Food. Do you know where it comes from? Do you care as long as it tastes good?
If you’ve gone along blithely eating what’s put in front of you it’s time you pushed yourself away from the table and took stock. Not that you’re destined to bite into Ecoli, but you never know.
Last year it was spinach, and lettuce, and recently we had another hamburger recall. Then, of course, we can’t forget the pet food from China that poisoned thousands of dogs and cats earlier this year.
Enter Slow Food.
Slow Food is a movement that embraces locally grown and raised organic products. This applies to raising poultry, cattle, lamb, goats, ostrich – fish, animals, bees – creatures large and small are treated to humane living conditions. The food tastes better, it contains more nutrients, and in the long run, eating becomes more enjoyable.
It makes sense to slow down – smell the coffee, read the packaging, and support your local growers.
I flew into Phoenix for the Place Based Foods: Northern Arizona’s Agricultural Variety trip. Sponsored by the city of Flagstaff, my fellow journalists and I spent four days exploring the region’s natural food and medicinal resources, climbing mountains, speaking with Native Americans – Hopi and Navajo – and dining at restaurants that pride themselves on using ingredients that are grown or raised under specific conditions.
At Brix, for example we are told that the fish is line caught, and the Desert Sweet Shrimp is farmed in Arizona. The Big Red wine is from a vineyard in Colorado - local vendors supplying local restaurants.
Brix Restaurant and Wine Bar was recently named one of the top 95 new restaurants in the World by Conde Nast Traveler magazine. The charming 100-year-old red brick carriage house, located in the heart of Flagstaff, has been transformed into an intimate casual fine dining establishment.
Chef/proprietor Laura Chamberlin and her husband, Paul Moore have raised the culinary bar, and their success is evident. As we sopped up virgin olive oil with fresh baked bread, still warm from the oven, a crowd of nattily dressed professorial types began drinking two deep at the bar.
Outside on the patio heat lamps warmed couples enjoying arugula salad and Seared Corriander and Chili Crusted Ahi Tuna. Wine flowed as twinkling white lights created an intimate, romantic ambiance.
Slow Food in Flagstaff.
Our group, hosted by Heather Ainaldi began with the Artisanal Cheese Plate. The Black Mesa Ranch tangy fresh Chevre was extraordinarily delicious on a piece of house-made lavosh. Flavorful Manchego from Spain, and Morbier and Brillat Savarin from France were enhanced by poached apricots and figs. The fried green tomatoes with a thin, crunchy cornmeal crust were amazing! They were served with heirloom cherry tomato and basil relish with a dollop of herbed buttermilk crème fraiche.
We were joined by Brett Ramey from the Native Movement, a grassroots effort that is teaching young people, many of whom fall into the at risk category, about food production techniques and a zero-waste lifestyle. “Compartmentalization in education,” Brett explained, “has disconnected us from the food system.”
He was speaking from firsthand experience. For six generations his family had worked the land in Kansas. He was the first generation to grow up in an urban setting in Missouri. After college he began learning about plants for medicine and about growing cycles. Discovering his own connection with his Navajo heritage made him realize how important it is to help other young people find their connection.
Anne Minard, the editor for NAU’s Center for Sustainable Environments, and a contributing writer for National Geographic, explained the ways in which the slow food movement is helping communities adapt to more organic, sustainable methods of raising food for themselves as well as for profit.
For my main course I ordered the Fox Fire Farm rack of lamb which was served with Panzanella Salad: ciabatta, garlic, shallots, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, basil, toasted almonds, shaved Parmigiana-Reggiano, sherry vinaigrette, and balsamic reduction.
Fox Fire Farm rack of lamb.
Flourless Chocolate Cake with
Whie Chocolate Ganache.
Several people ordered the Australian Baramundi, a delicious line caught fish. The Steak Frites from Cedar River Farms with house cut frites, roasted shallot butter, truffled aioli, and Port wine gastrique got accolades. Stuffed as we were we still couldn’t resist the flourless chocolate cake with white chocolate ganache.
The restaurant is charming and sophisticated with great warmth. The food and service were exceptional. www.brixflagstaff.com
Arizona High Spirits Distillery/Mogollon Brewery
Arizona High Spirits looks like many vintage Route 66 bars until you see past the pool table to the magnificent German copper distillery. Dave Williamson, president of Arizona High Spirits greets us with irresistible microbrew selections. This is the highest altitude distillery in North America at 7000’. The stout is full-bodied and smooth.
Williamson motions for us to follow him into the distillery. He tells us that the still was handcrafted in Germany and shipped to Flagstaff. Working on the sustainable principle our host tells us that they start with 1200 lbs. of grain and mix it with about 600 gallons of water at 154 degrees for 90 minutes.
“What happens,” Williamson explains, “is the starches in the grain are converted to fermented sugars through the mashing process. So, after ninety minutes they’ve been converted and we spurge it – give it a shower with hot water and we extract those fermentable sugars from the grain.
Brewmaster Dave Williamson.
“What’s left in here,” he says pointing at a shiny steel piece of equipment, “is three thousands pounds of wheat, rye and barley that still has all the fiber and the proteins – basically what we have is a recipe for low carb bread. I’ve been talking to NAU (Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff) about developing a business to make low carb pizza.”
Obviously passionate about his work, Williamson tells us about his interest in co-locating next to acres of greenhouse so that he could provide them with the CO2 that is an unused bi-product of distilling. The following night he’s going to be teaching a class at NEU on sustainable business. Aside from brewing beer the distillery is making smooth American Vodka and Prickly Pear Vodka. We are told that there are 140 types of prickly pears, and the ones that go into his brew are all handpicked. I can imagine the Prickly Pear Martini becoming a very popular drink. I highly recommend a trip to the distillery. Dave Williamson is on the cutting edge of many innovative business opportunities. firstname.lastname@example.org
Flagstaff Farmers Market
Home-grown Pot Pellied Pigs.
Sunday morning we are off to the Flagstaff Farmers Market. Being October and the end of the season there aren’t as many local growers selling their produce. I did however become aware of CSA – Community Supported Agriculture. The brochure states: CSA connects you to your food, the land, and your local farmer.
Each member commits to support Crooked Sky Farms for a season by purchasing a share in advance. In return, members receive a weekly variety of fresh produce.The extras include shares of local grass-fed beef and lamb and direct trade coffee. Prices for the fall season – October 11th through January 10th – twelve weeks for $216. A three season share is $588. That seems like a reasonable, super healthy deal. www.flagstaffmarket.com
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Walnut Canyon will take your breath away – both from awe, and quite literally, unless you respect the fact that you are at 6000’ above sea level. The air is thin and crisp and the magnificent stream-cut gorge where ancient Sinagua families dwelled more than 1400 years ago is being preserved.
Sinagua Cliff Dwellings. within
Walnut Canyon National Monument.
Dotting the mountainous terrain one spots cliff dwellings throughout the canyon. Hiking along the path, visitors are invited to step inside several ancient cliff-side dwellings. The word Sin-agua translates to without water. Archeologists know that there were people living in Walnut Canyon thousands of years prior to the Sinagua. Eight hundred years ago there was a terrible drought and many authorities believe the Sinagua were assimiliated into the Hopi tribe.
Our wonderful driver and guide, Billy Och pointed out prickly pear and yucca which was used for food, soap, fiber, and construction material. The pinon pines provided firewood, dye, and adhesives, and of course, those delicious nuts.
“They used to watch animals,” he said pointing at the rim top croplands where wild plants were cultivated along with planted crops. “If an animal ate something they knew it was okay.”
The Indians were connected – connected to the seasons, to the earth, to their ancestors, to their families, and to their surroundings and all that encompassed. When the drought made it impossible to raise food the Sinagua disappeared. To this day, no one knows exactly what became of them.
Looking out at the steep canyon walls one can imagine the intelligence and ingenuity it took to successfully grow crops, and to protect oneself from the elements – which included wild animals. If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon or Lake Powell, or a day trip from Flagstaff, Phoeni, or Sedona, Walnut Canyon National Monument is well worth the time and effort. Hiring Detours will also make the experience more interesting. www.nps.gov/waca
La Posada Turquoise Room
”Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona . . .” The Eagles song makes Winslow, Arizona sound romantic. Not! In reality, the only oasis in this once thriving railroad stop is La Posada, the beautifully restored former Harvey House hotel and restaurant.
The Turquoise Room at La Posada.
Click photo for a historic stay.
Ravenous after our Walnut Canyon hike we welcomed chef John Sharpe who sent out piki bread with his version of Bad – dap – suki, a delicious hummus made with reservation grown tepary beans, pit roasted corn, olive oil, and pumpkin seeds. Hopi women are taught from generation to generation how to make this thin, blue rolled bread. To prove their worth as a bride they are tested on their piki bread baking ability. The results are an air thin, tasty rolled blue wafer that breaks off and melts in your mouth.
I sampled a Prickly Pear Margarita, which, if memory serves me is made with 1880 Reposada Tequila, fresh lime juice, crème de cassis, and a prickly pear liquor.
The signature soup not only looks like a work of art with alternating black bean and cream of corn with a chili cream initial, the combination of flavors are wonderful individually or together.
Black Bean and Corn Signature Soup.
The Turquoise Room is considered by many to be the finest restaurant in the Four Corners area. The hotel itself has become a romantic destination for couples, and a lucky find for travelers who appreciate delicious, southwest cuisine. Chef John Sharpe explains, “Everything is baked and cooked from scratch, using only the finest and fresh ingredients. During the summer we use fresh herbs and vegetables from growers in Verde Valley, Chino Valley, and right here in Winslow. In winter, much of our produce comes from Crooked Sky Farms of Glendale, Arizona. We also use local honey, goat cheese, beans, and roasted corn grown on the reservations, as well as the famous piki bread made by some wonderful Hopi women.”
Our group enjoyed the Fred Harvey Beef Brisket Plate – tasty and easy on the teeth. I had the Lamb Posole in the Guadalajara Style. The tender pieces of lamb were free-range raised in Utah. I’m not certain where the pig trotters simmered in red chili broth with hominy corn, spices, onions, garlic, and chilies came from.
The dinner menu offered such unusual entrees as: Colorado Elk Medallions with Blackcurrent Sauce, Wild – Wild – Wild Buffalo and Elk Sampler Platter, and Fresh Wild Sockeye Salmon with Pomegranate and Asian pear Salsa. Recommended wine pairings include: Sierra Club, Atira Vineyards, Merlot 2003 ($8 glass), Snoqualmie Naked Riesling – organic Washington ($7 glass), and Ray’s Station Merlot, Sonoma 2002 ($8 glass). www.theturquoiseroom.net
North Leupp Family Farm
Full and quite happy we climbed inside our Detours van and headed to the North Leupp Family Farm, a Dine (Navajo) community owned and operated farm located near the Little Colorado River in the southwestern portion of the Navajo Nation.We met with Hank, an older gentleman who, along with the families that are growing produce in designated plots, is trying to teach younger generations to connect with the land and their heritage. In an attempt to create food-secure communities and to develop sustainable agriculture it is clear that grants and outside financial assistance would expedite progress.
Slow foods from small farms.
In the last few years America has been submerged in the casino-rich Native American stereotype. The reality lies somewhere in between. Yes, there are many tribes throughout the country that have financially benefited from gaming, but there are others that are making do with what they have. It would be nice to see what an infusion of capital would do for the Leupp Family Farm. With better equipment they would be able to raise larger crops, generate more cash flow, and inspire more young people to make farming their occupation. www.leuppfarm.googlepages.com/home
New Jersey Pizza Company
Once again we found ourselves seated at a long table anticipating another delicious dinner. This time it was Flagstaff’s New Jersey Pizza Company, a casual restaurant well known for serving food made with locally purchased, organic ingredients.
I started with the cucumber juice. You wouldn’t think cold cucumber juice would send your taste buds into orbit, but add a little lemon juice with a dollop of honey and wow! I’m going to attempt to recreate it at home.
Chef’s Marko Agustini and Seth Sharkey own the NJPC. Proponents of the Slow Food movement, they buy much of their produce at the local Flagstaff Farmer’s Market; the free range chicken wings are delivered fresh from Young’s Farm in Dewey, Arizona; the farm fresh eggs are driven in from Doney Park, Arizona.
The Italian gelato is made on the premises and is comparable to gelato I’ve enjoyed in Italy. While we were sampling half a dozen types of delicious crunchy crusted pizza we visited with Derrick Widmark of the Diablo Trust. According to Heather Ainardi’s notes: the Diablo Trust is made up of ranchers, environmentalists, federal and state land managers, scientists, recreationists, and other volunteers who are working together to sustain open space, live in balance with biodiversity, produce high quality food, restore watersheds, create stable, living soils and to achieve a sense of community.
Our first night of the tour we stayed at the Ramada West – Flagstaff. It was perfectly pleasant with free HBO and a high-speed Internet connection. The following two nights we stayed at the Radisson Woodlands Hotel. Newer, and more on the order of a boutique hotel, the Radisson was more luxurious, with a full restaurant. Ph: 928-774-5000
Navajo Interactive Museum – Tuba City - Navajo Nation Hospitality Enterprise
The Navajo Interactive Museum is a day trip from Flagstaff. Bordering on the Grand Canyon the sights are spectacular. Detours has a permit to drive on special parts of the reservation where we were treated to spectacular views and pieces of history. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon a number of times, but I never enjoyed it or understood what I was looking at until this trip.
Billy, our guide handed us each a 275 million year old rock. Think of it – 275,000,000 years old. It puts things into perspective. We were reminded of the severe southwest drought of 800 years ago. This whole part of the world had been under water at one time. And yet again, the Native Americans were living modestly, growing produce, raising animals, living, in many cases, the way they have lived for generations.
We were also told that the Hopi and Navajo were at odds over many things.
The Hopi believe they came from the earth and rose up which is why they live on elevated mesas. For them climbing down from their mesa is considered a step backwards. The Navajo don’t share that background which is the reason they have had differences over land.
At lunch we met Donovan Hanley, the Director of Sales for Navajo Nation Hospitality. We enjoyed a simple, delicious native lamb stew with ingredients grown and raised on the reservation. This was accompanied by a traditional blue mush. It was a hearty, tender, flavorful meal. After lunch we visited the Navajo Interactive Museum where we learned about the four directional symbols that divide the museum into quadrants.
Donovan engaged the museum director in a conversation that gave us insight into Navajo culture. When Native Americans meet they state the tribes or clans their parents are from. They establish a family connections whether they are blood related or not. Again, this goes back to connectivity - to the earth, to the family, to the cycles of life. All of these things are evidenced in Navajo blankets, pottery and jewelry.
One of the most telling stories was when Donovan told us about his mother’s jewelry box. As a child he would touch a piece of jewelry and she would tell him where it came from and who made it. Every piece was meaningful. www.explorenavajo.com
The Code Talker Museum
The Museum commemorates the Native American Marines who transmitted sensitive, tactical messages during WWII using their complex, unwritten language. Without Navajo codes, we might not have won the war. The Code Talkers efforts were not publically recognized until 1992 at the Pentagon. Today only a few of the WWII Marines are alive, but the museum on the Navajo reservation will serve as a fascinating tribute and legacy.
Mountain Meadow Farm
On our last day we visited Chuck McDougal’s answer to sustainable living - three and one half acres of produce, a greenhouse with solar panels, chickens, turkeys, and bees - it showed all of us that it is possible, even profitable to make this kind of a lifestyle choice.
Javelina Leap Vineyard and Winery Oak Creek is a beautiful, scenic drive from Flagstaff. With a brief stop in Sedona to experience the place where the vortexes converge we continue along forested winding roads to the Javelina Leap Vineyard and Winery.
Rod Snapp greets us with the enthusiasm of a proud parent. This is his vineyard and he and his family have turned it into a showplace. Producing 1200 to 1600 cases of wine annually, Javelina Leap is winning awards. Built on the slopes of a volcanic mountain overlooking the Oak Creek greenbelt and Audubon Bird Sanctuary it feels more like you’re in Napa than the high desert.
After tasting the award winning Zinfandel, Zinfandel Reserve, strong Smoking Gun Zinfandel Port, Merlot, and Syrah, it was time to visit one more vineyard. Down the street Page Springs Cellars grows grapes, makes wine, and has a nice indoor/outdoor tasting area. Ideally, one should take the time to enjoy both vineyards. www.javelinaleapwinery.com and www.pagespringscellars.com
Feature and photos by Linda Lane, Jetsetters Magazine Editor.