'Eat Well Guided Tour of America' Finds Coast-to-Coast Hunger to Reconnect Through Sustainable Food

The National Tour will end at FARM AID on September 9th in New York City

Aug 23, 2007, 01:00 ET from Sustainable Table

    NEW YORK, August 23 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- When Sustainable Table
 Founder and Director Diane Hatz set off on her 38-day Eat Well Guided Tour
 of America earlier this month from California to New York (chronicled live
 at: http://www.sustainabletable.org/roadtrip), she suspected she'd be
 meeting far more interesting people than recent media caricatures of
 America as a "fast- food" nation have suggested.
     "We knew, for instance, about the research behind the Institute of Food
 Technologists' recent report listing 'dining at home' and 'eating natural,
 fresh and locally produced food' as among this year's 'Top 10 Food
     Nevertheless, Hatz reports that she and her fellow travelers on the
 bio- fueled bus have been surprised that "nearly everyone we've met" seems
 to share the deeper hunger that inspired the trip: "for food that satisfies
 our palates and helps sustain our environment, all while helping us to
 re-connect with community." Since 2003, Hatz has worked to help educate
 consumers through her work with Sustainable Table, a Manhattan-based
 nonprofit program created to support alternatives to industrialized
     The tour began on August 2nd at an apt venue for a group committed to
 the notion that nature produces the best-tasting foods: a picnic in West
 Hollywood's Kings Road Park.
     Under the park's beautifully landscaped old-growth trees, Hatz met
 chefs like Amelia Saltsman whose newly published "Santa Monica Farmers'
 Market Cookbook" argues that good cooking is not only about picking the
 right ingredients, but about knowing how they are produced.
     The event featured other local food celebrities like farmer and
 independent filmmaker Lisa Brenneis ("Eat at Bill's: Life at the Monterey
 Market") and chef, caterer and best-selling cookbook author Evan Kleiman,
 who served up ensalata forte, zucchini frittata, beet and fennel salad, and
 heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad.
     From here we left on a four-hour drive north to The Vineyard Restaurant
 in the Central Valley town of Madera. Designated only by fading purple
 letters on a modest sign, "the place can be easy to miss," Hatz said, "but
 it's the best in the valley."
     The restaurant's owner, Chris Mariscotti, is a leader of the "Slow Food
 Movement" that has been gaining popularity throughout the country far more
 swiftly than its name might suggest.
     Started in 1986 in Italy by Carlo Petrini, the movement emphasizes a
 return to regional traditions and home cooking from local, sustainably
 grown ingredients. And as Petrini sees it, Americans are key to determining
 the movement's fate.
     "The challenge, the game, truly begins in America," he told the
 Associated Press earlier this year. "The country which invented fast food
 can propose slow food."
     After events in Berkeley and southern Oregon over the next few days,
 "The Eat Well Guided Tour" stopped at the Rogue Creamery in Central Point,
 Oregon, which Petrini and Jeff Roberts, director of Slow Food USA,
 recognized earlier this year with an award for numerous achievements, from
 pioneering the movement to producing the legendary and coveted Rogue River
 Blue Cheese, which is sold out until 2008.
     There the group learned that Rogue cheddars are created in a huge vat
 and use about 10,000 lbs of milk to make 1,000 lbs of cheese, and tend to
 age anywhere from 6 to 8 months. And that the secret to good cheese-making
 is a keen sense of smell and taste. Rather than rely on chemistry sets, as
 the larger cheese operations do, the artisans at Rogue rely on taste, touch
 and smell, and tasters decide when each batch of cheese is finished aging.
 At Rogue, everything is done by hand, from the stirring to the packing. The
 group got to stick their noses into the 'cave' room, where the aging
 happens. It doesn't look much like a cave, but their hosts told them it
 resembles the caves in European creameries. One of the visitors remarked,
 "If you've never smelled a cheese cave, you should! It smelled rich and
 buttery and kind of musky. It got us all hungry to taste some cheese, which
 was what we did next and it tasted 'smooth like brandy.'"
     After venturing north through Oregon, Washington and Idaho the tour
 arrived in Missoula, Montana, on August 14, where Hatz met chef Eric
 Stenberg, a chef who works with the "Farm to Restaurant Collaborative," a
 local group which aims to connect people back to the system that grows our
 food -- the seed, the land, the farmer or rancher and the routes that
 deliver it to us.
     Stenberg shared his shopping methods with the group. Hatz writes that,
 "He gave us each a sheet of paper with a type of vegetable you may find in
 a typical farmers market -- carrots, squash, beets, potatoes, and a few
 others. For each, he listed all the different types of ingredients you can
 use to preserve the flavor of the vegetable. His philosophy was about
 keeping the integrity of the vegetable as much as possible through cooking,
 since local produce already has incredible tastes to offer the palate."
     On August 17, the tour traveled through the Teton Valley that runs from
 Idaho to Wyoming. There Hatz met Sue Muncaster, who helped pioneer both
 "Farm to Restaurant" and "Slow Food" programs in the valley.
     Muncaster said she began learning about "the pleasures of the table"
 from her aunt, "who loved to cook." But "right now," as Muncaster sees it,
 "we aren't doing too well ... Even the farmers who have lived here in the
 Tetons for generations can no longer afford to farm and are selling out to
 developers. Meanwhile, in what was once a self-sustaining community, we can
 no longer buy local milk from the cows we pass on the road and all our
 organic produce comes from Los Angeles ... .If we don't change the
 direction we are going, we might just end up where we are headed."
     Hatz emphasizes, however, that although she has met many activists like
 Muncaster on the trip, "our tour is not really political. We do believe
 that consumers have a right to know more about where their food comes from,
 who grows it and how, and we also believe in the power of "voting with your
 fork." Small-scale farmers and communities need local dollars to survive,
 and in America, when money talks, corporations listen."
     For Hatz, one of the most memorable stops of the tour was her visit to
 Pie Ranch in Pescadero, California. Pie has been a major theme throughout
 the tour which, in fact, is subtitled 'Pie Across America." "Pies are such
 a great metaphor for sharing community through local, wholesome food
 because their ingredients tell stories about the people who bake them and
 the communities who created them."
     "If you could see Pie Ranch from the sky," Hatz said, "you'd know how
 it got its name. It's wedge-shaped, just like a slice of the good stuff."
 In fact, Jared Lawson, who runs the ranch along with Nancy Vail and Karen
 Heisler, told us that the shape of the property was part of the inspiration
 for its business model".
     "To truly experience a pie," Hatz said, "you need to first harvest and
 bake it, as we did on Pie Ranch. We walked out onto the farm, sycles in
 hand, and harvested long stalks of golden wheat. With the warm sun on the
 back of our necks, we walked down rows of strawberries, blackberries and
 raspberries, harvesting the fruit for our own pies.
     "Nothing quite compares to standing in a field of berries and popping a
 just picked strawberry into your mouth. It's as if the warm juice of the
 berry soaks up the sun and bursts summer into your mouth. As you kneel on
 the ground, you feel the richness of the soil, the smell of moist earth
 mixing with the sweetness of the strawberries all around you. Everything
 you touch is warm, soft and vibrant with life. The blackberries and
 raspberries hung heavily from their vines, inviting us to pick them. At the
 house, we learned how to strip, winnow and mill the wheat by hand, and
 before we knew it, we had 100% whole grain wheat flour in front of us. Add
 to that fresh berries, bursting with juice and flavor, and you have pie.
 The closest one can get to standing in a field harvesting all the
 ingredients to a pie is to stand in a kitchen and smell a homemade pie,
 made with fresh, local, sustainable ingredients, baking in an oven. Think
 of the smell of home and family and goodness, wrap it up with a healthy
 dose of sunshine and fresh air, sprinkle it with a little friendship, and
 you've got a pie baked on Pie Ranch."
     "From here on," Hatz said, speaking from Lawrence, Kansas, where Simran
 Sethi, host of the Sundance Channel's "The Green," joins the tour for a few
 days, "pie-making will continue to be the highlight of our tour," from the
 Iron Chef Pie Contest with local chefs and celebrity judges in Minneapolis
 on August 25 to the pie judging, pie walk and pie storytelling planned in
 Ann Arbor, Michigan on Sept. 1, and finally, the pie buffet and bake off at
 Gigi's Market in Red Hook, New York, on Sept. 7 where representatives from
 FARM AID will join us to delight in the taste of pies and celebrate local,
 sustainable farmers.
     The Solstice Cafe in Corvalis, Oregon
     (Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20070823/DCTH012 )
     Ingredients for the Crust:
     18 tablespoons organic butter (9 oz)
     3 cups flour (pastry flour if available)
     1 teaspoon salt
     7 tablespoons ice water (or more, if necessary)
     1 tablespoon cider vinegar
     Special equipment: Food processor
     Cut butter into 3/4 inch cubes and freeze 6 tablespoons. Refrigerate
 the remaining butter. Process the refrigerated butter for 20 seconds with
 the flour and the salt. Add the frozen butter and process the mixture until
 it forms clumps the size of peas. Add water and cider (add additional water
 one tablespoon at a time if the dough is too dry). Turn out on a lightly
 floured counter or board and knead slightly. Chill at least 30 minutes
 before rolling out.
     To bake a single crust pie shell:
     On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch
 thickness. Ease dough loosely into the pie pan, and, with kitchen scissors
 or a sharp knife, trim the edges of the dough to leave about 1/2 inch
 overhanging the edge of the pie pan. Fold the extra 1/2 inch of pie dough
 under itself. Let the pie dough rest for 15 minutes. Flute the edges of the
     Using a fork, prick the pastry all over the bottom and up the sides of
 the pie pan (this prevents the dough from puffing during baking). To avoid
 large bubbles during cooking, add a cup of dry beans or rice to the pie
 shell, or use pastry weights. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes at 425, or until
 crust is a light golden color. Cool before filling.
     (Makes dough for crust for 1 single crust 8- or 9-inch pie shell)
     Ingredients for Filling:
     5-6 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried (preferably organic)
     1/2 cups plus
     2 tablespoons water, divided
     2 tablespoons cornstarch
     1/2 cup sugar
     2 teaspoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
     Pinch of salt
     Lemon zest (from one lemon) and whipped cream, for garnish (optional)
     Measure 1 cup blueberries, choosing the softest berries. In a medium
 saucepan, simmer the berries on medium heat with 1/2 cup of the water. In a
 small bowl, whisk remaining 2 tablespoons water with the cornstarch. When
 the water and blueberries come to a boil, lower the heat and continue to
 simmer until the mixture begins to thicken. Add the lemon juice, sugar,
 salt, and cornstarch mixture and simmer until the mixture is translucent.
 Remove from the heat and add remaining blueberries, tossing to coat.
     Spoon the blueberry mixture into the pre-baked pie shell and
 refrigerate until set (around 2 hours).
     Optional: pipe whipped cream around the edges and zest a lemon on top
 just before serving.
     Tips: When zesting lemons or other citrus fruit, be sure not to dig
 into the bitter white pith.

SOURCE Sustainable Table