Tuesday, July 28, 2009

When Life Gives You Cucumbers...

I love the term 'putting up' in terms of food. Whether it is freezing, canning, or drying, I love that I am able to store some of the ample fresh food available now for later, when there isn't as much to choose from. Plus, it is fun to do! I have been having the best time learning how to can veggies and fruits with my friends. Last year, Shannon taught me to can tomatoes. After a long season of gardening and just trying to keep up with the produce that just kept coming, we knew we need to find time to preserve some of the bounty for winter. Sometime in September of last year, Shannon and I spent a long evening skinning and stuffing tomatoes into a jar, then boiling the jars until they sealed. Each time I pulled a can of tomatoes from the pantry during the winter, I was grateful for her generosity..

So, when Natalie brought me boxes of leftover cucumbers a couple of weeks ago, (thanks, Nat!) I knew what I had to do. Make pickles! My friend Casey had spent a lot of time making pickles with her grandmother, and had always loved that time they spent together. So, who better to learn from? We made a pickling spice combination from bay leaves, cinnamon, allspice berries, mustard seed, chili pepper flakes, and cardamom, which we boiled with salt, vinegar and water. Then we cut the cukes into spears, covered them with the boiling mixture and added herbs and garlic. We even experimented with using grape leaves to keep the pickles crisp. In the end we wound up with over 40 jars of bread and butter pickles, dills and some (cross your fingers) experimental combinations.

Canning is a great community project. There are a lot of details, (sterilizing jars, prepping brines and veggies, timing the sealing) so it is very helpful to have a partner to help manage all of the different components. Use the bounty of this season as an excuse to hang out with your favorite people. When you open those jars sometime down the road, you'll remember an eventful and fun day working together.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A quick word on Peaches

Peaches are at their peak right now and can be found just about everywhere. I recently was fortunate enough to come into a free bag of Virginia Peaches. They were all kinds of fuzzy and looked beautiful, but were hard as stones. I dutifully put them into brown paper bags on the kitchen counter to ripen. The very next day my Joy Of Cooking calendar noted that Peaches and Nectarines are fruits that will not continue to ripen once they have been picked. The Joy of Cooking recommended placing unripe peaches in a warm dry place, preferably a paper bag for a couple of days to soften. Sadly, however soft they may get the Joy of Cooking says they will not get any sweeter than they were upon picking. I have been trying to adjust to this life altering piece of information, carefully tasting my peaches as each day passes and I guess I have to say they taste the same as the one I ate that first day, pre-paper bag. This to me sounds like another good argument for buying from smaller local growers, who hopefully don't have to pick their peaches long before their prime. Also there are actually dozens of varieties of peaches grown throughout the peach season including varieties that have superior flavor, but are deemed unfit for grocery store sale because of shape or color. For example, red blushed peaches are what most customers look for, however the red blush of the peach has nothing to do with flavor. To pick a really good peach look beyond the red blush to the back ground color. The more mature the fruit when picked the more golden orange the background color of the skin is likely to be.

Also just a reminder that it is very difficult to find organically grown peaches in Virginia. Virginia"s Humidity and Peaches don't make for a reliably viable organic crop. With that in mind, if you don't know that your peach is organic please be sure to wash and peal your peach. Peaches are one of the most pesticide riddled of all our fruits and veggies according to the USDA, and truth be told their fine thin skin does little to keeps those pesticides out of the fruit itself. None-the-less I have never turned town a fresh peach... I just try to not eat them by the bucketful!

For more information on proper peach picking and other interesting and helpful produce tips, check out How To Pick A Peach : The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table by Russ Parsons.
With a 100 recipes and loads of helpful tips I have turned to this book several times over the last year and have been rewarded with practical information, history lessons and recipes like "Nectarine-Cardamom Ice Cream."!!!

Henrico Harvest Fair Returns

It is nearly time again for the Henrico Harvest Fair.

Held at Armour House and Gardens at Meadowview Park, 4001 Clarendon Road — just down Laburnum Avenue from Lewis Ginter Botancial Garden. Held this year on Saturday, September 19, the Fair is a day of gardening demonstrations, and horticultural information. I have yet to attend, although I have been wanting to check it out.
Their e-mail says quote ...
Doors open at 8:30 a.m., rain or shine, and most activities are free! Learn how to make compost, keep bees or prune your shrubs. Visit garden vendors, and stop by the Green Elephant Sale where you'll find plants and gently used gardening tools. Special activities are planned for the kids, and great food will be available for purchase from vendors throughout the day. Register in advance for special classes on everything from Landscaping with Native Plants to Using Bulbs as Companion Plants.
Workshops will also be offered on how to Build-A-Rain Barrel and Making Hypertufa. Registration forms are available at www.co.henrico.va.us/extension. So plan on a day of celebrating autumn in Henrico. Presented by the Henrico County Master Gardener Association in cooperation with Virginia Cooperative Extension and Henrico Recreation and Parks."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Vegetarians Can Grill Too!

After a seemingly eternal hiatus from posting, I am back, and inspiration has been coming from all directions. On this gloomy Monday night, I decided to make my first foray into grilling. Plans for providing grilled food at a Saturday party fell through for several reasons, leaving us with an overflowing refrigerator full of vegetables and Erin's lovely charcoal grill still begging to be used.

Last year around this time, I was all about fancying up my culinary creations. I am as yet quite new to cooking, and back then I was even newer. The more ingredients, the more flavors, the more steps involved in the recipe, I thought, the better. I loved making curries, soups, casseroles, sauces, anything that involved a lot of chopping and sauteing. And, it's true...I still love making meals like that. However, heading into this summer, I have realized that summer cooking is all about enjoying food close to its original state. Southern cooking styles are key here. Simple methods rule the plate. Now is the time to appreciate foods for what they really are. Can or freeze the extra and then dress it up during the cold months.

So with that in mind, I have determined to learn how to grill. Okay, so Ron and I are vegetarians, and grilling a few thick pieces of squash is about a thousand times easier than doing a good burger. But still, I was a bit intimidated, though firmly out to prove that grilling is still worth it without the meat.

We cut this huge zucchini (3 like this lurk in the produce drawer!) into 1/2 inch rounds and covered them liberally with melted butter and crushed garlic. These pieces are so hefty in diameter they almost remind me of burgers. At a later date I'd like to try these on a delicious roll, or maybe even as part of a po-boy. For those who are not vegetarians, you could even put one in the roll with your burger.

Though I've seen people grill pieces of sweet corn directly, I learned a neat trick from the internet that I decided to try. Pull the husk back but don't detach it from the base of the ear. Coat each ear liberally with olive oil, then pull the husk back over, tying at the top with kitchen twine or whatever you can find to hold it together.

Not grilled, but we had to include mashed potatoes, since I was going for the classic American feel. Joy of Cooking tells us to boil the potatoes until soft, then combine them with 1/3 cup of hot milk or buttermilk, plus salt and pepper. We added plenty of garlic as well and kept the skins on because these are certified organic potatoes. I admit they are new potatoes and not dried, meaning it's really a waste to eat them mashed (new potatoes should be barely modified from their original form, cooked just enough and combined with some kind of fat, salt, and parsley), but I wanted mashed potatoes!

Into the grill! My dad lent me that nice grill basket. The corn husks browned and blackened and everything together took no more than 15 minutes to cook. Anyone else need to grill something?

Obviously, pair this meal with beer. A black bean, tomato, red onion and microgreens salad adds necessary protein. Dress the beans as you like...I like to add a dash of cumin, a dash of chili powder, something spicy and plenty of salt and pepper. So the final plate is:

Buttery garlic grilled zucchini rounds
Smoky sweet corn
Garlic mashed new potatoes topped with spicy refrigerator pickles
Black bean salad

The corn was amazing, imbued with a very pleasant smoky aroma and flavor and plenty sweet. The zucchini rounds were al dente, golden brown and delicious. No salt necessary, just butter and garlic there. Having done all the grilling myself, my hands still smell like smoke, a pleasant memory of this July meal. I pronounce my grilling a success. I do recommend trying to get organic or at least 'ecologically grown' sweet corn, as any traditionally grown corn will inevitably be GMO and laden with pesticides. Here's a rule of thumb: if your sweet corn doesn't have a worm inside the husk, it's not good for you.

Updated Schedule for LGBG's Green Tonic Symposium

Lewis Ginter's Green Tonic Symposium is two weeks from tomorrow and there is still room available for those who would like to attend. This symposium is the brainchild of those within Lewis Ginter who feel strongly about the need for urban projects that support the well being of the environment and urban landscape as well as those who live and work within that landscape. Some of you may have been fortunate enough to see Linden Miller speak this past fall. Miller has been working for decades rehabilitating, rejuvenating and revitalizing large portions of New York City's Central Park. The result has been the rebirth of the park as a tourist destination, and countless moments of respite for New York City residents.

If you are interested in learning about fabulous from-the-ground-up projects in other cities, such as Philadelphia's "Philadelphia Green" and about what is being done and what could be done in our own city, you should register for this two day series of tours, lectures, workshops, and meals shared with others who share your interest in these issues.

Here is the latest schedule. This schedule includes information on each of the speakers and some of the amazing work each is doing in their own city. For Registraton information see my July 3rd post or go to Lewis Ginter's website Here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Green Drinks- Local Food!

The RFC is headed to Ellwood Coffee shop for Green Drinks! The focus for this event is local food and urban agriculture. According to the web, Green Drinks "is a simple and unstructured event where people interested in sustainability can get together to network, talk shop, learn something new, share something innovative or maybe even find a job! It's a great time to chat with folks you know or to meet new ones."
I know it is short notice, but perhaps you'll join us!
Come on out the Third Thursday of every month for "Green Drinks" 5:30-7:30pm. Join our mailing list to keep informed of when and where we'll be meeting each month.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

End of a Era for Local Grocery?

With rumors running around about Ukrops going up for sale!!! I can't help but have a knee jerk "Oh No!" reaction to the Richmond family owned business changing hands. Ukrops of late has not been all that I remember from childhood, none-the-less it still has better service than most other grocery options around town. If I could just figure out how to make that awkward walk out to the car with the bagger a little less, well... awkward. Here is a link to The Richmond.com page. They have a link to the industry info. Word is Harris Teeter is interested.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Eating Flowers

At this point in the growing season, I am open to any new recipe that appreciates the inherent bounty of the summer squash. Those of us who are lucky enough to have squash plants can partake in this most delicate and whimsical of summer appetizers. Market growers can take this as encouragement to feel free to bring blossoms to market- what a gorgeous offering!

After a lot of experimenting, we have come up with this recipe for:
Squash Blossom Fritters
12+ squash blossoms (bugs and stamen out!) Soak blossoms in cold water to encourage any bugs to exit.
Stuff each blossom with:
2 tsp. goat cheese per blossom (I like Night Sky's hot pepper or lavender and lemon).
Mix in small bowl:
1 Cup of flour
1/2 Cup cornstarch
1 Cup beer
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste

Heat Canola oil for deep frying
Twist blossoms to close. Dredge each one in batter, then put into oil, turning once. These fry quickly.
Eat warm.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

New Food Business Workshop

This just in from VA Extension....

Throughout Virginia, interest in new food items has developed into thriving business ventures for many entrepreneurs. Local communities are working with this growing group of business owners to provide training and space for the preparation of high quality food products. However, food regulations as well as food trends constantly change requiring food-based businesses to continually update their understanding of food safety and marketing strategies. In partnership with the Spencer-Penn Centre and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation, Virginia Cooperative Extension will host the “Starting a Food-Based Business Workshop” on Wednesday, July 22, 2009, at the Spencer-Penn Centre, Alumni Hall, located at 475 Spencer-Penn Road in Spencer Virginia. Beginning at 8:45 a.m. and concluding at 3 p.m. with a tour of the newly launched Spencer-Penn certified community kitchen, participants will discover new ideas to enhance their food-based businesses. The Spencer-Penn Centre is located about 10 miles west of Martinsville just off of U.S. 58 on Spencer Penn Road. Participants will review Virginia’s regulations for food-based business inspections presented by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Henry County Health Department; learn about a virtual network of business support services available to help start-up businesses; and discover marketing resources presented by a Virginia Cooperative Extension marketing specialist.
Joell Eifert with Virginia Tech Food Science and Technology will address the steps involved in developing the product and navigate the regulatory environment. In addition, a panel of successful food-based business entrepreneurs will share their successes and challenges.
The workshop is free, but you must register by Friday, July 17, 2009. Attendees who already produce a specialty food product, or who provide business services that assist entrepreneurs, are welcome to set up a small display, but they must register in order to do so. Lunch will be provided to all attendees.

To register contact the Henry County Virginia Cooperative Extension office at 276-634-4650 or e-mail Donna Draper ddraper@vt.edu
For more information on agritourism programs, please contact Dr. Martha A. Walker by phone at 434-766-6761 or by e-mail at walker53@vt.edu.
If you are a person with a disability and desire any assistive devices, services or other accommodations to participate in this activity, please contact Martha A. Walker, Central District Office, at 434-766-6761 during business hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations 5 days prior to the event. *TDD number is (800) 828-1120. ###

Food Inc..... A Must See

The RFC attended last nights special viewing of Food Inc. at the New Movieland Cinema. The sell out crowed (Go Richmond!) seemed to be in agreement that this is one thought provoking film that raises questions everyone should consider. Based on comments made during the panel discussion that followed the film it seemed that for some in the audience this film was a real eye opener, connecting the dots between industrial food production's treatment of animals, workers, farmers, the land, and our own health. Please, don't take my word for it. Watch the film and see what you take home. It also raises interesting questions about big organic verses local. In the end it felt like the whole room had in some sense become a community connected by some new sense of awareness. Props to Food Inc., all those whose hard work landed them on the post movie panel and Whole Foods for that.

PS.. A second hand rumor/scoop, now third hand, told me that Movieland will only show Food Inc. through this Thursday unless the ticket sales remain high. If you interested in seeing this film and would like to share the audience experience, the time is now!

ZED Is Now The Fat Goat

Just a couple of weeks ago I returned to Zed Cafe' on Lakeside ave. for lunch. The menu was loaded with locally grown seasonal items priced affordably. My friend and I ordered different sandwiches so we could each have half. We enjoyed our lunch... we both had left overs to bring home and we each paid about ten dollars. Also the service was perfect. While there I was admiring the small chalk board by the bar that listed the local farms the cafe purchases from.
Well, Zed has once again given itself an overhaul right down to it's name.
Now called The Fat Goat the restaurant is still serving up local ingredients and a selection of wines from 'boutique' wineries, but now they also offer a new menu highlighting Virginia produce, hand-pulled mozzarella, and house-made sourdough pizzas! They have also added what the owner describes as "creative cocktails" to their drink menu.

The Fat Goat opened for business on Friday, July 10th.
Check it out for dinner, or for brunch either Saturday or Sunday.
* * *The Fat Goat5109 Lakeside Avenue
Contact: Lisa Granger 804-261-5656


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Center for Rural Culture's Monday Meat and Greet

If you don't already know about the Center for Rural Culture here is a chance for you to check out some of the fun stuff they do in addition to running the Goochland Farmers Market....
Monday, July 13th, 6:00-8:30pm

An Educational Program on the Benefits of Locally Grown Meat and Fish Products. JOIN LOCAL FARMERS FOR EDUCATION, DISCUSSION, FOOD TASTING, SOCIALIZING, AND FUN! FEATURING: A "Meat & Greet" Social Hour will be followed by a moderated discussion with local farmers. Sample from a huge buffet of locally produced meats and fish, including beef, pork, poultry, bison and trout. Local cheeses, salad and veggies will also be offered.

Sorry, no children under 12, please.

LOCATION: Brookview Farm 854 Dover Road Manakin-Sabot, VA 23103

COST: $20.00 in advance online using PayPal. Center for Rural Culture members (only $18) may pay at the door using cash, check or credit card.

Register Online! or call: 804-314-9141.

Tomato Festivals and Food Inc.

Today is a big day for fans of local food in Richmond. One of the Ultimate local foods, the vine ripened tomato, has two big parties being thrown in it's honor. Today you can visit either the Hanover Tomato festival, or the Shockoe Tomato Festival and get your fill of fabulous tomato concoctions or just go for the strait stuff with plenty of tomatoes to sample.
Afterwards you can rest in air conditioned comfort while taking in the newest Film to take on industrial agriculture. Food Inc. is playing at the Movieland Theater on the Boulevard with the 4:00 and 7:00 viewings to be followed by a panel discussion.
Finally, if you really want to cap of your weekend in style Lamaire restaurant is now describing it's menu as 'Farm to Table', according to local news stations. With fresh seasonal produce highlighted Sunday brunch is sounding even better....Enjoy!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Richmond Food Collective Featured on Richmond.com

The video of us enjoying the Byrd House Market last year was re-posted recently to Richmond.com! Check it out...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Mint. If you grow it, you probably wish you had more uses for it. Let the RFC come to the rescue with this refreshing, yet rich summer dessert. It does matter what kind of mint you use-I prefer chocolate mint, peppermint or orange mint which best complement the chocolate.

2 Cups heavy cream
1 Cup milk (I use whole milk, but you can use what you have)
1 1/2 Cups roughly chopped mint leaves
4 egg yolks
1 Cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract or equivalent bean
6 oz dark chocolate, shaved

Put milk, mint and 1 cup of cream, in a pot, and heat until just steaming. Cover and let steep for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl, stirring until well incorporated. Strain cooled, infused milk and cream off of the mint into egg yolk mixture, adding the the vanilla and remaining 1 cup of cream. Chill for 30 minutes and freeze, following the instructions for your ice cream maker. Add chocolate in the last five minutes.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Green Tonic- Urban Gardening Symposium At Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is hosting a two day symposium dedicated to discovering the possibilities and rewards of urban greening projects and the many forms they take. Running August 4-5th the first day of the symposium actually begins in late afternoon and runs till 9pm at night, perhaps making it easier for some who work a 9-5 type job to attend. You can click on Ginter's link to get the full schedule and to register. http://www.lewisginter.org/adult-education/GreenTonic.php .
Advance registration is required, and the cost for the event is $75. This cost includes multiple workshops, some A list speakers, as well as dinner Tuesday evening, morning coffee, and lunch Wednesday. One thing not included in this cost is the Tuesday evening bus tour where you can see first hand some of Richmond's most successful community gardens and greening projects. Those who do not wish to pay the additional $20 for the bus tour will have the opportunity to tour the botanical garden on their own or participate in a guided tour of it's own beautiful grounds.

25th Anniversary Year Symposium
Green Tonic: Urban Gardening
for Health and Wholeness
Learn about exemplary community gardening
and urban greening initiatives in Philadelphia,
New York, and Chicago; the policies and practices
that help them succeed; and what Richmond
area residents can do to take urban gardening
and greening in our community to the next level.
August 4, 2009
August 5, 2009
Massey Conference Center
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Questions? Call 804-262-9887 ext. 322

Great Garden MixUp

Rosemary, Horseradish and Miscanthus 'Morning Light'

Swiss Chard, Acorn Squash, Cucumbers, A hot pepper, Rosemary, and Blackberry Lilly

Kitchen gardens can be beautiful all on their own. Anyone who has seen a really well designed and well tended kitchen garden knows that the lettuce, eggplants, herbs and climbing beans can be stunning all on their own. Throw in a few Nasturtiums and sunflowers and you have an edible paradise. However for those suburban and urban gardeners with limited space and time, working edibles in amongst trusty year round garden workers like evergreen shrubs or returning perennials can be best possible option. With that in mind I offer just a few suggestions and photos from my own makeshift landscape to get you thinking about changes that could be made to your little gardening oasis this fall. If early fall is the best time to plant the majority of shrubs, trees and perennials then the ultra hot days of summer may be a great time to peruse those catalogs and gardening books for advice. If you already have a good base of permanent plantings look for textural and color combinations that could be created by adding some edibles into your landscape. Don't forget the fruiting trees and shrubs that can do double duty by adding structure to your space as well as some fantastic treats to taste!
Here are some more of my happy accidents...

Bright Lights Red Swiss Chard, Petunias, Italian Parsley and 'Siam Queen' Basil

Tomato, Pinnapple Lilly, and Tropicanna Canna

Bolting Beauty

This time of year a lot of early season brassicas and such are bolting fast. For some of these plants this may mean it's time for the worm bin or compost pile, but for a few gems it can be time for a showy new life. Arugula, Mustard Greens, and Kale are a few of the great greens that can create breezy, vase worthy arrangements perfect for a summer brunch or dinner party. Once a day or two has passed however, be aware that your likely to find your table surface dusted with flower petals so be attentive when dealing with delicate table finishes. Otherwise these flowers can last for up to a week inside.