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Eat real, eat local

We headed across the bay to Oakland to eat some ‘real food’ at the Real Food Festival the other week. It got us thinking—what is real food? In San Francisco the mantra of ‘eat organic’ is a good one, but since you never really know how organic your organic actually is in California, it’s not as good as ‘eat local’.

We headed across the bay to Oakland to eat some ‘real food’ at the Real Food Festival the other week. It got us thinking—what is real food?

Summer veggie box contents

Summer veggie box contents

In San Francisco the mantra of ‘eat organic’ is a good one, but not as good as ‘eat local’. The reason for this (as explained in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma) is that once the large US food manufacturers realised there was a market for organic, they started producing a few organic plots alongside their ordinary crops, and to save on costs and inefficiencies they lobbied the USDA hard to lower the organic certification standards. So, in California, you don’t really know how organic your organic actually is. The standard really is the bare minimum.

Gazpacho - before

Gazpacho—before

That’s why buying local from a farm you know and trust is such a good option. We get a veggie box delivered, like many we know, and it relieves us of many a tricky in-store decision. Phew.

Gazpacho - after

Gazpacho—after

The fruit and veggies we get in the box are of course seasonal, and the owner of the Sacramento valley-based Terra Firma Farm, Pablo, shares his thoughts about the USDA, large producers and what is special about knowing where your food comes from in his weekly commentary, included in every box. 

Before receiving a veggie box it was difficult to know what was in season. Now it makes perfect sense. And recipes suddenly make perfect sense too. Until a few weeks ago, when we tried a gazpacho recipe, it had never dawned on me that the essence of gazpacho is to use up all things that are flourishing at the same time! Yes, we had too many tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, garlic and red onions in our box … Just add red wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and that is gazpacho!

Pablo’s commentary also offers some recipes, which is helpful as it’s fairly common we’ll be faced with a lot of something we’ve never cooked before. This summer’s excitement has included preparing edamame and making peach sorbet. In the spring we were challenged by cabbage and too much asparagus.

Supplementing all this has been our efforts at our own small veggie patch, in our small, shared yard. While the basil has taken off, the tomatoes have suffered a ‘thick skin’ fate caused by not enough direct sun—the outcome of too much SF fog and tall buildings.

Fortunately, our friends up north have helped make up for this by passing on some of their own zucchini glut. Homegrown, but not ours … it’s almost the same, right? The best part of the zucchini hand-me-downs is that they came with a recipe. Surely passing a recipe on with overstocked produce should be standard practice?

And what a great recipe! So, for the first time carrot loaf has been overthrown by zucchini loaf as the king of savoury-based cakes. It is so simple and so delicious (see recipe at the end). Another friend passed on some of their fig glut, which resulted in another first: the first-ever preserve to come out of our kitchen. Fig jam. Wow, mum was proud.

The Eat Real Festival played on all things foodie that the Bay Area folks around here love: there were the cooking shows and traveling chefs (there is a current fad in which chefs take over a space for one night and make a feast, and then another chef comes into that space some other night). There was a preserve-swapping event, there was street food, there was farmer’s market fair, food petitions to sign, and live music. Beer served from taps mounted on a shipping container

Beer served from taps mounted on a shipping container

The Friday night when we went was an interesting mix: it was beer and ice cream night.

The beer was a phenomenal selection by local breweries, with a chance to meet the brewers. The beer taps were mounted in rows on a shipping container, and made for quite an amazing display. We paid for a package of eight tastes, which we sipped out of preserve jars (another craze).

The ice cream, like the beer—some organic, but all local—featured an incredible selection of artisan producers. Ice cream places here are called creameries, much like (as noted before) bike shops are called cycleries. Neat, huh? So, working our way through the creameries we felt increasingly ill, but couldn’t help but try a little more pistachio, or rose, or beet lemon (yes, beetroot!).

Scream Sorbet tent

Scream Sorbet tent

Bi-rite Creamery, started by a local grocer that has since made a name for itself as the best neighbourhood grocer in all of SF, received the originality prize by selling homemade strawberry popsicles, featuring—you guessed it—real strawberries.

Ritual Roasters iced coffee bike

Ritual Roasters iced coffee bike

The tent that got most of our attention, however, was Scream Sorbet. They got the prize for truly delicious and most friendly. What a wonderful combination. Scream is run by a couple of super-friendly ice creamprenuers, who work an interesting rotation: they sell sorbet at the same farmers markets that they buy their ingredients from. [It reminded me of buying from the Kohu Road guys in Auckland—Kate.]

To make the summer’s night complete, we enjoyed an iced coffee from the Ritual Coffee Roaster bicycle, a great innovation on how to pedal coffee!

It seems that not only is local ‘real’, it’s tastyand makes for a good story too!

Zucchini Bread Recipe

(from friend Nancy Torrey)

Zucchini bread - before

Zucchini bread—before

Zucchini bread - after

Zucchini bread—after

  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups grated, zucchini with peel still on
  • 1 cups canola oil
  • 1 Tbl vanilla
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 Tbl cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1½ cups chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 165°C. Sift together flour and dry ingredients, and set aside.

Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl until foamy. Add oil, sugar, zucchini, and vanilla. Add flour mixture to batter and mix well. Stir in walnuts.

Pour into two greased loaf pans. Bake for about 60 minutes or until a knife blade comes out clean.

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