What I enjoy most about food is that it is a profoundly social urge. Food is an occasion for sharing, communicating with each other to brush up on each others lives, and giving. It's the reason why I am always asking friends to visit over dinner. Sharing my creations and socializing is extremely important, so when I had a free evening in St.Paul last Friday, I rang up my bestie, Justa. Only this time, she invited me to prepare a meal together with her family and eat it at UFF, the Urban Flower Field, in St.Paul.
But before I go into detail about our collaborative dinner, I'd like to first explain a bit about BrightSide produce and UFF. If you don't know anything about BrightSide, I'd encourage you to look at their website and visit their farm stands in Minneapolis.
However, to be brief, BrightSide has been delivering produce for nearly 3 years, and started as a collaborative effort. The faculty at the University of St. Thomas, community of Minneapolis, and the Health Department came together to address food insecurity in underserved neighborhoods and create a solution. According to Map the Meal Gap* 2012 data, food insecurity in MN ranges from 7-14% with an overall of 11% in MN. Organizing and implementing BrightSide, as well as UFF, is a result of such efforts to combat indications of food-access problems or limitations.
But who better to explain, than the students themselves?
They have a whomping 16 locations throughout Minneapolis who serve & sell their produce. It doesn't stop there either; recently, they started popping up in San Diego as well with 6 locations.
Adam Kay, Justa's husband, is a biology associate professor at St. Thomas and has been working tirelessly with BrightSide to address the Staples Food Ordinance. The ordinance requires grocery stores to maintain certain levels of quality produce available for purchase at all times. In 2016, Minneapolis increased it's requirements making it harder for people to get access to produce. Kay solution: rent out space in corner stores to sell BrightSide produce using the Biology Departments vehicle. Read the complete story here.
"The fuel for BrightSide’s success is our relationships. Young people from north Minneapolis work closely with St. Thomas students and faculty to make the whole operation work. They aim to use the central importance of healthy eating to bring rich and poor communities together in common purpose."
Adam's efforts doesn't stop there. He is also a key player in helping develop UFF, the Urban Flower Field, an 'intersection of art, science, a community and a civic process.' It's such a welcoming, peaceful space in downtown St. Paul, and I just love the fact that is was a vacant lot previously. Now, it's a place for community, relaxation, laughter and beauty.
Whew, now that I've done some explaining on the food -BrightSide produce- and location -UFF- I'd like to speak about the picnic. Together, Justa and I split the cooking duties to prepare gyros while Matilda, Justa's daughter, pretended to make soup -adorbs-
Justa was responsible for making the sauce and couscous while I, the elk steak and veggie accoutrements. Therefore, I've only included the recipe with which I contributed, and if you really want the couscous side, you'll need to ask Justa.
Once we finished all the components of the gyros, we packed up the car and drove to UFF. It was ultimately a lovely night, and I was finally able to relax and enjoy a meal with Adam, Justa, Matilda, and Cupcake -Matilda's name for her unborn baby brother- ...for cute.
8 oz elk steak
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tbsp dried rosemary
1/2 tbsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp coriander, ground
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder
pinch paprika, smoked
s & p**
1 cup tzatziki sauce (click here to see another version of yogurt sauce)
1. Mix together in a small bowl rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper to taste -this is your rub-
2. Apply rub to elk steak, coating completely
3. Heat oil in a skillet (you can also do this on the grill) and quickly sear the elk on all sides. Reduce the heat to low and allow the meat to cook slowly until desired doneness. (medium rare = 133-135F, medium = 140-145F). You can cut into the meat to check, but know that all those flavourful juices will escape -try to resist-
4. Allow to rest 5-10 minutes before slicing into strips
Gyros are typically wrapped with flatbread and contain sliced tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce to accompany the meat. There's no right or wrong way to assemble, as one may have seen from the slideshow of pictures, but I like to mix/match flavours and keep things separate/unwrapped.
*Feeding America first published the Map the Meal Gap project in early 2011, with the generous support of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and The Nielsen Company, to learn more about the face of hunger at the local level. In August, 2011, with the support of the ConAgra Foods Foundation, child food insecurity data was added to the project. Gundersen, C., E. Engelhard, A. Satoh, & E. Waxman. Map the Meal Gap 2014: Food Insecurity Estimates at the County Level. Feeding America, 2014.
**salt and pepper