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Preview: Amazing New Pulaski Tech Culinary Arts Facility Opens Monday

13 Aug
Pulaski Tech's Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute begins classes in its new (sq ft) facility on Monday, August 19.

Pulaski Tech’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute begins classes in its new facility on Monday, August 19.

Last month, amid a flurry of work-related travel, I got to sneak a peek at the new Pulaski Tech Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute in Little Rock. This Monday, August 19, the facility will open its doors to its first group of students.

Director of Programs Todd Gold took me on a tour on what happened to be my birthday. Although I have already graduated from the program, previously held just across the parking lot at PTC’s South Campus, I felt like I was getting a present.

Suffice it to say, I am extremely jealous of the students who get to attend here. At least I’ll have the opportunity to teach a food writing course here and possibly some gluten-free community classes soon! I’ll let you know when we have dates and details.

I’ve already written extensively about this new facility and what it will offer, but I found out a couple new details during this tour.

First, the institute is pioneering a new program, called Pulaski Tech 3D, to enable young adults with developmental and learning disabilities to train for jobs in foodservice and hospitality. According to coordinator Linda Ducrot, this innovative program will begin with just a few students but will grow with demand and capacity. It will feature an 18-month structured daytime program covering the basics of professional conduct, food preparation, safety and hospitality, also offering these students the opportunity to continue to degree programs if they choose. Those interested in attending the program can find more information on Pulaski Tech’s website.

Also, the institute plans on a new marketing approach, aiming to draw regional and international students in addition to those from Arkansas. Gold said this is a natural evolution, being the only major accredited culinary/hospitality program in the state and one of few in the region, with the added advantage of being a lower-cost option to private institutions such as the Culinary Institute of America, using much of the same curriculum. Gold doesn’t aim to grow the program substantially in numbers anytime soon, though, taking a quality-over-quantity approach as the program grows into its new facility over the next few years.

On the down-low, there’s talk of a big grand opening ceremony later on this year, possibly with a chef or two of national reputation. I haven’t heard a lot of confirmation about all that, as they’re just doing what’s needed to get school started on Monday for now. If you just can’t wait to see the facility, I hear you can stop by at 7:15 Monday morning for the first official walk-through before classes start.

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First-Look Walkthrough
7:15 a.m.

Pulaski Technical College
Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute
13000 Interstate 30
Little Rock, AR 72210

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Mugs Cafe Is Open in Argenta, and It’s Pretty Slick (Photos)

16 Jul
No truer words spoken.

No truer words spoken.

I had to go into the office today, so I missed the official grand opening hoopla over at Mugs Cafe, the new coffee shop in Argenta that I gave you the heads up about a little while back.

After a meeting and some paperwork, I still had more stuff to do, and my weary body was non-cooperative. Needed caffeine.

My paperwork and my enormous, shockingly inexpensive, delicious latte.

My paperwork and my enormous, shockingly inexpensive, delicious latte.

So, off to Mugs Cafe I went.

The space is gorgeous, y’all. Open and airy, with a sense of “come hang out,” which was completely the idea.

IMG_9939

A lounge-ish area in the back has this amazing global collage on the rear wall.

The menu is nice (think what your showoff, Food Network addict cousin would make at home: french toast, fancy sliders with runny eggs) and really, surprisingly cheap. Like I wonder how they’ll make money cheap. Everything, even the glutinous stuff I can’t eat, looks well executed.

I'm not sure if the video on continuous loop against the back wall is a permanent thing, but I love it. It was a video of an outdoor community dinner.

I’m not sure if the video on continuous loop against the back wall is a permanent thing, but I love it. It was a video of an outdoor community dinner.

All I had today was a much-needed latte, but I’ll be back tomorrow (on an also-much-needed day off) with the kids for breakfast. Just wanted to show you guys a few photos from the new space. And yes, the coffee is still every bit as amazing as I told you about before. (You can buy beans to take home!) Check the Twitters for my report on the food.

A large table invites kids (or whoever) to hang out and play board games.

A large table invites kids (or whoever) to hang out and play board games.

Join me tomorrow?

Fancy Pants Foodie Does Disney, Part One: The Disney Way

30 Jun
Amazing, totally gluten-free sushi from Tokyo Dining in Epcot's Japan, complete with GF soy sauce.

Amazing, totally gluten-free sushi from Tokyo Dining in Epcot’s Japan, complete with GF soy sauce.

I started out on our recent family trip to Disney World with a little bit of trepidation.

I’ve been able to almost completely eliminate the less-than-lovely symptoms that come with my gluten intolerance by cooking most everything myself, so travel can be sketchy at best. I’ll go over the getting-there parts another time (basically, bring food with you and know what restaurants are safe[r than others]).

But oh my holy goodness, let me tell you this: If you have an allergy, sensitivity or other food-related issue, Disney has you covered. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s a gold standard that has changed my view of foodservice completely.

For the unwashed, there are two types of foodservice on Disney property, counter service and table service. As outlined here on Disney’s own site, many counter service operations offer gluten-free options, and nearly every table service restaurant can take care of you in above-and-beyond fashion.

In either style establishment, mention “gluten-free” or “allergy” and they immediately summon a manager or chef, who reviews your options with you. And unlike the typical real-world restaurant, they seem genuinely happy to do so, taking plenty of time to ask and answer questions.

After one such conversation with the manager at Tokyo Dining in Epcot’s Japan, I told him I was amazed at the level of service offered to those with special dietary needs. He said it was simply part of the way they did things, and it freed him up to make people happy. He added that if he went on to another restaurant on the “outside,” he would carry that attitude with him.

It’s not just about allergies and such, either. Any question, comment, side-eye, request for directions to the nearest ice cream/restroom/roller coaster is met with enthusiasm and grace by every single Disney employee, or “cast member,” as they are called. In Epcot, this is particularly amazing because Disney trainers must deal with all the customs of their cast from all over this planet. Y’all, EVERY FOR-REAL FRENCH PERSON in “France” was endearing and affable. That’s Disney magic right there.

Is the customer always right? Of course not. But, in a hospitality situation, we can always make them feel awesome for being with us. In a nutshell, that’s what I learned.

I’ll outline my own experiences in a couple more posts, so stay tuned.

Cornbread Fest is Saturday’s Best Bet, Despite Speaker Crumble

2 Nov

Last year, organizers of the first-ever Arkansas Cornbread Festival expected about 800, maybe 1000 folks to show up. They ended up with over 3000 hungry cornbread enthusiasts.

Lesson learned. We Arkansans love us some cornbread!

Tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 3, lovers of the sweet (or not!) southern staple will descend upon South Main Street in Little Rock to enjoy live music, shopping, and of course, cornbread.

The event was created as a way to introduce folks to all the nifty things we already have available on South Main, such as an urban garden, a soda shop, unique shopping, restaurants and entertainment venues.

Plenty of ‘bread and sides will be available for sampling, offered up by professional and amateur competitors. The entries are in the categories of Traditional, Non-Traditional and Sweet.

Alas, just as last year, I had grand plans to enter myself, and just…didn’t. (New job! Cooking gigs! Exhaustion!) But I do plan on going over to try other folks’ stuff. If you’re gluten-free like me, I know of at least one cornbread that will be safe: Dempsey Bakery will be there as a competitor in the Sweet category. And I’ll wager that at least one or two of the Traditional category entries will be all-corn, as well.

The event was originally to include a lecture and book signing by Dr. Jessica Harris, author of several books about African-American cuisine and its fascinating history. But Hurricane Sandy stepped in and changed plans for the New York author. So give Dr. Harris some love and check out her latest book, High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, at the Museum Store at Historic Arkansas Museum.

Visit the event website for lists of all the musical acts, cornbread competitors, arts and crafts (and clothing and more) vendors, recipes and all that. See you there!

Event Deets:

Arkansas Cornbread Festival
Saturday, November 3
11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
South Main Street, Downtown Little Rock
Between 13th and 16th Streets

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids day of the event
Discount advance tickets ($7 adults, $3 kids) are available online until 5 p.m. Friday

Ibérico de Bellota at Hillcrest Artisan Meats (or, Meet the #HermanosJamones)

29 Sep

Ibérico de Bellota ham, atop gluten-free cracker bread I brought in from Dempsey Bakery.

This time of year, an exorbitant amount of my posts revolve around the fall food shows: Wildwood, Arkansas Hospitality, North Little Rock Taste of the Town. While I haven’t even had time to write the latter of these, I was invited to an impromptu food blogger gathering today that had to trump that writing.

Fancy ham. From Spain.

The kind many of us have lusted over in the glowing digital pages of Gilt Taste or some such.

Who even knew that Hillcrest Artisan Meats carried Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, one of the finest, rarest delicacies of the cured meat world?

Apparently, Michael Roberts of Arkansas Foodies / Eat Arkansas did, and he invited several of us who happened upon the Twitter conversation to join him today for a tasting.

This stuff was indeed pricey, at $89 / lb. We split it up five ways, though, and a half-pound was plenty to sufficiently experience the awesomeness. Just under $10 each wasn’t too bad, all considering.

The Ibérico hogs are a particular breed of black pig, found only in Spain. And, apparently, there is Ibérico ham (a lesser grade), and there’s Ibérico de Bellota, which is allowed to run free in Spain’s oak forests and feast on acorns in the last period of its life. This exercise and diet gives the meat its unique flavor and complexity.

Brandon Brown, proprietor of Hillcrest Artisan Meats (the locale often simply known as HAM), carefully sliced the precious product onto a tray for our group. We settled into the back room to survey our treasure. We all just stared at it and took photos for a little while. Finally, we jumped in.

Our trayful of Ibérico de Bellota ham, lovingly sliced by HAM’s Brandon.

“It really does melt in your mouth, even just from the heat of your fingers.”

“It tastes like acorns!”

“Ohhhmmmmmmmm.”

There may have even been a few more inappropriate comments.

It was sultry and decadent, yet light at the same time. It wasn’t as salty as you might think, considering it was cured for some time in sea salt. In fact, Brandon sprinkled it with coarse salt before serving the tray to us. It was just the right touch.

And yes, even without ever having tasted an acorn, I would venture that Ibérico de Bellota ham tastes like one. The deep smell of fall embedded each bite and even lingered on my skin for hours after.

Brandon brought us a small portion of American-raised proscuitto, for comparison. It was delicious, a little richer, but lacking the depth and delicacy of the Ibérico. This is one of those times you can really taste the extra money spent.

While the jamon was amazing, there are two real stories here: first, an ambitious local meat and sandwich shop bringing the world to Arkansas, and second, a growing, thriving group of local food writers who got to experience it.

I’m thankful to have experienced both.

The #HermanosJamones:

Joel DiPippa, Daniel Walker, Jess Miller, Michael Roberts, me, Kevin Shalin. Photo by Sara Shalin.

Joel DiPippa of Southern Ash
Daniel Walker of Eat Arkansas
Jess Miller and Michael Roberts of Arkansas Foodies
(Michael also writes for Eat Arkansas)
Me, Christie Ison of Fancy Pants Foodie
Kevin Shalin of The Mighty Rib

And we’re not an exclusive group, y’all! We just happened to be on Twitter at the same time and coordinated. Are you a blogger and want to join us for our next food outing? Make sure you’re a member of Arkansas Food Bloggers Network on Facebook and we’ll be more organized about it next time. I’m pretty sure it will include a play date with sous vide machines.

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Kitchy Kitchen Antique Shopping

13 Aug

I really, really wanted this bowl, but I really, really don’t need another one!

My hubby and I have always had this thing for junk shops, antique stores and estate sales.

Since kids have come along, our budget and willingness to drag them along have not been as forthcoming. But, occasionally, we’ll venture out and take a gander at the very latest in the fairly old. This weekend, we did, in search of a desk for my work area in the kitchen.

Of course, I tend to gravitate toward kitchen stuff. Old bowls are my favorite. Next in line are clunky, rough wooden tables and gaudily-colored relics of our culture’s culinary past.

We found plenty of this and more at our recent trip to Galaxy Furniture in the Argenta area of North Little Rock on Main Street. (I always wondered why they don’t change the name…it certainly doesn’t convey the funky awesomeness found inside.)

We didn’t find the desk I was looking for, except for one tiny beauty that was already sold. But we enjoyed all the foodie fabulosity of times past. Check them out!

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Stage #1: KJ’s Caribe Restaurant + Cantina, Part Three (With Recipe)

22 Jul

Read here for part one or part two

It was time to party down. Just not for us. Yet.

As early as 8 p.m., crowds were showing up for the 9:30 event that Caribe was hosting as part of the Fleur Delicious Weekend: a crazy-awesome band in the restaurant’s event room, in the front of the building. KJ had decided that, due to the high volume the kitchen had already put out that night, the menu would be limited to the third page. We were running out of food and steam.

So, what could possibly go wrong?

The short version: The crowd orders food, moves around the room. Tickets get mixed up, and I help troll the crowd for whoever the heck ordered these flaming-hot cheese enchiladas that are burning my hands. The crowd continues to *ahem* enjoy the bar and the incredible music. Later, KJ shuts down the kitchen again, as we are completely out of cheese and enthusiasm. A couple (notably intoxicated) folks get upset, but quickly forget due to the aforementioned bar and incredible music. All ends pretty well.

Even when completely stressed out facing one of the busiest nights Caribe has ever seen, KJ’s community spirit is still there. Several folks pop into the kitchen to say hello, as is the case every night at Caribe. (I told you, she’s a community fixture.) One mentions that she never got a chance to eat, and after a brief hesitation, KJ scrapes something together for her. She loves these people too much to say no.

As midnight loomed, KJ, Keegan and I cleaned the kitchen. What a crazy night to have stepped in! I only wish I had come a little earlier to learn the menu, so I could help make more of the dishes. No matter, we had all benefited from the experience.

While KJ and Chris settled up the tickets for the night, I stepped into the event room for a little sit-down. The band was Earl and Them, and award-winning blues singer and guitarist Jimmy Thackery had dropped in to play with the band. The crowd was going nuts. I sat, alone, quietly enjoying the musicians (did I mention they were incredible?) and getting my mind around my crazy awesome first restaurant experience.

KJ has left her mark on me, as she has the entire community of Eureka Springs. The food she puts out at Caribe exudes love and passion, just as she does in person with every person who comes into contact with her.

Her generosity may occasionally get the best of her, but she’ll always come back for more. I know that I will.

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One of KJ’s vegetarian dishes uses marinated broccoli, the likes of which I had never seen before. She was generous enough to share some tips about the marinade, which I converted into a salad dish. Enjoy!

Caribbroccoli Salad (Marinated Broccoli and Pineapple Salad)

Caribbroccoli Salad (Marinated Broccoli and Pineapple Salad)
Inspired by KJ Zumwalt, Caribe Restaurant + Cantina

  • 2 large stalks broccoli, cut into medium florets, about 2 cups
  • 1 fresh pineapple (or, 2 cups diced pineapple and 1-2 cups pineapple juice)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 small red hot peppers, your choice (I used serrano), seeded and chopped finely
    Note: If you don’t care for hot peppers, you can use 1/4 of a red bell pepper
  • 2 limes, zested and juiced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon adobo seasoning (see note below)

If using a fresh pineapple, cut away the rough skin, base and top, as well as the tough inner core. I put these extra pieces through my juicer to get the juice, but you could also use bottled pineapple juice.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the juice, olive oil, peppers, lime juice, zest and garlic. Place the broccoli and pineapple in the bowl and gently turn the ingredients with a large spoon to toss. (Honestly, I just poured each ingredient over the broccoli and pineapple, and it was fine. Just make sure it gets mixed well.)

Cover the salad and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving, preferably overnight. You can drain off the extra liquid before serving if you like, but it’s not entirely necessary.

Note: KJ uses a Latin Caribbean spice mix called adobo in her marinade, as well as many of her other dishes. I didn’t find it in my closest Kroger, but I found this easy recipe to make your own batch. If you find or make some, throw a half teaspoon into the salad.

Stage #1: KJ’s Caribe Restaurant + Cantina, Part Two

18 Jul

Click here for Part 1

It didn’t take long for things to get a little out of control.

Due to additional traffic brought in by the Fleur Delicious event in Eureka Springs that weekend, the ticket printer in Caribe’s kitchen was screeching a little more often than usual, even for a Friday night.

KJ told me later that night about her cozy 50-seat dining area she now uses, just a small part of the multi-room building.

“When I first moved here from downtown, we had the whole thing open, and we fed several hundred a night,” she said. “It was just too much. I went a little crazy. It was still just little old me and one salad guy in the back. We managed, but it was just too much.”

She later trimmed service down to the main dining room, and she ended up making more money due to reduced overhead.

Tonight, she had extra help (me), but I wasn’t really much help without knowing the menu. We never really had gotten around to that.

KJ shows me how to do the sauce for the fajitas.

During slight lulls, KJ showed me how to start fajitas and a salmon dish on the grill and finish them on the stove, with her special combinations of Caribbean-inspired sauces. Small pans lined up with coconut milk, veggie stock (with pineapple juice), rum and other goodies.

“I’m a real believer in the two-phase cooking process,” she said, moving the beef or chicken from the grill to the waiting pan, and later to a plate of salad, rice and beans.

Ohmygosh, the beans… we’ll get back to those.

The real crazy came around 7 p.m. A waitress went home sick. Tickets were slightly piled up. A few folks in the dining room were getting testy.

Dying to help out, I inched into the line a few times, but KJ was in the zone. She politely/tersely told me that I’d have to wait, it was easier right now for her to just get.it.done.

Meanwhile, Chris, the front of house manager, is slightly freaking out. I offered to help in the front, and he and KJ thought that was a dandy idea.

Chris had me help bus tables, check on folks’ water, deliver plates from the kitchen and such. I wasn’t anyone’s waitress, officially. But, of course, you step into the dining room and you’re fair game.

“Could you tell me about the heat level on these salsas (from the platter)?” I was asked more than once. I politely responded that I was just helping for the night and wasn’t familiar, but I would send someone (Chris) over right away. (Yes, I did.)

I fetched requested sides, refilled water, sliced limes, even served a margarita or two. But my favorite part is talking to people, when appropriate, a remainder from my PR days. I actually really enjoyed it.

Back in the kitchen, things eventually slowed enough where I could get involved again. Rice, beans, kids’ tacos. More fajitas, enchiladas, ring the pickup bell, go, go, go. Running. Out. Of. Stuff.

Around 9 p.m., KJ shut down the kitchen. No more dinner tonight, folks. She had to get ready for the event she had agreed to, which was to start at 9:30. She collapsed for a moment in the corner, doing a combination of stretch, faint, yoga, something.

A whole new crowd loomed, many of whom will be fed for free. I had to wonder if she was still feeling all the “community” jazz she mentioned earlier.

One more installment, plus an “inspired by” recipe, coming soon!  

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Stage #1: KJ’s Caribe Restaurant + Cantina, Part One

16 Jul

It was 4:55 p.m., five minutes before I was supposed to start my first stage, or mini culinary internship. I sat in my car in the parking lot of the wildly colorful building, having a mild panic attack.

I was at Caribe Restaurant + Cantina in Eureka Springs, or just Caribe, as the locals call it. It’s Fleur Delicious Weekend, the city’s annual celebration of food and fun with a French twist. And Caribe’s owner, KJ, was as laid back (and pleasantly wound up) as all get out, I could already tell from our email and Facebook conversations. So what was the problem, already? Just.go.in.and.COOK.

You see, ever since that terrible, awful, amazing class in culinary school called Food Production IV, where we did restaurant service every week, I’ve had this same paralyzing fear: What if I don’t really know how to cook? What if I’ve just skidded by so far, and they’re gonna find me out? I’ll have to go back into PR. And that’s not happening.

Anyway, I finally mustered the courage to step into the building, and I asked the server for KJ. She’s in the kitchen. Of course.

KJ Zumwalt is a fireball, if you haven’t heard. But if you’re from Eureka, you’ve heard. She’s a presence, one that I picked up on right away. She’s here to work like all heck putting out the restaurant’s stunningly beautiful Caribbean-style fare, strutting her stuff while she does it, and having a good time doing it.

No time for a lot of pleasantries, or even to show me how to do the dish she’d pre-assigned me, a lovely crab cake number. Orders had already started rolling in, and they were just about out of their famous guacamole.

“KEEGAN!” she hollered, with a mix of urgency and family sweetness. Keegan was the adorable sous chef/salad guy, the only other soul in the kitchen besides KJ when interlopers like me aren’t around. “Keegan! I need that guacamole like yesterday, baby.”

I stood awkwardly while Keegan slung salads and salsa platters from previous tickets. He managed to get out a bowl of ingredients to be prepped for the guac, and KJ had an idea.

“Hey, Christie’s got knife skills. Put her on it.”

So here I am, about 90 seconds in the door, and I’m making one of their most famous dishes. No pressure. Lemme just put up my hair and wash my hands right quick.

Despite my earlier doubts, I did remember how to use a knife and dispatch a couple dozen avocados, several onions, a handful of serrano peppers, lime juice and some other stuff. (Hey, I’m not giving you the recipe!) She told me what seasonings to work in. Done. Plated. And it was beautiful.

KJ started to show me a few of the entrees she was preparing, telling me stories about herself and the restaurant as she went. Another of her famous starters, the salsa platter, came from a rather unusual muse — Oysters Rockefeller plates.

A few years back, KJ and her partner, Panama-born Clary Perez, ran the restaurant in downtown Eureka, an entirely different experience (and real estate price point) than her current digs further down Highway 62. When they first started renting the rather expensive downtown space, the previous tenant’s dishes were part of the deal. The heavy, white dishes were shaped for holding Oysters Rockefeller. Six oysters, to be exact.

Guess how many salsas went into their salsa platter? Yup. With a dollop of sour cream in the middle and a basket of freshly-made corn chips and spicy wheat crisps.

Clary later passed away, and KJ moved from front-of-the-house operations to the kitchen, turning out all the dishes the community had grown to love. (Read Kat Robinson’s touching story about this part of KJ’s journey over at Tie Dye Travels. I didn’t know she had written this when I first connected with KJ for a stage; it was a great introduction to the restaurant and its history.)

KJ’s passion for her community continues to draw her in and hold her up, as evidenced by the very night I was there to cook with her. She had agreed to offer specials as part of Fleur Delicious, then host a large gathering that evening after normal service hours for a music event. This included feeding a good number of those involved in the project for free.

“We do a lot of charity events and dinners. You have to support your people, the community,” she said. “I’m totally into that. I’m not just doing this for the money.”

To be continued…

Bean 2 Blog at P. Allen Smith’s Farm: Soybeans, Demystified

19 Jun

That time I hung out with P. Allen Smith for the day. Oh, and a dozen other bloggers. But I think he liked me best.

If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you may know that I recently had the privilege of touring P. Allen Smith’s amazing garden home in Roland. Can you say, amazing? Inspirational? I totally want a vegetable garden and my own heritage breed chickens now.

The event, called Bean 2 Blog, focused on soybeans and was a chance for the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board to chat up their wares to just shy of a dozen of us blogger types. I honestly expected to have to put on my PR shield, which is pretty savvy, having been in the field myself. (Haaa, see what I did there?) But the event was very tastefully done, and I learned a lot of useful information about the magic bean.

  •  Mulberry, Arkansas, will be the site of the U.S.’ first soybean crop developed and grown specifically for use as edamame. It’s a particular variety of soybean that makes the best edamame, and the growing, harvesting and storing practices are different than usual soybean production. The new crop will bring several hundred new jobs to the area.
  • You can totally make your own soy milk. I always knew this, but seeing it done in person got me all kinds of excited. My son and I are allergic to cow’s milk, so we go though quite a bit of those red boxes of soy milk. (He calls it “red milk.”) And it only takes about a cup of soaked dry beans to make a quart of milk. Given, I’ll probably have to add a bit of honey and calcium carbonate to reach “red milk” standards, but it would be worth it.
  • Soybeans are easy to grow yourself. I never thought of soy as something to grow in the backyard, but it’s easy, accessible and a great source of protein. You can eat the beans green as edamame or more mature as roasted or cooked beans.They gave us some seeds, which I started in the peat container they provided. My dog knocked it over in the backyard just as they were germinating. I rescued the seedlings from the ground, replanted them, and now they’re over a foot tall and ready for transplant. Maybe my thumb isn’t so black, after all…
  • Soy candles burn cleanly, last longer and are recommended for those with allergies or breathing problems. Ron and Connie Locke of LockStars Soy Candles showed us the raw products they use to make their candles, including soy wax. (I had to ask the dumb question…how do you get wax out of oil? Answer: Hydrogenation. At least we’re not eating it, right?)
  • Arkansas does indeed grow non-GMO soy, but not much; only about 2 percent of the current crop fits this description. Much of this goes overseas to Asian countries, and the rest goes to companies like Silk to make soy milk and other products.
  • Speaking of GMOs, the jury is still out within the industry, and they’re leaning heavily toward modification. While many of us foodies rail against them and demand non-GMOs at reasonable prices, this is simply not currently feasible for your average Arkansas farmer. GMO varieties have greater yield and generallyuse less herbicide, despite the “super bugs” that are coming about. Farmer margins are slim as it is, and until something changes (like a tremendous rise in demand), non-GMO crops generally aren’t profitable enough.My personal take on the solution: Continue asking for it, folks. The industry knows we’re out there. But be nice; the farmers have to make money, too.
  • Soybeans are used for all kinds of non-food products, such as paint, ink, machine lubrication, wax (for things like candles and lip balm), even a high-efficiency sprayed foam insulation for homes. It’s renewable and just downright groovy for the Arkansas economy.

I usually don’t write a bullet-point list like this, but I learned so much during this event that it’s hard to cover any one thing thoroughly. However, I’ll continue soon with more details on soy recipes and other topics, as well as a separate post about P. Allen Smith’s digs.

Did I mention that I’m totally going to buy a soy milk machine?

More soy to come.

P.S. With a gaggle of girly bloggers, this event was as much fashion as it was farm, partially to my chagrin. I’m just not girly enough to care, most days. But, thanks to Country Outfitters, I at least had some super-nifty Ariat western boots to wear, like the other girls. My first ones, ever! Disclosure: They were a gift. Additional disclosure: I LOVE them. Comfy after an entire day of tromping the grounds.

 

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