Reading, Writing & Food!

Those of you who know me personally know that my second passion, apart from literacy, is food. My time away from writing on this blog coincides with several months of making connections in the food community, and much of that through social media. What a journey! Here are some highlights:

This week ...
Over the weekend I ran into Orren Fox through Twitter. Rob Smart of Vermont wondered aloud if this 12 year old who raises chickens and honeybees north of Boston might be the next Michael Pollan. Visit Orren's blog or follow him @happychickens or @happyhoneybees to decide for yourself. Find Rob @jambutter.

I love Orren's definition of ProFood: "To be ProFood means you are FOR food. That sounds funny, but what I mean is that you think about food, you care about food and you will make an effort for good food." Read more here at a guest blog posting.

Orren's commitment to 21st century issues + 21st century literacy tools = a great example for all of us!

This month I renewed my membership with Slow Food, and soon after got to hear U.S. Executive Director, Erika Lesser, speak to its mission of good, clean, and fair food. Slow Food has evolved since a group of us founded Prairieland Slow Food in East Central Illinois in 2001, and now includes a stronger focus on food justice:

... that the food we eat should taste good; that it should be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare or our health; and that food producers should receive fair compensation for their work.

No doubt I'll find ways to connect with the Seattle Slow Food convivia down the line. @SlowFoodSeattle

On 9/2 I sped home from work to grab an apron and a pie plate, then hurried across town for a date with Kate McDermott of The Art of the Pie. Her pie class was a treat to myself and an early birthday present for daughters-in-law Lisa and Annie.

There is so much to share about this incredible experience. First, Kate's passion for pie is contagious. After five years perfecting a recipe for the quintessential American apple pie, she and right hand partner, Jon Rowley, have single-handedly revived the art of pie making in our community. Class graduates now scour the farmers markets for heritage apples and compete for limited supplies of rendered leaf lard and Irish butter, a testimony to her inspiration!

Second, Kate teaches students to trust their senses: Use your hands to work the cold butter and lard into cold flour, aiming for a pieces that vary from sand to small nuts. Rub kosher salt in your palms before adding it to the flour. Slowly add the ice water, tablespoon by tablespoon, until a squeeze of the dough brings it together.

Even the baking time demands attention. Ear to the crust, listen for the sizzle of the fats in the crust and the deep bubbling of the fruit juices. If you don't hear that distinctive bubbling, the pie goes back in the oven!

Lisa arrived as an experienced pie baker, and left with new skills. Annie is still amazed at the ease of making her first pie. And I finally made a real crust and promise never again to buy a frozen one! Here we are with our pies! Would you believe that each of these 10" pies weighed between 8 1/4 and 9 lbs (including the pie plate)!

Three weeks later, Lisa and I put our baking skills on the line and entered the Queen Anne Farmer's Market pie contest. Blue ribbon fantasies evaporated when I set my humble "backyard plum pie" down alongside some real beauties. My pie is decorated with the leafy branch, and included a grape-sized plum variety combined with Italian prune plums harvested down the street. Lisa's plum/pluot pie was a beauty, but in the end, neither of them stood up to the winners (shown at the link above). Thanks to QAFM event organizer, Jenise @licorous!

Last, Kate's skill as a teacher helps me think more deeply about my work as a literacy coach. She demonstrated the crust making, and coached us individually as needed, but the work was our own from beginning to end. Three of us began with distinctly different baking experiences and each left with a prized pie and the inspiration to keep baking.

Kate's recipe here! Follow Kate @katemcdermott and Jon @oysterwine.

In that way that only Twitter can connect you with like-minded souls around the country and the world, in late summer I met Michelle Stern who describes herself as an "animal loving eco-mom." She owns a green company in the San Francisco area that teaches kids to cook healthy, seasonal foods for their families and for community members in need. I wrote directly to Michelle when she wondered about the viability of non-profit status, one avenue to qualify her company for grant monies, thus enabling her to invite more kids into her classes. I'm hoping to meet her in person when she presents her work next spring at the IACP conference in Portland. See more here. Follow Michelle @whatscooking.

The event highlight of the month was the Northwest Sustainability Discovery Tour. I joined 80 other people interested in food sustainability practices at what turned out to be an amazing 3-day event in nearby Portland, sponsored by Truitt Brothers, a family-owned food processing and canning company. Here you can access our full itinerary, as well as photos and key points made by the speakers.

Fabulous new acquaintances include Joan Ottinger, director of the state of Oregon's farm-to-school program, social media mentor Paul Barron @paulbarron, and Angela Shen, of Savor Seattle Food Tours. Angela and I talked on the drive back to Seattle about how she can make her business practices more sustainable. How do you responsibly provide battery-powered headsets for 7,000+ tour-goers a year. Or water?

Milwaukee-based Will Allen, dubbed the Urban Farmer, graced the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine the same week I was leaving Wisconsin. My trip to his Growing Power Farm (tours daily, Mon-Sat. at 1:00 pm) will have to wait for the next visit. In the meantime, I
found a video mini-tour here.

Allen's goals are simple:
to grow food, to grow minds, and to grow community. His extensive operation (vegetables, worms, fish, and honeybees), and training opportunities (from bio-phyto remediation and soil health, to aquaculture closed-loop systems, to youth and participatory leadership development) in multiple cities shows the power of the community Allen has grown over 15 years. His work is an inspiration in my exploration of working with kids and food!

I returned to Seattle just in time to go on the self-guided City Chicken Coop Tour (Patrick spelled out his response: N-O), to attend chef Tamara Murphy's ever-popular Burning Beast 2009 (see pix), to host a spontaneous artisan beef tasting led by "beef geek" Carrie Oliver @OliverRanch, and finally to join 350 other food-minded participants at Foodportunity, a networking event arranged by Seattle relative newcomer, Keren Brown. Foodportunity #2 will be held on 11/2.

And the rest is history ...
It is amazing to me that I knew few of these people 4 short months ago (and this list isn't even exhaustive)! Many of the connections can be traced back to one fateful afternoon in March '09 when I ran into Traca Savadogo, aka Seattle Tall Poppy, while visiting a friend in the hospital. Traca's love of connecting people with like passions has led friends to call her 2-degrees-of-separation Traca. Traca + Twitter. The rest, as they say, is history. And these are just food connections!

You might also be interested in the work of @FarmerRoger, from South 47 Farm in the Sammamish Valley, and Readers to Eaters, food literacy from the ground up, the latest venture of Philip Lee, founding partner and editor-in-chief of Lee & Low Books, and his wife, food industry consultant, June Jo Lee, who recently moved to the Puget Sound area.

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