Tuesday, January 30, 2007

In-Season Intense: Honeybell Oranges

I've seen Honeybell oranges around town -- someone is selling them from the back of a truck on the corner of Apalachee Parkway and Blairstone road, and I also found them at Tomato Land*. Unfamiliar with these varietals, I purchased some Honeybells and some Murquats (a variety of tangerine) from Tomato Land.

Honeybells are my latest thrill.
They are the juiciest oranges I've ever cut into. The texture of their flesh is perfect-- each little juice-filled cell taut and ready to burst-- no pithiness at all. The flavor is a superb balance of sweet and tart -- not complex, just perfectly "orangey". Really, these are the perfect oranges! Slice them over a plate to catch the juice. Because this is my first experience with them, I don't know how environmental factors influence their texture from year to year, but this year must be a winner.

I wanted to pair baby red onions from the grower's market with Honeybell oranges in a salad, and a Google search for ideas rewarded me with this fabulous classic recipe for Orange and Red Onion Salad, which I adapted by adding a little bit of red wine vinegar for extra acidity, toasting the cumin seeds first (this should always be done to whole cumin, white pepper, and most other spices before grinding or adding to a recipe), and slicing the onions very thinly. If I'd had extra time, I would have cut out the orange segments from their membranes, rather than simply slicing the oranges in cross-sections as shown. The flavors in this dish were bright and intense -- the sweet, juicy oranges were the critical ingredient. The dish was refreshing, intense little statement of the brilliance one can achieve by using the best quality ingredients. I'm not raving about my cooking here -- I just want to convey the difference that using exceptionally good ingredients makes. Apart from the freshness factor, there is so much variety out there, beyond the world of the supermarket.

The murquats were good, too.

I was thinking I ought to include a note about the health benefits of each treasure unearthed at Good Food Underground. As you know, citrus is packed with immune-system boosting vitamin C. It also helps combat cancer and improves pulmonary and respiratory health.

By the way, don't believe that oranges must have shiny, unblemished skins -- sometimes good oranges do, but flawless facades are often the result of insect-free growing with chemical pesticides. Select oranges without soft spots, but ignore a tinge of green on the stem end, and tan/brown speckling (know as "russeting").

I challenge you to reach past the familiar temples, navels, and valencias this week for something different. Or, if you're a citrus connoisseur, tell us about your personal favorites.

Tomato Land & Sea Market
1847 Thomasville Rd
Tallahassee, FL 32303
(850) 222-0813

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Local Egg Hunt

Since December, I’ve been looking for a convenient local source for eggs, and I think I’ve found one. A close look in New Leaf Market rewarded me with local duck eggs – something I’ve always wanted to try. There was also an empty spot on the shelf next to the duck eggs, labeled for chicken eggs from the same farm – GlennHaven Ltd. Co. in Crawfordville. I opened a carton of duck eggs, to find the following insert:

Eggs of GlennHaven, Ltd. Co. (P.O. Box 1111, Crawfordville, FL 32326 ph. 850 926-8193)

At home with my new treasure: I boiled two of the duck eggs and sliced them to put on top of a pizza with Stilton, ham, and local collards). The yolks were yellower, paler and brighter than the deep orange yolks of all-natural or organic chicken eggs.

When it rains, it pours, and suddenly there are plenty of eggs to be found. This is the second week I've seen eggs at Turkey Hill Farm's stand at the Lake Ella Farmer's market. I asked Herman Holley (of Turkey Hill Farm) whose they were -- he told me and I wish I'd had a pen. However, when I asked him if he would be bringing these eggs on a regular basis, he said he would -- until he can build build up his own stock of happy hens to lay eggs for selling at the market.

I also noticed Ladybird Organics eggs at New Leaf Market. Ladybird Organics is a Monticello organic farm and winery whose products I'm aching to try. The wine is practically sold before it is even produced, so I will be making some calls and visiting the farm when I can, to find out how to get my hands on a bottle of muscadine wine. Owner Cynthia Connolly is an expert on worm-composting; her farm is a widely respected, exemplary model of sustainable farming.

Until December, all-natural eggs were delivered to our door by Penny and Kevin Orr of Zebra Truck Farms; we were shareholders in their CSA program and received a share of produce and eggs from their Monticello farm along with cheese from Sweetgrass Dairy in Thomasville. Yesterday, we received notice that Zebra Truck Farm will have a market stall at the Saturday Downtown Farmers' Market (opens for the season on March 3rd) instead
of delivering or holding produce for CSA shareholders. After two years of being a CSA farm, the numbers just didn't add up for them. I got the impression that if money weren’t an issue, then time and labor – blood, sweat and tears – would have been. After a successful and promising first year, Kevin Orr left his day job to work on the farm full-time. However, last year’s winter and spring drought weakened plants and left them vulnerable to disease and insects during the hot and rainy months of July and August. Blueberries did not yield and corn was wiped out. Heirloom tomatoes did not produce as well as expected. Squash and Zucchini were riddled with insect damage and beans and field-peas perished too soon after picking. The Orrs are likely to receive the same overwhelming level of support at the market as they did as a CSA farm, with much less headache. This is still community supported agriculture, but now customers will choose the produce they want to buy and Penny and Kevin will get a break from driving all over town delivering produce. We look forward to seeing Zebra Truck Farms at the Downtown Market, and we are thrilled to have found additional sources for local eggs.

January 26th is National Peanut Brittle Day...

... It also happens to be Barbara McGarrah's birthday. Barbara is the owner of Barb's Gourmet Brittles at the Lake Ella cottages, and evidently her cottage industry chose her even before she knew of the coincidence. On a budget, Barbara bought peanuts to make peanut brittle for extended family and friends one Christmas. She had more leftover peanuts than she knew what to do with, so she made brittle to sell at a craft fair. One thing led to another (see Barb's website) and before she knew it, she was making brittle, then ice-cream, in her own Lake-Ella store.

Incidentally, Barbara was a fashion designer for career-women before this little life-changing event! She's still designing, but now her creations are much sweeter.

Barb's most recent victory is her acquisition of the second half of the cottage that her store occupies, which is now her ice-cream parlor. Until the acquisition, she had her ice-cream and brittles in one small but very cozy room in the cottage. One afternoon I entered the store with my husband and very expectant toddler, and didn't see her ice-cream anywhere. Barb said, "we don't have that here anymore." She looked serious, out of character, and seemed to be holding back the reason for her decision to stop selling her home-made ice-cream. I panicked for a moment -- my sweet child was about to be crushed. He never let us miss a detour for ice-cream during our weekly trip to the Grower's market. I stammered, "Oh, no! Well, I guess we'll just buy some brittle." I've never been good at hiding my disappointment, and just as I was thinking that I might have sounded rude, she beamed a great, warm, radiating smile and said, "because it's in here now!" She stepped back and opened her arm to usher us down a narrow hall, and there was the ice-cream stand and two round tables with red cloth table-cloths, in a room that invited us to stay awhile. I felt how thrilled she was, and she laughed and laughed at my series of reactions. She explained that they had that very afternoon opened the new room to customers, and that they were still in the process of getting their refrigerator and equipment fine-tuned. She said that she had been waiting for three years to have access to the second part of the cottage, which until then had been occupied by Quarter-Moon Imports. Quarter-Moon imports also had another "half cottage" in the row of detached cottages at Lake Ella, and was finally able to move into a single, larger space. This freed up the space for Barb.

I have yet to describe Barb's confections. She has expounded on the traditional peanut brittle to include ingredients like chocolate (different flavors), other kinds of nuts, sun-flower and pumpkin seeds. She uses pure, natural ingredients, and the nuts taste absolutely fresh. I've watched her assistants work, carefully removing every trace of bitter skin from piles of peanuts, and deftly tossing pieces of brittle into a bowl of warm chocolate, dipping a set of tongs first to the right, then left, then right again, to create a zigzag of chocolate across the face of each piece, one at a time. Barb puts her brittles right into her ice-cream, which has a texture unlike any ice-cream I've tried. It is luxurious yet refreshing, and is less sweet than most ice-creams. It strikes me as the perfect ice-cream for Tallahassee's hot summers, and yet it is still irresistible when fingers and noses are pink from the cold wind outside (as ours were on Wednesday). Someday I may gather the courage to ask her to give me a hint at her basic recipe. She is continuously updating her repertoire of flavors, too. Yesterday we had chocolate rum-craisin and white-chocolate cashew ice-creams.

Finally, as if her creations weren't enough to make her shop a destination, Barb's warmth is absolutely infectious. A perfect contrast to her extraordinary ice-cream. If you don't feel like having something sweet, I dare you to buy some brittle as a gift for someone you know and see if it makes it to its destination. You won't be able to resist.

Barb's Brittles is open Wednesday - Saturday 12:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.,
Sunday1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

1671 N. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Fl 32303

Phone: 850-385-9839