Preserving for the Hall Harvest with Chef Lisa
Fall warms up our landscapes and kitchens welcoming warmer flavors and seasonal culinary traditions. Humans have been preserving, fermenting and salting food for centuries and at our September “What’s For Dinner?” free cooking workshop at JFK Library in Vallejo, Chef Lisa led our last cooking workshop of the year and showed us the many health benefits associated with these food preservation processes and how simple getting your probiotics (“good bacteria”). Attendees enjoyed delicious tastings of fruit spread, sauerkraut and other pickled goods.
With a little practice and just a few simple ingredients, you can begin preserving your favorite veggies and fruits while increasing your healthy gut bacteria immediately. Chef Lisa taught how fermented foods in particular, like sauerkraut, are rich in a beneficial bacteria called lactobacilli that reduces overgrowth of pathogens in your digestive tract and relieves a multiple of stomach ailments and supports healthy digestion.
A personal favorite sample creating was a delicious blackberry-vanilla fruit spread that was a delightfully less-sweet alternative to a more gelatinous jam having left out the traditional refined sugar altogether. Without the sugar, these spreads will not gel to a hard-set jam. Surprisingly, the natural sugars of the fruit were just enough to satisfy that sweet tooth. Volunteer teen helpers were ready with tasty samples for the over 20 attendees who seemed to be pleasantly surprised with the results from such easy-to-make, simple recipes.
Although you can preserve and can foods year around, this cooler fall weather allows for less spoilage. You can download all these tasty recipes covered in this workshop by clicking here (Recipes!) .
Food, environment and human health, local economy and resilient communities
By Elena Karoulina
Executive Director of Sustainable Solano
Image from Pixabay
When was the last time you had Solano-grown produce on your dinner table? The most possible answer is ‘never’, unless you grow your own food in your garden or your backyard food forest. It’s a very unusual situation for a Bay Area county that is still largely agrarian, at least in the land use patterns.
Sustainable Solano is embarking on a new project to bring more local food to our communities and to connect our local farmers, chefs, and residents with the gifts of our land and with each other.
At the very end of September we received great news from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): our proposal to further our vision by developing a business plan for Solano Community Food Centers was selected for funding! Annually, USDA funds about 14% of grant applications for local food projects, and we are honored to earn support on a federal level.
What is a Community Food Center? It is a hub for local food activities: CSAs deliveries, cooking classes, community education, and large kitchens where chefs and community members can cook wholesome nutritious meals. Larger Community Food Centers can include a food co-op.
Although Solano County produces close to $354 million worth of agricultural products and exports these products to more than 40 countries, only a fraction of that amount remains in the county due to weak distribution system, lack of sales outlets and somewhat low interest in local food. You can hardly find any Solano-grown products in our farmer markets, stores and restaurants. Small farmers struggle to hold on to their land and to connect with local customers.
Where do we buy local food? People who can afford it obtain their local ag products in the markets outside our county: Napa, Sonoma, Berkeley (thus spending local money outside our local communities). Some cities in Solano are blessed with Community Supported Agriculture, but not many people know about this option and take advantage of it. People with low means have to go without local fresh food at all. Solano is a county of commuters, and unfortunately, the only option available for families on a go is fast-food restaurants and convenience stores (you cannot find local food there!).
We pay dearly for this lack of access to local food with our health: Solano County is among the sickest counties in the nation. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease rates are above national average in our home county.
Food, human health, the environment and local economies are all interconnected; by creating a network of city-based Community Food Centers, there is potential to re-envision and re-construct Solano County’s food system so that it works for everyone in the local food supply chain.
Sustainable Solano has partnered with researchers at UC Davis, Solano County Department of Agriculture and Department of Public Health to conduct a feasibility study, develop an effective business plan, and outline implementation for local food businesses that aggregate, process and distribute locally-produced, healthy food products. Our big vision is the environmentally and economically sustainable, equitable local food systems in Solano County.
We are looking for urban and rural farmers, chefs and local food activists interested to implement this vision. We’d love to hear from you with your comments, suggestions, reflections, and offers to help. Please email directly to me at email@example.com
Let’s make it happen! I am looking forward to meet all of you at the official launch of the program on Wednesday, October 25, at 7 pm, at Benicia’s Heritage Presbyterian Church (doors open at 6 pm). Please join our Advisory Board members Dr. Feenstra and Dr. Campbell in the conversation about the future of food and why local resilient food system is so important. Come meet the project team and all of us interested to bring this vision to reality.
We had a full house on July 29th at John. F. Kennedy Library with over 20 people attending to hear Chef Lisa Núñez-Hancock teach about how to make classic pesto, other variations of the sauce, and how to use various types of squash as a healthy alternative for pasta.
Chef Lisa is founder of UR what U eat (workshops focused on a farm-to-table cooking philosophy and nutrition), a culinary arts instructor, natural food chef and food activist. She began class with a brief introduction on the Italian origins of traditional pesto sauce and being an enthusiast for healthy eating, dove into the nutritional and medicinal benefits of the basic ingredients. The most common pesto recipe consists of crushed garlic, basil and pine nuts blended with Parmesan cheese and olive oil. “Basil happens to be an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial food that can help reduce inflammation in the body,” Chef Lisa imparted. Other nut variations, such as walnuts and cashews, may be used to create unique and flavorful pestos. Nuts are loaded with heart-healthy fats that aid in increasing good cholesterol.
An enthusiastic teen was invited up to assist Chef Lisa in prepping the ingredients for her tasting samples that were later distributed and enjoyed. There was discussion on different leafy green varieties that can also be used to achieve equally delicious pesto sauces like spinach, arugula and even broccoli to name a few. The workshop closed with a quick raffle draw where winners took home some exciting veggie prizes such as a bright yellow spaghetti squash to begin experimenting replacing pasta for a lighter summer meal.
This conscious eating workshop series includes a book group that meets four times per year to discuss books relevant to healthy eating and the local food movement. Participants were able to get a sneak peak at the next book that will be discussed at our next summer book group meeting on Wednesday, August 30th called “What to EAT” by Marion Nestle. This book guides you through the supermarket, aisle by aisle, to help you make healthy, informed choices about food.
Workshop hosted by the John F. Kennedy library and in partnership with Sustainable Solano and UR what U eat.
The next seasonal cooking workshop for fall will be Saturday, September 16th where Chef Lisa Nuñez-Hancock will cover how to preserve vegetables and fruits. You will learn how to brine and ferment vegetables and how to make healthy, naturally sweetened fruit spreads.
Eating healthier and incorporating more fresh vegetables and fruits into our meals is the theme of the new series of healthy cooking workshops hosted by the John F. Kennedy library in partnership with Sustainable Solano and UR what U eat.
The first of these seasonal cooking workshops- Fresh Out of the Garden was held on May 6th at the downtown Vallejo Public Library and was a success with a great turnout of local residents. About 30 people, comprised of both adults and teens showed up to learn about healthy cooking and how to make spring rolls with traditional sauces.
Sabine Salek, the librarian in charge of adult services, welcomed the audience to the first in the four part series of free healthy cooking workshops. She has been instrumental in helping initiate the program which includes a conscious eating book group. The book group will have their first meeting on June 14th at 6:30 pm to discuss Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eaters Manual.
For the first healthy cooking class the library set up a table at the entrance to the auditorium where participants could sign in, get flyers for future events, and peruse a selection of books related to healthy eating, gardening and Asian cuisine.
Chef Lisa Núñez-Hancock, a member of Sustainable Solano and founder of UR what U eat, is a culinary arts instructor, natural food chef and food activist. In collaboration with the library and Sustainable Solano she designed the program to raise consciousness about healthy food choices. Chef Lisa will be teaching all four seasonal cooking workshops and will help facilitate the conscious eating book group meetings with the library staff.
The event started with an introduction by Ms. Salek. Chef Lisa then explained the program to the audience, who gradually dribbled into the auditorium. She spoke about the importance of healthy eating and incorporating more vegetables into our daily diets. Then it was on to the culinary background and cultural and historical roots of the spring roll.
Instruction started with how to make the two traditional sauces, nước chấm and the peanut sauce, tương đậu phộng.
Two tables were set up in the auditorium and displayed all ingredients and utensils needed to make spring rolls at home. Techniques and knife skills to julienne vegetables were demonstrated and most importantly the techniques and set-up needed to handle rice paper wrappers.
Some teens were selected from the audience and invited to assist Chef Lisa in preparing the spring rolls. In their hands on experience they saw how easy and fun it was to make this healthy recipe once you got the hang of working with the rice wrappers. Teen volunteers also learned to not leave the rice wrappers in the water too long or you are left with a gummy mess!
Vegetarians, vegans and ominvores alike attended the workshop. The cooking class ended with all participants getting yummy samples of the delicious spring rolls and sauces.
Everyone who attended not only got a sample of the spring rolls, but also a copy of the recipes to take home. Organizers hope that an invisible take away from this seasonal cooking program will be to show how preparing food with your family can be a fun and healthy activity.
The next seasonal cooking workshop for Summer will be July 29th. In that workshop Chef Lisa will be teaching the group how to make fresh pesto sauce(s). In addition to the traditional basil and pine nut version she will also be demonstrating other delicious variations.
And, in the spirit of the theme of “eat more vegetables” the Summer class will show the techniques for preparing vegetable alternatives to pasta. Join the next group and in addition to exciting pesto variations, learn how to prepare spaghetti squash and turn zucchini and into fresh natural and healthy “pastas” for a truly veggie wonderful meal experience.