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A Weekend at Tendergrass Farms

29 Jun

Last month, I wrote about how I wanted to take my blog in a new direction by visiting and writing about food producers around the world, in order to better understand how the food we eat gets onto our plates. Off the bat, I knew that one of my first destinations needed to be where the whole “food” thing starts. At a farm.

Choosing a farm to visit was easy. Last summer I met David Maren, founding farmer and general manager of Tendergrass Farms, and we quickly became friends through our mutual love of languages and our mutual disdain for our country’s rampant, negligent farming practices. We’ve also been working together over this past year; he sends me samples of food to cook and eat, and I take pictures of that same food for his website. It’s a pretty sweet deal for both parties, hearkening back to humanity’s bartering days: he gets free photography and my family gets free food.

David’s small farm is located near Floyd, VA (about 4 hours from us), so we made the drive down a couple weekends ago to check out and talk about his company. Here is what I found out.

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A New Direction

3 May

When I started this blog nearly four years ago, I didn’t have many expectations. I simply wanted to have a better understanding of the food we put in our bodies. A recurring element in my recipes has been the individual histories of each dish I create; I think it’s important to know how recipes came to be, and I really adore following the culture that hides behind every dish. But to tell the truth, as of late, simply doing internet searches on food history or relying on my previous travels for culinary and cultural insights simply hasn’t been enough for me. Don’t get me wrong – I still love food history and sharing traditional/classic recipes – I just want to step it up a notch.

Consider the pizza in the picture above. It’s probably fair to say that this little pizza recipe has made a huge contribution to my current readership. Heck, I thought it was important enough to put on the cover of my cookbook, since it’s an excellent representation of classic, traditional, and modern cuisines. And while it’s cool that we can make pizza easily at home and say that we made it from scratch, the pizza above wasn’t really made “from scratch.”

Who harvested the cassava, and how was it processed into tapioca starch? How were the tomatoes grown and transformed into pizza sauce? Under what conditions was the milk produced, and how was it turned into cheese? Where did the salt, white pepper, and oregano come from? These questions aren’t easily answered, even in today’s information age. It’s much easier for me to tell you that oregano is a variety of wild marjoram native to the Mediterranean region than it is to figure out how the oregano in my spice rack actually made it into my home.

So I’m taking The Domestic Man into a new direction, partially inspired by my recent tours of The Culinary Institute of America and my local Whole Foods. Along with continuing to post new recipes every Tuesday, I’m going to start doing a little investigative work on the side. I’ll be traveling to and touring farms, manufacturers, and other organizations involved in the food industry to gain a better understanding of the processes in place to get food onto our tables. I plan on working with everyone from small, family-owned businesses to large, faceless corporations in order to better my understanding of how things work. And obviously, I’m going to share the results of my work with you.

The goal of this project isn’t to judge these food producers as being “good” or “bad”, but rather to look at the environment they are working in and how that affects us as consumers. I’m not an investigative journalist, policy maker, or food scientist; I’m simply a home chef with a nagging feeling that there’s more to what we eat than what we eat.

I should mention that if you are a farm or company involved in something related to food, send me an email so we can brainstorm some ideas. Bear in mind that these travels will be limited by my (constantly shrinking) free time and budget, but overall I’m very excited to get started. As always, thanks for sticking around.

Russ

Book Review Roundup – Spring 2014

28 Mar

Man, there are a lot of new books out right now. I have a mounting pile that needed some attention, some that I personally bought and others that were sent for me to review. I thought I’d take a moment and briefly look at these additions to my growing library.

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A Tale of Two Chilis: My Review of The Slim Palate Paleo Cookbook (and a Giveaway)

20 Mar


Left: Chili Con Carne from The Ancestral Table. Right: Texas Chili from The Slim Palate Paleo Cookbook

I don’t know about you guys, but my teenage years were not very productive. I played and sang in punk rock bands, and we churned out a cassette tape release every six months or so. That was about it. At the time I felt like a pretty prolific chap, but it pales in comparison to the milestones that teen blogger Joshua Weissman (the writer behind the website Slim Palate and the newly-released cookbook, The Slim Palate Paleo Cookbook) has reached in the past couple of years.

Writing a cookbook is not easy. Surviving your teenage years is not easy. Somehow, Joshua managed both, and while I can’t speak for how easily his adolescence is going, this book is a significant accomplishment in and of itself. But this book is even more impressive; it is the tale of one young man’s journey from obesity to health (he lost 100 pounds along the way). Ultimately, this project is more than a cookbook – it’s an early chronicle of someone destined for great(er) things.

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A Morning with Whole Foods Market

6 Mar

Over the weekend I was invited to a one-on-one tour of my local Whole Foods Market in Annapolis, Maryland. Although we shop at this store often, it was enlightening to walk around the store with their resident Healthy Eating Specialist and discuss some of their programs and policies. While we had a few opposing food philosophies, the amount of overlap between their goals and my health principles was impressive and encouraging. So, let’s talk about what I discovered.

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The Ancestral Table and the Autoimmune Protocol

20 Feb

Since I personally have an autoimmune condition, I have a lot of respect for the Autoimmune Protocol. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the protocol is aligned with the Paleo Diet (you know the drill – meats, seafood, veggies, fruits) but also eliminates other troublesome foods in an effort to further reverse autoimmune issues. The main culprits are nightshades (peppers, potatoes, tomatoes), eggs (especially the whites), dairy, alcohol, and most nuts and seeds.

I’ve dabbled in the protocol over the past couple of years, eliminating certain foods for months at a time and then re-introducing them to see how I react to them. Most recently I eliminated eggs for about four months because I found myself feeling tired after eating them; I started eating eggs again this month without any issue. There are a ton of factors involved in diet and health, so I’m not saying outright that eliminating eggs for a short period of time directly affected my resiliency, but I think there is good reason to abstain from certain foods from time to time. After all, this mimics the seasonality of human diets preceding our modern era, as well as many religious practices that have endured over the years.

When I wrote The Ancestral Table I didn’t necessarily keep the Autoimmune Protocol (“AIP”) in mind, especially since two incredible-looking cookbooks on the subject are coming out this year (see: The Paleo Approach Cookbook and The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook). After doing the math, 55 of the 112 recipes found in my cookbook are AIP-friendly or easily modified to be so. While at first I thought this number was pretty low, after talking with some experts I was happy to find that 55 is actually a fairly high number compared to many of the Paleo cookbooks out there, since many of them rely on nut-based flours for texture, something that is rarely found in The Ancestral Table.

So I thought it would be worth your time to publish an AIP guide for anyone looking to buy my book while on an elimination diet. For more information on the Autoimmune Protocol, check out my friend Sarah’s site, ThePaleoMom.com.
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The Ancestral Table: Giveaways, Events, and Signed Copies

13 Feb

Hi everyone, hope you’re enjoying my recently-released cookbook, The Ancestral Table: Traditional Recipes for a Paleo Lifestyle. I’ve read an overwhelming amount of nice reviews, and it’s been very heartwarming. Thank you to everyone for that.

So now it’s my time to give a little something back. Here’s a list of current giveaways that feature the book, and other great news; I’ll be doing a series of signings throughout March, and I’m also offering a service where you can buy personalized signed copies of The Ancestral Table through my local independent bookstore, shipped to your home.

Note that I’ve set up an Events page (on the top-right of this site) where you can check back for updates on signings, cooking demos, and other fun stuff.

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US Wellness Meats $200 Gift Card Giveaway!

10 Feb

People say nice things about companies all the time, and I’m always leery of endorsements. After all, companies are just big, hulking, impersonal machines, right? While it’s probably easy or convenient to say that The Ancestral Table is solely the result of my own hard work over the years, the truth is that my cookbook wouldn’t have been possible without the support of many people, chief among them my friends at US Wellness Meats. I realize that sounds a little extreme, so hear me out.

Two years ago, I sent them an email asking if they were interested in partnering for some recipes. This was my first time putting myself (and this blog) out there like that, and I felt sheepish writing such an assuming email – after all, at the time I had only a few hundred Facebook “likes” and a regular readership of around 50 people. But the USWM team saw something they liked in my little site, and sent me a box of various meats to work with; they also added me as their April 2012 Featured Chef, and my website took off from there. I attribute the turning point of this blog – from something I was writing for mostly myself to what it is today – to their support in early 2012.

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Early Praise for The Ancestral Table

8 Feb

I know, it’s totally unfair of me to be writing about how people like my book when it won’t release until Tuesday! I’m a big jerk. But I wanted to take a minute and thank the people that have helped to bring some attention to The Ancestral Table during these past couple of weeks, and to share some of their impressions of the book. Without further ado, let’s dig in.

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Let’s Cook Through The Ancestral Table.

1 Feb

I think it’d be really fun if you cooked through The Ancestral Table, and I’d love to follow you on your journey. I wrote this book with that very idea in mind, and for two specific kinds of people. First, for anyone that is looking to try out a more healthful way of eating, this might be the tastiest way to go about it. Secondly, for anyone that’s been eating a Paleo-style diet for a while and is looking to either 1) try out some new dishes or 2) ramp up their skills in the kitchen, I think this is also a great solution.

I’m not saying that you have to exclusively cook every meal straight out of this book (after all, there are only a couple breakfast recipes in here), but I have a feeling that most people (and their tastebuds!) will benefit from cooking frequently out of my little tome.

It would be awesome if you shared your progress as you cook your way through The Ancestral Table. Please send me emails, upload pictures to my Facebook page, tag me on Instagram. Or simply use my nifty little hashtag, #theancestraltable, so that I can find it.

To kickstart your new adventure, I wanted to provide you with a list of items (tools and ingredients) that you’ll need in order to tackle most of these recipes. That way, when the book releases on February 11th you can jump right in.
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