Tuesday, February 28, 2012

RFC Field trip! Garnett's, Bombolini, Hardywood Park and Enoteca Sogno

Last Saturday the RFC decided we'd had enough of cabin fever, and got out for a foodie field trip around our town. Casey and I started off with lunch at Garnett's, the sweetest little lunch spot- and  neither of us had ever been. Now we know better!

We had also heard that the RVA patronage mob was going to be at the Bombolini Pasta shop on Main Street, which seemed like the perfect excuse to check it out. Rachel met us there, and we all got pasta to take home. We already knew that we loved their pasta as it has been available at farmers markets and stores for years. In their shop they are able to have frozen lasagnas and raviolis and sauces, along with takeout, wine and house made spice mixes. Yum.

Mushroom Ravioli!

Bombolini even has olive oil and local vinegar in bulk.

John Kreckman, owner of Bombolini, in front of their pasta making machine.

Lovely, no?
From there, we traveled up to Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.  Located on Overbrook Road, this industrial area has gotten a fantastic new neighbor. Not only do they make the best beer, but they are supernice guys! We talked with the head brewer Brain Nelson and several volunteers as well as the president and co- founder, Eric McKay. We learned about their history and brewing practices and was impressed to learn about their greening efforts. Did you know 100% of the brewery's electricity comes from sustainable sources, most from wind power?

Annie D. talking with Eric
And the beer! The Singel is available in several restaurants in town, including Can Can and the Mill.  Well balanced, and easy to drink, this full flavored Belgian is Hardywood's take on the ale Trappist monks would brew for their own consumption. The Singel is grand on its own, and would be the perfect accompaniment to any southern meal.

Casey, Rachel and the boys at the bar

We also tried the Mocha Belgique, which is brewed with beans from Black Hand Coffee Co. A gorgeous and flavorful dark beer, Brian Nelson ran it through a Randall full of more dark coffee beans and cocoa nibs before he poured it for us. It smelled like coffee and tasted like chocolate.  Beer for dessert, anyone?
And then, we had to take some home...

One of the other ideas that makes me love Hardywood park even more is their RVA IPA.  Soon, the brewery will be giving away hops rhizomes to RVA gardeners. The gardeners will grow them on, to be harvested and added to the RVA IPA in the fall.  Got room for a 20 foot perennial vine in your garden?  Check the Hardywood website in the next month for details if you would like to participate.  Some of the RFC houses just might!

After a lovely dinner with Shannon and Rachel and Rob at Enoteca Sogno, I felt like I had been on vacation!  Sometimes, you just gotta play tourist in your own town.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Soil Life and Your Garden- Something to Consider

 I was trying to think of  catchy, attention grabbing title for this post.  I had something like Microscopic entities grow Giant Kale!  with "and, lettuce and broccoli and sweat peas......" heading up the text.  I went with a much 'quieter' heading, but as Sci-Fi fantastic as it sounds, those kale growing micro-organisms are as real as you and I.

As spring approaches and we start planning and preparing our vegetable gardens, it's a great idea to take some time to learn about the life within the soil.  I've read that a double handful of good garden soil contains more living organisms than there are people on earth.  It's true.  With billions of bacteria, countless yards of fungal hyphae (threads), hundreds of protozoa, dozens of nematodes, and don't forget the earthworms, arthropods, and gastropods there's a lot going on down there!  Sound scary?  It shouldn't be.  Healthy garden soil has a work force of microbes (microscopic organisms) that provide food, water, pest and disease protection, and nicely aerated soil for your plants.  There are certainly 'bad guys' in the soil- bacteria, fungi and nematodes to name a few- that are out to eat your plants. The idea is to foster a large and diverse population of soil life to keep the harmful organisms in check. 
Over millions of years plants have evolved intricate relationships with bacteria, archaea, and fungi in the soil.  In nature, plants actually expend some of the energy from photosynthesis to create "exudates." These excretions from the plant roots contain carbohydrates, proteins and minerals specifically aimed at attracting bacteria and fungi into the area within their root system.  That may seem crazy at first, but these organisms are responsible for 'fixing' nitrogen so it is in a form available to the plants, as well as searching out, unlocking and transporting critical phosphorus, water and other nutrients. One of the most well known examples of bacteria and plant symbiosis is with legumes.  Plants like clover, sweat peas,  beans, and vetch are great companion plants and cover crops because they add nitrogen to the soil.  However it is actually different species of Rhizobia bacteria that will 'infect' the plants root tissue and then from inside the roots convert nitrogen to an available form for the plant to use.  In exchange the bacteria gets carbon and air from the plant.
If we're talking vegetables a few things to remember: They rely on different types of bacteria working "together" to provide nitrogen in the Nitrate form they prefer.  You may know that vegetables prefer a pH of 7 or just below.  What you may not know is that these beneficial bacteria also prefer a pH of 7, and without disruptive influences from us, the protective film bacteria create around themselves will slowly raise the pH of the area around them to 7 to help their numbers grow.  Other plants like trees and shrubs tend to prefer somewhat more acidic soils and have built relationships with fungi who also want more acidic soil and create acids themselves that will lower the pH of nearby soil!
Bacteria are also the main food stuffs of earthworms.  Earthworms may eat soil and organic matter, but what they are really after are the bacteria attached to those particles.  It is then up to other bacteria in the gut of the earthworm to process what they have ingested.  The earthworm waste, or "castings" created by this process are considerably higher in nitrogen and other critical nutrients than the matter they'd consumed.
Growing organically, adding compost, properly made compost teas and organic matter to your soils, mulching with shredded leaves, green mulches and shredded pine bark for the veggie garden are all great steps to take in support of healthy soils.
This is a huge topic, with books written on every different type of participant in the 'Soil Food Web'.

I love learning and talking about this stuff! In  my classes it so great to see people be as surprised and amazed as I first was to realize just how much life is in the the soil, and just how much the plants depend upon that life. 
Want to learn more on your own?  A lovely resource is the book Life in the Soil by James Nardi. An education and guide is also provided by the book Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardeners Guide to the Soil Food Web.   You can also check out the USDA-NRCS page on soil biology by Elaine Ingham.  There you'll find some very sciency talk and lots of great electron microscope images. Or if you are really getting into it, how about the website for The American Society for Microbiology?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

It is time!

Finally!  We get to plant!  
Fennel seed
This weekend I will plant my peas outside, and start the fennel seed in pots on the windowsill.  
Peas, fennel, carrots, lettuce and cilantro- a garden in potential
The lettuce, cilantro and carrots will go directly in the ground sometime in the next couple of months.  I will have to work around the garlic that will stay put until June, and the carrots that didn't get harvested last year will flower and make seeds for next year.  I have a feeling my veggie garden is going to look more like a wildflower meadow than a proper kitchen garden.  That's alright- I will leave the tomato, eggplant and pepper growing to those without squirrels to contend with, and buy those fruits at the market.   My garden may instead become a food source for butterflies (swallowtails lay their eggs exclusively on members of the Umbelliferae family like fennel and carrot) and birds (there will be sunflowers come summer) and for me- I love big ol' fresh salads for lunch!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Less planning and more fun at a dinner party...

Last weekend we were invited to dinner by our friends Jeremy and Deanna. These are friends who love food and cooking as much as we do and they had a great idea to inspire the menu. Instead of conceiving the meal plan and then laboring over it before we got there, they decided to create a challenge. Without revealing what they were, earlier in the week Deanna went shopping and procured secret ingredients.

Things like...

She chose some great dinner ingredients ala Top Chef, things like proteins that don't take too much time, a nice mix of veggies, good fats, and a few random things she knew had never graced her kitchen before.

While the kids played and the ladies drank wine, Ned and Jeremy set to work... planning dishes so that they used each and every ingredient provided. No excuses. None.

And honestly, it took them more time to decide what to do than it did to make it. But, they did impress.

A beautiful (and delicious) first course: cucumber "sushi" 2 ways... sardine and raita, and then quinoa with pancetta, capers, and lemon.

The main course was surf and turf, with stove top smoked lobster tail (fortunate, as we learned that Jeremy must use his stove-top smoker once a month or it will be thrown away) and flash seared lamb chops on a bed of arugula with a brilliant basil, rosemary marcona almond, and garlic pesto (some Jeremy genius right there). Sunchoke and potato puree topped with seared heart of palm (blasted heart of palm). Roasted Broccoli Raab with pancetta and garlic rounded out the plate.

The second course (which came third thanks to Ned and Jeremy's keen planning skills) was an exceptionally simple and delicious crab, aged gouda, and artichoke heart stuffed and baked portobella.
We brought Ned's short bread as our contribution... and the boys decided to serve it with a chili, fresh pineapple quick-made chutney along with blueberries and strawberries. Oh, and a whipped chocolate mascarpone, nom.
Deanna served up a heck of a challenge, with a huge variety of delicious ingredients, this time the boys delivered. Next time we host, I'm thinking marmite and wheat berries.

And let's be clear... the kitchen was a disaster. No. Really. It was bad. We're going to have to add a clean as you go rule... since those two are the tasmanian devils of homestead Iron Chef.

But all in all, we couldn't have had more fun, and we've decided that next time it's our place. Ned will enjoy staying up till 3:00am with the dishes... it's so worth it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Upcoming food (and wine) happenings

I don't know about y'all, but I have got serious cabin fever.  It is the middle of winter, and as much as I love being in my cozy house, I am itching for an adventure!  So, I looked up some local food events to get us started.

This weekend, February 24- 26, check out the VA Wine Expo.  From 12:00 P.M. – 7:00 P.M. on Friday, 11:00 A.M. – 6:00 P.M. on Saturday and 11:00 A.M. - 3:00 P.M Sunday, wander the Greater Richmond Convention Center and taste hundreds of wines from dozens of Virginia wineries.  Among the amazing wine dinners at local restaurants, you can also attend seminars on food and wine on topics such as:

  • our 'Pleasure' Senses and Professional Wine Tasting Techniques with Bob Talcott, Wine Director, CAN CAN Brasserie
  • Why Virginia? The State of Wine in Virginia
  • Modern Charcuterie & Virginia Wines presented by Belmont Butchery
Speaking of wine, I am loving the Whole Foods class calendar!  Wine tasting, cooking demos, there are even classes especially for moms!  Most are moderately priced and many are free.

The city of Richmond is offering free urbanorganic gardening classes every Saturday through March 24th.  The classes are at the North Avenue Richmond Library from 11am - 12:30pm.  Tim and Mary from 17 Apart went to the first class last week- read what they learned here.

Want to learn more about Slow Food RVa?  Thursday, March 15 is Slow Food RVA's Early Spring Pot Luck &Membership Meeting.  This pot luck hosted by the University of Richmond's Center for Culinary Arts.  Register on Facebook. We are looking forward to finding out what events and political movements our Slow Food chapter is planning for 2012.

See y'all around!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

'The Happiness Diet'

  If you know me then you know I can be a bit of a nerd, and my interest in food is no exception. I  just cracked open a copy of  The Happiness Diet by Tyler Graham and Drew Ramsey MDThis book with a fat, yummy looking hamburger on the cover is subtitled A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body.
I'm not a self help book kind of gal, and I'm wary of anything that tries to restrict the benefits of any whole food to one nutrient or chemical. I'm also wary of those short lists like "Five Foods To Make You Smarter."  I believe variety  is key.  The authors of this book agree, even if they use some handy short lists for people to work from.   The Happiness Diet  looks and sounds like a conventional self help sort of book, and in many ways it is. Some of the information in the book seems rather over the top, and it even has it's own infomercial like website with lots of 'Order Now,' 'Don't Wait' etc. Really, I don't know what to make of all this!
Mostly though my brief perusing has been rewarded with interesting food facts, and tips on buying, storing, and preparing whole foods. It talks about the mood lifting B vitamins found in beets, and why we should be eating meat that's pasture raised
 The second time I opened it up I landed on a short paragraph on oranges that gave their peak season, which ones are not good for juicing (Navels), and that you should buy organic because quote..."conventional oranges are often injected with artificial dye to give them uniform color."  Is this true? That's something I didn't know.  They also have "100 Reasons To Avoid  Processed Foods"  in little boxes throughout the book.  Helpful information on selecting, storing, and preparing whole foods is mixed in with those often scary little info. boxes concerning processes foods. It has pages of recipes, a weekly meal plan, information on the workings of the human brain, and to boot its got a positive review by  Nina Plank who wrote one of our favorite books 'Real Food: What to Eat and Why.'  Perhaps we are overdue for this sort of self help book. A book clearly made for the mass market that names and explains why Mesclun is the top food for energy and houses chapters with titles like 'This is your brain on food'  has my appreciation.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Google Love!

Hope ya'll had a smashing Valentine's Day celebration!

Recently, my friend Katie Haines at Healthy Roots, Happy Life, turned me on to a great resource from the good people at Google, Authors@Google. Here, you can find your favorite authors interviewed. What I've since learned, is that Google brings in loads of speakers to talk to their staff on all sorts of topics. The sessions are recorded, and then the video is shared on the web (thanks, Google!). Once you start exploring you'll see that are so many categories. For instance, there is Chefs@Google and Health@Google. So much fun! And, p.s., doesn't it look like fun to work for Google?

Here are a few finds that I enjoyed, a talk with Michael Pollan, a fun cooking segment with Jamie Oliver, and another with Amanda Hesser from Food52. You can search for your favs, or find new loves!


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Richmond's first Elby Awards

All right, y'all!  The first ever Elby awards were held Sunday night at the Virginia Historical Society.  These restaurant awards, sponsored by Richmond Magazine (among others) honored up- and- coming chefs and restauranteurs with an award named after Chef Paul Elbing, formerly of La Petite France- one of the most formative restaurants for Richmond.  There was quite a turnout for these restaurant awards, and the subsequent party was fun, if not just to see hardworking restaurant folks you never get in the same room together!  I loved talking with Todd Johnson from Mezzanine, Gary York from Enoteca Sogno (go northside!) and of course, Chef Paul who was so sweet and gracious (I got big kisses on each cheek!)  I know you probably want to see photos of them, but I only felt comfortable taking photos of my friends.  Here you go:
My crowd- folks from Slow Food, Tricycle Gardens and Shalom Farms. 
Me and my buddy Dominic from Shalom Farms (P.S. love the dress Casey lent me!)
Me and Amanda from Slow FoodRVA 
The awards went to the following:
Fine Dining Restaurant: Lemaire
Neighborhood Restaurant: The Black Sheep
New Restaurant: The Roosevelt
Wine Program: Secco Wine Bar
Beverage Program: Balliceaux
Restaurant Visionaries: Ren Mefford and Christ Tsui of EAT Restaurant partners (The Blue Goat, Wild Ginger, Osaka and Sushi-O)
Pastry Chef: Josh Gaulin of Acacia Midtown
Rising Culinary Star: Caleb Shriver of Aziza's
Chef of the Year: Dale Reitzer of Acacia Midtown

Congrats to all of the fine restaurants who were nominated this year, and thank you for making our lives so much tastier!

Friday, February 10, 2012


"A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one's accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New and exciting!

So you may have noticed a new look on the website... we are super proud to unveil our new logo!
(More on the talented mastermind, Kirsten McKinney that made this possible coming soon.)

Also check out our new pinterest link on the side bar, follow us!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

RFC Throwback: February

We are in our fifth year of writing about local food in Richmond, so there are a lot of recipes, gardening tips and memories buried in those years of posts .  To honor those thoughts, we will remember our favorite posts of that month from years past.  February is a difficult month- winter has a slower pace than other seasons, and suppers are less likely to be inspired by the garden.  We hope you and those who share your table find some ideas for February meals and for sharing in these posts from Februarys past.
a walnut (heart) for you

In 2011,  Shannon shared her recipe for Andouille Sausage, apples, black beans and rice.  That'll warm you right up!

Remembering the 'weather' we endured during the winter of 2010, I loved making this easy dinner of oyster mushroom pasta that can be made with things you may already have in your pantry.

And, just in time for Valentine's Day giving, here is our  list of local chocolatiers.  All of the chocolatiers listed are still in business (as far as I know), and Gearhart's even has a retail location in Richmond now!

And for the ultimate comfort food, Shannon shared her recipe for a baked whole chicken.
Stay warm, y'all!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

RFC Recommends

With so many great things coming our way we quite often miss out on passing them along in any detail. So we've decided to start regularly sharing some quick links from each of us in one little post. Hope you find something here that just right for you too!

Some stuff just makes us happy*

Shannon loves.. L.O.V.E.S. the new Food52 cookbook, and the Lemon, Leak, and Feta Quiche recipe sealed the deal.

Erin recommends any book from Alice Waters, but especially The Art of Simple Food. Seasonal and lovely, this is a great staple for your cookbook collection. Alice also provides a fantastic pantry list in this book- items to keep handy for quick suppers any day of the week.

Casey just read The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love . Appealing to my farm fantasies, it's a well written tale of a city turned country girl who fell in love and got a farm in the deal. A great winter read while we cosy next to the fire dreaming of spring.

* Vanessa Rees Photography

Thursday, February 2, 2012

365 Days & Stroke Free

A year ago today my husband had a stroke. Actually, he had two. He was 42 and I was 31.

I suppose I should say, though I am not sure it matters, that Rob, my husband, is an athlete. He has a resting heart rate of 50 to 60/per minute and very low blood pressure. He has no family history of stroke or any genetic mutations that can increase risk for stroke. His cholesterol is low (shockingly low).

The stroke just happened. And it put a bend in the road so sharp for a long time we couldn’t see the path ahead.

While I don't have the writing skills to capture how terrifying this experience was - we were luckier than we could have imagined. Rob has recovered beautifully. Though he is still working on his rehab - he able to enjoy life and do all that he loves. I believe that he has himself to thank for his recovery. He worked so hard and embraced this challenge with an open heart and great spirit. One day after the stroke I found Rob doing yoga in his hospital bed, already focused on getting better. Four days after the stroke, Rob had himself on his indoor bike trainer (see below) slowly moving the pedals.


It should be said right away that Rob and I owe our survivals to our mothers, Nancy Rees and Mary Burgholzer. Both found the strength to bravely put their pain to the side to help their children. I couldn't begin to count all the ways that they have supported us, helped us find our way. So, I will just say that we wouldn't be here without their love and support.

Looking back I see that we had the good fortune to be able to pair our recovery with several wonderful and tasty adventures.

  • At Rob's insistence, we kept our reservations at Volt scheduled for just weeks after his stroke. This is Bryan Voltaggio's restaurant, of Top Chef fame, located in Frederick, MD. We had lovely lunch with my folks. And, though I didn't know it at the time, it was just what we needed.
  • I joined the Richmond Food Collective! I feel so fortunate to have met these beautiful, generous, smart women....and even luckier to count them as friends.
  • Gardening really was key part of Rob's recovery. This year we enjoyed tons garlic, beautiful cabbages, more eggplant than we ever knew what to do with. And lots of peppers! Here are just a few pics of the delicious things Rob grew this year.

  • We traveled to France and Belgium. This, planned way before the stroke, was a two week vacation. That we were able to go (at all) was a amazing. We biked for a week through Alsace, France.

These, of course, were the larger moments of 2011. But, I must say, the quiet moments were just as precious, perhaps even more so. Going on walks, sitting on the couch, making dinner together...

To celebrate the end of this chapter, Rob and I are going to enjoy doing things he couldn't do a year ago: take a walk through the museum and enjoy a delicious meal. We will take a deep breath, toast the end of this chapter, and happily set out to begin the next.

In closing, to our family and friends, we love you and thank you from the very bottom of our hearts.

Drawn by Rob, 2/11/11

Planning a Vegetable Garden...

So as our spring-like winter drags on I keeping finding myself day dreaming about real spring in the vegetable garden...okay so I've mentioned this before. February is here, did you know it's already time to get started?

Here are a few resources I have found helpful in my planning,

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a RFC regular feature, something just feels right about sourcing seeds locally, just seems like they'd be happier near home right?

Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman is my go to year round gardening book, he knows all!

Recently discovered Sprout Robot, its a great way to stay on task with email reminders about what to plant when. Ahem.... Richmond gardeners start your broccoli seeds!

The Vegetable Gardener's Bible is also a staple around here.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens offers seed starting and organic gardening classes among others.

I also suspect some of the other members of the RFC may have some things to add to this list and we'd love to learn about your favorite gardening inspiration.