Saturday, June 28, 2008

Discoveries at the South of the James Market

I am at the South of the James very week, and have so much fun trying offerings from different vendors. Summer has kicked in, and the produce offerings are so fun and diverse. It is getting difficult to choose what to buy! Today, I picked up my first eggplant and tomatoes from Victory- Celebrate good times- woo hoo! I also picked up some shiitakes from Fertile Crescent's stand. Adam is selling these gorgeous mushrooms for OG Roots, an organic grower out of Farmville. Also, I am kind of obsessed with the fresh pasta from Cavanna. I have tried the Tagilatelle which was amazing, and this week I bought spinach and regular Fettucini. Fresh pasta is a whole different animal than 'regular' pasta. Cavanna also sells handmade ravioli- I am working my way through their wares.

When I was about to leave, James (bless him) bought me the last bag of Pecan Squares from Lana's stand. Oh- man. So good. Pecans, orange, butter and brown sugar- and probably more butter. So, for today, my life is complete.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Tany Denckla Cobb on Local Possiblities

Two weeks ago on June 14,th the Richmond Times Dispatch ran an Op/Ed piece by Tanya Denckla Cobb entitled Global Community Food Projects Suggest Local Possibilities. As the RTD notes, Tanya Cobb is the Author of the book "The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food." and is senior associate at The UVA Institute for Environmental Negotiation. In addition, she teaches food system planning courses for UVA's Department of Urban and Environmental Planning. Her piece in the Richmond Times Dispatch offers some interesting suggestions on ways we could improve our own local food economies. Click Here for the Richmond Times Dispatch article.

NPR Piece on British Garden Allotments

My sister in law is always forwarding me all kinds of great stuff and I try to pass it on whenever I can. This time it is the link to a nice story NPR did about the British Garden Allotments. It's a nice bit of inspiration.

Time for Tomatoes!!

The area's first tomatoes began appearing at Farmers Markets around the City earlier this week. Multiple vendors were offering small quantities of our town's first picks of tomatoes, green bell peppers, Hungarian peppers, and eggplants. My guess is that the Saturday markets will have more to offer... and then we'll be off and running! So starting thinking about how you'll enjoy the seasons first offerings.... fresh sliced and on their own, tomato sandwiches, tomato Zucchini pie, eggplant lasagna, traditional Greek salad! Oh my goodness.. enjoy!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wonderful Market "Social" Update

UPDATE: Earlier this month I posted a piece about a fun way to bring good people and good food together. It turns out the name of the creative and clever host of the event I dubbed a "Market Social" is Andrea. Since the original June 16th posting date of this story I have been able to communicate with Andrea directly and she has provided me with this nice insight into her motivation, (as well as some practical steps) behind this market based event.

A letter from Andrea......

My partner and I have been members of various CSAs in Richmond, and are currently members of the Victory Farms CSA. We love cooking with friends, so this was just a bigger version (there were 10 of us total) than we usually do. I had a full pantry that day, in anticipation of making whatever came to people's minds. (In the pantry/fridge: veggie stock, pre-cooked beans, various citrus, good parmesan cheese, rice, pasta, polenta, garlic and ginger - plus I made sure my spices, oils, and vinegars were all full.) We have an herb garden, so I anticipated using that, too. I made pizza dough in the morning, and set it to rise. I also provided breakfast (people had paid for the event, so I wanted people to feel a little spoiled). The foods we made were really just some of the foods in my regular rotation of dishes, plus lots of ideas from others. One person transformed a bunch of arugula into pesto. Another made a vinaigrette for salad. One person made bruschetta. Everybody helped clean and prep veggies. My partner tended the grill. (It was 100 degrees out - so he gets major points for that!) Coincidentally, several of the people who attended had recently read The Omnivore's Dilemma. I think that consciousness about the provenance of one's dinner has become more of an accessible idea. (It was that book that really transformed my own thinking about it - shifting me from just being a budding foodie to being more of a locavore.) I had a few goals in planning the event. First, like any host, I wanted people to feel comfortable and well-cared for. I wanted them to eat delicious food. I wanted us to spend a leisurely time together while actually doing something - to get to know one another while our hands were working together on a shared task. And, I wanted people to feel like this kind of eating, and this kind of living, is accessible and real and fun. I'm really pleased with the outcome.

Thank you Andrea!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Flowers as Food, Food as Flowers

I am lucky enough to work with flowers, my first love, every day. So, it is a natural evolution to bring flowers to the table, and not just as a centerpiece. Flowers are an essential element to any vegetable garden as they attract pollinators, as well as making your garden a beautiful place to be. This weekend I harvested several types of edible flowers for a dinner party, and while we used them as garnish primarily, I recommend that you taste them. Aside from being a beautiful addition to your plate, these flowers are really flavorful and often beneficially medicinal.

On the left, there are Nasturtiums. Nasturtiums flowers are a bit spicy and really beautiful. Next, are Dill flowers which are so fun. They taste a whole lot like, well, like dill. Pictured in the next bowl is a Calendula blossom, which has been used in place of saffron. The Shunkigu is related to the Chrysanthemum, and has a light and tangy flavor. Pictured on the far right are Borage flowers, which taste a lot like cucumbers. I also served lavender flowers with the Blueberry and meringue dessert. Mmmm...Hmmm....

Then, at the market on Saturday, I got all excited when I saw leaves from Harlequin Corn (also called Japonica Striped Maize by Seed Savers )in the bouquets at Amy's Garden stand. Amy is always using herbs like basil in bouquets, and I really appreciate someone who really recognizes the beauty of the plant itself.

Here is a photo of my amazing new bouquet, from behind.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wonderful Market "Social"

This week my friend Montana approached me all excited saying she had the best time this past Saturday thanks to the South of the James Market and the creative planning of a friend of hers from church. Montana's friend, Andrea had decided to host a fantastic day of celebrating food, community and the joy of meeting and making new friends. Okay so how did Montana's host accomplish this? She started by inviting a small group of people from her church who may have met before, but never really got to spend much time together. The guests joined the host and her husband for a Saturday Morning Breakfast of homemade scones, with homemade jam and coffee followed by a group trip to the South of the James Market.
The host had planned out in advance a lunch menu that allowed for some tweaking based on what was available at the market and then everyone shopped the market for all the necessary ingredients to make a fantastic lunch. My friend Montana says that she had not ever been to this market before, and she felt that most of the other guests were not accustomed to shopping at farmers markets. This fun group outing allowed them to explore the market with an experienced market shopper and then see how all the great produce you can find there can be turned into a great fresh meal.
Once all the ingredients had been procured and some of the guests had found things to purchase just for themselves, they all headed back to the car and their host's home to spend a couple hours working together to prepare and enjoy their meal! Once the guest returned home they found all of the recipes for the foods they had just enjoyed had been e-mailed to them.
Montana had a great day she says, making new friends, exploring the market and enjoying wonderful food. She lives in the far west end and she has a real interest in fresh farmers market produce. While the market they visited is probably too far for her to travel to on a regular basis she is hopeful to visit the New Lakeside Market and would like to see that grow and expand. She also suggested that a market closer to her in the short pump area would be the thing to really draw her out.
So what great foods did this party enjoy....? Here is the e-mail that was sent full of helpful tips and great recipes!

Farmer’s Market Lunch – Recipes
Oatmeal Scones
From Baking Illustrated: A Best Recipe Classic, by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated (NY, 2004).
Note: Yes, I’m aware of the large amount of butter and full-fat dairy. You’re still alive, aren’t you?
1 1/3 cups oatmeal (rolled oats or quick oats)
¼ c whole milk
¼ c heavy cream
1 egg
1 ½ cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
10 Tbsp cold butter, cut up
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread oats over a cookie sheet. Bake 7-9 minutes, or until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool.
Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk together milk, cream, and egg. Remove 1 tablespoon of mixture to use for glazing.
Place flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into food processor. Pulse to mix. Add the cold butter. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. (If you don’t have a food processor – use a pastry blender or knives to cut in the butter.)
Transfer mixture to a bowl. Stir in oats. With a spatula, stir in liquid ingredients, until it comes together in a mass. (Mixture will be sticky.)
Dust work surface with flour. Turn dough out. Form into a 7-inch circle (about 1-inch thick). Cut into 8 wedges. Use a spatula to transfer wedges onto paper-lined baking sheet. Brush with reserved milk mixture.
Bake till browned, 12-14 minutes. Cool on pan 5 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Strawberry Jam & Cherry Jam
No big secrets here – I follow the directions on the package of Sure-Jell for low-sugar recipes (the pink box, not the yellow one). The strawberry is a freezer jam, and the cherry is a regular cooked jam. Tart cherries are hard to find in Virginia – I had to drive forever to get them. Let me know if you have a better source!

Pizza Dough
(The host own recipe)
(makes enough for 2 pizzas)
3 ½ cups bread flour
2 packages dry yeast
1 tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
1 ¼ c warm water
¼ c olive oil (can use less oil – but use at least 2 Tbsp)
1 tsp olive oil (for coating dough)
Cornmeal for dusting
Combine flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add water and olive oil. Mix until combined, then knead 10 minutes. (I do this in my Kitchenaid mixer.) Add 1 tsp olive oil to coat dough. Cover and let rise till doubled (1-2 hours). Punch down. (If there’s time, raise and punch down 1 or 2 more times – the more you let it rise, the better it tastes.)
Makes 2 crusts.
For oven: Preheat pizza stone to 500 degrees. Roll out dough and top. Carefully slide onto pizza stone. Bake 10-12 minutes.
Pizza on the Grill
For grill: Preheat grill to blazing hot. Roll out dough. Slide dough directly onto grill rack. Cover and bake until firm enough to flip over – about 3-5 minutes. Flip dough over (using tongs), and quickly top with toppings. Cover and bake until done – about 5 minutes more.
Friday Night Pizza (recommended by Elaine)
From Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in Food Life (NY, 2007).
(makes enough for 2 pizzas)
3 tsp yeast
1 ½ c warm water
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 ½ c white flour
2 c whole wheat flour
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add oil and salt. Mix the flours and knead them into the liquid mixture. Let dough rise for 30-40 minutes. Divide in half and roll out two 12-inch crusts. Top and bake at 425 for 20 minutes.
NOTE: Pizza dough freezes well. Punch dough down, and freeze in a plastic bag. To thaw, place bag in a bowl and thaw in the fridge (will take about a day). Bring to room temperature before rolling out.

Swiss Chard Tacos
From Rick Bayless, Mexican Everyday (NY, 2005).
Roasted tomato salsa:
1 14-oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes (try Muir Glen) – or roast your own (see next page)
1 jalepeno pepper, or 1 chipotle pepper (canned, packed in adobo) – or more or less, to taste
1-2 cloves garlic, whole and unpeeled
Swiss chard filling:
1 bunch (12 ounces) Swiss chard or other greens (beet greens, spinach, etc.) – washed and dried
1 ½ Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes (or more or less, to taste)
Corn tortillas
Goat cheese or queso fresco or feta
For salsa:
In a small dry pan (cast iron is best) over medium-low heat, place the garlic and the jalepeno (if using). Slowly pan-roast the garlic & chile, turning, until browned on all sides. Peel garlic. Rub skins off pepper. Slice off stem of pepper, slice lengthwise, and remove seeds.
Drain tomatoes. Place tomatoes, chile, and garlic in food processor. Pulse until pureed.
For filling:
To prepare chard, remove stems from leaves. Chop stems into 1/2-inch pieces. Chop leaves into 1-inch pieces.
Put onion and oil in large nonstick pan over medium heat. Sprinkle with about ½ tsp salt. Slowly cook until caramelized (10-15 minutes). Add garlic and red pepper. Add chard stems and cook till just tender. Add leaves and stir until wilted. (Covering the pan can quicken the wilting time.

Note: I roast tomatoes, rather than canning them – they have tons of flavor and their uses are limitless. Plus, it takes much less work than canning! (Try just pureeing roasted tomatoes, and then cooking them with garlic, olive oil, and thyme for the best pasta sauce ever.)
Roasted Roma Tomatoes
Roma tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheets with foil. Lay tomatoes, cut side up, on baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until slightly browned and cooked, about 20-25 minutes.
Freeze tomatoes, with juices. Can be pureed without peeling.
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic
From Tom Collichio, Think Like a Chef (NY, 2000).
(This recipe makes 3 different ingredients – roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic cloves, and roasted tomato juice.)
20 ripe tomatoes, peeled, stems and cores removed, sliced in half crosswise
2 heads garlic, divided into cloves
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
8 sprigs fresh thyme
Heat oven to 275 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, toss all ingredients. Place tomatoes, cut sides down, onto the baking sheet. Divide the rest of the mixture (garlic, oil, thyme) over the tomatoes.
Roast 3-5 hours, turning once during process. While roasting, periodically pour off the juice that collects in the pan – save the juice. Roast until tomatoes look slightly shrunken, and concentrated (but not yet dry).
Allow tomatoes to cool in the pan. Discard thyme stems. Store tomatoes, juice, and garlic in separate containers. Refrigerate for 1 week or freeze for 6 months.

Home-cooked beans: A bit of work, but they taste better than canned, and have no mystery ingredients. I get my beans from the bulk bins at Ellwood Thompson’s. They’re typically fresher, better quality, organic, and cheaper than grocery-store bags of beans (a win-win-win-win). Cooked beans can be frozen, in their cooking liquid.
Basic Cannellini Beans or Chickpeas
From Jack Bishop, The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook (NY: 1997).
1 pound dried cannelloni (or Great Northern) beans, or chickpeas, washed and picked over
3 large garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
Place beans in large bowl, and add enough water to cover by several inches. Soak at least 8 hours or overnight. (Quick method: bring beans and water to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes. Turn off heat, cover, and let sit 1 hour.)
Drain beans. Place beans in large pot, and add enough fresh water to cover by several inches. Add garlic and by leaves. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Add salt to taste (1-2 teaspoons) and continue cooking until beans are tender but not falling apart (anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes more). Turn off heat and allow to cool in their cooking liquid. Discard bay and garlic before using or freezing.

Sicilian Chickpeas with Escarole and Caramelized Onions
From Jack Bishop, The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook (NY: 1997).
1 large escarole head (about 1½ lbs), well washed, dried, and torn into 2-inch pieces
¼ cup olive oil
1 large or 2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced (about 2½ -3 cups or so)
2 tsp sugar
¼ cup raisins
Salt and pepper
3 cups chickpeas, drained – reserve 1/3 cup cooking liquid
Heat oil in large sauté pan. Add onions and ¼ tsp salt, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until golden (about 15 minutes). Add sugar and cook until onions are golden brown (about 5 minutes – be careful not to burn).
Add raisins and escarole to pan. Cook, turning escarole occasionally, until greens are wilted but still crunchy (about 5 minutes). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Stir in chickpeas, raisins, and cooking liquid. Simmer about 3 minutes. Serve either warm or room temperature.

UPDATE: It turns out the name of this creative and clever host is Andrea. Since the original June 16th posting date of this story I have been able to communicate with Andrea directly and she has provided me with this nice insight into her motivation and some practical steps behind this market based event.
A letter from Andrea......
"My partner and I have been members of various CSAs in Richmond, and are currently members of the Victory Farms CSA. We love cooking with friends, so this was just a bigger version (there were 10 of us total) than we usually do. I had a full pantry that day, in anticipation of making whatever came to people's minds. (In the pantry/fridge: veggie stock, pre-cooked beans, various citrus, good parmesan cheese, rice, pasta, polenta, garlic and ginger - plus I made sure my spices, oils, and vinegars were all full.) We have an herb garden, so I anticipated using that, too. I made pizza dough in the morning, and set it to rise. I also provided breakfast (people had paid for the event, so I wanted people to feel a little spoiled).

The foods we made were really just some of the foods in my regular rotation of dishes, plus lots of ideas from others. One person transformed a bunch of arugula into pesto. Another made a vinaigrette for salad. One person made bruschetta. Everybody helped clean and prep veggies. My partner tended the grill. (It was 100 degrees out - so he gets major points for that!)

Coincidentally, several of the people who attended had recently read The Omnivore's Dilemma. I think that consciousness about the provenance of one's dinner has become more of an accessible idea. (It was that book that really transformed my own thinking about it - shifting me from just being a budding foodie to being more of a locavore.) I had a few goals in planning the event. First, like any host, I wanted people to feel comfortable and well-cared for. I wanted them to eat delicious food. I wanted us to spend a leisurely time together while actually doing something - to get to know one another while our hands were working together on a shared task. And, I wanted people to feel like this kind of eating, and this kind of living, is accessible and real and fun. I'm really pleased with the outcome. "

Thank you Andrea!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

RFC Visits: Berkeley Farmer's Market

In Part 2 of my continued West Coast food adventures, I managed to catch the last hour of the farmer's market in Berkeley, CA. I admit I've always thought of the West Coast as a land of plenty when it comes to seasonal and local eating; I was curious to see how this farmer's market compared with our own in Richmond.

A mountain of fava beans.

I was amazed by the amount of produce left at the end of a long afternoon market -- there were still piles of everything, including tantalizing stacks of radishes, squash, greens, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and oodles of strawberries. There were definitely more produce vendors, which was nice to see, though not particularly surprising. Clearly there are some major organic farms established in this area, serving a wide range of marketgoers -- again, pretty much what I expected, though nice to see. The market had a definite sense of establishment and place in the Berkeley community.

Though most produce selections were similar to what I see at home, I was really excited to see stacks of fava beans -- I'd really like to find a good alternative in Richmond to buying can after can of beans (especially with concerns about Bisphenol A), and I know favas are delicious. Is there a reason why I haven't seen these at the market?

Vendors and customers still busy in the last hour.

I also noticed vendors hawking foods I've been longing for at the Richmond farmer's markets for some time: in particular, dairy products like hard and soft cheeses and yogurt. The yogurt was available for sampling, and I was pleased to find that the flavorings weren't too sweet. At the cheese booth we had an animated conversation with the vendor, who ended up giving us free packages of two products: cheese curd mixed with hot peppers and a creamy, almost bitter spread called 'quark.' He told us he'd be giving his leftovers to the food bank anyway, so he was happy to let us have a few things. After that we bought a loaf of multigrain bread coated in sunflowers from one of the several bread vendors, hoping to eat it with the cheese the next day. Both products turned out to be delicious. And, of course, everyone was quite friendly and willing to discount their products during the final market hour -- I felt right at home.

Multigrain bread.

As we headed home from the market, I wondered if any of these vendors sold to Chez Panisse; the idea of cooks from the restaurant coming down to the market and shopping for fresh ingredients was certainly romantic, though probably not entirely realistic. The restaurant probably receives its own planned shipments, but it's fun to think of Alice and the rest of the market staff mingling with other marketgoers, passing through each booth evaluating the day's produce.

My verdict on a comparison between Berkeley and Richmond is that what we need is time -- more seasons to establish the market as a part of people's lives, and to draw more vendors and farmer's into the burgeoning community. But, honestly, I think farmer's markets are pretty similar from place to place: mini street fairs full of interesting people and great food.

Following my visit to Berkeley, I discovered a great foodie/locavore restaurant called Marché in Eugene, OR. In Part 3 of my West Coast log, I'll talk about lunch and shopping at Marché's cafe and 'Provisions' shop.

Erin's Top Five at the Market

Disclaimer: I cannot stick to five items only. I will, however, gush about five vendors that I love and my favorite products of theirs.

1) Victory Farms- golden beets and sweet peas- so gorgeous and bright

2) Norwood Cottage Bakery- White Wheat Bread (don't look at the price) and Double Chocolate Stout Cake (Whose ingredients are: Callebaut cocoa powder, chocolate stout, cake flour, eggs, sugar, sweet cream butter, sour cream. Um- yeah.)

3) Faith Farms- Amish Roll Butter. You've gotta try it.

4) Cabbage Hill Farms- micro greens. For those of us that loved Jumpin' J's Java in Church Hill, these greens are part of the reason why. These are a beautiful addition to any meal, as a garnish or greens substitution. Plus, they are so cute!

5)Amy's Garden- Now that the strawberries are gone, it is time to explore their other gorgeous produce. Romanesco Broccoli is super fun and beautiful!

See you at the market!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

RFC Visits: Chez Panisse

Though we are known as the Richmond Food Collective, occasionally we take the time to leave our lovely river city in search of other exciting food destinations. This week I am enjoying myself on a ten-day family vacation out on the cold and windy West Coast. While here I managed to drag my family to Chez Panisse, a top restaurant destination for locavores, foodies, and anyone else who enjoys fine dining. Chez Panisse founding chef Alice Waters was cooking with fresh, local, organic in-season produce long before the current frenzy inspired by Michael Pollan's works and the other locavore books; Alice has authored or co-authored many cookbooks and and other books about restaurants and cooking, including 'The Art of Simple Food,' an appealingly down-to-earth and joyful manual on basic cooking practices and philosophy. I have always thought of Alice as a cooking superstar, and I was thrilled to get a chance to visit her restaurant and try the food.

The door to Chez Panisse is open!

I loved the atmosphere of the restaurant. The inside was all old wood and matched very much with the Berkeley vibe we had been enjoying for most of the day. We dined, of course, in the 'upstairs cafe,' which is more casual than the downstairs 'dining room,' where patrons eat set meals for $55 or more per person.

Fruits and a delicious tart.

As we were led to our table, we passed a kind of bar, where fresh fruit and a delicious-looking tart were placed in the open air, giving the restaurant an old-fashioned, European feel. I don't mean to say, though, that there was any sense of snobbery -- the other diners carried on animated conversations and the art on the walls was unique and colorful. I guess what I want to say is that it was a pleasing combination of classic and bohemian.

Gazing at the menu. What to choose?

None of us know much about wine, so I admit we tried local beers on tap instead. I looked over the menu and decided on a morel gratin with roasted asparagus and herb salad. Before the main course, we shared two appetizers, choosing fresh toast with avocado spread and a dish of greens and warm goat cheese. The goat cheese was amazingly soft and flavorful, a refreshing change from our standard oval of chevre supplied by Faith Farms (I eat that goat cheese almost every day on my salad). The toast and avocado topping was fantastically fresh.

Morel gratin with grilled asparagus and herb salad.

My entree was also fantastic. I had never tasted morels, and I was not disappointed. The flavor of the gratin was remarkably subtle -- savory and filling, a great contrast with the rest of the vegetables on the plate. There's not much to say about a meal at Chez Panisse other than that it was wonderful; my expectations were certainly satisfied. The menu did list the sources of some items, though others were unspecified. I admit I was enjoying the dining experience so much I didn't bother to ask.

For dessert, my mom and I shared a piece of the tart we saw on the way in; I also drank a delicious cup of fresh peppermint tea.

On our way out, I was thrilled to happen to meet Alice Waters herself. I was told she was there to eat with a friend, and I stopped her briefly to thank her for a wonderful meal at her restaurant. She was very kind and listened to me as I gushed about coming all the way from the East Coast to visit Chez Panisse -- she laughed and implored me to come back and eat there again. It wasn't really the time or place for a detailed conversation, so I waved 'goodbye,' and walked down the stairs quite star-struck. All in all, my evening at Chez Panisse was exactly what I wanted it to be: a taste of Berkeley and northern California both culinary and cultural, and an experience with the finest of real food.

Unbelievably, after leaving the restaurant (where we had early reservations), we ended up walking right into the Berkeley farmer's market. Check back later for a continuation of my tales of local food and lovely eating on the West Coast!

Chocolate Mint Ice Cream

This recipe will use every available pot in your kitchen- but, I daresay the result is worth the mess.

Combine in heavy saucepan over low heat:

2 cups heavy cream (Trickling Springs is SOOO good...)
2/3 cup milk
one vanilla bean
1/2 cup of fresh chocolate mint or peppermint leaves, coarsely chopped

Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for 15 minutes
strain out the mint leaves and return cream mixture to pot.

Combine well in separate mixing bowl:
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa

Add in 1 cup of the milk mixture, stirring until fully incorporated.

Add the eggy mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining cream mixture.

Stir in:
1 3.5 oz of your favorite semi- sweet chocolate bars- finely chopped (I like Green and Black's 70 % cacao)

Cook, stirring over low heat until chocolate is melted.

Chill completely, then follow your ice cream maker's instructions to freeze.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Virginia Wine and Arts Festival

Celebrate this father's day weekend this Saturday June 14th with some Virginia Wine, and art and music at The Wine Festival at Locust Grove in King and Queen County. For $10 in advance or $15 at the door you can sample an array of Virgina wines along with live music and huge selection of arts and craft vendors.

Friday, June 6, 2008

RFC makes MashUp RVA

The MashUpRVA crew visited with us on our weekly market adventure to the Byrd House in Oregon Hill last Tuesday. We had a great time talking with them about -- what else? -- local food. Check out MashUpRVA for the whole story (ours is the June 6th episode), including shots of some of our favorite vendors.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Benefit for Byrd House Market

Six Burner restaurant will host a benefit dinner for the Byrd House Market on Wednesday, June 18. The three course dinner will feature produce and meats from BHM vendors. For more information, look here.

Part of the Problem ( my first rant)

I just heard a story on NPR's 'All Things Considered' that got me all fired up. The piece followed three different women to show how rising food prices have effected them. The first was a single mother of 3 who brought home only $300+ dollars every TWO weeks. She mentioned buying less meats, switching from 12 grain bread to white, and buying cereal in bargain basement bins that had bugs in it. The second woman was more middle class, yet she was still devoting a huge chunk of her Sunday to clipping coupons and then mapping out the grocery stores they were for so that she wouldn't ever have to drive out of her way while running other errands etc. during the week. She would go to Costco and just buy cheese, and then to Giant and just buy bananas etc. Both of these evoked empathy and sympathy in me. The first lady stated that she grew up in the country and she would not let her daughters go hungry. If she had to she could shoot a deer or a turkey!
And then there was the last woman. She described herself as living in an affluent VA neighborhood for several years with her husband and children. She said they also have a house on the Shenandoah river that they paid for with cash and finally a building in Chantilly that they also paid for in cash.... so she said she guessed she was "upper middle class".
Three properties, two paid for in cash, all in prime locations, and yet she was horrified to realized that at Whole Foods it was costing her $300 a week to feed her whole family with organic produce. "We just can't afford that" she said.
This is the problem... I really don't want to presume anything about these people, and if I had a vacation house on the river I would do everything to hold on to it. However, how many t.v.s hooked up to cable do they pay for, how many computers, cars, hair and nail appointments, dinners out, cleaning services, nights out? Whatever the answers to those questions, it is clearly not an issue of her not being able to afford organic healthy food, but an issue of priorities. Of course I would suggest shopping from her local farmers markets, but her choice was to give up all organics, to shop at a second tier grocery store whose prepared foods section contained only breaded and fried items (another big part of the problem- How much of her bill is for prepared foods?)
She stated that she would no longer buy any organics or shop at Whole Foods, and that she had other friends who had taken the same step.
What is going on.... why do people in our culture believe that food is the first place they should skimp? That her family is better off if she buys conventionally grown, 2,000 mile produce, hormone, antibiotic, and corn feed beef, as well as breaded, fried, prepared foods, than say to give up a digital cable hookup or some other unnecessary expense? Why does she see providing healthy food for her children as the unnecessary expense? This attitude is clearly not her alone. On average, Americans spend a lower percentage of their income on food than they ever have in our countries history. On average, Americans spend less of their income on food than the citizens of any other developed country in the world.
I wondered what the other two women felt if they heard the piece. How they must feel about this woman with all of her wealth willingly choosing the lower food options compared to the first woman doing every thing in her power, cutting out all toiletries, paper towels and most meat to provide sustaining meals for her children.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Protecting your Pollinators

Ms. M. Stewart has again lead me to a new blog post ( I admit with trepidation). The latest issue of Martha Stewart Living has a two page article stressing the value of honey bees, but also of the bee species that are native to North America. According to the article, 4,000 species of bees buzzed about prior to English colonist introducing the honey bee, and the chemicals as well as the vast monocultures of industrial agriculture.
The Xerces Society and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign are two references suggested by the article for anyone interested in learning what they can do to help all of our pollinating species. The Xerces Society describes itself as "An international nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting biological diversity through invertebrate conservation" as part of their pollinator protection program their website houses great information on things you can do to provide shelter, food and a safe environment for some of our own native pollinators, including native bee populations. The website for The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign is a bit more straight forward. I went on the site looking for a list of easy plants to add to my garden that would benefit native pollinators like the Nasturtium recommended in the MSL article. After reading the site I see it may not be that simple, but I am going to try and learn and do what I can for native pollinators and honey bees alike.

Quick List of Summer Reading on Local Eating

(I also love the idea of reading these books in the order listed, but of course everyone is different, and in the end if you are interested in eating fresh produce there is probably something here for you.)

1. Plenty by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon : This handsome and fairly compact book is described by the authors as "One man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally." That is probably a good description. I thoroughly enjoyed this account of a young couple from Vancouver, Canada living in a fairly small urban apartment in this far- north city. This book was written just at the very start of the locavore movement, and the extremes that these two go to in order to provide themselves with food from within 100 miles of their apartment is both inspiring and mystifying. You may end this work thinking two thoughts: these people are crazy and also, I want to be just a little more like them.

2. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: I know several transformed eaters who stumbled onto this book because they loved Kingsolver's other works (mostly novels). This is a great follow up to 'Plenty'. Kingsolver even references Smith and Mackinnon in her introduction in a way that indicates she is out to pursue local eating in a very different manner. In the end though, most people of 2006 America would probably have viewed her one year all local experiment as equally over the top.
I thought this a beautiful work that depicts the autobiographical journey Kingsolver made with her husband, botanist Steven Hopp, and their two daughters from their completely unsustainable life in Tucson AZ. to an almost completely self- sufficient life on a farm in western Virginia which they had previously used solely as a summer get away. Full of great gardening advice, research information, meal plans, recipes, (and a dash or two of soap box speeches ) This book will certainly inspire you to make community connections, grow some of your own food, and perhaps think about food differently than you have in the past.
3. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan: Both of the above books are full of all sorts of useful information and some astounding facts, but Michael Pollan as a botanist and journalist does a marvelous job of researching, digesting and then explaining the vast history of where food comes from and how in the case of the fast food meal, or chemical inputs for agriculture, we got to the place we are today. In this book, Pollan traces the ingredients making up four very different meals all the way back to their ultimate sources. The first section which follows a fast food meal from McDonald's has something like seven chapters on corn (which is the source of food for all fast food animals, fast food sweeteners, glazes, breading, frying oil, etc) and some how they are all fascinating!

4. Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers Markets by Debera Madison: This is fundamentally a cookbook, but Madison spends a great deal of time traveling around the country to different farmers markets and then describing what she is able to find in different regions during which seasons and providing recipes to use those ingredients. She also provides advice on finding and shoping at local markets. This is great for people new to farmers markets or new to cooking from scratch with fresh produce or maybe for those taking a trip to one of the areas she describes.

5. The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters: This cookbook by the owner of Chez Panisse in California is indispensable for those who want to invest the time to cook their own meals well. It reads like a book, is of course full of recipes, but I love the explanations of the science behind the cooking process. Why is it so important to have all your ingredients chilled before you make a tart crust, or all at room temperature before you make a cake? All those little steps that I may have thought a probably unimportant wast of time and so neglected to the detriment of my cooking. Mostly Waters does a good job of teaching basics of techniques as flavor combinations that you can modify to suit what ever is available or you are in the mood for.

6. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan: Since I just wrote about this book, I'll just say this is another great read, especially for that individual you know who struggles with food. All of these works teach the reader to love food and enjoy eating well. This latest work by Pollan will, I think, be an eye opening breath of fresh air for anyone who has invested time and energy into eating healthy by conventional western standards only to be disappointed by the results.

There are of course many more that could go here, but this all I'll write for now. Happy reading. And of course I welcome your reading suggestions as well.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Chef's Thesaurus

I found this great website, perfect for tweaking your favorite recipes or trying new ones according to what food you have available or happen to find at the market. It is also great when you want to try something different with that last pound of kale or whatever. It is called 'the chef's thesaurus,' and you can find it here.

Shannon's Top 5 at the Market

If you are heading to Richmond area farmers markets this week, here are 5 of my favorite things right now:

1. Rosemary Focaccia from the No Wonder bread truck. This has served as a perfect addition to the post market meal on numerous occasions- perfect for mixing with fresh greens for a nice bread salad, or for making a quick and tasty sandwich with market greens and my next item:
2. Garlic Goat cheese from Goats R' Us .. this is sold through Faith Farm and comes in three flavors, garlic, plain, and black pepper.
3. Fresh baby potatoes from Amy's Garden. Potatoes soak up a lot of chemicals, so it's always good to get organic. Potatoes are also one of those foods most people don't think much about, but a freshly harvested potato makes a world of difference.
4. First summer yellow and green striped squash from Amy's Garden- Very handsome and such a great sign of all the summer produce to come!
5. prepped bags of mixed greens from Victory Farms... perfect for a tasty bread, or beet salad with beets from any vendor you can get them (Victory's beets have been off limits to non-csa members)

'In Defense of Food'

I am just about done reading Michael Pollan's newest book In Defense of Food. At first I had doubts about the value of delving into another of his works, yet those doubts have all disappeared. I thought that In Defense of food might be more or less just a condensed version of The Omnivores Dilemma. While some information is repeated, In Defense of Food is also a much more coherent, well thought out philosophy about the state of eating in America. Pollan uses a century's worth of information to show the detrimental effects of "the western diet," a food culture based upon industrial processed foods and the "wisdom" of food science.

In his effort to stress the importance of eating whole foods, Pollan states that if his "explorations of the food chain have taught [him] anything, it's that it is a food chain, and all the links in it are in fact linked: the health of the soil to the health of the plants and animals we eat to the health of the food culture in which we eat them to the health of the eater, in body as well as mind." Later on, he suggests shopping at local farmers market a one good way to start to break the food science, industrial food cycle, to "shake the hand that feeds you."

Pollan describes a country that is seeing skyrocketing rates of both diabetes and obesity. His work suggests that when doctors are for the first time in history seeing multiple cases of children who are simultaneously obese and suffering from diseases due to nutrient deficiency, it is time to begin questioning our modern, western ideas about food. Perhaps expecting food to be cheap, fast, and served up in large quantities is not the best strategy.

Pollan shows how so many of the things we eat and the ways we look at food are a direct result of government policy decisions. Government subsidies of corn and soy have helped lead to a 20% fall in price of industrial sweeteners and fats since 1980 while during the same time period the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables has increased by 40%. We all know that it can be more expensive to eat healthy than not to. This may always be true, but perhaps there are things that can be done to close the price gap between the detrimental cheep foods so many of us currently choose, and our healthier, whole food options.

I have enjoyed reading In Defense of Food, and was grateful for all of the great information and inspiration it provides. If you have read other works in the same genre, I think this still worth the read, and If you have not, well it's not a bad place to start.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Carrot Slaw Recipe

I made this carrot slaw for the locavore potluck. It's a great way to use up those bunches of carrots you're probably getting from the market these days, and a good salad for when you're sick of greens and beans.

2 bunches of small carrots (I use the ones from Victory Farms)
3/4 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup craisins
1/4 cup chopped candied ginger
1/2 cup yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
Juice of 1 lemon or 1 lime

Grate the carrots (preferrably using a food processor, as hand grating takes a while) and add all other ingredients, mixing thoroughly.

The measures are rough estimates; I recommend adjusting the recipe for your own taste, especially with the yogurt and honey, which you can change based on how creamy and sweet you prefer this salad.

The candied ginger was from Trader Joe's, and it adds a sweet and tangy flavor. I think this recipe would be fine with grated ginger root as well -- just be careful not to overdo it.