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Slow and Steady

January 31, 2012

Today marks the renewal date of my Slow Food International membership.  Slow Food is a global organization with a mandate “to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.” This statement aligns to my own feelings about food, and its importance to the health of individuals, communities, and the environment.   Sadly however, healthy food and the time it takes to prepare meals are becoming luxuries few can afford.

Organizations like Slow Food are trying to raise awareness of these facts and promote change that will result in a more equitable, healthier food production and delivery system.  A recent article in The Atlantic outlines Slow Food USA President Josh Viertel’s change of organizational focus from one of food appreciation to social justice.  Now that Slow Food has brought attention to the importance of good food to a healthy, happy lifestyle, Viertel proposes that action must now follow.  He sees the rights and security of food producers and consumers as a top priority and hopes that Slow Food can play an instrumental role in creating a food system that benefits both farmers and eaters.

While the topic of social justice as it relates to food is a complicated issue that has no simple solution, as the Atlantic article suggests, the mere act of eating and the choices we make can have political implications.  Backlash against companies that use highly processed ingredients in their products is on the rise, as are sales of local and organic produce. Groups seeking to limit the use of chemicals, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms in food production are finding increased support.  Individuals and businesses alike are taking up the cause of promoting and funding an economically and environmentally sustainable food chain.

Local Kitchen & Wine Bar is a Toronto restaurant in my neighbourhood that puts Slow Food’s philosophy into practice.  They serve handmade pasta and salumi made from local ingredients, using traditional techniques.  Realizing that it is a privilege to be able to eat in such an establishment, I have endeavoured to try my hand at making similar versions of some of Local’s delicious offering.  The first thing this undertaking has taught me is that Slow Food made in your own home is a whole new level of slow.  It’s Suh-loooooooooow.  But it is also fulfilling and serves to empower the individual with knowledge and skill, enabling them to make informed choices.

I’ve made homemade pasta a few times in the past and it has always turned out pretty great, although don’t get discouraged if your first attempts aren’t perfect – you’ll get the hang of it quickly, and the results are well worth the time and initial frustration.  This weekend I made Squash Lune with Butter and Sage from Mario Batali’s Babbo cookbook.  It was my first “stuffed” pasta (I have always made long flat noodles in the past) so I was a bit nervous.

Making Lune on a Sunday Afternune

Luckily there was not much to worry about; the recipe was in fact quite simple.  However, it took a looong time to execute from beginning to end.  I first made the pasta dough and while it was resting, I roasted the squash.  Once the squash was cool I then mixed the filling, rolled out the pasta sheets (I use a manual pasta machine but it’s possible to roll the dough by hand) and cut each sheet into rounds.  Assembly of each lune was the most time consuming aspect, as ensuring each one was sealed took a bit of time, and the recipe made over 30 pieces.  I would most definitely make this again, however, as the results were extremely satisfying: delicious, impressive, and also relaxing.  I feel like I could make pasta all day every day if someone were willing to hire me to do so.  (Anyone?)

The finished product

Eating “politically” might sound difficult or pointless, but the ripple effects of merely committing to making more food at home can be significant. The more I experiment with new recipes, the more I try to respect the limits of seasonal produce, and the more I support farmers and producers who are concerned about the well-being of their customers and not just profits, the better equipped I feel to make other decisions big and small.  I feel just a little more self-sufficient and therefore just a little more confident.  Yes, it sounds corny, but it’s absolutely true, and I can only imagine what an organized group of confident, capable, committed people like those within the Slow Food organization can do when they set their minds to fixing a system very much in need of repair.

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After receiving my copy of “The Art of Living According to Joe Beef,” one of the first things I did was write down a list of not-too-intimidating recipes to tackle.  The first undertaking was Lentils Like Baked Beans, a scrumptious and simple side-dish that I was happy to eat with dinner, and as leftovers for two weekend breakfasts.  Satisfied with my first Joe Beef experiment, I decided that Spaghetti Homard Lobster would be next.  After watching several video interviews, and in particular, this demonstration, it was clear that I had to try what seems to be the quintessential Joe Beef dish.

St. Lawrence Market

St. Lawrence Market

On Saturday my husband and I made a shopping list and headed out to St. Lawrence market to pick up the required ingredients.  We cheated and purchased pre-cooked lobsters, which is very un-Joe Beef of us, but I hope we can be forgiven.  I could make a ton of excuses (lack of a pot large enough for cooking lobsters, desire not to transport live sea creatures on the streetcar) but instead I’ll just promise to do it right next time.  Although, doing it wrong turned out deliciously, so there really isn’t much incentive to change our approach.

Homard Lobsters

Homard Lobsters

After making one last purchase of way too many cheap Brussels sprouts we lugged our bounty home and immediately disassembled the lobsters and began work on the cream sauce.  While it was reducing, we watched a couple of episodes of Montrealer Chuck Hughes’ program Chuck’s Day Off on foodnetwork.ca.  Then, somehow, without really even trying, we ended up with a beautiful and absolutely spectacular-tasting meal that we ate while watching the Canadiens take on the Leafs.  Unfortunately the game didn’t turn out in Montreal’s favour, which would have been a fitting end to the day even if it would have made for one very unhappy Toronto fan.  Perhaps things turned out as they should have, then, depending on how you look at it (or who you ask.)

Sauce Ingredients

Sauce Ingredients

Over the course of the rest of the weekend, we made a cheese curd sandwich and Oeufs en Pot à la Joe Beef.  Now we’re recovering from cheese-cream-bacon overload and will be taking a short break from JB’s tasty temptations.  While I’m dying to try the Hot Delicieux Sandwich, I’ll just have to be satisfied with quinoa and carrot sticks for a little while…

Spaghetti Homard Lobster

Voila! Spaghetti Homard Lobster