Now, I love beer. And I love chocolate. But, mix beer AND chocolate?! It never crossed my mind before! However, on January 21st, folks in the know showed me that combining artisan beer and fine chocolate is an overlooked taste treat! As part of Arcadia's series of Master Courses, chocolatier Jane Morris of J Chocolatier and beer expert Greg Engert of Bluejacket teamed up to provide a guided tasting of 6 chocolates and 6 beers.
Greg introduced each beer, listing its ingredients and the particular way that it had been brewed. We all sniffed our taste glasses appreciatively. Mexican Radio, a sweet stout, was flavored with ancho chili and cinnamon. Aged Burning Bush, brewed with a whole bush of lemon bergamot was delicious with "cedar, herbaceous notes, and less residual sugar." My favorite – Aged Parish Fair, made with fresh tangerines and aged in Sauternes barrels – brought a high note to an otherwise freezing, winter night.
Jane's Guide to Chocolate Tasting showed me that there is another way to eat chocolate besides mindlessly devouring it during a Game of Thrones marathon. Good chocolate – obviously not the stuff I've been eating – should be savored. She instructed us to breathe in the chocolate's aroma, break the piece in two, listen to its "snap", chew it slowly, let the chocolate melt in our mouth, and then taste it again. Wow. Yes, Jane, I see what you mean. Taking my time did make a difference in my enjoyment of each sample. But then again, Jane's chocolates are DIVINE so you want to make each piece last. Valrhona Dulcey White Chocolate was slightly caramel colored due to the cooked milk (ooh, creamy). Dark chocolate was perfect with the little sliver of candied orange peel that it graced. And I have a date with myself to run down to J Chocolatier and purchase a dozen Lavender and Vanilla Bean Truffles. Hmmm, maybe I'll have to stop in at Blue Jacket for a Parish Fair on my way home.
Every region has its vernacular. In Jackson, MS, “making groceries” means going grocery shopping. “Ice potatoes” are white potatoes, “light” bread is white bread. As in the DC area, Jackson residents with lower income have a hard time accessing affordable nutritious food. In these communities, sweet rolls, jugs of corn syrup sweetened “drink” and chips greet customers as they enter the store. Vegetables, while decently priced, are often over- or under-ripe. Conversely, the same chain store in the more affluent part of town is more brightly lit, and a fresher, more varied selection of vegetable and fruits are placed prominently at the store’s entrance. Those with access to transportation shop at Walmart, the nation’s largest acceptor of SNAP benefits. State and public school employees are paid once a month, so title loans are a common way for people to make ends meet.
About $120 million worth of produce is grown in Mississippi, half of that in sweet potatoes. Yet $8.5 billion is spent on imported food, much of it low quality, processed food. However, 1.3 million acres of fertile farmland lie fallow, while the demand for fresh food far outstrips the supply. Mississippi ranks number one in the nation in hunger and obesity. 1 in 3 Mississippi women will die of heart disease. While unemployment is approximately 6 percent, the medical field is one of the largest employers in the area, focused mainly on addressing diet-related disease.
Fortunately, a collaborative of agencies and individuals has formed to address these issues. LIFT (Locally Invested Food Trade) is committed to providing Jackson residents a true opportunity to earn a living while living a healthy life. Farmers, landowners, social service agents, restauranteurs, culinary and health educators share ideas that will encompass youth involvement, soil conservation and mentorship. In the works are a food hub which will coordinate supply to make it economically viable for farmers. A “food innovation center” will house a grocery store front and food incubator kitchen, and act as a workforce training center in culinary education and hospitality. An onsite clinic, staffed by students in a Culinary Medicine program, will provide nutritional counseling to store customers and real life experience to the students.
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture of their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. “ This quote, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speak, is the final slide of my Kale Salad Show Tour Power Point. Those of us who work towards providing our neighbors with improved food access and affordability, gainful employment, and a sustainable, viable economy and environment embody this. That way, folks can be guaranteed that they’ll find fresh, beautiful food when they stop off on their way home from work to “make groceries.”
Will also drives to a Louisiana slaughterhouse every other week with a load of animals, a 7-hour trip. He tunes up the rig every three trips. "A man needs to be a Renaissance man. He needs to know carpentry, be a mechanic, dose the animals, and manage everything." The passion that he feels for his work is evident, as he tenderly lifts a sickly lamb or explains the savings he's made by buying feed directly from corn growers."I've been a firefighter and a paramedic. I've been to college. But I always come back to farming."
Flying in over Jackson, MS, I expected to see green fields stretching in all directions, waterways dissecting them. Mississippi wouldn't have been on my list of places in the first place to visit if my friend from DC didn't live here. The South was one of those "never go there" places. Sure, I wanted to hear real Delta blues, but the legacy of Jim Crow clouded its allure. But there I was in the Jackson Municipal Airport in the Medgar Evers Pavilion, reading about his work in the civil rights movement. Due to his work and that of others like him, I can sit where I want to in a public restaurant, vote, and attend the university of my choice. Last night I watched the movie Selma, and parts of it were so violent that I had to look away. Then, I shook myself and reminded myself, "I am where I am because people didn't look away. Even when they were literally beaten down, they still looked forward because they believed in what they were doing." The public knows the names of the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, but it's the regular folks who kept going, one step at a time, supporting those who marched and attended sit-ins. I go forward, blessing their name and their actions, grateful.