Try the Slow Food $5 Challenge

If I had a penny for every time I heard someone say, “but fresh, organic food is so expensive” in response to me waxing euphoric about a nourishing dish, I could afford dinner at Cyrus. So I was thrilled to see Slow Food put out the challenge for slow-food-5-dollar-challengeAmericans to “take back the value meal” (love the double entendre) on Saturday, September 17th by cooking up a meal of fresh, local foods for under $5.

So let’s get cooking! You can join a grass roots potluck near you. You can buy this week’s Nourish Weekly Menus (we took the $5 challenge to heart–pricing by non-pantry items–and wrote this post from the strategies we used to save money) for a whole week of delish budget fare. Or you can come up with your own by using our six tips below. If you DO make your own meal, please snap a pic and post it on our Facebook page. I’d love to do a follow-up post with a collage to show everyone how beautiful affordable food can be!

  1. Use seasonal produce.  This is like a “free gift with purchase.” It’s a proven fact that the tastiest, most luscious, peak-of-season foods are also the cheapest. It makes sense. Foods that are in season near you have far less distance to travel, which means lower transportation costs (and smaller carbon footprint!).
  2. Make use of healthy, cheap “filler” ingredients.  No, I don’t mean the creepy corn products that you can’t pronounce that make up the bulk of processed foods. I mean inexpensive ingredients–like cabbage and bulgur–that bring a natural heft to a dish. For instance, in this week’s menus, we beef up our Corfu Koftas with bulgur and use about 1/2 the beef. And we stuff Spicy Fish Tacos with a tangy slaw so you don’t rely on the fish (a relatively expensive ingredient) to dominate the dish.
  3. Venture outside your box.  So many of us have our standard go-to’s … steak, shrimp, salmon, chicken breast, etc. But, ironically, many of America’s traditional go-to’s are the priciest items at the market. All the more reason to explore the unknown. Different cuts of poultry (chicken legs and thighs are my favorite, and about 1/2 the price of breasts), meat (braising cuts are especially affordable) and different types of seafood. Our Curried Mussels, for instance (another dish featured this week), feed four for under $10 and are finger-lickin’ good.
  4. Buy in bulk.  Buying from the bulk bins can cut cost by two, three, even five times. Whole Foods, which can be pricey within the aisles, stocks an incredible array in their bulk bins. So explore different types of rice and grains, various flours and nuts, even pasta and dried fruit.
  5. Buy whole.  Whether you’re talking a chicken or a head of lettuce, you’re going to save significant dough by buying whole. I recently comparison shopped head lettuce versus pre-washed bagged for a television segment and even I was shocked: the gorgeous, ruffly head of organic, locally grown lettuce was FIVE TIMES cheaper than pre-washed, bagged lettuce ($1.95 for a 1-1/2 pound head versus $4.99/pound for pre-washed).
  6. Plan ahead.  There’s no disputing that planning ahead helps you save money. It keeps you from making impulse purchases (which can be expensive). It keeps you from dashing out for extra ingredients. It helps you use what you already have on hand. And it cuts down dramatically on food waste (up to 35% of America’s food goes to waste!). Insert shameless promotion here … hmmm, I wonder what kinds of resources are out there for helping you plan your meals ahead? Yep, you got it.

Remember, if you make your own meal–either from this week’s menus or on your own–snap a pic and post it on our Facebook page!

Slow Food is the Key to Great Quick Meals

Last weekend I made gravlax for the first time. That Swedish cured-salmon specialty is the epitome of slow food. But as I waited two days for the fish to cure in its salt-and-sugar rub it occurred to that I wasn’t the one “making” anything.

Time was doing most of the work. And there wasn’t even heat involved.

That’s just the way I like it these days. Over the last couple of years I’ve come to appreciate time as a lazy cook’s best friend. If you’re willing to put in a little (often very, very little) effort on the front end and patient enough to wait a bit, you’ll be rewarded with incredible flavor.

Time is a lazy cook’s best friend. If you put in a little (often very, very little) effort on the front end and are patient enough to wait a bit, you’ll be rewarded with incredible flavor.

It’s a different approach to quick-and-easy, dinner-in-15-minutes cooking, but one worth adding to your arsenal. In fact, you can use the take-your-time strategy one day to prepare components for stellar speedy meals another.

That gravlax is a perfect example. I unwrapped it, rinsed off the rub and and thinly sliced the fish. Then I served it alongside a simple butter-lettuce salad and our All-Purpose French Lentils. With a glass of rose Sancerre, it was a fast, light summer supper. The gravlax has since made other lunch and dinner appearances.

As Lia and I developed our new Nourish Weekly Menus (if you haven’t checked them out yet, here’s a taste with our free e-cookbook), we realized that the Sunday cook-ahead is the heart of our strategy. That’s because we often find ourselves taking advantage of a leisurely weekend to  make a dish that takes a bit longer – roasting a chicken, perhaps, or braising a pork shoulder – that yields a fantastic Sunday supper plus great leftovers to spin into fantastic (and fast!) weeknight meals.

Want to give it try? Here are 3 things you can do this weekend:

  • Make some dough. Yeast dough is really easy, especially if you let time – and the yeast – do all the hard work. Make a batch of Long-Rise Whole Wheat Pizza Dough. Enjoy some one night and stash the extra in the fridge or freezer so you can make homemade pizza later in the week faster than Domino’s can deliver.
  • “Dry braise” a pork shoulder. Lia’s “dry braising” technique is one you’ll want to try. Just rub the meat  with spices, pop it in a covered Dutch oven, and cook at 275 F for several hours. The result: succulent, fork-tender meat and incredible leftovers for other meals. I’ve got some leftover carnitas in my freezer that are scheduled to make a fast-dinner appearance this weekend.
  • Cure some fish. If it’s too hot to fire up the oven, give this no-cook Homemade Gravlax with Wild Alaskan Salmon a try this weekend. Start it on Saturday and it will be ready to slice and serve on crackers as a July 4th appetizer. It’s a perfect low-effort/high-reward slow food.

Like this idea? Please share it with your friends!

Heirloom Apples

Apples have carried mythological status for eons, from Adam and Eve to Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman, who wandered the frontier of our newly minted nation founding apple nurseries. And then there’s the quintessential apple experience: the crrruusp as teeth pierce crisp skin to unleash a burst of ambrosial juice. Unfortunately, none of these mythical moments bear resemblance to the apples we find in today’s supermarket.


Of the nearly 16,000 types of apples that have set down roots in our country, just 3,000 are now readily available (only a few hundred of which are edible). Of those, only 11 comprise 90% of all the apples sold in grocery stores; 41% are Red Delicious alone.

The decline in diversity is due to several interlacing factors. Land where wild apple trees once bore fruit now sports strip malls and subdivisions, and consolidation within the food industry means that most apples available to us are grown on large tracts of land bearing just a few varieties. Small nurseries, which carry a far more diverse selection than the garden centers at big box stores, have taken a hit too. The number of nurseries carrying a significant variety of apple trees declined by nearly 50% between 1989 and 2009.

Yet despite the dire numbers, we’re in the midst of an apple renaissance. The alliance for Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT)  dubbed 2010 the “Year of the Heirloom Apple” as part of its Forgotten Fruits initiative, with an eye to identifying and preserving disappearing apple varieties around the country.

While an “heritage apple” can mean any apple that’s been sold commercially since 1980, the term “heirloom apple” goes a bit deeper. These varieties have become part of our local lore and scenery, and seeds or cuttings are often passed from hand to hand. Heirlooms can also, though, be “rescued” from wild or abandoned trees, as Ezekiel Goodband, the orchard manager at Scott Farm in Vermont, has been doing for 30 years.

In the beginning, Goodband found that “all around, there were abandoned orchards that were growing up into scrub. I made deals with the owners that I’d prune and care for them in exchange for as much fruit as I could harvest and a few cuttings.” Then he would pore over old reference books trying to identify the types of apples he was finding. “There were Black Hawks and Roxbury Russets. It was a bit like keying out warblers with a Peterson Guide.” Once he began growing them, though, “it was a lot of trial and error. It seemed like there was quite a gap of knowledge.”

That knowledge gap, in fact, is one of the impediments to preserving heirloom apple varieties. RAFT and Slow Food worked to overcome the issue by mobilizing local Slow Food chapters to identify, document and grow varieties indigenous to their region. And has worked. From New York to Chicago to California, individuals and small groups are rescuing wild trees and overgrown orchards (and, in many cases, the stories that accompany them) and developing creative ways to grow them (adopt a tree, anyone?) and market them to the public, often through farmers’ markets and CSAs.

Goodband’s efforts have paid off too. The land that was once a conventional orchard growing only McIntosh now has over 70 varieties of apples. Goodband’s favorite part? Sharing the fruit of his labor. “People get to taste apples that Washington and Jefferson and Thoreau grew up eating. That’s the exciting part.”

The writer in me feels like this is where a tidy, descriptive list of common heirloom apple varieties would go. But I’m not going to do that. Since the point of preserving forgotten fruit is so much about taste of place, I’ll instead encourage you to seek out local growers and try varieties you may not have heard of or tasted before. Then start a conversation. Who knows … you may just end up meeting a modern day Johnny Appleseed.

Slow Movement

By Kurt Michael Friese

I may have been the first in my family to “go pro” becoming a chef, but my life has always revolved around food. Growing up, the conversation over Saturday lunch was inevitably about what was for dinner – who was making what, where it would be procured, whether to sauté or steam the carrots or broccoli. In fourth grade I met the boy who would become my best man and godfather to my son at the lunch table discussing what was in our brown bags. So it’s not entirely surprising that I became passionate about the Slow Food organization early on.

slow-food-postSlow Food International started over 20 years ago when an Italian food and wine journalist named Carlo Petrini learned that McDonald’s was coming to his country (and even worse, to Rome). So he organized a protest. With the help of other media friends they staged a march that drew nearly 100,000 people to eat traditional penne pommadoro and lament the assault on their culture that McDonald’s represented.

The upshot of that protest was a budding organization named in opposition to the fast food that had provoked its birth. What began simply as a group of gourmands wary of the threat to their beloved cuisine quickly became a global movement of environmentally conscious foodies. Concerns over food security and food justice were soon added to the list. Today there are over 100,000 members joining together in local chapters called convivia (including the one I founded in Iowa) in 129 countries around the world promoting “good, clean and fair food for all.”

From the national and international level to the individual local chapters, Slow Food uses a wide variety of activities to educate and inform on the importance of real fresh food and the centrality of the farm, the kitchen and the table in our everyday lives.

Preserving Diversity

One of Slow Food’s core agendas is to save real food before it becomes a quaint memory. During the time that Slow Food has been in existence, its Ark of Taste program has cataloged and reinvigorated hundreds of foods in danger of extinction. That may sound exaggerated, but the statistics are startling. 93 percent of American food product diversity has been lost since 1900 (75 percent of European food product diversity disappeared during the same time period). Thirty-three percent of livestock varieties have vanished or are near vanishing and nearly 30,000 vegetable varieties have become extinct in the last century; one more is lost every six hours. Another important Slow Food program, Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT), brings together food producers, chefs and consumers in identifying and preserving America’s unique foods and traditions.

Strengthening Small Farmers and Artisans

Small farmers and artisans, often struggling to remain economically stable, produce many of the foods spotlighted by these initiatives. Through programs like Terra Madre and Presidia, Slow Food helps strengthen these small producers committed to responsible and sustainable food production. The Terra Madre network and biennial conference brings together farmers, food producers, cooks, activists and academics to put their heads together, learn from and help one another, while Presidia provides a support network to artisan producers to help keep their production viable.

Fighting for the Health of Our Children

But Slow Food has a direct impact on our health too. Last fall, in an initiative that brought back memories of that fated cafeteria table, Slow Food USA brought the nation’s attention to the problem of unhealthy school lunches. Its Time for Lunch campaign and the Labor Day “Eat-Ins” around the country (think old-fashioned activism with a hot dish to share) raised awareness, and had an arguable influence on Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move campaign for healthier kids. Taken with the USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, it’s clear that Slow Food’s ideals are beginning to hit the mainstream.

Getting Connected

Members of Slow Food get connected through their local chapters, made up of people who care—and are curious—about the link between food, agriculture, health and the environment. Convivia gatherings can be social, educational or political in nature (or, in many cases, all three at the same time), and members also have access to regional, national and international events that celebrate good, clean, fair food.

The most profound benefit to joining Slow Food, though, is becoming part of the growing movement that is actively leading the way in changing how America eats.

Kurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.

Go Slow

It’s March first and, maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the year is already zooming by. Ironically, well before the year began I had slated March to be a time when we slowed down here on NOURISH Evolution. Not in the sense of fewer posts or reigned in momentum, but in terms of taking a big breath and diving deeper. Into why fresh, seasonal sustainably-farmed, -caught and -raised food tastes better and is better for our bodies and the earth. Into how our communities are strengthened and nourished when we choose to eat these foods (and, by contrast, are depleted when we don’t). Into where the choices we make at the grocery store, as isolated as they may seem, really do have an impact on things like national health care; global warming; the obesity crisis and hunger in developing nations.

That last sentence may freak you out, but it’s true. Michal Pollan wasn’t exaggerating when he said that we vote with our forks three times a day, and this month we’re going to explore to a deeper extent the wider consequences of the choices we make regarding the food we eat.

But, I believe, that requires us to slow down first. There’s vulnerability in slowing down and allowing for introspection, and I think that’s a healthy place to be as we move ahead into this month. I know it’s where I need to be, and somehow it keeps getting reinforced. By the book proposal I’m working on, about soulfulness and seasonality and themes that resonate to our very core. By the very first My Nourish Mentor group call today, where the enthusiasm and eagerness for deliberate change was electric. By being asked to be part of the leadership team of our local Slow Food chapter as the organization takes dynamic strides towards an exciting vision (you’ll find out more about the Slow Food organization this Friday in a piece by Kurt Friese). All of these experiences are humbling. All are exhilarating. And all require the presence of mind and authenticity of spirit that simply isn’t possible when whipping through them at warp speed.

This week—this month—I invite you all to join me in going “slow.” Does that mean committing to hours a day contemplating Big Things? No; in fact, my schedule is only going to ramp up over these next few months. What it does mean is that we’ll try to catch ourselves when barreling down a well-worn road of habit, take a few deep breaths and, at the very least, notice what we’re doing. At the very best, we’ll change course and, step by step, start carving out the path we really want to take.

Check back frequently on NOURISH Evolution this month to see what we uncover at this snail’s pace.

Get Connected

Last night, we made our usual end-of-the-weekend pilgrimage to the Plaza here in Healdsburg, only this time we were joined by dozens of others participating in the Eat-in organized by Slow Food USA in an effort to change school lunch policy. Like a big picnic potluck, tables were filled with bowls of salad, local bread and cheeses, fruit fresh from the trees and vegetables both roasted and straight out of the garden.


I’d known for a while what dish I wanted to bring: Pollo en Jocon. My friend, food writer and cooking instructor Sandra Gutierrez, sent me this recipe so we could bring the tastes and scents of Guatemala, our daughter’s native land, into our own kitchen. Somehow it seemed an appropriate dish to share. I also made it in honor of Ana Maria and Mayra, a Guatemalan mother and daughter who have become as close as family despite being thousands of miles away. Our paths first crossed through Slow Food, and I wanted to bring something from their country so they’d be with us in spirit at the plaza.

One dish. And yet it connected me to Sandra, who was kind enough to share the recipe, and Pedro, the farmer who grew the tomatillos we used. It connected us to our daughter’s birth country and others we love dearly there. It connected us to the people who dug into it at the Eat-in, and even to the hope of a healthier future for our children.

Food is about so much more than just feeding ourselves. This week, be aware of how many ways it connects you.

Time for Lunch

It seems I’m meant to talk about kids’ lunches right now. This past Tuesday, I did a segment on ABC-TV’s View from the Bay on making healthy lunches fun for kids. But even better than peanut butter banana spirals is the fact that, right now, we have an opportunity to be a part of re-framing the school lunch program in America. Here to tell us all about it and how we can get involved is one of our talented new Contributors, Kurt Michael Friese.


Fifty-three years ago when President Truman signed the first School Lunch Act, he said at the ceremony that “In the long view, no nation is healthier than its children, or more prosperous than its farmers.”  Yet today in America we have steadily rising rates of childhood obesity and early-onset diabetes, so much so that if you were born after 2000 you have a startling one-in-three chance of developing diabetes before you’re old enough to vote.  If you’re a minority, that number rises to one-in-two.  America, too, has more prisoners than farmers now, and among those few remaining the average age is 57 and rising.  It seems America has failed President Truman’s vision in both the health of its children and the prosperity of its farmers. An interesting proposition: fewer farmers=less healthy food.

Yet we have the opportunity to better both sides of that equation. The Child Nutrition Act, the piece of legislation that governs what 30 million kids eat in school each day, is up for re-authorization and Slow Food USA has launched the Time for Lunch Campaign to bring about some needed change. Among the modifications they’re petitioning Congress to make are investing in healthy food (right now, schools are given roughly $1 day per student to spend on food); protecting against foods that are a proven risk to kids’ health; and fostering healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime, in part by getting kids and schools involved with local farms and gardens.

What you can do

•    Sign the petition. If you want to voice your desire for change, sign Slow Food’s petition to get real food in schools. As of this writing, more than 13,000 people have signed.

•    Go to an Eat-in. Think of an Eat-In as the marriage of the traditional picnic to the classic activism of the 1960’s Sit-Ins; this is old-fashioned activism with a hot dish to share.  In all 50 states, local Slow Food members and friends of the organization have put together more than 280 grass-roots potluck picnics to occur simultaneously on September 7th, Labor Day. From Bellingham to Bay St. Louis, Carlsbad to Cambridge, people will gather with their friends and neighbors to show their support for getting real food in schools and everyone—whether or not you’re a Slow Food member—is welcome.  Bring some food to share, preferably something homemade with local ingredients (for ideas on eco-friendly picnic ware, click here).

•    Spread the word. If you do attend a sit-in, or even if you just want to help, tell people—post on Facebook, tweet, send an e-mail blast, start a conversation in the school parking lot—about the Eat-ins and the need to bring real food into our schools.

What is “real food?” you may ask. The answer is simple: real food is food that is and does good from the ground up. It’s good for the earth, it’s good for those who grow it, it’s good for our bodies, it tastes good and makes our community, country and planet a better place. As Truman alluded to all those years ago, real food grown by real people is essential for our health–as individuals, as families and as a nation.

kurt-thumbKurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.

Take Your Time

nton-small-iconWhen I have back-to-back trips, as I have the past few weeks, I start to feel like I’ve barely gotten one foot in the door before I have to pack up and head out again. It can leave me feeling hectic. It can make me feel perpetually rushed. I find that when I get into overdrive like that I need to be very deliberate about slowing down and re-calibrating, and mealtime is the perfect opportunity to do so.

It takes concentration to stop from whizzing through the meal at first. I think about each bite as I assemble it on my fork. Occasionally, I even put my fork down altogether to really listen to what my husband is saying across the table or, if I’m alone, watch the hummingbird hover outside the window or inhale the scent of my neighbors’ orange blossoms. At first, the individual actions can feel plodding and exaggerated. But as the days wear on, I begin to feel like my feet are touching earth again, like my breath is reaching my fingertips again. It feels so good I wonder how I could ever have let myself become otherwise.

This week, I challenge you to slow down and take twice as long to eat as you normally do. Start out with a baseline by timing how long it takes you to eat dinner tonight–from plates down to plates up. Then, for the rest of the week, set the kitchen timer for twice that amount at mealtime. At first, it may feel like an eternity. But notice the effect it has on you–what you eat, how you go about your meals, how you feel, and even what you choose to make for dinner–throughout the week. It’s a great chance to catch your breath before the rush of summer is upon us.