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An Incredibly Local Weekend

September 17, 2008

I had the most amazing weekend – technically, I was working, but it really was an incredible learning experience. As part of my work, I (and my event partner Debbie from Roots & Wisdom) planned something called “Celebrating Schenectady’s Bounty“, a month-long celebration of local food. Essentially, we’ve planned 5 weeks of agriculture-based events designed to educate people about eating locally and supporting local agriculture.

Our month started on Saturday, when we hosted Alisa Smith and JB Mackinnon, the creators of the 100-Mile Diet. They flew in from Vancouver, and did a discussion and signing of their best-selling book, “Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet”. It was a great event – lots of people (for a book signing), and a terrific conversation.  If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it – it’s great.

Then – the best part: my friend Debbie and I got to spend all day Sunday with them, showing them around our area (they’d never been to this part of NY before).  We headed west, and hit the Sharon Springs Garlic Festival, Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, and the Farmers’ Museum Harvest Festival.  Those were pretty fun destinations, but I most enjoyed the conversations we had in the car as we drove around.  I learned SO much about what it means to eat local – not to just pay it lip service, but to genuinely eat the way we humans were intended to eat, before planes, trains, and automobiles.  James and Alisa’s basic guideline is to eat food that was grown and produced within 100 miles of where they live (or travel, since they are on the road a lot). For them, Vancouverites, that meant a whole lot of potatoes, no coffee or sugar, salt that they “made” themselves by cooking down a bucket of seawater, no chocolate, home-fermented sauerkraut, and no wheat (read: no bread, cake, pizza…).  They made it through, but it sure was hard for them (and for their relationship) – something they’ll plainly admit.

The harsh reality of that for me would be this: No coffee.  No bananas.  No chocolate.  No peanut butter.  Did I mention no peanut butter?  No pineapple.  No gin and tonics (no limes, either).  Thankfully, though, I could have wine (NY’s Hudson Valley has some great wineries).  I don’t think I could have flour, but I’d have to research it (even though they don’t grow the wheat, King Arthur Flour is within my 100-mile radius – I checked).  This obviously is not a quest to be undertaken lightly.  Maybe someday.

At the end of our day on Sunday, we had dinner at an amazing little restaurant in Canajoharie, NY called Church & Main.  Church & Main’s philosophy is this: food should be sourced locally, and enjoyed in its most basic form.  What a concept!  The four of us entered the restaurant, and were greeted by a very friendly hostess who said, “Four of you?  Pardon me while I go back and ask the chef if we have enough food.”  Now, this is something I’ve never heard before.  She explained that the restaurant is only open Thursday through Sunday, and they plan to run out of food on Sunday night.  As it turns out, they did indeed have enough food for us, as long as only one of us ordered the soup (that was me). 

We enjoyed tomato and onion salad with shaved goat cheese in a mild vinaigrette, roasted corn and tomato chowder (well only I enjoyed that), roasted chicken breast with caramelized carrots, grass-fed sirloin with vegetables…and then dessert: vanilla bean panna cotta, and a semolina bread pudding seasoned with black pepper and served with roasted plums and creme fraiche.   It was an incredible meal, and I would absolutely go back there again (except maybe next time I’d go on a Thursday).

The best part of dinner was when Debbie noticed the collection of framed newspaper articles on the wall of the restaurant – reviews, articles about the local-foods movement, and…a Daily Gazette interview with Alisa about their book!  It was wild – we told the owner who they were, and she was thrilled that we had chosen to eat there (actually, I have to give James and Alisa credit – they had done some internet research to find the restaurant).  I do believe that she offered to trade me a gift certificate for a signed copy of the book…I may have to take her up on it!  It was fun, being in the company of celebrities.

But James and Alisa are not typical celebrities (although they do have a TV series coming out soon on Food Network Canada).  They are the genuine article: down-to-earth, nice, interesting, funny, smart, and just wonderful people.  I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day with them, and I learned so much (not just about food, either – I found out what the Canadian universal healthcare system is really like – it’s TERRIFIC.  Don’t listen to the naysayers).  I hope our paths cross again sometime in the future.

But – I just realized – I never got an autographed copy of the book for myself…

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