Archive | March, 2010

Living Local: What Does Eating Local Mean?

Pin It
 

What does eating local mean?  Well, it depends on who you ask.
32310_1
For the Sustainable Food Center, the nonprofit that runs the Downtown, Triangle and Sunset Valley Farmers markets in Austin, it means that the food is being brought by the person who raised/grew it or created the product from within a 150 mile radius of Austin. According to Wikipedia, locavore means someone who eats locally produced food within 50, 100 or 150 miles of their home.  Barbara Kingsolver and her family, in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, challenged themselves to a year of eating only things produced within 100 miles of home, thus inspiring the 100 mile diet.

For me, I lean toward SFC’s definition since I shop at their markets most often.  I get a CSA basket from Farmhouse Delivery every other week and I supplement that with more produce and meat from the local markets. I’m growing a bunch of herbs and few vegetables on my patio.  I buy staples from the grocery store, almost always H-E-B or Central Market as they are a Texas-based retailer that gives back to the community in a big way.

32310_2
Whenever it’s an option, I buy an Austin or Texas brand because I like to support local businesses. About once a month, I treat myself and shop at Antonelli’s Cheese and buy lovely cheeses from Texas and around the world while visiting with one of the most charming couples in Austin.  Whenever I eat out, I try to pick a place that sources some of their products locally.   This works for me.  It’s not “perfect,” but then I’m not perfect.  It’s good and I feel good about it.

You need to decide what local means for you.  I can’t tell you what is best for you, your life and your situation.  And, I’m not going to tell you what you are doing is wrong.  I admire my friend Carla for her Year with No Grocery Store Challenge, but I couldn’t do it.  It’s right for her, but not for me.

So, why I am on this rant?  Because I want to tell you what’s NOT local.

Recently, a friend asked me if I was going to cover the new farmers market in NW Austin.  I told her I had already covered the Cedar Park market opening this weekend (March 27th), which is when she told me she meant the Sprouts Farmers Market near the Arboretum.  Ugh!

32310_3It’s understandable that my friend was confused, after all the sign at Sprouts says Farmers Market on it.  But let’s be clear – SPROUTS IS NOT A FARMERS MARKET.  A farmers market has farmers at it.  Those farmers are from the surrounding area.  The only Texas produce that I could find at Sprouts were microgreens from Keller, TX and herbs from Rice, TX.  None of the meat is local.  None of the cheese is local. They don’t even carry Mozzarella Co. cheese from Dallas.   I’m sure the dairy farmers in Wisconsin are lovely people, but they aren’t coming to our farmers markets and defining Wisconsin as our “surrounding area” would be stretch for anyone.

But I’m not just picking on Sprouts.  Newflower Farmers Market on Manchaca isn’t a farmers market either, it’s a grocery store.  I like grocery stores, I may even love my H-E-B, but I don’t like grocery stores that pretend to be farmers markets. As it turns out Walmart is probably carrying more local produce than the Sprouts or Newflower “farmers markets.”

Real farmers markets can be confusing as well.  In addition to allowing vendors from different distances, some markets allow vendors to resell produce from other farms.  The reselling at the Dallas Farmers Market was obvious (pineapples? really?), but it won’t always be that clear. Only producer or grower markets require that all the product be from the seller’s farm.

Restaurants bring their own set of problems.  One local restaurant, who has recently changed at least their online menu, listed a Farmers Market salad for many months.  That’s great except the salad had green peas and endive in it. In August.  In Austin.  It might have been a farmers market salad, but not from our farmers market.  They also had salmon on the Farm to Table menu.  Again, there’s no salmon swimming up stream in the Colorado.  I’m fine with non-local items on a menu, but don’t call it farmers market or farm to table when it’s not.

Another family of restaurants bought from a local farm for years and advertised as such.  The problem?  When they stopped buying from the farm, they didn’t change their ads.

So, what’s a consumer to do?  Ask questions.  Ask lots and lots of questions. 

If you are shopping at a new farmers market, go to the information booth and ask them about the type of vendors and the distances they travel. At the booths, ask the farmers where they are from and how the produce their food. At a new grocery store, ask if they carry local products in the produce and meat departments.

At a restaurant that says they work with local farms, ask which dishes include local ingredients.  No restaurant in Austin uses 100% local products, but many are adding more and more local items to the menu because people are asking for them.

32310_4I recently visited 24 Diner for breakfast.  When I walked in, I saw the sticker on the door saying they work with Farm to Table, a purveyor who connects restaurants with farms (they are not affiliated with this blog), and I saw the list of local produce on the blackboard.  I reviewed the menu and found a dish that looked like it contained some of the items from the board, but, before I ordered, I asked the waitress if the frittata was made with local vegetables.  She confirmed that it was.

It wasn’t hard to ask and the waitress didn’t seem to mind that I was asking. She actually seemed pleased that someone was bothering to read the board.  It was worth “bothering” her.

Maybe if we let more restaurants, farmers markets and grocery stores know that we are paying attention, they’ll pay more attention too. It’s at least worth asking.

Follow Me on Pinterest

Call to Action: Tell City Council You Want Hot Food at the Markets

Pin It
 

Thriving farmers markets have diversity, offering a little something for everyone. For many of us, the markets serve as our Saturday morning breakfast joint, community centers, meeting places and our grocery store. Personally, I’ve come to depend on the market as a place where I can grab a quick meal while I take care of my shopping for the week, which is why I was so upset to learn that the City of Austin has changed their minds about vendors being able to serve hot food at the markets.
32210_1

Most Saturdays, the line for hot biscuits and gravy and duck egg tortas at Dai Due, a charcuterie vendor selling hot food at the Downtown Austin Farmers Market, winds around their booth and down the market aisle.  The list of the charcuterie they are selling that day is littered with scratch out marks from the items they no longer have.  They make great product and it shows, but the City doesn’t want them to be able to sell hot food at the market anymore.  
The City says that state law prohibits a permit for a temporary food establishment and that Dai Due is trying to run a restaurant from the market.  That’s interesting since MesAlegre in San Antonio runs a chef’s table at the Pearl Farmer’s Market.  MesAlegre isn’t even selling other product, just the chef’s table, and it’s been a fabulous draw for Pearl.
But for me, this issue is bigger than any one vendor;  it’s about the markets.  Hot food adds another element that attracts new customers. The biscuits and gravy might be the hook for the casual shopper, but it gets them in the market to buy carrots, lettuce and bison.  When I visited the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco, they were selling hot food at the market.  Pike’s Place Market in Seattle sells hot food at the market. Even the Cherry Creek Farmers Market in Denver has hot food.  Our markets need that hook, that diversity, to thrive.  
  
This Thursday, March 25th, council members Sheryl Cole, Mike Martinez and Chris Riley are asking the council to consider Resolution 54 asking the city manager and staff to research how other markets around the state are serving hot or cooked food and to create a solution that will work with Austin’s regulations AND support the markets.  
If you agree that serving hot food helps our farmers markets thrive, you can sign in supporting Resolution 54 at  the electronic kiosk in the lobby of City Hall at  301 W. 2nd Street. You don’t have to speak, you can just affirm the resolution. You can also donate your 3 minutes of time to someone else. Registrations are accepted until the Mayor calls for the vote on the item (sometime after 10 am on Thursday)  or a vote to close the public hearing is taken.

If you can’t make it to City Hall before Thursday, you can e-mail the council members as a group by clicking here. You can also e-mail council members individually by going to their profile page: council member sites.
I know calls to action aren’t very fun, but I’m asking you to do this for the future of all our markets – not just the Downtown market and not just for Dai Due.  Thanks for supporting Resolution 54.  I’ve got some letters to write!
Follow Me on Pinterest

Road Trip! Exploring Dallas

Pin It
 
All photos by the incomparable Jenna Noel.

At the beginning of the year, I decided to explore the sustainable food scene in other cities.  After going to San Francisco last fall, my curiosity was piqued about how people around the country are living locally. For my first adventure, I picked a place close to home – Dallas.

Maybe it’s the Amarillo girl in me, but when I think of Dallas, I think of the big city and of a more sophisticated set of choices. Needless to say, I was a little surprised when I started researching sustainable food in Dallas and I didn’t come up with much. Hmmm….
Luckily, my friend Jenna at Edible Austin called Nanci Taylor, one of the the publishers of Edible Dallas & Fort Worth, who gave us her recommendations of places to visit. (Thanks Nanci!)  Jenna and I reviewed the list and formulated a plan. We decided to focus this trip on central Dallas rather than trying to cover the suburban areas and picked three restaurants that source locally for our adventure. We packed up the car and headed north on I-35.
When we arrived Friday night, we were famished so we headed to Smoke, a barbecue restaurant near the remodeled Belmont Hotel. Locally-sourced barbecue is one of the missing links in the Austin restaurant scene and I was excited to try some sustainable ‘cue. When we arrived, we were greeted by the warm, eclectic decor (modern art meets hunting lodge), festive atmosphere, and the inscription over the back room “Raising Hell from Scratch.”  I immediately knew we were in the right place.  
32110_1
We ordered Foie Gras & Chicken Liver Pate and a Pickled Beet Carpaccio and Crudite salad to start.  The pate was terrific served with lovely brioche toast that melted in your mouth. As good as the pate was, the beet carpaccio was the star. The vegetables were bright and fresh and the horseradish vinaigrette gave it a nice kick without overwhelming the flavor of the vegetables.
32110_232110_3
For dinner, we ordered off the barbecue menu – a 1/2 pound of Andouille hot links and a 1/2 pound of brisket with sides of Potato Salad and Hominy Casserole. The Andouille was delicious, spicy with little pieces of onion sprinkled in the meat.  Even Jenna, a Louisiana native, gave it high praise.  The brisket and potato salad were solid, but didn’t have the same Wow factor as the Andouille.
32110_532110_4
We had fun playing with the four homemade sauces at the table.  I loved the horseradish mustard and Jenna’s favorite was the Tomato Molasses. We both felt the hominy casserole was flat and one note in flavor, surprising since it had green chiles in it.  It didn’t matter though as we had plenty of good food at the table. I will definitely be visiting Smoke again and I hope that we have someplace similar in Austin some day.  (Hint! Hint!)
32110_6

After dinner, we popped next door to the Belmont Hotel to check out the much lauded skyline view. It was a little chilly that evening, but it would be a great place to visit with friends on a warm spring night.
32110_732110_8

We got up bright and early Saturday morning to explore the farmers market. We had been cautioned that the Dallas Farmers Market was very different than the Austin markets, but I couldn’t wait to visit. Open seven days a week, the market houses three large sheds filled with produce, most of which is brought in from the Texas Valley or other states to be resold at market. The pineapples featured at several booths were a dead giveaway that the produce wasn’t local.
32110_9
One shed, however, is reserved for local farmers and vendors. Buoyed from our great experience the night before, we marched to Shed 1 (the local shed) with high hopes. As we rounded the corner, I’m pretty sure my face fell like a kid who just had a hole poked in their balloon. Where were the local vendors? 
The first four booths were “grandfathered” reseller booths packed with obviously non-local produce (pineapples, avocados, mangos, etc.). Then we spotted the local vendors – all 8 of them – two ranchers selling meat, Texas Honeybee Guild, 2 farmers selling eggs, Wackym’s Kitchen cookies, and a few other folks selling jams, jellies and canned items. No produce. Not even hydroponic greens. Nothing. Hmmm…
32110_10
I had been warned that the group of local vendors would be small.  I was told to manage my expectations, but no produce? I was crestfallen. I kept making Jenna walk around the small loop with me thinking we’d missed something or that we were just early and that someone else would show up. We even walked through the other two sheds hoping to bump into a local coffee roaster or someone selling native plants. Nope.
32110_11
The morning wasn’t a complete loss. We had a delightful conversation with Brandon the Bee Guy from Texas Honeybee Guild and I bought some whipped honey that is perfect for toast and sandwiches because it is so easy to spread. We also tasted and bought some terrific cookies from Wackym’s Kitchen. The Salted Caramel cookies are a tasty mix of savory and sweet and were terrific for me and my limited sweet tooth. Jenna’s favorites were the Lemon Butter with a little tartness to balance out the sweet cookie.

Determined to salvage the day, Jenna and I headed next to the East Dallas, home to the most unique “farmers market” I’ve ever visited. Tom Spicer, brother of New Orleans chef Susan Spicer, is a unique breed of farmer and urban forager. Frustrated by the lack of locally sourced food, Tom decided to take matters into his own hands, opening Spiceman’s FM 1410, a store front farmers market with local and regional produce.

32110_12

Tom sells produce from his own farm just outside of Dallas, his urban garden behind the shop and other area farms. In addition to selling to the public, Tom has become a critical resource to restaurants who are looking for local produce. As it turned out, Bolsa, the restaurant we were having dinner at that night, called in their produce order while we were there.

32110_1432110_13

I told Tom about our experience at the Dallas Farmers Market and he responded, “Well, people in Dallas are about comfort and convenience. The farmers market isn’t either of those things.” He did share that some of the suburban farmers markets are growing and that a number of CSA programs in the area were building strong foundations. I was encouraged by his comments that little by little, the local food scene is gaining ground in Dallas.

For lunch, we strayed off the locally sourced path to pay homage to a Dallas treasure, Jimmy’s Food Store, located in the small strip center down from Spiceman’s. Jimmy’s is a small Italian market with everything from produce (some local), meats, handmade pastas and all the supplies you could ever need to make a great Italian meal. 

32110_1632110_15

We were told to try out their sandwiches and we were not disappointed. We split a small (this is a relative term) Muffuletta and a Cuban sandwich and couldn’t finish them. Again, Jenna found herself praising the Dallas version of one of her Louisiana favorites saying it was the best Muffuletta she’d had outside New Orleans.

We spent the afternoon walking off lunch while shopping in the Bishop Arts District in the Oak Cliff area. Several people had recommended it to us as a very “Austin” area. We had a great time poking around the boutique shops which ranged from clothing to housewares. We couldn’t resist grabbing two obscure sodas at The Soda Gallery – I got a Ting (grapefruit soda from Jamaica) and Jenna got a ginger beer.

We needed some chocolate to go with our sodas so we headed over to Dude, Sweet Chocolate. Their handmade chocolates incorporate unusual ingredients including beets, Texas Olive Oil, raz al hanout, and African curry. Katherine Clapner, owner and chocolatier, explained with enthusiasm the different products and how they made each. Her passion definitely comes through in the delicious products. I got a box of the Dude Chocolates and loved the unusual flavors in this great collection.  

32110_1832110_17

We finally tore ourselves away from the aroma of the hot chocolate brewing in the back before we ruined our appetites completely. We were saving ourselves for Bolsa.
32110_19
Bolsa, the sister restaurant to Smoke, is a hip, new American restaurant in the Bishops Art District that specializes in locally-sourced fare with a menu that changes daily.  Nanci Taylor of Edible DFW and Marie Tedie of Eden’s Organic Garden Center  joined us for dinner which we kicked off with the Bruschetta tasting.  The platter featured  four flavors to sample – Butternut Squash, Prosciutto, Smoked Salmon and Fuji Apple.  The Butternut Squash was my favorite with a lovely Dallas goat cheese and basil.
32110_20

As we reviewed our mixed experiences from the day, we talked about the sustainable food scene in Dallas. Marie shared the challenges of building a strong membership base with their CSA program in a community that was still learning the value of eating close to home.  I noted that I’ve always been surprised that some of my favorite farmers and food artisans are closer to Dallas than Austin, but they come to the Austin markets instead. I’m happy to be the beneficiary of that windfall, but I hope it won’t be long before Dallas earns their attention.

Unfortunately, our hit and miss day continued at Bolsa. While my carpaccio was fantastic, Jenna’s quail and Marie’s chicken were overcooked. The food was good, but not great and we really wanted it to be great for Bolsa and Dallas’ sake. 

32110_2132110_22

The excitement of Bolsa being profiled on the local news that night couldn’t make up for the inconsistencies from the kitchen. A friend of mine often says, “I don’t care if it’s local if the food isn’t good.” He’s right and my hope is that Bolsa can work out the kinks so that they can deliver excellent local food consistently. It was good enough that I’ll give them a second chance the next time I’m in the area.

Sunday morning, we headed to Park for brunch before our drive home. The charming restaurant in the Henderson Avenue shopping area has the ambiance of a picnic in the park and offers a number of locally sourced options, some of them coming from their own rooftop herb garden. They even give their compost to Tom Spicer for his urban garden.  Jenna had the Breakfast Flatbread and I had Green Eggs and Ham (couldn’t resist). It was a nice brunch and a good way to end our road trip adventure.

The trip to Dallas was eye-opening. It reminded me of the Austin local food scene six or seven years ago, growing slowly but surely into a viable and thriving effort.  It made me realize that I’ve gotten a little spoiled in Austin. Because we are striving for so much more, we lose sight of the fact that we have many, many options for sourcing locally in Central Texas. I found myself quietly thanking all the people who work so hard here to help our community grow – the Sustainable Food Center, Urban Roots, Edible Austin, all of our local farmers and the chefs who work with them. 

32110_23
I look forward to watching the Dallas sustainable food community grow.  The promise is there, and, with the hard work of people like Nanci, Marie, Tom and all the other great folks we met that weekend, I believe Dallas will make good on that promise. And, I can’t wait to taste it! 
Other Dallas Area Restaurant Who Source Locally
As it was a short trip, we didn’t get to try everything Dallas has to offer. Also, I have not included Fort Worth as I consider that a separate city/trip.  Following are some other restaurants who are sourcing their food locally that you might want to try:
Restaurant Ava (in Rockwall, just outside of Dallas)
Follow Me on Pinterest

Grab a Pencil and Start Filling Up Your Calendar with Sustainable Food Events

Pin It
 

It’s Austin event season and the calendar is filling up with great opportunities to celebrate local, fresh food.  There is something for everyone so grab your pencil and start filling in those dates!

I’ve focused on four organizations: Slow Food Austin, The Sustainable Food Center, Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival and Slow Money Alliance.  If you know of other events, please post them to the comments to share with everyone else.  Also, follow Austin Food Lover’s Companion‘s Austin Foodie Bits each Monday for a weekly update of upcoming food events in Austin.

I look forward to seeing you at plenty of events this spring!

Slow Food Austin focuses on reconnecting us with our food.  They do that through three main types of events every month: local farm tours, happy hours and Slow Food Sessions that highlight different aspects of home cooking.  Take your pick and join in the fun.

Farm Tours: The tours will be scheduled periodically throughout the year.  The next two tours are at Stryk Dairy on March 27th and Springdale Farms on April 10th.

Happy Hours: Scheduled for the 3rd Thursday of every month, Slow Food Happy Hours highlight local restaurants and area farms:  4/15 at Olivia, 5/17 at Green Gate Farms, 6/17 at Boggy Creek
Slow Sessions: These educational sessions are scheduled for the 1st Thursday of each month and have highlighted everything from making cheese to how to cure bacon.  Monitor the website for the next session topic.

Sustainable Food Center in addition to bringing us three terrific farmers markets (Downtown, Sunset Valley and the Triangle), the Sustainable Food Center has two upcoming events to help you celebrate farm fresh food in Austin.

On Sunday, April 11th at 6:00 pm, La Condesa will host another Chef Series dinner with a  multi-course tasting menu featuring fresh meats and produce from the Austin Farmers’ Market.  Participating chefs include: Rene Ortiz, executive chef at La Condesa; James Holmes, executive chef and owner of Olivia; Tyson Cole, executive chef at Uchi; Shawn Cirkiel, executive chef at Parkside; Todd Duplechan, executive chef at Trio; Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due Supper Club; and Laura Sawicki, pastry chef at La Condesa.  Tickets are $100 per person, and all proceeds benefit the Sustainable Food Center. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.sfcchefseries.eventbrite.com.

SFC’s annual fundraiser, Farm to Plate,  is Thursday May 6th, 6:30-9:30 pm at The Barr Mansion.  The event features tastings from over 20 local chefs, 10 wineries and several local breweries.  It is a great way to explore the restaurants who are sourcing locally and you get to visit with the chefs!  Early Bird tickets go on sale on Tuesday 3/24.

Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year with a stellar line up of events Thursday 4/15-Sunday 4/18.  Many of the events include chefs and restaurants from around the state who source locally including our very own Trio, Jeffrey’s, Parkside, Fino, La Condesa and Zoot.  I also noticed Bin 555 from San Antonio, a wine bar and restaurant that offers several local options daily on their menu, on the list.

Some events with the potential for local sourcing that caught my eye include the Culinary Masters Dinner on Thursday night hosted by Chef Elmar Prambs of Trio, the Stars Across Texas event on Friday night with tastings from restaurants around the state, the Texas Wine & Cheese Pairing hosted by Whole Foods and their goddess of cheese Cathy Strange, and the Sunday Fair at the Salt Lick which will feature a number of local food vendors organized by Edible Austin.

Some of the tickets are pricey (Culinary Masters dinner is $150), but my previous experience with the festival is that the price is worth the experience.  Events do sell out (John Best cooking class is already full) so if you have your heart set on something, buy early.

Slow Money Austin is a new nonprofit focused on increasing investment in sustainable, local food enterprises.  I heard about Slow Money for the first time at the Texas Book Festival last fall and have been devouring all the resources I can find about it ever since.  I am thankful to Mason Arnold of Greenling and everyone who has helped him get our local organization up and running.

You can find out more about Slow Money and how it can help our growing sustainable food industry grow exponentially at two upcoming events.  

On April 21st, they are hosting a Slow Money Showcase from 12:30-5:00 pm at Austin’s City Hall.  The conference will feature Slow Money Alliance founder Woody Tasch as the keynote speaker and include  panels of local experts on sustainable food in Central Texas.

The next evening April 22nd, you can help Slow Money Austin celebrate Earth Day at the Slow Money Dinner, at 6:00 pm at Barr Mansion.  The incomparable Dai Due Supper Club will be preparing a delightful dinner while participants continue the Slow Money conversation with presentations from Bastrop Cattle Company, Coyote Creek Feed Mill and Greenling.  It is guaranteed to be a thought-provoking evening.

Follow Me on Pinterest