Archive | February, 2013

What is Real Food?

27 Feb
by Deanne

RealFood_LogokitcafeOur new business is called Solar’s Real Food: Kitchen and Cafe.  The name brings about two implicit questions: 

  1. Who the heck is solar?
  2. What is real food?

Solar Drive-In was the name of our family’s first restaurant . We originally named the restaurant Solar because we installed solar panels. We had really good luck in the restaurant business. The food tasted wonderful, the customers supported us immensely, and the employees where bright-eyed.  

Following our passions, we planted a raised bed garden outside our building and the food grew really well with just a  few challenges.  This beginners luck soon began to take on the name “Solar Magic.”  With all of that going for us you can see why we would want to hang on to the name solar.

Photo of fresh food and quote from Julia ChildAs for real food, we could say a lot.  But  before we explain our own perspective. It would be great to know what others think?  Perhaps it needs no definition, perhaps we all intuitively know.   Here is a quote by spunky Julia Child to help us ponder the question:  What is real food?

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Bats, Berries, and Burdock Root

25 Feb
by Deanne

Yesterday I returned from my first MOSES Conference. While it might sound like a religious gathering, MOSES is a conference about organic farming. For the last 24 years this conference, held in February in La Crosse, Wisconsin has become an event that many organic farmers set aside as their time to learn and socialize. Francine and I first heard about the conference last year from some of our neighbors who are organic farmers.

mealsMoses

A reflection of what makes organic farming unique, the conference has two elements not easily found in other gatherings: real food and happy people. The food selections included wholesome organic yogurt, juice, fair-trade coffee and chocolate, veggies, meats, cheeses, fresh baked muffins, bars, and breads. I think the people are happy because they work toward a passionate cause:  contributing to a healthy planet.  Many come as families which is a refreshing change from most professional conferences I have attended in the past.  The meals are as enlightening as the workshops due to the conversations that take place.   I heard stories about health epiphanies that brought people to organics and met young people eager to get access to some land so they can farm.

As I buzzed through the trade show on Friday afternoon I encountered a lady wearing a black cape with a plastic bat glued to her cheek. At first I was confused because I thought bats were pests not something essential to a healthy sustainable watershed.Photo of Bat House

 Me: Do you capture bats? (Bats are bad, right?)

Bat Lady: (Pointing to a slim black rectangle) These are bat houses and I make them.

Me: (Catching on to the fact that she thinks bats are beneficial) So you attract bats?

Bat Lady: Bats are an essential part of a healthy environment. They can be an important part of insect-control strategies aimed at reducing pesticide use, thus reducing pesticide contamination of our watersheds. One little brown bat can catch 1,000 mosquito-size insects in an hour!

In a few short minutes I was impressed enough to check out her  website and there I learned more:

Unfortunately, many bat species are declining in numbers at an alarming rate. They are slow to reproduce; most bat species have only one “pup” per year. Bats suffer from habitat loss and human fear based on myths. I have three (3) bat house models, all of which are certified by Bat Conservation International (BCI) — meaning they have passed all the criteria years of research by BCI has determined goes into the success of a bat house.

Would I buy a bat house and should everyone have a bat house? These are worthy questions to be pondered. However, at a conference, things happen fast and pondering comes later.honeyberry

Moving along, I stumbled upon a guy with an open jar of jam giving taste tests of honeyberry jam. He sells the plants and I wondered if growing some on the side of our lot might be possible. Again I was impressed enough to check out his website.  It seems that it is possible to grow these berries in our area.  Should we plant some?  Another point to ponder.

On Saturday, the last day of the conference, I must have been thinking about my self-imposed job of marketing and promoting our business venture. I stopped at Fairshare CSA Coalition’s booth and learned about how they collaboratively market community supported agriculture farms.   I am venturing into a similar project in our area soon. I bought their cookbook and turned to page 40 to find a description of an unusual vegetable called Burdock Root. The book explains:

Gobo (Burdock Root) has been an important vegetable in Japan, cultivated there since the tenth century. The Japanese believe gobo to be a strong blood purifier, a support to healthy liver function, a tonic after sickness, and an aid to arthritis and skin diseases.

It went on to explain that in our culture we see this plant as a weed because it creates those burrs that attach themselves like Velcro to our clothing and our pet’s fur.

FromAsparagustoZucchini

Burdock root stood out to me in much the same way the bat information stood out: We tend to dismiss things that might actually be beneficial and in this case, tasty. There are several recipes that I might need to try after a trip to an Asian market to pick up this interesting root.

How about you…Would you ever buy a bat house? Has anyone out there heard of honeyberries or burdock root?

The Fancy Food Show

15 Feb
by Deanne

SellSpecialtyFood_2Our foray into the world of specialty food manufacturing has been insightful. We learned a lot about cooking without the top eight allergens and discovered new-to-us ingredients like chia seeds.

We still dream about creating a product that is helpful to people who have food allergy and intolerance and yet tasty to the rest of the people in their family.

To fuel this aspiration Steve and I attended the 2013 Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in mid January.  We signed up for two classes about getting started in specialty food manufacturing.  Sitting next to me in one class was the guy that instigated our visit to the show:  Stephen Hall.  He is the author of a very useful book for anyone who wants to break into the food business.

A short conversation with Stephen left us with the take-away message :  A person can make money in the specialty food business if they do not become too rigid.  Pondering this conversation more, Steve and I realize that flexibility seems to be key to success in business or life in general.

Specialty Food Show Image

My rigidity of thinking….the habit of seeing myself as not knowing enough was shaken when I read this article.  It highlights a product that we tried while we were at the Fancy Food Show.  Previously, when we were considering labeling for our products we met the article’s author, Carol Harvey from a company called Palate Works.  We found her to be very helpful and professional.  Our lesson from her article is:  People, even those who have a product called Holy Crap, don’t have their  #@$! together when it comes to labeling.  According to Harvey, they made health claims that would put the product in the category of a drug and therefore subject to different rules and testing.

I am sure they have the best intentions and it isn’t a competition, just a realization that there is a lot to learn when one ventures into new territory.

More insights from our one day at the show include:

The world has enough specialty cheese, olives, pasta sauces, candy and chocolate. Aisle after aisle of the show told us that.

The businesses using traditional foods from around the world which are naturally gluten and dairy free did not market their products in that way.

Photo of Joia We had a chance to taste Joia Soda, a product from Minnesota that we’d like to include in our new restaurant offerings this summer.

Soy wraps can be used to make walking salads…..instead of walking tacos. (Walking tacos are popular in our area…a bag of taco chips with hamburger and cheese added to the top.)

There is a really cool orange juicer from Vienna, Austria that is starting to be sold for US retailers. photo of orange juicer

We tasted honey vinegar and thought it could be a local thing and it was very good.

Coconut milk and water were very big at the show.  However, they tasted different each time we sampled them.

Grapefruit flavor is really nice.  We wondered if we could incorporate that into our foods.

We tasted a green tea frozen yogurt made from a mix. It convinced us that we don’t want to carry that product.

We saw Angie’s, another Minnesota business, this one from our neck of the woods: Mankato.  Her products were also in all the stores we shopped in California too.  Go Angie!

Photo of Angie's Boom Chick Pop

At the end of the day, Steve and I found a couch and took notes of all we learned.  Overall, it was an eye-opening experience to see so many people trying to make it in the world of specialty food manufacturing.

Desert Roots Kitchen: Tempe, Arizona, USA

4 Feb
by Deanne

Desert Roots Kitchen—Tempe, AZ

The month of January 2013 was filled with two of my favorite activities: eating out and traveling to new places.  Steve and I visited family in California and then went to five national parks in California and Arizona. As we traveled between the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Park we spent one night and morning in Phoenix.  In search of a place to enjoy lunch after a morning visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, I found Desert Roots Kitchen through an online search for organic foods.

Review: (Real Local Cooking’s criteria)
Localness: 4

Yes, they do source many of their ingredients locally.  There is a page on their website that lists farms and farmer’s markets that they use to purchase their ingredients.  They change their menu daily which is a necessity when one is cooking based on what is available.photo(73)

Flavour: 5

I loved my food!  Red lentil tomato veggie soup with crunchy celery and an olive hummus plate served with fresh pitas, tomato, cucumber, and carrots: Yummers!  The dominant spice for the soup was black pepper and perhaps some cayenne.  Steve made me some soup today because I was going on and on about the memory of my meal.  The chef didn’t overuse soy as many vegetarian and vegan cooks do as an easy trick for adding protein.  The protein came from beans, chickpeas, lentils…..yes all good sources of protein and add desirable fiber content to our diets.   Steve had the wrap of the day which was a mixed bean burrito with enchilada and sweet corn sauce.  I’ve probably said it before, he is very hard to impress, but he really enjoyed the flavor combinations. His two sides were lemon tahini kale rice with chickpeas and red cargo rice with mushrooms, green beans and water chestnuts.

RedLentilTomatoVeggieSoup

Pleasant Surprise: Yes

After eating at some pretty mediocre places, one starts to think, “There just aren’t any good places to eat.”  Then you find something that is fun and flavorful and that is a big surprise.  We ate at about 40 different restaurants in California, Arizona, and Nevada.  This one stands above the rest, even some from places that have highly celebrated chefs.

Comfort+Coziness = The C factor: 5

When we walked in the door we were greeted by one of the three women in the small but inviting space.  Our greeter explained the menu and chatted with us while another person prepared the food.  Soon our plates were presented to us and we wandered outside to find a a spot in the sun to enjoy one of the best meals of our trip.  The owner found a way to take a somewhat awkward space because of the size and location, (they are in a less than obvious and hard to find space in a mixed-use complex with no indoor seating) and make it comfortable with service and outside patio seating.

Overall Rating: 14+

MixedBeanBurrito

They describe themselves as a vegan/vegetarian cafe.  Even though we do not adhere to a strictly vegan diet, we believe we can learn so much from trying new flavors and ingredient combinations from other cuisines and diets.  It is worth noting that they do cater to people with food allergies and intolerance too.

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