information but instead offered numbers of another variety and import: my grades.  And this semester had not been so good. The previous year I had taken some time off due to an illness and when classes started in the fall I had new ideas about what was important.  Classes that blew my mind were important; classes that I could easily fall asleep in were not.  Consequently, I skimmed through a philosophy class and poured my intellectual heart and soul into an English class taught by my favorite professor.  Unfortunately, neither class seemed to notice my efforts (or lack of) and I received the very same grade in each of these classes. I was hurt.  And embarrassed. The injustice of your mother reading your disappointing grades before you was only insult to the wound of the mediocre grades, which was just more injury on top the awful current employment. So I gave my mother the kind of hell that a only a self centered post teenager can deliver and stomped up the stairs to take a shower to wash off the awful smell of dirty dishes that lingered on my hands long after the shift had ended. But mostly I went to hide.

Half way through the shower, when the pain was beginning to ease a little, I heard the bathroom door squeak open- normally an event that would have angered me as invading bathroom time in our house was simply not done- but then I noticed an uncapped, dark brown bottle had gently found its way past the shower curtain onto the edge of the bathtub.

My mother, my dear, sweet mother who paid my bills and supported me emotionally, financially, physically and, everlastingly, knew- KNEW- how to ease the pain of all these injuries.  A beer in the shower. And then everything was all right.

O, to be known so well.





April 9, 2012

The Basics, Military Ingenuity and Peanut Butter: a Rant


Tonight, my husband and I had the following conversation while eating some leftover Easter candy:

Seth: What's the point of white chocolate anyway? I want to slap the bastard that came up with that. 'Chocolate isn't good enough, I'll make it white chocolate'. Jerks. 
Darcie: Yeah. They're probably racist bastards.
 Seth: Yeah. They're probably Germans.  

First of all, you have to know Seth to know that this sort of brassy cynicism can only be sarcasm and can't be taken too seriously. You also have to know that, despite deep and obvious philosophical differences regarding what Germans are famous for (outside of beer and brats), Seth actually has great admiration for their military skill and ingenuity. So this, of course, is sarcasm layered upon sarcasm- Seth's favorite kind.  You never know what that guy will say.

But I digress. 

The conversation made me realize how disappointing some food that is touted as awesome is supposed to be.  Last night, while waiting for a pregnancy induced craving of toast topped with peanut butter and honey, I spied a bag of Craisins- the pomegranate ones.  

As I was shoving them in my mouth faster than my daughter loads Cheerios in hers, I peered into the bag and thought about how big this dried fruit was for such a small seed, how, in fact, it looked more the size of cherries or, um, dried cranberries than the size of pomegranate seeds. 


But it wasn't that that made me turn the bag over to look at the ingredients list. It was how sweet the snack was. Ocean Spray was probably one of those companies that you didn't want to admit to eating on account of fear of nasty economic and environmental habits and I was suddenly struck with the panic. Had I been duped into eating the wretched high fructose corn syrup and that now I would likely have self induced health problems not to mention be a part of the corruptive corn economy? That overactive yet shrinking and dim pregnant brain ranted away as I turned the package over. "INGREDIENTS: CRANBERRIES, SUGAR..." Phew. Saved from that at least. "...POMEGRANATE JUICE CONCENTRATE...."  What?! No pomegranates in this treat? This treat billed as pomegranates- that wonderful superfood that is supposed to make you super human just by virtue of the fact that you even thought about eating it? I was certain, as I had shoved those fake pomegranates into my mouth that I was offering my unborn child the kind of nutrition that would frame a brilliance and splendor of mind that made for inspiring films and lifetime achievement awards. I turned the bag back over to scrutinize the cover and under the Craisins logo read: "Pomegranate" and then in very small print "Juice infused".   Juice infused.


I tossed the bag back on the counter and reached for my toast that had just popped. Peanut butter. Honey. Toast. Stick to the basics. 


March 30, 2012

Paniche? Piniche? Painich? Pinich?


The word is ‘paniche’ and I just spelled it wrong. I’m sure of it. As sure of its misspelling here, I am also sure that I cannot find the correct spelling. That fact alone has stopped me from writing about it for years. My grandmother always said it was Italian for fried bread dough but I cannot find evidence of this anywhere and now that she is passed so, it seems, is any information on this word.

Perhaps it is paniche, piniche, painich? Phonetically, it is pa- NITCH. In a family as large as mine, you’d think someone might know.  But when questioned, my aunts and uncles seemed as clueless as I was. One uncle pointed out the link to the French word for bread- le pain. After checking some resources, my aunt who is a librarian, wrote, “I think paniche could be an abbreviation of panicino--the "icino" being a diminutive suffix, as in dear "little" bread. And people just tend to shorten unfamiliar words when using colloquial speech.” Definitely a librarian response. Another uncle responded, “Maybe `panich' is an Italian swear word, like for when you burn your hand on a grease splatter?” Definitely a Lambert response.

And the recipe is as lost as the name is.  It might just be basic bread dough or basic pizza dough that instead of being baked in the oven in the traditional way is fried in pans of hot oil.  Whatever it is, my grandmother’s fried bread dough is far from the fried bread dough you find at county fairs smothered with confectionary sugar and fake maple syrup.  What she made was magical. What she made was perfectly airy fried dough formed into circles; crispy on the outside, light on the inside. It was always served with maple syrup, sausage and pickles. I was sure the sausage and pickles were there only to balance the sweetness with enough salt so that you could push in at least one more piece of paniche even after you thought you were done.

There was more to it than just the paniche though. There was the heat from the hot oil in my grandmother’s kitchen, the way it fogged up the kitchen windows, her red and black flowered apron tied around her body busy about the kitchen, her dining room table with the extra rough cut boards to extend its size so that it had to be moved from its normal place into the whole kitchen or at least to where it met the ‘kid table’. And around it was my family- my grandmother’s sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and those honorary aunts and uncles who we did not realize were not actually of blood relation until we were much older.

She passed away eleven years ago and despite missing it and the recipe likely being a simple one, nobody has tried to recreate it. Recreating it might only disturb those memories of the way my grandmother brought her friends and family around her table on a Sunday morning because in the end, without her, it’s just fried bread dough and maybe living with the memory only is the best way to relive this particular food. 

March 12, 2012

Facebook Food


  
The Facebook craze is one that originated with college kids- early 20s students who pioneered the way the social network would later disseminate through to older generations.  I missed that time frame by a few years- in fact, scoffed at the way the few college kids I knew were sucked into the site.  Five years later, Facebook had found its way into the thirty, forty and fifty something generations and now is ubiquitous the world round.  The status updates of these generations are different than those of the pioneers, to be sure. They seem to range in topics from their pets, what their kids are doing, reactions to sporting events, grousing about something upsetting or offering a political rant and of course, there is the occasional confessional. Having long been interested in what food reveals about people and the role it plays in our lives- nutritionally, culturally, personally- the status updates that I have been most intrigued by are naturally the ones that focus on food. I have been able to discern several categories that the Facebook food posts seem to fall into and I’d like to explore a few of those below.

First and most overwhelmingly, there seems to be a sort of ‘state of the state’ type food post that is exactly what it suggests: what someone is eating; what they are doing right now. It can communicate a certain enthusiasm for food and life: “Avocado break!” writes one person. Or another person “…is starving and therefore is focusing on what to make for dinner...Sicilian Chicken? Kung Pao Chicken? Grilled Pork? The possibilities are endless...” And another in which food is linked to activity: “Sliced the crap out of my toe, banged the crap out of my knee, ate the crap out of a quesadilla.” andBruschetta, artichoke, smoked gouda and the bravado of The Magnificent Seven. Nice.” Or even grounding food in time and place: “Fun at the beach followed by homemade bruschetta topped with ricotta, tomato, basil, & white truffle oil...YUM!!” These posts are light and fun. But most of all, they are interesting in what foods people pair with what activities. Usually a break is for apples or coffee, popcorn or ice cream pairs with watching movies and maybe something easy like pizza after a beach day.

Some of my favorite food posts are the ones where the writer simply cannot contain their excitement over what they are eating. I have one friend, who likely doesn’t even realize the amount of posting about food he does. His excitement spans a broad range from comments on hot dogs: “Two McKenzie natural casing hot dogs at 3 in the morning? Why not...” and “Ok, so you can say what you want about your Hebrew Nationals or your Nathan's, but if I'm going to break down and eat a hot dog (or four), it's going to be a Mackenzie natural casing every time, baby.” And stretches to dessert items: “Rhubarb dipped in sugar and straight up rhubarb--both awesome.” and “I cannot even begin to describe how much I love pineapple upside down cake right now.” Or plain old zeal for odd combinations and followed by energetic proclamations: “If eating a loaf of garlic bread with BBQ mayo on it at 11:15 p.m. on a weeknight is wrong then I don't want to be right.” And “Cinnamon Toast Crunch with a handful of chocolate chips thrown in the bowl: The Next Level.” His words bespeak a simple adoration and love for food; we should all be so happy when eating.

Food is the broad strokes that paint our daily lives.  Here are a few images of the daily life. We’ll start with one about kids and food:  “Me: ‘What would you like for breakfast this morning?’ Dylan: ‘Oatmeal and broccoli please.’”  Then there is how food fixes: “A good husband says, "I hope you feel better." A great one delivers Taco King chicken soup.” Or illustrates the identity of someone else: “The papa here steams our lobster on the grill. Because he likes to...” Or show someone just loving it: “…is at Hen of the Wood. Cucumbers with creme fraiche, icicle radishes with Sea Salt, Opal Basil & Butter. Then crispy oysters! Rabbit livers and rabbit! Oh, and did I mention the champagne and after-dinner cheese course? Heaven!” Or how food makes you miss someone and want to snuggle in with family: “Making Grandpa Perry's pork chops and spaghetti, drinking an extra dirty martini and hanging with my mom!” or some thing: “Seriously missing the fresh pesto from the Lebanon Co-Op... really miss that grocery store...” Many posts communicate excitement for heading home: “It's a beautiful thing to be heading home and have your mom tell you she's making all your favorite foods...all for one meal. Mom is a rock star in the kitchen.” Or being with friends: “Just made black bean mango salsa and a garlic lemon orzo pasta salad with tomatoes, chick peas, spinach, artichokes, and feta. Ready for a beautiful afternoon with some beautiful friends!!!” And then there’s the first time posts: “Never made chocolate chip cookies at 5:45 am....first time for everything.” Or “Just made bleu cheese salad dressing for the first time. Fantastic.” To me, these status updates capture a much more interesting view of what is going on in people’s worlds.

As someone who was skeptical of the either mundane or- worse- overly emotional sharing that seems to be the principle action of Facebook, I thoroughly enjoy these food posts.  They make me think about how we use food to become happy or to express happiness, about how certain foods make certain friends happy. Most of all, many times these posts inspire me to cook and share- whether in real life or on Facebook- in hopes that someone else will be similarly moved. 

January 5, 2012

Good Good





I can hear them in the morning- my daughter and my husband giggling. It is their new routine. Down the hall. Around six AM. The light from the mudroom reaches down the hall to my squinting eyes where I lie in my bed, lacking the morning motivation to join them. I satisfy myself with simply listening to them.  She giggles because she is delighted and he because he is delighted she is delighted. If our dog, Ellie, could she would probably also be giggling.

What happened was this. A few days ago when a cranky fifteen month old, battling teeth, a nasty cold, the frustrations of developmental frustrations of learning to walk and talk, pointed at the dog treats and then laughed uproariously when we let her give one to Ellie. And soon it was ‘Ma! Ma!’ (This actually means 'more' in Hadley speak. And sometimes it means 'Mama'.). And we let her give another one because she wasn’t crying. And anther one. And another one.  And then a quick return to a waterworks when, for the sake of Ellie’s health and heart, we called it quits at ten or so treats. For the rest of the day, she would not pass the bowl of dog treats without asking, “Ma!” and pointing. So when dinnertime came around, Seth took Hadley to the mudroom where she gave Ellie her dinner. One piece of kibble at a time. Each delivery was punctured by a squeal of delight. Ellie waited patiently as some pieces made it to the bowl and some were dropped en route. Her patience likely paid off as Ellie’s normal measuring scoop was never used and the game went on for quite some time no doubt allowing for more than the usual two scoops. And now this is what they do. At 6am and 6pm. Seth and I were happy. Happy that our little girl was not focused on her aching teeth, her fear of falling while walking, her frustration at not being able to communicate what she means but more than all that, happy that she gets pleasure from making another happy. And all this from a few pieces of dog kibble.
 
It got me to thinking and, while I will concede that Ellie is a lab and they are a breed famous for their piggy ways and food driven behavior, it occurred to me just exactly the extent that food can give pleasure- that it extends from simply making a fantastic dinner for someone you love, bringing someone a treat at work to brighten their day, making someone their favorite kind of cookies to babies and doggies and adults alike. And the fun part is that it spreads.  The one who consumes the food is happy but the giver is also happy and because of those things, those watching the whole thing experience some of that good vibe. Happiness begets happiness.

I offer you a challenge. Use food to make someone happy.  Be as simple or as elaborate as you wish.  When you’re done, tell me about it.  Email me at thekitcheneer@gmail.com.  I want to know. This will make me happy. 

December 2, 2011

Clean Plate Club

Nothing new about this:  you are sitting at the dinner table, maybe six or seven years old with nothing left on your plate but peas. You know, the frozen kind. Dimpled and mushy and pasty on the inside, refusing to keep solidarity on your fork. You can remember that day, it is a memory as familiar to me as it must be common to you, sitting at the empty dinner table, your siblings already onto more fun enterprises, and you are left with your balking tastebuds and the peas. Eventually, logic suggests that you will not beat your parents on this one and you succumb to shoving the last ones in your mouth, cheeks bulging, held in just long enough to show your clean plate to your mother as proof and then to rush to the bathroom upstairs while pretending to head for your room, spitting them out just in time to escape the gag reflex. There is no way around this experience; when your mother is intent on not wasting good food, there is just no way around it.

Well, there is one way around it.

Power drops.

Fast forward through the teenage years when you flat out deny eating anything you don’t want to eat having learned through protest that in the end there isn’t a darn thing your parents can do about it to my first summer at Outpost Wilderness Adventure, an adventure camp that I went on to spend eight summers working for. We were finishing up a delicious dinner of refried beans and rice when the guides passed the bean pot around the group encouraging everyone to take one more spoonful so as not to waste the food by throwing it out. ‘Every bite you take gives you energy to play harder tomorrow!’ The pot made its ineffectual pass around the circle, one guide named Quentin took the pot back, stood up and announced, ‘Time for power drops!’ Power drops? Nobody knew what this was, but given the comment about food and fuel and the word power, I was certain it involved consumption. It was the word ‘drop’ that I wondered about.





And the next thing I knew Quentin was standing over his first volunteer (we later learned never to be the first to volunteer when it came to Quentin) lying on his back, in the dirt. Quentin wielded a spoon piled high with sloppy beans and instructed, “Yeah, like that. Ya’ll just keep your mouth open as wiiiiide as you can and I’ll just….” The spoon turned in his hand and a giant slop of beans landed half in the boy’s mouth, half out, dripping down the side of his cheek and onto the collar of his shirt. Everybody laughed and the boy coughed, then laughed too, wiping his mouth, cheek and shirt.

“That…..was….AWEsome,” Quentin grinned and looked up, “Who’s next? Everybody has to do their part.” And everybody did.

As every kid took their turn, caught their power drop and received messy sloppy beans in their mouth, nose, hair, ear, Quentin, as he is want to do when things become no longer challenging, decided a power drop from this height was no longer demanding and thus unsatisfactory. He stepped onto the grill grate and then to the top of the picnic table and finally to the top of the trailer that carried gear and bikes. That was the summer of the power drop battles, pushing the limits to more inventive heights- at one point dropping from the second story deck off the back of the lodge.


The power drop was signature OWA. It meant many things, it gave new meaning to cleaning your plate, it was fun; it was permission to play with your food. It turned something you didn’t want to do into something that you took honor in doing. And it was responsible in its basic purpose: clean your plate. Your mom should read this.