Dining

I’m in my ELEMENT

Hi folks! I’m super excited to let you all know about my involvement in a new project (one of many to come!). I’ve taken a position as Marketing and Social Media Manager for a brand new pop-up restaurant project called ELEMENTS. We have a roving band of chefs who will travel the country, led by Chef Skye Van Schetsen, connecting with communities and using the best of what that region has to offer to create both a beautiful meal and one of a kind dining experience. Proceeds will go to a local food/hunger related charity in each city. How cool is that?

Our first stop is in Portland, Oregon.

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If you’re interested in following our journey, and/or you live in the Portland area and are interested in attending one of our dinners there, go like and follow us on whichever social media platforms work for you for the latest updates.

And check out the website, where we’ll post menus for each city and lots of other fun stuff.
Happy Tuesday!

That One Time I Ate Crickets for Dinner

“Disgusting. You might as well eat shit.”

That’s the comment I received from a follower on the I’m Gonna Cook That! Facebook page, in response to this picture:

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In case you haven’t seen one before, that’s a cricket taco. It’s one of the specials this week at a local place called Comida. The boyfriend and I had been at a happy hour across the street at Great Divide for Big Brothers Big Sisters (I’ve been a big sister for a little over five years), and after a couple of beers each, we decided we’d better have something to eat before we headed home. I wanted tacos, and since we were so close to Comida it seemed like a logical choice. As we cozied up to the bar, we were handed the specials list. It included, among other things, those funky looking cricket tacos. I got a little giddy, not just as the prospect of trying something new, but at the very idea of a restaurant in Denver being willing to have anything to do with insects on their menu.

I won’t pretend it’s not a little weird. Our food culture in America, unlike many countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, still has a long way to go before we’ll collectively accept insects as anything other than a thing for which you call the exterminator. For most, finding a cricket in their food means promptly calling the waiter over to complain. Ordering a pile of them wrapped up in a couple of corn tortillas will probably seem “disgusting” to a lot of you for a long time to come. We’re just NOW getting somewhere with this whole Nose to Tail thing—finding ways to utilize every single bit of more commonly accepted proteins like pig or cow. So, I can’t say that commenter’s reaction was surprising. I will, however, take umbrage with her suggestion that eating insects is on the same level as eating… poo.

Insects, when collected and prepared correctly, are an amazing source of nutrition. Back in 2013, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization released a friendly little reminder that there are, in fact, nearly two thousand species of edible insects. A decent percentage of them have been a primary protein staple for several countries—36 in Africa, 11 in Europe, and 29 in Asia–for centuries. In a few of these places, locusts have been known to decimate entire crops, leaving those who directly depend on what can be grown for food little choice but to turn the locusts themselves into dinner. For them, that “disgusting” bug is literally what saves them from starvation (Holland, 2013).

A more recent report from the U.N.F.A.O. from January of this year informs us that, among other benefits, bugs can eat anything. That means utilizing them as a food crop, for humans or livestock, is far less expensive than say, feeding a head of cattle or a herd of pigs. They also use far less water, which is key in places where access to water is limited. Insects, in addition to being an excellent source of protein, also contain fatty acids at levels comparable to some fish, as well as zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and fiber. They are also a lot less likely to give you a foodborne illness. We already use insects for everything from honey, to silk, to food and cosmetic dye (U.N.F.A.O., January 2016). Why doesn’t it make sense to exercise that same Nose to Tail approach that’s being used for animal protein sources?

Truth be told, some day we might all find ourselves dealing with a scarcity of animal protein as it becomes more and more challenging to support traditional agriculture. It’s possible that we’d have little choice but to adapt to a regular diet of insects and hydroponically grown veggies, regardless of how squeamish we might be. Also, not for nothing, but while we might not need to actually “eat shit,” burning it for warmth or utilizing it to fertilize the soil where we grow our food is conceivable, as well.

Look, I’m not saying anyone should feel bad if they looked at that picture of my taco and found it “icky.” I get it, I really do. We’re not used to it, and for a lot of people getting used to it might require circumstances that most of us are fortunate enough to have never encountered. But I am, and have always been, an adventurous eater, and knowing what I know about how other cultures practice entomophagy (the practice of eating insects), it’s never been all that far out of the realm of possibility that I’d find myself dining on some bugs one day.

Turns out, that day was Tuesday, March 22nd. For the record, they tasted just fine—nutty. They tend to take on the flavor of whatever they’re with, so in the case of that taco they tasted a lot like jalapenos, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. Just crunchier, kinda like Rice Crispies. Also, yes, I’d absolutely eat them again.

 

Citations:

Holland PUBLISHED May 14, 2013, J. S. (2013, May 14). U.N. Urges Eating Insects; 8 Popular Bugs to Try. Retrieved March 24, 2016, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130514-edible-insects-entomophagy-science-food-bugs-beetles/

United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization. (January 2016). The Contribution of Insects to Food Security, Livelihoods, and the Environment. Retrieved March 24, 2016, from http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3264e/i3264e00.pdf

Last, but not least.

I’m going to go backwards when telling you about my weekend at IFBC in Seattle. This first post is actually about my last meal.

I did not take a photo of my last meal in Seattle.  I did not Instagram, or Tweet, or even Facebook.  I did not “check in” to the little French bistro where I had brunch at the almost silly hour of 2pm.

That was not my original intent.

After wandering through the Pike Place Market for over an hour, snacking on crab cocktail and flipping through stacks of vintage this and handmade that, my plan was to go eat somewhere, take a ridiculous number of pictures of my meal, and check myself in with a photo of the glass of sparkling whatever-was-on-the-menu to which I was treating myself. Then, I noticed how low my phone battery was getting.  As I looked around, charger in hand, for a place to plug in, the hostess walked over and offered to plug it in at the hostess stand for me. I panicked. I was at a bit of a crossroads here. Do I take Joe Yonan’s advice from that morning and unplug, or did I grip my phone to my chest with Gollum-like protectiveness and just do as much social networking as I could before the phone died? I mean, I hadn’t even taken a picture of my plate yet!

Ultimately, I handed over my phone.

I spent the next hour sipping bubbles and enjoying the delicious house cured salmon in front of me. It was the best decision I could have made.

After an entire weekend of live tweeting and Facebook posts and taking pictures of every single morsel that went into my facehole, that one meal was mine. I’m going to keep being kinda selfish and not even describe it to you now. What I will tell you is that through the entire meal, I didn’t think about anything else. I didn’t think about the weekend, or the blog posts I’d do after I got home, or how many page views I’d get after publishing them. I just ate my food. And you know what? It was really, seriously, truly, lovely.

Thanks, Joe, for the advice. I expect I will be using it a lot from now on.

 

All I want for my birthday is…

As per usual, the end of the quarter at school brings on Panic Mode. This quarter I’m trying to get my menu project wrapped up and it’s a LOT of work. We’ll be back to regularly scheduled recipes and ridiculousness soon. Pinky Swear!

Today is my birthday. I’m never very good at answering those, “What do you want for… (your birthday, Christmas, etc.)?” type questions. It just feels weird to ask for things. I’ve gotten a couple of awesome gifts this year without ever asking, and I like it way more when someone gives because they want to instead of because they feel like they have to.

But I’m going to ask you all for something on my birthday.

Go out to dinner tonight. Or tomorrow night. Or any time this month, really. But, don’t go to just any old restaurant. Go to one that is participating in No Kid Hungry’s Dine Out campaign. These restaurants have promised to help raise money to end childhood hunger in a variety of ways, from special menu items to giving you the opportunity to donate at the register. Some of them are really nice restaurants, and some of them are your local fast food joint, so how much money you spend, and donate, is totally your call. But, you have to do it by the end of September. Maybe even do it more than once.

Yeah, I’m asking as a birthday present for me, but really, I think we all win. You get to eat out, and kids right there in your community get better access to the nutritious food they need to do well in school, retain what they are learning, and keep their little brains and bodies working like they should.

Go here, type in your zip code, and find a place to grub. Just like that, you’re part of the solution. Feels pretty good,  yeah?

For the rest of the month, I’ll be talking about two things.

1) My trip to the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle. I’m so excited I could mess myself. But I won’t, because that would be embarrassing.

and

2) Organizations that are really putting it out there to end childhood hunger.

For a sneak peak, check out the guest post I did over on the Heroes Like Us site. There’s some great information about No Kid Hungry’s efforts to get every school kid a good breakfast every day, and also, a delicious and easy breakfast idea to help kick start your day. Lookie there, another win-win!

 

Hoofin’ It!

This is a post about how just one walk can change your perspective, teach you something you thought you already knew, and make you fall in love with your city all over again. Oh yeah, and the food. So much wonderful food!

The folks at Heroes Like Us, along with the Mile High Business Alliance and Imbibe Denver joined forces for Hoofin’ It. What’s that? It’s a four night series of food experiences dedicated to one hoofed animal and one Denver neighborhood each night. The event benefits the local food system work at the Mile High Business Alliance. Participants, broken into three waves each night, visit four local food & drink establishments to enjoy specially prepared snacks paired with beer or a unique cocktail. They walk from place to place (get it? we were hoofin‘ it!), giving them a chance to not only see the neighborhood, but also engage in a conversation that has been getting louder and louder in this country by the day. The topic is a big one, and tries to answer some pretty important questions:

– Where does our food come from?
– How is it being produced?
– Who is producing it?
– Will they be able to keep doing it 100, 200, 300 years from now?

Like I said, it’s a lot.

Before I go any further, let me clarify that there were no serious faces on these little culinary tours. This was fun! We ate some amazing food, had some incredibly interesting drinks, and enjoyed a whole lot of silliness, from hole in one contests to hula hooping.

But in between, the organizers managed to do something Heroes Like Us and their many community partners are becoming quite adept at doing– they taught us something. Not with long lectures, or boring PowerPoint decks, or even shocking pictures of animals being raised in awful conditions. They did it with the food. They did it by introducing us to the people, local ranchers who donated the bison, sheep, pork, and beef for each evening’s dishes, and who every day wake up and work hard, and at much greater time and financial expense than you could imagine, to raise their animals with respect: humanely, and responsibly.

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What they ask in return is that we respect the food, support them in their efforts, and share the message that we can change the food system in a way that makes sure the land, the animals, and the farms and ranches that steward them can continue to feed us, our children, and grandchildren well into the future.

Yes, I’m going to show you the food. I promise! But give me just a few more minutes to tell you which sponsor surprised me most. In fact, they were the main sponsor– The Humane Society of the United States. I had honestly never made the connection between the Humane Society’s mission and food production before. After having the chance to speak with Angela Huffman who does Rural Development and Outreach for the Humane Society, I learned that the HSUS has been working for a long time to improve the conditions on farms, and expose the mistreatment many animals receive on their way to your dinner table.  They are also working with farmers and ranchers who are raising their stock responsibly, so they can further educate those of us who eat meat but want to do so in a way that respects the well-being of the animals we use for food. She, and the organization, took some heat during all four nights of Hoofin’ It from protesters who didn’t think the Humane Society should be there (well, they really didn’t think anyone should be there). I don’t want to get all political on ya, so I’ll just say that I think they might have missed the point. 🙂

And now… on to the yummy part!

The schedule went like this:

Night One: Bison in Uptown (Bison donated by Prairie Ridge Buffalo Ranch)
Night Two: Sheep in Downtown (Lamb donated by Boulder Lamb)
Night Three: Pork in LoHi (Lower Highlands)
Night Four: Beef in the Ballpark neighborhood.

I attended Night Three as a guest, and Night Four as a volunteer. I had never really spent much time in either of those neighborhoods, so I was pretty excited to find out how great they are! I will definitely be visiting them again.

I’m not going to take you stop by stop because, well, I might go off on another some tangent and this blog post might not ever end. So, the highlights…

The pork for night three was donated by Heritage Belle Farms. I tried hard to think of a favorite for the night, but I was really impressed with everything!

From the root beer pulled pork sliders at Highland Tap & Burger
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To the BBQ pulled pork corn dog from American Grind and the giant mug of Dunkel Bier from Prost Brewing.

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For night four, we were in the Ballpark neighborhood enjoying beef from Callicrate Beef.

We started the night at Trillium, where guests were served beef tartare and a yummy champagne cocktail.

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As we moved through the next three stops, I felt like we hit the slider trifecta!

Wagyu sliders at the Curtis Club

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Bourbon braised chuck roast sliders at The Lobby

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and last, but most definitely not least, barbecue pulled beef sliders at Ignite! Denver with one of my favourite things on this planet– melty, delicious queso!

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I heard rumours that there would be another Hoofin’ It in October. I certainly hope so, and I am looking forward to being a part of it again. It’s not just the food (ok, it’s a lot about the food) that draws me in. It’s the conversation. It’s the genuine interest shared by everyone involved to create a world where we all have a direct connection to the farmers and ranchers who feed us. It’s those “A-ha!” moments so many of us had each night. And it’s my city, my lovely Denver, that never ceases to amaze me.