Do you enjoy having fun with food? I don’t mean playing with your peas in the gravy. Rather do you find pleasure in eating delicious, simple foods that were thoughtfully produced? It is easy to be distracted from eating well when we are crushed on all sides by time constraints, lured by fast foods, put off by picky eaters and stumped by ways to make our lives any different. Enter Greater Olympia Slow Food, part of an international, grassroots movement, dedicated to good, clean, fair food for everyone.

Long-time participant and board member Loretta Steppanen lives these ideas. Her “roots” formed at her parents’ organic farm in west central Minnesota. They grew row crops and raised farm animals. Like her mom, Loretta finds that the taste of organic food is significantly better when grown in healthy soil. She honors the people, like her parents, who grow our food and respect the earth. Whoever “gets us a fish or grows our grain is really important to me,” she explained. Loretta tends two Greater Olympia Slow Food gardens. One is at Fertile Ground and the other is at the downtown Olympia Timberland Library. Both gardens are available for people to visit and appreciate the interesting plants growing there.

Loretta Steppanen
Food is an integral ingredient for Loretta Steppanen’s life. She shares her knowledge and experience with others. Photo courtesy: GOSF

Our local Slow Food chapter thrives on holding events showcasing the impressive array of food choices available in the Northwest. Of course, these events highlight food, and they are also to promote sustainable, biodiverse farming and recognize the dedicated people who produce this food. The festivities are typically family friendly, such as the annual ice cream social, and are provided at low or no cost for participants. You might have seen a Slow Food table at the Olympia Farmers Market. A volunteer is on hand to demo seasonal fruits and/or vegetables. You get a taste and an idea for a quick way to incorporate this deliciousness into your meal planning.

Slow Food was born in Italy in 1989, to contrast fast foods and to keep local food cultures and traditions alive. It believes that “through our food choices we can collectively influence how food is cultivated, produced and distributed, and change the world as a result.” Food is woven into all aspects of our lives including politics, the environment, agriculture practices and culture. It’s not about eating fancy, expensive or gourmet food – it’s about understanding the links with growing seeds, the importance of multiple varieties, caring for the globe and all its inhabitants, and connecting our lifetime well-being with what we put into our mouths.

Greater Olympia Slow Food board is headed by a leadership team made up of three volunteers: Jennifer Crain, Chris Ciancetta and Anne Hansen. What had been done in the past by one person has been divided, distributing the workload and responsibilities.

Slow Food Ice Cream Social
Food events cover all the seasons and are family friendly. The ice cream is always popular. Photo courtesy: GOSF

Food has always been a part of Chris’s life, as he grew up in an Italian family where food was prepared and eaten with friends. Her mom, like others in the neighborhood, had a garden and Chris remembers the fresh tastes of her tomatoes. Her talents in the kitchen have translated into many years of classes at the Bayview School of Cooking. Chris especially enjoys the GOSF food-focused events like the Colvin Ranch dinner. The first time she attended, she found herself in the kitchen alongside Chef Treacy Kreger, preferring to help cook the fried green tomatoes instead of taking a hayride around the property.

In 2016, Chris and Jenni represented our community and attended the fabulous Terra Madre in Italy. Jenni, a longtime local food writer and already enthused about local food offerings, was incredibly inspired. Their time there cemented their commitments to bring awareness to more people about the importance and joy of food – from its inception to its final destination on your plate – and to remember all the people involved along the way.

Chris Ciancetta
Chris Ciancetta knows her way around kitchen, enjoying teaching and presenting demos at the Farmers Market. Photo courtesy: GOSF

“I love getting kids to try things,” noted Chris, who has a good time when she presents demos at the Olympia Farmers Market. It’s all about experiencing and exploring flavors and then realizing it is possible to eat this way without much fuss.

Food tastes even better when enjoyed with others. Find out about upcoming events and classes at the Greater Olympia Slow Food website or visit the Facebook page. The annual meeting in January is open to everyone. There are ways to participate throughout the year.

Here’s a popular recipe written by Chris for vegetable fritters. They can act as an appetizer, provide a centerpiece for a main dish or sit happily next to other entrees.

Vegetable Fritters

Ingredients:

  • ½ lb mixed shredded vegetables
  • ¼ cup chives or green onions, chopped
  • ¾ cup flour (gluten-free works too!)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ⅔ cup milk (non-dairy is ok)
  • 1 egg
  • olive oil for frying

Instructions: Wash vegetables and shred on a box grater. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, add flour, baking powder, egg, olive oil, salt and any spices. Whisk until smooth. Add chives and shredded vegetables and mix with a fork. There should be mostly vegetables with batter just holding them together.

Heat a skillet to medium-high. Add a small amount of olive oil and ladle about 2 tablespoons of batter into the hot pan. The fritters should be small, about 3” diameter and less than ½” thick. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side or until the they are robustly browned.

Serve warm. Makes about 3-4 servings.

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