Farm to Fork: Sacramento is a Hidden Slow Food Paradise

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Written by: Joshua MacAran

A colorful, vibrant plate of Hangar steak, spinach salad, and frites.

Hangar steak and arugula spinach salad, chimichurri, Point Reyes blue cheese, Riverdog cherry tomatoes, and frites.

Many praise San Francisco’s gourmet restaurants, but few know of Sacramento‘s deeply rooted farm to fork restaurant culture. Let’s take a glance at the local slow food scene.

Our first stop is Mulvaney’s Building & Loan. Mulvaney’s is tucked away in a historic brick firehouse in midtown Sacramento. You might not realize it’s a restaurant until you peer inside and notice the mahogany chairs, lilies in vases decorating white clothed tables, and a throng of happy customers enjoying dishes such as Braised Martin Emigh Ranch Leg of Lamb with Mint Salsa Verde or 28 Day Dry Aged Niman Ranch Rib Eye with Huckleberry Jus. Mulvaney’s is owned by passionate locavore and chef extraordinaire Patrick Mulvaney. Mr. Mulvaney has combined the highest degree of fine dining expertise with a firm commitment to using organic produce from local farms and organic meat from local ranches. Mulvaney’s boasts a menu that changes every day to reflect what is available in the region. His excellent service, top tier food, and commitment to locavorism has garnered a wide following in the Sacramento region.

Our next stop is anything but a hole in the wall, but you’ll find no sign out front. Nonetheless The Kitcen is packed every night, with reservations booked for the next six months or longer. The Kitchen is no ordinary fine dining restaurant. Each dinner is a seven course meal prepared entirely with local organic produce, meat, and seafood (to the tune of $125 per person, plus wine!) . This fall, you’ll find dishes such as Pumpkin Bisque and Oxtail-Duck Confit or Braeburn Apple Pie with Nancy’s Butter-Chocolate Crunch Ice Cream and Apple Fries. Parts of the meal are prepared as you watch, and there is an almost vaudevillian performance by the chefs for your entertainment. You will learn about all of the ingredients and preparation that have gone into your meal while laughing at the wit and antics of head chef Noah Zonca. The Kitchen has been called the French Laundry of Sacramento and it’s no surprise that their dining room is always full.

The last in our trifecta of farm to fork fine dining moguls is Paragary’s Bar & Oven. Paragary’s has been using locally produced ingredients for over 25 years, marking them as a restaurant far ahead of their time. Their wood-burning oven gives their dishes a unique flavor that is difficult to find in fine dining today. Come for the Housemade Butternut Squash Ravioli or the Pan-Seared King Salmon with roasted cauliflower, butternut squash, brussels sprout leaves, and hazelnut salsa verde. Stay for the Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake with espresso gelato. Enjoy it all on their back patio surrounded by gnarled olive trees, waterfalls, and a massive stone fireplace.

This is just a small sample of the slow food culture Sacramento has to offer. Other local favorite include Magpie Catering, Ella Dining Room and Bar, and the Hot Italian, just to name a few. At a time when more and more people are seeking farm to fork cuisine cooked to perfection, Sacramento is at the forefront of the movement.

Organic sushi: A balanced meal for the health-conscious

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A balanced healthy mealBy: Marina Ignatyeva

Health-conscious food lovers face a constant dilemma: how to balance their love for food with healthy eating that would not result in weight gain. A delicious solution is organic sushi.

Sushi is a culinary work of art that usually consists of rice, vegetables, fish or seafood, and nori seaweed that holds this all together. Some sushi rolls also contain sauces, which add flavor and spiciness to the roll.

The beauty of sushi is just how customizable it is. If one is concerned about eating too many carbs, one can choose to get sushi made out of brown rice instead of white rice or jasmine rice, both of which are much higher on the calorie scale. People can choose to get their sushi rolls lightly cooked in tempura batter, or avoid this crispy goodness and the calories from fat that come with it. Or they can choose to get sushi rolls with tempura-fried shrimp or vegetables, so that only a small portion of the roll is crispy, reducing the guilt of eating unhealthily. Customers can order rolls with cream cheese, or opt out from consuming this melty goodness. The types of vegetables used are different for each type of roll, as well as the types of fish and seafood used. If the consumer wants to opt out from eating any fish, they can always find vegetarian sushi.

The biggest concern that most people have with sushi is how expensive sushi can be. Most sushi houses and modern sushi bars use wild caught fish and organic ingredients. (For those who want to be absolutely sure of how organic their sushi is, Wholefoods has amazing sushi bars.) In Seattle, it is easy to find traditional sushi houses that make whole rolls for an inexpensive price, as long as they are not too fancy and if it is happy hour. Modern-style sushi bars with conveyer belt serving system occasionally also have reduced prices during certain hours, or choose to sell sushi pieces with farm-grown fish, which cost less. For example, Oto Sushi (http://www.otosushiusa.com/) is a traditional-style sushi house that sells whole rolls for as cheap as $4.99 during their lunch special. Conveyer belt modern restaurant AA Sushi (http://www.aasushi.com/) also has reduced prices on their plates during lunch hours. Blue C Sushi  (http://www.bluecsushi.com/) sells rolls with farmed salmon, which is less expensive than wild salmon or a different type of fish.

Organic sushi with brown rice is very nutritious and delicious. If eaten with a bowl of miso soup, a light healthy Japanese soup. it makes a balanced meal that does not induce bloating while filling the eater up. This is a perfect meal for the health0conscious consumer!

Theo-ECI Partnership is Bringing Cocoa from the Congo to the World

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Written by: Stephanie Hsieh

Last month Seattle-based artisan chocolate makers Theo Chocolate, in partnership with the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), have released two Congo chocolate bars made using organic, fair trade cocoa sourced from Congolese farmers.

The ECI is a non-profit organization founded by actor and director Ben Affleck. The organization takes a two-pronged approach to its work for and and on the behalf of the eastern ECI. On one hand they advocate for the area by encouraging private and public investment, raising public awareness of the region and its need for aid, and by helping drive changes in policy that will increase the USA’s engagement in the area. On the other hand the ECI is dedicated to funding local initiatives to improve the quality of life in the area by giving grants to community-based grassroots organizations. Theo Chocolate was founded by Joe Whinney, who first pioneered the importation of organic cocoa beans into the USA. Since then he and his company have remained committed to using organic, fair trade ingredients to make their artisan chocolate bars. Theo and ECI are working with ECI grantees such as Greenhouse, a Congolese cocoa cooperative, to develop training programs that help cocoa farmers improve the quality of their product and thus its worth on the international market.

Cocoa beans drying in the sun.

Cocoa: not just good for the world, but it becomes chocolate too. What’s not to love?

Theo and ECI have chosen to unite behind cocoa for a number of reasons. According to Dhena Bassara, Director of Greenhouse, cocoa is an ideal crop for promotion because it is “a fast-growing, sustainable, high yield crop that commands high global prices, requires minimal re-planting, prevents deforestation, supports food security, and is a major source of income for women. It’s also ‘militia proof’.” This last part refers to the fact that cocoa is a crop with little value until it has been processed into chocolate as well as being labor-intensive to harvest. These factors combine to make it an unattractive target for the armed militias that still roam the eastern DRC, allowing cocoa farmers to reap the full benefits of their work.

These full benefits have already begun to make themselves known. According to Atandi Isaka, a Congolese cocoa farmer and cooperative member, “household incomes have effectively doubled giving farming families the opportunity to take their kids to school and improving their access to healthcare.” With Theo’s commitment to purchasing 300 tons of organic, fair trade Congolese cocoa, it seems that this partnership between them and the ECI is set to continue bearing fruit in the cocoa farming communities of the eastern Congo.

Theo Chocolate’s Pili Pili Chili and Vanilla Nib chocolate bars are available at $5 a bar through Whole Foods supermarkets and their physical and online stores.

Houston Farm-to-Table Restaurant Celebrates 1-year Anniversary

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Seared Grass served at Sorrel Urban Bistro

Seared Grass served over Local Vegetables

Written by: Brittany Bluford

Houston– July 19 carries many historical events: Apollo II orbited the moon, Christa McAuliffe was chosen for space flight and XXVI Olympic games opened in Atlanta, Georgia. A Houston restaurant also shares a memorable moment on this popular date.

On July 19, 2012 Sorrel Urban Bistro, the farm-to-table eatery named one of the Top 10 New Restaurants in the U.S., will celebrate its 1-year anniversary. To commemorate 365 days of success, Sorrel wants to carry a message of gratitude to its loyal patrons with a celebration. The event, which will be 9 p.m. -11 p.m. July 19 at 2202 West Alabama, will feature Ciroc Liquor tastings, complimentary hor d’ oeuvres and a cash bar.

The 1-year celebration, open to regular guests and first timers, will take place in the warm, fine dining atmosphere, so attendees can expect to enjoy all the familiar features of the Bistro that has made it a success this past year. The dining room, bar area and covered patio will be open for Houstonians to mingle and celebrate.

Sorrel has a lot to celebrate. Owner, Ray Salti and Executive Chef Soren Pedersen’s vision was to bring everyday farm-fresh dining to more Houstonians, and each week the restaurant serves hundreds of guests. Also, the restaurant has gained the support of local media, business and publications.

“We wouldn’t have made it this far without our customers. It’s not about us, but it’s about them. Sorrel Urban Bistro doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to Houstonians, and we hope they come and celebrate,” says Salti.

The 9 p.m.-11 p.m. slot is usually reserved for reverse happy hour Tuesday thru Saturday, but it will still be a happy two hours for the guests who attend this year. Black Razz Chocolate Kiss and The Wolfberry Lemon Fizz are two of the cocktails made especially for the anniversary party.

Sorrel entered the Houston scene July 2011 with a vision to bring farm-to-table dining to the area. It’s hard to believe that a completely different concept would be welcomed to Houston with open arms. After less than a year, the bistro has gained an impressive Twitter and Facebook following, and has a great number of visits each week.

Sorrel Urban Bistro’s mission is to serve high quality, moderately priced meals in a charming, welcoming atmosphere, and the restaurant continues to stand behind its promise with the support of Houston, its staff and sourced farms.

Tips and Tricks to Eating Smarter

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Written by Elaine Zuo

Looking to improve your diet and eat healthier? Try these simple changes for a better you:

Woman gazing at fruit

Opting for fruit and vegetables can lead to a healthier you

  • Buy smaller dishes and taller glasses. Optical illusions abound even in what we use to serve our food: People tend to overestimate vertical lengths and underestimate horizontal lengths. When asked to pour equal amounts of liquid into a short, wide glass, people poured more than when they did the same for a long, tall glass. Regarding a similar principle, the same amount of food in a large dish compared to that in a smaller dish was regarded as less food than the amount in the smaller dish.
  • Chew slower. Many of us have busy lives to run and do not have time to eat leisurely, but don’t let scarfing down your lunch on a short work break completely impact your eating habits. Try to take any opportunity to savor the meal and let your digestive system do its job. You’ll be more likely to stop eating while letting your stomach achieve the same amount of satisfaction.
  • Sneak fruits and veggies into your daily diet. Although it would be best to consume fruit and vegetables on their own, you can easily add these excellent sources of vitamins, fiber and antioxidants to your usual meals as tasty, healthy accents. Top cereal or yogurt off with fruit slices, or choose a vegetable drink to accompany your lunch. Carrots and broccoli can accentuate the taste of a meatloaf, soup or even pasta sauces.
  • Keep food in the kitchen and healthy foods at eye level. Don’t bring your food into the living room or your work space. You will eat less if snacks are not placed all over the house and within easy reach. Healthy foods, on the other hand, will seem more appealing if easily accessible.
  • Drink water. Substitute sugary sodas with a tall glass of H2O. Not only do you miss out on unwanted calories, but you will be fuller before the meal and thus prevent overeating. It’s also important for digestion and gives you a boost of energy along with combating dehydration.
  • Choose fish and beans. These two underrated food items help keep your health and weight in check. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can lower your bad (LDL) cholesterol and reduce risks of cancer, so be sure to indulge in a fillet. Beans are not only fibrous, but contain iron,  folic acid and protein as well. Mix the two for a delicious fish and beans taco, and your body will have a ready arsenal of health-promoting nutrients.

Although these tips will certainly better your diet and lifestyle, the most important thing to have backing them up is a healthy mindset. Keep your goals in mind and you will kick any bad dietary habits that may arise.

3 of New York City’s Best Gourmet Cocktail Bars

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Written by: Fruzsina Molnar
Mayahuel interior

The interior of Mayahuel, a gourmet cocktail bar specializing in mezcal.

If you’re looking for a night out on the town this weekend but are sick of the regular sports bars, dive bars, or loud dance halls, try something a little bit classier and more subdued. Go with one of New York City’s best traditions: a gourmet cocktail bar, or speakeasy. Around since the Prohibition Era of the 1920s (or at least pretending to be), these little bars will serve you distinctive, expensive cocktails (don’t go unless you’re willing to shell out) with a side of old-fashioned charm and candlelit ambience. Many of them have hidden entryways that lend not only an air of romantic secrecy, but also makes you feel kinda special for knowing “where to get in.” Here are my favorite picks:
1) Little Branch.Located at the corner of South Seventh Ave. and Leroy St., this charming spot is run by the owners of Milk & Honey. Ask for the bartender’s choice–just pick your liquor and tell the bartender your mood and he or she will whip you up something extraordinary. Come on a Thursday or Sunday evening and you might catch a live jazz set, too. And don’t try to skip the line, because it won’t work.

2) Mayahuel. Not your grandparents’ traditional speakeasy, this joint on East 6th St. and Second Ave. is known (perhaps unsurprisingly, given the name) for its cocktails made with mezcal. A veritable book of menus will be presented to you upon taking a seat, so, again, don’t be shy about asking the bartender for his or her choice. If you’re not a huge tequila fan, there are plenty of cocktails made with other liquors, too.

3) Angel’s Share. Not far from Mayahuel at 8 Stuyvesant St. in the East Village, Angel’s Share is a real treat for those who want some mystery and intrigue with their drinks. When I mentioned secret entryways, this is the bar to which I was referring. You’ll have to enter through the Japanese restaurant on the second floor, through a secret doorway that’s the transition between the brightly-lit sushi joint and the candlelit, old-fashioned bar lying behind it. Take a seat and bask in the velvet armchairs, admire the gorgeous decorations, and sip at one of hundreds of speciality cocktails, including one that uses bacon-infused bourbon!

So next time you’re in the Big Apple and looking to treat yourself or a loved one to some masterfully-concocted potions, try one of these enchanting little cocktail bars. You might have to search for it, as none of them have any visible signage, but it’s worth it!

Global Food Production Challenged by Technology, Weather

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As technology develops new methods of crop production and preservation, the environment struggles to keep up, from the destruction of the honey bee to the effect of changing weather conditions on crops.

While the wind is responsible for pollinating many crop staples like wheat, corn, and rice, domesticated honey bees are crucial to the pollination and production of nuts, many fruits and vegetables, coffee, and cocoa, among other things. Unfortunately the development of new pesticides causes death and demolition of honey bee populations, which could have untold effects not only on crop production, but also on the price of food.

According to numbers by agri-business lender Rabobank from earlier this year, failure of honey bee colonies to survive the winter in the United States is up to 35%  and up to 20% in Europe from a previous average of 10%. Although there were no reported effects on crop production due to declining bee numbers this year, denying that further measures need to be taken to monitor the effects of pesticides on honey bees could produce devastating results. Countries abroad like Germany, France, and Italy have already taken precautions and banned chemicals known to affect the lifespan of the honey bee, and the United States as well as other countries may learn and benefit from this example.

Despite the declining honey bee population, there are other factors threatening food production. Extreme weather conditions in the last year have caused great damage to corn and soybean crops, which are much more than food sources for humans. Both provide critical components of the processed food industry, a major source of food-driven income, in the form of high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil. Also, they provide feed for animals that produce meat and dairy products for the rest of the food industry. With the availability of such important crops at a low, the cost of production is driven up, which is often handed off to the consumer in the form of higher food prices.

So what can you do to avoid the higher prices? Stick to whole, unprocessed foods for both health and lower prices. When eating out or grocery shopping, look for places that include locally grown and produced ingredients which will give back to the local farmers and eliminate extra costs accrued by long shipping distances.

Despite the threatening conditions, the agri-business industry remains optimistic that new regulations and preventative measures will help to counteract the negative experiences of the past year.

Revamped Food Pyramid to Make Americans Eat Healthier

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In June the United States Department of Food and Agriculture released a new version of the food pyramid in the form of a plate guideline to help Americans make healthy choices when deciding what to eat.

The latest version, called MyPlate, features a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, with less of an emphasis on proteins and grains. Instead of the original food pyramid which provided daily recommended servings of grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein, and sweets, the new design shows a plate divided into four portions with a small optional side dish. One half of the plate is dedicated to equal portions of fruit and vegetables, while the other half contains one portion of protein and another portion of grains, with the optional side dish being a serving of dairy.

The new initiative was backed strongly by the Obama family, who have launched several other programs to encourage children, as well as adults, to engage in physical activity and make healthy choices. The hope is that the unveiling of a new program will remind Americans what healthy eating means by capturing their attention which may have wandered over the years. Also, the newer guidelines explain how to lay out a healthy plate at each meal, whereas the older pyramid gave vague suggestions to be followed throughout the day.

Perhaps the biggest change between the two, other than the obvious format transformation, is the movement towards an emphasis on fruits and vegetables and less of a focus on grains which previously formed the base of the pyramid with the largest recommended servings per day. While carbohydrates should remain a vital component of every diet because they are the basic building blocks for energy and brain power, the new program changes up the main source of carbohydrates from grains to fruits and vegetables. This not only will help to reduce the number of calories consumed, but also provides a greater amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in addition to the numerous other health benefits associated with higher intakes of fruit and vegetables.

The new image and guidelines themselves will not automatically solve all of the problems related to food intake like obesity and high blood pressure, the USDA hopes that they will be combined with portion control and physical activity to create healthier lifestyles for all Americans.

Coffee Still OK In Pregnancy

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A new study shows that caffeine in moderation is safe during pregnancy

A new study has emerged that tell us it is fine for pregnant women who love their morning coffee to be able to consume a moderate amount of caffeine at maximum of 200 milligrams per day.

The new findings could bring some elation to women who suffer from fatigue and really miss that latte or cup of joe to get the day started.  Scientists warn, however; not to consume too much caffeine in the early stages of pregnancy in order to avoid a miscarriage.

Chocolate lovers may also benefit from the new results.  The maximum amount of consumption recommended is now approximately six candy bars per day.  This is for the dark chocolate variety, which contains antioxidants and less fat and sugar.

A great way to enjoy your coffee while pregnant is in a blended iced drink like the revamped Starbucks Frappuccino.  Those who are sensitive to the lactose in milk can make their drinks with soymilk.  Other alternative includes rice milk, almond milk, goat’s milk, and hemp milk sold in the natural section of most grocery stores.  It has also been reported by many coffee drinker that organic blends reduce any adverse affects on the stomach.

Sweet Coconut Pecan Date Balls

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These pecan date balls go perfect rolled in shredded coconut

Ingredients

½ cup chopped pecan pieces

1 small sliced crystallized ginger, chopped

¼ cup chopped dates

¼ tsp orange zest

1/8 cup maple syrup

½ cup shredded non-sweetened coconut

Directions

Put all of the ingredients, minus the coconut, in a food processor and hit the pulse button.  Then finely grind the mixture.  With wet hands or gloves, roll into ½” balls, then roll in the shredded coconut.

Makes approximately 24 coconut pecan date balls.

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