Curious Appetite


The Monsanto Protection act digest

What the hell, America. I leave for 5 minutes and you (they) pass an act that could quite possibly destroy American agriculture as we know it. All of the strides the local organic food movement now trampled on. All of the earnest efforts of  unbiased scientists sounding alarms to ecological and human health can now be officially plunged down the toilet. And the big wigs at Monsanto are smug about having put one(a big one) past the system and a whole gigantic country of people who will now be their lifelong customers- whether they like it or not.

I can write a digest of all the proven risks of GMO’s, all the fears, how Europeans refuse to accept GMOs, all the realities, how MNC’s manipulate the poor for their gain, all the governmental back scratching, fear mongering and all the scandal. But you can inform yourself. You can search for that in your engine, or as the cool kids say “google it.”

America, why do you let big business take over common sense?  It is time to wake up. It is time to defend our food. It is time to start respecting our home. It’s time to start making some decisions that will improve the future of food. It is not my place to tell you how. There is loads of information out there, figure it out. I am concerned that our children will grow up in a world where clean water is scarce, air is filthy and food is concocted in a laboratory. I know as a human race we have to keep innovating,  like a plane in ascent that can’t exactly stop its climb. But I think we can be innovative with how we turn the tide and save our planet before we destroy everything that has been gifted to us so mysteriously.

Wake up, people. Walk away from your packaged convenience food, your favorite name brand junk food and flip off the telly of your reality show. This is reality. The US just signed a bill that is allowing GMOs to take over the food supply, and will never be taken off the shelf even if science proves (again) that it’s exposure will harm human health.

Get up, stand up and do something! Before it’s too late.

Curious Appetite.

The Slow Food Movement- digestion after attending Terramadre

Calabria representing at Salon Del Gusto

One of the things that was on my “Pros” list when I decided to move to Italy was the fact that Italy is home to the Slow Food Movement, an organization that supposedly embodies an ideology I wholeheartedly subscribe to. Which is the notion to avoid a fast food life and the temptations of commercial food while demanding a food supply that is clean, good and fair.

Every year there is a “conference” in Turin (within Piedmont): the very  region where this movement was born. The conference, Terramadre, is advertised as “a gathering of Slow Food certified producers, tasting workshops of safeguarded regional Italian and international foods, round-table discussions of delegates from NGO’s from all over the world to plea to us their slow food manifesto and inspire the public with news, injustices, triumphs and happenings in the food world.”

I was tickled pink for weeks leading up to this conference. I was finally in Italy during the time of this conference I’d dreamed of attending for the last few years. I attended Slow Food events in Seattle and basically begged them to let me volunteer for them in the hopes of one day giving a real hand to the cause.

And now, living in Florence I received approval to write an article about the event. I was so proud and full of excitement and hope. Only to have all my ideals of the movement shredded to smithereens upon my arrival at the entrance.

The event online stated that there were 2 events both in association w/ Slow Food. Terramadre, which was the one with workshops, food for thought discussions and Ted-like talks. And then Salon del Gusto which was this big food and wine tasting convention. It’s 20 euros to get in. Unless you’re a member, then it’s 10. In addition to this entry fee, most stalls charged for a tasting, and there were hundreds of stalls.
What upset me the most was not the price gauging, but the exclusivity of the event and the organization. It was a mad house with hundreds of people herding around like sheep trying to get a free sample- and few people actually available to educate or talk about their “slow food” products.  The stalls were in 3 categories. Orange stalls were Slow Food Presidia who are apart of projects to safeguard foods that are historical and typical to the region, thus continuing its slow food tradition and culture. I.e. ancient apple varieties of Piedmont, pistachios of Bronte, etc. There were MAYBE 20 of these.

Then the rest, which were the bulk of the stands, were seemingly commercial food producers who may or may not support the notions of Slow Food, who probably paid for their stall in order to get consumer exposure, make some sales and raise brand awareness. Another kicker was the massive corporate sponsorship like Samsung, Fiat, Canon and others.

I was sick to my stomach. This is supposed to represent SLOW FOOD.  Sustainable, small models for food production, yet there were tons of commercial multinational corporations present and ones that had nothing to do with food. Samsung- really? What appeared to me was that really the 20 euro entry fee, did not go to the programs like Slow Food Presidia, but more than likely went to all the commercial production of the event. Should we expect that Carlo Petrini (the founder) is turning sour from this commercial mockery of the organization’s founding values and ultimate expression of “selling out”?

Basically, Salone del Gusto in Turin is a glorified food expo.  Isn’t this convention supposed to educate the public about slow food? Wasn’t it supposed to be about slowing down from globalization? How can you continue to position yourself as a grassroots organization and a non-profit?

And the talks on biodiversity and land grabs? Among the zoo of people in this expo arena, there was only  a few rooms shoved in a corner giving these talks with a maximum capacity of 100 people- when the attendance of the event was 100,000. How on earth could you educate any of those people in those tiny rooms? And to make matters worse, I was sometimes one of the few spectators beyond press that attended the talks. I felt like no one cared- not the public and not even the organization itself.

Beware people. People who have true hearts for the matters that plague our food cultures. Some organizations are just in it to make a dollar and make an industry off of “care marketing.” I know the disappointment and shaming should be directed to the companies responsible for this food mess like Monsanto and McDonald’s and the policy makers that allow their profits and monopolies to be possible, but we have to keep the institutions in check that are claiming to defend us- and demand that they stick to their stance. That they remain noble and not succumb to the temptations of money and manipulated success.

Slow Food International, this is my open letter to you. I know you need money to survive, but I think there is a better way. I think you can not rely on commercialism and still have a big impact. I still believe you have fantastic programs and initiatives and think you could be more successful with them, I am afraid that by having certain corporate sponsorship some projects or ideals could pose a “conflict of interest.” towards your goals of creating a food system that is fair, clean and good. For everyone.

I hope you appreciate the points I have made and continue to strive for integrity and consistency not for public approval, not to retain your supporter base- but for the sake of this planet and the causes you attempt to stand for.

Thank you to every one of you who took the time to read this.

Forever dedicated to the food fight and the future of our planet,

Curious Appetite.

Dine Around Seattle: Ray’s Boathouse

March is an annoying month in Seattle. You think you’ve braved the bulk of winter but really it’s only just begun. February teases you with May weather, then March slaps you around with icy winds and grey. Coincidentally March is Washington Wine Month AND Dine Around Seattle Month. So I guess I will pass the time with wine (for March’s sake) and fancy 3 course meals for $30 at shmancy restaurants, like Ray’s Boathouse.

This massive hunk of love was a Tiramisu’ cheesecake. And it was one of the generous desserts apart of the 3 course $30 dine around deal.

I have heard lovely things about Ray’s Boathouse and have been trying to get in there for sometime. They are best known for, you guessed it, Pacific Northwest Inspired Seafood-centric cuisine. But if you look at the menu’ for Dine Around, it was strangely meat heavy. There was a seared tuna starter, which was delicately seared and extremely fresh and carefully paired with flavors of coconut, cilantro and ginger. There was also the saffron mussel bisque w/ pork belly but the pork was definitely the centerpiece to the cream saffron broth. On the mains list there was a Seafood Risotto but I couldn’t bring myself to trust a risotto in most restaurants, especially one that doesn’t even have a claim to Italian fame. Risotto tends to dry out almost immediately and its one of those dishes that takes a lot of attention and needs to be demolished immediately once ready. It can get gummy or mushy if it isn’t served within 15 minutes. So the one seafood main was the one I refused to try. So instead the Muscovy Duck Leg Confit and the Braised Lamb shank was on the to do list. Along with a bottle of a Salice Salentino Negroamaro (black bitter) which is a bold deep red from the Puglia region of Italy. Not too bold in tannin but structured enough to buddy up with duck and lamb.

And my my, these were not sad portions. I wish my camera hadn’t been misbehaving so I could show you their glory. These meats were cooked to perfection, layered a top vegetables like seasonal beets, arugula and swiss chard with grace. Brushed with thoughtful notes like honey lavender demi-glace (for the lamb) and roasted chanterelle jus (for the duck confit) that invoked a sense of true craftmanship.

However, there is usually a however with me, there was no soul. The ambiance seemed a little stiff and I felt as if I was sitting in a Denny’s booth albeit with a cute view of the bay. The chef’s at Ray’s have technique down pat. But there is too much a corporate feel and a lack of character to this restaurant that I feel less inclined to return. The decor was kind of like the kind I’d find at a rental cabin owned by a retired couple in Michigan. But perhaps this is the establishment that it would like to be. The kind that people in preppy suits come to dine and woo their in-town guests or for upscale family reunions. I’ve also heard the cafe’ area is a lot more relaxed and cozy. And for the summertime, which lasts about 6 weeks for us Seattlelittes, it would be a stellar place to enjoy some fresh salmon, a strawberry shortcake and a mint mojito.

If you are looking for true technique, proper portions and a place to bring someone on a suit and tie kind of occasion, Ray’s Boathouse is a win. Also a choice place for Dine Around Seattle Month, for sure.

Chocolate BEET Nutella-Inspired Ganache CAKE.

Eat your vegetables—-for dessert! Yes, for real. Carrot cake, zucchini bread, now chocolate beet cake! Beets are one of my favorite root vegetables and here in the Puget Sound we are lucky to have them almost year round. Although in the fall & winter-like months, their bulbs tend to be bulkier which makes them easier to prepare into casseroles, roasts and soups. The beet has a looooong history, some believe it’s cultivation dates back to the 2nd millennium B.C.! Nowadays they are commercially produced for table sugar and there is even a hot controversy involving the little beet and the unstoppable GMO. Since about 1/2 of all our sugar in America comes from beets, (un)naturally the powers involved with mutating American Farmland have figured out how to capitalize on this rich sugar bulb now with a Roundup Ready GE Sugar Beet. Although the USDA has approved of this uncertain science experiment, you don’t have to. You can make this delicious moist buttery nutty chocolate cake with local organic beets found at Puget Sound Farmer’s Markets (or any local natural grocer/co-op) grown with love by Rents Due Ranch or Ralph’s Greenhouse and save yourself the mystery genes. This cake can be made even more local with Stone Buhr’s Washington White Flour (locally produced and small batch milled by Shepard’s Grain), farmstead eggs and fresh butter from the farmer’s market (or local co-op or natural grocer).

The Nutella-inspired ganache is easier than cake. Not only are beets in season and local, but so are hazelnuts! I just roasted these in the oven with a little bit of sugar until the skins popped off then beet them to a pulp in a coffee grinder then added to the chocolate ganache pot. So simple yet luscious! See for yourself!

Here is what you will need:

Dry ingredients in one bowl:

1 cup of flour (I used Shepherd’s Grain WA flour, its local and affordable!)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 tbsp cocoa or cacao

Wet ingredients:

5 eggs, separated

variation: 2 whole eggs and 3 egg whites (or 3/4 cup liquid egg whites)

1 cup of sugar

Chocolate cake base:

1 cup of beet puree’ (made with 2 medium bulk beets or 1 large bulk beet)

8 tbsp butter, or one short stick

1/4 cup espresso, instant (for ease) or 1/4 hot water

1 cup 62% semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used the Sunspire Fairtrade chips from PCC Natural Markets, less than $5 a bag!)

Chocolate-“Nutella” Ganache

1/2 cup skinned ground hazelnuts, dry roasted in the oven with a sprinkle of sugar

1/2 cup 62% semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 heavy whipping cream

1 tbsp sweet Marsala or whatever sweet wine you have around

This cake has a lot of little tasks so here is how I suggest you break it down: Beets—>Ganache—> Hazelnut roasting—-> Cake batter prep—->Oven @ 325* for 40 minutes = voila’!

Beets: scrub your beet(s) and start boiling them skin on. It will take about 1/2 hour for the beets to full boil to softness and make the skin just slip off under cool water. When beets are boiled and skinned, cut into chunks and puree them in a food processor or blender.

Roasted hazelnuts, for ganache and cake topping:

Put the hazelnuts in a thin oven-safe pan and sprinkle some sugar on. Set temperature to 350* in a toaster oven or oven making sure to give them a shake and roll around every few minutes. Roast time total should be about 15 minutes. They will be ready when you see skins starting to pop off and brown. Let these cool wrapped in the middle of a clean towel.  In the towel, try to rub off all the skins. Reserve half  for the actual cake topping. The other half once skinned and cooled, pulverized in a coffee grinder. Pour into ganache when ready. Turn over down to 325* for cake baking temperature.

How to make the ganache:  add chocolate chips and heavy cream to a small saucepan on medium-low heat. Add in the Marsala or sweet wine. Whisk till this gets a bit thick then take off the heat and allow to cool. You may now mix in the pulverized hazelnut “meal”.

After ganache is made and beets are still boiling…

Chocolate cake base (the wet ingredients): melt 1/2 cup of chocolate in a small saucepan on very low heat and make sure to stir and scrap. Add espresso or hot water once chocolate is mostly melted. Cut butter into chunks and let it melt in careful not to stir too much. Fold in egg yolks and mix until uniform. And lastly, fold in beet puree’.

Now with an electric mixer, whip egg whites until stiff and frothy. Add in the sugar slowly and stir in with a spatula. Now you can fold in the egg white mixture with the chocolate mixture and have your self a chocolate base.

Dry Cake mix: In a dry bowl, sift flour with baking powder and cocoa powder.

Take the dry mix and now add it to the wet chocolate beet and electric mix until a batter forms. Don’t be alarmed, this batter will seem pretty runny but it will bake very dense and moist, you’ll see…:)

Take 2 9in cake pans and butter it up or as I did, coat pans with a coconut oil spray. Fill each pan about 3/4 full or even a little more, just be careful not to fill it to the rim. Bake for 40 minutes at 325* (no peeking and no over baking!)

After 40 minutes, take out and allow to cool. Once cool, remove from cake pan and spread ganache on top. Take the reserve hazelnuts, cut them in half and top away!

This cake will be a hit for the holiday festivities this year. Its deep, its rich and best of all it utilizes what’s in season and local. The thick chocolaty flavor exploding hazelnut puts the panache in this ganache!  If you really want to splurge, I recommend pairing this cake with a dessert wine like Banyuls or a Tawny Port. Cheers!

Golden Beetle: Maria Hine's tipsy spinoff

You know that feeling when you and millions of other people discover a movie so good it becomes a cult classic? It’s so good that you almost want a sequel so the genius of the 1st one just keeps entertaining you? Without further adieu, that much anticipated sequel arrives…

Golden Beetle is Maria Hines’ newest venture following Tilth, a local, organic comfort food institution. Lady Hines even competed on Iron Chef and sliced everyone away.  You do not wanna mess with these skills. Tilth is unlike any other New American restaurant in town. So what do you do when you are so well received; not only by your eaters and Iron Chef judges, but by The James Beard Foundation, The NY Times AND Food & Wine Magazine? Naturally, you come up with a sequel.

Tilth seems to always be bustling and humming, making it hard to reserve a seat less than a week in advance. Golden Beetle has been open for about a year and I am not convinced of its soul quite yet. I see tables filled but it still seems a little sterile. The food is good, but I think it’s a little too forced. By the way, “good” is probably one of the most frustrating descriptions you can give for “food.” What is good, exactly?

For happy hour, they have some reasonable small plates all under $5. I really can’t ask for a better value from such the highly revered chef. The good stuff to order is the Lamb Chickpea Stew. Its small but packs a filling punch with chickpeas bathing in Moroccan spices and little studs of lamb popping out behind preserved lemon notes.  Another good item to order if you would like to be confused would be the Skagit River Ranch Sliders with tomato sauce and pickled cucumber. I’m a tad befuddled, how is a mini-burger (aka a pretentious “deconstruction” of a White Castle burghetto) Mediterranean? In Golden Beetle’s case, its cramming the patty with a confusing mix of Greek-Turkish-Italian spices and herbs then getting roasted pepper tomato soup poured on top of this constructed “slider.” I mean, at the end it was good. But not very impressive.

Another baffle was the service. Also ordered was a Hummus and Pita small plate ($4). This came with a generous ramiken-sized serving of decently garlicked chickpea mash, but it came with 6 tiny squares of fresh pita. Obviously, there was more dip than bread could handle. When asked to bring extra bread, considering the obvious underestimation of bread:dip ration, this came with an additional $3 cost. So the happy hour item turned out to be $7 and when I looked at the normal menu, the same hummus plate is priced at $3. Hmmmmm.

I was a little frustrated by the haphazard over-spicing and a little put off by the pretentious gloat of all the “handmade” goods like sumac bitters and harissa sauce. Ever been to Mediterranean Mix in Pioneer SQ? Well, it’s a little hole-in-the-wall that serves up steaming fresh gyros just glazing with homemade from scratch hummus, marinated juicy lamb, raw grassy gyro-friendly herbs and cradled by a pillowy soft slightly spotty charred pita. For probably $6 bucks. And made by the Mediterranean-sourced owner themselves who isn’t afraid to look you in the eye, say hello and ask how many brothers and sisters you have. I feel like no matter how much one travels to these parts of the world, doing culinary research, and trying to merge the local ideologies they hold back home, you just can’t imitate Mediterranean culture, food is culture. I don’t care if its local and organic, the fact is you are trying to stick it to me for 6 cubes of bread. And you’re missing the warm personable spirit of the Romance cultures you are trying to impart into your sequel. And that just won’t fly with me, lady. No matter how fancy your bitters are.

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