Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 

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Ciao from Italia!  It is already the start of my 4th week here in Italy, and I’ve been busy busy busy – moving from town to town, eating delicious food, meeting new people, being surrounded by beautiful scenery…life is hard.  

About a week ago I arrived in Sicilia and made the drive to the western coast to Agrigento, a small seaside city that is home to Olio Taibi, one of our olive oil vendors.  (Spoiler alert: next post will be all-about their beautiful harvest I took part in and my awe in witnessing the production of one of my favorite oils from start to finish!)

I am here on the island for the next month, and although I’ll be moving around every week or so, it’s comforting to be in “one place” for a while (if a large island can be considered “one place”).  Already I can tell you it is absolutely beautiful here, and I can’t wait to share it with you all.  

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!  For now, picture this: I’ve settled into my current “home”, Fattoria Mose’, the grand, summer house of my host Chiara.  When I started this (these things take time, okay?!), it was a cold, rainy day and the olive harvest had come to a temporary halt.  I was seated in the living room with a cup of hot tea and a plate of biscottini by my side (how did they know what I want?).  To put it simply: the perfect writing conditions.

I relish this time to sit back and take it easy, to reflect on my trip so far and share it with you.  So, let’s head back up north to Piemonte, back-track a bit, and talk about the festival that made this entire trip to Italy a reality.

If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you probably know that I attended Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in Torino!  To sum it up in a few brief words: overstimulating, overwhelming, chaotic, delicious, informative, wonderful.  

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SF USA delegates are everywhere – Christina from NY and Catherine from DC!

I’m still digesting the insane amount of content, ideas, thoughts (and food…) I took in over the course of those 4 days, but I wanted to share some of my experiences while they’re still fresh in my mind.

I’ve been struggling to figure out a method to present this in a clear, organized way, as my experience itself was anything but (in the best way possible!).  The number of events I attended, people I met, new information I learned, is a lot, and I think it makes the most sense to present this in the way that I originally tried to understand it and its wonderful chaos.

Back in Boston, a few weeks before departing, I sat down and spent extensive time pouring over the list of events on the website, jotting down anything and everything that at all appealed to me.  Conferences on food waste, cooking classes, wine and beer tastings…let’s just say the list was very, very long.  As I was dumping all this information into one massive GoogleDoc that would turn into my lifeline over the course of the festival, I knew I would have to pick and choose – some events were at the same time and it would be impossible to go to everything, as much as I wanted to! 

I think it’d be an exaggeration to say I had a “strategy” for Terra Madre Salone del Gusto (from here on out referred to as TMSG), but this picking and choosing was definitely thought out, and it largely had to do with this year’s theme and structure.

Every two years when TMSG rolls around, a theme is chosen around which the events and topics of discussion are centered.  The theme must be global and representative of the current happenings in our food system, as everyone around the world is meant to take part.  And this theme does not begin or end with TMSG: the discussions and events began long before the actual festival, with chapters all over the world creating their own initiatives, and international challenges like last fall’s Eat Local Challenge and this month’s October EcoChallenge.  

This year, Slow Food International, the organizers, chose Food for Change.  What this means is that Slow Food has committed to a “global campaign to raise awareness about the relationship between food and climate change”.  Obviously, this is something that concerns everyone on the planet and thus is quite appropriate!  

In addition to this overarching theme, there are then 5 Thematic Forums in which the events and discussions can be further categorized.  This is brand-new for this year’s TMSG and, in my opinion, was a really effective way to organize the vast range of topics a hefty theme such as “food and climate change” can cover.  

More detailed information on the 5 thematic forums can be found here, but below is a quick rundown with some photos I took, and a summary of each area copied from Slow Food’s website.

To give you an idea of the physical setup of all of this: TMSG was held at the Lingotto Center in Torino (the same home as the 2006 Winter Olympics!), in 4 gigantic halls filled to the brim with vendor booths, eateries, discussion panels, and one 4-walled, closed-off exhibit for each of these thematic forums.  These were almost like “mini museums”, and had beautifully curated illustrations and statistics about each forum.  I really enjoyed taking my time and going through each exhibit, one by one, reading it up and down to get an idea of each of these areas of the food system and their impact on climate change.  

Thematic Forums

Slow Meat

The Slow Meat forums are focused on quality livestock farming, animal welfare, the importance of protecting biodiversity and native breeds and the problems caused by factory farms. Attention is also paid to the topic of food choices and awareness-raising campaigns that aim to emphasize the importance of more conscious eating habits.

Slow Fish

The Slow Fish forums give space to the relationship between the seas and the environment—from microplastic pollution to the risks generated by the overheating of the world’s oceans—as well as ocean grabbing and the challenges facing traditional fishing communities, the environmental damage caused by salmon and shrimp farming and certification schemes in the seafood sector.

Seeds

The forums dedicated to seeds explores rural seeds, the role of farmers who act as custodians of traditional knowledge and skills, the many types of food garden (school, urban, the Slow Food gardens in Africa) and soil fertility. There are also targeted meetings on spices, oilseeds and their properties and historic gardens that preserve heirloom varieties of fruits like apples, figs, bananas and oranges.

Bees and Insects

The forums on bees and insects look at the strong link between agricultural models and the well-being of bees, different apiculture models, different types of bee (black, stingless, etc.), honeys, the importance of insects to agriculture and insects as a “new” food source.

Food and Health

The food and health forums explore the impact of our food choices on our bodies and the consequences of widespread pesticide and antibiotic use in farming. They also look at salt, sugar and fat and the differences between industrial and artisanal products—which can we choose and how can we consume them to minimize the risks to our health?

From a visitor’s standpoint, having this set-up made the process of “picking and choosing” which events to attend so much easier.  

I wanted TMSG to be more educational than anything for me: I had a goal to make sure I learned as much as possible, in as many different areas as possible.  Having this set-up made it simple for me to say, for example, “Oh, I wrote down 5 events in Slow Fish and zero in Seeds, maybe I should attend this class on French legumes instead?”…because when else would I be able to learn about such a random topic?  This idea motivated a lot of my choices, and I started choosing as many unique, off-the-map topics as possible.

This is also why you might notice that I didn’t go to a lot of “Italian-related” events.  You might be thinking, “Uhh, you’re in Italy…why?”  This was done purposely, my thinking being: I’m going to be in this country for the next 3 months; TMSG hosts countries from all over the world.  I would have plenty of time to immerse myself in Italian food and culture in the coming weeks.  

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For now I wanted to use this opportunity to learn about the hundreds of other countries who came all this way to this northern Italian city to share their unique food items and stories they brought with them.  Who knows when (and if) I’ll be able to visit Uganda, or the Philippines, or Brazil, and talk to the very people who make these traditional products found nowhere else?  

Those are some of the factors that went into to choosing the events I attended, and even though I missed out on a few things I really wanted to go to (you can’t have it all!), I loved the ones I did attend.  And I definitely learned a lot of random things I never thought I would! 

The types of events at TMSG can loosely be broken down into three categories: forums/conventions, taste-workshops, and booths/food stalls.  Each of these relates back to one of the thematic forums mentioned above.  

One quick note about the insane logistics of this thing: the LANGUAGES!  As you can imagine, people from all over the world attended, bringing with them 100s of different languages…yet somehow we were all able to attend the same lectures and discussions?  The hidden heroes of this whole, gigantic thing were the translators.  Anytime a large discussion was involved, you had the option to put on a headset and program into 4 or 5 different languages, the magic-makers hard at work in their little booths in the back.  I can’t imagine the coordination this must’ve taken for a festival of this level, with this many events happening all at once.  So thank you, translators, for allowing all of us Slow Food enthusiasts from around the world to understand and participate!

Forums/Conventions

These ranged from 10-100+ attendees, held in panel-style where the speakers would each have the floor for 10-15 min, ending with an open discussion with the audience. I hopped around to a bunch of these; I will spare you from reading about them all, as I kid you not, I have 20 pages of notes, but there were two or three talks that really hit home for me.  Here are my biggest takeaways from those few!

Fighting Food Waste with Intelligence and Creativity.  

IMG_4382This was the first talk I attended at TMSG, and the one I was most excited about, given my work with food waste at Eataly and my overall general interests in the sustainability sector.

One of the great things about these conferences in general was the diversity of the panel members: to hear perspectives from countries from all corners of the world in regards to the same larger problem, and their unique solutions customized for their particular location, had a strong unifying effect and was very powerful.  On this panel alone were representatives from Italy, Senegal, Ukraine, the Philippines, and the European Commission.

Biggest takeaway: We’re all wasting food, but the causes of waste differ in the global north vs. the global south.  

This may seem obvious: of course the causes of a problem will differ from place to place; however, up until this point I had never heard it explained this concretely.

So what is the difference?  In the global north, the majority of food waste is due to overproduction and improper storage.  To put it simply, most northern countries are producing more food than is able to be bought and consumed in a timely manner before it goes bad.  

Why?  

For one, we live in a culture of overabundance.  This of course is a luxury, but it also results in huge amounts of unnecessary waste.  To bring up the topics discussed at another conference (We Are What We Eat), our “Fast Food Values” convince us that “more is always better” (Alice Waters).  

Think about your local supermarket.  There’s a reason why there are people working around the clock to stock shelves: people instinctively gravitate towards overflowing displays, and sales are shown to suffer if products are not stocked to the brim.  But what ends up happening to that overflowing display, especially if it’s something like fresh bread that has to be sold day-of or else it goes stale?  Is the gain in sales as a result of a full display worth the loss of what ends up in the trash at the end of the day?  This practice is obviously bad for the environment, not to mention bad for business: waste results in money down the drain with unnecessary production costs, disposal costs, labor costs…the downstream effects are huge.  

On the idea of storage, something as small as placing an apple next to a kiwi can cause unnecessary spoilage.  Did you know that apples secrete a chemical that accelerates the ripening of other fruits?!  You may notice this on a smaller-scale in your fruit bowl on the kitchen counter, but more importantly, businesses can easily suffer from large-scale spoilage in their warehouses before food even gets on the shelf.

Storage methods, purchasing habits, donation programs…these are just a few ways for businesses to minimize food waste.  It’s in their best interest to pay attention to things like this, as “every $1 businesses spend on food waste prevention programs saves $14 in operating costs” (Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner). 

While the causes of food waste in the global north are more directly related to business and purchasing habits, in the global south its mostly an issue of poor infrastructure.  This also means it’s an issue of food loss, rather than food waste.  

Why is wasting of food in the global south not happening at the level it is in the global north?  Panelist and chef Jose Antonio Miguel Melchor from the Philippines puts it simply: “Countries like ours cannot afford to waste food.”   As many food cultures originated and like many cultures, still practice today, his is one that has tended to stay true to its “nose-to-tail” style of cooking, i.e. using every ingredient from start to finish, simply because conditions (income, availability of food, etc.) do not warrant the “luxury” of a wasteful lifestyle.  

When panelist Cheikh Thiam, who left his home city of Dakar, Senegal to form an eco-village in the surrounding countryside, was asked to participate in World Disco Soup Day, an international event held by Slow Food where soup is made from scraps of food to raise awareness on food waste, he had to decline, explaining that in his village “after lunch, children go around with buckets and collect scraps to eat…We do not waste any food.”  A model that does well in the global north to reduce waste has no need in this area of the world.  

Food in the global south is not being wasted in the same way as it is in the global north, but it is still being lost – what does this even mean?  The idea of“food loss” was completely new to me with this conference.  

As moderator Ursula Hudson from Slow Food Germany explains: “Statistics about food waste do not include the food that is lost before harvest, i.e. food that is overproduced and left on the vine to rot- these are considered food LOSSES.”  

The level of food loss in the global south was detailed by Thiam: “Each year in Senegal, at least 88 tons of mangoes are wasted.”  He went on to say that this astounding number is actually “an underestimate due to travel restrictions that prevented proper measurement.” 

Infrastructure does not allow the harvest of these fruits in time, perfectly good food is left to rot, and a continent like Africa, which is completely capable of feeding itself, is forced to rely on imports, rather than exports (Thiam).  It’s even more ludicrous when you hear that 1/3-1/2 of all food is wasted in a world where hunger is rising (Hudson).  

Thiam brings up the idea that the entire concept of food waste is a result of a general undervaluing of food itself, and the loss of a spiritual connection to food that made up a large part of the culture of our ancestors: “We waste food because we take it for granted.  Seeing the colors, shapes, smells, and patterns of food and being overwhelmed – it’s not something that everyone shares.” 

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Tomatoes at Torino’s Porta Palazzo, the largest open air market in Europe!

Daria Malakhova from Slow Food Ukraine agreed: “If we loved food, we wouldn’t waste it.”  She explains the nostalgia that comes with the smell of a ripe tomato that doesn’t even come from the tomato itself, but the humble green stem at the top, which she says can be used for delicious broths. 

We’ve gotten spoiled with an overabundance of food: availability is another one of the “Fast Food Values” mentioned by Alice Waters, and it “makes us think we should be able to get whatever we want, wherever we are, whenever…it spoils us, the seasons stop mattering, and indigenous foods and cultures become irrelevant.” 

Malakhova goes on to say that “[i]t’s good to feel hunger sometimes, to eat when you want to eat, and actually enjoy looking forward to a meal,” rather than eating by the clock, or eating because it’s simply “time to eat”.

What I took away from all of this is that our approaches to solving food waste are going to have to be different.  There is no universal cause, and “we are all wasting” (Andriukaitis).  

Spreading an appreciation of food can be difficult, but in my opinion that’s what Slow Food is all about!  Just as the majority of food waste happens in our own kitchens, these spaces also have the potential to make a huge impact.  Whether its sharing your love of food with others, utilizing ingredients to their very end, or paying attention to what you put in the trash, your actions can have a huge effect on others – your families, friends, even the businesses you choose to buy products from.  Small changes can ripple upwards and it makes this seemingly overwhelming problem all the more tangible.  

Food and the City

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Back at Porta Palazzo in Torino, where thousands of fruits and vegetables from all over Italy are sold

“Today, about half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2050, 66% of the human population will be urban, compared to 30% just 100 years earlier.” 

The major question of this conference was how, in this time of tremendous growth, cities and their surrounding rural environments can work together to maintain profitable relationships, and promote overall sustainable development.  To note, this panel was represented mostly by wealthier Western countries like France, Italy, England, Denmark, and the US.

Biggest takeaway: The involvement of public institutions is critical in linking city and country.  

More specifically, public institutions like schools and local municipal governments.

The idea of increased education at schools regarding sustainable choices was something universally discussed throughout TMSG.  I can understand why as, at least in the countries represented in the panel and most western countries, almost everyone goes to primary school: the potential to educate and instill sustainable choices at a young age is huge.  

Several discussed that school lunch is the perfect opportunity to do this. “If we were to spend just 20 minutes every day eating together at schools, that’s 1,500 hours a year to convince kids to make smart choices,” said panelist Kenneth Højgaard.

Højgaard is the chef and culinary entrepreneur of Copenhagen Food House, which was born with the purpose of improving the quality of public meals in the city – in schools, nursing homes, shelters, etc – as they make up over 80,000 of all meals served in a year.

In an effort to strengthen the relationship of the city with local farms and increase the quality of produce in these public meals, the Copenhagen Food House had a goal of going 90% organic – and in 2015, they were at 87% (Højgaard).  

Projects like this prove that a mutually beneficial relationship between city and country is possible; however Højgaard says he always gets the same reaction when he firsts presents this idea to public institutions: “We don’t have the budget.”  

He explains, rather comically, that these institutions then go through the 5 stages of grief until they arrive at acceptance: “First you need to convince them it is necessary, then you have to ignite a desire for change through first hand experiences, give them the required knowledge, show them it is possible through past examples, and make them proud of their accomplishments.”  

In the end, public institutions working with his organization have been able to drastically improve their food programs within their previous budget, and local farms surrounding the city have a reliable purchaser of their goods.  City and country are able to mutually benefit.  

Another model of school involvement is taking place in London at Burrough Market, where chairman Donald Hyslop has worked with local schools to sell produce grown at their own gardens at one of the largest city markets in the world.  In this way students are not only able to be actively involved in the growing process, but also able to learn valuable skills in communication and business.  Another point for school involvement!

On the side of local municipal governments, Chantal, coordinator of international panel of sustainable food systems, emphasized the importance of policy in the relationship between cities and country: “The city and country are becoming less dependent on each other due to globalization and industrialization, international markets, and price motivation, and this is all exacerbated by policies.”  

What we need instead, she goes on to explain, are policies that support this connection between city and country.  And how to we get these policies?  Through strengthening local level policies and developing regional food hubs that can “amplify the voice of cities in national discourse”.  This is key, as once these discussions are “at the national level, they can be better supported and more local level decisions can be enacted.”

She stresses the need to encourage “outside-the-box thinking…[as] new energy can bring up new ideas”, whether this new energy comes in the form of greater citizen participation, or a change in local leadership.  

This led to a question about how to integrate food policy in municipal governments if they’re not open to it, or if there is not a clear leader responsible for these policies.  Chantal stressed the importance of “building a culture of sustainability that lasts long term, despite electoral cycles.”  For example, there are some cities where trainings are run by citizens with long term staff to educate them on certain issues that are important to their city.  Having a training program in place creates a structure for when new officials are elected, and a standard for what is expected.  

She went on to boldly say that if that doesn’t work and they’re still not interested, there’s always the “do now and ask for forgiveness later” method – “They will become interested eventually.” 

As with any relationship, communication is key: city and country will need to maintain an open and frequent discussion to develop sustainable mutual growth.  While the two are different, they are forever linked, and rather than be considered separately, they should be viewed as one collective “agropolitan region” or “foodscape”, more terms I hadn’t heard of before this conference.  

“A foodscape is a real and metaphorical place that is the intersection of economic, political, social, and cultural factors that cover all production phases of food,” explains Ferdinando Mirizzi, a professor and chairman of cultural anthropology from Basilicata, Italy.  This inherently concerns both the countryside, where most food is grown and produced, and the city, where most food is consumed and sold.  

As any anthropologist would do, Mirizzi goes on to relate this to a more universal topic: identity.  

“There are no pure authentic food systems, like there are no pure identities.  Just like cultures, they’re not locked in and closed.”  In other words, a foodscape – made of city and country – needs to be viewed as having a constantly fluctuating identity that requires consistent reworking and tuning of its individual parts.  

“Food is the expression of the land, the soil, the ecological environment, the community of people who live on it, consume it, and sell it – the sum of collective individual identities” (Mirizzi).  

This level of fluidity is high in cities: “With migrant flows, we constantly take in new foods, flavors, and foodscapes.”  He brings up the example of the Mediterranean, where lemons, which make up a main staple of Italian and Greek cuisine, were previously unknown to these cultures before they were imported by the Arabs.  “Food is a social and cultural event from an anthropological perspective – through food we can understand the deep changes going on.”

We can only understand how cities and countries should work together by examining changes such as these, especially as the world continues to be redesigned by globalization.  He concludes by emphasizing the importance of going “back to local identities and stories to provide deep meanings of food within its own social communities.”  Only this way can we “increase the level of visibility of pipelines in the city to restore its relationship with the countryside.”  

Already the farm-to-table movement has gained popularity in restaurants both in the city and country, and these conversations are happening more and more frequently with CSAs, farm apprenticeships…the list goes on.  The interest in “where food comes from” is growing and models such as these prove that a sustainable relationship between urban and rural is possible!  

Other conferences attended:

Poison on the plate
From field to restaurant: power to the women!
Where do spices come from?
Excellent examples of sustainable nutrition in universities
Slow Food travel: travelling according to Slow Food
Women as agents of change: indigenous peoples’ food systems and climate change
Small-scale beekeeping
Indigenous chefs: why they are key players in the food system
Bread for change: how the world of bread changes and how bread changes the world
Climate change: how to face the biggest challenges of the coming decades
Small producers and big distributors
Food as a response to crisis

Taste Workshops

These were what I was most looking forward to, and I signed up for a bunch more when I got there once I realized how much I loved them!  They’re basically 1 hr long cooking classes held by different chefs, producers, even homecooks – any specialists in the specific ingredient or dish from their culture that they bring to the table.  This is where I really tried to take some “out of the box” classes, making sure to choose different categories of food from rice, coffee, chocolate, fish, and more.  

The art of Felitto fusilli

Canadian taste

Breakfast with the producer: chocolate from Colombia

The Philippines: a land of rice

Mountain fish with Artur Martinez and Marc Ribas

The beer terroir of Germany

Uganda’s diversity of bananas and millet

How to say coffee around the world

Specialty seed recipes

Almond sweets: from Asia to the Mediterranean

Booths/Food Stalls 

Walking around TMSG, this is what you had the most contact with: the insane amount of booths set up in rows across all 4 halls, beautiful displays of meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies, desserts, grains, wines…everything, from all over the world.  So many smells beckoning you to come closer and try – and you want to try EVERYTHING.  I’m glad there were 4 days to take this all in, to walk up and down each row, or else I would have just stood in the middle of it all, overwhelmed by the choices.  

Sustainability at Terra Madre

Exploring sustainability in Italy as a whole is a larger subject I am constantly researching during my time here, but I want to take a minute to address TMSG specifically.

As I’ve eluded, this was a rather large-scale event.  To give you a better idea, here’s this fun sign I found at the event!

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Translation: 1,000,000 people in Slow Food Network. 160 countries. 2500 local groups. 3000 gardens in Africa. 2000 school gardens. 500 Slow Food Presidi. 5000 Ark of Taste products. 1000 cooks in the Alliance. 70 Earth Market vendors. In other words, a lot of people involved!

In other words, a lot of people, products, transportation, resources, etc involved.  And that means the potential for a lot of waste.

I usually get bummed out going to a large event like this – a conference, concert, or baseball game – because it almost always includes the unpleasant sight of overflowing trash bins filled with plastic, food…not trash.  Really?  In this day and age?  Why can’t we have better systems for such huge contributors of waste like these?

Luckily, I was very pleasantly surprised at TMSG.  Guess what was the very first photo I took?

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Yup, that’s right – garbage bins.  Excited for the food and all, but look at this!

Being extra aware of food waste and waste in general these days, this was one of, if not THE first things I immediately noticed upon arriving at TMSG.

Waste collection procedures at events have always interested me – the logistics, if they really work, etc.  I was really impressed with the way it was done here.  Throughout the exhibition halls there were over 100 “ecological islands” (shown in the above photo) strategically set up between booths and eateries.

The variety of separation is one thing:  there’s organic, metals and plastics, paper, plastic, and non-reusable.  A whole other story is the fact that each station had its own volunteer there, all day, making sure you separated your items properly.  The volunteers were trained by Eco Dalle Citta and were mostly students from what I could tell.  I won’t stay they were the most enthusiastic (but hey, they’re in high school, what do you expect), but they did keep you on your toes!  I at first had no idea all the little plastic sampling cups were compostable, and they jumped on it when they saw I was headed for the plastic recycling bin instead.

On the walkway between exhibition halls, there was a huge display of TMSG and the University of Gastronomic Science’s (Slow Food’s University in Pollenzo) collaboration with Systemic Event Design (SEED) detailing all the ways in which TMSG was built to be a sustainable event.  I spent a lot of time reading this.  These are a few of the things that fascinated me! (All facts from Slow Food’s posters)

Materials

  • All food service items were made from Matter-B and cellulose pulp, provided by Novamont.  
  • To maintain cold chain during transport of food around TMSG, polystyrene crates are used provided by Corolla, and are reused by the restaurants that have prepared the meals.
  • All T shirts worn by staff were made by the company Iren using Italian cotton – organic and without use of pesticides and fertilizers.  Iran also provided all lanyards and are made from recycled PET
  • Benches are made from recycled steel by Ricrea and will be donated to the city of Turin after the event.

Food

  • Coffee grounds from all bars are recovered and reused as a substrate for cultivating edible mushrooms with Giardinone cooperative and Fungo Box project.
  • Working with Banco Alimentare, leftover food is collected at end of day to distribute to charities around Piemonte.
  • Napkins, tissues, and TP come from Lucart’s Grazie Natural line and are produced from reusable drink cartons.
  • Around 5000 bottles are expected to be uncorked at the Enoteca (wine bar)!  These are saved and reused to make panels and granules with Artimestieri.
  • Used cooking oil in the kitchens will be reclaimed by MPoli for use in production of biodiesel, glue, ink, and soap.

Waste

  • Every exhibitor received their own kit to sort their own waste within their stand.
  • Banners and signs were printed on PVC sheets which will be reused by women in Genoa’s Casa Circondariale to make new products like bags and placemats.
  • Stands are constructed using Greenpallet – sustainable pallets made by Palm – which will be used by Lurisia to transport merchandise.

There were countless other facts and statistics about power usage, transportation, and more.  As an event that draws 1,000s of people every other year, from all corners of the world, sustainable design like this has a HUGE impact, and is necessary for an organization like Slow Food committed to “good, clean, and fair” in our food system.  You can walk away from an event like this not only happy, full, and more knowledgable, but with the satisfaction that its environmental impact was minimized as much as possible.

This document is in Italian, but it contains an extensive description of these initiatives with SEED if you’re interested!

Takeaways

Can you tell I enjoyed this experience?  I loved being immersed in so many things I’m interested in for 4 days straight.  I’ll tie this up briefly because this has been a long post (and thank you for reading if you’ve made it this far!).  

In the “Food and the City” talk I mentioned, one of the speakers, Chantal, said, “Food is an entry point to deal with food access, poverty, public health.”  This so clearly sums up why I made the choice to get involved with food the way I have, and why I found this experience to be so rewarding and confirming of this decision.  For me it always comes back to this.  I believe that so many of our current problems come down to food, and these 4 immersive days proved that there are so many solutions out there.  I’m feeling optimistic for the future!

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This was just the first 4 days of my 3 month long adventure in Italy!  Continue to follow along on Instagram via @orchardeorto and @slowfoodboston, and stay tuned for posts about the olive harvest in Sicily and Tuscany, sustainability in Italy, and more!  Anything particular you’re curious about?  Ask away!  

Grazie ed a presto!

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Gironzolando

The word “gironzolando” in Italian translates to “wandering”.

Why is this word relevant to my life right now?

I remember when I could chart out on paper exactly what I would be doing for the next 2-3 years.  I also remember looking at this list and feeling incredibly suffocated in the seemingly absolute certainty of a future I wasn’t sure I even wanted.

This past year especially, I’ve learned to appreciate the unknown.  I committed myself wholeheartedly to a career change on a whim, and have been enjoying just rolling with it ever since.  I like not knowing where my job may lead, what I’ll be doing on any particular day, or where I’ll be living in a year.  It’s exciting and challenging, and it’s allowed me to learn a slew of random skills I never thought I would.  It’s also allowed me the freedom to spearhead projects like The Grateful Bread and Eataly’s nationwide donation program, opportunities I would’ve never had if I didn’t just trust things would work out in the long run.  I’ve realized this uncertainty doesn’t stress me out – and that’s a good thing, because things couldn’t be more uncertain than they are right now!!

I’m headed off to Italy for the next 3 months, and my plan for when I return is…not quite materialized?  There are some big changes coming up, and although trying to navigate these changes has been frustrating, I truly am excited about not knowing.  I’m especially excited for the opportunity to spend these three months fully immersing myself in what I’m most passionate about.

But before I get into what on earth I’m doing in Italy, I wanted to explain some changes that will accompany this journey, more specifically how I’m choosing to document and share it with people.  It goes back to the nature of why I started all this, where I see this all going, and I’m really excited about it!

How A Hobby Becomes More

I first started my food-Instagram during my senior year of college when my roommate of 4 years (HI JESS 🙂 ) and I finally got an apartment.  It was teensy tiny, a 1 bedroom with twin beds less than 5 feet apart like our previous dorms, but it had a FULL KITCHEN and that’s all that mattered.  We ran with it and thanked the cutthroat, soul-crushing BU housing lottery for this Buswell beauty.

Jess and I were both food-obsessed long before we got this apartment.  To give you an idea: some college students go to frat parties on the weekends…my ideal weekend consisted of making dinner with friends on Friday, scoping out a new restaurant on Saturday, and trying to find the best coffee/pastry combo on Sunday (current favorites: Tatte and Flour).  If this makes me sound old and lame, I don’t care.  I’ve had this thought in my head for a while now that I’ve felt perpetually 30 years old for quite some time, and I’m okay with that!

My precious pasta-maker gifted to me by my cousins living in Italy soon became a source of entertainment for my friends and I.  We began cranking out homemade beet pasta, bright red with a creamy mushroom sauce, popping open a bottle of red wine from around the corner of one of our small, dinky apartments.  In an attempt to spice up our variety, we started having themed dinners – Greek, Indian, Chinese, pizza (yes, its own theme).  Then there was “Fall in New England”, which included pork chops with apples, mashed potatoes, Kimballs pumpkin ice cream, and the relaxing banging of harpsichord 17th century England in the background.  We entertained ourselves in our own weird way, and it was so much fun (and not much has changed).

This is what my college nights consisted of, and I felt comfort in being able to fully embrace what I actually wanted to be doing with my time: being around people I love, eating good food.

Back then, my account was called @racheatsfood.  I definitely put a TON of thought into that, can you tell?  As blatantly unoriginal as it was, it’s also a completely accurate depiction for where my head was at that point: I was still fully enrolled in my biology courses, I was in the pre-med mindset, and cooking (and food in general) was a hobby.  I didn’t think about it too much.  I viewed it as a much-needed break from the “pre-med bubble”, an entirely too real phenomenon that consumed me and my gen chem office hour-buddies for all 4 years of college. Taking photos of my food adventures and sharing them with other people was fun.  That’s pretty much all there was to it.

Flash forward to almost a year after graduation, when I had finally escaped the aforementioned bubble and had the headspace to think about pursuing what I really cared about.  I committed myself as much as possible to my role in sustainability and local food at Eataly, @racheatsfood became @orchardeorto, and this blog was born.

Which brings us to today!  I’ve decided to nix my personal Instagram account (@rorchard4, another jaw-dropping, original name) and commit solely to @orchardeorto.  I’m doing this because 1) it’s easier to maintain 1 account than 2, and 2) the reason why I had two accounts in the first place is no longer valid.

It’s the story of “hobby becomes real life”.  Basically, I feel that both of my accounts are slowly merging into one jumble of food, sustainability, travel, friends, family…also known as, my life!

I’ll post something on my personal account because it represents (for lack of better words) my personal life, but if it relates to food, should I ALSO post this on my food account?  Isn’t it a waste of time (and unnecessarily repetitive) to do both?  What’s the point?!

While before I felt the need to have an entirely separate account to document my passions and hobbies, this part of my life has become irreversibly more prevalent and thriving in my everyday life – in the best, most unpredictable way possible. It just doesn’t make sense anymore to keep ‘personal’ and ‘passion’ separate in this way.  I also originally thought people might get annoyed by the constant food pictures on my personal account, but hey, it’s my account, I do what I want!!

God knows we’re all constantly figuring out who we are, but at least in this aspect of my identity, the way I portray myself and my passions over social media, it is crystal clear to me.

It’s always been more about the story behind the food than the food itself (although of course I want it to taste amazing too).

Ever since I started using social media for food, I’ve always felt that I wanted to do more than just take a great picture and think of a clever caption to go with it.  I can appreciate good photography and admire those who commit to it, but truthfully I’m never too invested in the quality of my food photos: a quick ‘snap’ on the ol’ iPhone, now let’s get to eating!

I also don’t like to play with the editing too much.  If the lighting was bad, the lighting was bad – the restaurant was dark, we were seated in the corner, and I want to remember it that way.  The camera was slightly blurry?  It was probably because we were sitting by the ocean on a 90% humid day, the air full of salt and moisture.  Looking back on this flawed photo will bring me back to that day more than any perfectly crisp, edited photo (it will also always better succeed in making my mouth water for fish n’ chips).

I guess I’m more invested in the story behind a photo because, when it comes down to it, the audience for all of this is myself.  I’ve always viewed Instagram as a way for me to document my life in photos: I like scrolling through and remembering all the memories I’ve had, looking back on who I was with, where we were, how I felt.  If it feels fake to me, there’s no point in sharing it.

The story is the reason why I started this blog – to add more elaborate words to my photos, to expand on the things that I love – and I’ve found so much comfort in this flexible medium of words and photos.

The reason why I’m going on a tangent about all of this is because, as I mentioned, I want to use these next few months to immerse myself in my passions, and that includes eating food, learning about food, writing about food…you get the picture.  Before I leave the country, I wanted to make this switch so that when I arrive, I have a clear idea of how I want to be connecting on social media, and how I do not!

While I love using these outlets, I do sometimes get lost in the wormhole, left feeling bogged down by how wasteful and unnecessary they can be if used the wrong way.  I want the time that I do spend documenting my trip to be valuable and meaningful, adding to this journey, so I can focus on why I’m even doing this.

Which brings me to the next part of this entry…

Why am I going to Italy?

If you remember, way back in November, I was the US winner for Slow Food’s “Eat Local Challenge”.  The prize included a roundtrip ticket to Italy in September to attend Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, a crazy, gigantic, sensory-overloading festival of food, sustainability, and their present states across the world that spans 4 days in Torino – my kind of festival!

It’s funny how some things happen right when you need them to.  To be more exact, it’s funny how some things happen right when you need them to within minutes.  I had just left a rather confusing, frustrating meeting regarding my professional future and was distracting myself on my phone when I opened up the email from Slow Food International telling me that I had won.  It’s taken me this past year to realize that sometimes coincidences like this can mean something.

But 4 days in Italy?  That’s not long enough!  I’ve been trying to find an excuse to get back since I left, and it had arrived.  I was going to take advantage of it.  I began to think, “Why don’t I just stay…for a while?”  Without having any real plans in mind, I booked my return flight for December.

The first question I get when I tell someone about this trip is: Are you going for work?  My role at Eataly has always been very fluid (which comes with its advantages and disadvantages), and while this trip is on personal terms, it absolutely relates to what I’ve done thus far and what I’m hoping to expand upon in my professional career. And that is food and sustainability.  

The first few days of my trip will be jam-packed with it thanks to Terra Madre, but how could I spread this theme out for the rest of my time there?  I slowly began to brainstorm, and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I sat down and was able to more concretely plan out what I would actually be doing for these 3 months.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have met so many absolutely wonderful people through my job (Italians and Italio-philes) that have connected me with people they know, places I should visit, things I should see, that I feel almost overwhelmed with the possibilities.

Luckily, there is a wonderful resource called Google Docs to help me dump all this information somewhere and carve out some type of itinerary.  I’m fighting my overplanning-personality in an attempt to keep this spontaneous in nature, but I do have a rough outline of the regions I plan to visit and around when I want to be there.

For example, I knew that I wanted to go to places I didn’t get to my first time around in Italy, and thus Sicily was instantly on the list.  Who do I know in Sicily?  One of our olive oil vendors, and wait – they harvest olives in October in Sicily…can I visit them and witness the creation of one of my favorite products in person?  The conversations grew, the list grew, and I quickly had an outline of farms, producers, cities, and small towns from Piemonte to Sicilia where I had a connection.

At first I was struggling to think of what the goal of this trip would be.  How would I explain this to people and make them realize that this isn’t just a fun Italian jaunt for me, but actually is so completely relevant to what I want to be doing in my professional career?

To me it’s become obvious – what better way to understand food systems and sustainability than seeing it first hand?  And why Italian?  Because it’s the culture and cuisine I can most relate to at this present moment – what I view as a simple and, at its core, sustainable food culture that values what I value.

I’m now viewing this as my own little ‘culinary tour’ of some of my most favorite products I’ve come across, from olive oil to honey to salumi e formaggi, and time to learn the whole story: from the producers and vendors, the farmers, and the land or animals that created it.  It’s a time for me to devote myself to my creative and professional passions, and I couldn’t be more excited.

I’ve lived in Boston for almost 6 years now, the Boston-area for practically my entire life, and I’m feeling like a change is needed.  3 months away in Italy might be enough of a change for now, but who really knows. I’m open and willing to see where this will take me.

I’m luckily at a point in my life where I can drop everything and leave for this amount of time, which is a freedom I don’t take for granted.

The security of an apartment in a beautiful neighborhood on a quiet street with an easy commute and a short drive to my hometown, living near so many of my closest friends and being able to see them after work – these are all things I feel incredibly lucky to have had here in Boston and love about living here.  But I’m also feeling like I’ve gotten a little too comfortable for someone in their early 20s.  I have my whole life to be this comfortable; right now, I’d rather be challenged and uncertain.  It’s something I’ve found a lot of my friends are relating to lately in this weird, confusing, exciting, figure-it-out stage of life.

Sto gironzolando – I’m wandering.  Is that what I should tell Italians when they ask what I’m doing in their country for 3 months?  It may not be entirely true (is it still wandering if it’s not completely aimless?), but it’s very much my mindset, and the timing feels right.

Ciao for now!

Thanks for reading!  The majority of future updates will be posted via @orchardeorto on Instagram, with longer updates here.  I’ll also be writing a few articles for Slow Food Boston and sharing snippets on their accounts – go give ’em a follow! 🙂 

Waste Free in JP

…and other general life updates/efforts to create a sustainable life in the city!

It’s been almost exactly a year since I veered (very happily, willingly, and rather desperately) off the path towards medicine and into the world of food.  It’s weird to think that it was only one year ago I had just quit my EMT job, sitting at home and wondering what on earth I would do next.  I still remember the incredible liberation I felt once I realized that my passions for food and sustainability could be more than just hobbies.

It can be easy to forget how much progress I’ve made, but it’s times like these that I’m grateful I keep an obsessively-detailed personal journal full of rambling, half-cursive scribbles where I can be reminded so easily of the journey this past year has been.

Professionally, I launched myself into the world of food waste and have discovered that this is what I want to dedicate my career towards.  That’s no small feat, especially for me!! If you know me at all, you know that I constantly contemplate what I want to do with my life, where I’m headed next, and how I’m going to get there.   A year ago I knew I wanted to do something with food, but had no idea what.  The fact that I have narrowed it down to this one focus area since then is a very big deal for me, and speaks mountains about the progress I’ve made this past year.

My projects involving food sustainability at work are flourishing, and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to see such tangible impacts: I see the leftovers, undesirables, soon-to-be-expired or already expired (yet perfectly edible) food that could have been wasted and left to rot in the landfill, and I have comfort in knowing that it’s instead being delivered to someone who needs it and will use it.  All those pounds of delicious fresh pasta, lumpy deformed potatoes, and “expired” chocolate (the idea that chocolate could ever expire is so ridiculous to me) are being eaten and enjoyed, as they were intended.

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An example of our beautiful daily donations!

It was inevitable that something I am so passionate about professionally has started to impact my life outside of work as well.  And this lies within the sustainable world of wasting less…of everything.

A few months back I came across this article about a woman who fit four years of trash into one jar.  FOUR. YEARS.  Think about how much trash you produce in a year, let alone a single week.  If you’re like me when I first read this, I wasn’t actually quite sure how much I produced…but now I was curious.

I took out my phone and started a new note, jotting down any sources of potential waste as I mentally walked through my day.  I already recycle and compost as much as possible, but there were still a few things ending up in the trash that I could easily prevent; things like paper towels, tea bag wrappers, receipts, small things here and there.  It was comforting to see that the list was short, but the few leftovers on the list were a direct and targeted way to show how I could improve even more.

For example, we already have reusable cloth napkins and rags in the kitchen, so was there really any reason for me to use paper towels, other than the fact that they were there, easy to grab, and I was probably just being lazy?  I could buy one of those reusable tea strainers for loose-leaf tea and cut out wrappers entirely, and I’ve already gotten a lot better at saying ‘no receipt, please’ when possible (especially necessary at CVS, sheesh).

Slowly this list has gotten smaller and smaller, and now I find myself incredibly conscious each and every time I go to throw something in the trash.  I just think: does this absolutely need to go here, and if it does, how can I replace it with something that does not?

To me the term ‘waste’ brings to mind the feeling of guilt.  It’s so easy to get caught in a routine, simply because it’s the easy thing to do, and yet you know what you’re doing, as you’re doing it, is unproductive or in this case, bad for the environment.   Even if you’re consciously aware of it, it can be hard to get yourself out of the habit.

Yes, trying to live with zero waste requires some time and attention, but a lot of wasting less comes down to small changes that make it easier for yourself…and for others!  Living with roommates or family members who may/may not be as conscious of the environment has shown me how you can take little steps to make it easy for everyone to contribute…even if they’re not fully aware of it 😉

Composting
One of the best, and easiest, things I’ve done to waste less is by starting to compost – and yes, it is possible, and very easy, to do in the city!  Luckily Boston is pretty environmentally-friendly, especially the neighborhood I live in (pretty proud of the ‘waste free in JP’ title), and so it was easy for me to sign our house up for a compost service.

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Bootstrap Compost was born in Jamaica Plain, and you can find their white vans driving around the city, picking up small white compost buckets off doorsteps in the Greater Boston area.  We signed up for a bimonthly service which is plenty for our household of 4, and comes down to only $6 a person per month.  Over the course of two weeks our bucket compiles our fruit and veggie trimmings, eggshells, teabags, coffee grounds, even meat and dairy leftovers.  It’s strangely satisfying to watch it fill up, and we joke about feeding it like it’s our own pet…weird, I know.  It can be impractical to start your own compost pile in your backyard if you live in the city (hello rats), so this is a great alternative that makes the whole process incredibly easy: just leave it on your doorstep, and a new empty bucket magically takes its place.

Some other great sources for composting in Boston:

Plus, a cool server to find compost pickups anywhere in the country!

How to easily maximize the use of your compost bin: keep it in your kitchen where it’s visible and staring you in the face as you make your meals.  Some compost bins aren’t sealed tightly enough and can smell, but get yourself a bucket with a solid lid and you won’t even notice it is there.  As I’m cooking I like to set another bowl on the table to collect all the scraps and trimmings, so that it’s as easy as opening the lid and dumping the bowl when you’re done.  If your housemates are contributing to the cost, they’ll hopefully be more motivated to actually use it!

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Keep an empty bowl nearby as you cook to collect scraps

Another added benefit: composting combined with recycling results in less smelly trash (no more food scraps sitting there for weeks), less trash overall (aka fewer trips lugging heavy trash bags out to the dumpster), and fewer trash bags used (aka less money spent on new bags, and less trash bags in the trash).  It’s such an easy way to get started and has so many positive downstream effects on the path of wasting less, of everything.

Recycling
I had a not-so-proud moment a few months back that consisted of a rather furious, rage-filled morning of fishing take-out containers, solo cups, and paper plates from our overflowing trash bin leftover from a party at our house the night before.  These were all perfectly recyclable items, so yes, I went through the trash.  It can be frustrating to live with others who aren’t as conscious about these habits, but like I said:  there are ways to make things easier for everyone.

For example, in my own household I noticed that a lot of our toiletries were ending up in the bathroom trash bin, mostly because we didn’t have a recycling bin there.  Even something as small as the trip to the bin downstairs can result in unnecessary waste.  So I put one of our spare Trader Joe’s paper bags next to the garbage to collect toilet paper rolls, shampoo and toothpaste bottles, etc. and voila, one more hurdle defeated, however small. 

Luckily recycling has become pretty commonplace; wouldn’t it be great if composting were next?

Being smart in the market and creative in the kitchen
The best way to cut down on food waste specifically is to avoid creating excess in the first place.  This comes down to only buying what you need, when you need it.  The Eat Local Challenge revealed a lot about my shopping habits, and one of my takeaways was to stop buying too many fresh items in one trip.  I’ve realized that, just based on my habits, I prefer making one meal at a time rather than meal planning, and things tend to go bad before I can use them all if I buy too much at once.

This can be really hard for me as I walk through the store with this or that recipe popping up in my mind, and being confronted with so many delicious fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, EVERYTHING that I want to try.  But I’ve started going into the store with the mindset: what do I want to make for dinner tonight and tomorrow, not for the entire week?  At least for me it’s luckily not necessary to think this far in advance, and I’ve found that I’m able to use more and waste less when I shop this way.

It also comes down to purchasing items that have little to no packaging, or items that have recyclable/compostable packaging when possible.  I’ve stopped using those little plastic bags for produce and just put them right in the cart – it will give you more motivation to give them a nice scrub before eating.   I also love, love that Boston has finally banned the use of plastic bags – yay, pretty reusable grocery bags!

When you get home and start cooking, try to use as much of the ingredient as possible, and if you can, create something new from scraps or trimmings.  This can actually be a lot of fun: it causes you to be creative and rethink some of your favorite dishes.  Pesto has become a common trend as a way of using bits of greens and herbs (carrot-top pesto and kale pesto are some of my favorites), but something even more obvious is using stale bread to make breadcrumbs, bread pudding, or thicken soup.

Speaking of soup: I can’t think of a better vehicle for food scraps.  The other day I was roasting some asparagus when soup came to mind.  We typically chop off the bottom 1/4 of asparagus due to its tough structure, but there’s still so much wonderful flavor trapped in those stems.  I added them to a pot along with some chicken broth, a chopped white onion, some peeled carrots (along with their peels), and simmered it all away with some thyme.  While the stems and carrot peels ended up in the compost at the end, their flavor was extracted up until the very end and added a whole other level to the broth.  I was beyond grateful to have it in my freezer a few weeks later when I came down with the stomach bug and needed some nutritious broth ASAP (it cured me, I swear).

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Veggie scraps make an amazing, flavorful broth

While we’re on the subject of soup, never ever throw away those leftover parmesan rinds.  Store them in your freezer and the next time you’re making a broth, throw them in to add delicious, cheesy, savory flavor…they’re gold.

These are just some little tricks that I’ve started to use in my kitchen to prevent food waste, and I’m learning more every day as I experiment with new ingredients.  The next time you go to throw out some food scraps, challenge yourself to think if you can reinvent them.  If banana peels can be made into chutney, anything is possible!!

Food waste, at the level it is at today, is a modern phenomenon.  Some of the most traditional recipes were made out of necessity, using only what was leftover in an attempt to preserve the last bits, really as a way to survive on what was left.

Preventing food waste comes down to treating an ingredient with respect.  Chef Massimo Bottura says that “by making resourceful even something that we usually throw away, you’re making visible the invisible.” When you utilize an ingredient from beginning to end, you pay homage to the land, animals, and people that invested their time and energy in its creation.  While a ripe, crisp apple or an aged piece of cheese may seem like a simple and trivial thing, in reality that piece of food took a lot of time and energy to create: from the warm sun that helped it grow, to the grass that fed the cow’s whose milk created that creamy flavorful cheese.  It’s our job to pay respect to these natural processes by paying attention to how we use our food, and to make sure that we’re using it to the fullest.

So I mentioned I wanted to waste less of everything.  So far I’ve just mentioned physical items, but I’ll briefly mention something I want to waste less of that isn’t as tangible.

From a more personal standpoint, I want to waste less time.  Especially with the weather lately (i.e. the sun long since set by the time I get out of work, the frigid cold that makes my hair freeze and my shoulders tighten), I want nothing more than to snuggle up inside and watch TV.  I love me a good Netflix-binge once in a while, but I’m also constantly aware of the hours better spent doing something else.  I could be reading all those beautiful cookbooks I own or walking to the library to immerse myself in some good fiction, breaking out my guitar and working on building those calluses on my fingers, or doing anything else that requires a little more stimulation than zoning out in front of a screen.  I could be writing more on this blog!  This particular post has been on my mind for months now, and I’m just now getting myself to finally sit down and write.

Sometimes it can take a lot of effort to get myself to do the things I’m actually passionate about, or that I want to get better at.  It’s easier to do the things we’re used to or more comfortable doing (like plopping down in front of the TV, or throwing the take-out container in the trash rather than rinsing it out and putting it in the recycling bin), but that doesn’t mean we should keep doing these things.  It’s just about being more conscious, and thinking, “Is what I’m doing productive and good (for myself, others, and the environment)?”

Living sustainably is all about making small changes.  The easier you make it for yourself and others, the more it will occur.

And who knows when your habits will rub off on others!  Case in point: I was so proud to wake up Christmas morning and see that my mom had made her own reusable bags for our presents (using adorable festive prints, thanks Joann Fabrics).  And I’m happy to say that my our compost bin is now full thanks to my roommates.

Who knows if I’ll ever get down to a mason jar’s-worth of trash, but I can try 🙂

What do you think you’re wasting in your daily routine?  Try making your own list, whether it consists of items that are physical, abstract, or both.  I’d love to hear from you all about your own journeys and suggestions on the path to zero-waste!

For those of you from Boston, have you come across any zero-waste stores or businesses?

 

Eat Local Challenge

ING_Banner1_Campagna-2017_MOBILEFrom October 16th to November 5th, I decided to pledge to Slow Food‘s “Eat Local Challenge”.  What’s Slow Food, you ask?  Just what it sounds like!

Slow food is the exact opposite of fast food.  The Slow Food movement began back in 1986 when its founder, Carlo Petrini, decided to fight back against the opening of a McDonald’s at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

I love that this is how it all began, because to me it shows what a unique country Italy is: can you imagine this happening in the US, or anywhere else really?  In a country whose cuisine is so dependent on fresh, simple ingredients, a business like McDonald’s threatens everything this culture has worked so hard to maintain: a traditional, simple cuisine that highlights food that is local and in season, food that has had time and energy invested into it, food that is transparent and delicious and untouched by complicated industrial production.  In other words, food that is “good, clean, and fair for all” (AKA Slow Food’s motto).

One of the things I loved most about my travels in Italy was this transparency in food.  As I’ve mentioned here before, I once took a cooking class in Vicenza where we began by walking outside to the market, deciding the menu based solely on what was available.  The question of the morning: what on earth would we eat with our rabbit ravioli?  A man working one of the many produce stands showed us some white asparagus that had come in fresh that morning, so white asparagus it was! It was that easy.

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Fresh white asparagus in Vicenza

Meanwhile in my little university town of Padova, I used to love visiting the Piazza della Frutta, oogling over beautiful baskets overflowing with heaps of bright, colorful fruits and veggies from just outside the city.  The perfect snack, a ripe piece of fruit, was always only a step away.

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Daily market at Piazza della Frutta in Padova

Before living in Italy, I honestly never heard of the idea of eating seasonally, but it soon became a part of my daily life.  For the first few months, I ate more radicchio than I ever had before (I don’t think I’d eaten any radicchio before this point, actually).  Why was my host mom always cooking radicchio?  Because it was winter and that was what was available.  She made salads, soups, and even savory tarts (man, I miss those tarts).  If my friends and I went out to a trattoria around the corner, guess what the risotto special was?  Risotto al radicchio.  Radicchio was everywhere, in all shapes and forms.  My eyes were opened to a whole new way of cooking focused around appreciating the versatility of an ingredient and taking full advantage of it when it was available, or as the Italians say, to fare la scorpacciata. 

Whether its in the fruits and veggies, the aged cheeses, olive oils, or balsamic vinegars, it’s not hard to notice (and taste) the time, attention, and care that Italian food has invested in it.  This is the main reason why I love it so much, and why the way I cook is so heavily influenced by this culture and my time spent immersed within it.

While the Slow Food movement originated in Italy, the strive to return to food that is wholesome and simple is universal.  Since its induction, Slow Food chapters have popped up all over the world in their commitment to conserve local food traditions.  There’s even one right here in Boston!

Ever since I first heard about Slow Food through my job at Eataly, I’ve really come to identify with it.  I’m now more aware than ever about where my food comes from, and I try to pay close attention to the impact my food habits have across all levels – from production, to transport, to dealing with leftovers and food waste.  It can be easy to commit yourself to these standards without really thinking about them, so I was really excited to hear about this challenge as a way to be even more mindful.

So, the challenge!  Here were the rules:

  • Eat two meals a week sourced with local, traditional ingredients
  • Eat only free-range meat raised in their region
  • Shop at a farmers’ market at least once a week
  • Buy no imported food or products made over 200 miles away

Admittedly, I didn’t follow this to a T.  The first two points were pretty easy: I had a lot of fun constructing recipes centered around local ingredients, and I don’t normally purchase meat anyways.  I don’t know if it’s because it’s fall now and farmers markets are more sparse, or because I was lazy and didn’t actively seek one out, but I failed at #3.  I’m only human!! The last point is where I focused the majority of my efforts: I truly tried to source my food from within this 200 mile range, and surprisingly it wasn’t that difficult.

As I started this challenge, I quickly realized this would be the perfect opportunity to conduct a sort of ‘self-study’ and really delve deep into every aspect of my own little food system.  How would this affect the foods I chose to buy, and where I chose to buy them from?   So over the course of the challenge, I made an effort to buy groceries from a few different stores to compare my experience: both in price, variety, and ease in finding local ingredients.  Here are those findings!

Store Comparison

#1 Whole Foods
Unsurprisingly, Whole Foods won across the board: for most transparent sourcing, availability of local products, and price (ding ding ding!).  Finding local ingredients at Whole Foods was always the easiest compared to the other stores I visited over the course of this challenge.  Whole Foods has a color-coded system where produce is labeled with a bright blue “local” tag along with the state it came from…ya can’t miss it.  I do applaud Whole Foods for this transparency because, even if I weren’t doing this challenge, I think I still would have noticed this tag and probably altered my choice of produce, opting for a more local option just because it was so in your face.  They have a huge variety of produce, so it wasn’t hard to find local varieties of the fruits and veggies I love, plus some new kinds I’d never had before.  It’s on the more expensive side, but fingers crossed their prices keep getting lower with this whole Amazon deal…

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From one of my trips to Whole Foods, and the ingredients for the butternut squash soup recipe below!

#2 Eataly
I work here so I’m a little biased, but I had to include it 😉  I think a lot of people are hesitant to buy ‘regular groceries’ from a place like Eataly.  After all, it is a specialty Italian market that focuses on goods that come from thousands of miles away.  BUT, this fact withstanding, their local selection is quite amazing and highly underestimated, particularly their produce section.  Every morning I witness the arrival of carts and carts of fresh produce, and one of my favorite things to do after work is to visit this section in the store and see what’s new.  The selection is constantly changing depending on the season, and I’ve across more weird, funky fruits and veggies here than I have at any other store.  Back in the spring I tried fiddlehead ferns for the first time, and now that we’re in the fall there are heaps of 5 or 6 different varieties of apples and squash that I’ve never heard of.   I like to stop by here at least once a week and pick up whatever is in season, forcing myself to figure out what to do with it.   I’ll admit it was difficult working here and not being able to buy my favorite Italian products during this challenge (particularly the cheeses), but I found some awesome local products from VT, MA, and NY that were just as delicious and fun to try.  Price-wise I’d say it’s comparable to Whole Foods, but I get that discount…ayoooo!

#3 Wegman’s
Wegman’s is slightly cheaper than the above two, but there was a huge difference in transparency in sourcing of their produce.  While Whole Foods and Eataly have tags clearly marking the location of the farms where it all grew, I noticed this information was severely lacking as I perused Wegman’s produce section.  I ranked this above Market Basket only because of the variety of produce available, but I found the two to be equal in terms of source information.  One area where Wegman’s was strong was the availability of local dairy products, cheese specifically, but I was surprised to find their produce section so void of information.

#4 Market Basket
Growing up in Massachusetts I have a soft spot in my heart for this place: there’s just something about those fluorescent lights and red and white detailing everywhere that brings upon waves of nostalgia and reminds me of trips to the store with my mom as a kid.  Although Market Basket is by far the cheapest grocery option around while still providing great quality food, I’ll admit I was pretty disappointed when I found out just how difficult it was to find local ingredients.  Exploring the produce aisles, there was really no labeling for where the food came from.  I even tried looking at the stickers on the produce itself, and often times I was still left wondering about its source.  The selection at MB also doesn’t really change with the season: the same staples are always available, and it doesn’t lend much to trying new things or focusing on what’s growing now.  I still love ya, MB, but your produce section needs work.

Takeaways
Overall I learned a LOT from doing this challenge, and it’s made it almost unavoidable not to pay attention to all this now as I walk through the grocery store.  My shopping habits have definitely changed for the better, and I’m excited to continue this awareness. Here were some of my biggest takeaways:

Shop without a list. One of the things I loved about this challenge was walking into the store not having a clue about what I would walk out with.  Who knew if I’d even be able to make that soup I wanted to try – would they have carrots that were grown within 200 miles? Entering the store with a clean slate, zero expectations, forced me to figure out what I would eat that night based on what was available, and I found I really liked shopping this way.  Having an open mind while shopping can lead to new and exciting meals:  it can be so easy to get into a habit of buying the same produce every week, but making an effort to stick to local, seasonal ingredients made me pleasantly venture off the course.

Go shopping more often, but buy less. This becomes especially apparent in regards to fresh produce.  Who says you need to stock up on everything all at once, often times once a week?  It’s convenient, but I’ve found it doesn’t really work for me.  I’ve found that I’m bad at meal planning for multiple days in advance.  When I buy too many different types of produce to last a whole week, it usually ends up going bad before I can even use it and that’s just a lose lose situation in every way: I lose money, and I lose out on a delicious meal that’s now gone to waste (at least it’s composted, but still!).  I much prefer going to the store two or three times a week and buying the ingredients for what I’m going to make that very night.  I like to think back to the piazze in Italy and think: what is here now and what do I want to make tonight?  

Source your food from more than 1 store.  Just because Whole Foods won this challenge doesn’t mean I’m going to exclusively shop there now (HA, I would go broke).  I’m not giving up on Market Basket just yet: it’s still a great option for non-perishables and pantry staples.  But when I want fresh produce, I’ll go to places like Whole Foods because of their quality and local options.  And when I need more fresh bread, I’ll stop by the bakery at Eataly after work.  Pick and choose a few places that have their own strengths. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place with this many options, take advantage of it!

Eating local doesn’t always mean spending more money.  I think this would have been more apparent if it was still farmers market season, because it really is true: local food, produce specifically, sold at a local shop or stand can be a lot cheaper than anything found in the store.  It’s not always the case, but then again, you’re paying for quality and, in my opinion, you should never sacrifice quality when it comes to food.

You don’t need to eat “all local” all the time!  And often times, you just can’t.  For example, olive oil?  I don’t know of many olive groves within 200 miles of Massachusetts (if you know of one, hit me up).  Some products just don’t grow here because of the climate, but that doesn’t mean you should stop yourself from enjoying them.  I’m not going to stop buying all bananas, pineapples, and other tropical fruits because those are some of my favorite foods and I don’t want to torture myself.  But what I am going to try to do is eat less of them.  What I started doing during this challenge and will continue to do is opt for a more local, seasonal fruit or veggie instead.

All in all, my biggest take away from this challenge is this: when you can, eat local.  And when you can’t, just choose wisely.  Pay attention to where your food comes from and its path from farm to fork.  It shouldn’t be too convoluted, but if it is, maybe it’s a sign you choose to source from somewhere else.  Because even in this day and age of industrial processing, I’ve learned that it is completely possible to live by the rules of this challenge.  And it’s kind of fun!  So take a moment to be conscious, make an effort to truly feel good about the food you choose to eat and buy, and do as the Italians and slow things down. 

To tie this challenge up, the recipe section!  Here are some things I made over the past few weeks to pull together all these local ingredients I found (highlighted).  Because it’s the fall, there are a lot of pumpkin, squash, and apple recipes.  Now that I’ve done this, I’m thinking of replicating the challenge in each season just for fun.  Enjoy and happy cooking 🙂

Butternut squash soup

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I adapted this from a recipe from Food Republic and had to change a few things because, interestingly enough, the carrots in the grocery stores here all come from California!  So instead, I used radishes which came from Massachusetts.  This combines so many delicious fall flavors: butternut squash, apples, ginger…add some crispy kale and salty pumpkin seeds on top, and dip with some warm toasty bread?  It really hit the spot as the weather started to get cooler and the nights longer.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1 bunch radishes, diced (save greens for salads)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • Splash of dry white wine
  • 5 C of water
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut in quarters
  • 1 tsp salt

To make: Melt the butter butter in a large soup pot, add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes.  Add the squash and radishes, sauté on medium-high heat for 10 minutes, stirring often.  Add the garlic and ginger, sauté until fragrant.  Deglaze the pan with the wine, cooking for 1 minute.  Add the water, apples, and salt.  Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low and let simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until squash can be pierced with a fork.  Let cool for 5 minutes, then use an emulsifier or glass blender to blend the soup.  (Funny story: I have neither of these, so I used a handheld mixer and hot soup spattered EVERYWHERE 🙂 But it worked!) Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and top with crispy kale (roast w/ olive oil in the oven) and pumpkin seeds.

Applesauce

 

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There are 3 apple trees that line the side of the house I grew up in Chelmsford, and this year was the first time we could actually eat their apples.  They’re small with rough, spotted skin, but they’re also tart and delicious, and the most local product possible!  I kid you not, our black lab Ronny is visibly fatter now because he can’t stop eating these apples.  He will eat 5 in a row, laying in the driveway and munching away contently.  With the apples he didn’t happen to scarf away, my mom made cinnamony, apple sauce that quite literally tastes like home.

Ingredients:

  • 10 medium-sized apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 C water
  • Lots and lots of cinnamon

To make: Combine all ingredients (excluding 1 C or so of the chopped apples) in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and let simmer until desired thickness.  At the very end, add in the rest of the chopped apples to add some crunchy texture.

Apple crisp

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One of my favorite ways to bake with apples in the fall, my mom always seems to make this for me when I come home for the weekend.  I immediately associate this smell with home and remember all the times I used to steal the crisp from the rest of the dish.

Ingredients:

  • 7-10 medium-sized apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • 1 stick melted butter
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 C flour

To make: Lay sliced apples in a flat baking dish.  In a separate bowl, mix together brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and flour.  Crumble mixture over the apples and cook at 350 for 45 minutes, or until crisp is “crisp”.  A scoop of vanilla ice cream is a necessity 😋

Pumpkin biscuits

I made a big batch of these the other day and ate them for breakfast for at least a week.  Fluffy, savory, and buttery, these are amazing with honey and sea salt on top.  Although I cheated and used canned pumpkin, I’m including this because you can totally make this from scratch using a local pumpkin.  Next time 😉

Ingredients: (adapted from Better Homes & Gardens)

  • 2 1/4 C white whole wheat flour
  • 2 tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 C canned pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 C buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • Sea salt

To make: Preheat oven to 450 F.  In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Add cubed butter and use a pastry cutter or fingers to mix into flour until evenly distributed.  In another bowl, whisk together pumpkin and buttermilk.  Add into dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Place dough on a lightly floured surface and pat into a 1-inch thick round.  Using a circular cookie cutter (or a mug/cup), stamp out biscuits and place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt.  Bake for 12-15 minutes.  Best served warm, cut in half with honey and a little more sea salt.  These also make delicious vehicles for breakfast sandwiches – fried egg and bacon? Mmm.

I smothered my new Best Bees honey from MA on these, and I’m hooked.  Honey is one of the best local products you can use – it’s not only good for your neighborhood bees, but also strengthens your immune system and helps to fight allergies.  And I love how their label tells you exactly which flowers the honey came from!

Pumpkin risotto with mushrooms and sage 

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Making risotto is something I save for nights when I want to relax and invest some time in the kitchen.  I made this on a cold, rainy Sunday evening and this cozy atmosphere coupled with the smell of sautéed onions, wine, and sage made me veryyy happy.   Again, this would be another opportunity to make your own pumpkin puree.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 C Arborio or Carnaroli rice
  • 4 C chicken broth (usually 1 box)
  • 2 C mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 bunch sage leaves
  • 1/2 can of pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 C grated parmigiano reggiano, grana padano, or similar-type local cheese  (+ extra to top)
  • Balsamic vinegar to top

To make: In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onion, cooking until translucent (5 mins).  Add the rice, toasting for a few minutes.   Reduce heat to low and add 1 C of chicken broth.  Once rice has absorbed majority of liquid, add another cup and repeat until all 4 cups have been added.  While rice is absorbing liquid, in another pan sauté the mushrooms and sage with olive oil.  To the finished risotto, add pumpkin and cheese, mix until incorporated.  Serve risotto topped with mushrooms and sage, sprinkle with cheese and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.  For leftovers, make arancini (rice balls) by coating with egg, bread crumbs, and frying in olive oil.

Grazie per leggere, a presto!

I Gusti dell’Estate

CIAO.  It’s been a while.  This summer has been so busy and yet the entire time I was thinking, “Man, I really want to write more on that thing I started a few months ago…”, but it just never happened.  I think I was waiting for a ‘theme’ to write about, and of course I think of something just as it’s coming to an end:  the flavors of summer, i gusti dell’estate.  So now that we’re here, at the end of summer and the beginning of fall, I figured it’s better late than never to write a summer-themed post.  ‘Cause I can’t let go, not yet!!

Summer is and always has been my favorite season.  When I was in school, this was a given because…no school.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think a kid has ever had another favorite season.  The competition is weak when paired against sleeping in and not doing homework for 3 months straight.  But even now that I’m out of school and working a regular job where I can’t just do whatever I want for the entirety of June, July, and August, summer still remains my favorite season for so many reasons.

Growing up in New England you learn to love little bits of all the seasons.  Yes, we may complain about it, but even winter is magical, especially in December when you get that first smell of snow in the air and twinkle lights appear on every corner.  But there’s just something about summer that makes me incredibly nostalgic and appreciative of nature, and the entire season I just want to be outside as much as possible.   To name a few of these “somethings”: the light and chirping of birds that wake me up too early in the morning but I can’t be mad because it’s beautiful out; how the air can be both hot and sticky and envelop you in a suffocating yet oddly comforting hug, or cool and fresh and smell like the sea or fresh cut grass; the feeling like I’m absorbing every bit of sunshine and warmth as I lay in the sand after floating in the waves off my favorite beach in Gloucester; and the way evening summer light makes everything look hazy and golden during my favorite time of the day throughout the entire year.  I could go on forever, and I’m sure you have your own list of feelings/smells associated with summer that bring a smile to your face just by thinking of them.

But by far, the tastes of summer are what make me cherish every second of this season that is far, far too short.  These are some of the tastes that have become inseparable with summer to me – flavors that, when they hit my taste buds, instantly bring me back to one of those long summer days.  So let’s all have a little crying-fest and reminisce about the foods we will miss the most as summer comes to an end.

Kimball’s ice cream

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People who know me knew this would be #1.  Kimball’s is ingrained into my summers like watermelon and corn on the cob are to the fourth of July.   Kimball Farm is (only) open from mid-April to Columbus Day weekend, and I feel like every time I’m there I’m thinking about how little time I have left.  I kid you not: on Columbus Day last year my family and I made our last Kimball’s pilgrimage (dogs in tow, this is a family affair after all), and after ordering and savoring every last bit of our ice cream, my dad proceeded to order $80.00 worth of half-gallon buckets of chocolate ice cream to hoard for the winter.  And the funny thing is that this doesn’t warrant strange looks from other people, because they get it.  They’re probably about to do the exact same thing.

Us New Englanders are ice cream people.  Funny story: my grandma moved from upstate New York to an assisted-living center nearby, and she’s continuously baffled by the amount of ice cream her fellow residents consume (“Every single night!!”).  But when you’re surrounded by farms like Kimball’s that make the creamiest, most heavenly ice cream known to man, it becomes a part of your culture.  When my friends from high school are home, it’s where we meet to catch up.  It’s also one of the first places I bring my friends from out of town, and so many of them have become as obsessed as I am (sometimes I think they’re visiting me just for Kimball’s, but hey, I can’t blame ‘em).  It’s one of the few things that my entire family enjoys: it can actually get my 19 year old brother to tag along with us.  That’s the power of Kimball’s.

If you haven’t had it, I highly recommend it.  My favorite location is the one in Carlisle, MA because it’s still just a small farm stand on the side of the road (no hoopla like zip-lining or hot air balloon-riding like the soon-to-be amusement park in Westford).  My favorite flavor by far is mocha almond assault (coffee based w/ fudge swirls and chocolate covered almonds), but when I dare to venture off, vanilla blueberry crumble, coffee oreo, and pumpkin are close seconds.

There are only a few weeks left until Columbus Day, and I’m already thinking about how I’m going to savor every last bit of the hot apple crisp with a scoop of pumpkin ice cream that I’ll have to bid adieu until next year.

Anything from our CSA plot

If you haven’t heard of CSA before, it stands for “community-supported agriculture.”  There are many different forms of CSA: sometimes a local farm grows the vegetables for you and you pick up a weekly assortment, or alternatively members are given their own farm plot where they can grow whatever they please.  The latter is what my family (aka my mom, aunt, and I and the freeloaders who feed off our labor) has in our hometown.  Back in May we spent the whole day roto-tilling our little plot, pulling up the incredibly dense weeds and grasses that grew since last summer.  We planted rows and rows of squash, tomatoes, carrots, beets, swiss chard, kale, strawberries, watermelon, eggplant, and peppers, and it has been amazing seeing this little jungle grow.

This past July I moved to Jamaica Plain, and every time I visit our plot I am baffled by the amount of food I’m able to take home (and grateful that for the entire summer I don’t have to spend a penny on produce at the store).  Back when I was living at home, one of my favorite things to do after dinner was drive over to the farm and walk the pups on the bike path as the sun set, hearing the faint static of the power lines standing tall against the brilliant pink sky.  The mosquitos were out, the crickets chirping, and we would leave with the promise of at least 3 baskets full of goodies.

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Being a part of a CSA forces you to be creative in the kitchen.  My weekly challenge after visiting our garden is figuring out what the heck I’m going to do with all this kale (so. much. kale.) or whatever vegetable happens to have sprouted up like wildfire that week.  I often feel like I’m on an episode of “Chopped” as I stare at the bounty of bright, colorful veggies and think how I’m going to transform them before they spoil.  It’s made me even more appreciative of eating seasonally and learning how to take advantage of what you have, when you have it.

Often times I simply eat things the way they came out of the ground: I can’t bring myself to cook the bright, plump tomatoes and so I usually end up taking a bite out of them as if they were apples, or (my favorite way) tossing them with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and leaves of basil pulled from the pot of herbs I keep on my back porch in JP.  This smell of basil with fresh tomatoes is another smell that I immediately associate with summer, and I wish I could bottle up that earthiness and have it year round.

Another way of utilizing all these veggies is simply throwing them on a baking sheet with olive oil, garlic, and some of your favorite herbs (I like thyme) and roasting them in the oven.  It’s my favorite thing to do with summer squash, eggplant, zucchini, or beets.  I like to roast up a big batch of them and throw them in salads for the week, or just eat them plain.

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My go-to for breakfast is whatever green I have an abundance of that week (usually kale…) with a fried (or hard-boiled) egg, and a piece of yummy toasted, buttered bread.

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Sometimes I feel like transforming these ingredients a little more and I’ll make things like kale pesto or zucchini bread.  If you think zucchini bread sounds weird, I highly recommend you give it a try because it doesn’t taste at ALL like zucchini and it’s incredibly moist.  I’ve included at the bottom of this post some of my favorite “recipes” (aka list of things I like thrown together without measurements) that are a step-up from eating these ingredients straight out of the ground but still highlight their natural flavors.

Fish & Chips

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From Mac’s in Wellfleet

I can’t eat this unless I am within 5 miles from the beach, it just doesn’t feel right!! I find it hard to order anything else whenever I am in Gloucester or the on the Cape especially.  It’s as if I’m one of Pavlov’s dogs and I’ve learned to associate the salty air with this basket of fried goodness: I automatically crave it.

The Cape holds a special place in my heart.  At the mention of it, I’m brought back to when I was a kid when we used to rent a house for a week and play in the mudflats, digging for clams and scooping up crabs (one time holding them hostage in a tank in our room for days before letting them free, sorry crabs).  The air in the Cape just feels different: it’s cool and fresh, and you can immediately sense the difference when you roll down your windows going over the Sagamore or the Bourne, your lungs and mind clear with a week of relaxation ahead of you.

Although we rarely get the chance to stay an entire week on the Cape anymore, I still crave at least one “Cape day” every summer, and so my mom and I have made this a tradition every year.  We pick one of the many small towns, explore the beaches and shops, and when our stomachs start to rumble we venture out to the local seafood “shack” along the road.  If all your self-destructing heart desires is fried seafood, these little places with the Cape Cod-style siding I love so much will never let you down.  The acidity of the lemon and the bite of the cole slaw lighten up the fried fish and french fries, creating one heavenly bite that you just can’t recreate away from the ocean.  After dinner we usually make it just in time for sunset at our favorite beach in Brewster where you can walk for miles and miles during low tide.  This plus an overflowing waffle cone of Campfire S’mores (my go-to flavor if I’m not at Kimball’s) is the perfect ending to the day.  Fewer things make me happier than a day like this.

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Homemade peach pie

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If there’s one lesson I’ve learned it’s that coarse sanding sugar makes ALL the difference on pies.

More specifically, peach pie made by my mom’s friend, Margie.  She happens to live across the road from previously-mentioned favorite beach in Gloucester (not a bad person to know, right?!).  This has become a summer tradition for the three of us; we’ve (I’ve) started calling it “peach and beach”, and it’s honestly the main thing I look forward to when summer rolls around.  I’ve started associating Gloucester with this peach pie, and we laugh at how poor Margie has to bake one up every time we visit (or else we won’t come…true friendship).

We arrive at her condo around lunchtime, greeted by my favorite purple and blue hydrangeas in bloom and the salty cool air.  Usually the pie has already been made, and it sits on the stove torturing me with its buttery, cinnamon-y smell.  She makes incredibly flaky pie crust from scratch, fills it to the brim with the juiciest and brightest fresh peaches, and folds the extra pie crust into a lattice that she covers with coarse sanding sugar.  It’s absolutely beautiful and I have to photograph it every time.  I could start a collage with the number of peach pie photographs I’ve acquired…hey, that’s not a bad idea.

But we can’t eat it yet: it’s best enjoyed after a day at the beach.  We set up camp in the sand and spend the day in and out of the frigid Atlantic.  That first dive under the waves is always bone-chilling, but you just have to do it: after that, I could float in those waves for hours.  This past summer we did just that and didn’t realize how far off shore we had drifted, almost getting caught in a rip-tide. WHOOPS.

Needless to say we earned the peach pie that day, our arms and legs pleasantly sore from treading water.  We returned to her condo tired and slightly burnt, ready for the much-anticipated treat.  All this build-up just makes it taste that much better.  Sitting cross-legged on her back deck, generous slice of pie and scoop of homemade (!) vanilla ice cream in a bowl in my lap, the cool air of the marsh giving my slightly-burnt skin a pleasant chill, I am at my utmost happiest.

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Man, why does summer have to end?!  I feel like I need one last beach day (preferably with peach pie) to say goodbye to the ocean.  The memories these foods evoke are some of the most powerful memories I have.  But part of what’s great about living in New England is that the next season has its own unique tastes, smells, and activities that I love (almost) equally as much.  It’s already started to get cooler here in Boston; the mornings have that crisp feel and smell, and it makes me crave apple crisp and walks with my dogs in the cranberry bogs surrounded by bright red and orange leaves.  I can no longer walk around Jamaica Pond until 8 or 9 PM, but the early setting-sun does give me that cozy feeling of hibernation and the desire to bake or use the crockpot, which also makes me very excited (I’m an old woman at heart and proud of it).  In the meantime I’ll soak up as much as is left of summer – the sun, the sea, and these flavors with such wonderful memories attached.   So ciao for now summer, ci vediamo in un anno!

Favorite recipes from CSA ingredients: 

Kale pesto

Use a food processor or blender to grind a bunch of kale.  Add in a handful of nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, or almonds) and small hunks of parmigiano reggiano or grana padano.  Continue to blend, pouring in olive oil until smooth.  Add a pinch of salt to taste.  I made a ton of this and poured it into an ice cube tray.  Now I can pop one out whenever I have a craving for pesto…which is pretty much every day.  It’s especially great for breakfast on toast with a fried egg. Yum.

Kale chips

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Tear kale into smaller pieces and place on a baking sheet with olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper (or whatever spices you like).  Cook, turning occasionally, until kale is crisp.  This stuff is ADDICTING.

Kale salad

As you can tell I have an extreme abundance of kale in the summer! This is one of my favorite salad combos: kale, apples, almonds, goat cheese, and dried cherries.  Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Broccolini with figs and almonds 

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I used dried figs but fresh figs would be even better.  You can also use any other type of dried fruit or nut for that matter!  Roast broccoli in an oven at 375 F with olive oil and garlic.  Add in sliced dried figs and chopped almonds.  Perfect combo of sweet, salty, and crunchy.

Balsamic Swiss chard 

Super easy and my favorite way to eat Swiss chard (also works great with spinach, kale, or beet greens).  Heat olive oil and minced garlic in a skillet, add greens and sauté until wilted.  Remove from heat and add a splash of balsamic vinegar (the good stuff like Ina Garten would approve of).  Throw in some chopped almonds.

Spring rolls with peanut sauce

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These are fun to make and are perfect for throwing in a BUNCH of vegetables.  Chop up desired veggies into long slices (cucumbers, squash, spinach, kale, carrots, etc all work great).  Pour an inch of warm water into a sauce pan and place rice paper wrapper in, letting soak for a few seconds until soft.  Transfer to a plate and add in veggies.  This is the hard part:  roll it up like a burrito as best as you can (mine are always a mess, but they taste good so I don’t care!).  Dip into peanut sauce (whisk together some peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, minced garlic, and chopped peanuts).  My friend and I once made these and brought them on a hike, which proves you can and should eat them ANYWHERE.

Pasta salad with roasted corn and cherry tomatoes (adapted from a magazine that I can’t remember the name of, whoops!)

Boil a pot of water for your favorite pasta (I love this with farfalle) and prepare the vinaigrette and veggies as it cooks.

Mustard vinaigrette: Whisk together…

  • 1/4 C white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 2/3 C extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, diced
  • zest of 1 lemon

Roasted corn: Place fresh corn on the cob under the broiler.  Watch and turn as it browns on each side.  Let cool and use a knife to slice off kernels.

Slice 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes in half.

Once the pasta is al dente and drained, add in the vinaigrette, corn, and tomatoes.  Add a handful of basil leaves, or a little goat cheese to bring it all together.

Blueberry zucchini bread

Recipe here.  I just remembered I have a loaf of this in the freezer and immediately put it in the fridge to thaw.  Guess I know what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow 😉

Chocolate zucchini muffins

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Recipe here.  Last but not least, some chocolate!  These not only got my coworkers seal of approval, but my DAD’s as well.  That’s a big deal considering the man only eats red meat and potatoes!  I may have failed to tell him they contain zucchini until after he took a bite, but he had to admit they were delicious, despite his perplexed look (he may not trust me with food ever again). They’re ooey gooey and chocolatey and a great way to get rid of those giant zucchini.

Thanks for reading!  Comment below with your favorite summer foods, I’d love to hear your feedback 🙂

La Frittata

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The frittata, or as I like to call it, eggs with all the random stuff in my fridge that I need to get rid of!  Roasted in a skillet and mixed with eggs, cheese, and a few spices, and you would never know that that broccoli had been sitting in your fridge for almost a week.  Sneaky sneakyyyy.  A frittata looks impressive with its golden-brown glow and artful display of vegetables, but is incredibly easy to make and also light on the wallet.

Frittata translates to “fried” in Italian.  If you’ve never had a frittata before, it’s like a crustless egg “pie” or quiche.  Think of how you would make an omelette but skip the step of folding it over, and boom you’ve got a frittata!  We typically think of eating these for breakfast or brunch, but in Italy they are traditionally eaten with lunch or dinner.  This is because eggs are rarely eaten in the morning in Italian culture.  You’d be hard-pressed to find eggs being served at an Italian cafe for breakfast; instead, the Italian-way consists of some biscotti, a pastry (like un cornetto, the Italian-verison of a croissant), and an espresso or cappuccino.

When I arrived in Italy, one of the first questions my host mom, Nicoletta, asked me was what I ate for breakfast.  Although I did enjoy having eggs pretty frequently back in the US, I wanted to fully embrace the typical Italian breakfast.  Every morning I would come up the stairs from my room to their small but cozy kitchen, an Italian talk-show playing on the radio, to find my breakfast arranged on a placemat, which my host father, Antonio, lovingly insisted on preparing himself every morning: a yogurt, some biscotti, a piece of fruit, and sometimes (to my pleasant surprise) a piece of a pastry or cake that my host sister had made.  Let’s just say I didn’t miss eggs at all.

When I did have eggs in Italy, my host mom would usually make them in the form of a frittata as an accompaniment for dinner – Vuoi anche una frittata?  Hers were a simple fried egg with salt and pepper; however, if they were the main course of the meal  veggies, meats, and cheeses were added.

It’s up to you (or your fridge!) to decide what you’d like to add to a frittata.  I’m convinced you can put anything in these and they will taste good.  I’ve made them caprese-style (mozzarella, tomato, and fresh basil), southwestern style (avocado, red onion, tomato, cheddar cheese), or simply just peppers and onions.  You could also throw in chopped-up meats like bacon or prosciutto, or add some boiled potatoes if you want something heartier.  I recently made one with spinach, onions, and cubes of parmigiano reggiano (aka my favorite cheese and something you will be seeing a LOT of on this blog), and it was GOOD.

I used to only make these on special occasions like Mother’s Day (great for breakfast in bed!), but now that I’ve realized how easy they are to make, they’re one of my go-to recipes for those slow, weekend mornings when I want to take my time and make something different.  (Because anything is better than my typical breakfast, a lovely yogurt al commuter rail).   Something about taking the time to chop the vegetables, whisk the eggs, and watch it all come together is very relaxing to me.   My favorite thing about these is the golden edges and peaks in the middle as the eggs and cheeses brown under the broiler, and the bright, mosaic display of veggies on the top.  The most satisfying thing is to cut into the piping hot frittata and remove a triangular piece of savory, golden-brown deliciousness.  And if you add cheese you get that heavenly, ooey-gooey cheese pull.  Yum.  This is one of the simplest, most budget-friendly dishes I know, and the end-product is pretty dang beautiful!

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You can also lay the vegetables on top for a more dramatic display.  Just think of what some roasted asparagus would look like…I think I know what I’m doin’ next. 

I’ve found that the best way to make frittate is to use a cast-iron skillet.  If you don’t have one of these, you can use a sauce pan – just make sure you don’t put it in the oven if they have a plastic handle!  That’s what makes a cast-iron such a great tool – being able to cook something on the stove and finish it in the oven opens up so many possibilities.  Random note: I recently came across this really helpful video (click here!) on how to use and take care of a cast-iron skillet (which made me realize everything I’ve been doing wrong, WHOOPS).

This is the first “recipe” I’m posting.  I put recipe in quotes because it’s really more of a suggested list of ingredients and steps that you can choose to follow, or not!  I personally kind of hate following recipes, and tend to use them more for getting the technical aspect down (like what temperature to set the oven at, or visual queues for when things are done cooking).  Unless I’m baking something, I don’t use conventional measurements – just keep pourin’ that olive oil or grating that cheese until it looks right.  I’m a big believer in crossing your fingers and hoping for the best!! That’s how you learn, and in my opinion it gives everything you cook a more personal touch.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons of olive oil (for the skillet)
Chopped vegetables and/or meats
Pinch of salt and pepper (plus whatever spices you feel like)
Cheese (if desired)
2 eggs per person
Splash of milk

Steps

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  2. Add the olive oil to skillet, and heat on medium-low.
  3. Once the skillet feels warm to the palm, it’s mix-in time!  If using raw meat, add that first and sauté in the olive oil.  Once cooked, remove and set aside for later.  Then sauté any vegetables.  Whatever you decide to add, make sure to season it – throw in some salt, pepper, and whatever other seasonings you feel like.
  4. While the mix-ins are cooking, whisk the eggs and milk in a bowl.  Also add any cheeses and pre-cooked meats to the eggs at this point.
  5. Add the egg mixture to the skillet, and stir to distribute the vegetables, meats, and cheeses.
  6. Leave it alone! As the frittata cooks, bubbles will start to come to the surface.  When the sides begin to solidify but the top is still runny, place the entire skillet in the oven. If you’re using a sauce pan that has any sort of plastic on it, do not put it in the oven – flip the frittata onto a plate, and then place it back in the pan to cook the other side for 4-5 minutes.
  7. Cook in the oven for around 8 minutes, or until the eggs are set.  You can test this by using a knife to cut a small slit in the middle – if there is still liquid, it needs more time.
  8. In the last minute or so, turn on the broiler and watch like a hawk.  One minute it’s yellow, the next it’s burnt! Keep checking in and remove when it gets nice and golden brown.

This is best served hot, but you can keep leftovers in the fridge for a few days. Reheating eggs might seem weird, but I promise they still taste good!

And there ya go!  This whole process takes under 30 minutes, and this is a great way to highlight seasonal vegetables and test out combinations.  My favorite way to eat frittate is with a slice of toasted bread and some fruit.  The perfect breakfast for a day off 🙂 Enjoy!

Welcome e Benvenuto!

Orto translates to “orchard” in Italian.  “So the name of your blog is Orchard and…Orchard? Seems a little repetitive, huh?” Yes, it’s repetitive, but there are reasons behind it! Let me explain.

For one, my last name is Orchard.  We all know what orchards are – those big open fields where things are grown, and where New Englanders in flannel shirts flock to in the fall to pick apples.  The relevance of my last name was never really something I thought about until it was recently brought to my attention by a career counselor.  After sensing my obviously profound confusion, he said, “When people come to me unsure about what they want to do, I often suggest taking a look at their last name.”  I couldn’t help but laugh when he said this, and at how remarkably true this statement turns out to be. Who knew that I could have avoided all of this confusion if I had just looked at my birth certificate! Haaaaa…

It does seem that the path that I’m on now has been staring me in the face for quite some time but, for many reasons that seem stupid now, I’d been ignoring it or pushing it aside.  I went through college and this past year since graduation convincing myself that I wanted to become a doctor.  And I’d pretty much had everything in place!  I got my biology degree, I registered for the MCAT and was taking a prep-class, and I started training to become an EMT.  Yet the entire time, I had a horrible feeling that I was headed towards something I didn’t really want.  Romantic thoughts would constantly bubble up about pursuing a career involving food (or anything else, really) but I pushed them aside, convincing myself that these were interests that would be better off as hobbies.  Doubts would come to me daily, but in the end I always told myself that it was natural to be unsure.  After all, medicine is a big thing to commit to, but I would be helping people, challenging myself, and I’d probably be pretty good at it.  I’d learn to deal with the lifestyle if I was making a difference.

Unfortunately this shoveling-away of doubt blew up in a pretty dramatic way.  I started my job as an EMT and barely finished two weeks before I had a complete mental breakdown.  Yay! It took being exposed to the medical field in arguably the most extreme way possible to show me that I didn’t want to do this.  A lot of the nature of the job struck me as futile – sure, we’d patch someone up and be on our merry way, but chances are this person was in such poor health overall that they’d need an ambulance again sometime pretty soon.  I would sit in the back of the truck thinking about everywhere else I’d rather be, and I felt like I was wasting my time.  Why was I forcing myself to do something that I was clearly so unhappy doing?  I couldn’t find a good answer to that, so I quit.

I was freeeee! I no longer felt stuck, and I can’t describe how amazing that felt. Admittedly I was also a little terrified – what on earth was I going to do now?  I did know what I was going to do that day though, which was eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (still the most comforting thing I know) and binge-watch “Chef’s Table” on Netflix.  I watched wide-eyed as these chefs talked animatedly about their work with such joy and passion, and I decided that I was done trying to pursue a career in medicine that, although prestigious and rewarding, I constantly needed to convince myself was worthwhile.  I took a step back and thought about what I’m truly passionate about, and the answer was always the same: food, food, food.

If you know me at all, you’ll know that I’m slightly obsessed with the culinary world. Let me give you some examples to show how true this statement is:

  • My family avoids giving me the clicker because they know I’m going to force them to watch episode after episode of “Chopped”.
  • While I was studying abroad, my friends and I planned our weekend in Paris entirely around where we were going to eat instead of the, I don’t know, “sights”, I guess you could call them. “Oh, yeah the Mona Lisa was cool.  But remember that falafel place?  Best I’ve had in my life.”
  • If we’re hanging out, chances are it’s going to involve food; either I’m hijacking your kitchen, or we’re crossing another restaurant off the massive list I’ve compiled on my phone over the years.  You’re going to eat, cook, or watch someone cook, and you’re going to like it!

Food is my favorite way to learn about another culture.  It’s my favorite way to bring people together, and it’s my favorite way to destress. So, needless to say, I really like food. It seems pretty obvious that this would be something I’d want to pursue further, but it was only when I escaped the “pre-med bubble” and finally had time to think about where my interests truly lie that I seriously began to consider something involving food as a possible career option.

Now’s probably a good time to explain the Italian part of this blog: the orto.

Italian culture plays a huge role in my life, but that wasn’t until a few years ago.  Like many Americans, I can tell you the rough percentage of Italian blood that runs through my veins (around 25%).  My father’s mother’s parents, the Peressini’s, arrived at Ellis Island from a tiny province in northeastern Italy named Majano.   Unfortunately this part of my heritage has been lost throughout the years; I didn’t grow up speaking Italian or making homemade red sauce on Sundays.  My immersion into Italian culture didn’t begin until I got to college when I decided to take introductory Italian.  I almost took Spanish, but (and this is embarrassing) after reading Eat, Pray, Love, I decided Italian was where my heart was really at.  Plus, I am Italian!  (Sidenote: I’ve since realized that my life is reflecting the events of this book more than I’d like to admit, as I also traveled to India this past January…does this mean I’m going to Bali next??)

Eventually this led me to Padova, Italy where I studied abroad during my junior year.  I lived the life of an Italian every day for 6 months, and like most study abroad students, I loved every single minute.  My host family and I would share stories over dinner (in Italian), I took classes of culture, history, and language (in Italian), and watched movies with my friends (also in Italian).  I fell in love with the culture and, of course, the food.  To this day there is nothing I find more relaxing than sitting in an Italian piazza sipping spritz, munching on salty chips, and playing cards as the sun sets.  I love that the Italian language has such specific, memory-evoking phrases to describe food – my favorite being “fare la scarpetta” which describes that incredibly satisfying way to end a meal by using a piece of bread to mop up all the juices.  To me it seems that Italians share the same love as I do for good food and the powerful memories that surround it, and this shared appreciation is what continually draws me to Italian recipes and culinary traditions.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep Italian culture alive in my every day life.  I started working at Eataly thinking it would be a temporary job between EMT training and my internship in India, but 6 months later and I’m still here!  I’m not sure where this will lead, but I know that I love working with people who love food as much as I do, and for a company that is dedicated to the things I hold most important.

Eataly is a part of the “slow food” movement which began in Rome when locals protested the building of a McDonald’s. If only that would happen in the US!  Slow food is all about providing food that is “good, clean, and fair for all.”  So, quite literally the opposite of fast food.  This means taking the time to know where and whom our food comes from (the farmers, animals, and land), and eating foods when they’re meant to be eaten (like giant, misshapen tomatoes in the summer when they’re brightest and juiciest).  The Italians even have a word to describe this attention to seasonality – scorpacciata – which literally translates to “big feed”, but actually represents the idea of eating as much as possible of whatever is in season before it disappears. At work I’m exposed daily to slow food in-action.  Just yesterday I got to meet a representative from one of our coffee producers in Western Massachusetts and learned about how they are dedicated to sustainable, fair bean production with their farms in Africa and South America.  I also get to taste cheeses from all over New England and learn how to make bread!  This job honestly doesn’t feel like work at all, but instead like some kind of endless Italian food tour where I get to learn new things every day, and I love it.

This exposure to slow food, accompanied with my recent obsession with Michael Pollan’s work, have me thinking a lot about our food system.  I started The Omnivore’s Dilemma with a pencil in hand, underlining what seemed to be every other sentence.  Who knew the corn industry could be so interesting?! Reading about the unnecessarily complex path from farm to table in our culture has left me frustrated and confused.  Why does the US have such a weird relationship with food?  Why is it so hard for us to know where our food comes from?

Based on my travels in other countries, this problem seems to be uniquely American.  In Italy, I took cooking classes where we walked out to the market and bought the asparagus and rabbit for our fresh ravioli.  We chose those ingredients not because we had a specific menu in mind, but simply because that’s what was available that particular day.  I saw the extreme of local-eating when I WWOOF’ed on a vineyard in Tuscany and our host prepared a meal consisting of vegetables and wine produced entirely on their own property.  This introduced me to the concept of “terroir” which reflects how the land, wind, water, and sun impact the vegetation produced in a particular area, and I’ve yet to have a more earthy glass of red or vibrantly herbaceous olive oil.  In India, it was as easy as walking down the road – I watched as a family worked to cut and clean the chicken (blood, guts, and all) that we had for dinner that same night.  These meals remain to be the best I’ve had in my life, and I think this is largely due not only to the freshness and simplicity of the ingredients, but also to the consciousness of knowing exactly where each item came from.

In the US it seems that we’ve moved away from this close relationship with our food, sadly mostly due to economic interests.  To briefly summarize a hugely complex system: the government subsidizes corn and soy, so we grow a lot of corn and soy.  We then have to do something with all of it, so we feed it to our animals (which we then eat, indirectly eating more corn and soy) and create a bunch of processed foods.  This is great for the farmer (whom can now make a better living), and great for supply and demand, but devestating for pretty much every other party involved.  Not to mention the effect this has on our soil and the various plant and animal species involved (I could go on for days, but I’ll restrain myself), but in terms of human health, we’re eating a whole lot of two ingredients that provide virtually no benefits; yet somehow, they make up almost every single item that lines our supermarket shelves.  We’re known as a nation of overeaters but paradoxically, we’re undernourished.

Although there has been a lot of progress in moving back to farm-to-table and promoting the food justice movement, the majority of America relies on these cheap alternatives, simply for that reason: they’re cheap, and they also happen to taste good. The strain on the healthcare system created by a diet high in processed foods (obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, to name a few) is enormous, and will only continue to grow if our culture doesn’t adopt a more transparent, sustainable method of acquiring food.  For the sake of our health and the health of our environment, something needs to change in our unnecessarily muddled food system.

And that’s what I’m realizing I’d like to get more involved with.  Rather than treating people clinically, I’d like to prevent people from getting sick in the first place.  And when I think about what has the biggest impact on our health, the answer here is undeniably (again): food, food food.

There is a sign across from my desk at Eataly whose gravity and relevance didn’t hit me until recently: “Eating is an agricultural act” (Wendell Berry).  We can’t think about the food we eat without adressing where it comes from, and this has profound effects on our health.  In other words, it’s all linked – our health, what we eat, how we obtain our food, and how we treat the environment that provides us with it.  As I’ve said, this has all been (quite literally) staring me in the face this whole time!

Basically, I’m slowly discovering a way to combine all of the things I’m most passionate about – food, health, environment, and culture – and this blog is a way for me to explore this further.  I’ll mostly be sharing some of the Italian-inspired recipes I’ve come to love, along with the stories that transport me back to the people and places that have had such an impact on my journey with food.  These recipes usually have a few steps involving simple ingredients, partially because I’m a little lazy, but also because things with few ingredients and steps tend to taste better.  My belief is that, contrary to what it may seem in our country, food doesn’t have to be complicated!  There’s a reason why nature works the way it does, and my hope is that our culture can move back towards that.

So, hopefully “Orchard e Orto” makes a little more sense now?!  I hope you guys enjoy what I decide to post here, and get a better idea of the power of food and the importance of paying more attention to its source.  I’d love to hear from any of you whether it’s feedback, your own journeys with food, or just to say hi.

Grazie mille, e mangiamo!

Rachel