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Save the world – eat

Cassie Pence
Cassie Pence/Vail DailyAll guests received freshly potted aloe plants as souvenirs of the Earth Dinner, which also featured locally made cheeses and bread.
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EAGLE-VAIL – As a bratty pre-teen, I remember some of the only civil moments shared with my older sister were while watching cheesy romantic comedies. Glued to the TV, we’d pop pimento-stuffed green olives into our mouths one by one until the entire jar was gone. Then we’d move on to raspberry sorbet.My fiance Tim Szurgot said his favorite movie-time snack is a bowl full of popcorn seasoned with parmesan cheese and served alongside iced orange juice. His dad, Victor, introduced him to the unusual, but tasty combination of flavors.Our friend Leah Winski recalled how she hated mushrooms up until about five years ago. Fungi was one of her first acquired tastes as a full-grown adult.These are just some of the food-central stories and memories that arose during my first Earth Dinner last weekend, hosted in honor of Earth Day on Saturday. The whole idea behind throwing an Earth Dinner is to spark dialogue about people’s connection with food and the Earth, to identify everything you’re eating and to create a meal using as many local and organic ingredients as possible.Theresa Marquez is the catalyst behind the Earth Dinner. She’s the chief marketing executive for Organic Valley – an organic cooperative that represents 750 organic farmers in 22 states – and she’s also an environmental activist, sitting on numerous boards promoting sustainable agriculture. “Myself and some colleagues were lamenting about how everyone plants trees on Earth Day, when 70 percent of the world’s resources are used to grow food,” said Marquez, whom Rush Limbaugh called an “environmental whacko” when she introduced the Earth Dinner idea on his show. “Why isn’t Earth Day a national holiday? Well, there’s no dinner. If you have a fun dinner that went along with Earth Day, everyone would start celebrating it.”The Earth Dinner is just one part of Organic Valley’s five-year campaign to broaden the appeal of Earth Day, in hopes it becomes a real national holiday. The dinner is catching on. According to Marquez, 16,000 sets of the Earth Dinner Creativity Cards have been downloaded from http://www.earthdinner.org during the five years the idea has been circulating the Web. The cards, written by Douglas Love, were created as a tool to inspire new thinking about the foods we eat every day.

Soliciting expert opinionsWhen planning my Earth Dinner, I went to Chef Rick Kangas for advice on creating the menu. Kangas and Stefan Poulin own Chef’s Corner in Cordillera – a creamery, bakery, butchery and eatery that focuses on using natural, organic and local ingredients. Kangas said he’ll soon start planting in the restaurant’s garden, which, come summer, will yield herbs and vegetables for fresh cut-to-order salads and other specialties on the menu.I wanted to stick to seasonal, local ingredients, which can be tough in April in the High Country. For produce, Kangas suggested using dandelion greens, asparagus or peas and strawberries.”The dandelion greens are young and tender, less bitter, right now,” Kangas said. “You could braise them as a side dish or blend them with herbs and seasoning to make a pesto.”When picking dandelion greens, Kangas said to stay away from any creeks or drainages from farms because of animal waste and pesticides. He suggested calling the city to ask where they don’t spray.Kangas also introduced me to rye berries, an often-overlooked grain and guaranteed conversation starter. Kangas gave me a recipe for creamy rye berry risotto, featuring dried forest mushrooms, which he packages and sells in-house. “Another thing you should think about on Earth Day is the packaging, over packaging, printing and inks used in food distribution,” Kangas said. “My labels are printed using a thermal printer. There is no ink involved; it burns it onto the paper.”

As far as the main course, Kangas suggested fresh-caught trout.”I hear the fly-fishing is really good right now,” he said.He also suggested Colorado lamb or duck.Using local resourcesFor appetizers, I headed to eat! drink! in Edwards to pick up olives – a personal comfort food – and artisan cheeses. With the help of one of eat!’s cheesemongers, I chose MouCo ColoRouge of Fort Collins and two California cheeses – Humboldt Fog Chevre and Cypress Midnight Moon.Avon Bakery and Deli, using 100 percent organic flour, supplied me with a crusty, seeded baguette for the cheeses, and my guests brought over two Colorado wines from Beaver Liquors – a chardonnay from Grande River Vineyards and a red from Jack Rabbit Hill in Hotchkiss.



Adding personal touchesA sweet-a-holic, I had dessert – organic strawberry short-cake – picked out long before any of the other courses. But this time, I scrapped my mother’s recipe, yanked from the back of the Bisquick box, and baked it from scratch using a recipe from Kangas. Everyone loved the sugary berries spooned over warm biscuits, but the hit of the party were six tiny freshly potted aloe plants serving as the table’s centerpiece. I have a thriving 9-year-old aloe and created living souvenirs for each of my guests who attended the Earth Dinner – a celebration that promises to be a new annual tradition in my household.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14640, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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