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What Happens Next?

Well, this is my last mandatory post for the DIY Food blog. I’ve had a lot of great experiences meeting interesting people, animals and foods. I didn’t realize when I got into this that by choosing to report on slow/sustainable food I was picking one of the most up-and-coming movements  in Philadelphia culture. When it comes to generating content and meeting deadlines, that’s as close as you get to a blogging-goldmine.

Here’s my top 5 posts of the semester:

1. The Crunchy Cookie That Could: Gilda Doganiero from Gilda’s Biscotti

2. Brandon McAllister on Philly’s Battle of the Homebrew Shops Contest

3. Food & Faith: A Hazon CSA in South Jersey

4. Food & Art: Foodie Comics Spice Up Food Storytelling

5. The Salem City Community Garden: Where Rural Meets Urban

As for the future of this blog, I may continue to post and loosen up the tone a little bit. Or, I may start an entirely different blog and loosen up the content a little bit. Either way, there will be loosening and there will be bloggening. I hope.

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“Speed-dating for Foodies” with the South Jersey Swappers

On the first day of December, I ventured to the East Landis Marketplace in Vineland, where 18 South Jersey food enthusiasts gathered, their arms full of homemade baked goods, canned goods, prepared dishes, crafts and garden treasures. The home-canners, makers and bakers made their way onto the second floor of the Marketplace where they set up their wares, spooning out samples and arranging their offerings. The South Jersey Swappers holiday food swap had begun.

The South Jersey Swappers met for a December swap at the East Landis Marketplace in Vineland.

The South Jersey Swappers met for a December swap at the East Landis Marketplace in Vineland.

Over the past two years, the success of the BK Swappers in Brooklyn has drawn much online attention. As a result, similar organizations (link) have formed in urban areas throughout the country, from Pasadena to Philadelphia, but South Jersey was once again left out of this primarily urban craze. It was only earlier this year that Green Bank resident Lauren Vitagliano started her South Jersey Swappers blog, with the very first swap held in May at Vineland’s Sweet Life Bakery, a stone’s throw from the East Landis Marketplace.

Word of the new swapping initiative quickly echoed across the South Jersey blogosphere thanks to local blogs like Jennifer Malme’s Down Home South Jersey (Malme arrived at the December swap with her sweet and spicy pecans and homemade lavender soap) and even media outlets like Edible Jersey Magazine.

“I don’ t really think it’s grown too much yet; I’m still trying to find a way to get it out there more,” Vitagliano said. “But I think everyone has the love of food in common—good food at that.”

Galloway resident Abi Douglass brought nine homemade goods to the December swap, including apple cider caramel cookies and romesco sauce.

Galloway resident Abi Douglass brought nine homemade goods to the December swap, including apple cider caramel cookies and romesco sauce.

After set-up, participants were free to wander around the designated swapping space, sampling and deciding which items they would be willing to trade for. Participants signed their names on a sheet of paper placed in front of a desired item, also adding which of their items they would be willing to trade. While many of the holiday swap’s participants were first-timers, the events have attracted their share of regulars, or at least repeat-swappers. Seasoned swapper Abi Douglass, from Galloway, brought no less than nine items for the swapping, which ran the gamut from Earl Grey macarons (link) with Biscoff to turkey stock.

When the “bidding” process finally drew to a close, the actual swapping commenced. Swap time itself was a bit like the foodie equivalent of a speed-dating event, with participants scoping each other out for trades while countless mason jars and crinkle-wrapped goodies (instead of phone numbers) switched hands.

At the end of a hard day’s swapping, second-time swapper Stefanie Modri had turned her garden-fresh pumpkin curry soup, fresh dried

Stefanie Modri's  "loot" includes homemade limoncello, marshmallows, and cinnamon Christmas ornaments.

Stefanie Modri’s “loot” includes homemade limoncello, marshmallows, and cinnamon Christmas ornaments.

mint and herb vinegar into a sizable pile of loot. “The homemade marshmallows are really special, and my daughter’s really excited about the [hand-knitted] scarf she got,” Modri said, parsing through her loot. “We got some good things!”

As for me, attending but not participating at a South Jersey Swappers was tortuous! The next time a swap rolls around, I’ll be carrying more than a notebook and a camera.

Carrot Cake Jam with Jenifer Bernstein of Yes, I Can

The prospect of teaching yourself to can may seem a little daunting–there’s botulism, bad batches and unfamiliar equipment to worry about. At the Woodbury Fall Arts Festival, I stumbled upon a business that offers the perfect solution for all of South Jersey’s timid wannabe-canners: Jenifer Bernstein’s Yes, I Can workshops. These workshops are the perfect way to jump into canning hands first—from beginner boiling water canning to more advanced techniques. Watch the video to get a sneak peek of what an introductory workshop with Yes, I Can can do for you.

*Note: All of those years spent typing my own name have betrayed me: contrary to what the video says, Jenifer Bernstein spells her name with just one “n.”

Rethinking Beef & Business with Philly CowShare

Need something with a little more meat to it than candies and fruit cakes this holiday season? Why not let Philadelphia CowShare help your winter menu find the beef?

philly cowshare logo

Philly CowShare ensures that all the cuts of meat you see in their logo go to hungry homes.

Philly CowShare is the innovative organization that acts as the middleman between you, the consumer, and the farmers and meat processors who produce local, nutritious grass-fed beef. Since part of Philly CowShare’s unique mission is to ensure that all of the beef finds a home, the company sells its beef in bulk, with shares ranging from 1/8 cow (43 pounds of beef) to a full cow (344 pounds).

Jessica Moore, founder and owner of Philly CowShare, says the program gives consumers a direct connection to the process that brings their beef to the table. “We have a production protocol for the business we have to adhere to [in order to] sell cattle under our brand,” Moore says. This, she says, includes learning all about the cattle-raising practices of local farmers. “We give [the customers] all this information so that we can explain and give the customer that connection to the source for the meat.”

In addition to cheapening the cost of being a sustainability-minded meat-eater, cow-pooling also simplifies meal-planning and even provides a way for consumers to gauge their meat consumption. “It invites you to have that conversation with yourself, ” Moore says, noting that when a consumer buys beef from a supermarket, “you’re not adding up in your head how much poundage you’re buying over a period of time.”

Philly CowShare even offers customers another way to get the most beef for their buck by encouraging group orders (see: a ready-made flyer for those seeking to cow-pool).

Of course, with an idea as good as this one, Moore is looking to expand the business into pork territory. Currently working through the research and development of this expansion, she reports that, when compared to cattle-raising, pig raising is (get this) a whole different kind of animal.

“[Pigs] are somewhat destructive in their nature … They strip the forest, knock down trees, dig up the roots, eat the grass,” she says. This means that a label like “grass-fed” doesn’t really mean much when applied to pigs; getting all-natural pork is not quite as simple as just swapping pigs for cows in a big grassy field. “In about three days you would have a big field of mud,” she says. “That’s what they do. They root.”

While Moore perfects her sales pitch for pork, head on over to the Philly CowShare website for more information about the company, who should buy what, and the beef itself. Happy sharing!

The Crunchy Cookie That Could: Gilda Doganiero from Gilda’s Biscotti

Gilda Doganiero roasting hazelnuts at her Gilda’s Biscotti bakery in Salem, N.J..

As a Culinary Institute of America alum and pastry chef at the Four Seasons Hotel, Gilda Doganiero had no trouble recognizing the plight of American biscotti. All over Philadelphia, Doganiero found that even the most delicious gourmet coffees were being sold alongside an adulterated, Americanized version of the biscotti that she knew and loved. American bakeries were trying to turn this abused little biscuit into a long butter cookie—a far-stretch from its traditional Italian origins.

“They [were] just the complete opposite of what they’re supposed to be,” said Doganiero. “Real, traditional biscotti is crispy. It’s baked more than once [because] it’s supposed to be hard for dipping in coffee and tea—the Italians dip it in wine.”

Unable to ignore biscotti’s cries for help any longer, Doganiero left her job at the Four Seasons in 1996 to form Gilda’s Biscotti, a company dedicated to providing Philadelphia-area coffee shops with the real thing.

Gracing the label of many flavors of Gilda’s Biscotti is a photo of none other than Doganiero’s paternal grandmother (also named Gilda) freshly arrived in America from Italy.

In her Salem bakery—which happens to be about 450 feet from the Salem City Community Garden—Doganiero prepares her biscotti in the traditional Italian style: logs of dough are placed in the oven until almost finished baking and then cut into the classic half-oval shape. Finally, the biscuits are baked again to give them the dry crunch of an authentic biscotti. But for Doganiero, staying true to the recipe starts with ingredients.

“I try to keep the flavors that we make very traditional,” she said. Obviously, this means shying away from all those “pumpkin swirl spice” concoctions that fly off the shelves this time of year, but less obvious are the parameters for an acceptable flavor.

“Something with a dried fruit or a citrus peel or nuts that would come from that area of the Mediterranean—almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts—[is acceptable],” Doganiero explained. She explains that the traditional flavor that most people associate with biscotti is an almond anise variety that was first made in Prato, Italy.

Gilda’s Biscotti can be found in coffee shops throughout Philadelphia and South Jersey (among other places) and are great for crunching, dipping, and trying every flavor!

Brandon McAllister on Philly’s Battle of the Homebrew Shops Contest

Brandon McAllister holding a sample of his experimental habanero pepper-beer.

When Brandon McAllister’s hatred of Comcast prompted him to cancel his cable subscription, he did what many bored, local 20-somethings are doing these days—besides subscribing to Netflix. He took up craft beer brewing, a foodie art that has grown to accommodate the Philly area’s beer-snobs as well as its more casual participants. Like many homebrewers, McAllister started out with malt extract brewing before diving into all grain brewing, a less consistent but more customizable brewing method. And Brandon has done pretty well in his brewing endeavors; earlier this year, he and accomplice Ben Foley managed to take 2nd place in Philly Beer Scene‘s first annual Battle of the Homebrew Shops.

I met with McAllister to discuss beer history, technique and all the crazy requirements that beer contests force upon participating beers. Here, McAllister explains how he and Foley creatively navigated through the hurdles of the Battle of the Homebrew Shops:

Food & Faith: A Hazon CSA in South Jersey

The Hazon CSA of Southern New Jersey is dedicated to forging important connections between faith and food. Photo courtesy of the Hazon South Jersey website.

The intersection of agriculture and religion is not an unexpected one, just as long as we’re talking about harvest gods, fertility cults and all of those spooky pagan archetypes. Rarely do we conceive of the three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—as having these same strong ties to nature, but the idea that God has bestowed humanity with land, of all things, is pronounced in all three of these religions’ scriptures. Today, after some 2000 years spent off the land, Jewish communities like Hazon Community-Supported Agriculture of South Jersey are rediscovering the sanctity of the soil.

In Community-Supported Agriculture, members buy “shares” of a local farmer’s harvest at the beginning of growing season to be received in weekly allotments throughout harvest time. Hazon (huh-zone), an international Jewish organization dedicated to “creat[ing] healthier and more sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond,” has been spreading the CSA model throughout its communities since 2004, raising more than $5 million for sustainable agriculture and donating more than 30,000 pounds of food to food banks. All of this would not be possible without the individual Hazon CSAs sprouting up all over the country, including South Jersey’s very own Hazon CSA.

The South Jersey CSA was co-founded by Marty Feigenbaum and Val Yasner in 2004, when the two first paired up with Honey Brook Organic Farm of Pennington and Chesterfield. As Yasner explains, Hazon is an attempt to “connect people to Judaism in ways they haven’t before,” and part of that attempt is rekindling a connection with the land.

“The beauty of the CSA is that you are tied to the farmer,” Yasner says. Just earlier this week, she says, Hurricane Sandy prevented farm workers from harvesting the fields for the weekly pick-up. “This is what you buy into when you participate with a CSA,” she says. “We’re sharing that with the farmer and making farming a sustainable kind of occupation where they can get paid a fair wage.”

The Hazon CSA of South Jersey is partnered with Honey Brook Organic Farm. Honey Brook has locations in both Pennington and Chesterfield. Photo courtesy of the Hazon South Jersey website.

Feigenbaum says that the intermingling of religion, food and environment can be traced back all the way to the creation story of Genesis, whereupon God told Man “to till and to tend” the land of Eden. “Hazon interprets “tending it” as a responsibility to make sure future generations have the same opportunities that we have,” he says, pointing to Jewish traditions of showing respect for the land. “A commonly accepted natural practice of agriculture is of a sabbatical for the land, where you are to let your land lie fallow [one in every seven years]. We recognized years ago that land needed to regenerate itself.”

This logical respect for nature carries over to the treatment and even slaughter of domesticated animals. Yasner recalls a Hazon Food Conference in Connecticut at which goats were shechted (slaughtered according to kosher principles) by a shochet (trained ritual slaughterer) and served at dinner. Even Yasner, who is vegan, describes being affected by the reverence of the occasion. “I just never felt that before,” she says. “You certainly don’t feel that when you go to the grocery store and get your Styrofoam plastic-wrapped slab of beef.”

In its four years of operation, the Hazon CSA of South Jersey has held countless events to raise awareness and build community amongst its members—everything from a yoga and challah-baking event to a Sukkot farm-to-table dinner prepared by famous Philadelphia Chef Michael Solomonov and served to 150 people under a full-sized sukkah, or temporary hut constructed for the Sukkot celebrations.

One need not be Jewish–or even religious–to appreciate the impact of the Hazon movement. After all, religious groups have staked out a claim on many social issues, so why should environmental issues be any different?

Though Hazon is a Jewish organization, Hazon CSAs are open to people of all faiths. More than 50 Hazon CSAs have been established across the U.S..