Monday, October 27, 2008

Super star Pollan attracts massive Maine crowd

Around 6:45 pm this evening, Adam and I arrived for Michael Pollan's much-anticipated talk at the Bates College Chapel. More than half the chapel was already full, making us extremely grateful we got there when we did for the 7:30 lecture.

We grabbed seats and then watched as a steady stream of students, professors, farmers, foodies, activists, bibliophiles and ethical eaters poured into the space. As the pews filled, people were invited to sit on the stage and those with a seat were urged to squish closer together.

Soon the wide center aisle was jammed with a combination of standing and sitting spectators. By 7 pm there was no where to squeeze another person.

That's when Thomas Wenzel, chair of the school's environmental studies program, approached the microphone.

"We've never had to do this at an Otis lecture," Professor Wenzel told the crowd, before informing the hundreds of people in the aisle that they would need to leave. The building was wildly beyond its capacity, he said, and the talk couldn't begin until the aisles were clear. To compensate, the college would replay a videotape of the speech at numerous times and places. Clearly a poor substitute for the real deal.

As the crowd got up to exit the building, Professor Wenzel returned to make another announcement. Michael Pollan had graciously offered to give a reprise of his lecture tomorrow morning at 9 am. Those who show up then won't be disappointed.

His speech was just as full of big picture insights and intriguing details as his books. Pollan (who you can barely see on the distant stage in this photo) reiterated many themes from "In Defense of Food," including how our focus on nutrients rather than foods has led to the current epidemics of type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. He mentioned the FDA's repeal in 1973 of the food Imitation Rule (which allowed fake foods to be marketed and sold to the public) and the 1977 firestorm created when the nation's first dietary guidelines advised: "eat less red meat." Under pressure from industrial agriculture and the cattlemen's lobby, it was reworded to read: "choose meats that will reduce your saturated fat intake."

He concluded by pointing out that there is no ideal human diet when it comes to good health. But there is one way not to eat: the Western processed food diet.

Asked whether or not either Presidential candidate had read his "Farmer in Chief" open letter in the New York Times, Pollan pointed us to this interview with Senator Barack Obama done by Time columnist Joe Klein, where Obama references the letter in response to a question about energy policy. And who knows? Maybe those of us jammed into the chapel tonight were listening to this country's future Secretary of Agriculture. I can't think of a more perfect candidate for the job.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hot soup for cold days

When it gets cold in Maine, a warm soup is the ideal way to shake the chill from your bones and chase the damp out of the air. These lovely farmers' market carrots, parsnips and leeks make excellent additions to any vegetable soup.

I used them in a lentil rice soup for a party at my sister's house. These portions demand a crowd, so be sure to dial back the measurements if you have fewer mouths to feed. If you want an easy garnish, just reserve a handful of the parsley, celery tops and leek tops, chop coarsely and sprinkle in each bowl.

Market Root Soup

1 onion, diced
1 bunch celery, diced
5 carrots, diced

18 cups water
4 cups lentils
2 cups rice

1 head garlic, chopped
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
4-6 tomatoes, diced
2 potatoes, diced
3 leeks, sliced in coins
2 jalapenos, sliced
1 parsnip, diced

1 cup vegetable stock
6 oz. tomato paste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Add a quarter cup of oil to a large stock pan over medium high heat and add onions. Saute for 8-10 minutes, until the onions begin to caramelize. Then add diced celery and saute for 3-5 minutes, then add carrots and cook another 3-5 minutes.

Add water, followed by lentils and rice. Then add garlic, parsley, tomatoes, potatoes, leeks, jalapeno and parsnips. Add vegetable stock, tomato paste and rest of olive oil. Cook at least one hour before serving. Season with salt and pepper.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Inspired by cabbage

When I spotted a gorgeous head of Nappa cabbage at the farmers' market, the thought of stir fry quickly filled my mind. Suddenly I could taste the cabbage's earthiness balanced by a sweet and tangy sauce. I grabbed a few market staples, paired them with my pantry staples of canned black beans and brown rice and I had dinner on the table in less than a hour.

Cabbage & carrot stir fry

2 cups brown rice
4 cups water

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 carrots, julienned
1 onion, sliced lengthwise
1 pepper, sliced lenghtwise
1/2 head Nappa cabbage, sliced thin
1 cup black beans, canned
4 cloves garlic, slice

1 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Maine maple syrup
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. black beans, mashed
1 Tbsp. sesame seeds

Combine water and rice on stove. Bring to boil, then cover and reduce heat to low, cook 30-45 minutes until all water is absorbed. Mix sauce ingredients together and set aside. Heat wok or stir fry pan and add olive oil and garlic. Saute 1 minute then add sliced onions. Saute until they begin to soften, then add carrots, peppers and sauce. Stir for 5 minutes. Finally add black beans and cabbage. Cook until cabbage wilts. Spoon stir fry over cooked rice. Serves four.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bye-Bye Berries

Here they are: The last of this season's farm fresh berries. I picked up the blueberries at Wednesday's farmers' market, and I'm trying to make them last as long as possible (which won't be long). When I was at the market yesterday, I learned that the blueberries are officially done for the season and that the raspberries I was buying marked the end of the line.

It will now be a good 8 months before I can buy fresh, Maine-grown berries. But I'm thankful that the frozen Moon Hill Farm berries are back in the freezer case at my local grocery store. They'll give my taste buds the needed sweetness and tang to make it through the coming winter.