Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Diesel Café

After six days straight of working, I finally had a day off. Marcus and I had a hike scheduled but unfortunately the heat wave held us back. Instead we went down to Davis Square in Somerville and had a leisure lunch at the Diesel Café. The environment is hip, friendly and fun. There are antique automotive signs and car memorabilia on the walls along with paintings from local artists. There is a lot of seating but it is always crowded. It is a good idea to have someone from your party search for a table while someone else waits in line.
The best part about Diesel Café is that they are a green café. You will not find any trash bins, but instead will find bus bins that are sorted into compost and recycle bins at the end of the night. They also make an effort to buy their ingredients and supplies as local as possible.

Most importantly, the food and coffee are delicious. The menu is perfect for a trendy café in Somerville. They offer a wide variety of vegan, vegetarian and gluten free items that definitely do not skimp on taste. The menu mainly consists of sandwiches and salads that are anything but ordinary. However, if you are a picky eater and don’t enjoy trying new things, this may not be the place for you.

Marcus ordered The Little Piston; fresh mozzarella, pesto, onion and tomato on a baguette.
Crisp and fresh!
They even give you a few spoonfuls of pasta salad on the side.

I ordered The Bow; salmon, sun-dried tomato ricotta, onion and baby spinach on brioche. I love traditional salmon and lox but this was definitely a much interesting and more flavorful twist.

The brioche was crispy on the outside and fluffy in the inside and the smoked salmon was to die for. The ricotta is my favorite part of the sandwich. The sun-dried tomato ricotta was creamy, rich and paired perfectly with the smoked salmon.

They also offer scrumptious baked goods
My vegan chocolate chip cookie was good but I would have enjoyed it a bit sweeter.
Marcus loved his shortbread dark chocolate cookie.

The cafe is a very short drive from my house and I thought that I had found my new hot spot to work on my blog and papers. But I was very disappointed to find out that Wi-Fi is not free. You must pay a monthly membership fee. This was the only down side to the cafe.

I recommend the Diesel Cafe with 4 stars.
Relaxed yet fun atmosphere, delicious food with wonderful options and a neighborhood with lots to do after lunch!

Check out my new blog!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Urban Gardening Part II

Planning your own urban garden is quite simple with a little help from your local gardening shop and some careful research.

The most important steps to beginning your garden are:

· First, decide what you want to plant

· Second, research peak planting season for each plant

· And third, research the best method of planting for each variety

Research using a search engine had seemed like the best solution at first, but I soon found that the immense amount of information on the Internet from bloggers and websites is not always valid and can be overwhelming. You can save yourself the keystrokes and simply read the back of the seed packets. Instructions for planting will always be on the package. If peak-planting season is not provided, the staff at gardening stores are usually happy to help and enjoy sharing tips. If you find you have missed planting season don’t fret; instead buy starter plant.

The clerk at my local gardening shop explained that purchasing potting soil for a potted garden is key. The potting soil locks in moisture and nutrients. If you are using smaller pots I advise filling them with solely potting soil. If you are working with larger pots, as I am, fill the bottom third of the pots with regular dirt from your backyard and fill the top layer of the pots with potting soil. This helps to keep costs low.

Having missed planting-season, I bought tomato starter plants and planted basil, rosemary and pepper seeds. They are all maturing nicely and I cannot wait to incorporate these fresh slow food ingredients into delicious summer recipes. Picking your own tomatoes off your balcony for a salad to be prepared that afternoon while peering at the Boston skyline is truly an urban gardening luxury and a perk to being “green."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Urban Gardening Part I

With the beautiful weather on its way to Boston, farmer’s markets are sprouting across the city and surrounding towns. The only thing better than summer produce from local farms is produce grown in your own backyard. For many foodies in the city it seems nearly impossible to begin a home garden. However, a small plot of land or none at all should not stop the urban foodie from gardening. Planting pots are a simple solution to tight quarters. Coming in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, pots can be placed on porches, balconies and small backyards. Living in a small city about five miles outside of Boston, I plan to begin a small home garden in my 20’ by 30’ backyard. With the tight space and not exactly ideal soil, I am going to use large pots to grow vegetables and herbs including cucumbers, tomatoes, basil and mint. Currently, I am waiting for the extra large pots to be delivered but I will keep you posted on simple solutions to gardening in the city and my other gardening adventures. Wish me luck!

By: Bianca Tamburello

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A sandwich to write home about.

Are you stuck in a sandwich rut?
Sick and tired of your ol' standby, PB&J?
If so, I highly recommend you get your booty to Dave's Fresh Pasta in Somerville ASAP.

Okay, so don't get me wrong. If I had to choose to eat one sandwich for the rest of my life it would probably be a peanut butter & jelly (& banana). But only if it was made with Teddie Super Chunky Peanut Butter.

However, if my beloved nut butter were to be discontinued, I would gladly eat any of the dozens of sandwiches scribbled on Dave's ginormous chalk board of wonder.

While part of me hesitates to reveal one of Boston's best, hidden gastronomic jewels, I feel that it is the right thing to do for hungry bellies around the world.

In order to make your first (or 24th) visit to Dave's as simple as possible, follow these steps:

1. Grab a friend, a significant other, your mother, or just yourself and take the Red Line to Davis Square. Dave's is a mere 3 minute walk from the T stop.

2. Enter Dave's Fresh Pasta. Don't be intimidated by the line; it moves quickly.

3. Use your time in line wisely to make a decision. Trust me-- the options are overwhelming.

4. When it's finally your turn give your order to one of the sandwich masters behind the counter. You can pay right then or you can wait until you have received your coveted sandwich(es).

5. Once you have obtained and paid for said sandwich, sit down. In the winter, grab a window seat in the sun. But in the summer, the outdoor sidewalk seating is all that and a bag of chips.

6. Pick up your sandwich, open your mouth as wide as possible and bite down.

7. The first bite-- complete with the earth-shattering crunch of the warm, rustic bread, ooey-gooey cheese, and the layers of cold cuts, veggies, and spreads-- is what my dreams are made of. I swear I shed a tear of joy every time I take that first bite.

8. Then proceed to shed a tear of sadness when you look down at the white parchment paper where your sandwich once was.

9. Plot your return ASAP.

10. For those of you still on Step 3, cracking under the pressure of having to make a decision, allow me to provide you with a few recommendations:

1. Caprese

  • The quintessential, classic Italian combination of tomato, basil, and mozzarella. However, the generous layer of perfect pesto and drizzle of balsamic vinegar make this a sandwich to write home about. This is my go-to summer sandwich when the tomatoes are practically jumping off of the vines and the basil is wreaking havoc in home gardens everywhere. It was my first sandwich here and the one that made me a Dave's disciple.
2. Sun-Dried Tomato Turkey

  • Layer upon layer of freshly sliced turkey breast with sun-dried tomato pesto, aged asiago, caramelized onions and baby spinach leaves. Certainly not your typical turkey sandwich. Order it and you will understand why this WAS my favorite Dave's creation.
3. Prosciutto & Fig (& Caramelized Onions)

  • I really don't like ordering the same thing twice when I eat out, especially in a place like Dave's where the possibilities are endless. But this gem right here has a piece of my heart and I can't but help but order it nearly every time. Paper thin-sliced prosciutto and oozing mozzarella with sweet, but not cloying, fig jam on a sinfully crusty ciabatta roll (my personal favorite). Oh and my addition of the caramelized onions? No explanation other than the fact that I have an unhealthy obsession with all-things caramelized. I am also a huge fan of the classic, yet timeless, combination of salty & sweet. Let's just say this sandwich is the next chocolate-covered pretzel.
So why is Dave's Slow Food-worthy?

Well, Dave's is a major supporter of fellow local businesses. Take Fiore di Nonno for example.

Fiore di Nonno is best-known for its handmade mozzarella but it also works its magic on those curds-and-whey to produce some mighty fine burrata, stracciatella, and string cheese. And all of it is produced right in Somerville. Fiore di Nonno was even kind enough to give a mozzarella-making demo for Slow Food BU this past November. Fiore di Nonno's amazing mozzarella can be found on Dave's sandwiches and on its shelves.

In addition, Dave's is also a purveyor of Iggy's Bread, another local staple. Its amazingly crunchy yet fluffy, carby goodness is the perfect vehicle for all of the cold cuts, fresh vegetables, and other sandwich goodies that complete Dave's panini. You can even take some rolls, croissants, etc. home to try and re-create your experience at Dave's. Or to make Croissant Bread Pudding. Either way, invite me over.

While I could rave about the sandwiches for days, Dave is actually more well-known for its (wait for it, wait for it...) PASTA. Homemade pasta to boot.

In a world where "spaghetti" is king, Dave's attempts and succeeds to remind Bostonians that pasta comes from something other than a blue box. It is rather ironic that one of the simplest recipes (flour, water, and possibly an egg or two) with such rewarding results can seem so intimidating to make.

Dave's offers a wonderful selection of pasta in any flavor, color, shape, etc. one could ever desire. Aside from your decision about whether to order the Caprese or the Prosciutto&Fig, the choice of which of the dozens of pasta to select will be the most difficult one you make all day.

While you can always select the classic egg pasta, why not get a little crazy and go for the sweet red pepper or the lemon basil? There is angel hair, linguine, fettucine, pappardelle, or even lasagna sheets, all which are cut to order right before your eyes. And to further complicate things, there is also an extensive selection of handmade ravioli. Be still my heart.

In addition, if you are as fascinated by Italian cuisine as I am, Dave's offers an array of classes that will temporarily curb any Italophile's insatiable hunger. Classes include topics such as pasta, risotto, gnocchi, saucing, and wine. By teaching traditional culinary techniques and making Italian food more approachable to its customers, Dave's certainly deserves the Slow Food stamp of approval.

With an abundance of high-quality ingredients and prepared foods, Dave's provides its customers with the tools to be his or her own domestic Italian god/goddess. After perusing the aisles filled with beautiful pastas, cheeses, produce, and other goodies, I am inevitably inspired to go home and get into the kitchen. But only after I digest my sandwich.

So if you are sitting around on a Saturday afternoon about to bite into yet another PB&J, I beg you to put that thing down, hop on the T and run (don't walk) to Dave's Fresh Pasta. Your stomach can thank me later.

By: Julia Sementelli

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Bee's Knees.

We shut off the lights when we leave a room. We recycle every can, plastic bottle, and cardboard box that crosses our paths. We (hopefully) compost our fruit and vegetable scraps. We remember to bring our reusable bags to the grocery store.

With the world's ever-increasing awareness of the condition of the environment, more and more individuals are taking responsibility for themselves and their daily actions in order to preserve their future and that of the generations to come.

However, how many times a day do you think about...bees? Sure, we all have that cute, little teddy bear filled with golden nectar sitting in our cupboard that, albeit most likely crystallized, you reach for every time we need to sweeten our cup of tea or yogurt. But other than that, bees are probably not at the forefront of our minds.

However, according to "Vanishing of the Bees," bees provide us with a lot more than an unrefined sweetener.

On Sunday, February 27th, Slow Food Boston graciously hosted a screening of the documentary "Vanishing of the Bees" and subsequent panel discussion at Boston University. Given the turnout for the event, apparently a great deal of people are concerned with the well-being of the bees.

The focus of the documentary was the increasing prevalence of a condition known as "Colony Collapse Disorder," a phenomenon in which bees mysteriously disappear from their hives.

FASCINATING. And your point is...?

Well, according to the film's synopsis, "commercial honeybee operations pollinate crops that make up one out of every three bites of food on our tables." In other words, if bees are disappearing, beekeepers cannot stay in business, and thus are unable to raise the lovely little bees that pollinate our plants. Therefore, this problem has both economic and personal consequences.

While there are several theories as to why this bee epidemic is on the rise, there are two major hypotheses that resounded:

1. The increase in the use of pesticides, and in particular systemic pesticides

When we typically think of pesticides, the image of a plane flying over fields of crops, dousing our food with a disparaging amount of pesticides comes to mind. While spray pesticides still flow like water, one of the primary culprits of the bee epidemic is the rise of systemic pesticides. Essentially, the seeds of our favorite fruits and vegetables are manufactured to absorb the pesticide as they grow and thus incorporate it into the plants' tissues. BRILLIANT, RIGHT?! Ehh... not so much.

This is disturbing because no matter how much we wash our beloved apples and romaine lettuce in an attempt to "remove" the pesticides, it is impossible to do so when the pesticide is an actual component of that fruit or vegetable. And although pesticides are helpful for farmers because they poison the pests that eat their crops, the cost is the lives of bees. Without bees, our crops will not be pollinated. Without pollination our crops will not grow. Without crops the United States' infamously endless supply of food will diminish.

2. The ubiquity of "monocultures"

A monoculture refers to a large area of land that is devoted solely to one crop. Want to guess the most prevalent monocultures in the United States? Corn and Soy. Yup, that's right-- the usual suspects. According to the film, nature is not meant to exist as a monoculture. Mother Nature has no uniformity. While the pervasiveness and subsequent implications of corn and soy crops in America is a whole other blog post, it goes without saying that the United States' food production is working against the natural diversity and as a result, the bees are not tolerating it. In order to eat pollen, bees must ferment it. And without a diverse diet, that nature typically provides, the bees cannot ferment the pollen and consequently cannot survive.

The condition of the bee population is directly related to the condition of our environment. Why? Well, since bees are the entities that pollinate our fruits and vegetables and thus determine whether or not we will have those strawberries in June or those apples in September. If something were to happen to those furry little buggers, what would happen to our beloved produce?

What shocked me the most was that both the film and the panel discussion mentioned the dishonest sale of "pure" honey. In fact, the majority of the honey on supermarket shelves is not 100% honey even if the label claims to be. The most common additives used are water and syrup made from beet juice or palm sugar. Sure it reduces the cost of production for the manufacturers but all we receive is another dishonest product that we need to be wary of.

How do you ensure that you are spending your precious dollars on a genuine product? Buy local. According to the panel of beekeepers, the only way to know the contents of your honey is to form a relationship with a beekeeper. If you are unsure of the authenticity of a beekeeper's honey, simply ask "What do you feed your bees?" Their answer will let you know.

The three beekeepers in attendance were Wendy Mainardi of Allandale Farm in Brookline, Laurie and Dean of Golden Rule Honey in Leominster, and Mike Graney of All three offer pure, authentic, and most importantly, local, honey. After taste-testing all of the honey and honey-based products, I don't see why you would trust your honey purchases to anyone else.

So. What can we do to help?

1. Reduce the use of toxic chemicals in our homes.

  • So rather than using that bottle of neon yellow Clorox to mop your floors, try to find a natural cleaning alternative. This website is particularly helpful.

2. Choose organic produce.

  • After all the talk of the ubiquity of pesticide use, this should be pretty self-explanatory. And while organic produce IS more expensive than conventional, wouldn't you rather pay the few extra dollars now rather than pay a much heftier "price" in the future?

3. Go to the Farmers' Market.

  • While this is not the easiest feat to accomplish in the dead of winter in Boston, there are alternatives out there. The Somerville Winter Farmers Market is an amazing initiative in which every Saturday, local farmers to bring their seasonal, delicious, produce, meats, dairy, etc. to those of us who are fed up with the unnaturally shiny Granny Smith apples that you can practically see your reflection in and the wrinkly, lackluster greenhouse tomatoes that we encounter in our neighborhood grocery store in the winter. The Winter Market is an awesome alternative when our beloved summer produce is not available. But when summer does finally come around (it's already spring!) you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be at the Copley or Newton farmers markets wandering around the stands, oogling the breath-taking bounties, utterly intoxicated by the deep, sweet scent of strawberries in June and the aroma of blood-red Heirloom tomatoes and just-picked peaches in August. In other words, there is no (good) excuse not to check out your local Farmer's Market.

These sustainable acts are often done in hopes of helping the environment but with little direct and tangible benefit. However, after learning about the condition of the bee population and how little acts can make a big difference, the decision between the organic and the conventional head of broccoli should be an easy one.

Save the whales bees!

-Julia Sementelli

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bond(ir). James Bond(ir).

On a snowy, frigid Saturday night in mid-January when most people default to the classic pizza-and a-movie while snuggled up with their dog or significant other, I chose the path less traveled and decided to knock off one of the 539 restaurants on my "Boston Foodie Adventures" to-do list (an actual bookmark folder on my computer). After a quick T ride to Central Square and a few blocks later, I arrived at my destination: Bondir.
On an unassuming street in Cambridge, Bondir offers "sustainable modern American cuisine." Such cuisine seems to be more ubiquitous than foie gras and white truffles in restaurants across the country. Nevertheless, when I see farm-to-table in a restaurant's description, I'm sold.
As I walked into the restaurant, consisting of exactly ten tables and in a space no bigger than my apartment bedroom, I realized that I had not sacrificed much on this wintery night- I was immediately greeted by a roaring fire and a smiling hostess. Entranced by the homey, cozy feel that the space offered, I felt like I was eating dinner in a dining room rather than a restaurant. While I am all for the grandiose restaurants with choreographed service and nine different dinner forks, on this chilly night I was craving a warm, laid-back, yet delicious meal, with unfussy service- and Bondir did not disappoint.

So. The food. Well, as I said I am a sucker for all things local, farm-to-table, seasonal, organic, etc. The menu at Bondir definitely hits the nail on all four of these heads.

To start: A selection of breads: 9-grain, cranberry, and sepia-sea salt- all made in-house. They were all rustic and made with whole grains. The sepia-sea salt was particularly remarkable both because of its ingredients and because it was my favorite of the three. For the who don't know, sepia= squid ink. While I have had squid ink pasta in Italy a handful of times, I had never consumed sepia in bread-form. But I liked it. I thought the combination of squid ink, a naturally briny and very deep flavor, with sea salt was rather clever. The bread was served with fresh goat's milk butter. I've only had it once before, and while the flavor is not that distinguishable from that of cow's milk, I am not one to turn down fat (other than those of the partially-hydrogenated family). And to quote the eloquent Paula Deen, "Butter makes it better!"
Once I quelled my excitement for squid ink bread, I mustered up enough composure to give the menu a gander.

Bondir's menu changes on a daily basis, according to what ingredients are local and in season. There were no tomatoes or asparagus or salmon on this menu- just the way I like it. I have the utmost respect for chefs who respect their ingredients. A tomato is meant to be eaten in August when it is gushing blood-red juices and just begging to be made into a caprese salad or a tomato sauce. It is not, however, meant to be a pale pink garnish on a house salad in the middle of January, a mere shadow of its summertime self.
Aside from its meticulously selected ingredients, the highlight of Bondir's charming menu is the opportunity to choose between half-portions or full-portions of its entrees. While this may seem undesirable, with all of the enticing choices on the menu, the half-portions concept is more than welcome. They give you the option to try more menu items, but not to pay more. And if you are anything like me, this is a god-send for those of you who suffer from a condition known as "Eater's Remorse." No longer will you order one thing, only to spend the rest of the meal eye-balling your date's better selection, or day-dreaming about that other menu item that you just should have ordered.

Anywho, our waiter came, we ordered, and we proceeded to wait.

After much anticipation, the food arrived. *Cue the angelic gospel music*

Roasted Golden Hubbard Squash Soup: Ras el Hanout Marshmallow, Crisp Shallot, Bee Pollen, Caviar Lime.

Keener Corn Grits: Vegetable Mignardises, Roasted Butternut Squash, Mustard Oil.
Hand-Made Burrata: Shaved Vegetable Salad, Mountain Honey-Walnut Vinaigrette, Sour Flat Bread.
Tyrolean Ragu: Wild Boar, Venison, Bitter Chocolate, Red Wine over Cavatelli.
Scituate Cod: Kohlrabi, Capers, Brown-Butter Hazelnut, Turmeric, and Celery Fondue.
Assortment of Creams and Ices: Blood Orange Yogurt, Cranberry Sorbet, Chocolate Sorbet
Tangerine Dream: Genoise, Vermouth-Infused Tangerine, Thyme-Buttermilk Ice Cream, Meringue Brulee.

All of the food was presented beautifully and tasted delicious. If I had to choose, I would say the squash soup was my favorite. The silky-smooth yet sinfully thick broth provided a delicate yet savory backdrop to the myriad of unique flavors. The Ras el Hanout marshmallow was amazing and I loved the fact that there was marshmallow in my soup! I had never tried bee pollen before but it paired perfectly with the earthy hubbard squash. The caviar lime offered the perfect dose of acidity to cut through yet brighten all of the deep flavors. I shed a tear when it was all gone.

So, if you're looking for a new, modern restaurant with delicious, local food yet that is still affordable, I would highly recommend you take a trip to Bondir. With a menu this unique and such a welcoming environment, it won't be long until this restaurant will be making headlines.

-Julia Sementelli

Friday, December 3, 2010

"The Locavore Way" with Amy Cotler

Author of "The Locavore Way" Amy Cotler hosted a discussion and booking signing with Slow Food BU this past Wednesday. The dreary weather didn't stop a committed group of slow foodies, who listened intently to Cotler's tips and engaging stories. With a background as a chef and recipe developer, she originally approached local, fresh food from a taste and pleasure perspective.

She acknowledged that we may all come from different places in our interest in sustainable, local foods. But the benefits, to the environment (less toxic), economic development (keeps your money close to home), and personal health, benefit us all. Cotler reiterated that change happens from the ground up, that small things can start in the community and build to a big-scale change. Often this starts with a simple self-interest. "I want local foods because____."

When the issue of budget and high price of local foods was brought up, she shared some simple tips for cutting costs, such as buying in bulk, sharing 2nd offerings from farmers, and savoring fruits and vegetables ONLY when in peak season. She reminded us that grains and beans, dried, are very very inexpensive, and meat needs to only be eaten occasionally. Learning to cook is a precious skill that will save you a lot of money, and probably earn you a few new friends. It was a great way to beat a rainy night! Thanks to all that came, and to Amy for sharing her wisdom and time with us!

Looking for winter local food?
Check out the Downtown Crossing Holiday Market, Somerville Winter Farmers Market, or Sherman Market!

If you want more information on Sustainable Agriculture check out the National Sustainable Ag Coalition.

What makes YOU choose local foods? What are some of your tips for staying local in the winter?