Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Fate of French Baguettes

Anyone who has traveled in France knows how ubiquitous baguettes are—tucked under arms, propped in bicycle baskets, and sold in just about every shop whether a bakery or not.  But what many may not realize is that all baguettes are not the same. Most of the baguettes sold now have evolved as a form of fast-food, with additives and a quick preparation process. Fortunately there are those that cherish the old-style, slow-fermentation technique that gives an authentic baguette its texture and taste.

According to the New York Times, " 1993, the government came to the rescue with a decree that created a special designation: “the bread of French tradition.” That bread has to be made exclusively with flour, salt, water and leavening — no additives. The “tradition,” as it is called, is more expensive than the ordinary baguette, which uses additives, a fast-rising process and mechanization, and accounts for about 75 percent of the country’s bread sales."

Anyone who has eaten traditional baguettes knows that the extra money is ever so worth it. According to French-bread expert, Steve Kaplan, you "need to celebrate breads that make your taste buds dance."  

Travelers to Paris who want to taste "tradition" breads can explore Good-Bread Trails in Paris
Bon appétit!!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

For Real Food Safety, Support Local Food and Local Oversight

For those who care about local foods and small farms, please submit comments to the FDA by November 15th on the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)Signed into law by President Obama in January of 2011, the FDA has taken more than two years to move FSMA through its rule-making procedure—a process still ongoing. The FDA hails FSMA as the most “sweeping reform of food safety laws in over 70 years.” An undeniably important objective given the attention-grabbing headlines announcing outbreaks of foodborne illness from hamburgers, chicken, fruits and vegetables, FSMA unfortunately undermines some of the safest producers of food in the nation—our local farmers.

The "sweeping" law risks sweeping the little guy right out of business. Designed to cover the disparate extremes of industrial farming and neighborhood farm stands, FSMA's one size fits all is a disaster in the making. The voluminous 548 page law is confusing. On the surface it appears that farms grossing less than $500,000 would be exempt from the law, but on closer examination, many farms would indeed have to comply with the expensive and cumbersome rules. How many? Neither the state agriculture department nor the FDA can answer that definitively, but based on USDA numbers and income criteria likely hundreds of Vermont farms will be affected.

At an FDA "listening session" held last month, farmers from Vermont and New Hampshire gave FDA representatives an almost universally unfavorable earful. Themes repeated throughout the morning were: the proposed law was overly cumbersome to struggling small farms; the majority of food borne illness outbreaks come from imported foods and large scale industrial food companies, not small, diversified farms in New England; criteria for the new law is not supposed to be in conflict with organic standards, but it is; and FSMA seems to duplicate laws that many farms already comply with like the USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)program. Across the board, farmers felt the proposed law would put onerous requirements on them, consume their already tiny profit margins, hamper growth, and force many of them out of business. 

Over the course of the session, many farmers expressed their frustration at the inconsistencies and double standards in federal food safety policy. The FDA admits it is able to inspect only about 2% of imported food even though imported food has repeatedly been implicated in food borne illness outbreaks. While the government plans to impose increasingly cumbersome regulations on small produce farms, they are simultaneously relaxing and changing laws that will deleteriously affect food safety. Recently the USDA announced that it will allow U.S. grown chicken to be processed in China for resale in the United States, without any USDA inspectors on site. The processed chicken, used in canned soups, chicken nuggets and other products, will be sold
without any label informing the consumer it was processed in China.

Earlier in 2013, in an effort to save money for the government and the poultry industry, the USDAannounced plans to cut back the inspectors at slaughterhouse kill-lines by 75%, leaving only one inspector where there used to be four, while increasing the numbers of chickens killed to 175 per minute. USDA Secretary Vilsack believes that this will reduce thousands of foodborne illnesses, even though the Environmental Working Group’s report, Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets, exposes that antibiotic resistant bacteria is found in 81% of ground turkey; 69% of pork chops; 55% of ground beef; and 39% of chicken breasts, wings and thighs. No worries. Under thenew USDA rules, chicken carcasses will be doused in chlorinated water and “other antimicrobial substances” to deal with lingering fecal matter and other contaminants. 

The numbers of food borne illnesses used to justify FSMA are high. While quoted in the press as hard numbers they are, in fact, only estimates. These numbers were announced by the CDC a month before Obama signed FSMA into law and are almost 2000 times the rate of illness and 150 times the rate of death that were documented between 1998 and 2008. In Vermont, cases of food borne illnesses are low—about 250 statewide in 2012—although relative to population they hover around what the Vermont Department of Health cites as the national averages for reported cases in 2011 of 14.3 to 16.5 per 100,000. Over the past almost twenty years, the number of cases in Vermont have stayed relatively consistent. The Department’s most recent report on foodborne illness, dated May 2013, explains that Vermont’s cases are mostly “sporadic”—i.e. they are not connected.

While the Vermont Department of Health (DOH) agrees with the CDC that underreporting is a problem, State epidemiologist and foodborne illness expert, Erica Berl is quick to say that the DOH does not want every single person who is experiencing diarrhea or vomiting to report to the state. Berl says there are many reasons for these common symptoms of foodborne illness but, “most cases of GI illnesses are from viruses passed from human to human.”

When asked if she thought foodborne illness in Vermont could be traced to small local farms she replied, “Causation is very difficult to prove and often near impossible with the small numbers in Vermont. It is impossible to state that food borne illness does or does not ever come from small farms. What we know, capital K, is that there are certain high-risk foods linked to certain pathogens.” 

In short, there is no way to prove that any small farms in Vermont have caused any foodborne illness in the state. But, there is also no way to prove they haven’t.

While the state may not be able to say unequivocally that small farms are not the cause of foodborne illness, the farmers made it very clear at the FDA session that they do not believe they are to blame for outbreaks in the state. Repeatedly farmers said, “My family and I eat the food we are growing and selling. We would be the first to get sick if there were a problem.” Others commented that since they know their customers, they would be aware if someone got sick.

Some farmers expressed their fear that as small farms are forced out of business that foodborne illness will increase not decrease. The question begs, does trying to reduce the 200 some odd annual cases of foodborne illness which can not be definitively linked to Vermont’s small farms justify the enormous health and economic impact of FSMA throughout the state? If society’s goal is to keep reducing or trying to reduce the percentages of people who are sick then maybe the small farms of Vermont should be viewed as part of the healthy solution and goal, not as the culprits. It raises the need for an examination of health and what is considered relevant to food safety. Acute illness is dramatic and headline grabbing, but debilitating chronic illness is often far more damaging in the long run. Is diabetes a food safety issue? Are allergies a food safety issue? Chronic digestive diseases?

There is a reason Vermont has, per capita, the most farmer’s markets, certified organic farms, certified organic farm land, CSAs, local dollars spent on local foods, artisan cheese-makers, micro-breweries, and maple producers in the entire country. We love our local food producers, we care about our health and we are proud of Vermont’s agricultural heritage. 

Champion real food safety and security. Let FSMA fulfill its mandate by regulating those producing contaminated food, not those providing healthy food. Let the FDA know that you support Vermont local farms and local oversight. Tell the FDA that farms grossing less than $1 million should be regulated locally, by the Vermont Department of Agriculture, not the federal government. Keep Vermont’s farmers in business and keep our food healthy. Send your comments to the FDA by November 15th 2013.

Surprising—Gluten-Free in Wells/Ogunquit Maine

For reasons defying explanation, the Wells/Ogunquit area of Maine with its long, wide flat beaches, is onto the gluten-free scene. A number of eateries offer gluten-free options including, thankfully, our favorite lobster-roll haunt, Jake’s Seafood on the corner of Route 1 and Bourne Road—the road to Moody Beach. At Jake’s you can get a lobster roll with or without mayonnaise—my preference with butter or even naked on a wheat or gluten-free bun. This transformed our trip as two out of three of us need to eat gluten-free, so we could all happily enjoy our generously portioned lobster rolls.

Wild Blueberry conjures waffles and pancakes, but The Wild Blueberry Restaurant in Ogunquit is a fine dining establishment with a casual air serving fresh, local fish and other foods. The local Lemon Sole was delicious as was the Maine-caught Haddock, but the Lobster and Avocado starter was sublime.

Roost Cafe and Bistro offers a wide range of gluten-free dishes including local fish and chips made with non-gluten-breading.

Happy gluten-free eating on the southern Maine coast!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Health Food Stores on the Cape

For those wanting to do their own food prep and needing supplies beyond the farmer's markets now held regularly around the Cape, there are a few health food stores dotted from upper to lower Cape.

Orleans Whole Food Store—no relation to the Whole Foods chain—has been around for almost forty years. Packed tight with products leaving narrow one-lane aisles. the store has most of what you need with the exception that its produce selection is slim and not particularly local (this is one of the stores where the Mexican blueberries were sold).

Conveniently located next door to Orleans Whole Food, Main Street Wine and Gourmet is an airy light store offering a large selection of wines including a varied and unusual organic selection, as well as gourmet foods from around the world. 42 Main Street, Orleans, 508-255-1112

In Provincetown, 141 Bradford Naturals has two locations. It offers not only natural and organic groceries, but also vegetarian and vegan take-out dishes, a range of wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free foods. JJ Gonson, chef and owner of Cuisine Locale in Cambridge says of 141 Bradford's guacamole, “Dude, I don't care HOW good your guac is. This is better.”

All the stores are open seven days a week—check the Web sites for seasonal hours.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Local and Natural Restaurants on the Cape

Looking for groovy eats on the Cape? Like farmstands and health food stores, there are great places to eat sprinkled throughout Cape Cod.

The Juice in Wellfleet offers up sandwiches, salads, pizzas, real-fruit smoothies and fresh juices. The bestselling piña-colada-like Maui Wowie was the favorite in my group, but we sampled all the options and gave thumbs-up to all of them. The Juice is in downtown Wellfleet, 6 Commercial Street, Wellfleet, MA 508-349-0535. From May to September it is open daily for eating in or take-out lunch 11:30 am to 3:00 pm; Dinner 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm.

Other local food restaurants featuring, local, organic and natural menus include Local 186, Harvest Gallery Wine Bar, Pizza Barbone, and FarmMaid Foods Cafe. You can find out about others through the beautiful print and online magazine Edible Cape Cod. Other sources of good eats: for lists of  restaurants offering and supporting locally grown food.

Most restaurants worth eating at serve locally caught fish and of course oysters and clams! Always ask where the fish is from—you will be surprised by some of the places it comes from like Iceland and South America.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Blueberry Hunting on Cape Cod

While Vacationing on the Cape I was on the hunt for local blueberries since at home in Vermont it was blueberry season. I purposefully had not brought any with me assuming they would be plentiful on the Cape. I was mistaken—what was readily available were organic berries from Mexico (!) or conventionally grown from New Jersey.

I was almost brought to fist-a-cuffs over my muttering at a produce stand about conventional agriculture in New Jersey. A woman who could have been an extra on the Sopranos said, “Are you saying something against New Jersey?” in response to my private frustrated grumblings to my friend. “You better not be saying anything about New Jersey while I’m here.” Wow. I held my New Yorker tongue like a good Vermonter.

After a failed farmer’s market and no luck at the local stores I got a tip that the Wellfleet Farmer’s Market, held from 8 am to 12 noon on Wednesdays, is where I would find my berries. I was properly advised to arrive no later than 8 on said morning because the berries sell out within the first thirty minutes. Really? I smell a business opportunity in berries. Not wanting to take any chances I arrived about ten minutes before the opening bell to find a small line waiting for the berry booth. Redberry Farm did not disappoint. A solar powered, sustainable farm on five acres in Eastham, Redberry sells at the Orleans and Wellfleet Farmer's Markets. I bought a few containers to tide me over for the week and felt sorry for the folks not in-the-know who would show up midway trough the market only to find no berries.The Wellfleet Farmer’s Market, held behind Preservation Hall at 335 Main Street, also has beautiful vegetables, cheeses, wine, crafts and more.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Cape Cod Organic Options

Heading to the Cape for vacation? Live there year round? Either way locally grown produce, especially certified organic, can be hard to find unless you know where to look.

To find Pleasant Lake Farm, the first farm on the Cape to be certified organic, requires the use of a good map, GPS, Google Maps or an excellent navigator in your passenger seat. The farm, located in Harwich is very much off the beaten path. Once there you can buy a variety of certified organic vegetables, beef, pork, eggs and local jams. The little farm stand is self-service. The meat is kept in freezers in another building down the road, so if you’re looking for meat, it is best to call ahead to make sure someone can assist you. Likely you will be greeted by a pack of dogs—fortunately friendly. On the sandy soil. Pleasant Lake grows snap peas, beans, squash, lettuce, field greens, cutting flowers, root crops and more.
 Pleasant Lake Farm, 2 Birch Drive, Harwich, MA 02645, 774-722-2319

For other organic and local farms explore for lists of growers, markets and restaurants offering and supporting locally grown food. This directory is great for locating the farmstands throughout the Cape and finding where the local food is hiding.

Locally caught fish is sold at most fish markets and is usually marked, but make sure to ask. In late July the local catches are pollack, haddock, sole and flounder—all delicious and like nothing you find far from the ocean. Oysters and clams—local of course—are everywhere.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fast-Organic in Paris at Boco

 We first ate at Boco two years ago when we were in Paris and loved it. It was on the short-list of places to try again on this trip and I’m pleased to report it didn’t disappoint!

There are so many things I like about Boco—their commitment to sustainability and organic food (called bio in France) top the list. But a close second is the adorable glass containers they serve their food in (which also support their eco efforts by being washed and reused). After our last trip I bought similar containers to use at home for packing my lunch.

Boco meets the need for fresh, healthy, bio food available quickly. The dishes are prepared in advance and artistically displayed in the front portion of the store. 100% of ingredients are bio, and options include vegetarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free. There are main dishes (we had curried lentils and asparagus pasta), sides (we had carrots and parsnips roasted with cumin), and desserts (we didn’t have one this time, but enjoyed an apple crisp last time we were here). You use a basket to select your items and bring them to the counter to check-out and have your food warmed-up.They also make coffee, tea, juices, and hot sandwiches at the counter if you’d like.

There is plenty of seating to eat at Boco, as well as options to take the food to-go. At the back of the restaurant is a wall of artisan goods for sale (wine, jams, chocolate etc.). 

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the owners while we were eating at Boco. Frederique, was circulating the restaurant with a mother-hen quality—greeting guests and making sure everything was running smoothly. She was lovely and very proud of Boco’s offerings to the Parisian community.

We ate at the Opera Boco location (3 Rue Danielle Casanova), but there are three locations in
downtown Paris, each with its own hours. The Opera location is open Monday to Saturday from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm. I strongly recommend making time to eat here on your next trip.

To read more about my culinary adventures, please visit

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gallete Café for Gluten-free Crepes

I am thrilled to welcome Z from One Beet, a blog about nutrition, good food and recipes, as a guest blogger here on Traveling Naturally and the Green Earth Guides, as she shares her great eco and organic finds while traveling through Europe this year. This month she is in France and offers some great places in Paris to eat.

    It was a rainy afternoon in Paris and we were hungry. We had spent the past few hours walking through the Louvre and needed an energy boost before tackling the Musee d’Orsay.  We wandered through the streets on the Left Bank near the d’Orsay and came across Galette Café on the corner. We were pulled in immediately by the funky exterior and were sold when we read the menu of gluten-free, organic buckwheat galletes.  
    The food was delicious! We shared two savory buckwheat galletes—one topped with a salad, fresh goat cheese, baked apples, and walnuts. The second topped with an artisanal sausage, onion confit, and tomato compote. Gallete Café prides itself on their traditional menu and commitment to local and organic artisans.  There is a nice page on their website that outlines some of the producers they work with (including the buckwheat flour miller). The menu is simple, yet tasty – it highlights excellent ingredients and innovative combinations.
    So what’s the big deal about buckwheat? Buckwheat is actually a pseudo cereal (rather than a grain), so it is gluten-free and perfect for people watching their wheat intake.  In addition, it’s high in fiber, contains all eight essential amino acids, and is a good source of manganese, magnesium, copper, and zinc.
    Not only did we enjoy the food at Gallete Café, we also appreciated the ambiance. The small café is well designed with a clean, trendy aesthetic. The staff was also very friendly and spoke excellent English (they had menus available in a range of languages at the host stand).
    This place is a worth a trip to 2 Rue du l’Universite for a delicious lunch or dinner. Buckwheat galettes run between 7.50 and 12.80 € and the café also serves organic wheat crepes, oysters from Brittany, a range of beverages and artisanal ice cream. Don’t go looking for breakfast, the Gallette Café opens at 12 noon Tuesday through Sunday. Open until 10:30 pm  Wednesday through Saturday, the café closes at 5:00 pm on Tuesday and Sunday.
To read more about my culinary adventures, please visit

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Green Delight in Umbria

Letizia and Ruurd live what is a dream for many. They run an agriturismo B&B in Umbria, Italy housed in stone buildings, some dating back as far as 500 years old. They have lovingly renovated the buildings and grounds, operating as a B&B for almost ten years. More importantly to those of us who are olive oil fanatics, Letizia and Ruurd have restored the olive grove, planting 250 olive trees so they can make their own divine olive oil.

Committed to treading lightly on the earth, Alla Madonna runs solely on solar electricity with hot water and heat coming from solar thermal panels and a wood furnace. Alla Madonna is decorated with new and vintage natural fibers. Eco-friendly cleaning products are used, the gardens and olive groves are organic, and the food served guests as well as what s used in the cooking classes are locally produced. Google, the truffle-hunting dog at Alla Madonna die Piatto sniffs out the sneakiest truffles.

Guests can choose from six comfortable rooms with private baths. From March to November cooking classes are offered  two times a week. Room rates range from 85 to 105 euros per night for a double room. Please note: Alla Madonna is closed from mid-November to mid-March and for one week in July.

Alla Madonna is about 5 miles from Assisi. If you want to vicariously enjoy the fruits of Letizia's cooking, explore her blog at: and create scrumptious meals from her simple yet exquisite recipes.

Azienda Agraria Alla Madonna del Piatto
Via Petrata 37, Pieve San Nicolo’
06081 Assisi (PG), Umbria, Italy