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Eating at the Allbee's 

I had a rather unusual dinner on Monday. It wasn't unusual because of the food, which was fresh and completely local (save the holy trinity of olive oil, salt and pepper), because that's how I eat nearly every day.

It was unusual because of where I was and with whom I was eating -- in Montpelier at the Secretary of Agriculture's apartment, with the Secretary and his wife, a few reporters and a handful of ag. experts.

Secretary Allbee and his wife wore matching Cabot aprons as they whipped up an extensive spread, using a great deal of produce from their garden supplemented with items from Farmers' Market and tons of local cheese. The idea was to kick off national "Farmers' Market Week" with a menu featuring the bounty of Vermont.

It was all part of a challenge Allbee proposed: “I would like to challenge all Vermonters, as well as people across the country, to eat local for a meal, a day or even the full week during National Farmers Market Week. When you buy local you can reduce energy costs and get food items that are harvested at the peak of freshness for better taste and nutrition. Eating local gives you a chance to know the people who grow your food and how it is grown. It also keeps money in our local communities.”

I wanted to ask how our embattled compost facilities and Intervale farmers' hoop-houses fit into the puzzle, but given the venue, I wasn't sure that would be appropriate.

Here's the menu:

~ Herbed iced tea
~ Cherry tomatoes on skewers with Maplebrook mozzerella and basil
~ Homemade crackers (two kinds) and homemade wheat bread with Cabot sour cream dip, Vermont Butter & Cheese chevre, Taylor Farms gouda, Cabot cheddar and Bonnieview's rich, tangy Mossend Blue.
~ Zucchini pancakes with creamy dipping sauce
~ Cheese pie with local bacon
~ Ratatouille
~ Roasted potatoes and green beans
~ Salad with blueberries, tomatoes
~ Raspberry sorbet served with fresh berries and maple shortbread cookies

Quite the meal, huh? And everything was really well-prepared: the ratatouille was cooked just the right amount, leaving the vegetables intact but tender; the roasted beans had a hint of brown on them; the rich cheese pie was studded with pieces of (local) bacon; and the shortbread was sweet, but not too sweet.

Because there were so many guests, I didn't get to ask the Allbee's a lot of questions about their everyday food habits, so I don't know if this localvore meal differs much from their typical diet (and despite my curiosity, I didn't ask to go through their cupboards). When the fridge was opened and closed during the course of the evening, I did spy lots of local stuff therein: mustard, cheese, beer, etc. Plus a few cans of Coke.

So many state officials are talking up "eating local" these days that I'd love to know what all of them are really eating. Do you think Jim Douglas would let me check out his fridge?   

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Suzanne Podhaizer

Suzanne Podhaizer

Former contributor Suzanne Podhaizer is an award-winning food writer (and the first Seven Days food editor) as well as a chef, farmer, and food-systems consultant. She has given talks at the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture's "Poultry School" and its flagship "Young Farmers' Conference." She can slaughter a... more


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