For you food wonks, here’s a video of banh cuon. After all the interest in the rice paper video, I thought it’d be fun to show a totally different set-up. Here, two guys are working together in a very closely synchronized switch-off. Watch how they pass off the bamboo stick!
Banh cuon is a popular dish for breakfast in Vietnam, and all the best places will sell out by 8:00 am. The dish is related to banh trang, or rice paper, but it’s spread a little thicker and served as a fresh noodle. Some restaurants will grind glutinous rice in with their batter to add body and bite, or perhaps use tapioca or potato starch. Of course, the exact ratio will be a closely guarded secret.
Before machine-made banh trang (rice paper) became popular, my aunt, Di Yen, and cousin, Trinh, produced rice paper in Viet Nam by hand and sold it locally in their town just north of Saigon. On my last visit back, I asked them to show me how they used to make it. They prepared a special batch from stone-ground, whole-grain red rice. Rice bran, stored in that big metal drum, drops down to fuel an earthen stove. Gently steaming water rises through tightly stretched cloth and cooks the very thin, smooth rice batter in seconds. My cousin, who hasn’t done this for a year, still remembers the rhythmic choreography of stirring, ladling, spreading, rolling and unrolling. Of course, she makes it all look so easy!
Each mat, as it’s covered by still warm and wet banh trang, is arranged in the sun so that the rice paper can dry completely into the delicate, translucent rounds that we love so much. Look closely and you might notice that the roller is covered with the leg fabric from an old pair of jeans.
Just a mile from the skyscrapers of downtown Pasadena lies a tiny plot of land that has become the heart of an urban homesteading movement. The raised beds of the Dervaes family farm cover 1/10 of an acre. Imagine the area from a football field’s goal line to the very first 10-yard mark, or if you’re an average suburban homeowner, scan your backyard. Now, imagine harvesting 3 tons of organic food from this short span of soil every year.
Robert McFall’s documentary, Homegrown, is an intimate family portrait that reveals both the visionary inspiration and the resolute dedication required to grow one’s own food. For Jules and his adult children, Justin, Anais, and Jordanne, the Dervaes farm began as an experiment to see how much of their own food they could grow. A natural extension of the father’s experience during the back-to-the-land heyday of the 60s and 70s, their gardens soon led to living off-the-grid. They catch rainwater and recycle grey water, keep animals for manure and collect oil from nearby restaurants to produce their own biofuel. They order hand-cranked appliances from Amish catalogs. They put up their own green beans and illuminate their home with a self-reliant mix of olive oil lamps, biodiesel lamps, homemade candles, daylighting and the occasional fluorescent bulb.
Last month, Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, an outspoken leader on food safety and animal rights, hosted a special screening of the documentary, FOOD, INC. for a roomful of legislators in Sacramento. Thanks to a friend who works at the capitol, I was able to sneak in. It’d been a very long time since I’ve been surrounded by that many people wearing suits, and discussing public policy is not one of my favorite ways to make small talk (SBX2 3 or SB 135, anyone?). But seeing this important film with a roomful of legislators who were excited about sustainable food and who could actually institute change was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in a movie theatre.
You will soon be hearing a lot about FOOD, INC., a documentary directed by Robert Kenner, winner of both a Peabody and an Emmy for his previous film, Two Days in October. Opening in San Francisco on June 12, this latest release by Magnolia Pictures tackles the unenviable job of educating consumers about the agricultural industry. It’s being called the Inconvenient Truth of the food world, and the quality of its production certainly compares well. Super-saturated colors, animation, engaging graphics, a sprinkling of humor to lighten its distillation of immense amounts of information, and a line-up of articulate, passionate speakers all meld into a highly viewable documentary.
With spring just a few weeks away, it’s a busy day at the Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies. In between ringing up jars of local honey, three generations of the Stewart family answer a stream of questions with both patience and passion. If you’re curious about how bees make honey, which size wick to use in your candle-making, the science of animal communications or the health benefits of bee pollen, there’s no better place to spend an afternoon. If you’re already a dedicated beekeeper, well, then, you’ve probably already met Nancy and Fred, the proprietor and the talker, respectively, who run this gem of a shop.