Sunday, July 5, 2009

'Fresh Thoughts' on Our Meal at the National Aquarium

by Erin and Xani

Xani and I saw the movie Food, Inc. tonight (it's only in Baltimore until Wednesday, folks!). We are both big fans of Michael Pollan and his philosophies, and as we have discussed in earlier posts, we are glad to be part of the movement towards safer food: safer for our bodies, our families, our communities, and our planet. (Read a brief but great review of Food, Inc. by the Amateur Gourmet here. The movie also raises a few very interesting legal issues such as antitrust, libel, agencies' regulatory powers, etc. -- legal nerd alert!) While we both make a daily effort to know where our food is coming from and support sources that produce local and/or organic and/or sustainable products, an opportunity to further support this effort fell into our laps a few weeks ago -- or should I say it swam into our laps?

The National Aquarium in Baltimore held a series of dinners on sustainable seafood called the Fresh Thoughts Dining Series, and Xani and I were invited to attend the third and final dinner in late June. It was fun, delicious, and definitely informative and interesting!

Xani and I walked from our neighborhood through the harbor to the Aquarium on a lovely June evening. We arrived and were presented with a free ticket to the dolphin show! We are SO VIP. It was a great show - I am always amazed at how smart dolphins are. Apparently they are one of few animals that recognizes themselves in mirrors! After the dolphin show, we checked out the jellyfish exhibit, which was creepy but beautiful, and then we headed up to one of the top floors of the Aquarium for the dinner.

The room was beautiful and looked out across the entire harbor, and you could see our neighborhood of Federal Hill across the water.

Our 'hood

There was a bar (yippee!) with local Clipper City beers, plus sangria to match the latin flavor of the evening's menu. After a few drinks and some guacamole and chips, we sat down at our assigned tables. The chef served stuffed mini-peppers filled with cheese and peppers. It was a delicious first bite to the meal. After some more chatting with Aquarium staff and other bloggers, we settled down to listen to a few brief talks on sustainable seafood.

Chips and guacamole made right on the spot

Stuffed peppers

The theme of the evening was our good friend, the tilapia. They chose tilapia as the theme because it is farm-raised locally in Maryland, and (we learned) it is an herbivore so it is low down on the food chain. Lower down on the food chain means fewer fish went into creating the fish you are eating: for every pound of tuna you eat (which is high on the food chain), that represents 10 pounds of squid, and for every squid, that represents 10 pounds of smaller fish that it ate, etc. With a tilapia, all you are eating are the plants it ate. The ecologist explained it by likening it to land animals: eating tuna or swordfish is like eating lions and tigers - they are the biggest, baddest predators on the block, and we should avoid eating them to conserve the fish (or tiger?) population.

After all that learning we were ready to eat! The food was excellent, especially the tilapia tacos. We both love fish tacos and these were outstanding - the fish was marinated in cumin, chipotle, lime zest and juice, and olive oil, and was cooked perfectly. Then it was placed atop a corn tortilla along with a lime-cilantro creme, pickled red onion, shredded cabbage, and queso chihuahua - YUM! So delicious. They also had chicken tacos, and the chicken was from Springfield Farms (a local farm where readers might recall we got our Thanksgiving Turkey last year). In addition to the tacos, the chef served a delicious salad and grilled corn as well, both so tasty and fresh. We enjoyed lovely conversation with our tablemates and a few more brief speeches (one from the Clipper City brewery, another from the chef) as we finished our dinner.

Fish taco

Chicken taco, salad, corn

Then it was time for dessert! It was strawberry and blueberry shortcake with whipped cream. The shortcake was perfectly made - tender and sweet, plus a sprinkling of coarse sugar over the top. A great end to the meal.

Shady shortcake

After dinner, the aquarium had closed to the public so it was just us VIPs hanging around. Xani and I had the shark exhibit all to ourselves! Kinda spooky but mostly awesome.

Thanks to the National Aquarium and Amy B. for inviting us to this interesting and important event - we learned a lot and had a great time!

Happy sustainable eating, and go see Food, Inc.!

EP & X

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