Designing with Food and Plants

This past Tue I was fortunate enough to meet the force of nature that is Richard Moody, local go-to fashion maven and man about town. I provided a light repast for the monthly meet & greet of the Twin Cities’ chapter of Fashion Group Int’l, a design networking association. Richard serves on its board.

FGI event 4-16-13 at Phillips Garden.

Guests at FGI “Kick Off Your Heels and Come Into the Garden”  4-16-13. I’m way in the back, top left. Richard in green teeshirt is in front of me and Matt is next to him. Photo by Phillips Garden.

He brought the event to the gorgeous tropical-industrial office of Phillips Garden, winner of Minnesota Monthly magazine’s 2012 Best of the Twin Cities – Landscaping award, in the heart of Mpls’ Phillips neighborhood. [Full disclosure: I’ve been a close friend of Matt the general manager at Phillips for decades.]

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The brightly colored marinated salads, full of oranges, reds and greens, perfectly complemented Phillips’ incredible table display. Photo by Phillips Garden.

Guests enjoyed some lovely herb-infused wine (courtesy of Phillips) and the gluten-free whole-foods spread I brought:  Kalamata Olive Polenta Squares, Roast Sweet Potato & Black Bean Salad in Lime Cilantro Vinaigrette, SuperFood Slaw in Grapefruit Ginger Vinaigrette, roast almonds, gluten-free crackers and fresh organic Pink Lady apples and navel oranges. I chose not to serve sweets or cookies this time. Feel free to use this menu for your next party!

Until I figure out how to snatch pix from Instagram, for close-ups of dishes, see Richard’s http://instagram.com/p/YLyfS8wXNX/  and  http://instagram.com/p/YLs5Q7QXGZ/ .

Incredibly lush, and partially edible table display. See how many edibles you can spot.

Incredibly lush, and partially edible table display. See how many edibles you can spot. Photo by Phillips Garden.

Phillips Garden staff discussed their aesthetic, their design process, and how its business is based on listening carefully to its clients. They also talked about how to bring the garden inside your home with terrariums and using herbs & veggies decoratively indoors, as well as in outdoor landscaping.

In fact, Phillips Garden and I make a great team. We share an aesthetic of ‘clean’, high-contrast and sustainable creations. We’re not into masking with embellishment, which often devolves into kitsch. (Sugar, cheese, and creamy dressings & sauces can all mask flavors & textures).

Tracy presenting at Phillips Garden 4-16-13.

Tracy presenting at Phillips Garden 4-16-13.

When it was my turn to talk about One Dish at A Time, I related my mission to connect people to real food, my whole-foods & 5-senses aesthetic, and how I customize for clients with different needs. Since the theme was a look forward into summer, I recommended marinated salads as the perfect summer meal — fresh, locally available, inexpensive ingredients in endless combinations that are easy to make in bulk for the whole week. (Easy, that is, if you maintain a sharp knife. See below.)

Pretty in Pink: assembled salad of sliced cauliflower, cooked beets, kohlrabi that was marinated with beet, and albacore tuna, on romaine/spinach, with fresh mint vinaigrette. Any vinaigrette will do.

Pretty in Pink: assembled salad of raw cauliflower, sliced cooked beets, kohlrabi marinated with beets and albacore tuna, on bed of romaine & spinach, drizzled with fresh mint vinaigrette (any vinaigrette will do.)

Designing with Food.  Every time you make a meal or a dish, you are designing.  What results depends on your goal and priorities: ease, quickness, comforting vs “new” tastes, nutritional value, and purpose (family dinner vs cocktail party). We’re not on a reality TV show, so don’t worry about being judged harshly.

For FGI, I started with a goal of serving a healthful, light meal that is all gluten-free and mostly vegan, and, not too much work. 

 

My design tool box consists of 

  1. Whole (unprocessed) foods: beans, grains, tubers, veggies, meats, nuts, fruits and a bit of dairy. Butter & small amounts of good cheese to enhance, but not to take main stage. Same with cream and sugars. (That’s what desserts are for.)
  2. Palette of flavor, texture, color and seasonality. Velvety polenta and a crunchy slaw. Soft sweet potatoes, black beans and crisp bell peppers all spiked with tart lime juice offers sweet and savory in the same bite.  Deep green kale and bright orange carrot.
  3. Nutritional factors: total complementary proteins, complex carbs, fiber, and good fats. Lots and lots of fiber.
Another marinated salad, Broccoli Edamame Salad, paired with Sesame Roasted Eggplant & Black Rice. (my photo)

Another marinated salad, Broccoli Edamame Salad, paired with Sesame Roasted Eggplant & Black Rice. (my photo)

The great thing about whole foods is that which pleases all our 5 senses also happens to be the most nutritious!  So just go for the color and texture and it will be fine.

 

I also talked about my literal tool box: sharp knives and wide wok spatulas (to toss those marinated salads). Brandishing my $5 Asian chef’s knife, I sliced a raw beet very thinly and peeled a grapefruit. Then, I told everybody to take those cheap coarse-grained tubular sharpeners that come in the block sets and STICK ’em… in the ground as stakes for straggly seedlings. Or tents. More about knives and sharpener recommendations in my post “Tools Make the Man (Person)”.

Aunty Oxidant and friends at Moving Planet 9-24-11

Demoing slaw at Moving Planet event 9-24-11

To see these me in action with knives, sharpeners and boldly colored vegetables, come to the Brooklyn Center EarthFest this Sat, 1-4pm, at Brooklyn Center High School; and at East-Side St Paul Neighborhood Green Fair on April 27, 12-4pm outside City Academy school.  I’ll be demoing and handing out samples of my famous superfood Firecracker Slaw (see recipe). More on my community demos.

Thanks again to Richard Moody & Hazel Matthys of FGI-Mpls and to Phillips Garden for a lovely evening. That greenery is balm for the soul — especially now that it’s snowing again.

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