Meeting Michael Pollan

POLLA3_130425_346On April 25th, my parents, who live in Arlington, Virginia, invited Jen and I over for a home-cooked family meal inside the tiny window of time after a work day and before we were headed to the heart of Washington, D.C. to hear Michael Pollan speak about his newest book, ‘COOKED: A Natural History of Transformation.‘ Even with the wealth of farm-to-table restaurants in the city, many of their kitchens stocked with products grown and raised by close friends, we felt that the best way to honor the movement and the debut of the new book was to celebrate it quietly at home. And then chase down Michael Pollan with a Willowsford Farm gift bag and our cameras ready to shoot.

Over vegetarian lasagna, greens, and strawberry shortcake served on fresh baked biscuits, we talked about the season to come, about the 8 lbs. sweet potato my parents grew in their backyard garden last year and how we hope to beat their record at the farm this year, and what to write in the card we were slipping in the bag for “MP.”

Then something magical happened. For the first time in my “Pollanated” career, I realized we were going to be late to a Michael Pollan talk. Instead of flying out the door, however, we picked up our plates, double checked our will-call receipts and watched Jen take an extra moment to thank my parents for the meal. Sure, I still kind of rushed us out the door, but being a little bit late because we are busy farmers committed to family meals felt perfectly reasonable. It felt like Michael Pollan would completely forgive our tardiness.

As always, the talk was inspirational and articulated every thought, feeling and goal inside each one of us fighting to regain our connections with nature, the food chain, meal time, and our role as chefs in our own health and destiny.

Pollan referred to the family meal as “the nursery of democracy,” a time when we learn to take turns at the favorite parts of a roast chicken with our siblings, give guests first dibs at the homemade whipped cream for strawberry shortcake, and take back this activity and time from a world perhaps too populated with convenience and choice. He discussed the history, and interesting timing, of the ready-made, frozen meal in combination with the growth of dual-income and dual-career households and in doing so, reminded me of how many “food-like substances” have fueled so many of us along the way. Who hasn’t grabbed a bite of something from the convenience store at a gas station or hurried through a sandwich over the kitchen sink so that they could use that time for a different form of personal enrichment? Heck, even farmers order pizza once in a while.

But on the beautifully bright side, this has led many of us to a place where each meal cooked at home, shared with family and in our case, farm-ily as well, feels like a treat, like a special occasion. Although I long for weeks, months and years when it is simply part of the daily routine of life, I’m more than happy to invest extra time in Willowsford Farm and fields to ensure that our CSA members and Farm Stand shoppers have rich, diverse meals that are good for them and grown via practices that the author of “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” would be proud of. And lucky for us, as the bounty of the season is growing all around us, it’ll once again be easy to refuel with fresh peppers, tomatoes, and greens throughout the days and roast, stir fry and grill in the evenings.

Food = Art

I’ve been a fan of Baltimore’s own Chef Chad Wells, Executive Chef at Alewife, since I heard he was sauteing snakeheads in an attempt to eradicate the invasive fish and working with the Department of Natural Resources to promote menu items centered around local seafood species. Turns out his sustainable initiatives aren’t limited to the sea.

Earlier this month, Chef Wells teamed up with Joe Squared at Power Plant Live to host a “Campfire Dinner” in conjunction with the new monthly event promoting local talent called Food = Art. The inspiration for January’s event was to take people camping by using food you can kill yourself – all cooked in a way that can be duplicated deep in the woods – with limited local ingredients, cast iron pans, smoke and fire. And boy did they pull it off!

The constant-campfire vibe of the event, which included an all-evening performance of folky, old-timey, American awesomeness from The Manly Deeds, was authenticated with each family-style entree arriving in foil and with a single utensil per diner – a fork. If that weren’t enough, several people at our table were involved with the meal on a personal level. Mike Naylor, the DNR’s Chief of Shellfish Programs, foraged the morels that accompanied the trout dish. Austin Murphy, Pro-Staffer for Whackfactor Outdoors, “harvested” the main ingredient in the venison stew in Flint Hill, Virginia.

So in case you haven’t heard: wild game dinners are the new black. Here is the full menu for those of you anxious to recreate the deliciousness with your own circle of hunter-gatherers:

Hot Mulled Cider, Honey Comb Infused Bourbon

Hickory Smoked Trout, Pan Fried Wild Morels, Roasted Beets

Wild Duck Cast Iron Mac and Cheese, Two-year aged Grafton Cheddar, Grana Padano, Duck Confit

Fire Roasted Quail, Sweet Potato, Chorizo and Granny Smith Apple Stuffing, Smoked Pork Belly BBQ Baked Beans

Venison Stew, Dutch Oven Chipotle Corn Bread

Smore Dessert, Graham Cracker, Dark Chocolate, Marshmallow, Candied Bacon
To keep up with Food = Art events, ‘like’ them on Facebook. Most photos displayed in this post, with the exception of a few, are from the artistic view of Sean Scheidt See more of his images from the event here.

Disappointed in Paula Deen?

Me too.

In case you haven’t heard, Paula Deen, Food Network star and Southern cook, has now confirmed reports that she was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes nearly three years ago. I have to admit that I know very little about Paula Deen apart from the fact that she has been criticized for promoting the type of high-fat and high-sugar diet that leads to weight gain and other ‘western diseases’ and that she chose to keep her diagnosis a secret for years. What I do know is that during her appearance on the Today Show yesterday, she announced her spokesman-ship deal with Victoza, a pharmaceutical company and dodged discussion about diet. Here’s the footage:

Her announcement happened to correspond with Michael Pollan’s talk last night at the Baltimore Speaker Series in which he addressed Paula Deen’s decision to partner with the Victoza. He pointed out the larger “fork in the road” this exemplifies. We could go one direction towards a nation of acceptance and complacency regarding the epidemic of diet-related health problems (Deen’s direction), or another – more active and change-effecting direction – towards reformation of the food system, our understanding of it, roles within, and conscious involvement in its evolution towards something healthier.

Can you imagine the positive impact Paula Deen could have on the American diet if she were to re-frame this?  As disappointed as I am, I’m not going to give up hope. Turn it around, Paula. Sacrifice a little pride for the greater good of your fans and followers.