Monday, February 28, 2011

Taste of Tuscany

Last week, I got to experience my first dinner as part the Global Food for Thought Meal Series that I'm helping to coordinate for the GreenHouse, and it was an awesome event, all around.

The meal was organized by Francesco Mangano, chef and proprietor of Osteria Papavero, an Italian restaurant in Madison that excels at flavorful, high-quality food. And in an impressive synthesis of fine dining and institutional cooking, the whole meal was prepared by University Housing Dining Services, under Francesco's guidance.

The Menu:

Assorted Crostini: Bruschetta and Salsa Verde

Arrosto di Manzocon Funghi Sotte 'Olio
Italian-style roast beef, served with shaved parmigiano cheese, baby arugula salad, and oil-cured wild mushrooms

Polipo in Umido
Braised octopus with sweet peas and chili

Baccola in Umido
Salt cod, braised with tomato and garlic, served with yellow corn polenta

Stew of sweet bell peppers

Testaroli al Pesto
Tuscan-style spelt "dumplings" with basil pesto

Salame di Cioccolato
Chocolate "Salame"

(Please excuse the quality of the photos, as I only had a phone camera with me to document the deliciousness).

The crostini and baby arugula salad (the roast beef was on the under-layer of the salad, so I was able to enjoy the greens and parmesan and mushrooms):

The two vegetarian entrees: spelt dumplings in pesto (such rich and complex flavors!), and a sweet pepper stew that was hearty and sweet, with a subtle smokiness.

And a happy GreenHouse-er before the platter of incredibly delicious chocolate "salame":

The dessert was so outstanding that when Francesco walked around asking the students which was their favorite dish, he had to add "...besides the chocolate salame".

But it was all first-rate--a true feast that Francesco shared with the students to provide them with the tastiest of cultural and educational experiences.

And then, to further cement my high opinion of him and his restaurant, Francesco had an hour-long discussion/question-and-answer session with the students. The topics of conversation ranged from the birth of the Slow Food movement in Italy, to the [lack of] value of Olive Gardens and other "Italian" food chains, to the importance of crusty bread, to why Osteria buys such high-quality ingredients yet has such relatively-affordable prices, to the existence of distinct culinary traditions in Italy's twenty regions.

On the last point, this was something new that I learned: Italy is made up of twenty distinct regions, each of which has widely varying cuisines, flavors, and ingredients. This website, though it uses a slightly jarring color scheme, seems to do a good job of describing the different regions and offering a glimpse of the kinds of foods and recipes that emerge from each.  In Sicily, you'll find involtini di pesce spada, or swordfish rolls. While in the Aostaa valley, you'll find capriolo alla valdostana, or venison stewed in red wine with vegetables, herbs, grappa, cream. The site is based around this quote it offers on the home page: "The main thing to remember about Italian cuisine is that it doesn't exist. First, because the term cuisine is French, but more important because in my country, thank heaven, we have no uniform way of cooking."

Despite this quote, I and the GreenHouse crew got a beautiful introduction to one slice of Italian cuisine last week. Altogether, Franceso was not only an amazing chef, but articulate, eloquent, and powerful in his advocacy of using local ingredients, of emphasizing the connections between good food and sustainability, and of building community. It was all excellent. If you're in the Madison area, enjoying and supporting Osteria Papavero is a must. And report back!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Support those who support us!

The list below is re-posted from the awesome site, run by the TAA.  Because there has been such an outpouring of support for the protests and rallies by local businesses, it's important for us to thank them with our patronage. The following Madison businesses, among others, have provided food or other supplies for the sit-in and sleep-in at the capitol:
One theme that this post brings up and that I'd like to pursue more on this blog in the future is how to vote with our dollars, how to press for change with the power of the penny, and how to (insert other monetary metaphor here).  I'd like to advocate for the idea that it's important not only to know where our food comes from, but also where our money is going to.

A big debate that crops up time and time again in the food movement and in environmentalism more broadly is the role of conscious consumption and of individual action. And I know that many people more learned than I have argued against the value of individual action, and I totally agree that collective action is crucial (this week in Wisconsin more than ever!), but the small choices we make daily (like where to buy our food and which businesses to give our money to [and of course in areas that aren't consumptive!]) are just as crucial. They are, in the words of Wendell Berry, what preserve "qualities in one's own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence."

I know that's somewhat vague and muddled and not immediately connected to the issue of supporting local businesses that have supported the Wisconsin protests, but it's all tied together in one mass of inextricable ideas that I hope to explore more in the future. What do you all of you think about this tangled mess I've introduced here?

And here, the Berry quotation in its fuller context:
      Much protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protesters who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone's individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one's own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.      
     - Wendell Berry "A Poem of Difficult Hope"

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Worker Appreciation Free Cookout

Day 4 of my "Solidarity through Food" series:

In addition to the protest-fueling food that's been coming from us, Ian's Pizza, and my department, some of it has also been coming from the unions themselves.  The Northeast Wisconsin Building and Construction Trades Council put on a free cookout for anyone who happened to be walking by the capitol at the end of last week. 

You could just stop on by and pick up a hot dog, fresh off the grill. A union worker would even squeeze the mustard and ketchup on for you!

And, perhaps the cutest part of all, there were bags of homemade Chex mix out as well!

Now, I usually am not one to encourage people to eat processed foods that were (probably) made from factory-farmed animals, but the joy of this show of solidarity was enough to win over even the "food snob"* in me.  Although I did think about how funny (read: awful) it would be to go up and ask if they had a vegetarian option, by chance. Or maybe some organic, free-range turkey hot dogs? Perhaps some Grey Poupon to go with them?

Remember that amazingly pretentious ad?

Yeah, I'm not sure The Northeast Wisconsin Building and Construction Trades Council would've taken so kindly to any corresponding Rolls-Roycery on my part.

Instead, we just celebrated them for their support and generosity!

* In quotation marks because I disagree with the use of this term in reference to myself, something I'd like to discuss in a future blog post.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tea Party at the Tea Party Protest

Day 3 of my "Solidarity through Food" series:

My department decided to counter-protest last Saturday's Tea Party counter protest by having a "tea party" of our own, complete with banana bread, scones, snickerdoodles and hot tea! Despite the "In Wisconsin, we drink BEER, not TEA!" signs, we decided that we liked tea and didn't want to have it co-opted by the pro-Walker side . So baked goods and warmth all around!

The whole Tea Party counter-protest was a bit of a joke anyway. Although the organization had tried to bus people in from all over the state, as far as those of us who were there could tell, there were maybe 2000 or so Tea Partiers among the crowd of 60,000+ who gathered at the capitol on Saturday.  At least, this is what the crowd situation seemed like, given the ration of pro-union vs pro-Walker signs, and the size of the group gathered on the Tea Party rally side of the capitol. And even that latter rally side seemed to have dispersed by 2 PM, while the pro-union forces stayed around the capitol in large numbers into the evening hours (we even made it back for some Settlers of Catan, some dancing, and some ukulele-playing after midnight).

But whatever the size of the counter-protest was, there were signs reading "This is a Peaceful Protest" and other such calming words throughout the capitol, which helped to make the whole thing feel like a community effort to keep the focus on killing this bill, rather than killing our opponents.

Peaceful democracy in action is a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Feeding the Protest

More wonderful stories about how food is keeping this thing going: Ian's Pizza, a Madison institution, has been bringing free pizzas to the capitol all week long. How are they able to afford this, you might ask?  Through donations! And not just donations from Wisconsin folks, but from those in every single state and continent (minus Antarctica)! Seriously. Here's a photo of their chalkboard where they were keeping track of donations, as of yesterday:

Awesome, isn't it?

Making the pizzas, nonstop:

Enjoying the pizzas, nonstop:

If you would like to do your own part to support those in the capitol with food or other supplies, you can go to the new donation site Help Defend Wisconsin, can order pizza through Ian's, or you can call the Willy Street Co-op and buy a gift card to feed the capitol protestors via phone: (608) 251-6776.

Thanks for your help. And let me know if you have any questions!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Solidarity through Food

Life around here has been so consumed by the "budget repair" bill protest rallies for the last week that it's hard to think of much else.  Brief escapes from the capitol to get some work done always just lead to obsessive checking of the WisPolitcs Budget Blog, Defend Wisconsin, and the Facebook page of the TAA (Teaching Assistants' Association). But boy has it been exhilarating. So many new developments, new enthusiasms, renewed senses of hope!

Among those leading the charges of hope and enthusiasm is my friend KG. He is not only the same KG who cooked the amazing dinner of my Co-op Inspiration post, but is also the co-President of the TAA, the union of graduate student workers at the University of Wisconsin.  A little over a week ago, KG was just a graduate student with a little collective bargaining experience and a knack for leadership. Now, he's being quoted in the New York Times, communicating with national labor leaders and the UW Chancellor, being interviewed live on BBC, and generally leading this amazing, ground-swelling campaign with his usual charisma, level-headedness, and thoughtfulness. I am in awe.

So, to bring it all back to food (because that's what this blog is supposed to be about, right?),* let me share that one of the ways in which we were able to help with the effort was to bring KG (and his co-President) a hot meal when the days of subsisting on peanut butter, granola bars, and donated cheese plates got to be too much.

The Indian place across the street (with a sign in its window that read "We support Wisconsin public employees") served us up three to-go boxes of savory curries that we were able to take to the hardworking TAA leaders in the capitol:

Sometimes, it has felt hard to know what to offer to help this big, shifting organism of protest, but the least we could do was bring some delicious food from a local restaurant to nourish those leading the charge. (And it was even worth the waste of the styrofoam containers, which you know I was grimacing about...)

Food to the rescue!

*In the interest of full disclosure, the only reason I was able to write about anything strictly-food-related (and not protest related) topics on Thursday and Friday was because I had pre-written those posts before all of this got started...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Recipe Binder: Success!

In addition to collecting recipes for friends, I've also been working on my own recipe collection in the past few months. Specifically, I was fed up with the huge bulging folder that held little torn-out magazine pages and scraps of paper with recipes scribbled in ten different inks. Those of you who cook will likely know what I'm talking about, right?  It was a mess to find anything in there.

And so, I decided to bring some organization to the whole thing, by creating a recipe binder. Here are the steps I went through in my search for order:
  • The first thing I did was go through all of the pages and tape or staple all the little scraps onto 8.5"x11" sheets of scratch paper. 
  • Then I numbered all the pages, in the lower right corner.  
  • Then I typed up the titles of all the recipes into a Word document, along with the corresponding page number. 
  • Finally, I organized these recipes by general category (Sauces, Appetizers, Salads, Soups, Sides, Main Dishes, Breads, Desserts, Gluten-Free Baked Goods), leaving space at the bottom of each category.
Here is what the table of contents then looked like:
  • I then slipped all of the pages into clear sheet protectors (which I happened to have left over from a scrapbook project from long ago), front and back, and put them all in a three-ring binder (which I also had lying around). Just for this photo's sake, I slipped in a frozen pizza box cover, but I'll likely replace this with something else before too long:

To give you a sense of the range of recipes in this book, here are a few images.  The first page, which displays the table of contents, is on the left, while scraps from magazines and recipes from the back of boxes are on the right. If you click to enlarge the image, you can see where I've written in a recipe title (Oat Soda Bread) and page number under "Breads," as I've added to this collection:
Some of the recipe pages were ones I'd printed out on a common theme (the one on the left is from a Mexican Sunday dinner night), while others are recipes I'd written out by hand over the years (as with the one on the right):

Some were whole pages out of magazines (as on the right):

And I also included these wonderful newsletters from our CSA farm, Harmony Valley, which have suggestions on how to use seasonal vegetables, stories from the farm, and recipes:

And I stored all the extra sheet protectors and extra scratch paper in the back of the binder, so I can keep building this collection:

Anyone else have recipe-organizing ideas, or plans in the works? Do share!

P.S. Happy half-birthday to my big brother!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vegantines Puzzle

The local Alliance for Animals puts on an annual "Vegantines" event, with dinner and speeches and dancing, to benefit the organization's mission of promoting ethical, compassionate treatment of all animals.  I'd been wanting to go this event for a while, so this year, with a little help for our friends, Justin and I gussied up (or as close as we ever get to gussying up) and headed out:

The whole affair was interesting on many levels (maybe I'll leave it to Justin to write more about the ethos of the speeches we heard...), but I was particularly intrigued by the puzzle that the menu offered.  A lettuce salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives.  Eggplant parmesan with vegan cheese and a side of corn and lima beans. And a vegan chocolate cake for dessert with canned, saccharine, bright-red cherries.

It all tasted just fine (although the woman at the table next to us certainly didn't think so, berating the servers about the low quality of the chocolate cake, flinging the frosting at her plate to display the goopy consistency), but the values this food represented reminded me how shockingly fragmentary the whole food politics scene really is.  I mean, lettuce? tomatoes? cucumbers? corn? eggplant? How much more non-seasonal and clearly non-local can you get? Processed vegan cheese?  

Yes, it was all vegan, but this seems to have been the priority at the expense of so many other values associated with food that I have come to cherish and that embody much more of the Madison food scene.  I'm just constantly puzzled at how food activists can care about one set of issues, while ignoring others entirely. Perhaps this speaks to a larger shift that I've made in the last few years, from identifying myself primarily as a "vegetarian" to thinking of myself as a "discerning consumer who wants to support sustainable, local agricultural practices" (or something like that). 

But I just haven't understood at all how people like Tasha at Voracious (this vegan blogger who recently "came out" as a meat-eater to a hail of extreme criticism and support--I kind of even don't want to link to her because I find her so annoying) can abandon one kind of diet to shift to the radically other side, without considering how to embody a similar set of values, even with a modified diet.  Yes, veganism isn't for everyone, but if you're going to abandon veganism, why not shift to eating only animal products that have been produced in a humane and ethical way? Why not begin lower on the food chain, with crustaceans and fish and birds (animals whose ability to feel pain isn't as well-documented), than jumping right in to eating mammals? Why not continue to care about your food sources, even if you change the species you're willing to eat?

This is the Vegantines puzzle.  Anyone have ideas on putting the pieces together?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kill the Bill!

Here is our friend Shahin's video of yesterday's rally against Governor Scott Walker's budget bill, which makes cuts to public workers' pension and health benefits and eliminates almost all union bargaining rights.:

Yeah, it's bad news. Madison schools have closed today because the teachers planned a sick-out.. NPR is writing about us. So is And lots of others.

You can watch it all streaming here.

And some photographs I took yesterday:

Oh yeah, and we made this quiche for dinner. Recipe to follow soon.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Veggie Chili for a Crowd

Yesterday, I wrote about the meal I made for the GreenHouse mural painters over the weekend: a pot of vegetarian chili, two pans of buttermilk cornbread, and two dozen chocolate chip cookies.

Although we make veggie chili all the time, with whatever ingredients we have on-hand (it's one of our favorite pantry meals that can come together even when we have little to no fresh produce), I created this recipe to fit the needs of producing a batch in bulk in the middle of winter. So, here it is, a recipe for creating vegetarian chili to feed a group of about 20:

Vegetarian Chili for a Crowd
  • 2.5 onions, diced (reserve 1/2 onion for raw topping)
  • 3 very large sweet potatoes, diced
  • ~50 oz. diced tomatoes (two large cans OR one full freezer bag)
  • 4 cups black beans or pinto beans (canned or cooked beforehand)
  • 4 cups baked beans (canned or made beforehand using this recipe)
  • 3 cups frozen corn
  • 4 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp dried basil
  • salt to taste 
  • optional toppings: raw diced onion, grated cheese, pickled jalapenos, sour cream, hot sauce
  1. In a large stock pot, saute onion in several tablespoons oil until fragrant, 5-7 minutes. 
  2. Add sweet potatoes and enough water (~1.5 cups) to just surround the potatoes. Cover and let simmer for 10-12 minutes, until potatoes soften. 
  3. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine, adding water if needed to maintain moisture. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until the chili begins to take on a uniform consistency and the sweet potatoes begin to lose shape a little bit. 
  4. Serve in bowls, with toppings sprinkled atop as desired.
Easy, quick, and very malleable to fit whatever you have on hand. Yum!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mural Marathon Meal

This weekend, I got to have my first real interaction with the GreenHouse students, where I'm the new Food Programming Intern this semester. They've had this ongoing project for a while, to paint murals on the walls of their Resource Room, and so they'd planned a "Mural Marathon" for the weekend, to crank out as much painting as possible in one day.  And of course, a free lunch was a great incentive to get people to come out for painting! So, I got to offer the incentive of helping to prepare a meal for the 15-20 folks who were involved.

First, here's a peek at the awesome painting job they're doing in this room. They've got a stellar environmental history theme going, with one wall devoted to the pre-European settlement vision of Wisconsin (the one complete wall shown below), one wall showing the beginnings of settlement (which the students in the photo below are working on), one wall covered by an image of Madison today, and the final wall depicting the Wisconsin of the future, complete with windmills, high speed rail, and small localized communities.  It's beyond impressive. I'll try to post more photos later as the mural project moves forward, if anyone's interested in seeing what comes of all this talent!

So, while the painters were producing art in the other room, I had a crew of volunteer cooks helping me create some art of our own in the kitchen. Because I only had help for an hour, I figured I'd make the meal pretty quick and easy, but hopefully still filling and delicious. On the menu was: a pot of vegetarian chili, two pans of buttermilk cornbread, and two dozen chocolate chip cookies.  I'll share the chili recipe in my next post.

And here we are making cookie dough, chopping sweet potatoes, and preparing to feast!

To be honest, I was a little anxious about how the whole thing would go over. Would the food be ready in time? Would people show up to help me? Would the students like the food? Would they like me?

But, it turns out, sometimes I worry for nothing (surprise!). The whole event was a smashing success, with bowls licked clean, friendly conversations, and warm feelings all around.

And I was super-impressed by all these GreenHouse residents--I've rarely seen freshmen so warm and articulate. Over lunch, there was conversation about who would take over in Egypt in Mubarak's wake, about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's atrocious public worker proposals, and about the rallies to be taking place at the capitol to protest these proposals this week (if you're in Madison, please help by following this link and taking action!)

It cheered me to see that there was space at the GreenHouse to talk not just about food, but about the larger social and political world within which food issues sit.  I want this blog to also be such a space.

Thanks for reading, and for thinking along with me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Co-op Inspiration

Last weekend, I got to spend another delightful evening at our friends' co-op (the same one that inspired our Pantry Makeover). Although I didn't get a photo of the inspiring bulk storage section (mostly because it was on the empty side since it was right before re-stocking day), I did get a few kitchen organization ideas from their space, and I also got to eat some delicious food in the company of some of Madison's finest.

Here is their spice arrangement. Although it may be hard to tell from this photo, this wooden shelf extends from the ceiling and hangs down over a wooden island in the middle of the kitchen, where much of the prep work goes on. There's space on the top of the shelf for one level of spices, neatly labeled, and then there's a second level that hangs down from the shelf. The spices on that second level are all in glass jars and they are so neatly suspended because their lids have been screwed into the bottom of the shelf. So, when you want to use a spice from the bottom level, you just unscrew the jar and voila! The lid stays screwed to the shelf, so you never lose the lids, and you have such a handy storage option. Ingenious, eh?

I was also struck by the simplicity of their dish-washing arrangement. This works particularly well for the group living style of the co-op, but surely some element of this could be worked into our own homes? You see, the dish racks ARE the dish shelves. They are one and the same! That means you never really have to put away the dishes, because once they're put up to dry, they've already been put away. So simple, yet so clever.  Both the dish and the cup shelves/racks are within arm's reach of the sink, so it's all in close and convenient proximity.

Besides the cleverness of the kitchen set-up, the food at the co-op (especially when prepared by our friend KG!) is pretty unbeatable.  On this particular night, the menu included roasted tofu, collard greens with a garlic-chile-pepper vinegar, a cauliflower-kale-carrot saute, and some deliciously Indian-spiced mung beans with red cabbage, all served with rice.

The food came together beautifully:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dave!

A belated birthday wish goes out to our dear friend Dave, who rang in another year in style earlier this week, with all the joy of friends, homemade pizza, and a flourless chocolate cake!

The prep: caramelizing onions and simmering tomato sauce, flying pizza dough, and a veritable smorgasbord of toppings! (a partial list: feta, mozzarella, Farmer John's Asiago, Stilton cheese, red pepper, mushroom, raw onion, caramelized onion, cilantro, guacamole, avocado, seitan, veggie sausage, roasted beets, capers, tomatoes, steam broccoli, sage, corn, olives, raw garlic, browned garlic, walnuts, tomato sauce, RPs alfredo sauce, homemade creamy green enchilada sauce, Willy St. Co-op pizza dough...)

And the beauties in their final form:

The Hoity-Toity: Roasted beets, walnuts, caramelized onions, Stilton, Alfredo sauce (modeled after Roman Candle's Algo Malo)

South of the Border: Creamy green enchilada sauce, red peppers,  cilantro, guacamole, corn, mozzarella

The Animal Lovers: Tomato sauce, mushrooms, olives, broccoli, red pepper, tomatoes, seitan crumbles, mozzarella, asiago

The Salty Catch-All: Tomato/Alfredo sauce, red onions, browned garlic, veggie sausage, broccoli, mushrooms, red peppers, feta, Asiago

And the rich, delicious, gluten-free Flourless Chocolate Cake (recipe courtesy of Ms. Martha Stewart):

And no time spent with Dave would be complete without a few good (bad?!) puns. Dave's better half, KA (also seen expertly tossing the pizza dough up there), came up with the great idea of all of the guests bringing pizza toppings, along with extended metaphors about how those toppings embody our feelings towards the birthday boy. So, I brought mushrooms because, you know, Dave sure is a fun-guy! (fungi! get it?!) I also brought capers, but wasn't sure enough of the definition* of "caper" to come up with an appropriate pun--anyone got one?

Happy Birthday, Dave! We sure do love you.

* tells me that caper as a verb means "to leap or skip about in a sprightly manner; prance; frisk; gambol"; as a noun it means: "1) a playful leap or skip, 2) a prank or trick; harebrained escapade, 3) a frivolous, carefree episode or activity, 4) Slang: a criminal or illegal act, as a burglary or robbery."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Photo Thanks

Two posts in one day!  An extra post full of beautiful photos from the kids' garden, just to thank you for voting for Community GroundWorks to win $10,000.

(all photos by Nathan Larson, Community GroundWorks Education Director)

Voting for gardens

For the past two years, I've been involved with an awesome local nonprofit, Community GroundWorks, that offers a rich array of experiences, spaces, and services to the Madison community--a kids garden, community gardens, an organic farm, and a restored prairie and woodlands.  It's also just a beautiful agricultural space within the city limits:

I'll definitely be writing more about all the ways that I've been involved with this organization--working as a Kids Garden Intern, helping spearhead a campaign to build an outdoor kids' kitchen, running their Twitter feed and Facebook page, serving on the Communications Committee, helping to organize an annual Youth Grow Local conference, and more.

But for now, let me ask you to do me a favor, on behalf of Community GroundWorks. The organization, and specifically their Youth Farm at a local high school (East High), is in the running to win $10,000 from a local bank. The money would go towards supporting an urban agriculture and culinary arts program that teaches youth about food security. Youth grow organic vegetables at the East High Youth Farm, cook healthful meals for seniors and children at the Goodman Community Center, and preserve produce for the food pantry at the Goodman Center.

Only thing is, it's one of those (slightly annoying) campaigns, where the organization with the most clicks gets the money. So, if you're inclined to do so, please click over and VOTE for Community GroundWorks. And then, if you're especially kind, you can vote once per day through April 3. (That's a long time, I know).

 Thanking you, in advance!