Wednesday, August 16, 2006

on the farm

On the urban farm, the sun crisping my neck and shoulders, crouched over, grabbing leaves of dinosaur kale, cursing the bugs who are enjoying the lack of pesticides, I look up at my surroundings:

Roxbury, inner city Boston, apparently a hard part of town, segregated, isolated, bleak? Not to me. Here lies the urban farm of the Food Project—the oldest, largest, most successful example of youth development through agriculture.

I’m surrounded by teenagers, both “urban” and “suburban,” harvesting cranberry beans and swiss chard and helping neighbors to remediate their soil to address its high lead content.

And tomorrow we’ll head to the suburbs and in the pouring rain we’ll plant lettuce and the 16 year old next to me will give me agricultural tips while she explains that she’s been held back in school. Her mom died last year and she missed too many days of school. We talk a little bit about that. We plant more lettuce. We get very wet.

I leave my 3 day institute in love with The Food Project, in love with their mission and their ideology, yes, but even more so with how damn good they are at execution. How easy to dream up something like this and how rare and amazing to realize it and keep it going strong and vibrant for 15 years.

slow

My very first blog entry, about a year and a half ago, was a call for change. Change has been slow for me, sometimes not deliberately so. But it makes it all the more fitting that my new job--finally--is at Slow Food.

Going to work each day feels oddly sinful. Sitting in a room with ten or so food-obsessed compatriots, thinking, talking, planning, writing, all of it in the service of a movement devoted to the preservation and enjoyment of food.

For more on this very cool new job of mine, check out the website www.slowfoodusa.org.

how to order well

At an excellent restaurant, one assumes, every dish on the menu soars. Yet experience has shown me that there is variation, a gap between the best items on a menu, and the worst.

On a glorious sunny Sunday—hot and bright—six of us met in Pocantico Hills, NY at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The interior, a refurbished dairy barn, is a study in coolness, a respite from the blaze outside. It is not a place to curl up and get familiar, but I appreciate the crisp elegance; it feels like a special occasion. Most of the food comes from just outside the windows, and the kitchen is run by experts. When the runners bring your food, they circle the table, six at a time, silently and synchronized, placing plates.

The winners: the culinary student among us notes that, if something as mundane as meatloaf is on this elegant menu, it must be something special. She is correct; it is outstanding. The panzanella with seared tuna freaks me out in description but in actuality is tremendous. The secret weapon: heirloom tomatoes, perfectly in season. A lesson duplicated by the unexpectedly sublime green bean salad—they, too, also at their natural peak. The pasta was apparently a disappointment. Lesson 3: it had nothing in its description that was perfectly in season and no meat to wow or lend favor.

It helped me start to think about how to navigate menus, and how to make the right choices. At Blue Hill at Stone Barns, however, it is hard to go too terribly far afield. Even the losers were winners (like corn soup with a crab cake), and the desserts--thanks ot our man Tony in the kitchen--can right any wrong.

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