Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Food Forward Field Trip to McGrath Family Farm

Though I grew up in Texas, I was no farm girl. In our house, “farm to table” meant watching Green Acres over a Swanson's meat loaf TV dinner. Farms were what we saw and smelled through the windows of a gold Delta 88 when we drove across state. But after starting this blog and studying our food system for the last five years, my inner farm girl was starting to emerge. 

I had been wanting to volunteer with Food Forward, a Southern California food-rescue group, and picking organic tomatoes seemed like the perfect opportunity. This hardworking nonprofit gleans fresh, local produce from private properties, public spaces and farmers’ markets that would otherwise go to waste and distributes it to people in need. The Food Forward credo revolves around Fruitanthropy: The picking, donating or distributing of fruit for humanitarian purposes. 

So I decided to take on L.A. rush-hour traffic on a Wednesday morning and make the hour-plus drive to McGrath Family Farm in Camarillo. Carbon footprint be damned. I was on a fruitanthropic mission. 

Top: tomatoes; Bottom: kale and fennel

McGrath Family Farm is located right off the 101 freeway in Ventura County in the thick of a $2 billion-dollar-a-year agriculture industry. The county's top crops are strawberries, avocados, raspberries, lemons, celery, tomatoes, peppers, flowers, nursery stock and cilantro. In a region teeming with pesticide use, McGrath has been a staunch practitioner of organic farming for five generations. With its deep topsoil, the perfect climate to grow year-round crops, and generous community outreach, the farm is a revered leader in the organic community. I worried about the freeway air looming over the heirlooms, but what can you do? When McGrath started, there was only farmland. A freeway moves in, and there goes the neighborhood.

McGrath sells wide variety of produce directly to restaurants and farmers' markets, from strawberries, tomatoes, corn and squashes, to beans, stone fruits, citrus, greens and root vegetables. They also offer a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, educational farm tours, a u-pick farm for picking your own produce, and a roadside market. I was excited to buy some lima beans that were picked that day. Who knew these simple limas could be so fresh, so lovely and so who needs the French Laundry when I've got this bowl of beans?

It was last call for tomatoes, and we were there to pick all the heirlooms, cherries and Early Girls we could since the remains would be destroyed the next day. It was sad to see all the fruity road kill go to waste when they could've become a gleaner's gazpacho, but we had to move on to the ones that showed more promise. 

Bend…squat…sweat...repeat. Once I started picking, it didn't take long to see that farmworkers are about a 12 on the thankless job meter. It was a mere 80 degrees outside, but what's it like when it’s 100 under all those heavy, protective clothes?  

Working on an organic farm like McGrath must be like hitting pay dirt to a farmworker, as laborers on conventional farms face dangerous exposures to toxic pesticides with no adequate safeguards. Many groups are trying to get the Environmental Protection Agency to implement a worker protection standard for farmworkers like they have for other job sectors.

Not only do farmworkers have the lowest annual incomes of any workers in the U.S., one dies every day, and hundreds more are injured. Roughly half are undocumented immigrants—many living in substandard housing who can't afford to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Those in favor of deportation should try working in the fields for a day. Maybe they'll see what it’s like to risk everything to put food on someone else’s table.

Thanks to McGrath Family Farm and Food Forward, there will be food on even more tables.

Over 800 pounds of tomatoes

Want to harvest food, fight hunger and build community? Go on a fruit pick or volunteer with Food Forward at your local farmers' market.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On Health, Mötley Crüe and My Chemical Stew

Credit: iStockphoto / dmitryphotos

Wondering what this radioactive apple has to do with Mötley Crüe? 
Click on over to Zester Daily and read my article to find out!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Borscht Belt Salad (with Beet, Cucumber and Dill)

Why's it called the "Borscht Belt Salad?" Funny you should ask.
Remember Henny Youngman—that old Borscht Belt comedian with the violin and famous one-liners like, “Take my wife...please!”? The legendary Jewish comic got his start on the New York Catskills comedy circuit, aka the Borscht Belt, that was popular from the 1940s through the 1960s. Well, when Henny's wife, Sadie, said to him, “For our anniversary I want to go somewhere I've never been before,” he said, “Try the kitchen!” 

So in honor of Mrs. Youngman's culinary lethargy, I created this simple salad inspired by the refreshing essence of borscht. Vibrant beets, cool cucumber and herbaceous dill conspire as loudly as Henny's out of tune violin to announce big, babushka-like flavors. It's so easy to throw together, even Sadie wouldn't have minded making it. It shouldn't taste funny, though. I left the funny to Henny.

Beet, Cucumber and Dill Borscht Belt Salad

Equal parts beetscubed, quartered or sliced 
Equal parts unpeeled organic cucumber, cubed, quartered or sliced 
Handful of fresh dill, chopped

¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ tsp white wine vinegar
½ heaping tsp Dijon mustard
½ medium shallot, minced
Sea salt to taste

Steam or roast beets till fork tender. Peel and let cool. Cut beets and cuke in same size shapes—either cubes, wedges or slices. Add vinaigrette and dill. Let chill for half an hour and serve. 

The Borscht Belt Salad first appeared (sans recipe) in the post, A Job Farewell: Nine Years and Nine Salads

Friday, August 1, 2014

Lazy Figger's Fig and Banana Sorbet

I'll come right out and say it: I'm figgin' lazy. Yep, I'm a lazy figger. So I took the easy route with this fig and banana blender sorbet. I also took liberties by calling this vegan, sugar-free, frozen fruit mixture sorbet since most sorbets are full of sugar. Some store-bought ones even have corn syrup. But my sweet thang doesn't answer to a sugar daddy. She's assertive, self-reliant and whole. And since I'm a healthy figger too, I didn't boil away her nutrients. I simply put raw fruit in a blender and called it a day. Then a sorbet.  

A tasty but figly (figgin' ugly) concoction 

But before I called it a sorbet, I called it a spoonie. You know, a thick smoothie you eat with a spoon. If you prefer it unfrozen this way, be my guest, but please don't call it sorbet. That would be a violation of Lentil Breakdown fruit nomenclature.

Being a cheap figger, I'd normally think twice about sacrificing a cup of precious, pricey figs to a lazy figger sorbet when I could just as lazily enjoy them au naturel, which entails no risk. But after I scored a flat of fresh figs from the California Fig Commission last year and made my chocolate-dipped figs with hazelnuts, I became emboldened to take more chances. And after attending this year's Figology Fest—a creative fig shindig hosted by Erika Kerekes and Judy Lyness, I received the fig bounty that made me the lazy figger that I am. There's no shame in being a lazy figger. Especially when your sweet thang's in the raw without her sugar daddy.

Fig and Banana Sorbet

¾ cup frozen banana chunks
1 cup fresh Mission or other brown figs cut up (not frozen)
2 TBSP canned light coconut milk
A few ground cardamom seeds from one pod
A handful of pistachios

Put frozen banana chunks, fig chunks, coconut milk and cardamom in the blender. Blend until smooth, but leave visible fig chunks. Top with pistachios.

Eat now as a spoonie or freeze in a pint container for sorbet.

Makes about 2 servings. 

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

My New Superfood is Gonna Save the World

It would be really super if you'd head over to Zester Daily and read my superfood article. Bon voyage! 

Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Simple Truth: Marketing Gone Coconuts

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who was going out of town gave me an open carton of Kroger’s Simple Truth coconut milk that he didn't want to go to waste. I glanced at the ingredients and blurted out, “You want me to drink this? Do I look like Vladimir Putin’s food taster?" Then I stood there reading the ingredients aloud with such oratory gusto, I could have been vying for the Toastmasters crown. 

"Coconut milk (filtered water, coconut cream, xanthan gum, carrageenan, guar gum), evaporated cane syrup, calcium carbonate, carrageenan, natural flavor, gellan gum, vitamin A palmitate, ergocalciferol (vitamin D2), cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12). 
Contains: Coconut!" I said with an ironic, final flourish.

He stood in stoic silence. "What did I ever do to you?" I said. "Was it the time I dragged you to that raw, vegan place? I thought you really dug the raw-sagna! Were you just faking it like that cashew cheese?" Suddenly he had to leave. Something about an ingrown hair he needed to take care of before his flight the next day. 

So I stood in stoic silence, holding a carton of coconut-like liquid that had violated my sensibilities. The simple truth is most of those faux milks are full of faux food substances in which I can easily detect the foe. Take natural flavor—that lab-concocted additive that adds flavor to prolong a product's shelf life. It tastes too real to be true. Yep, it’s got too much real in it. Frankly, If I wanted more real, I’d just have seconds on the real real. Oddly enough, this Simple Truth line of foods from Kroger and Ralphs goes so far out on a truth limb to brand itself as the healthy messiah, its message, Free From 101, is to tout all that it's not. Here's a screen shot from the website:

By emulating this brilliant marketing strategy, I figure that I can cash in with my own line of products. I haven't figured out what I'll sell yet, but I'm sure I'll think of something. In the meantime, my marketing copy is ready. Investors: get out your checkbooks. Cha-ching!

*Coconutmilk ingredients listed are for the sweetened one. The one in my photo is no longer on the website.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

American Empire Abroad, Part 2: Portugal

American emperor Ray Kroc brought his golden arches to Lisbon, displacing the natives from their terraced territory. 

The golden-arched empire brought golden glitz to the city of Porto in a strategy to convert the regal Port wine region into high-fructose cola territory.

The Kroc empire nabbed Italy's national beverage, brought it to Portugal, and anointed it the "Big Mac-chiato".*   

The empire then pillaged France's pastry with the "Big Mac-aron".*  

An American “Caesar” invaded Portugal, only to be ensconced in a power grab with his Mediterranean rival.

An American aggressor landed in Portugal, unleashing targeted submarines all over the country.

In what is commonly referred to as the "Dummy Diaspora," American Dummies were expelled to Portugal, although the majority still remain in their homeland.

*Big Mac-chiato and Big Mac-aron are the intellectual properties of Lentil Breakdown.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Fugly Lentil Hummus

Lentil Hummus may not be as popular as her cousin, Garbanzo, or as pretty as Beet and Edamame, but she's got a great, protein-packed personality. Truth be told, her cousin, Black-Eyed Pea isn’t much of a looker either. But have some compassion. Fugly needs love, too.* 

So to all the wallflowers sitting in the fridge on a Saturday night:

You are so beautiful to me
You are so beautiful to me
Can’t you see?
You’re every bean I hoped for
You’re every pea I need
You are so luminous
Luscious and leguminous to me

* Lentil hummus may be portrayed as "fugly" to compensate for blogger's food-styling skills.

Lentil Hummus Recipe

1 cup dried brown lentils
Salted water
Bay leaf (optional)
3 cloves garlic
3 TBSP tahini
3 TBSP lemon juice
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp salt

Boil the lentils in a pot of salted water (and add bay leaf if using) for about 20-30 minutes until chewy, but not mushy (start checking them before they turn to mush). Drain lentils and let cool.

Place cooked lentils, garlic, tahini, lemon juice and spices in a food processor and purée (if you want it smoother, purée more). If too thick, add a little water for the consistency you like. Adjust spices. Hummus will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Meet the family:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wanted: Fruit Plaintiffs for Class-Action Lawsuit

I spent the last week and a half waiting for my papaya to ripen. Oh, sure, I filled in the gaps with a few other activities here and there, but mostly I waited. It takes time for a papaya to get moldy and dimpley and soft enough—right on the cusp of rotting, yet at its sweetest, most succulent peak. Those tricky effers are hard to gauge, making them high-risk investments. I spent almost $4 on mine. But what happens when you cut into a pricey piece of fruit that doesn’t pay off? Who should be held accountable—the store, the grower or the buyer? 

In my papaya-ripening experience, I have observed moldy + mushy = bright orange, luscious papaya on the inside. And while this papaya was moldy, it wasn't mushy yet. But I refused to put my knife on hold any longer with all that mold accruing, so I cut into it, only to find it lacking in the bright-orange, peak-lusciousness department. It was pale and still kind of firm in places. I tried timing it right, but maybe this was all my poor papaya was ever meant to be. Maybe it was merely the little papaya that couldn’t. 

Should I have felt compassion for this underachieving piece of fruit? Perhaps, but after plunking down $4, plus a week and a half of waiting, I was pissed. All that painstaking patience, and for what—a pallid, underperforming papaya. So I decided to sue Monsanto for damages. I don't care that it was a Mexican papaya—and Hawaiian papayas are the ones that are genetically modified. I've wanted to sue Monsanto for awhile, and now is as good a time as any. Think of it as bombing Iraq for 9/11. Saddam Monsanto had it coming. And I have the WMD.

If you, too, were traumatized by a Weapon of Mass Disappointment in the past 180 days, you can get in on the action.

Are you a fruit buyer who waited patiently, only to be the victim of a fruit-ripening malfunction? Did it refuse to ripen? Was it rotten? Or do you just want to sue a nefarious corporation? Let’s hold Monsanto accountable!  
If you bought a piece of fruit from a retailer in the last 180 days that underperformed, and you still have your toxic BPA-coated cash register receipt, you are eligible to sue Monsanto for a refund, plus pain and suffering for wasted time and heartbreak accrued during the ripening process. 
Don't let the terrorists win! 
Please send receipts to the law firm of Lentil Breakdown.  

Well, I better get going. There’s a green mango on my counter, and I've got lots of waiting to do.

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