Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cost of living in America

Worth ≠ Cost

If you understand the underpinnings of Slow Food, you might just forgive me for my rant.

We are a nation swimming in a sea of worthless junk that costs unfathomably more than its combined purchase price. We believe that as long as we fund our retirements and our funerals, our children will not be burdened by us. Some of us whose “hearts are in the right place” simply say that we cannot afford to be green, or that we work hard to earn what we have. We also assume that, with the exception of sentimental items and garage sale steals that make it onto the Antiques Road Show, a thing is worth as much as or less than it costs, and that it costs as much as the price-tag says it costs. If the price tag says $5 (and we buy it, validating the seller’s claim that it is worth $5 – “fair market value” in action), then it actually costs $5 or less. That is how much it costs, and that is how much it is worth. The blinkered life is grand.

In many ways, we are skipping happily along, like children who are too young to understand the cost of living and the value of money. Our kids assume that food, shelter, and toilet paper are free and are rudely awakened when they fledge. We “grown-ups” assume that our grocery bags are free (they don’t cost anything), or that we pay for them through the elevated price of the bags’ contents. We also assume that the $10.00 New York strip we buy at the grocery store actually costs $10 or less to produce and sell.

I was listening to NPR this-morning, hearing about how this and that group want to make Tallahassee a “green city.” Tallahassee was listed in one publication as one of three up-and-coming "green" cities in the U.S. (Minneapolis and Sacramento were the others). The speaker said that Tallahassee needs to entice innovators and entrepreneurs to come here and develop green technologies for building etc. Someone said that the “people” of Tallahassee are ready to make a change for the greener, but our government is not (because the economic development office is promoting urban sprawl by approving development on our urban fringes). We also have a crappy transportation system, so we all have to drive cars here. Yes, it’s all true.

BUT

No-one ever really talks about his individual responsibility for preserving resources for the next generation. Even with city grants and loans, solar energy for our oak-shaded houses is not an economical option for most of us, even if we we cut down the trees(?!). If someone tells us to eat better quality and less food (instead of eating more and buying “functional foods,” diet pills and surgeries to trim our bodily excesses), we are personally offended. If someone suggests that we re-use our grocery bags, we wonder what good it would do to sacrifice such tiny, “free” things that are so convenient. If someone tells us to not buy the SUV that we actually don’t need and can’t afford anyway when our children are born, we wonder how we could possibly manage because everyone else has one, and that proves that SUVs are a necessity of modern life.

When I tell friends that I’m trying to transition as much as possible to organically grown produce and meat that comes from a humanely and sustainably farmed livestock, they tell me that these things are expensive and imply that I’m indulging in unnecessary extravagances.

Some individuals who are convinced that we should have fewer children are the same ones whose habits and homes cost more money and resources than entire extended families use in other parts of the world.

The fact is, worth (fair market value) does not equal cost. If we buy it for less at Walmart, lucky dogs, we may never consider the cost – the human cost (cheap labor, poor working conditions, unimaginable living conditions), the cost in natural resources (petrochemicals for making and transporting), the cost to the environment (for example China, where we’ve forked out most of our production, is the most polluting country in the world because of us).

And in case you think I’m picking on you, allow me to indict myself. I’ve got miles to go, and the more I learn the more indicted I become. But I’m making one tiny change at a time, all the while hoping that my child will not see the spoils of my existence in his lifetime.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Chanterelles in September (better late than never)


Much has happened in the almost two months that I've neglected the blog. Too much to write about. Still, I'll play a little catch-up.

Several weeks ago, my brother-in-law showed up at our house with a brown bag full of chanterelles he and his wife had harvested here and there around town. I'd seen the things growing over the past couple of years, never sure enough of their identity to risk eating one. Imagine my joy (ecstacy!) in learning that they are the lovely, rare treat that I'd hoped. And not so rare, it turns out. Chanterelles are fairly abundant, available cross-country to those who are patient enough to wait for their season and confident enough to harvest and eat them. Over the last several weeks, I've enjoyed them in pasta, on home-made rosemary focaccia ( great recipe from Barenbaum's The Bread Bible), and in a chanterelle tart.

Chanterelles are fragile. Last year I was shopping for mushrooms for Thanksgiving dinner, and saw them at "The Fresh Market," squashed, dried out and battered enough to make me want to spit fire at their handlers. What a waste! There's no comparison between just picked, carefully harvested chanterelles and the abused offerings at the supermarket. For those who aren't interested in picking and eating wild fungi, I found extraordinary, pristine specimens for $5/ brown bag at Lake Ella. You may have to wait for next year. On the other hand, chanterelles are still to be found in these first days of October. I've been watching a cluster of them by a live-oak in my neighborhood, and new ones are still popping up. Urban roadside, they're in the fire of dog-pee, urban stormwater runoff, and chemical runoff from the golf-course, so there they stay, an untouched indicator that their likes are to be found in cleaner places.

Although mushrooms tend to pop up during/ after rainy spells, they are best harvested when they are not actually wet. After a good rain, chanterelles can be spongy with excess water, which makes them more perishable. They're also harder to clean if they're wet. It is best not to wash most mushrooms. Harvest from unpolluted areas if possible, and simply brush gently with a paint or pastry brush or wipe with terry-cloth to clean.

After a couple of weeks of eating chanterelles harvested by others and doing lots of internet research, I got up the courage to forage for them with my family. If you're going to do it, do your homework first, and don't forget (silly me) to bring your long pants and real shoes (not flip flops), maybe even some gloves. We negotiated plenty of poison ivy and brier for these lovely morsels.

Chanterelle ramblings from my journal....
I thought about chanterelles, fungi, the food chain. Foraging for chanterelles was exhilarating, freeing, but made me undeniably anxious. So many fungi are poisonous; their position on the food chain is with other smaller life-forms that can have a grim power over us. They feed on and fuel decay. They can cause sickness and death. Finding and eating a wild mushroom, even with certainty of its identity, forces a reversal of natural order, challenges nature. It is easy to think of fungi as organisms at the bottom of the food chain, but they are not. Plants are at the bottom of the food chain. Their energy comes from the sun. Fungi are at the top of the food chain – their energy comes from life all the way up the food chain, from the bottom to the top. They, along with bacteria and other microorganisms, are responsible for recycling the food chain. When I asked a friend who lives down the street from me if she’d been harvesting chanterelles in our neighborhood, she said that she hadn’t. A friend of hers was an expert, an avid mushroom hunter, who made a fatal mistake.

A lot of people think I’m an over-protective mother. I’m so wary of danger, of dire natural consequence. I disclose in order to you give the sense of the surety I needed in order to gather, and then eat, chanterelles. I did not harvest or eat without surety. Yet, my child did not eat the mushrooms with us. I’d read about look-alikes (Jack of the Wood or Jack-o-lantern) that cause excruciating sickness but not death. Another look-alike, the false chanterelle, was generally described as disappointing and mildly disagreeable. A suddenly orphaned child would be almost as tragic as a dead child, but my findings suggested that we might be awfully sickened, but not killed, by a mistake. So with “almost surety,” the parents ate the Chanterelles and the child had none. The day after, and the day after, our bodies did not protest.

Weeks after I wrote these thoughts down, I finally began reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. In the final section of his book, he talks about foraging (The first two sections are devoted to agriculture). Chanterelles are one of the first organisms he encounters in his foray into hunting and gathering. He says it all, and he says it so much better. The book is so compelling, so affirming to my gradual, intuitive transition from global supermarket gourmand to Slow Foodie. It is hard to imagine someone reading the book and continue on with life (eating) unchanged. Yet, never in my life have I been “sold” by someone else’s words. Would I have changed my way of living if I’d not already been firmly on the road to doing so? I’ve talked with scores of people who read the fascinating and frightening Fast Food Nation (I haven’t read it), who still frequent fast food restaurants several times a week!

SO, there's a bit of catching up. Also noteworthy, although the cooler weather has not settled in, the market says otherwise. COOL SEASON GREENS ARE HERE!!! They started to arrive a few weeks ago -- lettuces, asian greens, mustards. Arugula, which seems to be around all year, is especially good now. Also potatoes and sweet potatoes, sand pears, the first persimmons of the season, herbs, potted herbs for winter's garden, some chestnuts. Eggs with carrot-orange yolks. Honey. Sprouts. Garlic....

So much has happened. Great pie! Pigs, cows, chest freezers. Pork at New Leaf. Steep acceleration of my own personal learning curve in the world of sustainability. Hoping to move permanently away from Publix SOON. So, there's my catching up. Now maybe I can resume my previous pace.

LOTS of October and November events for the Tallahassee foodshed, by the way.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

maple-glazed sausage and sweet potatoes

for years we have tried to support local and preferably organic. it just feels (and typically tastes) much better. moving to a new locale challenges us to learn what's in season and where we can get what. it's been a l-o-n-g year of figuring that out, but i really feel as though it's been coming together of late. we frequent the lake ella growers market on wednesdays and have gotten to know our farmers -- namely louise & herman at turkey hill farm, and jack & carmen at crescent moon. sweet grass dairy is a real local gem as well (thomasville, ga) -- we adore their cheeses and have recently had the pleasure of purchasing ~half a hog from them. we only just picked up the meat last wednesday and it is goooooo-oood!! the first sample of our bounty was the smoked mild link sausage...delish! for breakfast i sauteed an onion, some roulette peppers (ie- mostly sweet, but could have some heat) from THF with the SGD sausage. then, added to some hot bradley's country store grits along with parmegiano and s+p. a wonderful breakfast made better accompanied by a THF fried egg. mmm mmm.

dinner was truly delicious... jack (CMF) has had some incredible heritage sweet potatoes at the market lately that i can't get enough of. the pear sauce was made a couple weeks ago (and then frozen) using some local "cooking pears" (i believe the tag said "ash pears," but maybe "sand pears") from new leaf market. herbs are grown with love by H from baby plants that were purchased from bob and millie at the lake ella market.

sorry... no photo today. :(

maple-glazed sausage and sweet potatoes

1-2 T olive oil
1 med.large white onion
1+ lb. SGD smoked mild link sausage, cut in 1/2-3/4-in. rounds
2 large sweet potatoes (any is okay, but orange flesh is lovely), 1/2-3/4-in. dice (well scrubbed, NOT peeled) :)
1+ cup pear and/or apple sauce
1/4 cup white wine or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (or honey would be nice)
fresh sage, approx. 10 leaves (on stems okay)
fresh rosemary, approx. 4 x 3-in. pieces
s+p

preheat oven to 375F.
heat a large pot or dutch oven over med-high heat. add olive oil, then onion and sausage. brown for a few-several minutes as you finish dicing up sweet potatoes. add sweet potatoes and salt and pepper. stir, bring heat to high. cook covered for a few minutes. add wine, maple syrup, apple/pear sauce, and fresh herbs. stir, recover, and roast at 375F for 15-20mins. Uncover, raise heat to 550F and roast for an additional 15-20mins.
serves ~ 4 as a main course.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Beach Advisories and Seafood, and more FISH

The Tallahassee Democrat has been running articles about Panhandle beach advisories for weeks, if not months. High levels of harmful bacteria in the water have kept some people, but not all, out of the water. Beach advisories are nothing new -- many local beaches seem to be under water/bacteria advisories for months out of each year. Human waste and storm-water runoff have been implicated recently, although though there are also other micro-organism "explosions," Florida red tide and blue-green algae, for example, that may be exacerbated by agricultural runoff and elevated water temperatures.

Within the last few days, there were two articles in the Democrat about local seafood restaurants: one on the reopening of Angelo & Sons, rebuilt and ready for business after being condemned following damage from Hurricane Dennis in 2005, and a review of The Forgotten Coast Seafood Shack. Is it safe to eat Local seafood now? In his review of the Forgotten Coast Seafood Shack, Ashby Stiff cheerfully admitted to eating Oysters "out of season." Personally, I don't like seafood if it's overcooked (and it so often is). But is it safe to eat local seafood (especially oysters, shrimp, crab) that hasn't been overcooked?

Is this an over-reaction to a phenomenon that has been around for years? Is the danger from swimming (which usually involves some ingestion of water) as real as indicated or is it exaggerated? Is there a corresponding risk with eating local seafood this time of year?

There were two Democrat articles about the Goliath Grouper, which may be of particular interest to Slow Food members. Protected from fishing since 1990, the Goliath Grouper is up for reconsideration as an allowed catch. State, Federal, and University researchers and the Florida Fish and Wildlife commission met on Monday and concluded that more time and information is needed before a decision is made. A strange sensation for foodies: Don't eat the foods you wish to protect. Of course, sometimes, particularly when it comes to cultivated crops and value-added products, we actively seek out and purchase the rare foods we wish to preserve -- as co-producers we must encourage the producers' efforts. Our job is to be educated about which foods fit into which category.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Scuffinnahves

Seven years ago, I married and moved with my husband to his home-town Tallahassee. Until then, I'd been a bit of a transatlantic nomad; my rather homogenized accent picked up and dumped flavor without loyalty. Shortly after I began work in my new town, a co-worker came into staff-meeting with a container full of mixed green and purple orbs the size of large "boulder" marbles. I inquired, and she replied in her slow, smoky drawl, "Skuffinnahves."

"Uh, ... what was that?"
"Skuffinnahves."
"Skuffin-knives?"
She nodded,"Skuffinnahves."

Even as a fellow American, I was a foreigner as I encountered this new word and struggled to sort pronunciation from spelling. She invited me to try one. I selected a green one. My teeth sank through thick, tart, leathery skin into cool, gelatinous, grape-candy flesh and finally crushed astringent, slightly bitter seeds. As odd as it may sound to locals, I felt like I'd landed on the moon.

A mission to find more quickly turned up plenty of labeled containers of "Scuppernong" and "Muscadine" grapes. Scupp-er-nong. Skuffinnahves. Last night, after finding scuppernongs at New Leaf and remembering my introduction to the fruit, I asked Matt if he'd ever heard the word pronounced this way. No, he hadn't.

These fat grapes have a love-it-or-hate-it flavor often described as "musky" or "foxy." Some prefer to split the skins (which are thick and can be bracingly astringent) and eat only the clear, sweet pulp. Personally, I enjoy the contrasts of sour and sweet and leathery and slippery. The purple grapes (muscadines) are sweeter than the green, and they're best when they've ripened and softened slightly past their taut fullness. Muscadines are on my "sexy foods" list.

Scuppernongs grow wild in parts of the South. I remember seeing them hanging unripe from vines all around Tallulah Gorge near Atlanta. Do they also grow wild here? There is a vexing weed that grows here, that looks remarkably like the scuppernong vine but does not produce the fruit.

I found these suppernongs from Ladybird Organics/ Monticello Vinyards at New Leaf yesterday. New Leaf also sometimes carries the local farm's muscadine jelly, sunflower sprouts, and eggs.

I'm told that New Leaf carries Monticello Vinyard's muscadine wine for a day, or an hour -- blink and it's gone. One can also order it online from the Ladybird Organics/Monticello Vinyard's website. I vaguely remember hearing or reading that you can pick your own grapes there sometimes. The farm also boasts persimmons, pecans, satsumas, marsh grapefruit, meyer lemons, and microgreens. Visit the website for more information.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Fig Preserves, Sunshine in a Jar

I live in a house which is almost one hundred and fifty years old. It sits on a strangely shaped piece of property measuring a little over two acres. On this property we have some of the most amazingly majestic live oaks I've ever seen, too much bamboo, lots of native flowering bushes, quite a few pecan trees and assorted other things like hydrangea, azalea and magnolia.

There is, however, a startling lack of fruit trees if you don't count the pecans and I don't because we get virtually no nuts off of them. That's probably our fault, but neither here nor there in this conversation.

I am certain that over the years, there must have been blueberry bushes, mulberry trees, peach trees, fig trees, sand pears, and so forth. Folks must eat! We are trying, slowly, to reintroduce some of these things to the property but they are mostly slow-growing and so we must depend on generous friends and U-Pick places for the fruit we like to eat and preserve.

Yesterday I had just gotten a message from a friend whose fig trees are in overdrive, inviting me to come pick when my husband called, saying a co-worker had brought us in a large bag of figs.

Time to make preserves!

Fig preserves are one of my favorites. First of all, the fruit is just so...well, darnit, sensuous. No wonder it's an age-old symbol of fertility. How can a fruit be so male and yet so female at the same time? Or is that just me?

According to a quick Google, I find that figs were probably one of the first fruits ever cultivated by people. References to them can be found in the Bible and in the mythology of many cultures. I'm not surprised.

The figs I have in my possession today are, I believe, the Celeste variety. Small and purplish brown with a luscious almost-coral inner flesh, they grow quite well in our area.

I've had the recipe that I use for fig preserves for so long that I can't remember where I got it, but I think it was from a very, very old cook book. It's the kind of recipe I like- simple, direct, and to the point. I cook my figs whole, rather than cutting them up, and add a few lemons to the mix to add that sour spark that makes the sometimes almost too-sweet flavor of the fig pick right up and dance.

The pleasure we'll have in opening a jar of these preserves next winter, spooning out some of the figs to mash on a fresh biscuit and pouring over some of the sweet syrup, is quite enough to rationalize the time and money that goes into making them. Let's face it- it's cheaper to buy fig preserves than make them, but that's hardly the point.

Here's the recipe I use:
Fig Preserves
4 lbs. fresh figs
2 lemons, sliced very thin and seeded
4 cups of sugar
1 cup of water

Wash figs and cut any stems. Combine sugar and water and bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes.
Add figs and lemons. Cook rapidly until clear.
Seal in clean, hot jars, process in boiling water canner for fifteen minutes.
Makes 3 pints.

Please watch your figs as they boil because if you go off to do something (like write a blog) and ignore them as they boil, you will walk into your kitchen to find something of a huge mess.

Also, when you measure out your sugar, you might find yourself thinking, "Golly, this is more sugar than my family uses in a year!"

True, but, sugar is part of the preservation process and so necessary in this recipe. Console yourself with the idea that you will be eating small amounts of the resulting sweet goodness. Then, do your very best to avoid the temptation to just take a spoon to the jar. Add some whole wheat and flax seed to your pancakes or biscuits and when you are eating them with these preserves, you can almost believe you're doing something good for your body, despite all the sugar.

You will certainly be doing something good for your soul.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Market Bag

Surf N Turf
In the rippling heat of early dog-days, the bounty continues. The faithful year-round growers display July's ratatouille kaleidescope: tomatoes and peppers (diverse), garlic, shallots, eggplant, squash, basil tips. Also arugula, honey, collard greens, corn, kale, sprouts, cut flowers.

Ripe
The handful of back-yard growers that comes during the summer months offer zipper peas, okra, cucumbers, blueberries, figs, potatoes, watermelons, other things. Van Lewis is there with his beautiful clams. My market bag is heavy.








Nero

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Figs

I arrived at New Leaf Market just as a basket of small golden figs from a local farm was set out. The figs were so utterly, perfectly ripe that the mere gentle touch required to pluck them one-at-a-time from the basket and place them delicately into a bag, was enough to break the skin of many. Burdened and bruised by their own weight in that basket at the co-op, perched just outside of the refrigerated produce display, they would be discolored, oozing and moldy by the next day. For figs, the time between glorious, bursting zenith of life and decay into earth-food is very short. I took as many as I thought my family and friends could eat (about half of the basket), and hoped that someone else would take the rest before the end of the day.

Monday, July 9, 2007

FISH

"Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime." -- Chinese Proverb.

"Go forth and multiply." -- God.

Impossible to do both? I really want to know where you stand.

Slow Food USA's most recent edition of The Snail is dedicated entirely to the impossible conundrum of sustainable fish. If you're living in North Florida and you love your local seafood, you'll be disappointed to know that Slow Food's short list of seafood to avoid (in the name of sustainability and health) includes two of your beloved favorites: red snapper and grouper. If you have deep pockets or a good hankering, you can still purchase these at just about any seafood counter or seafood shack boasting "Fresh from Florida" seafood. Local fishermen and the Florida seafood industry get a reprieve (at least for a while), and you get to eat snapper and grouper every day (but your grandchildren won't).

Louise was telling me about her personal local favorite -- redfish. She gets all sparkley-eyed when she's talking about them, but apparently I may never even taste one -- they're so scarce that the legal limit is one fish per harvester per day.

Some of the little fellas, namely Gulf shrimp (farmed or wild) and farmed clams and oysters are apparently doing fine and are not hurting anyone or anything -- good news for shellfish lovers. Perhaps stone-crabs. Perhaps blue crabs. Little fellas who are not doing fine: our local bay scallops. Who else? Someone fill me in.

Mr. Lewis, how are the mullet doing these days? How are our local fishermen?

And where the heck do I go to buy good local fish? I overheard people at the market talking about how fish is flown in from afar to our nearby fishing villages. Justin Timineri said that Southern Seafood is a good place to start if I want honest, good local seafood (I guess I just have to say "no" to grouper and snapper). What about Mike's Seafood (anyone know)? I know I can buy sustainably farmed clams at Clamalot. Can I go to any of the cinder-shacks from here to Apalachicola and be sure that I'm getting good, clean, fair, and local seafood?

Who can give us a good picture of the FISH issue at home on the Florida Panhandle?

And, once again, I really want to know where you stand.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

redefining the perfect tomato

i am always on a quest for amazing + delicious food -- at times, without even realizing it! although, quite honestly, these days i mostly know it.. i have come to the realization that i am mildly obsessed with food. i am constantly analyzing foods that i eat to understand their flavors and what makes them delish (or, sadly, decidedly not delish) and then thinking about how i will recreate that dish. although most people vow to return to said place and buy the dish again, i usually end up on a bender to recreate the dish myself (or possibly with the assistance of unsuspecting husband and/or friends to help out). practically without conscious, i am pondering "how is this made? ... how can i make this??" leading to a possible "this would be so great with a little ----- added." such thoughts are notoriously followed by "we can make that!" it's practically the first thought that pops into my head upon food enjoyment.

only, some things just cannot be recreated in the kitchen... the whole, fresh, unprocessed foods is what i have in mind here. if you read about food (and you do because you are here reading this blog... or, you are related to me or a dear friend reading only to be supportive... hi mom! <3), you already know that you need to start with the best ingredients you can get your hands on... you cannot make great food with less than great ingredients.. yada yada. we are lucky to have a few growers' markets and wonderful farmers who bring us fabulous produce such as this tomato:

i think that this is a perfect tomato. sure, it's not the first "perfect" tomato image that would pop into your mind, nor one that you'd draw -- most likely not the tomato of most photographs. but, perhaps that's less the fault of this delicious tomato and more a result of our unrealistic expectations for "perfect"-looking uniform foods. really... what's uniform about the natural world? i think that this tomato is amazing looking! it has great lines and an interesting shape that remind me of great art. for me, also key to enjoyment is its source; i got this tomato at the farmers' market saturday, directly from the wonderful turkey hill farm stand. it was grown without pesticides, and... it tastes lovely! really, those should be the real bottom lines -- taste + source. this tomato was a rich, brilliant red all the way to its core and oh-so-juicy -- as you can see in the photo. tomatoes are plentiful at the moment around here... savor a perfect tomato before they're gone for the season.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Growers' Market Rules?

A growers’ market is not the same as a farmers’ market. A vendor can go to a wholesaler to get his truck loaded up with produce from Timbuktu, and bring it to the farmers' market to re-sell. At a growers’ market, all produce for sale must have been grown by the vendor. At the Lake Ella Growers’ Market, vendors are also required to actively disclose to their customers whether their produce was grown using “conventional” or “organic” farming methods. Therefore, the customer knows where his produce comes from and how it is grown. Right?

Seduced by okra and field peas available only from a vendor selling “conventionally” grown produce, I made what I believed to be a weak but informed choice to buy these chemically grown vegetables from the grower. After I’d made my rounds, I sat on a bench to soak in the feel-good atmosphere at the market. Loitering in my usual way, I overheard multiple conversations about the vendor – all participants certain that some of the produce on the table was not in fact grown by the vendor. Tomatoes too homogenously “perfect.” Out-of-season sweet potatoes over-wintered and sold here. An overly diverse array of produce at the table, and so on.

With my heavy bag of corn, okra, and field peas, I felt naive, cheated, uncomfortable, guilty. I’d already made a choice to buy vegetables coaxed into maturity at the expense of their taste, plant diversity, and the environment. And apparently I’d unknowingly supported the vendor who chose to bend the rules by selling perhaps a few “home-grown” items, along with items from unknown origins. Even as I kicked myself, I was glad to witness the joint efforts of the better-informed to protect the integrity of the growers’ market, and concerned about the future of this carefully cultivated treasure.

More than a place to buy vegetables, the growers’ market is a growing community. It is a place where I go to feel safe and confident about my buying choices. It is where I am slowly learning about environmental stewardship and meeting people whose love extends beyond their own nuclei to their neighbors and to future generations, and whose daily habits reflect gratitude and respect for the source of their nourishment – the earth.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Collaborators Wanted!

We need food and garden writers!

Want a juicier, more tantalizing blog about good food in the Tallahassee area? Share the love and add some flavor. Right now, I'm flying solo and I'm boring myself to death. We need your special flavor.

What's your food passion? Farming? Wine? Barbecue? Eating out? Seafood? Vegetarian or vegan cooking? Desserts? Chocolate? Pickling? Brewing? Strange foods? Rare foods? Food history? Food politics? Eating out? International cooking? Gardening? Bugs in the garden?

Lend your unique talents and reap the rewards of a collaborative blog about good, clean, and fair food in and around Tallahassee: Become a collaborator on Slow Food Tallahassee Talks.

Email info@slowfoodtallahassee.org for more info. Thanks!

p.s. Those of you who have already expressed an interest in blogging here: Let us know if there have been any technical obstacles holding you back.

In Season: Blueberries


Blueberries have been in full swing for the last couple of weeks. When they first showed up at the market, vendors were swamped by eager customers. Anyone at the market an hour after start was out of luck. Last week, there were blueberries a-plenty, even for latecomers -- I left the market with enough for a pie or two. Ultimately, I didn't make a pie, but I did make a blueberry compote with thyme, vanilla bean and tupelo honey to serve with roasted peaches (also in season) and ice-cream. I also enjoyed the blueberries on pancakes and snacked on them with guiltless, extravagant abandon.

The recipes for the roasted peaches and blueberry compote (called "Inside a Blueberry Pie) came from A New Way to Cook (Schneider, 2001). The book was given to me by friend, fellow foodie and dietitian, Denise Hall. In her book, Sally Schneider artfully redistributes fat in her recipes to give the diner the sensation of a full-fat, full flavor experience with less guilt. She encourages experimentation and utilization of local, seasonal ingredients by providing loose formulas as well as recipes.

Blueberries are packed with anti-oxidants that are believed to combat cancer, heart-disease, urinary tract infections, loss of mental capacity due to aging, and more. Read about blueberries and health.

Find out where to pick your own blueberries on the Slow Food Tallahassee Local Resources Directory and on the Pick Your Own Website.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Still Eating















Two weeks' absence feels like a long time, but I haven't perished of starvation. If I've been quiet, it's because I've had my mouth full.

I, along with a handful of Turkey Hill Farm enthusiasts and Slow Food Tallahassee members, had the great privilege of helping Louise Divine and Herman Holley organize Turkey Hill Farm's premier annual Tomato Feastival. This was a private event for farm-and-food-centric individuals (and their families) who were wise enough to have already subscribed to Turkey Hill's beautiful and informative "Farm Report" and Slow Food Tallahassee's News email list. On the big day, the grounds of Turkey Hill Farm were buzzing with more than 100 farmers, prominent local chefs, and blissed-out foodies. The proceeds from the event will benefit Turkey Hill Farm, Slow Food Tallahassee, and the Damayan project.

Turkey Hill Farm was the intoxicatingly lush venue for the Tomato Feastival. Tomatoes from Turkey Hill and other farms and back-yard growers were entered into a contest and sampled by guests. A distinguished panel of judges from various branches of our local culinary realm chose the best tomatoes. Other festivities at the event: a silent auction, food demonstrations by Keith Baxter, Ezzie Goldman, and Brian Knepper, a cake-walk, kids' activities, and the pot-luck of pot-lucks that happens when serious food lovers come together to share their passion. I hate to name-drop, so I won't, but honestly, some of Tallahassee's most important farmers and chefs were milling about the farm. If you don't want to miss the event next year, subscribe to Turkey Hill's Farm Report and Slow Food Tallahassee's eNews.

By the way, tomato season is in full swing. Get yourself to Lake Ella (Wednesday 3-dusk), Southwood (Monday 3-dusk), or Market Square (Saturday 8a-1ish) in time to enjoy the quintessential tomato -- in its many forms.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Pearl Onions?

NOPE. These beauties are elephant-garlic pearls from Turkey Hill Farm. When you cut into one, the absence of layers and the familiar waft of garlic betray its true identity. Elephant garlic is generally milder than the standard super-market variety.





I want to roast a handful of these perfect pearls in their skins until meltingly tender and slightly caramelized. A gentle squeeze of a papery package will send its sweet, soft contents onto a slice of rustic bread. A glass of good beer will make it dinner.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Humble Pie

What is it about those local, small-scale farmers that makes me utterly gawky and tongue-tied? Every week I'm like a child meeting a superhero, full of awe and admiration, but with the added self-consciousness of ignorance that comes with years. I can just put that tomato on a plate and look like a culinary wonder-woman, but they were the ones that gently harnessed nature in order to produce the masterpiece in my kitchen. The food I eat and serve to family and friends still feels like a gift, and a steal if I don't at least try to understand how it got to my table. So what do I do? I return to the farmers week after week to purchase and listen. Even when my questions are embarrassingly ignorant and the words that come out of my mouth are incredible even to me, they share their knowledge. They share their knowledge with me, they share with those around me, and I try to absorb it. At some point I'll get organized enough to volunteer some time at a local farm or garden (a practicum). Someday, I'll be able to look at that tomato on my plate and really feel like a culinary wonder-woman. In the meantime, I'll keep eating the world's best humble pie.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lavishly Local

Here's my recipe for a quick and decadent gratin that is as local as it gets.

1 lg clove finely grated garlic
2 lbs potatoes and turnips from the growers' market
1/2 to 1/3 liter of Kurtz and Sons Whole Milk
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Butter (to grease baking dish)
1 1/2 C grated/crumbled Sweetgrass Dairy Cheeses
Mixed fresh herbs (from market or your garden)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Thinly slice the potatoes and turnips, toss with the grated garlic and add them to a large saute pan. Add enough milk to barely cover the potatoes. Cover the pan and simmer over lowest heat until vegetables are just tender. Season to taste. Grease a gratin dish or other ceramic oven dish large enough to accommodate the vegetables in a 3" layer. Gently spoon in half of the vegetables (with their milk) and cover with half of the cheese. Add the rest of the vegetables and top with the remaining cheese. Gently tamp the cheese down so that milk seeps over the top of it. Place the dish (uncovered) in the oven and bake until the gratin is bubbling and golden on top and most of the liquid has been absorbed by the vegetables. Cool 15 minutes. Mince the herbs and shower over the gratin just before serving.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Off to the Races

The growers' market at Lake Ella was astonishing last week, and rather confused. The panoply of produce described a froth, a frenzy, a dizzying race between winter, spring and summer crops, all hanging on, charging ahead, or chomping at the bit. The best of the best is for sale at the local growers' markets. Lucky me! Even luckier, because I had family coming into town this weekend. I let my impulses run wild and came home with a fanciful bounty for my guests. I also watched with a little jealousy as a woman in the right place at the right time snapped up the season's first tomatoes and ate them on the spot.

Here's a shamefully simplified list of what I remember from last wednesday's market: Red potatoes (beautiful -- new, large, translucent skinned, and sweet -- I can't wait to play with these), leeks, kale, red mustard, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuces (many varieties), arugula, spring bulb onions (red and white), sugar snap peas, snow peas, green beans, cabbages, parsnips, broccoli, broccoli rabe, squash, radishes, shallots, garlic bulbs, herbs, edible flowers, cardoons(!), chard, potted summer vegetable plants, herbs, and flowers, eggs, tupelo honey, cut flowers, tomatoes.

There is a down-side to all of this wealth. Farmer Jack (Crescent Moon Organics) expressed worry about his crops' enthusiasm. Louise Divine (Turkey Hill Farm) wrote about her ponds, her farm's irrigation source, getting low. Neither the land nor the crops can keep up this pace -- they are expending huge amounts of energy trying to bear fruit in spite of the drought (irrigation helps, but it is not as good as rain, and reserves are getting low). If our summer crops peak early, they will also close early, leaving us with a longer than usual middle/late summer lull.

What should you do? Keep buying from the farmers and enjoy the bounty. Conserve water at home. Keep your own garden well mulched and avoid watering in the middle of the day when much moisture will be lost to evaporation.

If you were here this weekend, you didn't miss the smoke from wildfires. Don't throw your cigarette butts out the window. No campfires or back-yard burning. There is a state-wide burn ban -- save it for the wet season.

Local food happenings over the weekend -- let us know how they went!
Slow Food Tallahassee had lunch with Bobbie Golden at Golden Acres Ranch:

A good crowd came out to learn more about the Golden Acres Ranch this past weekend and a good time was had by all. There were hay ride tours of the ranch, goats and lambs were all about and the chickens and fresh eggs were fantastic. There was mayhaw jelly to taste and buy, and quilting demonstrations too. Too bad drought and wind did such a number on the crop this year and prevented any u-pick. Check their web site this time next year for a crop update.

It was like a mini "foodie" convention as visitors from Full Circle Farm, Kurtz Dairy and our dedicated volunteers relaxed in the park like setting of the ranch to talk food. Slow Food Tallahassee sold a wonderful green salad with greens, carrots, sugar snaps and onions donated by Turkey Hill Farm, Claire, and SaraKeith. We also sold a yummy tortellini salad donated by Rebecca. And the chickens gladly did away qith our prep scraps too! Happy, happy day.

-- Claire Olson


Last weekend was also the Zydeco/ mudbug bash at the Bradfordville Blues club. Looked like fun!

New Growers' Market Coming Soon: Dr. Jennifer Taylor (FAMU statewide small farms program) is at it again -- she's collaborating with local farmers and Tamara Suarez (of Tamara's Cafe Floridita-- my favorite restaurant in Apalachiacola) on a Friday Growers' Market in Apalachiacola*. Here's a perfect food-centric weekend I'm dreaming about: Leave work early to get to the farmer's market as soon as it opens. Spend one night at the Gibson Inn, another either camping or in a a hotel room with a kitchenette. Work up appetites walking the beaches and trails of Cape San Blas. Dinners at Tamara's and Avenue Sea, breakfast and lunches prepared at the hotel or camp-site with stellar produce from the grower's market and fresh local seafood.

*For more information or to show your support for an Apalachiacola grower's market, contact :
Dr. Jennifer Taylor
Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University
Telephone: (850) 412-5260
Fax: (850) 561-2151
Email: Jennifer.Taylor@famu.edu

CSAs catching on in Florida: I'm seeing more and more literature about eating locally and community supported agriculture. Read this recent article about Florida CSA's on the Florida Agriculture website. It includes a list of Florida farms with a CSA programs. You can also find detailed information about natural/ organic CSAs and local farms on http://www.localharvest.org.
The local harvest website allows you to find local foods anywhere in the country. This means you can give your Aunt Fannie in Arizona the gift of local foods (ie local to her) buy purchasing for her online!

Back to the races: Entirely coincidentally with the Kentuky Derby, Matt and I have been enjoying enjoy mint juleps for a couple of weeks now, as a sort of acceptance that summer is here to stay for the next five months. We finally have a front porch to sit on -- now we just need some rocking chairs. Short on cash for experimenting with bourbon, we experimented with mint instead. Peppermint, spearmint, and chocolate mint from our garden; spearmint is traditional but chocolate mint gets my vote. What's your front-porch favorite beverage for the long summer?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

An Affair with Salad Brunette, uh, Burnett.

I was recently introduced to salad burnett, a lovely perennial herb with dainty leaves that smell and taste like cucumbers. The sensation of tasting cucumber without simultaneously experiencing its cool, watery texture was delightful enough, but pairing this with other seasonal flavors in a market salad had me swooning at the kitchen counter. A mate worth remembering was mint; no surprise there -- cucumber and mint feature together all the time. However, with mint and cucumber flavors present and cucumber texture absent, I couldn't tell where the cucumber ended and the mint began. The ingredients in this positively aphrodisiacal salad: Salad burnett from the Damayan Project's Lichgate Garden, lettuce from Turkey Hill Farm, fresh chevre from Sweetgrass Dairy, golden beets from Crescent Moon Organics, and nasturtiums, chives, mints, and garlic chives from our garden, all fluffed up and barely dressed with a simple red-wine vinaigrette.

p.s. Get your own burnett.

5/4/2007
Today Burnett shimmied up to Bill Conrad's strawberries and Sweetgrass's fresh chevre, and they drizzled themselves with a balsamic reduction. I didn't mind at all.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Field Trip! Sheep Galore and U-Pick Mayhaws at Golden Acres Ranch

Join Slow Food Tallahassee for lunch on May 12th at Golden Acres Ranch in Monticello. Farmer Bobbie Golden will give tours and answer your questions about the farm. Bring the kids -- they'll love the adorable baby sheep and goats!

For more information about this and other Slow Food Tallahassee events, check the Slow Food Tallahassee Calendar and get on Slow Food Tallahassee's Email Notification List.

Also visit Slow Food Tallahassee's Resource Directory for information about local farms and local food resources!

U-Pick Mayhaws:
May is mayhaw season! For times to harvest mayhaws for your homemade jelly, syrup, wine, or beer at Golden Acres Ranch, contact Bobbie Golden: (850) 997 6559; email bobbie.golden@gmail.com. You can also visit her website.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Slow Food Tallahassee Potluck-- You Wish You Were There

The Slow Food Tallahassee potluck hosted by Sarahkeith and Ruben was relaxed and delicious, educational and recreational. Relaxed for most, I should say. My little accompanist was thoroughly revved for the party. I stole bites of food and snippets of conversation as I scampered about after the joyful lad.

The venue, set from entrance to back porch to patio to garden with chairs, tables, and conversation nooks of all descriptions, reminded me that I ought spend more time on my own porch with Matt, chatting and listening to the whirring and chirping of crickets or staring into a summer downpour, deeply inhaling the smell of the wet earth. A screened porch opening onto the back garden and onto a brick patio sheltered with plants, more tables and chairs, a rain barrel, a rope swing hanging from an oak limb, a fire pit set round with logs for benches, a carefully built coop for two shy chickens, guitars and singing, stimulating conversation, and of course, exceptionally good food and drink -- all created a perfect oasis for Slow going.

For me, beets were the star of the Slow Table. This is their season, and they featured in an enormous and beautifully executed feta and beet tart, and in a beet salad paired with fresh seasonal greens. Also on the menu, fruits and local cheeses, a vegan macaroni and cheese that made me think that vegans aren't deprived after all, blood orange and ginger tofu, cool and spicy gazpacho, dal, moist, rich lemon cakes, a dangerously addictive spiced cake, warm ginger chocolate-chip cookies, cream cheese with mayhaw jelly from Golden Acres Farm, carefully chosen beer and wine, ginger beer and root beer. I missed a lot of dishes -- I didn't get to taste everything....

Thanks, Sarahkeith and Ruben, for hosting a deliciously Slow evening.

Food in the Democrat This Week, and MORE April Food Dates

This week's Democrat online featured good articles and tidbits for local food lovers.
Check out the article about Liam's Thomasville restaurant (cheese heaven), and visit their website. If you haven't already done so, read the Earth Day article featuring Monticello's Turkey Hill Farm, then visit their market stand at the Lake Ella Grower's Market on Wednesday afternoon (3p-dusk) or at Market Square on Saturday morning (8a-2p), or at Southwood every other Monday afternoon (3p-5p). Remember to go early to the markets for best selection.

Two more events to add to your your already packed April Food Calendar:

Quincyfest: Friday, May 4th & Saturday, May 5th: Quincy, FL: featuring blues and good barbecue.

Panacea Blue Crab Festival: Saturday, May 5th: Panacea, FL: Blue crabs and other local seafood, live music, dancing, parade, contests, demonstrations, and fireworks.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

In-Season In Tallahassee: Pretty Things for Your Plate and Palate

These garlic blossoms and some extra sweet sugar snap peas adorned Turkey Hill Farm's table at the Lake Ella Grower's Market on Wednesday. Both went into a stir-fry along with some radishes and radish tops. Tough outer sheaths removed and cooked until barely tender, the garlic blossoms' texture reminded me of fiddlehead ferns.

A few weeks ago, I bought some garlic bulbs from a grower at the market who gave me a couple of sprouted garlic toes and instructions for planting them. He explained that the flowers should be removed when they appear next year: "You're not growing flowers, you're growing garlic." SO, if you grow your own garlic, be sure to eat this lovely, delicious little by-product.

Loquats are also in season. They're hanging in heavy bunches from trees in back yards all over Tallahassee. You aren't likely to find them in any grocery stores -- they oxidize very quickly and are highly perishable.
They're also a fiddle to eat -- homely skins and chambered large, toxic seeds leave a small layer of delectable, sweet-tart flesh. The flesh is pulpy with a flavor resembling citrus, peach, and plum.

I had the good fortune of being able to harvest loquats from a neighbor's tree. Google turned up recipes for loquat jelly, wine, fruit syrup, sorbet, fruit sauce, and ice-cream. I even saw a recipe for a "detoxifying" honey-suckle and loquat soup (be careful, though -- honeysuckle is actually poisonous). I made some loquat syrup by blanching, peeling, and seeding the loquats before cooking the juice and pulp down with sugar and lemon juice.

You might do well to simply pick a bowlful of loquats and give them a quick wash before floating them in a large bowl of ice-water. Find your favorite outdoors spot and settle down for some sweet nibbling and day-dreaming.

Blackberries are coming! Thanks for the tips on where to find them. A walk along a roadside verge, footpath, or woodland clearing easily yields a small handful now but not enough for a pie, unless you're really determined! Sarahkeith picked a large bowlful at the Miccosukee Greenway, for her guests at last weekend's Slow Food Tallahassee potluck.

In-season Alchemy: Pair the loquats with the blackberries for a visually striking seasonal treat. Through my experimentation, I stumbled upon a trio of in-season local flavors so heavenly that I feel compelled to jealously guard them. As a compromise, I'll hoard my methods and give you the main ingredients to play with: loquats, blackberries, and honey.

Sweet-Grass Dairy Market Day: April 28th -- this Saturday. Culinary heaven and a terrific family outing. Buy some chevre (or any of their cheeses, for that matter) to enjoy with local honey, loquats, and blackberries!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Good Food in Tallahassee This Week

On Monday, I found these guinea-hen eggs from Zebra Truck Farm at New Leaf Market. I love their triangular shape and deeply pored texture.


















We participated in Zebra Truck Farm's CSA program before owners Kevin and Penny Orr switched to having a table at the Saturday Downtown Farmer's Market.

Twice this week at New Leaf Market, I stood in line behind someone holding a liter of raw milk from local Kurtz and Sons dairy.

On a family walk after dinner yesterday, Matt spotted ripe blackberries! I didn't know that this is blackberry season in our area. Anybody know a good place for gathering blackberries?

The Grower's Market at Lake Ella was alive on Wednesday. FSU students took film footage for a vegetarian documentary. Keith Baxter (Kool Beanz Cafe) gave a cooking demonstration. Offerings at the market included sorrel (sold with recipes!), fava beans, red mustard, multi-colored beets, many kinds of lettuces, brussels sprouts, scallions, spring bulb onions, garlic heads, lettuces, chard, kale, rainbow bunches of radishes, hakurei salad turnips, shitake mushrooms, honey, fresh cut flowers, potted herbs, organic sauerkrauts and sprouted hummus.

Holy Cow, Tupelo!
I'm looking forward the Slow Food Tallahassee potluck this weekend. A taste of tupelo honey and a glass of Kurtz and Sons milk this week was an experience heightened to divinity with the addition of cream and vanilla beans. This tupelo-honeycomb candy (sometimes called cinder-toffee) will gild the local lilly.

Meanwhile, Matt will be keeping order at the National Homebrew Competition (1st round regional judging). We'll be missing the Mayhaw Festival in Colquitt, Georgia. I keep hoping to find some Mayhaw Jelly. It seems to be in abundant supply when I'm not looking for it. Any tips on where in/near Tallahassee I can find some Mayhaw Jelly?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

MORE food dates for your April pleasure

Farmstead Grass-fed Pasture Raised Egg Cooking Class.April 21st Magnolia Farms, Live Oak, FL (90 miles).
Fermented Foods that Promote Digestive Health.April 29th Magnolia Farms, Live Oak, FL (90 miles)
For more information on both of these classes (including fees/ registration), visit localharvest.org's calendar of events for our area. Or try your luck at accessing Magnolia Farm's website directly: www.magnoliafarms.org

Florida Wine Festival. April 12th-14th. Tallahassee, FL. The Mary Brogan Museum will host the event featuring wines from Florida vinyards, including local Monticello Winery.

Food classes and seminars at New Leaf Market: Several. Check New Leaf Market's calendar.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Democrat Causes Stir with Bradley's Sausages

I was happy to see the article about Bradley's Country Store's sausage-making in today's Tallahassee Democrat online (Eastside Chronicle). It describes Bradley's sausage-making process from butchering the hogs to stuffing the casings. There were several well-written comments when I read the article this-morning, some of them rather unhappy.

I can see how the descriptions would naturally upset a vegetarian. However, any meat-eater ought to be willing to learn how his/her dinner was treated while alive, how it was killed, and how it was handled after it was killed. Turning a willfully blind eye to the necessary steps involved in getting meat to your plate means that you cannot make truly informed decisions to opt for the sustainable farming and humane handling of livestock.

The Bradley's article reminded me of a similarly graphic article about small-scale chicken processing in the Long Island Slow Food's Edible East End (actually, the Bradley's article is very watered down in comparison -- for a broader readership).

Most consumers would prefer not to know what they are eating. This directly contributes to the prevailing large-scale farming and meat-processing methods that destroy the environment through all stages of production and transport, and torture animals while they are alive.

Unfortunately, now that I am armed with some of this knowledge, I bear a greater burden of responsibility each of the many times I opt to grab for the most convenient and least expensive package of meat from one of our big box grocery stores.

I spent some time learning how to butcher meat and fish in an Atlanta restaurant. Handling the animals, learning the intricacies of their musculature, the differences in texture and fat content from one cut to the next, attempting to make cuts that highlighted the natural beauty of each piece -- all of these things gave me a greater respect for the animals themselves. I felt like I knew them better. I tried to be accurate, to minimize waste, to maximize the value of the animal that was slaughtered for the pleasure of the restaurant's patrons. I felt annoyed when passers-by would poke at a fish that I had laid out on the counter or expressed disgust at the sight of raw meat or the task of breaking down the animal.

I also have a very vivid childhood memory of plucking pheasants in my neighbor's garage. Knowing the feel of the animal and being aware of its life and death reduces my sense of entitlement. I feel more humble and I enjoy my food more.

The more I learn about meat farming and production, the more aware I am of how much energy goes into creating and growing the animal. I hope that soon I'll make a chicken stock from the bones of every chicken I roast (rather than just making stock "when I remember to do it"). I might pull the bones from the stock, pulverize them, and add them to my soil in my garden. Sure would beat throwing my styro-foam and plastic packaging and wasted meat and bones into a landfill. In my mind, it's the waste that's cruel.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Eat Your Heart Out, Tallahassee!

April is rich in the Tallahassee Foodshed*. Check out this calendar of events!

Seafood Festival: Tallahassee (0 miles). This "Springtime Tallahassee" event has already passed, but it still happened in April!

Grits Festival: April 14th. Warwick, Georgia (113 miles). I was disappointed to read that this is a Quaker Brand Grits sponsored festival, and Quaker grits are what's on the menu. If you'd like to buy real local grits, try them from Ed and Joah Hart (Pavo, Georgia (229) 859-2278; please use respectful times when calling) and from Bradley's Country Store (Tallahassee).


Worm Gruntin Festival: April 14th. Sopchoppy (30.8 miles). Why are worms on a food-lover's calendar? These are our native worms -- reputedly great for fishing and great for the garden! Read about Worm Gruntin in Sopchoppy.

Marianna Arts Festival and BBQ Cook-off Friday, April 13, from 12 noon until 10 pm and Saturday, April 14, from 10 am until 7:30 pm. (66 miles) The grounds of the Citizens Lodge Park, Caverns Road, Marianna, Florida Tart contests, BBQ cook-offs, food vendors, entertainment.

Slowfood Tallahassee Dinner: April 21st. Tallahassee (o miles): SarahKeith and Rubin are hosting "The Baker, The Musician, The Dinner!," a Slow Food Tallahassee potluck to remember. Bring something Slow to share and bring the recipe!

24th Annual National Mayhaw Festival: April 20th and 21st, starting at 10:00 a.m. each day. Colquitt, Georgia (61.8 miles). Stock up on Mayhaw jelly and other mayhaw treats, enjoy the parade, live music, 5k run and theatrics. Mayhaws were featured in this month's Saveur Magazine.

Rose Festival: Thomasville, Georgia (34.6 miles). Parade, flowers, music, and probably some good food.

Sweetgrass Dairy Market Days:
April 28th. Thomasville, Georgia (34.6 miles). Sweetgrass Dairy's world-class cheeses for sample and purchase, free educational tours, baby animals, produce and treats from other local farmers.

National Homebrew Competition: Tallahassee. On April 21st, Tallahassee will host first-round regional judging. This event is not open to the public, but we ought to be getting lots of good beer vibes from all of the good beer and beer gurus in town. If you want to enter beer in the competition, now's the time to do it!

*Foodshed: generally within 100-250 miles of your locality.
Know about other food events in our area this month? Please share!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Springtime in Tallahassee

You can't have missed the drifts of oak pollen so thick that you can kick them into little piles. You may even be suffering terrible allergies. The pollen had been annoying me, until one windy day when I looked up and saw the lush upper story of oak-trees in our neighborhood undulating, swaying, thrashing, in gusts and swells of varying strength and direction. With each thrust one way or the other, a translucent, sulphur-colored wave of pollen could be seen making its way from one tree to its neighbors. The air was thick with the co-mingling dust from all of these oaks, the trees themselves yellow-green with their flowers and newly emerging leaves. It was an unbelievably powerful sight; nature's incredible design is blatant and undeniable.

Coincidentally, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was playing on my car radio. I'm not kidding.

What does this tree-orgy have to do with food? Everything. Life comes from food. Life depends on food. Reproduction depends on food. The availability of food depends on how successfully the food itself can reproduce, and ultimately, on how well it can be sustained. The ability to sustain is naturally given to those with the best strength and vitality in a given environment. The strength and vitality comes from recycled life. This windy spring day in Tallahassee demonstrated the power of natural order, reminded me that artificial meddling and control can't match what comes naturally. That is why things that grow in the same region taste right together. That is why foods that are grown naturally, foods produced in the right place, foods that mature naturally, taste better.

It's also why I'm having a hard time establishing an edible garden in my hot, humid, mostly-shady Tallahassee neighborhood. Spring is a deceptive time because all of our plants are growing rapidly, using a tremendous amount of energy in the race for establishment. Everything looks beautiful. By July and August, the tired plants lack the strength and vigor to fight off the pests and diseases that flourish in those wet, hot months. One local farmer told me that August is Tallahassee's winter. Last year, the leaf-hoppers and white-fly sucked my herbs dry (they're already off to another good start this year). Aphids are on my last-of-the-season kale, mustard, and arugula. I'm trying to build better soil and work with our local nature to restore some sort of balance -- it's a steep learning curve, and I am utterly humbled to the farmers and gardeners here who work with nature to produce beautiful, delicious edible treasures. Any advice here? Maybe mixed with a little sympathy?



Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Who Does Your Food Come From?

Last week, I received two quarterly publications that come as part of the Slow Food U.S.A. membership: Slow, the international publication, and The Snail, the U.S. publication. Each presents a sensual combination of literature and photo-journalism. What immediately struck me about the two publications was the absence of food-images. Instead, photographs of people dominate their visual aspect. Indeed, we are what we eat. In addition to asking where our food comes from, we ought to be asking who our food comes from.

If I am bound to the earth by my dependence on it for food, then I am also bound to the farmer who produces the food that nourishes me and my family. I choose to entrust him with the nutritional care of my family. What could be more personal than that? In return, I support the farmer by purchasing from him regularly. I affirm his belief in providing good food for people in an ecologically sustainable way. I further encourage his efforts by actively avoiding, thus not supporting, large-scale, non-sustainable food operations.

In this way, I begin to know my local farmer. When he comes to a small gathering place to sell his produce, I also begin to know the other people who depend on and support him. His table becomes a place where ideas and knowledge are exchanged. A community develops there and the relationships within that community strengthen over time.

The point I'm trying to make is that the food itself is but one form of nourishment that comes from knowing our local farmers. Through knowing them, our food becomes an axis around which we nurture our bodies, minds, spirits, and our gregarious nature.

Van Lewis's Clams:
A man who introduced himself to me simply as "Van," showed up at the Grower's Market last Wednesday with clams from his Alligator Harbor farm. Before I'd had a chance to converse with Van about his farm, my toddler indicated that it was time to go home. I later learned that in addition to being a clam farmer and commercial fisherman, Van Lewis is a Harvard-educated human rights activist and an outspoken political advocate for local fishermen. He is also a member of the Lewis family, locally well-known for activism during the civil-rights movement.

At home with Van's Clams: Clams Moinette
After we tucked our son into bed, Matt and I chatted with a rare, luxurious ease as we prepared a supper with Van's clams. Matt opened a bottle of very fresh Moinette, a beautiful Belgian beer, and poured some into two shapely glasses. As we sipped and talked, I washed the clams, chopped garlic, shallots, and parsley, and steamed the clams.

The clams in their open shells, heaped over a shallow pool of sea-and-allium-infused Moinette, in a blue and white bowl sprinkled with parsley from our garden, the two glasses of good beer, the peaceful quiet of late evening, generated a convivial warmth between two tired souls. We lingered late enough to know that we'd lose precious sleep, and it was
worth it. That evening, we fed our bodies, our spirits, and our family bond.

Clams Moinette:
1# clams
1 1/2 T butter
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
fresh lemon
minced parsley
1/2 C Saison, Wit, Hefeweizen, or other crisp, not-too-malty, not-too-hoppy beer

Swish the clams in a bowl of cold water, allow sand to settle to the bottom, and remove the clams. In a medium sized pot (large enough to hold the clams in a single, close layer), sweat the garlic and shallots in the butter until fragrant but not browned. Add the beer, bring to a boil. Add the clams, return to boil, and cover. After two minutes, uncover, and remove each clam to a serving bowl as it pops open to avoid over-cooking. When all have been removed to their serving bowl, pour the cooking liquid over the clams. Sprinkle very lightly with lemon juice, sprinkle with minced parsley. Serve with an additional bowl for empty shells.

Van Lewis's Quahog Clams are available at
Clamalot/St.Teresa Shellfish/Cicada Market:

(you may want to call ahead to check availability)

1847 Thomasville Road
(850) 222-0025
or
(850) 697-3857
10:30a-7:00p Tuesday-Saturday
www.cicadamarket.com



Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Got Local Milk?


The same local farm that supplies grass-fed beef steaks to New Leaf Market also supplies pasteurized milk and raw milk! Buy a litre of Kurtz and Sons milk, pick up a copy of Natural Times (March/April 2007) on your way out. Pour yourself a glass, read their story.

I compared Kurtz and Sons milk to the Organic Valley brand milk I had at home -- unfortunately not a controlled experiment, since the O.V. milk was reduced fat and the Kurtz and Sons milk was full-fat.

The Kurtz and Sons milk had a yellowish tinge from the milk-fat, which was also clumped and separated because the milk is non-homogenized. I could not discern a clear difference in flavor between the two milks, except for the more luxurious richness of the Kurtz and Sons -- again, from the milk-fat. I may have imagined (and Matt thought so, independently), that the Kurtz and Sons milk tasted less sweet and faintly of hay.

According to some websites:
Kurtz and Sons Dairy, LLC (Live Oak): Tours of this working dairy farm are scheduled on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. See cows being milked and learn about a dairy cow’s life. Fresh milk is for sale.

Kurtz and Son Dairy
11805 193rd Road
Live Oak, FL 32060
386-776-1038

Read about raw milk here, here and here. Read the FDA's stand on raw milk.

By the way, I'm not suggesting that you go out and drink raw milk. Kurtz and Sons raw milk is clearly labeled as required by law, "For Pet Food Only Not For Human Consumption." This is territory that I'm not sure I'll ever venture into, but I thought I'd pass the information along.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Time Magazine, Michael Pollan, Whole Foods, Thoughts on "Local"

This has been a huge week for my brain. Thursday, I received the most recent edition of Slow magazine. I'm only a tiny way into the publication; I will be taking some time to digest its contents. So, today, I'm going to focus on Time Magazine's March 12th cover story "Eating Better than Organic."

For me, the article indirectly raises some concerns. The cover-message, "Forget Organic, Eat Local," immediately urges the reader to consider a new consumer fad or trend -- something transient and easily capitalized on by marketers. Obviously, as Americans scurry to adopt this new policy in their daily lives, there will be a dramatic imbalance of supply and demand, which will ultimately lead to frustration and disappointment, and to the next trend.

It is no longer enough to simply be a consumer, to choose the right thing to buy. There must be some reciprocity between the consumer and the farmer, and the consumer and his local earth. Although I was glad to see an article that reflected a growing interest in something this important, I think greater consideration should have been given to the cover-message, the sticker on the apple.

Clearly, "Forget Organic, Eat Local" is intended to grab attention, but the slogan suggests a shift away from "organic" to "local," and in doing so fragments an important equation. The author did his research, and he did admirable job of highlighting the complexity of the problem (choosing the best alternative for the individual and for the food system/ environment), but he also excused individuals who have made a commitment to preserving and sustaining our food systems as "pessimistic," "lefty," and "frightening."

In an earlier post (comment on "Talk, Slow Food Tallahassee, Talk," I mentioned a recent public conversation between Michael Pollan (Omnivore's Dilemma) and John Mackey (CEO Whole Foods Markets). Pollan claimed that Whole Foods presented the image of an agro-ecologically sensitive store while neglecting to stock local foods from smaller, non-industrialized farms, effectively ignoring the food-quality, ecological, and socio-economic impacts of packaging and shipping foods produced on large, industrialized organic farms. So it is no surprise that after a hard year for Whole Foods (when the rest of the corporate country caught on to the consumer demand for organic foods), when an opportunity to present a reformed face in Time magazine popped up, Mackey was right there making amends with the broader public (it appears that Mackey's correspondence with John Cloud for the Time article happened last fall -- between the time of the Mackey-Pollan letters and their public conversation at U.C. Berkeley).

The high-profile Whole Foods debates bring me back to my concern: How will Tallahassee handle a shift in the demand for locally produced foods? What will we as individuals do (what will I do?) to help bolster the efforts of the few local farmers who have committed themselves to providing Tallahassee with good, clean, and fair foods? On a larger scale, what in our own country will it take to create the paradigm shift needed to sustain our food systems?

Green Living and Energy Expo March 17th

Slow Food Tallahassee will be at the Green Living and Energy Expo this Saturday, March 17th.

"MARK YOUR CALENDAR FOR March 17, 2007 PLEASE VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME OR EFFORT IN SOME WAY! FARMS ARE WELCOME TO COME AND STAND WITH US TO TALK SLOW FOOD AND THEIR FARM. Email or call to get involved. This seems like a very family friendly event. See their site for details via the link below.

Slow Food Tallahassee exhibits at the Big Bend Green Expo

This expo will gather a wide variety of "green" folks under one roof for lots of information sharing, demonstrations, seminars, and more! Visit their website to learn more. Our effort will be one of education about the Slow Food movement and about our local convivia. This is a great opportunity for our members to really relate Slow Food to a larger audience. We will create a display for this event and need your help. Please volunteer today to attend this event and to help prepare our table display. Nothing more "green" than farming and nothing more "living" than eating." -- message from Claire Olson, Leader: Slow Food Tallahassee

See Slow Food Tallahassee's Calendar for more events (past and future).

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Local Beef: Any Way but Ground?

I've started a quest for local beef. My starting points: White Oak Pastures and KBH , both local farmers of all-natural grass-fed cows, supply ground beef to New Leaf Market. Each farm's ground beef tastes distinctly different from the other, but what I've really noticed is how different grass-fed beef tastes from my supermarket's beef. I bought an attractive flat-iron steak from Publix; it was was a pretty cut with fairly good marbling, it looked promising. Indeed, if I'd not experienced grass-fed beef, I would have enjoyed my prize. It was tender, juicy, and had a mild beef flavor...

Mild? A "mild beef flavor" is my best description; it was thin and transparent. Over the few months that I've committed myself to an almost-weekly purchase of local grass-fed beef, I've grown quite accustomed to the assertive, grassy, big-beef flavors of grass-fed beef. I have to admit that when I first tried the grass-fed beef, I was almost put off by the flavor, because it was so different -- big, earthy, almost gamey. It grew on me quickly, though. I was excited by the nuance of flavor that I was suddenly able to discern when I compared the White Oak Pastures and KBH beef -- each unique (I'll probably write about this in a future post). I was stunned by how hard the enlightenment hit me at that moment. This sudden awakening to a lack of flavor in what I had been eating quite happily just months before, shook me more than the evocative, earth-bound flavors of our local grass-fed beef as it left its first indelible impression on me.

I have to go back to the flavorless cut for a minute. It made me think about the cow, the living creature it came from. This was one of those "OH WOW, OH NO" moments that made me wonder if I'd ever be able to turn back: The cow was fed a diet of grain and corn (remember the mild, thin, transparent flavor?) Hormones and antibiotics were administered as a matter of course, to counter the disastrous health effects of the rumen-incompatible feed and cramped living conditions. It was raised in the confinement of a cramped barn packed with cows. You're getting the picture, but please read up with me: I've included some links. We'll make informed decisions about what we eat.

A note on marbling: I still love highly marbled beef -- it is delicious! I was dismayed to read that the marbling is due in large part to grain/corn feeding (which has a terribly deleterious effect on the digestive health of the cow, which necessitates the routine use of antibiotics etc -- please read up on this, -- the professionals explain the complex problem in a way that I cannot). At some future date, I'll foray into the world of Kobe beef, which I absolutely love.


Local Beef: Any way but ground? There are occasional opportunities to purchase whole or half carcasses from local farmers, offered by one group or another of interested individuals who agree to purchase the beast together, butcher it, and divvy it up. Usually the group is small, so that one would need lots of freezer space in order to participate. Anyone who knows us knows that the space in our three refrigerator/freezers is already committed to our favorite food -- beer. There must be another way....

Do you know where one can get smaller cuts of local grass-fed beef (primal cuts would be fine)?

I'm also curious to know how many people are interested in getting whole cuts (rather than ground) -- if more people were interested, it would be easier to commit to the purchase of a quarter, half, or whole cow. Are you interested? Committed? Both? Neither?

Read Up on grass-fed beef (and related links):
Eat Wild (grassfed basics)
Michael Pollan (educator, author of Omnivore's Dilemma)
John Robbins (vegetarian perspective)
Local Sources for Grass-fed Beef (via Slow Food Site)
The Meatrix (Educational and Entertaining online film)
Wellfed.net (article and great collective foodie blog)