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Claire’s Corner Copia

Claire’s Corner Copia is nestled on the corners of Chapel and College Streets in New Haven. The vegetarian restaurant, founded by Claire and Frank Criscuolo, is committed to sustainable and organic food. 10% of the restaurant’s profits are donated to charities. The food, ranging from smoothies to omelets to sandwiches to quesadillas to enormous baked goods (and so much more), can’t be beat.

I think that, usually, when you hear about a great vegetarian restaurant that uses local ingredients, the first thing that comes to mind is man that must be expensive. But I have to say, as a student who goes out to lunch in New Haven a lot, I don’t find Claire’s much more expensive than most other options. What’s more, I think that the quality of the ingredients and the causes that Claire’s supports is reason enough to pay an extra dollar.

Claire’s is currently working with The Growing Connection, a foundation whose mission is to bring food gardens to schools and teach students how to maintain them. Through the foundation, Claire’s is working with Barnard School and Jepson School, two magnet schools in New Haven. I think that Claire’s is very conscious of the cost of eating organic ingredients, as their goal is to give children the skills to grow their own food in their own backyards.

Although not all of Claire’s ingredients are local (especially not all-year-round) the restaurant does use local farming when possible. Many of Claire’s ingredients come from Urban Oaks Farm in New Britain, CT. I also admire the restaurant’s dedication to sustainability through its use of organic produce and its environmental initiatives. These initiatives include switching to a low water use dishwasher and to Energy Star lighting.

Claire also has three cookbooks, Claire’s Corner Copia Cookbook, Claire’s Italian Feast, and Claire’s Classic American Vegetarian Cooking. There is also an assortment of recipes on the restaurant’s website.

While I was at Claire’s, I picked up a booklet titled The Earth Dinner that was propped up on a stand near the door. Earth Dinner, a creation of Organic Valley, celebrates eating sustainably, locally, and organically with others. The idea of sharing food and conversing about where that food came from is essential to Earth Dinner. Inside The Earth Dinner booklet were quotes from authors, chefs, foodies, celebrities – anyone you could imagine. Here are some that I found especially exceptional:

“One cannot think well, love well, or sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf

“It’s difficult to think of anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” – Lewis Grizzard

“My definition of sustainable cuisine is rather simple. Sustainable cuisine means nurturing that which nurtures us.” – Michael Romano: Chef, Union Square Café

“We started out to save the family farmer and now it looks like the family farmer is going to save us.” – Wilie Nelson

“Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.” – Elizabeth Berry

“In 1950, average Americans spent over 30 percent of their income on food; in 2000, about 10 percent. In 1950, the farmer received over fifty cents of every food dollar spent; today, less than twenty cents. Consumers spend less of their income on food than ever, and farmers receive a smaller percentage of that lesser portion.” – Ronald Jager, The Fate of Family Farming

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Nothing like fresh eggs and fresh rhubarb for a delicious cake.

In the middle of suburban Fairfield, not five minutes from Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Party City, Old Navy, and about seventy-five other stores, is a farm. A real farm, too, with cows, chickens, horses, and organically grown vegetables. The real farmer? Wyatt Whiteman.

Mr. Whiteman knows all there is to know about farming – he has spent his whole life living on this farm, inheriting the home and the land from his parents. He teaches a course on canning at Motherhouse Farm, which also has classes on plucking chickens, making butter, and other skills that promote self-sufficiency. He knows all sorts of tricks to farm efficiently: “Anyone who is seriously thinking about gardening should have some rabbits,” he said. “You can feed them all your scraps and then they’re natural fertilizer for the soil. It’s all a cycle.” Sustaining yourself – that’s what Mr. Whiteman is all about.

Mr. Whiteman has more helpful information on local farming than I could ever gather, because he has experienced farm-to-table living his whole life. He had started a website about his farm that was going to include tips for gardening, cooking, and other valuable farming advice. He said he knows people could benefit from what he has to say, but “really – who has time to sit around and make a website?” Well, me. And other bloggers with CSA memberships. But that’s because we don’t need to spend all of our time farming, we just pick up our food every week. The farmers – the people who really have the best advice – are the ones who don’t have time to peruse the blogosphere. Of course, the enthusiasm of local eaters is essential to the livelihood of the farmers, and the blogosphere has expanded the “community” aspect of CSA to include people from across the country… pretty cool stuff. But talking to Mr. Whiteman reminded me that when it comes down to it, the farmers are the ones who know it all.

I had initially stopped by Mr. Whiteman’s farm to buy some fresh eggs that he was advertising with a sign on the edge of his lawn. But we got to talking and he told me about a rhubarb upside-down cake that he’d made from the rhubarb that is currently thriving in his garden. I decided I had to try that, and asked if I could buy some rhubarb, too.

He grabbed a knife that was stuck in the fence and snipped me some rhubarb on the spot. He cut off the green leaves that sprout from the stalks, because the leaves are poisonous, and handed me the stalks, which have a sweet, tart, and refreshing taste.

So, inspired by Mr. Whiteman, I set out to make rhubarb upside-down cake with fresh eggs and just-picked rhubarb. I got the recipe from this page in The New York Times, but I made some adaptations to the instructions:

What you need:

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, more to grease pans

1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, rinsed and sliced into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1/2 cup light brown sugar

2 cups cake flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Zest of 1 lemon, grated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 large eggs

1/3 cup sour cream

Lemon juice from half a lemon

Prep the pan:

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9 inch circular pan with parchment paper butter it. Wrap a layer of foil around the bottom of the pan, and then set the pan on a baking sheet.

Make the topping (or the bottom, depending how you look at it):

In a medium bowl, mix rhubarb, cornstarch, and ½ cup of granulated sugar. Set the bowl aside. Then, mix the brown sugar and 1/2 stick butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk until smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Then set the stove on low heat and leave the pan until later.

Make the batter:

Whip two sticks of butter with a mixer. Then add in the remaining 1 cup of granulated sugar and the lemon zest. Cream together at high speed. (Don’t forget to scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally) Add the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the sour cream, then the lemon juice. It’s ok if the mixture has a weird consistency at this point. Slowly add the flour, about ¼ cup at a time, until well combined.

Assemble the cake:

Pour the brown sugar mixture into the cake pan, the spoon in the rhubarb and its yummy juices. Pour in the batter so that it covers all the rhubarb. It’s ok if the batter is a little thick.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the top is firm to the touch and you can stick in a tooth pick and it comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for 15 minutes before flipping it onto a plate. Don’t wait any longer or it will stick.

Local Farms Are In

Whenever I explain my blog to someone, I’m bombarded with names of shops I should visit, restaurants I should check out, and recipes I should try. I love it – people are really enthusiastic about the local eating movement.

Why, though, have so many people started to take notice? Opinion pieces in The New York Times constantly discuss food, urban gardens and CSA memberships are considered very hip, and people rave about restaurants that use local ingredients. Locavore was the 2007 word of the year for the Oxford American Dictionary. I’m curious as to what has sparked this line of thinking that wasn’t nearly as prevalent in America only a decade ago. I have a few theories and as I continue my research I intend to add to this list. If you have your own ideas or disagree with mine, I would love to hear your contributions.

Food Lovers Have Faith in the White House

The Obama administration promised right off the bat to hold a commitment to nutritious and sustainable food. Michelle Obama started a White House garden in 2009, a few weeks after Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, drilled into the pavement in front of the USDA and introduced “The People’s Garden” initiative. The USDA came out with the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which promotes local food systems. Check out ObamaFoodorama for more info.

Pioneers of the local food movement, including Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse, one of the first restaurants to use local organic ingredients and hormone-free meat, and Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, now have someone listening to them. When I say listening, I don’t mean directly following their instructions – if we had it Alice Water’s way, we’d be tripling the budget for school lunches, something that most people would say we cannot afford – but their voices are not completely lost. Many members of Congress have been seen carrying The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Alice Waters visited Michelle Obama’s Kitchen Garden last week. Michelle’s fight against obesity, with her “Let’s Move!” campaign, also goes hand-in-hand with the push for fresh grown ingredients. She wants to eliminate “Food Deserts,” underserved communities without access to supermarkets that have fresh food.

I’m not saying that the road for small local farmers has suddenly been paved with gold. But these White House initiatives have provided an ideal climate for celebrity food advocates, and made the idea of local and sustainable farming less foreign to the general public. And with her great style and great arms, Michelle Obama is very trendy – her support for the local food movement can guarantee that of many Americans.

Urban Gardens are the New Victory Gardens

Okay, so I wasn’t around for Victory Gardens, but I get the idea. Also known as war gardens or food gardens for defense, they were planted during World War I and II to lessen the strain on public food supply during wartime. Eleanor Roosevelt started a Victory Garden on the White House front lawn (sound familiar?) and families across the country cultivated their own produce. With the start of the People’s Garden movement discussed above came the induction of urban gardens, which are also very hot right now. The New York Times did a feature on roof gardens in Manhattan, and people compete to see who can have the most creative location for a garden. Check out this Truck Farm video, an idea that has gained popularity:

Pink Slime is a Quite the Catchphrase

When Gerald Zirnstein coined the term pink slime for what Beef Products Inc. (BPI) calls Lean Finely Textured Beef, people took notice. How could you not stop and pay attention when people use the term pink slime to describe what your hamburger is made out of?

A brief recap: About ten years ago, BPI had the idea of taking fatty beef trimmings that had been previously deemed appropriate for pet food and cooking oil and to instead use them for ground beef. This had never been done before because these cuts of beef were extremely susceptible to salmonella and E. coli. To solve this problem, BPI sprayed the trimmings with ammonia. Presto, no more bacteria. This ground beef was then mixed with “normal” ground beef and then sent off to places like your Stop & Shop or school lunch tray.

It is, in a sense, beef so nasty that they clean it with ammonia.

The public lashed out against pink slime, and major grocery stores along with McDonalds pledged to stop carrying BPI ground beef. As a result, three of the four BPI plants have been temporarily shut down.

In response, Governors Rick Perry of Texas, Terry Branstad of Iowa, and Sam Brownback of Kansas, have spearheaded the “Dude, it’s beef!” campaign. They are determined to make pink slime a term of the past, and promise that Lean Finely Textured Beef is leaner and less fattening than typical ground beef.

Opinion writer for The New York Times Mark  Bittman weighed in on the issue. He points out that pink slime came into existence as a way to resolve the E. coli dilemma. If pink slime was the solution, he says, what then is the problem? He answers his own question: factory farming. He insists that in order to truly address pink slime, we must see it as a symptom of the larger issue of industrialized farming.

Pink slime, then, increased public apprehension towards factory farming, maybe even pushing towards local or grass-fed beef.

More theories to come about the popularity of local farming.

Sustainable Sipping

Check out this cool water fountain in the LaGuardia Airport! It promotes using your own water bottle, and keeps track of how much waste is saved by doing so.

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Why You Want a CSA Membership

Getting a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) membership will be the best thing that ever happened to you. You just have to remember that it’s not a super market. Don’t feel restricted by the large amounts of obscure vegetables you take home each week, instead see them as an excuse for trying innovative recipes!

My family has a CSA membership at Sport Hill Farm in Easton, CT, and we often structure our meals around the produce we get from the farm. It actually makes planning dinner easier, because there’s inspiration at the ready! Our neighbors always fight over who gets our share if we are on vacation. Going to pick up our share on Thursday is the highlight of my week. I love reading the board that lists the different produce I can pick out – how many tomatoes, cucumbers, bunches of swiss chard (depending on the week) I can take – everything picked from the garden only hours ago.

Already have a CSA membership? Share your tips!

These are Tammy McLeod’s tips for joining a CSA from her absolutely spectacular blog: Agrigirl’s Blog. I highly recommend checking them out: Tammy’s Top Ten (t3 report) Tips for belonging to a CSA.

Calm Your Kale Anxieties

Kale is a vegetable you’re probably seeing a lot of right now, because it is happy in colder temperatures. Granted, it’s not really that cold in CT right now, but kale can be grown all year round, so your farmer probably has tons of it while you’re waiting for more typical veggies.

Ask anyone with a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) membership, and he or she will probably tell you that there is a lot of kale involved in the deal. So try this crunchy snack – kale chips! 

Here’s how: First cut the kale leaves from the thicker stems and tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Then wash the leaves and dry them with a salad spinner. Spread the leaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Then drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle some salt on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes and you’ll get truly yummy snack.

If you close your eyes, you can convince yourself you’re eating potato chips. Almost.

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Elm City Market

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Elm City Market is a co-op in New Haven that has over 1500 member-owners. Anyone can become a member-owner; you just have to fill out an application and invest $200 in the Market. (You can pay all at once or in $20 payments.) If you can’t make the $20 payments, but still want to be a member, there are other payment plans available. Member-owners vote on the Board of Directors and receive patronage dividends on years that the Co-op turns a profit, among other benefits and responsibilities.

Anyone can shop at Elm City Market – it is a hybrid co-op in that its first priority is the community. Elm City Market has, therefore, local and organic products as well as conventional grocery store products. A staff member explained to me, “We are a community grocery store, so we are a hybrid. We emphasize the local, but we also have that fake Parmesan cheese that comes in a shaker, because if someone is taking the bus here to do their shopping, we are going to make sure we have everything they want. If we were trying to be a Whole Foods, we wouldn’t appeal to New Haven.”

The Market considers food that has traveled 0 – 200 miles to market (m2m) to be local, and food that has traveled 201 – 400 miles to market to be regional. All products that traveled 400 miles or less have either a Local or Regional sticker, as well as a sticker that says exactly how many miles the product traveled to reach the store. It was very refreshing to see products that only traveled one mile to market (like Chabaso’s bread) when on average, food travels 1,500 to 2,500 miles to get to the grocery store. Cutting down food mileage benefits the environment (think of how much gas you’re saving) and strengthens the local economy and community.

Unlike many other grocery stores, local vendors don’t have to buy shelf space at Elm City Market. “If we like your product, and you’re within 400 miles, we want to carry it,” a staff member told me. The Market has very quick turnaround for getting products on the shelves, sometimes taking only two days.

When I went to Elm City Market, I brought my friend Teddy, whose mom, Robin, owns Four Flours Bakery. Robin operates Four Flours out of her home in Woodbridge, and Elm City Market stocks her cookies. (They’re marked with a 7 miles to market sticker.) When I told Amy, the marketing director of Elm City Market, that Teddy’s mom makes the Four Flours cookies, she was thrilled. She said that she was in the process of making a sign with a picture of Teddy’s family and a description of Four Flours. These signs litter the store, giving more information on local vendors. Amy said that she was happy to meet Teddy, because that’s what Elm City Market is all about. “Local is about the people,” she said. “We are helping our families and our neighbors, making New Haven and Connecticut strong.”


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