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March 25th, 2011

Magic Mushrooms

Just a few days ago I returned from the annual Organic Gardening visit to The Natural Products Expo, aka Expo West. It’s just HUGE! There really is no shortage of organic goods to market, and far from being on the granola grind, these products are mainstreamable, if they aren’t already widely available.

At Expo, the most fertile hunting ground is in the New Products area in the basement. Here’s where you find the innovators. And we found two young men, Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora, who having obtained MBA’s and other worthy degrees, decided, phooey. Let’s do something fun. So they concocted Grow Your Own Mushroom Garden as the first product line from their seedling company, BTTR Ventures, (as in Back To The Roots.)

The old saying, “There’s money in muck” may be familiar to these guys, but the cardboard box “garden” uses spent coffee grounds as the growing medium, which is not manure, and when one side of the box finishes cropping, turn it over and the other side begins. When all is done and the mushrooms have been eaten, add the whole thing to the compost heap. Perfect closure of the proverbial circle.

Ten years ago they might have started a .com. Yet that is what is so thrilling about the basement at Expo West. Discovering the  investment and invention in organics and in championing regenerative practices and lifestyles being made by … I’ll call them Gen O (as in organic), that gives hope for a healthier future. Something we sorely need to hold onto as events unfold in Japan, the Middle East, and just about anywhere on the map you care to push a pin. I wonder what they’ll come up with next.

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March 3rd, 2011

I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts!

So goes the lyric of a lively old Cockney tune, but that’s not what I came here to say…or sing.

Add another scientific about face to the list: Coconut oil is on the good-to-go list! Which I find personally exciting since I’ve been trying to make decent pastry all my life and had heard that this supposed artery-blocker was pretty darn good as a pastry fat, but was afraid to try it in case I liked it, but my cholestrol level didn’t.

Which brings me to Des Moines. When I first landed there from Planet Austin, I attended a small gathering of foodies at the now defunct Art House on Ingersoll Avenue. The place was an art gallery, cum jewelry gallery, cum watering hole for the city’s lively art scene. At the gallery’s openings most of the folks in attendance were also members of the local Slowfood convivium.

On this particular evening the buzz was about the upcoming Slowfood picnic and pie bake-off to be held at Sunstead Farm, home to Neil and Khanh Hamilton. Neil’s a force of good in agricultural law with a focus on small farms and their plight. Khanh is simply a force of good nature in a quiet, pragmatic way.

They take their pie-baking pretty seriously in Des Moines (the ’s’ is silent for those who wonder). And the talk was all about rendering lard and where to obtain the holy grail of pastry chefs: leaf lard. Some were rather close about their source, like not telling where to find the best wild mushroom lode…

Remember, I was a newbie to this scene, and all I could think was “Good Grief”, this is what they do for fun here? Render lard! And I thought Austin was weird?”

Well, I never did make a pie crust with lard, hand-rendered or pre-packed from TajMahDahl’s. Which is just as well because my arteries would definitely not have benefited. But now I intend, at my earliest opportunity (after the Philadelphia Flower Show this weekend) to make an apple pie with a coconut oil crust. My son will be home for a few hours on leave. He can be the judge of whether the oil can render Mom’s pie flakey enough to eat or not. Or just plain flakey. It’s the Des Moines effect.

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