Thursday, March 19, 2009

Day 35- Bush Skills Rendezvous Week

To be honest, I'm a little behind on on my blogging. I'm back in DC as of last night. However, I want to finish documenting this experience at Ridge to Reef to have a complete educational tool for potential students to reference. Also, I plan to continue to share my own research and experience post R2R. I think everyone left that program a changed person.

Although I am back in DC where there are no cistern water levels to be concerned about and I don't have to worry about the batteries when I forget to flip off a light, it's important that we all reflect on our usage and our needs. I turned the water off while I lathered up in the shower this morning. It is a small part of what we can all do to be more aware of where we waste energy, water, fuel, food, and other resources.

I want to give a shoutout to Kenny who stayed with us at VISFI for over a week. He wrote a wonderful blog about his experience and I appreciate his perspective. Check out veggiegardeningtips. It's a great blog in general and I look forward to his next adventure!

Agrotourism week started with my media preview event. I invited over a dozen local media representatives and a few national outlets (for shits and giggles) to come to the farm and get material to do preview and feature stories on the third annual Bush Skills Rendezvous. Although not many media outlets did show up, we succeeded overall with three stories in the local papers and a radio show. Hopefully these contacts will lead to more media exposure in the future.

St. Croix Source and the VI Daily News are online, but the St. Croix Avis story is only available in print. I will try to scan it for people to read later.

I will continue to work to try to increase the availability of information on VISFI events and programs. This is the story of our lifetime and our future. Will we learn to exist in a sustainable manner, reconnect with our primitive skills and survive? I will. I hope you are there with me.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Culmination - Slow Foods Week

This will be my first attempt at adding one of the videos that I produced for my project. Wish me luck :-)

The Slowdown Dinner that the Ridge to Reef students prepared for the farm to sit down and eat together (all 28 people) was a wonderful food experience. Here are the courses as they were done by each group:

Appetizer (Mandy and Judith)
Lightly roasted okra served on a polenta round and topped with tomato chutney and sprinkled with crushed pumpkin seeds
Soup (Ashley and Ben)
Cucumber coconut soup, served cold, and sprinkled with a sorrel powder.

Salad (Marshall and Mere)
Hearty roasted vegetable salad with a sorrel reduction, topped with fresh field greens and a tamarind vinegarette.

Entree (me and James)
Coconut crusted mahi-mahi, on a bed of bok choi, topped with fresh green moringa curry, and served with ylang-ylang infused rice.

Dessert (Patrick and Ryan)
Coconut sorbet served on a warm pumpkin bread pudding with a rum sauce and a tiny lime basil leaf.


Day 34 - Slowdown Dinner (vegan green curry recipe)

One of the wonderful value-added products here at Creque Dam Farm are our "Slowdown Dinners." Beyond being an important revenue stream, they are an opportunity for people to come to the farm and see what goes on here. Many of the students here were first introduced to VISFI through a Slowdown (Ryan, Ashley, and to an extent, me.) Once you see the love that goes into a meal prepared from scratch with local and fresh ingredients, everything else just seems flat.

The Slowdown Experience here is a six-course pre-fixe menu for $60, pretty reasonable considering it's BYOB so no restaurant-priced drinks on top of that. Some people may think that is steep for a meal, but I've been to omakase (Japanese for chef's choice) meals that are twice the price and pale in comparison.

The culmination of our slow food week is to prepare a complete Slowdown Dinner for all of the farm staff to eat together. On Monday we each drew from a hat to determine which course we would be preparing and who our partner would be. I held my breath and drew a card..


Intimidating! However, the other person who drew the entree card was James, the youngest person in the program who will be attending Johnson and Wales Culinary school in Colorodo at the end of this program. He has some level of comfort in the kitchen, so that was good to have.

After a few attempts we made this recipe for a green curry sauce, gathered the coconut pulp for the crusting on the fish, and convinced the farm that we should purchase some local mahi-mahi because we never get seafood and we live 1.5 miles from the beach! We played with the recipe for many hours. We decided on grilled coconut-crusted mahi served on a bed of wilted bok choi, fresh green curry drizzle, and ylang-ylang infused rice. For the vegans we used the bok choi and rice but cut up an edible loofa squash and saute'd it with the curry and served it in a baked papaya.

Here are our recipes:

Modified Vegan Moringa Green Curry Paste
1 Stalk sliced lemongrass
2 t coriander (ground)
3 T Soy Sauce (use fish sauce if you aren't particular about it being vegan)
1 t brown sugar
1 green pepper
1 habenero pepper
1 onion (or a bunch of green onions because that's what we had on-farm)
1 inch piece of ginger
3 kaffir lime leaves cut into strips (more for garnish)
1 cup loose chopped cilantro (we used a bit of cilantro and recao, a similar herb in the tropics)
2 T moringa powder
1 T lime basil

Place all of these ingredients in the food processor with a dash of coconut milk to thin it out and keep it blending.

Once it is blended into a paste, put it in a skillet and heat it for a few minutes to help the flavors mature. You may need to blend it again to get it smooth enough. Line the plate with a wilted bok choi leaf and form the rice into a smooth ball. Once you have all of it put together, drizzle the curry over the top, and garnish with a fresh ylang-ylang flower, tiny strips of kaffir lime leaves, and diced red seasoning peppers.

That's all well and good, but the pressure of doing 28 of those between the courses (we sat for each course and then got up to prepare our part) was intense! The stress became exponential because after we had begun plating a group of teachers for Bush Skills arrived from the airport and we suddenly had 32 plates to prepare. It was wonderful how people stepped up to make it happen. I love you guys.

Day 33 - Pumpkin Ravioli

Sorry I've been away, thank you for the emails reminding me to keep you up to date. I appreciate it! So much has happened that it's hard to go back and write the entries I missed, but it's also a wonderful opportunity to relive some of the wonderful days we've had here at VISFI.

Slow foods week has been awesome. Spending the days in the kitchen with Chef Keith and talking to Dan about his favorite subject (food) has been inspirational. I can't wait to get back to my own kitchen space.. Today's lesson are two slow food meals, lunch and dinner. For lunch we chose one meal that we don't get much on the farm because it is so labor intensive, but there is nothing better than homemade pasta.

It was a long day in the kitchen, but well worth it. There is a synergy between the members of this group and that is amazing to step back and watch. Ashley doesn't often work well with others, but even she is realizing the support and cooperation that we have. Getting out my camera today and capturing a bit of it on film was the beginning of my final project. It feels a little like the beginning of the end, but I will enjoy putting the final pieces together.

The Pasta:
3 eggs
2 cups flour (we used AP, but you can do a percentage of whole wheat)
+ whatever flavor you want to include. We made: parsley, rosemary, moringa (our superfood), black pepper, and a few others)

If you are going to make a pumpkin filling from a garden pumpkin, first harvest a massive pumpkin, chop it into chunks with a machete, and bake it. Don't forget to take out the guts.

Make a well in the flour and crack the eggs into the center. Beat the eggs with your hands and slowly work in the flour. You may or may not need all of the flour depending on the size of your eggs and the humidity, keep watching the dough for a good firm, not tacky, but not dry consistency. Unlike bread that you can only knead a little in order to develop the gluten, a lot of kneading is required for pasta. To knead the dough, fold it into itself and press, rotate, fold it into itself again, and press again. Continue this process for 20 minutes. Leave the dough to rest at room temperature for 45 minutes to an hour. We wrapped our dough balls in wax paper and set them aside and in the meantime, we made some vegan pasta for our more animal-friendly friends.

Vegan Pasta
2 c flous (1/2 to 1/2 whole wheat to white)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup water

Follow the same mixing procedure. Just like in the non-vegan version, you may not need all of the water.

Once your dough has rested, cut each dough ball into 1/4ths and roll very thin. You want to roll it out into an oblong shape with a long, even motion and pressure.
Once you can see through the oval cut it into squares. If you cut larger squares you can fold it over into a triangle, if you do smaller squares you can stack two on top of each other and make the square, it's up to you.

When the pumpkin is out of the oven and soft it's time to mash that up and make your filling. We used mashed pumpkin with a little sage, but you can put any herb that compliments the flavor of the pumpkin and goes well with what flavor you put in the ravioli (if anything).

Now it's time to stuff them! Take the squares and put a dollop of your cooked filling into the center. The key here is to not put too much because it's essential that the pasta seal completely, you don't want it to fall apart.

Boil and top with the awesome homemade sauce we had going on the side.. (saute onions and garlic, add tomatoes to cook. Remove from heat and blend. Right before it's time to serve, add the fresh herb spices so they are at their maximum flavor. Delicious!)

I would have put in some post boiling lunch shots but by the time we were done making these beauties we were so hungry that we scarfed them all up and no one took pictures. I guess that is the beauty of slow food.

For dinner we made pizza, always one of my favorites!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Day 32 - Simple Slow Food Tactic

Ditch the pre-packaged salad dressing, make a vinegarette! What is in that junk you are pouring on your greens? Is there high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and a list of ingredients you can't pronounce? A good place to start thinking about slow foods is the simple salad dressing metaphor; it takes 30 seconds to open the fridge and take out a salad dressing and slather those chemicals onto your otherwise healthy dinner. Take an extra five minutes and make a dressing and you have added love, creativity, and probably some healthier ingredients to top those veggies.

"Slow Foods" doesn't necessarily mean "All DAY Foods" (although it can.)

I know this is silly, and Sarah showed me many times how she made such great balsalmic dressings, but sometimes I need a thorough explanation and to take notes in order to really get it. So, we went into the kitchen to go over basic dressings.

Think about what kind of dressing you want to make, what you have around, and get together your ingredients to prepare your "mise en place."

Oil to Acid ratio:
3 to 1, 2 to 1, and sometimes close to 1 to 1, depending on the taste of the vinegar and other ingredients. Good average to think about is 1.5
A good oil; cold pressed olive oil or other oils that have not been processed and denatured.
Start with a root crop, diced finely: garlic, onion, shallot.
Vinegar (we used sour orange and cider vinegar.)

EMULSIFY: This is the part I never quite got right before this class. Blend all of your veggie ingredients and then slowly add the oil, while beating the mixture. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

Yawn! So much to write, I need to go to sleeeep.

Day 31 - A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place

Part of our introduction to Slow Foods is an introduction to cooking in a professional setting. For our culminating activity we will have to prepare a "Slow Down Dinner," so we have to know how to approach cooking for 30 guests.

I was particularly struck by the term mise en place. Translated from French, it means something similar to put in place" or "prepared ahead of time." I love it. The concept is simple; when cooking, be prepared to complete the dish without having to go look for ingredients. So what does one do to begin? The first step to cooking is read the recipe. Don't just glance over it and see if you have all the ingredients, really read the recipe, gather supplies, and know what you are planning to do. Measure all the ingredients and line them up in the order in which they will be used, to a reasonable degree.

Everyone who knows me can understand what I mean when I say that I am not necessarily the most "organized" person. Over the last few years I've struggled to overcome this part of my personality that I consider a shortcoming and something that I get a lot of frustration from. I don't know why I have such a hard time keeping things together, but I am working on my mise en place for a lot of things in life.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Day 30 - Slow Foods for Life

Yes, I am behind in my blogs. I know.

I will work on catching up!

There is one thing that we take for granted here that I will truly miss when I return home: the food. Chef Keith does a lot of hard work preparing delicious and nutritious meals for the farm staff and it is important for me to learn, and learn well, how to go home and make the most of the fresh food around me.

One thing we talk about often are "diets" and what is the "right" way to eat. There are so many different philosophies about eating that it's hard to imagine that so many people really don't pay attention to what they are putting in their mouths. This is the single most important decision we make every day; what to eat. The fuel that you put in is the energy you get out. It becomes YOU.

Imagine yourself healthier.
Veg, Vegan, Pescatarian?
Local Foods?
Blood type diet?
Food pairing?
Raw Foods?

Basically, eat what your body wants. Now, you may think your body is saying, 'caaaake,' but likely it's saying that it may need more calories for what you are expending or it's your mind's idea of comfort food. That void can be filled by something better than cake.

Interesting ideas from diets:
Blood type, I'm 0+ I should be "the Hunter" also referred to as, "meat meat meat diet." I think I would like to be more of a B blood type, the middle. Hmm.. Anyone ever tried to eat based on their blood type? I'd love to hear about your experiences.

I liked the food combination tables.. but.. is it really feasible to try to convince people NOT to eat their steak with a starch and a veggie? Can you really not eat and drink water at the same time? hrm.