In the kitchen with julia clancy

When we gathered in a Vermont farmhouse earlier this fall for one of our latest photoshoots, we were thrilled to welcome chef Julia Clancy into the fold. Julia arrived with armfuls of the most beautiful Vermont fall produce, an infectious love of food, and a truly joyful, generous approach to cooking and eating.

Julia grew up loving food and cooking, and after college, she headed to Cork, Ireland, to attend the intensive cooking school headed by chef Darina Allen. There, Julia spent twelve-hour days in the kitchen — mastering tarts, planning menus, preserving food, roasting the perfect chicken, and more.

Next she headed for San Francisco, where Julia interned at Chez Panisse and then landed a job at Zuni Cafe. When life brought her to Vermont, she started writing her own menus for pop-ups at a local farm, writing about food and drink for our local alternative weekly, and then working in the test kitchen at EatingWell magazine.

We caught up with Julia this month to talk about food and her tips for everything from low-waste cooking to feeding a crowd.

On her menu for our Bee’s Wrap feast

When Julia developed her menu for our Bee’s Wrap shoot, she took into consideration a few elements. First, a sense of place — her food is always driven by where she is, and what ingredients are fresh, vibrant and colorful. The spread she whipped up was as beautiful as it was tasty, including (but not limited to!) a pressed picnic sandwich, smoky red beet yogurt spread, a “halvsies” salad with an herby vinaigrette, and a gorgeous citrus rye tart with mascarpone cream.

Julia says she’s inspired in her cooking to find a balance of richness and freshness — something warming and zippy, with the right play of acids and fresh herbs. She loves to cook family-style meals.

“I want to make food that is beautiful and seasonal and compelling,” said Julia — but not so beautiful as to be untouchable. “I want you to put your elbows on the table, bring your appetite, and go to town.”

On reducing waste in the kitchen

“Understanding how to be a good cook is understanding how to be an efficient cook,” Julia said. Reducing waste as a chef just makes sense: it’s good for the environment, and it’s also good for the bottom line. “If you’re throwing out half of your ingredient into your compost or your trash can, you’re losing a lot of money as a cook.”

Julia’s training and professional experience has centered on kitchens where zero- or low-waste cooking is the norm, and when she moved to Vermont, she found that ethic shared by food-lovers and farmers.

“What the home cook can learn from people who cook professionally is how to use more of the ingredient,” she said. That means using the tops of radishes and carrots in a way that’s actually delicious. Julia gushes about broccoli stems — her favorite part of the vegetable. “Peel it like you would a carrot, slice it, and it’s a gold mine.”

Save potato skins to make chips. Use apple skins to make vinegar. And if that’s a little “eager mcbeaver,” as Julia put it, start with using the freezer to cut down on waste. She freezes herb stems from basil, cilantro, and parsley, then stuffs them in the cavity of a chicken or under a fillet of fish. She freezes the rinds from her parmesan cheese to chuck into soups, and vegetable peels to simmer into future stocks.

On Bee’s Wrap in her kitchen

“I save bits and ends of everything — everything,” Julia told us. She’s not kidding: The rinds of parmesan, fresh and woody herb stems, apple peels, citrus peels, halved avocados. The only downside to this thrift, Julia said, was that she was using more tin foil, Ziplock bags, and plastic wrap than she’d like. She first encountered Bee’s Wrap as a recipe developer and tester at EatingWell, and quickly made the switch to using it in her own kitchen.

She uses the larger wraps to store extra greens, herbs, and herb stems. She also uses the the larger wraps to make pie crust or fresh pasta without needing to scrape down her counter.

“I like that Bee's Wrap gets better with age. Better! Less waxy, more nimble, very second nature to use,” said Julia. “It's also beautiful; it makes me happy to use something as attractive as it is functional as it is sustainable.”

On cooking for a crowd

During a time of year when many are entertaining, we asked Julia for her tips for cooking for a crowd. She gravitates toward dishes that hold their integrity at room temperature, so she isn’t rushing to nail the timing of a meal at the same time she’s enjoying the company of guests. She’ll make a salad, cover it, and keep it in the refrigerator until dressing before serving. She loves one-pot, family-style meals that can be doctored with a few accoutrements.

Think: grain salads that get better as they sit, or a big salad with seasonal veggies and a zippy dressing that can be made ahead. Little touches — like a fennel or chili oil drizzled over a big pot of soup — help make a meal more special without radically increasing the effort.

On advice for novice cooks

Julia loves cooking — but she’s quick to be realistic about the act of feeding one’s self and one’s family.

“I don’t think everyone has to love cooking,” she said. “I think that puts a little too much pressure on the act of cooking itself.” Sometimes it’s late, you’re exhausted, and cooking is a chore. She recommends that first, individuals think about what kind of cook they are. Do you want to be on your feet for thirty minutes, actively cooking a quick meal? Do you want to throw ingredients on a sheet pan and walk away for an hour? “It’s not one size fits all,” said Julia.

Then, she said, find a few tools to make your life easier in the kitchen. Start with a sharp chef’s knife and a cutting board. Add a couple of clean kitchen towels, a skillet and a pot, and a wooden spoon. Find the hacks that work for you.

“If you don’t want to chop, grate a tomato and an onion [with a box grater] into a skillet and that’s the basis of a sauce,” she said.

And finally, learn the basics. “You don’t need an elaborate recipe,” Julia said. “Just get a couple of techniques down. You can go online and get a recipe for anything. And that’s exciting. But it’s also unnecessary. If you can get certain techniques down — how to cook rice, or how to poach chicken breasts — it gives you a lot of freedom if you feel like you have mastery. Then you can start getting more experimental.”

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Letter from sarah: business can’t afford to be silent on climate change

For a long time, conventional wisdom had it that companies shouldn’t tackle hot-button political issues. That’s advice borne out of fear: the fear that, in exchange for voicing our opinions, we risk angering customers or losing sales. 

As the founder and CEO of Bee’s Wrap, I’m motivated these days by a greater fear: that, should our elected officials fail to act on the crisis of climate change, the damage we cause to our planet will be irreversible, negatively impacting our families, our communities, and our ecosystems forever.

As a Certified B Corp, Bee’s Wrap is committed to using business as a force for good. We make sustainable products that reduce single-use plastics, use environmentally friendly and safe ingredients, and are constantly looking for additional ways to reduce our carbon footprint. I am proud to run my company in a state that values these things too, but I know that together, we can do more. This year, Bee’s Wrap added its voice to the collective commitment of the Vermont business community to do better for our environment.

On Thursday, Jan. 23, Bee’s Wrap joined dozens of other Vermont businesses to advocate at the Statehouse for climate action policies in 2020. We participated in training, lobbying, and a press conference, as well as individual and group meetings with corresponding representatives.

While the Green Mountain State has a history of innovative environmental policies, the current climate challenges require audacious solutions. This legislative term, our lawmakers have the opportunity to pass more ambitious and much-needed policy. 

I feel it is important that our elected officials hear from the Vermont business community, as we are important stakeholders in Vermont’s economy and have an impact on the environment we all share. Our team joined others from companies like Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry’s, Danforth Pewter, and Brattleboro Savings and Loan, along with environmental nonprofits VPIRG and 350VT, to speak directly to our elected officials and we urged them to take immediate action. Bee’s Wrap’s focus is on reducing the usage and availability of single-use plastics, increasing the accessibility of renewable energy, and prioritizing the reduction of climate pollution, and we support the comprehensive 2020 climate policy agenda outlined by VPIRG. 

Vermont’s small size and long history of participatory democracy provides an opportunity for Vermont business (and individual Vermonters) to have direct, substantial, face-to-face conversations with their own state representatives and legislative leaders. Bee’s Wrap participated in this event to advocate for our business values and shared priorities for bold climate action. We did this alongside our corporate peers, demonstrating together that the need for action is vital and urgent. I am proud to have led Bee’s Wrap in the participation of this direct demonstration of our core values and am excited to continue advocating for the necessary change that our state and world need.

Why biodegradability matters

Plastic is forever. Bee’s Wrap isn’t. And that’s by design.

Bee’s Wrap is naturally biodegradable and compostable. We started making Bee’s Wrap after growing deeply concerned about the persistent effect of plastics on our planet. Plastic never leaves us. It lingers in landfills for centuries. It enters our soil, our waterways, and our oceans, breaking down into tiny but ever-present pieces.

We set out to make an alternative, and we knew from the beginning that whatever we made needed to be biodegradable. That’s because we believe in considering the entire life of the products we make and consume, from their creation and manufacturing to their eventual end. Where does a product come from? How is it made? And crucially, what happens when we no longer need or use this item?

This is where biodegradability comes in: A product that is biodegradable can be easily returned to the earth. It’s a technology as old as time, and everything made in nature returns to nature with time. There’s no complicated recycling process, and no need to send your Bee’s Wrap off to a special facility. Made from four simple ingredients, Bee’s Wrap comes from the earth, and is designed to return to the earth. 

Importantly, what you do with naturally biodegradable materials matters. Modern landfills are lined and packed tightly, creating an oxygen-poor environment where even food can take decades to decompose. One study conducted by the University of Arizona uncovered 25-year-old hotdogs, corncobs, and grapes, as well as 50-year-old newspapers that were still readable. Food waste that decomposes in landfills also generates methane gas, which has 34 times the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide, according to Project Drawdown, a coalition of researchers working on climate change solutions. 

This is why composting is so important; food waste, yard waste, and other organic material holds valuable nutrients that can be returned to the soil after decomposition. The same is true for Bee’s Wrap. When your wrap has reached the end of its useful life — typically after about a year of regular use and proper care in your kitchen — you can use your wraps as a natural fire starter, or you can add them directly to your backyard compost pile. With a little time and the right environmental conditions, your Bee’s Wrap will break down into nutritious compost that you can use in your backyard garden. 

We’ve designed Bee’s Wrap to be hardworking, a trusty companion in your kitchen and on the go as you seek out plastic-free alternatives that are good for you and the planet. As your Bee’s Wrap begins to wear out, we hope you’ll look on those signs of wear and use as a welcome reminder of the natural cycles that surround us.

The joy of inconvenience

Choosing inconvenience can be an act of quiet revolution. 

For too long, we’ve been told that convenience will cure what ails us. How convenient, to find our meals prepackaged in the freezer section of our grocery store, our bread baked and sliced and stowed in plastic bags. It’s convenient to pop a load of laundry in the dryer and to have our work at our fingertips, forever accessible on the devices we carry in our pockets. We click a button and, conveniently, that which we need — or think we need — arrives on our doorstep: underwear, paper towels, a birthday gift, a box of cereal.

We don’t talk often enough about how convenience can harm us. For the convenience of a smartphone, we trade the quiet of disconnecting. For the convenience of fast and pre-packaged food, we swallow a meal that may leave us sluggish or unsatisfied. Pre-packaged meals and one-click shopping leave us with a mountain of waste bound for the recycling can or the landfill. We’ve been promised efficiency and speed, and the freedom of time. Sometimes we receive that. Sometimes we don’t. 

The truth is, there’s joy in inconvenience. In the smell of bread baked at home, the magic of a few ingredients kneaded together and turned into sustenance. There’s joy in taking laundry out to the line, in standing in the sunlight and hanging clothes to dry. There’s joy and pride in knitting a sweater, or mending a pair of jeans. 

woman wrapping homemade bread in bee's wrap sustainable food storage

We’re not arguing for a return to the past, or for a rose-colored view of the very real work that it takes to clothe and feed and nourish ourselves in a way that’s kind to our bodies and our planet. There’s a time and a place for convenience, and there’s also luxury, and privilege, in the ability to savor inconvenience. 

Is it, occasionally, inconvenient to make a meal from scratch? To bundle a sandwich in Bee’s Wrap, or to spend a few minutes at the sink, washing dishes and reusable containers and Bee’s Wrap by hand? Yes.

Sometimes, we choose the joy of inconvenience, the quiet resistance of finding a different way of moving in the world — a path that’s lighter for the planet and more fulfilling for the individual. We choose to slow down. We choose thoughtfulness. We choose reuse. And we find, in those habits, new satisfaction.