Hey, you, slow down!

The Hemeons say a prayer before dinner.

When McDonald’s golden arches sprang up on Rome’s Spanish Steps
nearly 20 years ago, Italian journalist Carlos Petrini refused to
just sit back and let it go.
Determined to protect the city from the industrialization of
food and homogenization of restaurants and supermarkets, Petrini
founded what now encompasses 83,000 members in more than 100
countries: the Slow Food Movement.
When McDonald’s golden arches sprang up on Rome’s Spanish Steps nearly 20 years ago, Italian journalist Carlos Petrini refused to just sit back and let it go.

Determined to protect the city from the industrialization of food and homogenization of restaurants and supermarkets, Petrini founded what now encompasses 83,000 members in more than 100 countries: the Slow Food Movement.

A stark contrast to mass-produced food, the Slow Food Movement is an international organization that promotes eating local and organic foods, encourages people to savor meals together and advocates sustainable farming.

And with the Central Coast’s abundance of locally produced wine, fruits and vegetables, the region is a natural home for Slow Food.

The movement, with headquarters in Petrini’s hometown in Italy, has offices in Germany, Switzlerland, the United States, France, Japan and Great Britain. The U.S. branch supports 140 chapters, including several in California. Local chapters are housed in Monterey Bay, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Carmel, Berkeley and Silicon Valley, which was the fifth chapter in the United States to be created.

Among other things, chapter members hold regular tastings, culinary courses, winery tours and lectures. They also work to educate the public about the ecological and health benefits of creating wholesome meals and experiencing the pleasure of eating.

The movement introduces a more healthful way of eating and living, as well as a way for people to create a positive relationship with food, said Deamer Dunn, a manager at Salinas’ Pajaro Street Grill, which belongs to the Monterey Bay Slow Food chapter.

“You’re not working with food that’s already been processed, and you’re bypassing all the preservatives and chemicals that are often added to food these days. You’re dealing with real food,” he said. “But (the movement) also appeals to spirituality, because you’re involved with the food you eat from start to finish.”

The restaurant grows its own herbs and most of the dishes are prepared to order, Dunn said, meaning they’re not frozen and stored for months on end, as is the case with many fast-food restaurants.

The fast-food version of fruits and vegetables can be found on the shelves of many supermarket chains, said Andy Mariani, owner of Andy’s Orchard, a member of the movement’s Silicon Valley chapter. On his 30-acre farm, Mariani grows and hand-picks heirloom fruits including apricots, cherries, peaches and plums. Contrary to mass-produced fruits and vegetables, heirloom produce is grown through open pollination, or without human intervention, and many of the varieties can only be found in speciality produce stands and markets. Although raising heirloom produce generally takes more time than using conventional methods, the result is fuller-flavored fruit.

Although the produce in most grocery stores looks appealing, it often lacks the rich flavor and texture that characterizes produce farmed on small scales, Mariani said. Additionally, local produce doesn’t have to travel as far as produce grown in other states or countries, so it’s able to be picked when it’s ripe, thus retaining vitamins and minerals and maximizing flavor.

“When you go to grocery stores and into the produce section, you see black plums, red plums and yellow plums – no names, just black, red and yellow,” Mariani said. “But because there’s no names, there’s no personality. Fruit is like wine: There are so many different varieties, and they all have different personalities.”

Several of the older varieties Mariani grows are disappearing, he said, and as they fade, so do the stories, traditions and idiosyncrasies behind them – concepts the Slow Food Movement aims to preserve. Another hallmark of the movement is taking the time to enjoy food with family and friends, a ritual that can strengthen relationships and reconnect people with one another, said Barry Goldman-Hall, clinical director for Community Solutions, a mental-health organization based in Morgan Hill.

A family therapist for nearly 30 years, Goldman-Hall said he’s noticed a steady decrease in the amount of time families spend with each other, partly a result of more women working outside the home and more kids becoming involved in clubs and organizations. But sharing a meal offers a chance to slow down and simply be together.

“In today’s world, both the parents and the kids are going in a hundred different directions. Even if it’s not planned or deliberate, it happens,” he said. “The ritual of eating and having that opportunity to reconnect is of enormous importance.”

Goldman-Hall said he has worked with suicidal teenagers who say feeling disconnected from their families is one of the most troubling issues in their lives. And although carving out time to sit down and eat together – whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner – can be difficult, even once every other week is a start, Goldman-Hall said.

“Every day is probably not a reality, but it’s really not the quantity of time as much as it is the quality,” he said.

When they’re able to coordinate it, the five members of the Hemeon family of Gilroy sit down for an unrushed, conversation-filled meal. But it’s not easy. Both parents, Jim and Margie, work outside the home. One of their children, Ben, is a college student, while the other two, Dani and Matt, are middle-school students involved in basketball, soccer, football, swimming, softball and band, as well as religious classes.

“I like it when we’re all able to have something to eat, all of us together at the same time,” Margie said. “We all have differing schedules, but we try to do that a few times a week. We do our best.”

The Slow Food Movement also lends itself to meals that are not shared with family or friends. Dunn, for instance, said he prepares his daily breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, cottage cheese, flax seeds and whole grains the night before, so it’s ready to go when he wakes up.

“It’s about whole foods that your body really likes,” he said.

Try some Slow Food of your own with these recipes courtesy of Slow Food Santa Cruz.

Blenheim Apricot Tart Pastry

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 stick plus 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. finely grated fresh lemon zest

2 large egg yolks

Filling

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 Tbs. cornstarch

2 pounds Blenheim apricots, halved and pitted

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

A 9- to 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom

Step 1: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, butter, sugar salt, and zest in a food processor and pulse until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with remainder in small (roughly pea-sized) lumps. Add yolks and process just until incorporated and mixture begins to clump. Turn mixture out onto a work surface and divide into two portions. Smear each portion once with heel of your hand in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather portions of dough together and form into a ball. Pat out each ball of dough with floured fingertips into a tart pan, in an even 1/4-inch layer on bottom and up sides (about 1/8 inch above rim). Chill 30 minutes or until firm.

Step 2: Meanwhile, stir together sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Add apricots and lemon juice and toss to coat. Let stand, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until juicy.

Step 3: Arrange apricot halves, skin sides down, in tart shell, overlapping in a rosette pattern. Pour all juices from bowl over fruit.

Step 4: Bake tart in middle of oven 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 375 degrees. Cover tart loosely with foil and bake until apricots are tender and juices are bubbling and slightly thickened, about 40 to 50 minutes more. Brush warm juices in tart over apricots. (Juices will continue to thicken as tart cools.) Cool tart completely in pan on a rack before serving.

Serve with crème fraiche or lightly sweetened whipped cream. Serves six.

Pumpkin Gnocchi

11/2 pounds peeled, seeded pumpkin or butternut squash, cubed

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 large egg yolks, beaten

1/2 cup flour (approximately)

3 Tbs. unsalted butter or truffle butter

(if available)

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pumpkin in a baking dish, cover and bake until tender, about 20 minutes. Mash it into a bowl.

Step 2: Mix the mashed pumpkin with half the cheese and all the cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper. Beat in the egg yolks and stir in the flour, adding enough flour to make a soft dough.

Step 3: Pack the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2-inch tube. Bring a pot of salted water to a simmer. Force the pumpkin mixture through the pastry bag, cutting off 1-inch lengths as it emerges from the bag and letting the pieces drop into the simmering water. The best way to do this is to rest the tip of the bag on the edge of the saucepan so you have one hand free to cut the gnocchi mixture as it comes out of the bag.

Step 4: Simmer the gnocchi about 30 seconds. As they are cooked and rise to the surface, scoop them out of the saucepan and into a bowl of ice water. Drain them after they have been chilled.

To serve, reheat the gnocchi briefly in simmering water, drain them well, and serve tossed gently with plain or truffle butter. Dust with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Makes four first-course or two main-course servings.

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