Saturday, May 30, 2009

MN first state to ban toxins in baby bottles and sippy cups

The June issue of the Minnesota Women's Press contains a news brief about a very progressive piece of legislation, the Toxic Free Kids Act, that was recently signed into law. From the article:

"After Jan. 1, 2011, parents will know that regardless of what store you are in, the baby bottles and 'sippy' cups will be BPA (bisphenol A)-Free," said Rep. Karen Clark (DFL Minneapolis), chief author of the House Bill. Sen. Sandy Rummel (DFL-White Bear Lake) was the chief author of the Senate version. More than 200 studies of BPA have found that low-dose exposure is linked to heart disease, caner, neurological impairments and reproductive problems.

To read a detailed news release about the legislation, visit Healthy Legacy, a MN-based public health coalition. You can also follow them on twitter.

Photo: Randy Son Of Robert on flickr

Thursday, May 21, 2009

La Vida Locavore: A must-read blog

Mark Bittman just tweeted a very provocative link from La Vida Locavore, a food politics blog, which yesterday featured a great post about what children in different countries eat through school lunch programs, and the USA's pitiful excuse for state-sanctioned nutrition.

I haven't read this blog before, but it appears to be one worth visiting.

From the site:
La Vida Locavore is the blog for anyone whose crazy life includes planting, growing, weeding, fertilizing, raising, picking, harvesting, processing, cooking, baking, making, serving, buying, selling, distributing, transporting, composting, organizing around, lobbying about, writing about, thinking about, talking about, playing with, and eating food!

Monday, May 11, 2009

france post #2: in search of "truite fario"

I don't think I've mentioned it before on this blog, but I am an avid angler, with a particularly fondness for fish that eat flies. The village of Plaisance, France, where we spent the first part of our recent vacation, is situated on a small, cold stream that cuts through the limestone laden valley (in the Haut Languedoc region of the country). It is called "Le Bouissou." My former coworker, Edie, who lent us her townhouse for the week, mentioned that there were trout in the river, so, prior to leaving for France, I eagerly packed my short 3 weight rod and a small box of dry flies.

The weekend we arrived it was cold and rainy, and several scouting trips to the stream yielded no more than a few minnow sightings. However, on day three the sun came out and I did manage to find a few small trout sipping tiny may flies near the main bridge in town. The sunny, warm weather held, so the following afternoon I headed upstream from Plaisance to a promising run near the village soccer field. It was a postcard perfect afternoon of angling. Big may flies started hatching as soon as I assembled my rod, so it took no more than three or four casts to land my first fish, a small rainbow - no doubt imported from American stocks (rainbows are not native to Europe, just as brown trout are not native to US waters). I later caught three chunky brown trout - truites farios in French - in the same run. I celebrated with an obligatory cold Leffe beer.
Before packing up for dinner, an old French fly fisherman started fishing the run below me, and once we made eye contact he walked up the bank to ask how the fishing was. Upon seeing the cold, whiteness of my Minnesota legs, and uninsulated Chaco sandals, he proceeded to ask me "Bonjour, mais où sont tes waders? (Hello. Where are you waders?)" I explained that I was traveling from abroad and didn't have the space in my luggage to bring more than a rod, reel, and some flies. He chuckled and wished me a "un après-midi chaud" (a warm afternoon).

France is full of fishermen, and the French fish with their stomaches, even though a hand may be holding the rod. This is commendable, as it appears more French anglers are looking to fool a few trout for dinner, rather than catch and release every fish in the river, so any fixation they have around "numbers" has not been apparent to me. Also, France has managed to preserve a large number of beautiful trout streams, most of which hold good populations of native brown trout. Many people in the US find hard to believe. It seems there is a common misconception that the French countryside is overly grazed and domesticated. While farms and herd animals are ubiquitous across the provinces, there are some expansive pockets of wilderness, a lot of which is located in or near the Pyrenees. In fact, a wild boar hunter was killed last year near Plaisance while tracking a large wounded male. It attacked him before he could drop it, and its teeth severed a femoral artery. The hunter bled out before officials could find him. A wild place indeed.

Check out this this photo set for more fishing pix from the trip.

P.S. I would have included a recipe for grilled trout had I kept one for the table. The fact of the matter is, I decided to fish sans permet, as the short-term, out-of-country licences were not available until May 1, and an annual non-resident licence costs about $90 - mon dieu! For that reason I decided to release the small number of trout I did hook. I'll be sure to post a trout recipe this summer, as I have big plans to catch dinner in Wisconsin in coming weeks.

Monday, May 4, 2009

france post #1: our daily bread

It seems appropriate for the first post of this series to detail a journey, and a small one at that. In all but the most cosmopolitan U.S. cities, American communities have rid themselves of neighborhood bakeries, at which families used to procure the fresh bread needed for the day, and possibly breakfast the following day. Sadly, the Wonder and Brownberry loaves that now grace American breadboxes travel many miles from their industrial ovens of origin to big box super markets, and as such, they must survive longer than pure, artisanal bread.

Truly fresh, wholesome bread (sans preservatives) has an extremely brief shelf life, perhaps 36 hours at most. As a rule, most French people see this as a right and privilege, rather than an inconvenience. Even in the smallest villages, such as Plaisance (population maybe 75), where we stayed during our recent vacation, residents have access to fresh bread and croissants. Rather than try to support a full time bakery in this small hamlet, the city has a delivery agreement with a bakery in a neighboring town. To buy bread each day, residents must place an order at the town foyer which is like a general store/cafe/bar that is open most days from 9 am until about 8 pm. If you place your order before the foyer closes, your bread will be available for pick up the following morning.

The small row house where we stayed is located up the hill from the main part of the village. While the house is accessible by car through a winding, switchback access road, the shortest route into town is a fantastical path that cuts between various houses and their ethereal backyard gardens. I recorded the following video to capture our daily ritual of hiking down the path each morning to pick up fresh baguettes, croissants, and the occasional pain au chocolat. Imagine walking this path with your toddler daughter, and her delight as you stroll past blooming flowers, local "doggies," to be greeted by the kind man at the foyer who insists on squeezing her cheeks and giving her a madeleine. I am not kidding. People live this way in Plaisance. What are we to do?

I have an idea: let's demand our daily bread by starting delivery programs in our neighborhoods. And in the American spirit of "low prices" we should learn from our French friends and ask for high quality bread at a fair price - most large baguettes in France cost about 75 cents. Again, daily bread is the hard earned right of civilized people, not the unique privilege of a few fancy-pants who enjoy "French bread."

If you'd like to see some pictures of the village, I created a photo set on flickr documenting our Easter weekend.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

there is du bon fromage in the U.S.

I have France on the brain. Today I outlined a series of blog posts to document our trip - vegetable markets, butcher shops, fishing, foie gras - but before writing those I must proclaim how satisfying it is to return home and find a truly delicious raw milk cheese fabricated à l'ancien, in Vermont.
What a specimen! It's a slice of Jasper Hill Farm's "Winnimere Mini," a raw cow's milk, soft rind cheese. You table's cheese course deserves nothing less. The taste is truly unique, of Vermont terroir, but if I had to, I would compare to a Saint Nectaire crossed with a French Munster.

By geographic principle, I am committed to buying artisanal cheeses made in the US; however, many of the better cheeses are typically much more expensive than the majority of French and Italian imports, and they often have less flavor and overall panache. This small slice of Winnimere set me back $4.50, which I feel is a very fair price given the exceptional quality of the cheese - in fact, many less deserving cheeses are sold for much more. Save some fuel costs and buy a big piece of this for your next dinner party.