Sustainable Food: At the Heart of Sacred Heart Schools

Chef Michael presents his homemade organic ice cream in unusual flavors.

Chef Michael presents his homemade organic ice cream in unusual flavors.

“I didn’t think I was going to like it, but it was like, really good.” “Maple bacon ice cream rocks!” “Chef Michael is amazing!”

High school students at Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, California, are eating a new kind of school lunch – one that’s creative, adventurous and local, thanks to the school’s executive chef Michael Schley.

“Try the hissop goat’s milk ice cream!” said Chef Michael at one of his noontime cooking demonstrations. Hissop was one of eight new tastes that the chef was offering. Most high school students would turn up their noses at hissop or goat’s milk. And together? But not on Schley’s watch.

A glimpse at Schley’s background would tell you that he’d be more at home in the kitchen of a five-star restaurant than a school. He’s worked with such luminaries as Thomas Keller at The French Laundry and Michael Mina at Aqua, and at the James Beard House in New York City. While Schley may seem overqualified for cooking school lunches, he’s a leader in the fight to change the way people eat. Schley works for Epicurean Group, a pioneering sustainable food service management company based in the Bay Area.

Mary Clark Bartlett, CEO of Epicurean Group and an industry thought leader says, “Our chefs put an emphasis on fresh and local and avoid the processed industrial food that is often the mainstay in school lunch programs. Studies have shown that students who eat healthy meals are more attentive in class – and they get better grades.” Epicurean Group serves more than 30 companies and schools in the Bay Area.

Schley, like many Epicurean Group chefs, has the benefit of an onsite garden where he can access fresh produce daily. The school also keeps animals – goats, chickens, ducks and rabbits – to complete the sustainable picture. Dr. Stewart Slafter, a teacher at the school who manages the garden and the farm animals, says that sustainability is integrated throughout the school. “Chef Michael checks in daily to see what we’ve got growing and he regularly uses herbs and vegetables from the garden, and dairy and protein from the farm animals when creating his menus.” Schley is enthusiastic about food education and says that students who try new foods at his demonstrations are more likely to eat them when they see the items on the cafeteria menu.

Epicurean Group helped to design Schley’s kitchen, located in the Homer Building, the first Platinum LEED–certified academic building in the nation.

SHS students taste – and enjoy – original ice cream flavors provided at the Epicurean Group food demonstration.

SHS students taste – and enjoy – original ice cream flavors provided at the Epicurean Group food demonstration.

“Epicurean Group understands our school’s commitment to sustainability and social responsibility, and the importance we place on healthy, local and organic food,” says Richard Dioli, Sacred Heart Schools director. “Chef Michael is encouraging learning through food demonstrations – it’s a fun way to engage and educate the students.”

Schley wants to expand the food education demonstration program. “I appreciate that the school and Epicurean Group have given me a great opportunity to do what I love – teaching students about how delicious healthy food can be.”

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Grazing in the Grass

On Creating a Sustainable Food System 

Grazing in the Grass speakers Dan Imhoff Michael Dimock

“Buy this book!” Michael Dimock exhorts, during his conversation with Dan Imhoff, the book’s editor.

“We can – and we must – do better.”

Guest speaker Michael Dimock, president, Roots of Change, ended a thought-provoking discussion about our current food system with a message of hope. Dimock and Dan Imhoff, editor, CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, were engaged in a conversation about industrial food fallacies and facts. After 45 minutes of compelling dialogue that covered everything from the 2012 farm bill to massive 50,000-head concentrated animal feeding operations, they took questions from the audience. More than 100 attended the Slow Food South Bay November 8 event at the SLAC Café in Menlo Park.

Dan Imhoff, Peg Champion and Michael Dimock

Dan Imhoff, Peg Champion and Michael Dimock celebrate sustainability.

At the reception following the talk, attendees sampled organic wines and dined on a menu that featured a taste-test of 100% pastured beef and grain-finished beef. Epicurean Group, a sustainable food service management company, sponsored the evening event. The company donated their services and the food, designing a menu that included the same local, artisan and organic foods that they use in their own restaurants and cafés, including the SLAC Café.

Mary Clark Bartlett, Epicurean Group founder, described the difficulties facing a sustainable business like hers, “It’s a struggle – from the limited availability to the higher costs. People have become used to the taste of the high fat content of industrial beef. We try to educate our diners about the health benefits of sustainable food,” said Bartlett.

Dimock and Imhoff discussed some hard truths and shared some simple actions that individuals can take to create a healthy and sustainable food system. “Our goal is to pull back the curtain on a system that stinks,” Dimock said. He pointed out the connection that exists between Big Ag and Big Oil in a corn feedlot system that relies on petrochemical fertilizer. “Many of our current environmental and health issues can be traced back to our industrial livestock production: climate-changing emissions, ocean and freshwater pollution, diet-related diseases such as obesity and food-borne illnesses,” said Imhoff.

A healthier food system starts with enlightened eaters, and both speakers gave suggestions for ways that an individual can help change our broken system – from holding Meatless Mondays to petitioning legislators for agribusiness farm bill subsidy reforms.

For more information or to buy the book, go to http://www.cafothebook.org/
Here’s a link to the CAFO website with a list of easy things you can do to make a change:
http://www.cafothebook.org/whatyoucando_2.htm#up

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Celebrate Sustainability on November 8!

I’ve been involved with (read: it’s taken over my life) organizing an important food education event/celebration in Menlo Park that I hope some of my NorCal followers can attend: Grazing in the Grass, Creating a Sustainable Food System through Pastured Livestock and Poultry.

So, maybe you’ve heard about the dangers of industrially processed food. If you live in California and drive I-5, you’ve certainly smelled the feedlots of Coalinga. And maybe you’ve wondered if there’s another way…

There is!

This Slow Food South Bay event features sustainable food thought leaders Michael Dimock, Dan Imhoff and Mary Clark Bartlett. It’s one part education and one part celebration – two of my personal favorites – that combine for a fantastic evening  on November 8.

Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change, and Dan Imhoff, editor of CAFO, the Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, will discuss industrial food fallacies, facts about the importance of biodiversity and promise to show you how to “vote with your fork” for healthy food. You’ll have an opportunity to ask questions and then, at the reception that follows, chefs from Mary Clark Bartlett’s sustainable food management company, Epicurean Group, will make “the case for taste.”

We’ll sample fine organic wines and graze on tasty appetizers of grass-fed meat and poultry, along with local organic vegetables and fruits and artisan cheeses,  prepared by Epicurean chefs. And we’ll do a taste test between grass-fed Paso Prime beef and grass-fed/grain-finished Niman Ranch beef.

It’s all happening Tuesday, November 8, from 6:00 – 8:30 p.m. at the SLAC Café, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, 2575 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025.

Get your tickets at  https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/207804.

For more information, including menu and wine information: http://www.slowfoodsouthbay.org/events.htm.

See you Tuesday!

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Summer, To Be Continued…

It was August. Where were the tomatoes?

June rains and mild temperatures throughout July and August had delayed the growing season. But, in September – finally! – the tomatoes had ripened and were appearing in CSA shipments and farmers’ markets in Northern California.

With only a few weeks to enjoy the long-awaited culinary treasures, I went into a buying frenzy. Now that I had them, what, exactly, was I planning to do with them all?

Heirloom tomatoes

Tomato treasures!

I have a small refrigerator freezer, and an advanced case of “fear of canning” – mainly because I don’t want to poison my loved ones.

The NESCO American Harvest Food Dehydrator to the rescue!

NESCO Dehydrator

For the past two weeks, my NESCO has been running day and night to prepare for the dreaded tomato-less winter months.

Tomato dehydration process

My assistant, Al Dente, encourages me to preserve tomatoes for sauces in the winter months.

For around $60, a food dehydrator is an easy solution to preserving fresh fruit and vegetables. Here’s how:

Slice tomatoes into 3/8″ inch rounds, and place onto the four trays provided.
Set the temperature to 135°, and let the NESCO work its magic.

Tomatoes for drying

I used Cherokee heirloom tomatoes.

About 12 hours later, you’ll have dried tomatoes for soups, stews, casseroles and other winter recipes.

Dried heirloom tomatoes

Dried tomatoes have an intense flavor, add only a small handful to your recipes.

According to the easy-to-read NESCO instruction booklet, you’ll need to check for dryness to ensure all moisture has evaporated: Simply tear a tomato, and look for moisture drops along the tear. If there are no droplets, the tomato is sufficiently dry for long-term storage in air-tight containers.

Package tomatoes for storage immediately, and store containers in a cool dark cabinet or your refrigerator. The ideal storage temperature is 60°  to below freezing.

Now you can enjoy summer tomatoes – all winter long!

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Mission Possible: Feed Your Family a Slow Meal at Fast-Food Prices

Slow Food USA has thrown down the gauntlet to members across the country: Prepare a healthy, nutritious dinner for the same price as a fast-food meal.

Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA wants us all to take the $5 Challenge on Saturday, Sept. 17, its national day of action. My local South Bay chapter wants to help its members by providing the menus and recipes to do it.

I decided to put my shopping and cooking skills to the test. Could I prepare a home-cooked meal from scratch, using local ingredients in season, for just $5 per person?

In a word: Yes!

I designed a simple menu to feed a family of six: a seasonal summer casserole complemented by a fresh garden salad and refreshing lemonade.

So tune out those TV ads promoting bargain prices on oversized portions of questionable burgers and fries, pizza and fried chicken. Do yourself, your family and your wallet  favor by taking the $5 Challenge yourself!

MENU

Italian Summer Squash & Eggplant Casserole
Leafy Green Salad, Heirloom Tomatoes & Olive Oil/Basil Dressing
Homemade Iced Lemonade

Recipes by Peg Champion, board member, Slow Food South Bay. For all recipes, use organic ingredients whenever you can find them.

ITALIAN SUMMER SQUASH & EGGPLANT CASSEROLE

Prep time: 15 minutes (2 people), Cook time: approximately 2 hours
Ingredients
2 – 3 Sweet onions, thinly sliced
1 Garlic clove, finely chopped
2 – 3 Peppers (red, yellow or orange) cored, seeded and cut into quarters
3/4 Bunch of basil, finely chopped
2½ lb Eggplant, sliced into 1/3” pieces*
1½ lb Zucchini, sliced into 1/3” pieces lengthwise
28 oz Can diced tomatoes (or use 4-5 fresh ripe tomatoes)
1 lb Mozzarella, grated or sliced into rounds
4 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
4 oz Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Preparation
Preheat oven to 450°.

Sauté onions in 2 oz. olive oil over medium low heat until softened (do not brown), about 15 minutes.

Add garlic and cook until liquid from onions has evaporated. Add tomatoes in their juice, chopped basil and salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until it becomes a thick sauce. Remove from heat.

Brush two baking sheets with oil. Arrange cut eggplant in one layer on baking sheets. Brush with oil and place pans on racks at top and bottom third of oven.

Cooking
Cook until golden brown, about 25 minutes, turning pans during baking process to ensure even cooking.

Remove from heat, cool on paper towels and pat dry.

Arrange cut zucchini and peppers in one layer on baking sheets. Repeat cooking process.

Reduce heat to 400° and place a rack in middle of oven. Brush a 14 x 10 baking dish with oil and arrange an even layer of overlapping eggplant pieces. Spread with half of the tomato mixture, then top with half of the two cheeses.

Arrange a second, alternating layer of overlapping zucchini and peppers. Spread with remaining half of the tomato mixture, then top with remaining half of the cheeses.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Loosely cover with foil, and bake in oven about 25 minutes.

Remove foil, and bake for 10 more minutes to brown cheese topping.

Let casserole rest for 10 minutes before serving.

*For Japanese eggplant, slice lengthwise, for Italian, slice into rounds.

LEAFY GREENS & TOMATO SALAD

Ingredients
1 Head of fresh green lettuce
2 Ripe heirloom tomatoes
2 oz Extra virgin olive oil
½ Lemon, juiced
¼ Bunch of basil
Salt and pepper

Separate and tear lettuce leaves and wash in sink with water to cover. Dry lettuce and place in salad bowl. Wash and cut heirlooms into one-inch chunks and add to salad bowl. Make a chiffonade of basil. In a small mixing bowl, add basil, 2 oz olive oil and juice from ½ lemon, mix with salt and pepper to taste. Dress salad just before eating.

HOMEMADE ICED LEMONADE

Ingredients
2 ½ Lemons, juiced
2 Tbsp. sugar (or to taste)
Water
Cracked ice

Thoroughly mix lemon and sugar with one cup of water in the bottom of a pitcher. Add one tray of finely cracked ice. Fill pitcher with water and stir.

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Welcome to my new, improved blog!

Welcome to my new blog! No longer up in the cloud with iWeb on Mobile me, I’ve moved to WordPress to increase facility and interactivity with my readers.

I feel very lucky to live here in Northern California’s “Valley of Heart’s Delight,” where it’s so easy to be a locavore and food enthusiast. You’re probably more familiar with its current nickname, Silicon Valley. But, as recently as the 1960s, this was one of the largest agricultural areas in the country, comprising hundreds of fruit and nut orchards.

The blog will focus on these agricultural roots and provide information (and opinion, of course!) about sustainability and sustainable food. I’m delighted by your shared interest. Thanks for joining me.

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Terra Madre Video

Terra Madre Video

Terra Madre 2010

Here’s a short movie I created highlighting still images taken at Terra Madre, Slow Food’s global conference held in Torino, Italy in October, 2010.

The movie premiered at the Collective Roots Martin Luther King Day of Service and was shown again at the Slow Food South Bay Annual Meeting.

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