Today is the Autumnal Equinox so I guess we're all officially packing up summer and readying for the cooler months. Soon, it'll be harvest time all over the globe. Here in Northern California, we have harvest festivals going on all over the place.
For Vietnamese people, we celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, a holiday that's akin to American Thanksgiving. Like Lunar New Year, there's a brief pause for food, fun, and family. Moon cakes figure in this holiday -- which lands on September 25 so mark your calendar. Tet Trung Thu, as Tuesday's holiday is called in Vietnamese, is second to Tet. At the minimum, take a gander at the moon, share some love, and count your blessings.
Big Ag in Salinas, CA
I sure did recently when I took an agricultural tour of the Salinas Valley, which is nicknamed "America's Salad Bowl" because that's where most of the lettuce is grown for the entire United States. The temperate climate (cool mornings and evenings) keeps the leafy greens happy.
For the tour, I boarded a bus along with two dozen other people and we spent the day visiting farms and wineries. A highpoint was going out into the iceberg lettuce fields to get an up-close look at how it's harvested.
This is backbreaking labor. The workers, mostly from Mexico, do the harvesting and packing all day long so that people across the nation can get their fill of produce. The repetitive motion of cutting, trimming and packing the lettuce is no walk in the park. The women covered their faces and bodies well to prevent getting too tanned. I imagine the covering helps prevent exposure to other things too. I've always had much respect for these people as I drove by them at 75 mph on the highway but now, I'm even more in awe.
Where I live, we get most of our produce from local farmers and are blessed by their bounty. Many other people receive their lettuce, broccoli, and the likes from places very far away because they don't live close enough to super fresh food. I'm a champion of locally-grown produce but learning about the work and technology that goes into provide fresh, safe food was an eye opener. The Salinas Valley was hit with the E. coli spinach recount a year ago, so everyone we spoke to had bent over backwards to ensure consumers that what they grow is safely processed.
I still think that you're best off eating food that's traveled the least number of miles to your door. But if that's not possible, or if you really do need those strawberries in January(!), then know that there are people who are doing their darndest to safeguard the food supply.
Homemade Chili Sauces
As we transition into fall, the fresh chile supply will soon be gone. If you have a big harvest from your garden or can reap the benefits of someone else's harvest at a farmer's market or grocery store, then consider making your own chili sauce.
Josh Levine started a conversation when he asked me about preservatives in the Rooster brand chili sauces. What resulted from that posting was quite enlightening, including a couple of Viet-Americans -- Lili and Chuck -- who sent in their families' recipes for chili sauce. Check out the posting and comment thread and give it a whirl.
Pho in Lexicon
Yep, it was made official last week. Pho entered the dictionary. Say it loud and proud. It's hard to misspell too!
I'll be finishing the year with a few cooking classes and events next month. At the beginning and end of October are:
Sunday, October 7: Slow Food Aquaterra Convivium
Join me to geek out on how rice is used in the Vietnamese kitchen at the "Transformations of Rice" Slow Food event in Emeryville, CA. Guests will be eating, cooking, drinking and lots of conviviality.
Monday, October 29: Asia Society and Museum
Looks like we've made it! The Asia Society in New York City will be hosting a fabulous panel, discussion and tasting called "From Saigon to Soho: The Rise of Vietnamese Cuisine."
Beyond October, I'll just be in my hut, researching and writing. I'll keep and so should you!