Thursday, December 18, 2008
"On December 17, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama announced his choice of Vilsack as the nominee to be the next U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack has governed a farm state as did the previous two Secretaries of Agriculture, Senator-elect Mike Johanns (2005-2007) and Ed Schafer (2007-present). The Washington Post called Vilsack a "shoo-in" for the job.
Opposition to a Vilsack appointment has come from the Organic Consumers Association, which outlined in a November 2008 report several reasons why it believes Vilsack would be a poor choice for the position, particularly as energy and environmental reforms were a key point of the Obama campaign. Among those reasons the report cites: Vilsack has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for large industrial farms and genetically modified crops; as Iowa state governor, he originated the seed pre-emption bill in 2005, effectively blocking local communities from regulating where genetically engineered crops would be grown; additionally, Vilsack was the founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership, and was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, an industry lobbying group. Vilsack has also been known to travel in the Monsanto jet."
According to the Organic Consumers Association, Here are "Six Reasons Why Obama Appointing Monsanto's Buddy, Former Iowa Governor Vilsack, for USDA Head Would be a Terrible Idea"
Nov. 12, 2008
* Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack's support of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops, especially pharmaceutical corn:
* The biggest biotechnology industry group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, named Vilsack Governor of the Year. He was also the founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership.
* When Vilsack created the Iowa Values Fund, his first poster child of economic development potential was Trans Ova and their pursuit of cloning dairy cows.
* Vilsack was the origin of the seed pre-emption bill in 2005, which many people here in Iowa fought because it took away local government's possibility of ever having a regulation on seeds- where GE would be grown, having GE-free buffers, banning pharma corn locally, etc. Representative Sandy Greiner, the Republican sponsor of the bill, bragged on the House Floor that Vilsack put her up to it right after his state of the state address.
* Vilsack has a glowing reputation as being a schill for agribusiness biotech giants like Monsanto. Sustainable ag advocated across the country were spreading the word of Vilsack's history as he was attempting to appeal to voters in his presidential bid. An activist from the west coast even made this youtube animation about Vilsack
The airplane in this animation is a referral to the controversy that Vilsack often traveled in Monsanto's jet.
*Vilsack is an ardent support of corn and soy based biofuels, which use as much or more fossil energy to produce them as they generate, while driving up world food prices and literally starving the poor.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Read all about Richmond's new King of the Hill
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
It is indeed an interesting question in this age where organic, locavore, and green are volleyed back and forth in daily parlance
Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician and author in Danville, Calif., conducted an experiment where he ate nothing but organic for three years. For more about his journey, follow the green brick road.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
In this post Thanksgiving week, many folks are still glowing from the comfort food frenzy. For many, this holiday of the home fills them with warmth and is the start of the holiday season.
Commuters in Chicago will be treated to hot air that will warm 10 Chicago bus shelters, courtesy of the Stove Top brand of stuffing. Such marketing is meant to entice consumers to experience products tangibly.
To get a full belly, More Stuffing Please
Sunday, November 30, 2008
To the Salps for their hospitality, Uncle Jimmy for his stories, and Uncle John for his jokes.
And here's a shout out to some of the highlights of the meal:
Andrew for preparing one of the best darn turkeys that I've ever eaten- a fried masterpiece.
To Amanda for her stunning spinach pie ( or is that from a stunning Amanda and her spinach pie) from our favorite barefoot food maven.
To Jill's Mom for the nostalgic 7-up jello fruit layered concoction that's pretty creepy and very 70's:
And to me, who overcame a lifelong fear to bring to Thanksgiving my grandmother's longtime favorite Mabel's rolls. And you may ask, who is Mabel ? Mabel Harris was a friend of my grandmother's back in the 40's when she lived out in the Northern Neck in Montross, VA. My mom and aunt have carried on the Mabel's tradition for years, but this was my first attempt- maybe its because I am not typically a cook by the recipe kind of guy, but lately my sourdough bread has gotten palatable enough to give me the confidence to branch out. And they turned out damn good. And I'm not scared any more. Well, maybe only that they will become my ask for specialty- they are that good- a hint of sweet, a taste of yeast, light yet substantive enough to hold some left-over turkey. Check them out below:
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The earth is not ours. It doesn’t belong to us . . . we are guests, temporary guests . . . and part of why we are here is to manage the place, to be stewards of God’s creation. In fact that’s our highest calling, our holiest vocation, to manage God’s creation.
John Buchanan, “Holy Earth,” September 17, 2006
“Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.”
In the past few years there has been a clarion call to be kinder to Mother Earth. Al Gore has been preaching the global warming side of it, Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver have been eating it, and the burgeoning Slow Food Movement is picking up steam and converts every day. Almost overnight it seems, Richmond has 5 or 6 healthy farmer's markets, CSAs are sprouting up everywhere, and everyone wants to be a locavore. This week's Style Weekly has a fantastic cover story by food writer extraordinaire, Brandon Fox , that explores the the philosophies and Faith of Our Farmers.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
Friday, October 03, 2008
From The New Yorker
October 13, 2008
Never in living memory has an election been more critical than the one fast approaching—that’s the quadrennial cliché, as expected as the balloons and the bombast. And yet when has it ever felt so urgently true? When have so many Americans had so clear a sense that a Presidency has—at the levels of competence, vision, and integrity—undermined the country and its ideals?
The incumbent Administration has distinguished itself for the ages. The Presidency of George W. Bush is the worst since Reconstruction, so there is no mystery about why the Republican Party—which has held dominion over the executive branch of the federal government for the past eight years and the legislative branch for most of that time—has little desire to defend its record, domestic or foreign. The only speaker at the Convention in St. Paul who uttered more than a sentence or two in support of the President was his wife, Laura. Meanwhile, the nominee, John McCain, played the part of a vaudeville illusionist, asking to be regarded as an apostle of change after years of embracing the essentials of the Bush agenda with ever-increasing ardor.
The Republican disaster begins at home. Even before taking into account whatever fantastically expensive plan eventually emerges to help rescue the financial system from Wall Street’s long-running pyramid schemes, the economic and fiscal picture is bleak. During the Bush Administration, the national debt, now approaching ten trillion dollars, has nearly doubled. Next year’s federal budget is projected to run a half-trillion-dollar deficit, a precipitous fall from the seven-hundred-billion-dollar surplus that was projected when Bill Clinton left office. Private-sector job creation has been a sixth of what it was under President Clinton. Five million people have fallen into poverty. The number of Americans without health insurance has grown by seven million, while average premiums have nearly doubled. Meanwhile, the principal domestic achievement of the Bush Administration has been to shift the relative burden of taxation from the rich to the rest. For the top one per cent of us, the Bush tax cuts are worth, on average, about a thousand dollars a week; for the bottom fifth, about a dollar and a half. The unfairness will only increase if the painful, yet necessary, effort to rescue the credit markets ends up preventing the rescue of our health-care system, our environment, and our physical, educational, and industrial infrastructure.
At the same time, a hundred and fifty thousand American troops are in Iraq and thirty-three thousand are in Afghanistan. There is still disagreement about the wisdom of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and his horrific regime, but there is no longer the slightest doubt that the Bush Administration manipulated, bullied, and lied the American public into this war and then mismanaged its prosecution in nearly every aspect. The direct costs, besides an expenditure of more than six hundred billion dollars, have included the loss of more than four thousand Americans, the wounding of thirty thousand, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, and the displacement of four and a half million men, women, and children. Only now, after American forces have been fighting for a year longer than they did in the Second World War, is there a glimmer of hope that the conflict in Iraq has entered a stage of fragile stability.
The indirect costs, both of the war in particular and of the Administration’s unilateralist approach to foreign policy in general, have also been immense. The torture of prisoners, authorized at the highest level, has been an ethical and a public-diplomacy catastrophe. At a moment when the global environment, the global economy, and global stability all demand a transition to new sources of energy, the United States has been a global retrograde, wasteful in its consumption and heedless in its policy. Strategically and morally, the Bush Administration has squandered the American capacity to counter the example and the swagger of its rivals. China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other illiberal states have concluded, each in its own way, that democratic principles and human rights need not be components of a stable, prosperous future. At recent meetings of the United Nations, emboldened despots like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran came to town sneering at our predicament and hailing the “end of the American era.”
The election of 2008 is the first in more than half a century in which no incumbent President or Vice-President is on the ballot. There is, however, an incumbent party, and that party has been lucky enough to find itself, apparently against the wishes of its “base,” with a nominee who evidently disliked George W. Bush before it became fashionable to do so. In South Carolina in 2000, Bush crushed John McCain with a sub-rosa primary campaign of such viciousness that McCain lashed out memorably against Bush’s Christian-right allies. So profound was McCain’s anger that in 2004 he flirted with the possibility of joining the Democratic ticket under John Kerry. Bush, who took office as a “compassionate conservative,” governed immediately as a rightist ideologue. During that first term, McCain bolstered his reputation, sometimes deserved, as a “maverick” willing to work with Democrats on such issues as normalizing relations with Vietnam, campaign-finance reform, and immigration reform. He co-sponsored, with John Edwards and Edward Kennedy, a patients’ bill of rights. In 2001 and 2003, he voted against the Bush tax cuts. With John Kerry, he co-sponsored a bill raising auto-fuel efficiency standards and, with Joseph Lieberman, a cap-and-trade regime on carbon emissions. He was one of a minority of Republicans opposed to unlimited drilling for oil and gas off America’s shores.
Since the 2004 election, however, McCain has moved remorselessly rightward in his quest for the Republican nomination. He paid obeisance to Jerry Falwell and preachers of his ilk. He abandoned immigration reform, eventually coming out against his own bill. Most shocking, McCain, who had repeatedly denounced torture under all circumstances, voted in February against a ban on the very techniques of “enhanced interrogation” that he himself once endured in Vietnam—as long as the torturers were civilians employed by the C.I.A.
On almost every issue, McCain and the Democratic Party’s nominee, Barack Obama, speak the generalized language of “reform,” but only Obama has provided a convincing, rational, and fully developed vision. McCain has abandoned his opposition to the Bush-era tax cuts and has taken up the demagogic call—in the midst of recession and Wall Street calamity, with looming crises in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—for more tax cuts. Bush’s expire in 2011. If McCain, as he has proposed, cuts taxes for corporations and estates, the benefits once more would go disproportionately to the wealthy.
In Washington, the craze for pure market triumphalism is over. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson arrived in town (via Goldman Sachs) a Republican, but it seems that he will leave a Democrat. In other words, he has come to see that the abuses that led to the current financial crisis––not least, excessive speculation on borrowed capital––can be fixed only with government regulation and oversight. McCain, who has never evinced much interest in, or knowledge of, economic questions, has had little of substance to say about the crisis. His most notable gesture of concern—a melodramatic call last month to suspend his campaign and postpone the first Presidential debate until the government bailout plan was ready—soon revealed itself as an empty diversionary tactic.
By contrast, Obama has made a serious study of the mechanics and the history of this economic disaster and of the possibilities of stimulating a recovery. Last March, in New York, in a speech notable for its depth, balance, and foresight, he said, “A complete disdain for pay-as-you-go budgeting, coupled with a generally scornful attitude towards oversight and enforcement, allowed far too many to put short-term gain ahead of long-term consequences.” Obama is committed to reforms that value not only the restoration of stability but also the protection of the vast majority of the population, which did not partake of the fruits of the binge years. He has called for greater and more programmatic regulation of the financial system; the creation of a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, which would help reverse the decay of our roads, bridges, and mass-transit systems, and create millions of jobs; and a major investment in the green-energy sector.
On energy and global warming, Obama offers a set of forceful proposals. He supports a cap-and-trade program to reduce America’s carbon emissions by eighty per cent by 2050—an enormously ambitious goal, but one that many climate scientists say must be met if atmospheric carbon dioxide is to be kept below disastrous levels. Large emitters, like utilities, would acquire carbon allowances, and those which emit less carbon dioxide than their allotment could sell the resulting credits to those which emit more; over time, the available allowances would decline. Significantly, Obama wants to auction off the allowances; this would provide fifteen billion dollars a year for developing alternative-energy sources and creating job-training programs in green technologies. He also wants to raise federal fuel-economy standards and to require that ten per cent of America’s electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2012. Taken together, his proposals represent the most coherent and far-sighted strategy ever offered by a Presidential candidate for reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.
There was once reason to hope that McCain and Obama would have a sensible debate about energy and climate policy. McCain was one of the first Republicans in the Senate to support federal limits on carbon dioxide, and he has touted his own support for a less ambitious cap-and-trade program as evidence of his independence from the White House. But, as polls showed Americans growing jittery about gasoline prices, McCain apparently found it expedient in this area, too, to shift course. He took a dubious idea—lifting the federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling—and placed it at the very center of his campaign. Opening up America’s coastal waters to drilling would have no impact on gasoline prices in the short term, and, even over the long term, the effect, according to a recent analysis by the Department of Energy, would be “insignificant.” Such inconvenient facts, however, are waved away by a campaign that finally found its voice with the slogan “Drill, baby, drill!”
The contrast between the candidates is even sharper with respect to the third branch of government. A tense equipoise currently prevails among the Justices of the Supreme Court, where four hard-core conservatives face off against four moderate liberals. Anthony M. Kennedy is the swing vote, determining the outcome of case after case.
McCain cites Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, two reliable conservatives, as models for his own prospective appointments. If he means what he says, and if he replaces even one moderate on the current Supreme Court, then Roe v. Wade will be reversed, and states will again be allowed to impose absolute bans on abortion. McCain’s views have hardened on this issue. In 1999, he said he opposed overturning Roe; by 2006, he was saying that its demise “wouldn’t bother me any”; by 2008, he no longer supported adding rape and incest as exceptions to his party’s platform opposing abortion.
But scrapping Roe—which, after all, would leave states as free to permit abortion as to criminalize it—would be just the beginning. Given the ideological agenda that the existing conservative bloc has pursued, it’s safe to predict that affirmative action of all kinds would likely be outlawed by a McCain Court. Efforts to expand executive power, which, in recent years, certain Justices have nobly tried to resist, would likely increase. Barriers between church and state would fall; executions would soar; legal checks on corporate power would wither—all with just one new conservative nominee on the Court. And the next President is likely to make three appointments.
Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, voted against confirming not only Roberts and Alito but also several unqualified lower-court nominees. As an Illinois state senator, he won the support of prosecutors and police organizations for new protections against convicting the innocent in capital cases. While McCain voted to continue to deny habeas-corpus rights to detainees, perpetuating the Bush Administration’s regime of state-sponsored extra-legal detention, Obama took the opposite side, pushing to restore the right of all U.S.-held prisoners to a hearing. The judicial future would be safe in his care.
In the shorthand of political commentary, the Iraq war seems to leave McCain and Obama roughly even. Opposing it before the invasion, Obama had the prescience to warn of a costly and indefinite occupation and rising anti-American radicalism around the world; supporting it, McCain foresaw none of this. More recently, in early 2007 McCain risked his Presidential prospects on the proposition that five additional combat brigades could salvage a war that by then appeared hopeless. Obama, along with most of the country, had decided that it was time to cut American losses. Neither candidate’s calculations on Iraq have been as cheaply political as McCain’s repeated assertion that Obama values his career over his country; both men based their positions, right or wrong, on judgment and principle.
President Bush’s successor will inherit two wars and the realities of limited resources, flagging popular will, and the dwindling possibilities of what can be achieved by American power. McCain’s views on these subjects range from the simplistic to the unknown. In Iraq, he seeks “victory”—a word that General David Petraeus refuses to use, and one that fundamentally misrepresents the messy, open-ended nature of the conflict. As for Afghanistan, on the rare occasions when McCain mentions it he implies that the surge can be transferred directly from Iraq, which suggests that his grasp of counterinsurgency is not as firm as he insisted it was during the first Presidential debate. McCain always displays more faith in force than interest in its strategic consequences. Unlike Obama, McCain has no political strategy for either war, only the dubious hope that greater security will allow things to work out. Obama has long warned of deterioration along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and has a considered grasp of its vital importance. His strategy for both Afghanistan and Iraq shows an understanding of the role that internal politics, economics, corruption, and regional diplomacy play in wars where there is no battlefield victory.
Unimaginably painful personal experience taught McCain that war is above all a test of honor: maintain the will to fight on, be prepared to risk everything, and you will prevail. Asked during the first debate to outline “the lessons of Iraq,” McCain said, “I think the lessons of Iraq are very clear: that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict.” A soldier’s answer––but a statesman must have a broader view of war and peace. The years ahead will demand not only determination but also diplomacy, flexibility, patience, judiciousness, and intellectual engagement. These are no more McCain’s strong suit than the current President’s. Obama, for his part, seems to know that more will be required than willpower and force to extract some advantage from the wreckage of the Bush years.
Obama is also better suited for the task of renewing the bedrock foundations of American influence. An American restoration in foreign affairs will require a commitment not only to international coöperation but also to international institutions that can address global warming, the dislocations of what will likely be a deepening global economic crisis, disease epidemics, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and other, more traditional security challenges. Many of the Cold War-era vehicles for engagement and negotiation—the United Nations, the World Bank, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—are moribund, tattered, or outdated. Obama has the generational outlook that will be required to revive or reinvent these compacts. He would be the first postwar American President unencumbered by the legacies of either Munich or Vietnam.
The next President must also restore American moral credibility. Closing Guantánamo, banning all torture, and ending the Iraq war as responsibly as possible will provide a start, but only that. The modern Presidency is as much a vehicle for communication as for decision-making, and the relevant audiences are global. Obama has inspired many Americans in part because he holds up a mirror to their own idealism. His election would do no less—and likely more—overseas.
What most distinguishes the candidates, however, is character—and here, contrary to conventional wisdom, Obama is clearly the stronger of the two. Not long ago, Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, said, “This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.” The view that this election is about personalities leaves out policy, complexity, and accountability. Even so, there’s some truth in what Davis said––but it hardly points to the conclusion that he intended.
Echoing Obama, McCain has made “change” one of his campaign mantras. But the change he has actually provided has been in himself, and it is not just a matter of altering his positions. A willingness to pander and even lie has come to define his Presidential campaign and its televised advertisements. A contemptuous duplicity, a meanness, has entered his talk on the stump—so much so that it seems obvious that, in the drive for victory, he is willing to replicate some of the same underhanded methods that defeated him eight years ago in South Carolina.
Perhaps nothing revealed McCain’s cynicism more than his choice of Sarah Palin, the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, who had been governor of that state for twenty-one months, as the Republican nominee for Vice-President. In the interviews she has given since her nomination, she has had difficulty uttering coherent unscripted responses about the most basic issues of the day. We are watching a candidate for Vice-President cram for her ongoing exam in elementary domestic and foreign policy. This is funny as a Tina Fey routine on “Saturday Night Live,” but as a vision of the political future it’s deeply unsettling. Palin has no business being the backup to a President of any age, much less to one who is seventy-two and in imperfect health. In choosing her, McCain committed an act of breathtaking heedlessness and irresponsibility. Obama’s choice, Joe Biden, is not without imperfections. His tongue sometimes runs in advance of his mind, providing his own fodder for late-night comedians, but there is no comparison with Palin. His deep experience in foreign affairs, the judiciary, and social policy makes him an assuring and complementary partner for Obama.
The longer the campaign goes on, the more the issues of personality and character have reflected badly on McCain. Unless appearances are very deceiving, he is impulsive, impatient, self-dramatizing, erratic, and a compulsive risk-taker. These qualities may have contributed to his usefulness as a “maverick” senator. But in a President they would be a menace.
By contrast, Obama’s transformative message is accompanied by a sense of pragmatic calm. A tropism for unity is an essential part of his character and of his campaign. It is part of what allowed him to overcome a Democratic opponent who entered the race with tremendous advantages. It is what helped him forge a political career relying both on the liberals of Hyde Park and on the political regulars of downtown Chicago. His policy preferences are distinctly liberal, but he is determined to speak to a broad range of Americans who do not necessarily share his every value or opinion. For some who oppose him, his equanimity even under the ugliest attack seems like hauteur; for some who support him, his reluctance to counterattack in the same vein seems like self-defeating detachment. Yet it is Obama’s temperament—and not McCain’s—that seems appropriate for the office both men seek and for the volatile and dangerous era in which we live. Those who dismiss his centeredness as self-centeredness or his composure as indifference are as wrong as those who mistook Eisenhower’s stolidity for denseness or Lincoln’s humor for lack of seriousness.
Nowadays, almost every politician who thinks about running for President arranges to become an author. Obama’s books are different: he wrote them. “The Audacity of Hope” (2006) is a set of policy disquisitions loosely structured around an account of his freshman year in the United States Senate. Though a campaign manifesto of sorts, it is superior to that genre’s usual blowsy pastiche of ghostwritten speeches. But it is Obama’s first book, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” (1995), that offers an unprecedented glimpse into the mind and heart of a potential President. Obama began writing it in his early thirties, before he was a candidate for anything. Not since Theodore Roosevelt has an American politician this close to the pinnacle of power produced such a sustained, highly personal work of literary merit before being definitively swept up by the tides of political ambition.
A Presidential election is not the awarding of a Pulitzer Prize: we elect a politician and, we hope, a statesman, not an author. But Obama’s first book is valuable in the way that it reveals his fundamental attitudes of mind and spirit. “Dreams from My Father” is an illuminating memoir not only in the substance of Obama’s own peculiarly American story but also in the qualities he brings to the telling: a formidable intelligence, emotional empathy, self-reflection, balance, and a remarkable ability to see life and the world through the eyes of people very different from himself. In common with nearly all other senators and governors of his generation, Obama does not count military service as part of his biography. But his life has been full of tests—personal, spiritual, racial, political—that bear on his preparation for great responsibility.
It is perfectly legitimate to call attention, as McCain has done, to Obama’s lack of conventional national and international policymaking experience. We, too, wish he had more of it. But office-holding is not the only kind of experience relevant to the task of leading a wildly variegated nation. Obama’s immersion in diverse human environments (Hawaii’s racial rainbow, Chicago’s racial cauldron, countercultural New York, middle-class Kansas, predominantly Muslim Indonesia), his years of organizing among the poor, his taste of corporate law and his grounding in public-interest and constitutional law—these, too, are experiences. And his books show that he has wrung from them every drop of insight and breadth of perspective they contained.
The exhaustingly, sometimes infuriatingly long campaign of 2008 (and 2007) has had at least one virtue: it has demonstrated that Obama’s intelligence and steady temperament are not just figments of the writer’s craft. He has made mistakes, to be sure. (His failure to accept McCain’s imaginative proposal for a series of unmediated joint appearances was among them.) But, on the whole, his campaign has been marked by patience, planning, discipline, organization, technological proficiency, and strategic astuteness. Obama has often looked two or three moves ahead, relatively impervious to the permanent hysteria of the hourly news cycle and the cable-news shouters. And when crisis has struck, as it did when the divisive antics of his ex-pastor threatened to bring down his campaign, he has proved equal to the moment, rescuing himself with a speech that not only drew the poison but also demonstrated a profound respect for the electorate. Although his opponents have tried to attack him as a man of “mere” words, Obama has returned eloquence to its essential place in American politics. The choice between experience and eloquence is a false one––something that Lincoln, out of office after a single term in Congress, proved in his own campaign of political and national renewal. Obama’s “mere” speeches on everything from the economy and foreign affairs to race have been at the center of his campaign and its success; if he wins, his eloquence will be central to his ability to govern.
We cannot expect one man to heal every wound, to solve every major crisis of policy. So much of the Presidency, as they say, is a matter of waking up in the morning and trying to drink from a fire hydrant. In the quiet of the Oval Office, the noise of immediate demands can be deafening. And yet Obama has precisely the temperament to shut out the noise when necessary and concentrate on the essential. The election of Obama—a man of mixed ethnicity, at once comfortable in the world and utterly representative of twenty-first-century America—would, at a stroke, reverse our country’s image abroad and refresh its spirit at home. His ascendance to the Presidency would be a symbolic culmination of the civil- and voting-rights acts of the nineteen-sixties and the century-long struggles for equality that preceded them. It could not help but say something encouraging, even exhilarating, about the country, about its dedication to tolerance and inclusiveness, about its fidelity, after all, to the values it proclaims in its textbooks. At a moment of economic calamity, international perplexity, political failure, and battered morale, America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness. It needs a leader temperamentally, intellectually, and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled globe. That leader’s name is Barack Obama.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
My old good friend Janet is part of a team that is providing food for the Olympic athletes and media reps. I haven't seen her in ages because she has been in China for over a year preparing for these two weeks. The New York Times had an article about this initiative which I have posted below. Thanks NYT.
BEIJING — The Olympic Village dining hall is the size of three football fields — large enough to seat 6,000 people at one time. And the food operation needed to feed a multinational, multicultural, multilingual base 24 hours a day is equally vast in scope.
A Philadelphia-based privately held company, Aramark, is handling the food for the Olympic Village, two Media Centers and two Media Villages during the Olympic Games — its 14th Summer or Winter Games since the company first had a contract for the Mexico City Games in 1968.
In order to satisfy a diverse and demanding set of palates for the 28,000 athletes, coaches and staff at the village, the chefs at Aramark have designed a menu that features 800 recipes from all around the world that accommodate all sorts of dietary needs — vegetarian, Halal, kosher.
The eight-day menu rotation has an Asian bent, specifically with a focus on Chinese specialties including Peking duck, congee and shaved noodles, but it also has dishes from Italy, Greece, Northern Africa, southern Spain and Latin America.
According to Aramark, the company will prepare:
More than 35,000 pounds of duck
More than 14,000 pounds of tofu
150,000 pounds of beef
1 million apples
20.1 million servings of rice
Not to mention the cheese, lettuce, onions, chickens, and oranges.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
for a reminder of what scapes and its pesto can look like, follow the links below:
Scape Pesto anyone ?
Get the Scoop Here
Monday, August 11, 2008
Had a great dinner at the homey Baja Cantina- blackened wahoo soft tacos- divine combination of spicy fish, crunchy cabbage, and a choice of medium, hot, or hot hot hot sauce.
set list below- nice cover of Talking Head's Burning Down the House
Seek Up *
One Sweet World *
So Damn Lucky *
Old Dirt Hill *
Pantala Naga Pampa *
Crash Into Me *
Corn Bread *
Eh Hee *
Burning Down The House *
Water Into Wine
You Might Die Trying *
Ants Marching *
Don’t Drink the Water *
Anyone Seen The Bridge *
Too Much Intro *
Tripping Billies *
On Saturday night I made good on my donation to the St Thomas Auction, Arabian Nights. The Goodpastures and Haddads donated a dinner party for 10 in the spirit of the auction's theme. Spent a good part of the day prepping, and the evening cooking.
This was our menu for the evening
stuffed grape leaves
lebneh with zataah
lamb & chicken kebabs
Grilled figs, onions, mushrooms, and peppers
okra and green beans arab style
pistachio ice cream
Friday, August 01, 2008
If you have never tuned in, check out a great series on NPR called "Hidden Kitchens." It explores the world of hidden kitchens: street corner cooking, legendary meals, and eating traditions... how communities come together through food.
Monday, July 21, 2008
its a brilliant spot, and certainly more important food for thought than any culinary drivel.
Click Here to watch
Saturday, July 19, 2008
back home for yardwork and gardening and a dip in the pool. we were having some folks for dinner, so I prepped a remoulade sauce for a london broil that had been marinating all day. Prepped a variation on the traditional caprese, substituting onions and peaches for the usual tomatatoes.
had a lovely dinner that started outside, but we were chased in by some mosquitoes and 90 + heat pretty quickly. dinner was lovely- even with 6 kids under 5 running around. Syd made a great cobbler with peaches and bluberries from the market to finish the night. Sat on the front porch watching the kids chase lightning bugs until way past bedtimes.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
July 9, 2008
A little cafe where hunger gets a beat down.
by John G. Haddad
Black sheep rarely hang with the herd; they stand apart. The same rings true for one of Richmond’s more interesting new culinary destinations. The Black Sheep offers a unique menu, eclectic atmosphere and friendly service — three meals a day, six days a week. Located in Richmond’s Carver neighborhood, it’s pure serendipity that this area was once known as Sheep Hill. But that’s the only unplanned detail.
The décor is funky with slightly muted avocado-green and orange walls (think ’70s appliances) juxtaposed with brick and rough-hewn paneling, local art and kitschy reproductions. My favorite decorative element, however, lies outside. The industrial neighborhood provides interesting sight lines out the two windows framing the front door. The renovated Biggs Furniture Factory across the street, now apartments, signals a neighborhood in transition.
Co-owners Kevin Roberts and Amy Hess bring a diverse resume of restaurant experience to their first-time solo flight. In addition to working with some of Richmond’s finest at The Frog and the Redneck, Amici, Acacia, Mamma ’Zu and Kuba Kuba, Roberts’ experience with the classically trained French/Cajun master Frank Brigtsen during a three-year sojourn in New Orleans serves the menu well. Hess worked front-of-house for the renowned Brennan restaurant clan in New Orleans.
Breakfast starts with New Orleans’ Community Coffee, strong and dark. Sausage gravy is delightfully creamy yet avoids the pastiness of many inferior competitors. Chunks of spicy sausage swim over fresh biscuits, light and flaky. A dish called grillades and grits pairs thin pork cutlets with brown gravy, served with cheesy grits and a side of Texas toast, which is almost worth the trip alone. French toast is decadent, oozing with Nutella and topped with warm citrus syrup. The extra dollar for a scoop of vanilla ice cream is well worth it. (My 2 1/2- and 4-year-old boys concur.) Huevos rancheros are spicy with black beans, queso blanco, green mole and jalapeno sour cream. My only thought would be to trade out the corn tortillas for some Texas toast or cornbread. The tortillas were dry and didn’t add much to the dish.
At the center of the lunch experience swims a fleet of battleships, foot-long sandwiches that Roberts brings from his experience in the Big Easy. The CSS Virginia is one of the best (and biggest) sandwiches I’ve ever had. A variation of the requisite oyster poor boy, chicken livers are dredged in flour and cornmeal, coated in an egg bath and crumbed before being fried to a delicate finish. This foot-long “land oyster” sandwich is topped with shredded cabbage, crisp apple slices and a piquant remoulade. Combining green onions, parsley and whole lemon, it does somersaults in your mouth. Three other sandwiches do battle with Swedish meatballs; grilled eggplant and peppers; and pineapple and mahi-mahi. There’s also a homey and yummy pimento cheese club and a spicy variation on a BLT.
Soups include a South Indian tomato served with raita, a seasonal asparagus and cheddar, and gumbo. Salads continue the Subcontinental theme with a frisée dressed with a refreshing garam masala yogurt, Asian pears and avocado. New Orleans is well-represented through the beer list, as are local brews along with a modest and well-priced wine list.
And for the final act, dinner options include heartwarming chicken with dill-infused dumplings and crisp-juicy breaded pork cutlets over egg noodles with peas and carrots. There’s also a clever vegetarian “where’s the beef?” stroganoff. Sides are refreshing complements, including deviled eggs (a 2008 trend?), dirty rice and a citrus-infused orzo salad.
The desserts are all over the place: a white Russian brownie, peanut butter pie, banana pudding tiramisu and my personal favorite — a campy rendition of crème brûlée — the La Brea Tarpit, a concoction with animal crackers stuck in the crispy crust.
It’s comfort food with flair, all reasonably priced. Roberts and Hess made a conscious decision to price their meals moderately to attract the wide range of clientele that the Carver neighborhood draws. So far it’s working for the diverse distribution of neighborhood, student and foodie guests. S
The Black Sheep ($)
901 W. Marshall St.
Tuesday-Thursday: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday: 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
IS YOUR MEAT SAFE TO EAT???
An Educational Program on the Benefits of Locally Grown, Grass-fed Meats
Monday, July 21st, 2008 5:30-7:30pm
As part of our on-going educational series on locally grown, sustainable food products, the Center for Rural Culture is presenting a program on the benefits of grass-fed meats. As an introduction, participants will be treated to a short DVD series called "The Meatrix". Produced by Sustainable Table and Free Range Studios, The Meatrix, The Meatrix II: Revolting, and The Meatrix II ½ expose the dirty truth behind today's industrial meat and dairy production. The movies use action & humor to educate audiences, while the Meatrix website offers alternatives to the problems with industrial agriculture. Join our heroes Moopheus, Leo & Chickity as they confront industrial agriculture & help them save small family farms!
JOIN LOCAL FARMERS FOR EDUCATION, DISCUSSION, FOOD TASTING, SOCIALIZING AND FUN!
LOCATION: Brookview Farm 854 Dover Rd. Manakin-Sabot, VA 23103
REGISTRATION: Pre-registration is required. You may call 804-314-9141 or email admin@CenterForRuralCulture.org to register. Space is limited to 75, so please register early! Deadline for registration is Wednesday, July 16th.
COST: Cost is $12.00 at the door (Center for Rural Culture Members-only $10.00). Checks or cash only please. All participants will be given a coupon valued at $5.00 for the Goochland Farmers Market, courtesy of DAWSON'S PHARMACY.
FEATURING: "The Meatrix" DVD Series will be showing at 5:40 and 6:00pm. A moderated discussion with local farmers will follow, along with samplings of local, grass-fed meats including beef, poultry, pork and bison. Local cheeses, salads and veggies will also be offered. All vendors will have food available for purchase. Sorry, no children under 12 please.
The Center for Rural Culture is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to sustain the rural culture of Goochland and the surrounding Piedmont by educating, promoting, and inspiring. For more information on the Center's work or to join the Center for Rural Culture, go to: www.CenterForRuralCulture.org.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
OUTSTANDING RESTAURATEUR AWARD
Joe Bastianich/Mario Batali
Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca
OUTSTANDING CHEF AWARD
OUTSTANDING RESTAURANT AWARD
Gramercy Tavern, NYC
BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Central Michel Richard, Washington, DC
Chef/Owner: Michel Richard
RISING STAR CHEF OF THE YEAR AWARD
NYC OUTSTANDING PASTRY CHEF AWARD
Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson
COOKBOOK OF THE YEAR
The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Ten Speed Press)
BEST CHEF: PACIFIC (CA, HI)
BEST CHEF: MID-ATLANTIC (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA)
BEST CHEF: MIDWEST (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI)
Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro
BEST CHEF: GREAT LAKES (IL, IN, MI, OH)
BEST CHEF: NEW YORK CITY (FIVE BOROUGHS)
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
BEST CHEF: NORTHEAST (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY STATE, RI, VT)
BEST CHEF: NORTHWEST (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY)
BEST CHEF: SOUTHEAST (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV)
BEST CHEF: SOUTHWEST (AZ, CO, NM, NV, OK, TX, UT)
Frasca Food and Wine
BEST CHEF: SOUTH (AL, AR, FL, LA, MS)
Friday, June 27, 2008
Topped off the evening with a perfectly creamy and bittersweet chocolate mousse.
A full review will be running in Style Weekly in a few weeks.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
It seems I am not alone this year in increasing the scope of my garden plot. The New York Times reports today in an interesting article how home gardening is reaching heights not seen in 20 years.
"George C. Ball Jr., owner of the W. Atlee Burpee Company, said sales of vegetable and herb seeds and plants are up by 40 percent over last year, double the annual growth for the last five years. “You don’t see this kind of thing but once in a career,” he said. Mr. Ball offers half a dozen reasons for the phenomenon, some of which have been building for the last few years, like taste, health and food safety, plus concern, especially among young people, about global warming."
Let your garden grow
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Monday, May 19, 2008
Here are a few of Salatin's guiding principles at Polyface Farms from his website.
TRANSPARENCY: Anyone is welcome to visit the farm anytime. No trade secrets, no locked doors, every corner is camera-accessible.
GRASS-BASED: Pastured livestock and poultry, moved frequently to new "salad bars," offer landscape healing and nutritional superiority.
INDIVIDUALITY: Plants and animals should be provided a habitat that allows them to express their physiological distinctiveness. Respecting and honoring the pigness of the pig is a foundation for societal health.
COMMUNITY: We do not ship food. We should all seek food closer to home, in our foodshed, our own bioregion. This means enjoying seasonality and reacquainting ourselves with our home kitchens.
NATURE'S TEMPLATE: Mimicking natural patterns on a commercial domestic scale insures moral and ethical boundaries to human cleverness. Cows are herbivores, not omnivores; that is why we've never fed them dead cows like the United States Department of Agriculture encouraged (the alleged cause of mad cows).
EARTHWORMS: We're really in the earthworm enhancement business. Stimulating soil biota is our first priority. Soil health creates healthy food.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Indian cuisine in Richmond is all over the map.
by John G. Haddad
My favorite trip to the Indian subcontinent was actually a weekend in east London. Curry houses line the streets, serving a variety of Bangladeshi and Indian dishes — including chicken tikka masala, which in one poll recently edged out fish and chips as Britain’s favorite dish.Certain flavors and cuisines have the power to transport one culturally, and for a decade I’ve been searching for a curry that takes me back there.
Indian food usually strikes all of my senses: Eyes are brightened by the vibrant colors of the cumin, mustard seed and other spices. The smells of roasting spices laced with sweet coconut waft through the air, while griddles sizzle and the sounds of a raga fill the air.But the sense of taste is the one most crucial. Unlike the jolt of a jalapeño or habanero, Indian spice is richer, more complex and lingering. It’s this magically complex combination that makes the search such a challenge.
Richmond historically has not been a hotbed of fine Indian cuisine. Most native Indians I know regularly trek to Washington, D.C., or New York City for their fix. Or they just eat at home. Nonetheless, I was excited for the return of an Indian restaurant to Richmond’s North Side, the first since Ram Pai moved and his India House on Westwood Avenue became Malabar in Short Pump in 2004.
Moving into the space that used to house L.A. Grill, New India brings diversity to a neighborhood that needs more dining options. On our first visit we were greeted by a young man sporting a largish Bluetooth ear gizmo — so big it was distracting. He sat us in a booth and proceeded to wipe down our table. A low rumble filled the restaurant — the ventilation system directly above our table seemed on the blink and it sounded like we were below deck on an ocean liner bound for Calcutta. Our meal started well — veggie samosas were crispy and piping hot — and the condiment tray included mango, mint and tamarind chutneys and spicy lime pickle. Unfortunately, the naan, straight out of the microwave, was chewy. Entrees were a mixed bag. Chicken tikka masala was palatable but mild, even when we asked for a 9 on the 1-10 heat scale that was offered. The tandoori non-veg grill was virtually inedible — shrimp roasted to a crisp, lamb and chicken overcooked and dry.
On a second trip I sampled the requisite lunch buffet and was even more disappointed. I brought along an “expert witness,” a native Indian friend who concurred that New India failed to deliver. Dishes were overcooked and mushy, vibrant colors dulled into a monotonous series of chafing dishes. Even the rice failed — cold and plain, without a hint of color or care for detail. As I lamented Ram Pai’s departure from the neighborhood, I decided to visit his newest venture, Malabar, for some buffet benchmarking. At Malabar, Pai offers many of the same dishes as New India on his buffet — but that’s where the similarities end. Dish after dish was perfectly spiced, piping hot and artfully presented. Basmati rice was dressed up with carrots and peas; breads (naan, puri and dosa) were fresh from the oven and the perfect vehicle for coconut chutney. The day I visited, I was one of two or three non-Indians there — a comparison point for other restaurants in town.
To be fair, I know that I can’t hold a Richmond restaurant to the same standards that I experienced in London. But New India needs to work to compete with its West End counterpart.I decided to try New India’s takeout options. When I walked in to pick up my order, I was bowled over by an overpowering smell of curry hanging in the air like a wet blanket. Clearly the ventilation system isn’t up to snuff. But this takeout meal was better than my two previous visits. Garlic naan was fresh but not particularly garlicky; puri (a whole-wheat bread) was a bit greasy and certainly not “puffy” as described. Chicken jalfrazie, with a heat index of 9, was spicy but one-dimensional.
New India has lots of room for improvement; for now it will become an option for takeout. Unless great strides are taken in care and consistency, it will remain merely one of a stack of menus for perusal when cooking at home just won’t do. S
New India ($$)
5516 Lakeside Ave.
Lunch buffet: Monday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m.;Friday-Saturday, 5-9:30 p.m.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Here is a great quote by food revolutionary Joel Salatin:
Dancing with Dinner
"The industrial global food system divorces people from their historical food relationships. The relationship humans enjoyed with the food on their plate no longer exists. Between the distance, the packaging, the processing, and the anti-human-ness of factory food, eaters no longer enjoy their dinner date.
They are paranoid of her, wondering if she will nourish them, sicken them, or destroy their air and water. Rather than a soul-satisfying intimate act, eating is practically a chore at worst, and an afterthought at best. By patronizing local food producers, eaters rediscover their heritage relationship with food. The transparency creates integrity. Dancing with dinner re-creates the imbedded, indigenous community food system.
It restores the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker to the village. That means socially, environmentally, and economically synergistic food systems. Indeed, it means a responding partner at dinner. Enjoy." - Joel Salatin. To learn more, visit polyfacefarms.com.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
We walked up through the park uptown towards the Whitney- the Pope was staying on 5th Ave, so there was quite a spectacle in the streets- I found it interesting/ironic that he was staying in an apartment that was formerly owned by Andy Warhol. Before taking in the Biennial at the Whitney, we needed sustenance. Luckily I had made a reservation at Cafe Boulud. I have been following Daniel Boulud's career for years, and I was excited about visiting one of his restaurants, even a B level one. Well maybe B +, but certainly at a more reasonable price point than Daniel. There is a feeling of understated elegance in Cafe Boulud; the subdued atmosphere was welcomed on a Sunday morning after the frenetic energy at Chang's Momofuku or the red-hot dell'anima. We came for Boulud's food, and we were not disappointed.
I started my brunch with homemade charcuterie- an artfully arranged platter included a goose liver terrine and two types of prosciutto- pork and duck. The portions were small, but gorgeously laid out- every bite was packed with rich flavor.
For an entree I had Maine Crab Benedict with Peekytoe Crab, Poached Egg, Spinach, and Lemon Sabayon- an orchestra of flavors, subtly combined.
Dessert was refreshing- a grapefruit and lemon thyme vacherin- again, subtle yet bold flavors, artfully arranged.
There were lots of upper east side neighborhood regulars for brunch- drinks came out without being ordered and the house phone brought to several tables. In fact, a restaurant critic was at a nearby table and we overhead him speaking with Daniel's wife on the phone. Daniel never did appear. Apparently there was family in town from France.
After a wander through the Biennial, which is always fun and head-scratchingly challenging , we waled by the boutiques on Madison, stopped in the APPLE store, heaving with pilgrims on a Sunday afternoon, and made our way back to LaGuardia for a flight home.
Our last meal of the trip was not our best- security had taken away some treats we had packed, so Chilis was the last stop on our whirlwind culinary adventure weekend.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Saturday morning we started the day at the popular Belgium chain Le Pain Quotidien. Communal tables are laden with baskets of baguettes, fresh rolls, croissants, and pastries. The air is filled with smells of rich coffee. I ordered several organic soft-boiled eggs- tap tap tap with my knife to gain entry- bread was served with fresh preserves, nutella, and honey. After breakfast we walked down to Grand Central where an Earth Day Fair lined the streets around the station. We talked to lots of folks about green initiatives, building supplies, animal rights, and clean air. We continued on through the Garment District where Susannah reveled in the treasures of the trim shops, walls lined with ribbons, and buttons and other decorative elements.
Lunch took us down to Chelsea to Cookshop. Walking through the threshold is a liminal moment- it’s a comfortable space, sparsely decorated yet filled with life and focused on simple food. “The butcher and the baker were the first chefs, if you ask me, states Chef Marc Meyer whose culinary passions run deep for sustainable ingredients, humanely raised animals, and the support of local farmers and artisans.” Meyer's menu reflects that sensibility. I started with a Bloody Mary that was perfect-salted rim, huge olives, a nice zingy flavor. I took 2 starters for my meal-
Pasta courses included a Tagliatelle alla Bolognese for Susannah- the sauce was rich yet tender- it melted in your mouth. I took a Puttanesca sauce over fresh fettucine, black with squid ink. A spicy tomato sauce laced with anchovies, capers, and hot pepper.
We drank a 1996 Barbera "Vigna Clara" Viberti- a nice medium bodied wine with some fruit on it.
Dessert was a triple chocolate confection- the perfect end to a great meal.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Early morning departure from Richmond as the sun came over the horizon. Landed in New York before 9 and took the M60 into Manhattan through Harlem, straight down the main artery, 125th Street. Signs of the old - "Fried Chicken, oxtail, collard greens and yams" juxtaposed with Presidential Pizza, a nod to one of Harlem’s newest residents, Bill Clinton.
We ventured back downtown to the East Village to David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar with the hopes of having dinner- I had heard stories about long waits, and on the way there we passed his newer ssäm bar where a large crowd waited outside. Much to our delight, the noodle bar only had a 1/2 hour wait. We hung out with a few Brooklyn Pennant Ales and stood in front of an enormous photo of The Band from their Music from the Big Pink album in Woodstock. B side classic rock filled the room amidst the chatter of long communal tables of folks slurping ramen. The food. The reason for the visit. And worth the wait. We started with Seasonal Pickles, a nice variety of lightly pickled veggies including turnips, shitttake mushrooms, carrots, fennel and kimchi. We moved on to one of the house specialties, Steamed Pork Buns. David Chang is serious about his pork- he sources it from Paul Willis/Niman Ranch & Eden Farms. His steamed pork buns are a perfect combination of fluffy sweet bun smeared with hoisin and topped with crispy pork belly, crisp cucumbers and scallions. The pork melts in your mouth. Baby Bok Choy is sautéed with onions and chunks of Benton’s smoky bacon from Madisonville, TN- a great combo of crunchy bacon and spicy dried chili peppers. We finished the evening with another of Chang’s brilliant concoctions, the Momofuku Ramen- chunks of crispy pork belly and shredded pork swim in a dark and rich broth; poached eggs sit atop perfectly spun ramen noodles. We ate and slurped and tipped our bowls to drink every last drop.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
There has been a trend in consumer research over the past decade to micro-segment target audiences and to reach beyond demographic information to potentially more telling psychographic data. Pollsters and retailers can tell a lot about consumers by what they buy- it provides a roadmap to potential sales and votes.
"So, for example, Christopher Mann of MSHC Partners, a political communications firm, knows that someone who subscribes to lots of gourmet cooking magazines is more likely to be a Democrat or at least more open to progressive causes. That can help a campaign decide if it’s worth spending money courting that person’s vote. "
However, some issues cross partisan boundaries. Rising food prices affect all of us and might be the tipping point. The question may not be, what do you eat, but for some, can you afford to eat?
For the full story, take a bite and then go out and vote.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
We hope to continue the eat local potluck idea throughout the year- it will be easier as the season matures.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
April 9, 2008
Verbena cures a case of the same-old.
by John G. Haddad
Verbena the plant is grown to attract butterflies and bees and is said to have divine powers. Verbena the restaurant is conceived to attract serious gourmands with its striking creative powers.Credit owner David Bess for the concept, as well as for chef Todd Richardson, who laid a foundation for culinary inspiration with experiences at None Such Place and Dogwood Grille. He’s broken new ground with a menu that includes rabbit, wild boar and foie gras BLTs. Based on the crowds the nights I visited, he’s beginning to hit his stride with Richmond diners looking for something new.
On a Thursday — ’Tini Night — my wife, Susannah, and I sat upstairs in the V Lounge. The trancey techno-beat was the only loungey part. Small two- and four-tops and a few pub tables complement the bar, where TVs cast a hollow light in an otherwise lovely space. Dark wood, brushed copper and exposed brick are tastefully illuminated. The martini menu was at least 10 deep and I enjoyed a tart pomegranate laced with hints of grapefruit; Susannah indulged in a chocolate espresso variation. In addition to an extensive drink list, the lounge serves a few entrees and a dozen or so small plates ($3-$9) that range from deviled eggs to lamb-chop mint julep.
Except for a hint of onion, nothing about the deviled egg stood out, but my next choices made up for it: The vegetable-quiche bites nicely combine fresh herbs, eggs and cream; the crab and tomato tart is a dreamy combination of crab in a slightly sweet tomato sauce. The ravioli of the day, tender dough stuffed with nutmeg-spiked pumpkin and topped with truffle sauce, was terrific. The pot-roast potato was homey and nostalgic, but a bit dry. In all, though, most of the small plates delivered. But there was still room to indulge. The lemon verbena cheesecake was out, so I went for the molten chocolate cake — adequately rich but very average. The peanut-butter-and-jelly tart reminded me of Linzer torte and gave me a taste of childhood.
On a visit with a larger group on a busy Saturday night, we were seated immediately in the inviting dining room. Our waiter was a recognizable face from a certain brasserie and is one of the best in town. He knew the menu well and made great recommendations.I started with the foie gras of the day, a stunning stacked crostini with truffle mayonnaise, smoked applewood bacon, sliced ripe tomato and seared foie gras. The skilled juxtaposition of tastes and textures put this dish head and shoulders above most dishes I’ve had in Richmond. Another fine starter was the Bibb lettuce salad, lightly dressed in black olive vinaigrette. Bread, baked daily in-house, is served warm with butter.The major misstep of the night didn’t stem from what was brought out of the kitchen. It was what wasn’t — our entrees, for more than an hour. I’ll forgive and forget, partly because I know that kinks need to be worked out in a fairly new restaurant on a busy Saturday, but mostly because of the quality of what followed. I was lured by the Mexican rabbit prepared three ways. Mole roasted-leg empanadas encased in a light, crispy crust were enhanced by the traditional chocolate-chili sauce. The liver pâté was creamy and dense with a slight hint of tequila in the glaze. My favorite of the trio was the juicy seared loin, topped with a chimichurri sauce. My wife opted for a trio of raviolis stuffed with mushrooms, spinach and pumpkin, all in a creamy truffle sauce. I was impressed by the freshness of several of the fish dishes that I sampled and by the variety of sauces and sides that came with the entrees. The menu will keep me coming back.For the second time, I came up empty when I tried to order the lemon verbena cheesecake. I settled for a strawberry shortcake and its unusual pairing with a balsamic reduction — a nice tart to the strawberry’s sweet.
Verbena has a lot going for it — a hip new space, an inventive menu and a visionary attitude among the partners. While the execution and delivery lag ever so slightly behind its creative potential, given time, Verbena will prove its worth.
2526 Floyd Ave.
Dinner: Wednesday-Sunday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.
Brunch: Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
No smoking in dining room.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
For the whole tamale,Click Here
Monday, March 17, 2008
It was certainly a food-filled weekend- we started on Friday evening at Kinsey & David's for raclette- a feast that centers around melted cheese and includes all sorts of side accompaniment's including baguettes, roasted peppers, prosciutto, roasted potatoes and pickled onions. According to our friends at Wikipedia, "Raclette was mentioned in medieval writings as a particularly nutritious meal consumed by peasants in mountainous Switzerland. It was then known in the German-speaking part of Switzerland as Bratchäs, or "roasted cheese." Traditionally, the Swiss cow herders used to take the cheese with them when they were moving cows to or from the pastures up in the mountains. In the evenings around the campfire, they would place the cheese next to the fire and, when it had reached the perfect softness, scrape it on top of some bread."
Saturday night found us with a large group at one of the Fan's newer dining establishments, Verbena, a beautiful new space carved from what was once Konsta's. They have an ambitious menu that for the most part delivers. The operational side is having a harder time keeping up. More to come soon.
On the eve of St Patrick's Day, we feasted outside on a chilly Sunday afternoon on lots of green goodies- guacamole, salsa verde, and corned beef with cabbage and potatoes(not green but certainly a propos).
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I have been a member of Amy's CSA for the past 4 or 5 years and I look forward to the season every year. Amy asked me for a quote for her article and it made the cut:
“I live for my Monday delivery,” says John Haddad, a longtime CSA member and food writer. “There is nothing like a bag of freshness dropped at your doorstep.”
For the whole organic, click the carrot
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
On the eve of Valentine's Day, a holiday that celebrates love, passion and romance, and of course chocolate, my thoughts have wandered to the role that food and eating play in a relationship. The courtship process often involves fancy dinners out on the town, boxes of candy and home-cooked meals. I have wooed women with heart-shaped ravioli, heart-shaped pancakes, truffles, and fine wine. But when the courtship is over, it comes back to day to day life. And we all need to eat every day. How do we match up with our partner? Some couples have it easy- they share similar tastes, palates, philosophies. Others have to contend with a union of omnivore and vegan, bland versus spicy, take-out versus made from scratch. My wife and I do pretty well- we share a lot of similar tastes, and we both eat pretty much everything. I lean towards the savory, and she is definitely sweet. I read labels more carefully, tend a garden, and have joined the locavore revolution. She battles 2 and 3 year old palates that lean towards candy and hotdogs.
I have some friends where one of the partners has significantly altered their eating habits to maintain marital harmony. Meat lovers have become vegetarians, casual drinkers have climbed onto the wagon of sobriety. The things we do for love, and for ourselves.
The New York Times has a great article in today's paper- I love you but you love meat- For the full feed bite here.