Tag Archives: local produce

Transforming school lunch

Not your father’s lunch line. Photo from iatp.org; used under creative commons license from USDAgov.

Gov Dayton has proclaimed September as official Farm to School Month in MN! Paraphrasing the IATP blog (Institute of Agricultural Trade Policy): “Farm to School initiatives link school-age children with local foods and the farmers who produced them. At 145 school districts serving two-thirds of Minnesota’s K-12 students, students are learning where their food comes from, trying fresh foods they haven’t eaten before and learning to grow food in school gardens.”  Read the press release here.


IATP created a terrific video of a Farm-to-School project in Arlington MN “Sibley East High School: Growing a Better School Lunch” which includes comments by student farmers and the Lunch Ladies who’ve learned to use fresh produce for lunch and also freeze the bounty for later.

 It’s a wonderful year with all our fresh fruits & vegetables… Our students here really really like it. Yes it is more work but when you see the faces of the students — “oh is this from the garden?! — and [the news] goes down the line… So they give really good feedback.

I enjoy eating the food we grow cuz it’s like we’re getting back all the effort we put into it, says a senior.

Students, and probably adults too, are “trying fresh foods they haven’t eaten before” — now that is what I like to hear! Very cool things are happening all over MN. TONS of info, resources & tool-kits on Farm2Schoolmn.org.

Nice job, St Paul Public Schools! from School Food Focus.

Another great resource organization: School Food FOCUS (transforming Food Options for Children in Urban Schools).

And, UK chef Jamie Oliver’s infamous attack on unhealthful food served in public schools and his resulting Foundation.



Field Trip to Strauss Farm

Unistar campers on a tour of hoop-house led by Anton Strauss. They’re looking at eggplants; tomato vines are behind and peppers on the sides.

My cooking lesson week at Camp Unistar were wholly based on which seasonal veggies were being supplied by the camp’s local source, a Mennonite farmer, Ivan Strauss. He had a good selection; it was interesting to note differences between what grows well in northern MN and in south-central Twin Cities. All week long, we were utterly spoiled by the quality of his super-fresh beauties. Seriously terrific veggies, including the best tomatoes some of us had ever tasted.

We were fortunate to be able to visit the source. Mary Ellen, the camp’s Food Service Director, organized a field trip to the Strauss farm west of Bemidji. Mary Ellen has been cultivating a relationship with Ivan for several years and now orders most of the camp’s vegetables from him.

Bountiful vines, clipped to vertical & horizontal wires with pulleys so you can let down each vine to harvest, then pull it back up. No ladders!

This family is old-order Mennonite, so they’re off the electrical grid and don’t drive motor vehicles. All farm operations are done by horse, gasoline, solar and lots of human power supplied by Ivan, his wife and the older of their 5 sons and 4 daughters, who range from age 21 to 3. A few of the boys were our tour guides around the fields and hoop-houses. They were harvesting tomatoes in the hoop-houses, wearing the Mennonites’ signature hats and woolen britches.

Everything is harvested by hand. We learned it takes 3 draft horses to pull the potato harvester, with a person or two behind to pick up the potatoes. Mary Ellen raved about their Yukon Golds.

Besides their rapidly expanding vegetable business, the Strauss family also raises hogs, Siberian Husky pups and makes hand-made wooden patio furniture.

Following this field trip, I was hoping to squeeze in a discussion about supporting local food economies and sustainable farming methods, but it didn’t happen. Next time!

Locavoracious 2

Aunty Oxidant makes Firecracker Salad at the Moving Planet MN350 event at the State Capitol, St Paul, 09-24-11

Saturday was an incredibly beautiful day to be outside, talking to people about sustainable agriculture and buying local, and handing out samples of fresh raw salad made from vegetables I had just bought at the farmers’ market that morning. 

I was exhibiting at the Moving Planet MN350 event in St Paul, one of thousands held simultaneously around the globe to advocate for progressive climate- change policies and actions.

[Guess What? I made it into the Twin Cities Daily Planet article about this event! Mainly a decent photo of me and the salad.]

 I chopped and chatted all afternoon. People snarfed up Firecracker Slaw (see recipe), made with all raw veggies, harvested the day before. This gorgeous salad is sweet & spicy, earthy and crunchy, and features carrots, beets, apples and red onions doused in a smoky chipotle vinaigrette. I also added kohlrabi and cabbage, which stretched it out and added even more crunch.

Kohlrabi puppets

Kohlrabi is very very mild and reminds one of tender broccoli stalks, or of jicama without the sweetness. It’s a good low-cal crunchy filler to add to any salad or stir-fry, or just to eat raw like carrots. I like to make “refrigerator pickles”, Asian-style, with chopped fresh mint, garlic and rice vinegar.


That’s the sound of relief and pleasure at the perfect summer days and cooler nights we’re finally experiencing. I can turn on the oven again! Roasting all these lovely market veggies is an easy way to prepare them, especially in quantities to feed you all week-long. Don’t have to peel anything, don’t have to watch it as it cooks. Chop, toss with olive oil and salt, stick in a 375 F oven, set an alarm for 40 min, then go do laundry or email until the buzzer sounds. 

I turned up the oven this week for DDoW Roast Artisan Tempeh, Pattypan Squash & Grape Tomatoes flavored with Rosemary & Fennel seed. Every ingredient used in both this week’s dishes was either local or organic (except for the green olives). I just LOVED the look on the farmers’ market vendors’ faces when I said I wanted every single pattypan squash they had! (30# at least.) 

I will be roasting eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes & peppers for next week’s Ratatouille DDoW dish as well. See the DDoW Menu Archive for a list of past & future dishes. 

News & Notes:
  • Sage & Smashed Black-eyed Peas & Chard Bruschetta

    Variation: Smashed Garlicky Beans & Chard Bruschetta with Fresh Sage. Try sage instead of basil in caprese salad too.

    Catered a huge reception last week with many volunteers helping. Besides ready-made turkey roll-ups and generous contributions of brownies and veggie trays, I served Smashed Garlicky White Beans w/ Fresh Basil & Spinach and an Artichoke Kalamata Olive Tapenade with bruschetta (and gluten-free crackers too). Both appetizers are vegan and substantial as well as super easy to make. I also whipped up a creamy vegan veggie dip flavored with ginger, garlic and curry powder. See Recipes for similar easy dips.

  •  The tempeh I use is an excellent local product, hand-crafted in small batches. This artisan product is far superior to the vacuum-packed grocery store brands. Everybody who knows tempeh tells me so. Email me at tracyksyue@yahoo.com if you’d like more info on how to order your own private supply!

Grilled Tempeh with Napa Cabbage Sesame Noodle Salad (my photo)

But what is Tempeh? It’s a dense solid patty made of fermented whole soybeans. It has a nutty taste and a texture like a veggie burger. Being all soybean and virtually unprocessed, it’s high in protein and fiber. It is NOT Tofu. Tofu is a processed & filtered soybean product and therefore has lost its fiber content.

Tempeh, like “veggie burger”, tends to dry out, so I like to not only marinate it in spices & broth before pan-frying or broiling but to also pour broth over it afterwards, which it will soak up. I also serve it with a sauce and/or veggies that are ‘wet’, like summer squash, tomatoes etc. Indonesia is famous for its tempeh and so naturally it is awesome with sesame/ peanut /satay sauce, such as shown in this photo.  

Catering to vegans, vegetarians and gluten-free eaters

I knew it had been a while but how is it possible that I haven’t posted since June??  I will try to make amends.

chicken & peppers, beet & lentil salad meal

Clockwise from bottome: Roast Beet & Lentil Salad in Balsamic; braised chicken in peppers capers & wine broth on wild & brown rice; greens and carrot/jicama/radish salad in grapefruit juice; lemon poppyseed pound cake.


While I will make nearly anything a client wishes — with the exception of things including mini-marshmallows — I try to offer menus with multiple options for vegans and those avoiding gluten.  This means lots of my marinated salads and savory appetizers that don’t depend on cheese.

Lately I have catered graduation parties, wedding brunches, family reunion picnics and political fundraisers. Coming up in Sept is a vegan wedding dinner. Here are some sample menus for you to chew on.

Menu for Keith Ellison’s Birthday Party: farmers’ market veggie tray; creamy vegan curry dip; wasabi dill veggie spread; roquefort green olive cream cheese; baguettes & gluten-free crackers; ginger cilantro quinoa daikon salad; coconut curry chicken chunks; green beans marinated in sesame black-bean dressing.

Menu for Summer Picnic: French lentil & roast beet salad in balsamic dressing; tossed green salad w/ heirloom tomatoes; chicken tenderloins with sesame sage butter; pesto potato salad; vegan chipotle rum baked beans; baguettes; fruit salad.

Low-fat Creamy Dilled Smoked Trout Potato Salad with Green Beans

Menu for Bride’s Luncheon: Low-fat Creamy Dill Smoked Trout & Potato Salad with Marinated Green Beans (vegetarian option has no trout); Tossed Green Salad; Parmesan Polenta Squares; Spicy Carrots & White Beans; Fruit with Chocolate Sauce.