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Slow Food on the Mountain

by Sophia Hutnik, AMI Fellow

During the week here at AMI, two Fellows cook lunch and dinner for the rest of us while we work in the garden. This entails making staples such as granola, bread, or yogurt if there is a need; cooking both lunch and dinner; and finally, cleaning up. Lately it has also involved harvesting food from the farm, then washing, weighing and recording the harvest, bagging it, and organizing the fridge. It’s a tough job that usually takes about 12 hours of straight work; but for some of us, it’s well worth it. I personally get excited when it’s my turn to cook. Before the reality of all the work sets in, the prospect of coming up with creative meals for 11-12 people with semi-limited supplies is an exciting challenge.

For the past few years, I have been interested in the Slow Food movement, which promotes an alternative to a fast food culture that fails to respect local cuisines and the time and forethought that it usually takes to prepare nutritious and wholesome foods. Many people do not have time for that in their lives, and do not know how to--or are unable to--make the time. When I think of slow food and my life, I think of sourdough, sauerkraut, and other foods that take several days to prepare and culture. Among the results are more easily digestible dishes, probiotics, and more developed flavors. Typically I start off the process of whatever I am making with energy and gusto, which wanes into exhaustion at the twelfth hour. But, I almost always feel accomplished and satisfied when I’m finished, and I even enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Chinese cabbage sauerkraut

At AMI we strive to eat healthy and seasonally. Preserving our harvests is a large part of that, for both our later enjoyment, and for those who follow us in the fellowship next year. Living on a farm with this mission lends itself well to a slow food mentality, although there are some limitations. We each usually cook roughly one day a week, and it’s hard to plan ahead. From the beginning, several of us encourage the others to soak and/or sprout beans, rice, oatmeal, and so on--from several days to the night before--to make these staples more digestible. That is relatively easy to do after work to prepare for your meal in a couple of days. Usually we will start to soak/sprout things without knowing fully what we will make, but then decide later on.

We also have three big gallons of kombucha and sourdough going, and for a short time we had milk kefir. But when there is so much to do when cooking, and when you aren’t cooking and working all day on the farm or in workshops, it’s hard to plan and start meals early. Our meals are still delicious and nutritious, and satisfying (especially now that I have convinced people to "massage" the kale).

In this blog post I want to document the meal that Elora and I put together recently that took several days to put together and illustrates a slow food mentality, at least according to my interpretation of the concept:

We prepared a Monday lunch that included a sourdough pita bread, wheat berry and spinach salad, stuffed grape leaves, hummus and a Turkish salty yogurt drink (cacik). For dinner we served Ukrainian vegetarian borscht, walnut, ricotta, shiitake and onion uszka (a Ukrainian version of tortellini), sourdough bread, thinly sliced radishes in melted butte, and a salad of beet greens with a balsamic-fig reduction dressing.

Monday lunch with stuffed grape leaves, pita, Turkish yogurt drink and hummus]

To pull this off, we started a veggie stock on Saturday where we boiled left over vegetable peels (that we save in our freezer) and spices/herbs. We also started a sourdough leaven. On Sunday, we finished the borscht so it could sit for a while to intensify its flavor by Monday's dinner. We also soaked chickpeas and wheat berries with some whey. To make the stuffed grape leaves we harvested the leaves off of our grape vines and boiled them in a salt brine and then stored them in a cold brine in the fridge overnight. We also made the rice filling, so that the flavors could meld together for a bit. Sunday’s activities were dictated by a pretty regimented sourdough bread-making schedule that resulted in a loaf at 10 pm.

Sourdough bread

Sunday we also made yogurt for the Turkish drink so that it would be ready to use the next day, and started the pita bread and four other loaves for the week. We went into Monday with a lot already made! Even so, we still had a lot to do. Notwithstanding the harvesting and processing of that harvest from the farm, we had to make the pita bread, the hummus, wheat berry salad and stuff/cook the grape leaves for lunch and then finish the borscht and make the uszka dough and filling – including the ricotta - as well as the salad and radishes. We did it though!

The reason why I detailed this all out is to illustrate the forethought, work, and preparation that these two meals took. If it hadn’t been on a Monday, we probably wouldn’t have had time to make it all. For me though, the joy was in the planning and the leisurely process allowing time for the cultures and flavors to develop. For me, this is the message of the Slow Food movement, and I hope we can all move even more towards a slow food approach to making delicious, flavorful meals from whole foods - both simple and intricate.

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