Saturday, October 8, 2016

Going Organic

 RHYS: Yesterday I played hooky for a day with my friends Deborah Crombie, Terry Shames and Diana Chambers. We drove north from the Bay area to the little town of Healdsburg. This used to a a small farming town, maybe a barbecue place a couple of bars, a feed store. But then the area was taken over by wineries and it's become a destination resort. A couple of lovely hotels in the town square, lots of wine tasting spots and a good selection of restaurants. The place we wanted to have lunch was full with no hope of a table any time soon so we walked around and settled on a Portuguese restaurant instead. We were so glad that we did! The atmosphere was fabulous--we were given an interesting amuse bouche, a salty shot in a glass, then we shared a tasting plate and each had a main course. I had cod cakes--very tasty. So did Debs. Diana heirloom tomato salad and Terry had the tripe--uh, not so much.

One thing that struck me, walking around Healdsburg was how very typically Northern California it was. Apparently one place had the best kale salad in the universe. The clothing stores featured natural fabrics or recycled Japanese kimonos. So expensive. So organic.

I find myself living in an organic world and I'm rather amused that this is a new concept. I grew up on organic food. My dad always had a big veggie garden. We had an acre of fruit trees. We kept chickens. My grandmother, who lived to 91, had never eaten anything from a can or that was frozen in her life. She only ate English meat and local produce. (There was a problem when she lived in Wales and asked if the tomatoes were English. We don't sell foreign food here said the sales lady). I'm all for food that is antibiotic free, raised naturally, grass fed beef, free range chickens. And my veggies that are not GM, not sprayed with lethal pesticides. If I had time and lived in one place I'd like to grow my own veggies.

But organic has become a buzzword, especially here in Norcal. Local ladies go to the farmer's market with baskets on their arms and play at simple peasant women before getting back into their BMWs and Audies and delivering the produce to the help to cook.  My son and daughter in law seem to have a refrigerator full of kale. They have green smoothies and cleanses. It's an interesting contrast from when I was first married. The women of an older generation who gave me recipes and advice all cooked with jello, cream of chicken soup and cool whip in almost every dish. So I'm glad we're out of that era. But I'm not a huge green kale smoothie fan either.

And now organics have taken over my bath.  I love bath products but I've found they can be a little too organic. I thought that a trail of ants had come and drowned in my bath until I realized it was the lavender flowers from my bath salts. And the organic oatmeal soak? Trying not to be too gross but it looked as if someone had vomited into my tub.

Our family motto is Inter Utrumque Tene. Steer a middle course. This will continue to be my motto. Grass fed where possible, local produce too but I draw the line at the kale.

How about you?  Is organic important to you? Are you into the green smoothies or ice cream?  Fries or roasted kale?


  1. No antibiotics, grass fed, naturally raised, free range, non-GMO . . . definitely important around our house -- but while a smidge of kale in my mixed greens salad is definitely okay, I draw the line at roasted kale [and at any green smoothie]. I also pass up anything with high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors and colors.
    All this messing with our food makes me crazy, so we always plant both vegetable and herb gardens . . . .

  2. I agree with Joan, organic as far as possible, no high fructose corn syrup, definitely non-GMO. and antibiotics in food, not if I can help it. I confess that I do have questions about the veracity of the supplier's claims. It seems that they are permitted to nuance the terms until they become the antithesis of the consumer's aims. Sorry, I'm a cynic about this stuff. According to the FDA web page, the term organic is not defined by law or the regulations that the FDA enforces. So it becomes a matter of trust.

    When I raise my own veggies, and often when I buy from a farmer's market, I have a reason to believe that trust isn't betrayed. When I'm buying meat and vegetables in the Publix market, I do it with my fingers crossed.

    Kale - I have friends who love it. I will use it in a salad, but that's where I draw the line. A friend made roasted kale once. Not the best.

    Your pictures are gorgeous Rhys. Makes me want to take out the suitcase and go.

  3. I love visiting that part of NoCal, Rhys. Healdsburg is a nice town, and I am glad you found another good place to eat at that Portugese restaurant.

    Since I live in an apartment, I am limited to growing my herbs and a few vegetables like salad greens and tomatoes on my balcony planters. Fortunately, we have several farmer's market in the city, the oldest one located only a 5 minute walk away. But our growing season is a lot shorter in Ontario than California. Our Canadian Thanksgiving is this weekend which means harvest season is almost over. Several of these farmer's markets close this weekend or at the end of October. Then until next spring (May), I will have to rely on mostly imported produce from the USA or Mexico in the grocery, and most of that is not organic.

    I like making green smoothies at home, but I use spinach, not kale, and avocado to make it green in colour! Have not really jumped on to the kale craze here.

  4. Love it, Rhys! And Healdsburg is a very sweet town. My uncle and late aunt, who live on Lake Street in the city, have owned a house just north of there for decades. It's a very special corner of the world.

    I'm with you on kale. We have a farm share this year and I never even bring home the kale, because, despite my best intentions, always ends up in the compost pile. As a former organic farmer, I wouldn't garden any other way, and eat locally as much as I can, including all our meat and chicken from a local farm. It's just better for the earth in so many ways. But I also don't go nuts about eating organic when I'm out or at people's houses.

  5. Healdsburg is a lovely town. I DO try to buy organic meats... we rarely eat meat but I worry more about the hormones and antibiotics in meat, so when I get chicken or beef or pork it's "oganic". Also bacon - hold the nitrates, please. For produce I'm not as picky, and having belonged for a while to a CSA I've had enough kale to last a lifetime.

  6. We have a garden in our yard--I've grown veggies since I lived in Tennessee in the 1970's. And I love the trend of farmer's markets, which make those fresh vegetables available to people who can't or won't grow them. Yes they cost more...and that's a problem for folks on a tight budget...may the trend continue to grow and flourish!

  7. That sounds like such a wonderful day! I have never been there and not only the adventure but the sisterhood sounds lovely!
    . I confess I am not stringent about this… I am satisfied that our diet is extremely healthy, but when it comes to choosing organic produce, I don't always.
    I am more careful of sugar and corn syrup and fats and junk food.
    And I think the kale public relations guy has been hired by the pumpkin spice people.
    Off to teach a Sisters in Crime class on public speaking! More to come…

  8. no kale. I sense its presence twenty feet away. Kale pesto, gotcha! My digestive tract is grateful.

  9. We're onto them, Hank! That PR person has a lot to answer for.

    Rhys, your friend day sounds like mad fun. And what a great place for it.

    When we were in California last month, on our way from Boonville to the San Jose airport, we stopped in Healdsburg for brunch. What a darling town. The restaurant we chose was huge, but very busy, and by the time we left there was a long line. And by then, I knew why. I had the best Eggs Benedict of my life there. Seriously, it's ruined me for all others.

    When I go to the farmers market here it's because I know the produce came from a thirty-mile radius, and not on a month long boat trip from China. I know most of the vendors personally, and enjoy supporting local farmers. It all tastes better, sometimes because it's fresher, and a lot of times because they grow varieties for the flavor rather than how long they can travel without spoilage.

    But please, hold the green smoothies. Give mine to someone else.

  10. Rhys, I think I'm with you. Middle ground.

    I prefer to buy local meats and veggies - or at least ones grown in the US. We do a summer veggie garden (it was so disappointing this year and we're not really sure why). Herbs - anyone have a recipe that uses dried parsley? - tomatoes, sweet peppers, etc.

    No kale. No green smoothies, no cleanses.

    I try to minimize the high-fructose corn syrup (but The Boy loves his Froot Loops). I hesitate to say "no GMO" because I don't think it's blanket bad. Again - balance.

    I did cut all sweetener out of my tea. Does that count?

  11. Hank, yes, iit was the sisterhood more than anything that made it a fun day. Such a good time!
    I really think we should plan a Reds retreat sometime soon. Somewhere like Healdsburg, but with hot springs as well!
    I have to say the clothing really stunned me. Interesting, different, but so expensive. Debs and I saw a scarf, knitted and quite pretty but $495 . Who buys scarves at that price? And especially who IMPULSE buys scarves when on a day out.
    I guess people do. I was raised too sensible.

  12. Rhys, I'm with you on sensible! Plus I grew up on a diet of home-grown foods--veggies and meat and eggs--today I grow my own veggies and herbs when I can--and live in an area noted for its farm stands, orchards, and wineries. I eat local, use local meats, and look for USA-produce otherwise. Steer clear of high-fructose corn syrup, etc. We do have an interesting program here--many of our local farm stands accept the EBT card--in earlier times known as 'food stamps,' which means even people who are going through hard times can get fresh local foods. There are even vouchers for the 60+ folks, usable at any farm market like cash. But kale smoothies? Ptooey!

  13. I too am trying to eat more humanely. But I am skeptical about farmer's markets. I live very close to one of the produce distribution centers for central Florida. I see the huge produce trucks come in, off load, and sell to owners of the local "farmer's" markets. I don't buy free range meat per se, do buy halal meats and fowl. Does anyone remember when kale was primarily used to green up a buffet display? Course I am older than supermarkets.. so my fat goes back a long way.

    Rhys, I lived in Petaluma during the bi-centennial. I do enjoy hearing you talk about my old stomping grounds. They certainly have changed. Who would have thought that Healdsburg would go high falutin'.

  14. While I'd love to purchase organic products regularly, I simply cannot afford to do that. Also, at least in the places where I've shopped, I've discovered that organic produce either is nearly tasteless or goes bad within a day or two. I don't have the time to go back to the store every two or three days to replenish my supply.

    I make breakfast smoothies on occasion but only with fruit and yogurt and some seeds or nuts. I've eaten kale on occasion as part of a salad, but only at a restaurant. As much as I like fresh fruits, etc, I don't want kale in my smoothies! Someone at work told me he sometimes puts garlic in his breakfast smoothies "because garlic is supposed to be good for you". Maybe, but I don't want it for breakfast!

    Deb Romano

  15. I am surrounded by farmers markets here on the SF Peninsula, but the only organic I ever get is Mom's tomatoes and Carole's lemons.

    I am hoping all the preservatives I eat will keep me alive---forever.

  16. I grew up completely the opposite-- if a vegetable didn't come in a tin, my mother was very suspicious of it! I had to teach mself about vegetables when my firstborn arrived. I knew she needed them, and had a vague idea that toddlers couldn't live on canned green beans alone.

    My cooking now is erratic. I prefer to make homemade soups and salads, and buy organic and halal from the neighborhood guys. But then again, sometimes my inner six year old just needs pizza rolls.

  17. Rhys,

    I get what you mean about organic bath products. Never heard of the word "organic" until the 1990s, though I grew up eating organic food.

    When I was a kid in the late 1970s, there used to be a chain of markets called the Co-op in El Cerrito (now a garden center) and in Berkeley (now Andronico's). I think they sold organic vegetables and fruit.

    There are farmer's markets that now sell organic vegetables and organic fruits. The sign will say "organic" next to the name of the fruit/vegetables.

    I remember that restaurants like Chez Paissee (sp?) use organic food in their cooking.