‘Food Forward’ PBS Series Debuts With ‘Urban Agriculture Across America’ Episode

cowsIn less than a century, the United States has gone from being a mostly agrarian society to an urbanized one. Most of us live in cities and, despite our growing cultural fascination with food, most Americans have no idea where the ingredients on their plate (or in that wrapper) are actually coming from.

That’s where “Food Forward” comes in. After a three-year effort, the premiere episode of this innovative new PBS series, as first reported by the Huffington Post, is airing nationally throughout April (see schedule after the jump). In “Urban Agriculture Across America,” the “Food Forward” crew travel from the Bay Area to Milwaukee, Detroit and New York City, talking to urban farming innovators such as Abeni Ramsey, a single mother in West Oakland.

Formerly relegated to feeding her family Top Ramen, Ramsey was inspired some years ago by a farm stand she spotted in her neighborhood, operated by West Oakland’s City Slicker Farms. As part of City Slickers’ initiative to nourish under-served communities, their staff and volunteers build garden boxes (designed for small-scale, intensive production) in residents’ yards.

Ramsey got her garden box and soon had a backyard full of produce. Next, she got chickens to provide her family with protein in the form of meat and eggs. Today, she’s the farm manager of the East Bay’s urban Dig Deep Farms. Dig Deep sells and delivers produce to local communities through its CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) program and works in collaboration with Oakland’s acclaimed Flora restaurant.

Says Flora chef Rico Rivera, “We order the produce, she picks it and it’s here the next morning.” Adds Ramsey, “It’s a modern idea that you get all of your food from the store. People have been farming in cities…since there were cities.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user Martin Gommel]rooftop gardenJohn Mooney, chef and rooftop hydroponic farmer at Bell Book & Candle in Manhattan’s West Village, is another interesting subject as is urban beekeeper Andrew Coté, who collects specific blends from hives around Manhattan and Brooklyn.

While the idea of keeping bees in the midst of a metropolis may seem an unnecessary objective, or a somewhat precious craft food enterprise, it’s anything but, as Coté points out. “Bees help pollinate the city’s community and rooftop gardens as well as window boxes.” Localized honey also contains pollen that helps allergy sufferers living in these neighborhoods.

Of Detroit, “Food Forward” co-creator/producer Stett Holbrook says, “It blew my mind. It’s a city that has been devastated by industrial collapse and the exodus of half of its population, but the resilience of the residents still there to remake the city – literally from the ground up – was truly inspiring. Urban agriculture is a big part of the renaissance.”

According to its website, the objective of “Food Forward” is to “create a series that looks beyond the world of celebrity chefs, cooking competitions,” and formulaic recipe shows. From my perspective, it also goes beyond the seemingly endless variations on scintillating (not) reality series on baked good empires, riffs on “Homo sapiens vs. Arteriosclerosis” and “Twenty Crappy Things You Can Cook With Canned Goods.”

Instead, “Food Forward” looks at what it calls the “food rebels” across America – farmers, chefs, ranchers, fishermen, food artisans, scientists and educators – who are dedicated to changingurban farm the way we eat and finding more sustainable alternatives to how food is produced and procured.

“Food Forward” succeeds (if the pilot is any indication) in a way that documentaries of this genre haven’t (despite being excellent on all counts: see, “The Future of Food,” “Food, Inc.,” etc.).

It’s mercifully not about food elitism, either. Rather than leaving you depressed, angry or guilty, the show inspires, entertains and sends a message of hope. Future episodes will focus on school lunch reform, sustainable fishing and meat production and soil science. Some segments are animated, either to better illustrate a point or to engage a wider age demographic.

“Food Forward” is “written, produced and directed by a veteran team of journalists, cinematographers and storytellers that includes: director Greg Roden (PBS, FOX and National Geographic channel’s “Lonely Planet” and the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, and San Francisco Chronicle); aforementioned creator-producer Holbrook (Food editor for Metro Silicon Valley and The Bohemian in Sonoma County, and contributor to the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Saveur and Chow.com); Brian Greene (Food Network, Discovery Channel, NBC), and director of photography David Lindstrom (PBS, National Geographic and Discovery channels).

On April 22, the pilot will air on WTTW in Chicago at 5:30 p.m. and WLIW in New York at 2:30 p.m. On April 28, it will air on Washington DC’s WETA at 5:30 p.m. For future episodes, check your local PBS listings, visit the “Food Forward” website or www.PBS.org/foodforward.


Getting ‘Sweet Revenge’ in New York’s West Village

sweet revenge Located in the West Village of New York, at 62 Carmine Street, is a sweet shop that puts a new spin on wine pairing.

Walking into Sweet Revenge, you will become instantly immersed in the warmth of freshly baked desserts, the cozy ambiance of the small room, smiling servers, and intimate lighting set by tiny Christmas bulbs. And, you won’t see anybody with a sweet Bellini or a full-bodied Malbec.

Instead of pairing wines with traditional cheeses and meal courses, Sweet Revenge features an extensive list of gourmet, internationally-inspired cupcakes, each offering a wine and beer suggestion next to it. Four signature options are always available, including:

  • Sweet Revenge– Peanut butter cake with a ganache center and peanut butter fudge frosting paired with Juan Benegas Malbec, Argentina, or Weihenstephaner Hefe Weiss, Germany
  • Pure– Mexican vanilla cake with Mexican vanilla buttercream paired with Principato Pinot Noir, Italy, or Kwak, Belgium
  • Dirty- Valrhona chocolate cake with dark chocolate truffle paired with Pinotage, South Africa, or Kopparberg Pear Cider, Sweden
  • Crimson & Cream– Raspberry red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting paired with a Raspberry Bellini or Belhaven, Scotland

There are also rotating cupcake selections each day, like Cafe Mocha, Dulce de Leche, Malaysian Coconut, and Mayan Chocolate, to name a few. While you don’t need to choose their suggested drink pairing I would highly recommend it, as they tend to keep the flavors in balance. I opted for the Crimson & Cream with the Raspberry Bellini and was really impressed not only with the size of the cupcake and generous amount of cream cheese frosting, but also with how well the raspberry flavors in the drink complemented the fruity red velvet cake. My companion and I also tried the Pure paired with the Principato Pinot Noir which was also very tasty, although we both agreed the Crimson & Cream had a lot more to offer in terms of palate excitement.

Happy hour is from 4-8 PM, Monday-Friday, and includes select discounted drinks and a $10 cupcake and wine/beer pairing. If you don’t go during happy hour, expect to pay $10 for the drink and $3.50 for the cupcake, which is still a great deal for the excellent service and unique experience. Also, for those without a sweet tooth, breakfast, brunch, lunch, and late night munchies, like sandwiches, salads, and fruit and cheese platters, are available. The savory cakes with wine and beer pairings are also a delicious option, especially the Jamaican Curry, which includes West Indian curry spices, chic peas, and ricotta cheese cake and coconut curry dripping sauce paired with Redcliffe Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand, or Palma Louca, Brazil.

Hours: Monday-Thursday 7AM-11PM, Friday 7AM-12:30AM, Saturday 11AM -12:30AM, and Sunday 11AM-10PM. Subway: 1 to Houston or the ACE/BDFV to W.4th. Phone: (212) 242- 2240

Five Halloween treats for grown-ups

Halloween candyLike many former kids, I used to live for Halloween. Sure, the dressing up part was fun, but so was TP’ing the neighbor’s tree. What All Hallow’s Eve was really about were Pixy Stix, Fun Dip, mini Milky Way bars, and REESE’S Peanut Butter Cups (in my world, the latter still reigns supreme).

Still, things change. We grow up; most of us lose our appetite for eating the equivalent of eight cups of sugar in one sitting, we’re aware that those candy bars will go straight to our ass.

Still, I find something a little magical about Halloween: the brisk fall air, the aroma of woodsmoke and swirls of brightly colored leaves. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth anymore, but there are some sophisticated treats out there capable of conjuring my inner child (mercifully, minus the buck teeth and tattling habit).

Below, my favorite confections, regardless of season:

1. Jonboy Caramels
I love me a good caramel, and this micro-Seattle company does them right. I discovered Jonboy at my local farmers market; despite the feel-good ingredients and ethics, these are no half-assed candies peddled by dirty hippies (kidding; I’m a longtime market vendor myself). Made completely by hand with local cream and HFCS-free, these pretty treats come wrapped in unbleached parchment paper, and are sold in little (recycled cardboard) boxes. But it’s what’s inside that counts, and these are intensely rich flavor-bombs redolent of that good cream as well as more potent, sexy flavors.

The selection is small and includes fleur de sel caramel, molasses ginger, and my favorite, an intriguing absinthe with black salt. Inspired by the salted licorice found in Scandinavia, Jonboy’s version is made with local Pacifique absinthe and a blend of anise, fennel, and hyssop. They’re dark and mysterious, like a trick-or-treater you shouldn’t let in the door.

Jonboy Caramels are available throughout Seattle at farmers’ markets and specialty stores, and select Washington and Oregon Whole Foods. Five box minimum for online orders (you’ll be glad to have extra, believe me).Halloween candy2. sockerbit
This groovy New York shop in the West Village is dedicated to “Scandinavian candy culture.” The name translates as “sugar cube,” and is also one of their namesake treats (a strawberry marshmallow square). Just like Ikea, crazy names and diversity are part of sockerbit’s charm. All of the essential categories are here: chocolate; licorice; marshmallow (who can resist something called “Syrliga Skumshots,” which are bottle-shaped sour marshmallows?); sweet; sour, and hard and wrapped candies. All are available for order online, and free of artificial dyes, flavors, trans-fats, and other synthetic nastiness.

It’s hard to make a decision in this place, but if, like me, you’re a slave to anything gummy and chewy, (red Swedish Fish people, I’m talking to you), you’ll be very happy with the tempting selection of fruit jellies. Skogsbär, here’s looking at you.

3. Recchiuti Confections
Lucky me, I used to work next door to this revered San Francisco Ferry Building confectionary (I worked in a meat shop; they traded us for chocolate). Chocolatier Michael Recchiuti is a genius, but it’s his delicate, botanically-infused chocolates that bring a tear to my eye. Bonus: many use herbs sourced right outside the door at the Saturday farmers market. Think lemon verbena; star anise and pink peppercorn; rose caramel, and candied orange peel. Just as heavenly are Recchiuti’s exquisite pates de fruits, S’more’s Bites, and…just about everything else. Order them all online at your own risk.

4. Dutch licorice
Licorice is an acquired taste regardless, but the earthy, intense, salted Dutch stuff is another thing altogether. Made with real licorice root extract–no artificial flavors here–they’re bracing, spicy, herbaceous, and strangely addictive. Any bona-fide candy store worth it’s, um, salt, will stock at least one imported variety.

5. Salt & Straw ice cream in holiday flavors
Ice cream season is supposed to be over (isn’t it?) but this five-month-old Portland, Oregon shop begs to differ. Some examples of their delicious array of super-regionalized “farm-to-cone” flavors: Hooligan Brown Ale and Olympic Provisions bacon, Stumptown coffee with cocoa nibs, and pear with Rogue Creamery’s Crater Lake blue cheese.

New to Salt & Straw is their line-up of Thanksgiving and Holiday flavors, which includes bourbon pecan pie, made with Stone Barn’s Oregon Whiskey; eggnog with butter-rum caramel; blood orange cranberry; pumpkin cheesecake, and a sweet-and-savory brown bread stuffing studded with chestnuts, herbs, and dried apricots. Online orders are a minimum of five pints.

Understanding and Preventing Sugar Cravings

Wilfie and Nell, a social experience in the West Village, New York

wilfie and nell is a social experience bar in the west village of new yorkAfter hearing about Wilfie and Nell as being a great pickup bar as well as a great place to meet friendly people, my girlfriends and I decided to check it out and see if what we heard was true. On the website, the restaurant claims to not take reservations as to create the ambiance of an “informal gathering”. Patrons are also encouraged to take a seat wherever there is room at a table, including at tables where people are already sitting.

The bar is located in the West Village in New York City on a street full of cutesy bars and bistros, a quiet suburb inside a noisy city. Wooden tables are setup in close proximity to one another, allowing for easy conversation with strangers. While the menu isn’t too extensive, you will be too busy socializing to care. The cheese plate is a perfect shareable dish, with assorted cheeses, toast breads, apple slices, and chutney. If you’re on a budget, go for a draft beer for $6, your cheapest option. If you want something a little out of the ordinary and are willing to splurge, try their Spicy Margarita (make sure you get a water to go with it!).

Happy hour is the best time to arrive, as later on it tends to get extremely crowded. However, even when at full capacity the vibe of the bar never got too out of hand, somehow keeping its casual atmosphere. This is a place where you can come as you are, and while you will see men and women wearing suits and dresses, you will also see people in casual shorts and flip flops.

The verdict? We sat next to some really interesting people during dinner and had a great conversation about travel and the perks of living in the city. From there, we bounced around the room, mingling with not only guys but some ladies, as well. The people who are drawn to the place seem to be of the more friendly, social type. By the end of the night, it was easy to see why this place is known as the social experience of the West Village.

Located at 228 West 4th St. between 7th Ave. and West 10th St. Take the 1 or 2 subway to Christopher St.-Sheridan Sq.

Opening hours are Monday-Friday at 4PM, Saturday-Sunday at 12PM.

Nomading Film Festival announces NY venue


If you’re a New Yorker, a film enthusiast, a traveler that loves good storytelling, or combination of all three; clear your calendar for June 18th and set your sights on the West Village’s massive Hostelling International-New York.

The Brooklyn-based Nomading Film Festival has announced that they’ll be holding their big night of screenings in the biggest hostel in North America – an environment that falls right in line with their overall theme. The idea behind the Nomading Film Festival is simple. The fest’s creators “believe that stories caught on film, while traveling, are some of the most entertaining, educating, beautiful, and authentic. These are stories which should be shared, acknowledged, and awarded.

Don’t have any video experience? Not to worry – NoFF encourages people of all experience levels with video to submit so long as it’s under 15 minutes, non-fiction, and uploaded before April 30th (upload here). The festival has changed their grand prize from a trip to Egypt, to a 10-day trip to India, courtesy of Intrepid Travel. So grab your camera, phone, or webcam and hit the road!


Head on over to the Nomading Film Festival homepage for more information.