Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral

Fair warning - I'm about to rant and wax philosophical about food politics. I will not be offended if you want to skip what will surely be a highly nerdy blog post.

*Edited to add: I have been working on this post for a day and a half now, and it's become incredibly long-winded, even for me. I just can't seem to edit it down because there is so much I want to say on this topic, sooooo I'm going to publish what I have now and save the rest for later. Again, no pressure. If book reports aren't your thing, go here and look at cute baby animals.*

{U.S Food Administration poster c. 1914-1918}
Apparently, the USDA was more forward thinking a hundred years ago than it is today. Today,  63% of the billions that the USDA spends on farm subsidies goes to support meat and dairy production, 20% goes toward grain production (with much of that grain ending up in the bellies of livestock), and less than 1% goes to support the growing of fruits and vegetables (source and source). Today, the US imports over 80 million dollars worth of food every year (source). Today, we throw away almost 26 tons of food annually; that's over a a quarter of all the food produced for domestic sale and consumption (source). Today, the food we eat has traveled an average of 1,500 miles before it makes it to our plates (source).

Those fun facts just scratch the surface. Our relationship with food -what we eat, when we eat it, and where we get it from-is out of whack. Throw politics and money into the mix and you have what can only be described as a schemozzle. When I watched Food Inc., I started to pay attention. Now that I have finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver, I am fully committed to shopping, cooking, and eating with awareness. I know that my education in this area is just beginning and that I have a lot to earn, but I'm looking forward to the journey.


Thanks to Kindle, I was able to highlight all of the fascinating and infuriating passages that struck me while I was reading, so now (if you're still reading), I'm going to share them with you. First, background -Kingsolver wrote Animal, Vegetable, Mineral to document the year that she and her family spent eating locally grown foods. With only a few exceptions like coffee and olive oil, Kingsolver and her family eating only foods that they grew (or raised) themselves or purchased from local sources. Interspersed with anecdotes about the challenges of raising turkeys who seemed to have misplaced their maternal instincts and tips for dealing with August's plethora of squash, are astute observations and eye-opening statistics. You know how I love a good quote, but I'll try and limit myself...

First, there's the environmental argument. So much of what we eat comes from halfway around the world - apples from New Zealand, mangoes from Peru, shrimp from Vietnam. Moving and refrigerating all of that food over all of those miles wipes out any dent I think I might be making in my carbon footprint as I sit smugly behind the wheel of my Prius, my trunk full of (reusable!) bags stuffed with a veritable U.N. of produce.

"If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.

Then there's the selfish argument - locally grown, in season food just tastes better than food that is exhausted after having spent days, if not weeks, en route to your table. Plus, when you have to go a few months without an apple, you appreciate it all the more when they return to the farmers markets.

"Waiting for foods to come into season means tasting them when they’re good, but waiting is also part of most value equations. Treating foods this way can help move “eating” in the consumer’s mind from the Routine Maintenance Department over to the Division of Recreation. It’s hard to reduce our modern complex of food choices to unifying principles, but this is one that generally works: eating home-cooked meals from whole, in-season ingredients obtained from the most local source available is eating well, in every sense. Good for the habitat, good for the body."

{Farmers Market, August 2010}
Buying locally seems logical, and yet, so much of the world's food practices are not.

"In every country on earth, the most humane scenario for farmers is likely to be feeding those who live nearby—if international markets would allow them to do it. Food transport has become a bizarre and profitable economic equation that’s no longer really about feeding anyone: in our own nation we export 1.1 million tons of potatoes, while we also import 1.4 million tons. If you care about farmers, let the potatoes stay home."

There is, of course, the argument that going out of your way to find locally grown food is time consuming, and it definitely can be. Despite the fact that San Diego boasts an abundance of local avocado farmers, the avocados at the Ralph's down the street are often from Chile, so that means that in order to buy local I have to find a farmer's market or go to Whole Foods. Going to Ralph's where I can also buy toothpaste and toilet paper is easier and faster.  In addition, if you're hardcore as Kingsolver unquestionably is and not fortunate enough to live some place like California where tomatoes only disappear from the "what's in season" list for three months, you will also spend your summer drying, canning, and freezing all the produce you can get your hands in order to survive winter's stinginess.
                                                                                                     Source: via Megan on Pinterest

In addressing the issue of all the time that she spends tending her garden, harvesting her crops, shopping for what she can't grow herself, and then cooking all of it for her family, Kingsolver tells a story about a weekend in college when she discovered a faster route from school to home. When she arrived at home she made sure that her family heard all about the "navigational brilliance" that had shaved thirty-seven minutes off of her drive. She writes that her grandfather paused for a moment before responding, "'Thirty-seven... And here you just used up fifteen of them telling all about it. What's your plan for the other twenty-two?'"

"I'm still stumped for an answer, whenever the religion of time-saving pushes me to zip through a meal or a chore, rushing everybody out the door to the next point on a schedule. All that hurry can blur the truth that life is a zero-sum equation. Every minute I save will get used on something else, possibly no more sublime than staring at the newel post trying to remember what I just ran upstairs for. On the other hand, attending to the task in front of me—even a quotidian chore—might make it into part of a good day, rather than just a rock in the road to someplace else."

                                                                                  Source: via Melanie on Pinterest

Kingsolver also discusses the importance of making time to break bread together. This passage struck me because when I was growing up, we almost always had dinner as a family. I'm sure it would have been much easier for my mother to give in to our repeated requests to eat in front of the TV or for my father to pick up something to eat on his way home from work, but they made eating together as a family a priority. Family dinners are still some of my favorite activities. And I was a National Merit Scholar, just saying.

"If I had to quantify it, I’d say 75 percent of my crucial parenting effort has taken place during or surrounding the time our family convenes for our evening meal. I’m sure I’m not the only parent to think so. A survey of National Merit scholars—exceptionally successful eighteen-year-olds crossing all lines of ethnicity, gender, geography, and class—turned up a common thread in their lives: the habit of sitting down to a family dinner table. It’s not just the food making them brilliant. It’s probably the parents—their care, priorities, and culture of support. The words: 'I’ll expect you home for dinner.'"

Ugh, ok. Enough for now, I'm starting to annoy myself.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

San Francisco - Part II (Bike Across the Golden Gate - Check!)

Ok, back to our San Francisco adventures... In order to counteract all the eating, Tom and I decided that some exercise was in order on Sunday. Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge was on my life to-do list, so we had planned ahead and brought our bicycles.

We set out from Kelsey's and Chris', heading in what we assumed was the direction of the bridge. We go slightly off track and ended up at the Palace of Fine Arts. It was a happy accident though since neither of us had ever visited there before.

 After our detour, we followed some fellow bikers and found our way to Crissy Field.

We took our time making our way to the entrance to the bridge, partly to enjoy the view and partly because my quads were not pleased to make the acquaintance of San Francisco's famous hills.

At one point, we found a willing tourist to take a picture of us. He really knocked himself out, moving around, shooting us at different angles, even crouching on the ground at one point. By about that fifth shot, it had gotten awkward.

{Alright, buddy. Put the camera down and back away slowly.}
Eventually, we did make it to the actual biking across the bridge bit.

 Once over the bridge, we headed down the hill into what felt like forty miles an hour.

Obviously, it was time to eat again, so we waited for a seat on the deck at Scoma's where we had champagne, crab legs, and a caprese salad - vacation dining at its finest.

After lunch, we walked around Sausalito for a bit and decided to sample the highly recommended (by the internet again) cones at Lappert's Ice Cream. I won again, my blueberry cheesecake ice cream besting whatever forgettable flavor Tom had the misfortune of selecting. I kid. I'm sure it was delicious, particularly with the addition of the rainbow sprinkles that my thirty year old husband always insists on.

Heavy with ice cream and champagne, we caught the ferry back to the city.

It was the perfect ending to a wonderful weekend.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Things that make me happy -

*my dad
I really lucked out in the parent department, hit the jackpot really. Just as with my mom, I struggle to find the words to describe my dad and what he means to me. For one thing, he's wicked smaht. My dad always made intelligence seem cool. Thanks to my dad, I have a Rolodex of random facts in my brain (Although some of the "facts" he passed down turned out to be invented for the sole purpose of grossing out my sister and me -turns out the crunchy things in Fig Newtons aren't actually bug parts). Despite his love of sports, my dad didn't seem to mind that I was less than gifted in the athletic department, and he nurtured my love of reading and despite his mistrust of the creatures, my love of horses. I still have the copy of A Horse of Your Own that my dad gave me on April 13, 1993. I know the exact date because it is inscribed, "Katie, Don't be sad-/braces aren't so bad/because it will be great/when your teeth are straight. Love, Daddy." So, yeah, he's also an awesome poet.

The picture above is from over the weekend and is a pretty good one for summing up some of the great things about my dad. 1.) My dad and I had been walking along the beach and talking for over an hour when I took this picture and we would continue to walk and talk for at least another hour - I have always known that no matter what pressing issues were on his schedule, my dad would always have time for a father-daughter chat. 2.) We were on an eight mile "ride and stride" being held to raise money for wounded veterans. This encompasses two of my dad's passions - helping others and exercise. 3.) He is standing in front of the sign he sponsored in honor of a charity in Haiti, a country to which he has wholeheartedly dedicated himself.  The importance of service is something that both of my parents placed at the forefront of our family's consciousness. 4.) In his right hand is some of the garbage he collected as we walked along the beach - he does the right thing when no one is watching. 5.) He is wearing a goofy-ass expression because that's how he rolls.

My dad was my first example of what a man should be like, and he set the bar pretty high. Thanks to my dad, I always had high standards for the men I let into my life. For as long as I can remember, my dad has been telling my sisters and me that if we find someone who loves us half as much as he loves our mother, then he'll be happy for us. I always remembered that and always knew that I wouldn't settle for less.
Happy Father's Day, Dad!
*summer flavors
 There is nothing like fresh heirloom tomatoes and basil to herald the beginning of summer. Caprese season has begun!

*random birds in the airport
You would be surprised how much a little chickadee can make seasoned air travelers freak out...although, his beady little eyes are somewhat chilling.

*the thought of some day getting Tom his own dog 

Unfortunately, Tom's mom has bad pet allergies, so he never had a dog growing up. Hopefully, we'll be able to get our own dog sometime soon; in the meantime, it's fun to watch him with Lucy.

Friday, June 17, 2011

San Francisco Part One

Several weeks ago Tom and I made the drive to the Bay Area to attend a friend's wedding. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities, and as usual, it didn't disappoint. I have awesome friends who generously offered up their apartment since they were out of town that weekend, so that meant we had more money to spend indulging in San Francisco's many gastronomic delights (this is a fancy way of saying "stuffing our faces").

On Friday we headed to Fisherman's Wharf so that Tom could get his requisite dose of fried seafood.

{fried seafood purveyor}
Friday night we went to Jimmy and Kisha's reception, and my oh-so-chic clutch was barely large enough to hold a lipstick and keys, let alone my camera; so all I have are a couple of grainy cell phone pictures.

The reception was at McCormick and Kuleto's, a restaurant in Ghiradelli Square. There were lovely views of the bay, but more importantly, they made the best greyhound I have ever had - grapefruits sitting right there on the bar, ready to be squeezed, none of that canned garbage.

Saturday morning we braved the morning drizzle and headed to the farmer's market for breakfast. The chilaquiles were delicious, although the lack of a black bean cake means that the Park House version maintains its top spot in Tom's heart (belly?).

After eating away the effects of the previous night's celebration (Damn you, greyhounds!), we headed over the bridge to the Muir Woods.

That evening we went to the Mission to checkout Pizzeria Delfina, a restaurant that the internet told me was amazing. Once again, the internet did not lead me astray. Dinner was amazing. I took pictures of everything we ate, but as it turns out, asparagus with lemon brown butter and Parmesan curls tastes a lot better than it photographs. The same can be said of the Clam Pie with cherrystone clams, tomatoes, pecorino, and  hot peppers. Next level though, for reals.

After dinner, we decided to continue with the day's theme of eating things that are delicious and cruised across the street to another spot that the internet spoke very highly of - Bi-Rite Creamery, a magical place selling all sorts of homemade frozen treats. Oh and because this was San Francisco and San Francisco is awesome, both Pizzeria Delfina and Bi-Rite Creamery use local, organic products. Anyway, the line was halfway down the block despite the fact that it was almost ten o'clock and about fifty degrees, so we opted to grab ice cream sandwiches from the takeout line and head back to Hotel Smith. I picked balsamic strawberry ice cream between two shortbread cookies; Tom picked vanilla with chocolate chip cookies. I totally won. 

To be assured, there is more eating.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When Words Fail

I had planned to write today about our adventures in San Francisco, but that seems silly now. My friend is in pain, and I lack the words to comfort her, if such words even exist... So I turned, as I often do, to the words of others. This poem struck me because all I can do for my dear friend is be there as she tries to make it "through this to that."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Catching Up

That's what I have been doing for the last week... First I was catching up on grading that I had avoided for most of the last quarter, then I was catching up on sleep, and now I'm here to catch up on updating you all (i.e.: my immediate family) on the minutiae of my daily life that so fascinates you...

Adventure #1 - Las Vegas

Now, Vegas is not what I would consider my jam. This is only because I don't gamble, and lately it seems that even being in the same room with a bottle of tequila leaves me completely incapacitated and on the verge of death. My brother and Erin decided to have their bachelor/bachelorette festivities in the City of Sin, so being the loving sister that I am, I joined them despite the very real threat of a potentially fatal hangover... Turns out, you can go to Vegas and consume in moderation...I'm growing! Or becoming very lame.

{Staying off the strip was probably key in my hangover-free weekend}

There was plenty of posing and shenanigans in the (poorly lit) room before heading out.
{Mo and Buckley}
{This horrible picture is of Michael and Erin and is sadly, the only one I have of the two of them together that weekend.}
{Finger guns were apparently Mo's go-to pose for the evening.)

The Palms

After spending the day by the pool, we headed to the Strip for sustenance. We ate at a pub at the Monte Carlo where we also enjoyed our own personal keg-bong type of contraption.
The next stop was Minus5. This is a bar where you pay to borrow giant boots, a coat, and gloves so that you can go drink cocktails from cups made of ice in a room made of ice. The place is kept at a frosty 23 degrees (negative five Celsius, hence the name) and is filled with tipsy idiots like us who pay of the privilege of freezing our asses off. The Vermonter in me was ashamed. They won't let you bring your camera in because they want to be able to sell you the photos that their professional photographer takes, so the best I can do is this link to a picture of our group in varying states of undress... 

Next it was on to jello shots...
We took some jello shots to go...

which led to strapping Meghan into the "Hannibal Lecter" bed for a mini snooze.

There was more posing... Can you tell there was a color theme?

Then we headed out for more festivities, and the boys and girls went their separate ways.

Mo, Meghan, and I made like ballers and found some action at Maltese Fortune...

At brunch Buckley looked positively regal in his authentic Indian garb - ordered direct from
After a solid afternoon by the pool, Tom and I headed home. The next weekend we were back in the car again, this time headed to San Francisco... Looks like my catching up will be continued to tomorrow...