By day 7 of our cross-country journey, Alex and I were ready to be home. But we still had more than 1,000 miles to go. So, after we left Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on Tuesday morning, we vowed to drive as far as we could in one day. As I looked on the map, St. George, Utah, looked like a good spot to spend the night. We really had no idea what to expect.
So, while Alex was driving, I got out my iPad (which I might add is a fantastic product) and started looking for hotels. For some reason, I decided to click on the link to “Bed and Breakfast” spots. One of the choices that came up was the Green Gate Village Historic Inn. After looking at photos of the location, I called and spoke to the owner, Ed, who told me that they had a room available.
Since we would not be arriving in St. George until after 9 p.m., I called Ed back and asked him for a recommendation for a place to eat. Although it sounded a bit funky, we took his recommendation and made reservations at the Painted Pony restaurant.
Let me start by saying that after reading the awards, articles and prestigious recognition hanging on the wall, I was a bit surprised to find out it is considered one of the top 10 restaurants in the country!
Here we were, two foodies, worn out by 7 long days of driving, and we were going to experience one of the best meals of our life!
The carrot and jalapeno Soup was our first course. I would never have thought to pair these two ingredients together. It was sweet and not too spicy.
Next, I had the beet salad which was stupendous and a work of art! Alex’s spinach salad with green beans and deviled eggs was gentle and tasty. Our main courses were the rib eye steak with Stilton cheese fritters (yum!) and a bone-in pork chop with a sweet onion bread pudding (worth every calorie).
We were satiated, but our waiter Eric told us that we really needed to try their cheesecake, because it was unlike any other cheesecake we had ever tasted. (I was thinking that was hard to believe.)
Well, here’s a photo. They actually bake the cheesecake filling, cool it, and then pipe it in between thin cookies and top it with a drizzle of fruit sauce. It was truly unbelievable!
Obviously, the dinner did not disappoint us. But when we drove down the street and arrived at the Green Gate Village – our breath was taken away. This cluster of 14 buildings, including 9 restored historic homes, was absolutely charming.
The next morning, we were able to truly enjoy the charm and majesty of this venue. We met the owners, Ed and Lindy, who made us breakfast and spent some time telling us about how they came to the Green Gate Village. Ed retired from United Airlines and informed Lindy one day that he was buying a B & B and they were moving to St. George! They are obviously passionate about being wonderful and caring hosts and took great pride in touring us through the complex.
|Ed and Lindy, of Green Gate Village Inn|
Our final stop was the vintage candy store on site, so we could stock up with Abba Zabbas and other favorites for our final day on the road.
Believe it or not, St. George is only about 90 minutes Northeast of Las Vegas. That’s it! So, next time you are in Vegas, I recommend that you drive to St. George for the evening and visit this Southwestern town and have one of the most fantastic culinary experiences of your life! Better yet, call Ed and Lindy and stay at the Green Gate Village Historic Inn.
I’m sure you have heard about the new dietary guidelines issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They are calling it the MyPlate communications initiative and it was officially announced on June 2, 2011.
For those of us who are not teenagers, we probably remember the basic four food group guidelines (first announced in 1956), which gave us recommendations on our consumption of meats, dairy, grains and fruits and vegetables.
In 1992, the basic four guidelines were replaced by the Food Pyramid, which was later updated to MyPyramid in 2005. I recall when it was first announced because many people found it unclear and confusing. And there was a lot of debate within the fresh produce industry, because anecdotally, we all knew that a diet rich in a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, combined with a moderate amount of exercise and good common sense would yield healthier people. And we didn’t think the Food Pyramid was clear or focused enough on that. Some people in our industry felt that the Food Pyramid was too influenced by various food lobbyists who wanted to be sure their foods were included.
Behind the scenes, changes have been brewing, thanks in part to a very strong initiative headed by First Lady Michelle Obama. Decision makers wanted the new food guidelines to:
• Be easier for consumers to understand
• Influence the younger generation to eat fresh
• Provide more healthy choices in all the obvious places (like at school)
So, it was very exciting for me to hear on the radio (when I was driving cross-country) that the USDA changed the guidelines to be both more user friendly and focused on fruits and vegetables.
You may be wondering why this is such a big deal. After all, these are only “guidelines.” In reality, the USDA guidelines very much influence government spending and policy. These guidelines will make a difference in what is served for school breakfast, school lunch and school snacking programs. We’ve already seen changes in the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) feeding program, so there are now more fresh produce items included. (I wrote about it here.)
Just last week, I was attending a local high school graduation and one of the student speakers commented that one of the biggest changes they experienced was when the sugar-filled sodas were removed from the school vending machines! (Believe it or not, that is part of the movement affected by USDA policy.)
If you want more information about how you can easily make half your plate fruits and vegetables, check out this fantastic website (funded by fresh produce industry members and companies):
During my recent drive across the country, I noticed how much better I felt when I was snacking on fresh fruits and vegetables, versus crackers, pretzels or meat. I challenge YOU to notice how you feel when you make healthier food choices. Really, it does make a difference.
Make half your plate fruits and veggies!
After my cross-country trip, you cannot imagine how many emails (over 1,000) and magazines and other reading materials had accumulated for my review. It was a bit daunting, but I have a pretty good system for dealing with emails. (Read my previous post on email.)
This morning I chose to start on my stack of reading. Even though reading industry periodicals is literally on the bottom of my to-do list each day, I felt it was time to catch up.
One of the periodicals that I find most fascinating is California Farmer, which I previously wrote about here. Len Richardson, the editor and frequent writer is deeply embedded in our industry and provides a broad perspective on our future challenges.
The January 2011 issue featured a short article (“Top questions for Global Agriculture”) on the future of global agriculture. Len starts the article with this statement:
“Anticipating a world population of 9 billion people by 2050 (we are currently at 6.97 billion right now), global agriculture faces the daunting challenge of increasing food production by 70 to 100 percent in the next four decades, without significantly increasing prices. [Note: For a current world population count, go to www.worldometers.info/population to see just how fast we are growing.]
To better focus on the overwhelming task at hand, a team of 55 agricultural and food experts from the world’s major agricultural organizations, scientific societies and academic institutions recently identified the top 100 questions that must be answered to achieve such a dramatic increase in global food production.”
(The full list of 100 questions were published in November in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. Click here to download the full paper.)
How many of us think about what it will take to feed our families and the world when our kids are adults? We see the plentitude in our local supermarkets and farmers markets, we go to Costco or Wal-Mart and see pallets of food and we probably never give it a thought. So, it’s good to know that some of the greatest minds in the world are thinking about it.
I have a personal connection to the dialogue about the future of agriculture in California: A.G. Kawamura, immediate past Secretary of Agriculture under Governor Schwarzenegger, is a long-time personal friend and we are scheduled to have dinner together soon. A.G. is a farmer and he and his brother own Orange County Produce. He is a great thought leader and I look forward to sharing some of his insights with you in a future post.
|Jackie, A.G. Kawamura, Frieda and me at a produce industry convention|
Meanwhile, I hope you will consider doing something in your personal list of priorities, to support the future growth of agriculture in our world. Whether it is participating in a community garden, making a financial contribution to an agricultural organization or participating in Future Farmers of America in your community – just do something! (Our company supports EARTH University in Costa Rica, which teaches young people from our poorest nations how to develop enterprises to feed their own people.) Anything and everything you do will make a difference.
Changing the way America Eats Fruits and Vegetables.
|Alex and me at Mount Rushmore|
After we left Chicago, we drove north to Minneapolis, stopping in Wisconsin to get some cheese…and a speeding ticket. While we were there I visited my friend Kim, who I have known since 7th grade. It was great to catch up with her. Then we drove to Omaha, Nebraska, where we have family.
My cousins Pam and Mike were very excited that our next stop was Mount Rushmore. The locals fondly call it visiting “The Heads.” They encouraged us to drive west, across Nebraska, before heading north to Rapid City, South Dakota. Little did I know that Nebraska was so beautiful!
Cousin Mike told me that thousands of years ago, as the glaciers receded, they left hundreds of sand dunes across Nebraska, which frankly were magnificent to look at. I am so glad we followed their advice and took that route.
So, let me share with you what we learned about Mount Rushmore. First of all, if you have ever been to Disneyland or Disneyworld, you might wonder what Walt Disney’s inspiration was when he created Thunder Mountain, Frontierland and the surrounding areas in those parks. Well, I can tell you for sure, it was the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The Mount Rushmore Memorial was recently refurbished and has won many awards for its audio tour. Its sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, was friends with President Theodore Roosevelt, which is one of the reasons Roosevelt was included in Mount Rushmore, along with Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. The mountainside was blasted, drilled and fashioned into a memorial from 1927-1941. And now, more than 2 million people visit each year!
Before you get to Mount Rushmore, you must drive through the Black Hills. The trees and the flora and fauna are lush and well cared for. The sheer size and height of the forest surrounding the monument appear to dwarf “The Heads,” as you come around that final corner to enter the park. But, they are each 60 feet tall, at the top of a granite mountain that is at an elevation of over 5,700 feet!
We chose to follow the audio tour (which I highly recommend), because at each of the more than 20 stops on the tour you get to hear the history of the building of the monument, from several perspectives. (It is probably a good half-mile of hiking and climbing around the tourist grounds.) Many of the narrators on the audio tour are Native Americans who have varied opinions on how the Lakota people were treated when the land was used to erect this monument.
We were lucky that day to have spectacular weather — 85 degrees with not a cloud in the sky. As we walked through the Avenue of Flags (flags from all 50 states and 6 territories are displayed alphabetically) I was reminded of what a great country we live in. So many of us take our democracy and freedom of speech for granted.
Just 17 miles away, another monument is being erected: a monument to a great Indian chief, Crazy Horse. You can read all about Crazy Horse here. Alex and I stopped at Crazy Horse after we left Mount Rushmore and the sheer size left us almost speechless. I doubt that the blasting and carving will be completed in our lifetime.
But, certainly, our cross-country trek, including these two monuments, was well worth it. Now I can cross them off my bucket list!
After our evening in Cleveland, our next stop on our cross-country road trip was Chicago. When I think of Chicago, I think of amazing food choices. (A few years ago I was able to dine at Charlie Trotter’s and was greeted by Charlie himself.) So, when my friend Andy saw my Facebook post that we were stopping in Chicago, he asked if he could take us to dinner. Who could say no to dinner in Chicago?
Andy asked me to meet him at the hip, cool Japonais Restaurant. The only hint he gave me was that there were two chefs — one is Japanese and one is French – and they have combined their two cuisines and it has been amazingly successful.
Japonais is located in the former Montgomery Ward headquarters in downtown Chicago (Montgomery Ward used to be a big department store chain.). As in many large cities, the large, empty warehouses are being redeveloped into artists’ lofts, studio apartments, nightclubs and in this case, a two-story bar and restaurant.
When we arrived, Alex and I went downstairs to enjoy the view of the river and had a drink. I was happy to see that many of their drinks featured fresh produce! Alex had the Peach-Sake Sangria which featured fresh peach chunks. Andy had the Starfruit Martini featuring fresh slices of Starfruit as the garnish.
|Cheers, Chicago! (You can see I have my laptop – writing this post!)|
When it was time for dinner, I let Andy order for me. Sometimes it’s more fun to be surprised with the dinner choices. Other times, I ask the chef what is good that evening. I encourage you to try that sometime.
So, Andy asked our server to bring “The Rock.”
|Andy with “The Rock”|
|Cooking with “The Rock”|
You can see from the pictures that the “rock” is a small stone. This rock is heated to over 1,000 degrees (yes, one thousand degrees hot!) and arranged on a bed of salt, so the hot rock does not crack the plate. It is served with a plate of thinly sliced beef, which is marinated in some secret sauce.
To enjoy this unique dish, you take a piece of the meat with your chopsticks and place it on the hot rock to cook, turning it once. Since the meat is sliced so thinly and the rock is so hot, it takes less than 20 seconds to cook it on both sides!
What a great conversation piece — and it was delicious!
That evening, we spent the night with my good friends Gillian and Jack. They live right on Lake Michigan. So, when we awoke the next morning, Gillian took us out for a walk on the beach. This small beach is like an oasis, adjacent to the big city.
|Gillian and Alex|
Before we left the city, we had the good fortune to visit one of our company’s clients, Testa Produce. A family-owned business in its fourth generation (celebrating its 100th anniversary!), Testa’s owner, Peter Testa gave us a tour of their new facility that just opened six weeks earlier.
What’s so special about Testa Produce? Sustainability, competitive advantage, competing with HUGE companies and personal passion. That pretty much explains Peter Testa’s philosophy. It was time to relocate his 100-year old company. So, he decided to create a facility that would be unique, cutting edge and efficient, and in the process it gave himself and his company an unbelievable competitive advantage.
Testa Produce is one of the leading foodservice distributors in the Midwest and is based in Chicago, but services the surrounding states. You can read more about them here.
At the new facility, Peter included every possible sustainable and green-oriented initiative. He even installed the largest wind turbine in Chicago (he wrote the city code!), which saves the company $15,000 a month in energy costs. He told me he did it because he is completely passionate about being sustainable, and he knew he wanted to create a competitive advantage for himself which could NOT be duplicated by his competition.
|Huge wind turbine at Testa Produce|
|Me ant Peter Testa|
|Peter with my daughter Alex in front of a photo of his father and grandfather|
But, the one thing Peter said that made me love him: “Yeah, my 85-year-old dad still comes to work every day to check on me and see if I am doing everything correctly!”
Hey Peter, we have more in common than I thought.
On the road,
According to our cross-country “planned itinerary,” our first day’s drive from Dulles Airport in Washington D.C., to Cleveland should have taken about six hours (355 miles). However, since we are on vacation, we took our time and made a few side trips — mostly for “bio breaks” and to eat.
Most of our drive was through Pennsylvania’s beautiful countryside … but there was also a fair amount of road construction. (For some reason it seems as if everywhere we drive there is road construction and closures, which I assume is because of the fantastic weather conditions.) As we neared Pittsburgh, I realized how close Pittsburgh and Cleveland actually are. Geography really comes alive when you see it in person!
Our first night in Cleveland was spent visiting my cousin Debbie and her daughter Rachel. They took us to a Cuban restaurant for dinner. As we pulled up to the ETON Center, my daughter Alex warned me, “Remember Mom, we ARE in Cleveland.” That was code for “Don’t have really high expectations, as we are not in New York City or Los Angeles.”
Well, much to our surprise the Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar in Woodmere, Ohio, was fantastic and very authentic. Whether it was the ceviche dishes we enjoyed as appetizers (I had tuna and melon and Alex had shrimp with tomato and lime) or the stuffed poblano pepper I had as my main dish (Alex had a Brazilian stew with chorizo and hot peppers and onions), the food was authentic and flavorful. Cleveland was not a disappointment.
But, my favorite part of our evening was the conversation. My cousin Rachel is a corporate attorney and a mother of two adorable boys, and she somehow finds time to volunteer at her boys’ school. As with most mothers, she is passionate about her kids and what they eat. So I was thrilled when she told me about the snacking program that her PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) has organized.
Three times during the school year, the PTO hosts a “snack session” at this K-4 public school. They contact local grocery stores (like Giant Eagle markets, Heinens Markets and Costco) to get fresh seasonal produce donated.
The parents not only secure the produce, but they also create “fact sheets” (click here to see an example) about the fresh produce, so the students can take the information home to their parents, and hopefully this will encourage parents to purchase some of these fruits and veggies at their local stores.
Rachel explained to me that just this past week, the snack program sampled purple carrots and white asparagus! Wow – those are two pretty unusual vegetables! She said that it is fun to watch the kids during the sampling.
They are prepped into individual sampling cups and the kids are actually seated, by class, in the lunch room. Then the parents walk around the room, with samples on trays, and offer the kids a sample. She said that although there are always a few kids who do not want to try something new, most kids are delighted with the samples and as they take a bite, they share their enthusiasm (such as, “This is great, can I have more?”). It seems as if this excitement generates even more enthusiasm for this tasting experience.
I told Rachel about our own company, Frieda’s, experience sampling exotic produce in a school program in Florida (learn about the program here) and how there is a federal government funded snacking program in every state. We partnered with a produce wholesale company (B &; M Produce/The Produce Connection) and worked together to offer unusual items at least once a month during the school year.
We know that we can truly change the way America eats fruits and vegetables by starting with the youngest consumers. If we can get kids to try Lychee, Starfruit and baby Persian cucumbers, we hope they will be lifetime consumers.
Do you have snacking programs at your local schools? Do you want to start one? I hope you’ll share your comments and ideas in the comments form below.
From on the road,
P.S. It’s been a wonderful trip across America. More stories about our experience will follow in my next few posts.