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Tidbit: Q&A

So my good friend Matthew took a look at this blog and then emailed a few good questions for me. I got some local experts to answer, and here's what we have...

Q: How do you find out beforehand if restaurants use local meats, sustainable seafood, local and/or organic produce, etc?
How do you locate these kinds of restaurants in an area? It doesn't seem to be something restaurants advertise.
A: From Alegria Holland Ohlinger, owner of Richwood Grill in Morgantown, WV..."The only way I know of finding out if a restaurant uses organic stuff is to look at their website and menu. In bigger cities, they're more likely to put it right out there. Here in Morgantown, not so much. We do, but people have mixed responses to it. One guy recently accused us of lying the other night because he said there's no such thing as organic...but that isn't the norm.

I think it's perfectly acceptable to ask the waitstaff where the meat/seafood or anything else comes from. People ask us that all the time. Although we do try to list it on the menu, that isn't the norm here and I think it sometimes confuses people."

Editorial comment from me: Matt, I hope that we can build a good list, and get feedback from folks in different cities. Here's a place that I found close to where you live: Prince on Delaware. The website isn't totally obvious, but it would be a good place to go and ask some questions. If you try it, let us know all about it! Also, check out your local co-op. Looks like Newark Natural Foods is close to you. Co-ops are both a great place to shop, and a great resource for more info on farmers, etc.

Q: What is your take on farmer's markets? If food is sold at the meat counter or the produce stand at a farmer's market, does that assure me that it's local, hormone-free, and drug-free and possibly organic regarding the produce, or is it best to ask?
A: From Kathy Evans, of USDA Certified Organic Evans Knob Farm..."Most grocery store chains get their meat from a distributor of their chain. It usually comes from a large feed lot that sells their animals to a meat packer, who butchers the meat and then sells it to the grocery store chain.
It is a rare thing to find a grocery store that carries local meat, but yes, you should ask. In most cases the meat is not drug/hormone free unless it is labeled as such.

If a product, meat or produce, is labeled with the USDA Certified Organic label that product has gone through rigorous inspections. However, you need to school yourself on the food terminology. Cage-free chicken for instance, is a bit misleading. Cage-free only means that the animals are not in a tiny cage. Cage-free probably does mean that the chickens were in a huge building with thousands of other birds. Free range means that the bird had access to the outside, but the actual required size of that space is ridiculously small. Pastured poultry, on the other hand, means that the bird was raised out in a field with lots of fresh air, sunshine and space.

Not all farmers at a farmers market are organic or even use sustainable growing practices. You need to develop a relationship with your farmers, ask questions about their growing practices. If the farmer is not willing to discuss his/her growing methods, or if the farmer seems to be uncomfortable or talking in circles, steer away.

Another way to figure out if your farmer is growing with methods you are comfortable with is to ask if you can come for a visit sometime. Most farmers are willing to allow access to their farms. If they avoid visits, beware, they have something to hide."

Another editorial comment by me: One time I connected with a farmer who I had not met in person, through my local co-op. She told me that I could come visit her farm before I committed to buying anything, as she had a drop-off point close to my home. I asked her if she fed the same food I was buying to her kids, and she said yes. I said "I'm in!"

Matthew, I hope this helps. Thanks, experts, for the info! And thanks to Matt for this link, He says the organic blue cornmeal makes great cornbread, and that the prices and shipping are very reasonable. Win!

I hope this will be an evolving discussion, and that my sis and her hubby and others will weigh in on their experiences.

Reviews: some to come

I am so EXCITED to go to Manhattan in a few weeks. We will really be able to get some restaurant reviews rolling. YAY!

On tap are Blue Hill, Angelica Kitchen, and I just learned today of Northern Spy Food Company, which opened in November 2009.

Haven't been to Blue Hill or Northern Spy. You might recall Blue Hill got some publicity when the Obamas went there for a date a few months ago. I noticed Northern Spy via Jen Bekman (check her out) on Facebook. Score!

I have been to Angelica many times, and I love love love it. In fact, Angelica may be my all time favorite restaurant. It's vegan macrobiotic, and I am neither of those, but I still think it is amazing and the food is so healthy. CAN'T WAIT!


Tidbit: Here's an idea...

This dreary weather is bringing everyone down, including me. I'm trying to cook up a little excitement...see what you think.

So, when I want to buy a relatively expensive piece of clothing, here's something I do. I think to myself, if I saw this at Old Navy, Target, or whatever, would I still want it? The reason is that I want to make sure I'm buying something because I actually like it, not because of the name. Sometimes the answer is "yes" and sometimes "no." If the answer is "no," I just skip it. No need to pay out the you-know-what for a name, in my opinion.

How does this relate to a food-themed blog? Well, I've been thinking about how to express the importance of eating local, organic, sustainable without being preachy or boring. (I hope that some people reading this blog need convincing.) Aside from the fact that it's good to support humane treatment of animals, stewardship of the earth, etc. I think the bottom line is that folks like food to taste good...right? Right. And if you have a family, well they like food to taste good too, right? Right. And organic, local, sustainable food is usually more expensive than food at the grocery, right? Right. So do I think it tastes better just because it's "organic" or whatever other buzzword is attached, or because it's more expensive? I don't think so, but I think we should put it to the test. So here's an idea...

I'm going to try to get a few people to do some experiments with me. For example, I know a lot of people like those rotisserie chickens you can get at the grocery store. I used to like them too. But I don't buy them anymore, because I don't know where those chickens come from. Are they pumped full of hormones, antibiotics, additives, etc.? Are they all cooped up (pun intended) so they spend their whole lives moving no more than inches? I think the answer is a definite maybe. I want to find someone who routinely eats that chicken, and I'll roast them an actual free-range chicken, with no hormones, antibiotics, or anything else. Hopefully, I can get one from a local farm. And I'll just drop it off at their house. The only requirement will be that they guest post for me, and give a comparison. Here's another one...I'd love to grab someone who routinely eats at say, Cheddar's or Applebee's, and send them to Richwood Grill, on my dime, to get an honest guest post about the experience...totally unbiased info.

Know anyone? If you do, send them my way...


Tidbit: Do I have to compromise?

So here's a quick story...

This past summer Mindy and Jeff and their posse of four children, Haley, and I went to the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island. When we were heading home, Haley and I needed to stop and grab some lunch. We were heading south-ish, I guess, from New York to New Jersey. I was secretly hoping that we were close enough to Blue Hill Cafe to stop there (and I was desprately trying to figure that out with my outdated Palm Treo). But, we were trying to make it home by a certain time, probably in time to get dogs out of kennels, etc.

So once we got into New Jersey, I knew that all hope was lost with regard to Blue Hill (sniff, sniff). Anyway, Haley said that she really needed to eat, and I said I could just have some nuts or whatever was in my backpack. She said, "Stacy, look, you can't have a handful of nuts for lunch just because you don't want to eat fast food. Sometimes you have to compromise." So I said, "well, there are the same number of calories in the nuts as in a Subway sandwich or there's absolutely no reason that I can't just eat these nuts."

After about 10 miles, she said, "I'm stopping at this exit and you are going to eat something...stop being ridiculous." I didn't say anything. And then we pulled off and I swear, within a literal stone's throw of the interstate, was a restaurant with fresh and some organic food, the Grain House. Best timing ever!


Review: Primo, Orlando, Fl

So, kind of bouncing from the review of RM Seafood in Las Vegas, I thought reviewing Primo in Orlando, FL would be appropriate. I think of Orlando as kind of a glitzy place like Las Vegas, where there's a lot of "bigger is better" type of stuff. Surprisingly (to me, at least) there is an amazing restaurant in the JW Marriott in Orlando. It's called Primo.

I found out about Primo by doing online research a few years ago, when I had to go to Orlando for work. I'm not a huge fan of Emeril's or any of the other restaurants at City Walk, etc. I was looking for something local, organic, sustainable, of course. Primo fit the bill perfectly. There are two Primo in a Victorian house in Maine, and then the one in Orlando. Sounds kind of strange, huh?

Here's a little info on Primo...
"Experience sensible contemporary Italian cuisine at its best! Chef Melissa Kelly creates plates with her "home-grown" concept in mind, emphasizing the freshest local ingredients such as citrus and seafood to create imaginative and dazzling recipes. Vegetables and herbs are grown on-site in the organic garden. Primo offers indoor and outdoor seating.

Guests of Melissa Kelly’s Primo at the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, enjoy fresh produce that comes to their plates directly from Primo’s organic garden and local farms. In order to guarantee that all dishes meet the highest standards, only the finest ingredients are used."

I've been to Primo three times I think. Last time was, once again, on a work trip. It's maybe a 20 minute cab ride from the Disney resorts and all that. My luggage, once again, got lost so I was dressed casually...jeans, running shoes, and a black blazer. It's a very upscale looking restaurant, but I did not feel out of place in my "help, I lost my luggage and this is what I was wearing on the plane YESTERDAY outfit."

I did make a reservation, which I would definitely recommend. The reservation was actually a little tough to get, so plan ahead for sure. I think that kids would be okay at Primo if they are well-behaved, although I doubt there's a kids menu.

One of the things that stands out most in my mind (as this is a retrospective review) is how friendly the servers were. I absolutely can't stand snobbery...blah. But these folks are super, and especially last time...we had a young male waiter who was super helpful and very well-informed.

On to the chow. The menu is amazing and I'm sorry that I can't give great detail about what we had, since like I said, this is a retrospective review. There were four of us for dinner, my friend Carol and two of her friends. We had the antipasti, which was excellent. I had a pasta dish, half serving, which was plenty of food...I wasn't incredibly hungry. One person in our party had a lamb dish, which he thought was a little strong. However, I'm sure if he would have talked to the waiter, he could have gotten a different dish. We ordered a bottle of wine, a red recommended by the server, which I remember as being excellent with the dish that I ordered. We split a dessert or two, ('s killing me that I can't remember more specifics) between the four of us and I remember being very satisfied with the meal, not overly full.

Primo is absolutely a can't miss restaurant for me if I'm in Orlando. (BTW, a good friend of mine has taken colleagues there when in Orlando on business and they just absolutely feasted and had a fabulous time...he called me and I was so JEALOUS.) The prices are not on the online menu, but I'd say you could easily pay $50. per person if you have appetizer and/or salad, entree, dessert and wine. It's totally worth it and in fact, I think that most of the other upscale restaurants at City Walk and those types of places would be even more expensive (and not as good). In fact, I ate at Tchoup Chop the night before and paid about three times as much money and was about three times less impressed. Plus, of course, the local, organic, sustainable thing is a big deal...and good quality meat a must. Yeah, so I'll go back to Primo, and I can't wait to give you a detailed review of the amazing food!!!


Review and Tidbit: RM Seafood, Las Vegas and more on sustainable seafood

I just happened on this article in the New York Times about sustainable seafood. I love reading this kind of stuff...this guy is doing a fish co-op!

And for locals here in Morgantown, there's a great new article on Richwood Grill, which has some info on seafood. I think this is the best article on Richwood Grill that I've read.

I've been wanting to do very short reviews of our list of favorite restaurants, so here's some info on RM Seafood in Las Vegas. I was on a work trip, and since it was right before the holidays, I was thinking it would be good to eat light and clean. Sushi would be perfect!

I thought that I found out about RM Seafood on, but now I can't find it when I search. It must have been when I saw that Nobu is NOT a place that serves sustainable seafood that I looked for another place to go. I had also seen this in a magazine on a United flight on the way home from New Orleans in October. Hadn't had sushi for years, but the article about sustainable sushi caught my eye.

Anyway, here is the chef's mission statement (which totally sucked me in)...

"At RM Seafood, we are committed to use organically grown, sustainable produce and sustainably caught seafood. We have made a public commitment to solely purchase sustainable wines by June 2008 and 95 percent of the menu proteins come from sustainably raised or caught seafood. It is our goal at RM Seafood to help our guest connect their individual buying decisions to the health of the oceans and the soil."

So, I was obviously anxious to try RM Seafood, and it was on the entirely opposite side of the strip from where I was staying (i.e., the side closest to Treasure Island, Caesar's Palace, etc), tucked in a corner in Mandalay Bay. A 20-30 minute walk, but definitely worth it. The walk seemed safe enough...I wasn't nervous at all.

My luggage got lost (argh) so I was dressed very casually, in jeans and a cashmere cardi and sneakers, but I felt very comfortable there. I did not have a reservation, which was no problem, I sat at a high table in the bar. Ambiance was clean and modern, there was a tv in the bar with sports on.

I don't know if I'd say this place is kid-friendly, although it was loud enough that kids probably wouldn't be disruptive if they were well-behaved.

The servers were very friendly, with lots of good advice. Not snobby at all, and very interested in the fact that the restaurant serves sustainable seafood.

So on t0 the chow. There was bread with the meal, little biscuits and corn muffins. I wanted to not eat them, but they were irresistable. (Oh well, the 30 minute walk, right???) On my first visit (yes, I went twice), I had the garlic tuna sashimi and the dayboat scallop nigiri for my meal. On the second trip, I had some Taylor Bay scallops and the oyster sampler. Seven oysters on the half shell, all from different places. The small menu described the origin of each, with characteristic flavors. It was so interesting! One said that it would taste like cucumbers, another would have the taste of pumpkin seeds. They were all right on!

So in a nutshell, easily some of the best sushi/seafood I have ever had...and guilt-free to boot!

The oysters were a lot of fun, I thought very approachable for someone who hasn't tried oysters before. They were small in size and very manageable. (I don't know about you, but I'm not a big fan of having an oyster in my mouth for TOO long.

The price wasn't cheap, around $50. a trip. But, I did have a glass of wine each time, which was probably around $10. Well worth it, though. And I would imagine comparable with any other upscale sushi joint in Vegas.

Will definitely go back whenever I'm in Las Vegas. In fact, if I would have had the time, I would have gone back a third time on the same trip. Definitely a good departure from the indulgence, noise, etc. that abounds in that city. LOVE!

Take a look at the website...there's good info on sustainable seafood there.


Tidbit: What do you want?

So last night we went to a restaurant in Clarksburg, WV called Julio's. It's not local or organic or sustainable as far as I'm aware, but we went there nonetheless. (Actually, I ate there several years ago and wanted to go back just for nostalgia's sake I guess.) Julio's is a very good Italian restaurant that's been around for years, and there is no printed dinner menu. Instead, the server verbalizes what's available for the day, around five appetizers and around five entrees. Obviously, fresh food prepared daily. (BTW, it was very delicious.)

Anyway, the point here is short and sweet. Haley was gabbing with her mom on the phone, and told her that we had gone to Julio's. Her mom said, "well, you just get whatever they cook that day." As if that's a bad thing. I mean, what do we prefer...plastic laminated menus and a college kid in the kitchen dumping a frozen bag of fettucine alfredo into a boiling vat of water, or an actual chef in the kitchen preparing fresh food?


Tidbit: More than you wanted to know...

Argh...being cooped up by this dreadful weather (well, more specifically by the dreadful road conditions) has kept us from our restaurant reviewing. Maybe it's a good opportunity to gab a bit.

To preface this post, I've been thinking that I should say something to express why eating "good food" according to our description is important. "Organic" is such a cliche these days, and has a variety of different stigmas as well (i.e., hippy, expensive, yuppy, weird, on and on). I think the idea can be easy to dismiss for those reasons. But of course there's science behind it too. For now, instead of throwing out statistics and quoting science or whatever, I'll just start off by saying why it's important to me.

So several years ago, before I got really interested in the quality of my food, I was doing some messed up stuff. Number one, I was binging and purging. I'd come home from work (very stressful job) and I just couldn't get enough to eat...totally impulsive. And then, well you know, I'd remedy the situation. Like three pieces of frozen cake or something and then SPLAT.

Besides that, I had a nutrition bar addiction. Sounds weird, huh? Here's what was going on...I'd get a box of Luna Bars, or Zone Bars, or Balance Bars. As soon as I woke up in the morning, I was thinking about eating a bar. So I'd pour a glass of milk (probably skim milk, from the grocery) and have a bar. Then at work, I couldn't wait til my next one at around 10am. Another for lunch, another for snack at 2pm, and then sometimes two for dinner, with another glass of milk. I was eating so many that I had to buy extra boxes so my husband wouldn't know. Somedays, I wouldn't eat anything else...except maybe a piece of birthday cake at work (if there was one in the breakroom) followed by a purge, and a cup of black coffee to mask the potential barf breath.

I was clearly in a bad cycle, and looking back, I think my body was absolutely trying to tell me that it needed something I wasn't giving it. So fast forward and enter my awesome friend Carol. I don't even remember how it came up, but Carol introduced me to raw milk, and Weston A. Price type of thinking...whole foods, local, organic, grass-fed meats, etc. This opened up a whole new world, and I stopped binging and purging, stopped eating those nasty nutrition bars, and started eating GOOD food.

Along the way, I learned about cultured foods...kombucha (a fermented tea) and kefir (made from milk). Real butter, raw milk, raw yogurt, raw amazing and delicious...and straight from the farmer. Eggs from chickens who were tended to by the farmers' little children with BRIGHT ORANGE yolks, and meat and milk from cows who were right there grazing happily in the yard. And I joined an organic CSA (community-supported agriculture) for the first time. The set-up is such that you pay a lump sum upfront, and then throughout the harvest season, the veggies are harvested by a farmer and his or her helpers, and divided among the members evenly. Each week, a basket of freshly harvested organic veggies. Amazing!

So long story LONG, I've maintained a healthy diet for probably around seven years now, with no funny business. I don't binge or gorge or purge...I feel totally satiated by the food that I eat. My body isn't asking me for anything else. In fact, it's usually pretty easy for me to resist sweets and processed foods. Based on that, I think that I'm really doing what's right for me. And I have to say that I am so thankful to have met Carol, and to have been able to learn something from her that potentially saved my life!


Tidbit: More on sustainable seafood

Being stuck here in town because of the snow, we obviously didn't get to do the reviews that we had planned, which was a real bummer. Instead of a night on the town in DC, Friday was spent on the town in Morgantown. We headed to the Warner to see "Up in the Air." (Short movie review: I did not love it.) After that, we walked across the street to Madeline's.

Now I have never considered Madeline's to be a place with a lot of local food. (Sometimes the specials menu mentions local salad greens or something.) I usually order a vegetarian dish, because I don't know if they are serving meat that was grass fed, treated humanely, not pumped full of hormones, or whatever. But on the heels of the my last post which mentioned sustainable seafood, I was thinking this would be apropos.

I love fish, or any kind of seafood for that matter. But some of the info you can find, especially on Atlantic salmon, will just knock your socks off. No doubt about it, that's some stuff you don't want to eat...

So onward and upward...not Friday, but a few weeks ago, I asked the server at Madeline's where the mussels came from (there are a couple of appetizers with mussels). She said Chile. I wasn't sure if that's a good thing, so I skipped them. Instead, I ordered the Maryland crab soup (more or less local). And then Friday night, I was tempted to order the shrimp, and I asked where they came from. The server said Thailand. And again, I ordered the Maryland crab soup.

I didn't have my iPhone either time, which I would normally use to look this stuff up, to find out if the source of the fish makes it a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." And, I like to find out whether there's a high risk for contamination with heavy metals or poisons as well.

Here are a couple of good places to find this info. Check them out to see which one works best for you.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood WATCH
Easy to use, you can just search for a type of seafood and get an easy-to-read chart indicating Best Choice, Good Alternative, or Avoid based on sustainability, with notes at the bottom about possible contamination. There's an iPhone app, and a downloadable card that you can print to fold up and carry with you. A lot of great info.

Sea Choice
This one also has an iPhone app and printable resources. I haven't used it much, but it looks really good. The info here should be same as Monterey Bay Aquarium. This site seems a little more streamlined.

Sustainable Sushi
There's a blog here, with sushi restaurant reviews as well. This one's nice because you can search for a fish by its sushi name. (Speaking of sustainable sushi, I think this is where I found info for RM Seafood in Las Vegas. Amazing. Best seafood I have ever eaten...more on this later.)

Vital Choices
I swear this isn't a commercial, but I order seafood from Vital Choices and it's fantastic. Good, clean, sustainable seafood. Kind of pricey, but I try to hit up the salmon and halibut specials. And they do free shipping for orders over $99, so I stock up. The spot prawns are more like lobster (which, incidentally I don't eat...the dilemma) than shrimp, beautiful and out of this world. Lots of info on this website as well.

So, as it turns out, I could have ordered the mussels at Madeline's, and felt comfortable that I was eating a sustainably harvested creature with a low risk for contamination. Skipping the shrimp from Thailand was a good idea, and of course the Maryland crab was fine. Next time, I'm all over the Mussels Diablo!!!

ps. A big shout out to Natasha at Madeline's for being so lovely and answering my "where does it come from" questions with a smile!


Tidbit: Change of plans and sustainable seafood stew

So, the winter storm heading for the east coast has necessitated an about-face for our weekend plans of heading for DC. The dealbreaker was when the weatherman had trouble deciding if the snow in DC will be "plowable" or "crippling." Either way, we will not be doing reviews of Restaurant Nora or Coppi's Organic, nor will we be visiting good friends or procurring my painting. (Sniff, sniff.)

Instead, I will be pulling up a hot cup of coffee to the computer and building our "to-do" list of restaurants. One thing that we are really hoping for is to be able to go to "Outstanding in the Field." this summer (fingers crossed). Check it out, looks like a blast, right?

I don't think that we are planning on posting a bunch of recipes on this blog, but I wanted to go ahead and link to this one for "sustainable seafood stew" on Apartment Therapy. Looks like good stuff, plus there's some good info and links on sustainable seafood included...