Friday, July 13, 2012

Down to Earth

I watched the documentary Ingredients yesterday (while eating mac 'n' cheese from a box). If eating the mac 'n' cheese didn't make me feel gross in and of itself, hearing people talk about eating fresh, local produce to improve health and connection to our food made it worse. Suddenly my food tasted bland and salty (I also noticed myself feeling weighed down later in the day). Anyways, I normally feed good about my food choices, and I love that most of my groceries come from the produce section. My food clean, flavorful, and I know exactly what's in it.

However, two things that the documentary brought up got me thinking about what I eat and where it comes from. First, it mentioned how by turning food into a commodity has led farmers to grow primarily those crops, and so we have had an incredible loss in bio diversity. This hit home when I reflected on my experiences shopping for tomatoes at the grocery store. I've begun making my own sauces at home instead of buying them at the store, in order to increase flavor and to avoid BPA, high sugar levels, and preservatives. But I've been frustrated, especially now in the summertime, because I can't find tomatoes that are uniquely flavorful. They all seem to taste the same. Even the tomatoes at the farmers' market appear to be just the same varieties, just locally grown. The only tomatoes I've had any luck with are grape and cherry tomatoes. Why are they all the same varieties over and over again? Where can those of us desiring greater flavor go?

I think the decrease in biodiversity and variety has also been a contributing factor to the disconnect between people and their food. Our produce looks just like the boxes of processed food on the shelf: uniform and predictable. But that isn't what plants are really like. They grow to different sizes and shapes and colors. And there are so many more varieties than what is readily available. It's easy to forget this because we don't see where our food comes from. It gets shipped or/and trucked thousands of miles. This is why I like farmers' markets: my food looks like food, and I can tell that it came from the earth, and I can meet the people who grew it.

Well today (and now after rambling, I get to what I really wanted to write about), I had a wonderful chance to connect with the earth, when I helped harvest Pinot Grigio for Singing Water Vineyards in Comfort, TX. It's been a long time since I've worked outside and got all sweaty and dirty; it felt great! And beyond that, it's feels good to get involved of the creation of something that comes from the earth and to be reminded of from where wine comes. After all, the creation of wine is a natural process that humans simply facilitate and encourage to go in diffferent directions.

We started at 7am, so I had to leave home before 6am, and I got some great early morning shots in the vineyard before it got too hot (and some crappy pictures while I was driving, but come one, I couldn't exactly frame the shot or even look at the display while operating a vehicle!).

Hill Country Sunrise

Fog in the "Valley"

A Full Bucket and Shears

Bunches of Grapes

Looking East Across the Pinto Grigio Vines

A Partially Full Bin
Since this was my first time, I got a brief tutorial: find out where the bunch is attached to the vine and cut it. It sounds simple, but there was a little learning curve. Even though some of the bunches looked just like you would expect and hung off the vine, others were twisted and wrapped around the vines, leaves, and other bunches. Sometimes I would think I was clipping one big bunch, only to find that it was five smaller bunches all grown together and connected to the vine at different points. It was nearly impossible to clip many of the bunches without squishing or cutting a few grapes. I also ended up encountering many a spider living amongst the grapes, no doubt taking advantage of the bugs that come to sample the sweet fruit.

Even though I had to get up at 5:30 this morning and drive for an hour in the dark, I thoroughly enjoyed getting in touch with the source of what's in my glass. And I can't wait to try the 2012 Pinot Grigio when it's released!

After we finished up around 11:30am, I headed into town for lunch at High's Cafe. I've eaten there before, so I knew I could get a solid veggie friendly meal. Instead of having the veggie sandwich (which is delicious! but not vegan friendly), I opted for one of the daily specials: fresh tomato salad, yum! The tomatoes were tangy and flavorful and were accompanied by mozzarella, basil, and balsamic vinegar (aka caprese salad). It was a little heavy on the vinegar, but the remaining ingredients were simple and refreshing after working in the field. And of course, I couldn't resist a delicious treat for dessert. I ordered a "Magic Bar," comprised of chocolate, pecans, and coconut. The chocolate was rich; the pecans were sprinkled with sugar; the coconut was toasted on top. Noms!

All in all it was a great day getting down to earth. It has inspired me to better connect with my produce and to continue honoring veggies in my dishes. Have a great weekend!

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