01.11.2008

Food, Beautiful Food

Wholefood writer Jude Blereau finds that Americans are seeking a deeper connection with their food.

Wholefood writer Jude Blereau finds that Americans are seeking a deeper connection with their food.

I'm flying on my way from San Francisco to New York and the sun is streaming through the window. Below is a landscape I am so unfamiliar with - a deeper green than Australia, with more rolling peaks. Beautiful is the key adjective here, and it's beauty I would love to share with you today. I find food beautiful ... everything about it, from the obvious (the way it tastes) to the not so obvious (the miracle of how it all happens). I need that beauty. It's like an original Monet or Chagall for me. And I don't find it all that often in Australia. It's a terrible thing to say, not at all patriotic, and it's almost heresy to admit that I'm flying to the US for a fix of food beauty. But that's what I have done, and I'd love to share the experiences with you.

I've chosen two hot spots that interested me: San Francisco, the home of organics and seasonal food, and New York, the home of "natural" cooking. I know - "What about all that bad food Americans eat?" I hear you say. Well yes, that's here also, but I can tell you for a fact, I think the Australians almost have one up on the Americans there. We're not doing too well in that area either.

But, back to my beauty fix...

Sumptuous San Francisco

I found San Francisco exceptional. Let me share some of my meals. And I'm not even going to bother prefacing everything with "organic", "local", "sustainable" and "fresh" - it all just is! And it's stunning.

My first meal (hungry and looking for breakfast/brunch/lunch) was a salad of greens, goat cheese, late season peaches, early autumn walnuts (lightly roasted) served with a light dressing of walnut oil. This was from Frog Hollow Farm, and I ate this sitting by the bay, overlooking the ferry terminal.

But, how tempting is the place next door? Boulettes Larder. This is a beautiful place. It's a working kitchen, with one communal table inside and all other tables outside. It's a bit like sitting at the table in the kitchen, while your mum cooks.

I ate two fish meals, choosing fish I can't eat in Australia. like wild salmon and wild tuna. Wow! Trust me, that farmed smoked salmon you are eating (and shouldn't be, even if they make it sound all lovely and environmental) doesn't touch the real thing in a zillion years.

It was simply presented with the best bread on the planet - Acme, organic sourdough ... crusty, chewy, pretty much a God moment just in that - and with flavourful iceberg lettuce, melons and a simple dressing. Nothing is overdone, food is allowed to speak for itself.

I never got to the desserts at Boulettes Larder because I was too full from lunch, but I did make it my mission to eat through all the cakes/sweet treats at Miettes. From the perfectly smooth and sublime Lime Curd Meringue in a Gingerbread Tart to the Coffee and Vanilla Panne Cotta, Chocolate Cake with a dark, slightly bitter ganache and the Strawberry Mousse Cakes, I pretty well tried them all.

I've told you about the bread, but the butter (raw, cultured, oh so good) and the cheese were also sublime. My favourite was a Point Reyes cheddar made with raw, whole milk - trust me, you've not tasted cheddar until you've tasted this. But pretty much every other cheese I had, goat, sheep, cow, was staggeringly good. Jam? Go no further than June Taylor. June makes jams, jellies and marmalades in the traditional way (like I do): by hand, in small batches with little sugar.

The big, delicious Apple

Now, to New York. There are a hundred trillion people here, but everywhere there is good food. The farmers come right into the city and set up markets. And these farmers aren't slack, I can tell you now. They set up at 7am and don't take down their stalls until 7pm. In New York, more so than in San Francisco, the city and country support and mingle with each other in a vibrant and dynamic way. There are lots of markets here. I saw just one, and it's on four times a week. I asked one farmer/young man, "Don't you find this exhausting?" He said, "Yes, but it's our only option to stay on the farm, and make a viable living."

Right now it's harvest time all across America, and walking through the market yesterday all I could smell were apples - hundreds of varieties of heirloom, organic apples. Beautiful.

I believe our food is a gift ... and a miracle. I was brought up saying grace before meals, and I believe that helped me form a connection with the food I eat. What I am seeing here is that the people that run these shops, make these foods and grow these foods care. And, they care passionately. They know the difference between good and average food, and they would never settle for average. They also don't whinge about how hard it is, everyone is working hard in the city and country. But vitally, they also see the beauty. They also see the value of the work they do. And, better still, the city customer can see this love, care and beauty and are so appreciative that this food is available to them. It is in this sense that the US has moved ahead of Australia.

Farming families are beginning to survive again here and good food is available at a fair price through the market system, in lots of places. The realisation that for food to nourish it must come from good soil and be farmed with care, is alive and well here ... and it's moved from niche markets to cafes, restaurants and everyday life. Markets here are not just a novelty, but are a valid, workable alternative to a shop. That has not quite happened yet in Australia. We haven't learnt yet how important our farmers are, and haven't really found ways to integrate them (and their products) into a city life. But it is starting. I was thrilled to see a Farmers Market at The Rocks in Sydney.

Giving thanks the Australian way

November is commonly the month of thanksgiving. This is a northern hemisphere celebration of gratitude for a successful harvest. Whilst November is not our harvest month, it does no harm to give thanks, at any time of year.

I'm actually not going to give you a recipe this month. I would rather you go and find out where there is a farmers' market close to you. Then go and talk to the farmers. Find out how they are growing foods (organic, spray free etc) and how things are going for them. Connect with those who grow good food, your food. Ask them what's good right now. Then take that bounty home. Allow the food to speak for itself and cook it simply. See the beauty of the food, taste its deliciousness, and give thanks for such a miracle. It's time for your beauty fix.

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