It's been 10 years since I first volunteered for the Heifer Project, a nonprofit based in Arkansas which provides livestock and teaches sustainable farming methods to needy communities around the world. This year when I went back to Arkansas to visit my parents, I visited the Heifer Ranch for the first time in many years. The Heifer Project has grown a great deal since I first volunteered there, and I was pleased to see that it is still true to its principles of sustainbility and passing on the gift.
Although I kind of lost touch with the Heifer Project in my college years, I'm newly impressed with its simple yet powerful approach to economic development which emphasizes teaching long-term skills and requiring recipients to give the first-born offspring of their Heifer animals to other needy families. While a lot of nonprofits have good intentions, lifting people out of poverty is not as easy as just giving away aid, and Heifer is a stellar example of what works. For my birthday this year I set up an online gift registry through the Heifer website, and being able to donate two pigs and a tree to Heifer was incredibly invigorating.
As Heifer now sources gift animals locally, the Ranch in Perryville currently serves mainly as a learning center for youth groups and other visitors. In addition to camels, goats, horses, and other animals which represent those it sends to poor families, the ranch is home to several global village sites with working models of gardens, animal shelters, and homes which show how people live and survive around the world. The ranch is about 45 miles outside of Little Rock, so if you're in town I definitely recommend a visit. In addition, their new headquarters in Little Rock right next to the Clinton Foundation headquarters is housed in a sleek green building which also hosts tours for visitors.
I couldn't come home without getting some souvenirs, and of course I opted for edible goodies from the gift shop. I couldn't resist the cookie cutter in the shape of Heifer's jumping cow logo, and when I got home I made delicious vegan gingerbread cookies. In addition, I got mango and marula preserves from Swaziland and Divine Chocolate from the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative in Ghana. The preserves were an exotic treat - simple, honest, and not too sweet. Marula is a fruit native to Africa that has served as an ancient source of nutrition to humans dating back tens of thousands of years. Its flavor reminds me most of lingonberries from Sweden with almost malty overtones. Divine chocolate is clean and smooth with an excellent flavor for a mid-afternoon chocolate fix (or for breakfast, as I often take my chocolate!).
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
After a few years living in Boston, I have honed my weekly shopping technique to a fine art in order to maximize the value of my dollars. The Haymarket is by far my most important source of deals, and I get at least 15lbs of fresh produce there every Saturday. For meat and most processed food items like (soy milk, frozen burritos, cheese), I go to Trader Joe's which offers consistently high-quality goods at no-hassle low prices. But for a few items like flour and cereal, Trader Joe's cannot match the sale prices at regular grocery stores like Shaw's because these stores take profit cuts on these items in order to lure customers to their stores. For these few items which go on sale regularly (my list includes King Arthur flour, Cabot butter and cheese, and Wolfgang Puck soup), I use the Shaw's searchable online circular to stock up when the sales are on.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Among the major cities I've been to in America, Boston may have the weakest restaurant scene of all. The prices can easily be twice what they would be for comparable places in L.A., and for reasons I'm not able to fathom, the quality is typically disappointing for a given price and style of restaurant. Tragically, the one true hidden gem I've found with amazing food at low prices was a placed called Noodle Alcove in Chinatown which served glutinously springy, slurpingly delicious handmade noodles. Within two months of my initial discovery, it went out of business. In any case, to stay within my $300 / month food budget, I eat out only a few times a year.
But when friends come to visit, I almost always take them to the Legal Test Kitchen in the waterfront district, close to the Silver line and the Institute of Contemporary Art. After Noodle Alcove's demise, it's by far the best deal in the city and serves some of my favorite dishes. As the name suggests, LTK is a testing ground for the Legal Seafoods chain, and although I find the regular Legal restaurants quite average with a penchant for serving dry, tasteless seafood, LTK seems to employ much more capable cooks, and the textures and flavors of the delicate seafood dishes are always on par. Best of all, the prices are at least 25% lower than what you would pay for the same dishes at another Boston restaurant (which would likely not taste as good either). The portions are generous (the large plate of mussels above was only $10), and the decor is sleek and stylish (another contrast with the stodginess of the regular Legals).
A favorite which seems to always be on the menu is the Niman Ranch burger (above) made with naturally-raised beef from the famous Niman Ranch. So far it's the best burger we've found in Boston, and it's served on wonderfully chewy bun with crunchy slaw and freshly-fried potato chips. It's a steal for $10.
Last time I went we splurged on the lobster pad thai. Although it's the most expensive thing on the menu, at less than $30 it's a pretty good deal for lobster in this town. The dish contained sweet, briny chunks of the meat from an entire lobster, and the pad thai was well-made with nuanced flavor.
I really haven't gone wrong with anything I've ordered at LTK, and paying for the check is a cinch with their self-check gadgets with which you can slide your own credit card and split checks with ease. When you're done with dinner, take a walk by the waterfront and catch some stunning views of the city. In this city, dining out doesn't get much better than this.