Saturday, October 23, 2010

an apple a day

Fall is upon us, my favorite time of year. I can finally break out my sweaters and tights and the air has a delightful crispness that makes the blue sky seem higher and the colors of the changing leaves pop. Last week, we decided to venture into the North Georgia mountains for some leaf peeping and apple picking. We stopped at the B. J. Reece orchard on Hwy. 52, between Ellijay and Dahlonega. We had tried our hand at the apple festival in Ellijay, but it turned out to be more craft and food vendors than apples so we met up with our friends Megan and Brad and ventured eastward to get the coveted apples ourselves. As always, it is more fun to get your food straight from the source than to pick it off a supermarket shelf. The orchard was crawling with people seeking the perfect apple, the perfect symbol of the season. The Arkansas Blacks and Rome Beauties were at their peak, and we picked as many as we could carry.

There are so many treats that can be made with pie, crisps, butter and applesauce...caramel and candied apples. The list goes on and on. I began my apple indulgences by making apple butter and applesauce. My husband has been on me to make some granola, as well, so while I was being inspired by the apples, I made him a treat.

For homemade granola, preheat your oven to 350. Combine 2 quarts of rolled oats with 1 cup sliced almonds, 1 cup chopped walnuts, 3/4 c vegetable oil, 3/4 cup local honey, 2 tablespoons flax seeds, 1 tablespoon vanilla soy protein powder, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp salt. Mix thoroughly and spread out on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, stir with a wooden spoon to ensure even browning and then bake for another 5-10 minutes until everything is well toasted. Allow to cool and mix in chopped dried fruit, if you like. Serve with fruit and yogurt or some milk or soymilk.

I adapted the apple butter and applesauce recipes from The Gourmet Cookbook.

For apple butter, combine 4 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8 pieces each, 1 1/2 cups of unfiltered apple cider (you can buy this at the orchard when you go to pick apples), 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, until the apples soften.

Run the mixture through a food mill and return it to the pan. Continue to simmer 20 minutes to an hour over medium low heat, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pan to keep the apple butter from scorching and sticking. When the apple butter appears ready, test it by putting a small glop on a plate and refrigerating it for 1 minute. Tilt the plate and if it stays in a glop and doesn't run, it is finished. Keep the apple butter refrigerated and spread it on toast or biscuits or between two pieces of bread that you then make into delicious stuffed french toast. Glop is a trademarked technical term.

For applesauce, combine 1 pound apples, peeled, cored and diced, 1/2 cup apple cider, 1/2 cup sugar, finely grated zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Cook 15-20 minutes, until the apples are soft. Mash with a potato masher until smooth. Eat as a snack or serve alongside latkes or pork chops or on pancakes. Yum, all the things you can do with it.

Well, that is all the appley goodness that I have for you. Things are moving right along with the restaurant and I am about to be able to make some exciting announcements about it, so check back soon.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

a book, a name, a plan

Oh, how my aspirations were high when I thought that I could be a blogger and keep this thing up day by day or week by week. Alas, things got away from me and after 2 posts, I gently let these aspirations slip away. As the summer starts to fade, however, and we begin to welcome the first cool nights, the first winter squashes, the first bonfires and the last sleepy porch sitting afternoons, I am returning to the world of blogging. Hopefully, you will all greet me with open arms.

a book...

My first topic of discussion is a plug to the next book that we will be discussing at the PLACE book club, which meets on Tuesday, September 21st, after the Farmer's Market at Little Kings Shuffle Club. We are reading Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly by James E. McWilliams. This book outlines a valid argument concerning the greater points to forming a sustainable global food system over focusing on a local food system. He speaks about the importance of the general carbon footprint over the number of food miles an individual piece of food travels from field to fork. He points out the follies of the big organic producers. He argues that a meat eater cannot call himself an environmentalist, especially if they are eating any of the mass raised and slaughtered land dwellers. He does say that happy meat, as I like to call it, or sustainable, small scale farming of beef, pork and poultry is better for the environment than the farms that are involved with mass production, but only barely. He gives a strong argument towards aquaculture, and says that sustainably farmed fish is the best source of protein for the planet. He even goes so far as to defend genetically modified foods to an extent, and he blames government farming subsidies for a great deal of our problems. He generally wants to make us think on a more global level. I see what he is saying about a lot of these arguments, but I feel like there is a balance we can strike between being locavores and helping to establish a sustainable global food system. Obviously, we have quite a ways to go, and need some pushing to set us off in the right direction. If you have read some or all of the book, I hope you can come out and join us for discussion. There is still time to read some of it by next Tuesday, and if you need to borrow my copy, feel free.

a name, and a plan...

On a very exciting note, I have thought of a name for my upcoming restaurant...Heirloom Cafe & Fresh Market. Sleepy, bobble-heading Jess came to this one evening last week, mulled it over for a day or so and presented it to the world. It is exactly what I have been looking for to express everything that I want this business to be. An heirloom is a gift passed down from generation to generation, something precious and delicate or sturdy and rugged, but most importantly, something to be saved and savored. It is a part of our history and a part of our present, and it is a treasure that could easily be lost in careless hands. Not only can a piece of antique china or an old farm table be an heirloom, but also a folk tale, a piece of land or in this case, a food tradition.

Athens is a community that embraces its own, and cherishes it, that fights against the modern or corporate, but embraces new businesses that are indicative of our place. Heirloom will embrace the growing food culture of Athens that is immersed within these old traditions as well as the culture that surrounds new innovations in sustainable farming. Our farmers grow heirloom vegetables, from seeds that have been tediously saved from year to year. The Athens farmers market is full of varietals of tomatoes, okra, squash and beans that haven't been seen in a supermarket since the 1920's. The seeds are painstakingly sewn and the starts are gently tended by people we know in our surrounding fields. We are also lucky to have farmers who are raising heritage breeds of pigs, cows and chickens in our community that would have died out long ago if they were not being kept alive, raised and marketed on this scale.

Not only will we be supporting our local farmers by selling the fruits of their labor in our market, but we will also be using their products to provide you with a cozy, friendly and delicious dining experience like no other you find in Athens. Located in a rehabilitated space within a thriving historic neighborhood, Heirloom will provide the community with a warm gathering place and a vital food hub. Dressed in handmade aprons, amid shelves of staples, produce, dairy, proteins, coffee, pastries and prepared meals, our friendly staff will assist community members with their selections on the way to and from work or school, or take their order for breakfast or lunch to eat in our luminous dining room or on our lush patio. Dinner, a more leisurely sit down affair, will be table service and hosted by smiling, courteous staff, or can be picked up from the market by busy mothers or business people in a rush to get home. Sleepy hipsters or families on a stroll can join us for brunch on our patio, offering farm fresh egg dishes, housemade pastries and other delicious treats.

My goal is to provide the community with a dining and food experience that they can embrace and love, passing along the love for food and the appreciation for food traditions that has been provided to me by past generations.

"The foundation on which [Southern food] rested was pure ingredients, open-pollinated seed--planted and replanted for generations--natural fertilizers. We grew the seeds of what we ate, and we worked with love and care." -Edna Lewis

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Taste Your Place begins, some pretty food and a beautiful movie...

Taste Your Place is off to a successful start. I arrived at the Farmer's Market to a refreshing breeze in the midst of this heat wave. PLACE taught people how to make seed balls, an essential tool for guerrilla gardening, and we debuted our first annual Taste Your Place cookbook. I bought some beautiful heirloom tomatoes, along with some rose gold, german yellow and blue potatoes from McMullan Family Farms and some beautiful pasta from Antonio's Fresh Pasta (squid ink tagliatelle and lemon zest ravioli).

For my birthday, my parents and my husband accompanied me kayaking on the Broad River. We basked in the sun and splashed in the water. We took a little longer than expected, but still made it to the party at our friend Jon's house in time to see the only goal in the World Cup final game. Go Espana! I had made some refreshments to take to Jon's with my booty from the Farmer's Market. The heirloom tomatoes were diced up and mixed with some jalapenos left over from the previous market, some vidalia onions and a little lime juice. I also made a German style potato salad with the tri-color potatoes, highlighted with whole grain mustard and tarragon vinegar, and finished with some chopped rosemary and lemon thyme from my garden. After the snacks and the exciting finish to the game, my husband surprised me with a birthday treat reminiscent of his childhood in Long Island, a Carvel ice cream birthday cake. I felt like a little girl again with my teeth and tongue stained blue from the icing. We finished off the triple header with a steamy dinner at Cali 'n Titos. Good friends, good food and great fun. What a way to turn 29.

On Monday, Megan Boling brought me some lovely tomatoes and an amazing cucumber from her garden as a birthday present. On the way home from work, I picked up some mussels from Earth Fare. I boiled up the squid ink pasta and topped it with her tomatoes, the mussels, basil and a white wine butter sauce.

On Tuesday, I picked up some edamame from Backyard Harvest at the Little Kings market and mixed it in with some chickpeas to make homemade falafel. I procured some fluffy pita from Luna, sliced up another heirloom tomato, and made some tzatziki with Megan's cucumber and greek yogurt.

On Wednesday night, PLACE held the second Taste Your Place Stone Soup Supper at Roots Farm. There was a great turnout and we all read the Stone Soup story page by page, passing the book around a circle. We held hands and shared things that we are grateful for, such as a chance to return to our farm roots, bountiful food and good friends.

This afternoon, I went to see a movie that I have heard so much about, but somehow missed in my education--Babette's Feast. In the Danish film from 1987, two sisters from a small, rural, Lutheran sect lead their fellow villagers and care for the needy in their town. They take in a French woman in need, who becomes their cook, and many years later gives everything she has to provide the most beautiful gift she knows how to give. She provides them not only with a feast for the stomach, but a way to see one another with new eyes, opening their hearts along with their mouths. She teaches them that food can be a window to the soul, and that a little pleasure can lead to a warm heart. It was a truly fantastic movie, and I am very glad to have seen it. Just as a plug, Cine is offering a Summer Classic Film Festival and this was one of the movies. It is going on the rest of the summer and there are a lot of great titles so check it out if you get a chance.

I would like to promise that every post will not be a day by day account of my week, but this one was just so eventful and full of great food that I couldn't resist. Come by the Farmer's Market on Saturday to experience Taste Your Pie, another installation of Taste Your Place. For a full schedule of events click on the link for PLACE to the right.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A New Beginning

Tomorrow I begin the last year of my twenties. It is a time to reflect and map the path that I will take from here on in my life. What do I value most? Good company, delicious food, the words of those who have gone before, the potential and inherent beauty in the world, and the necessity to keep the world and our community sustainable for future generations--these are the things that mean the most to me and these are the the things that should be guiding my decisions.

As you can see, I have always loved to eat, sometimes to a fault. In the above picture you can see me around 2 or 3 contemplating a chipwich. This is my favorite childhood photo. Most people who cook for a living can recall stories of working in kitchens when they were 14 and slaving away summers and weekends at a fryer or over a griddle, but I didn't work in a kitchen until I was 24. When people ask me about my favorite thing to cook, I am always stumped. Of course, my favorite thing to cook is whatever it is I want to eat next. My favorite thing about cooking is seeing the enjoyment of other people when they eat it in good company--oh, and tasting it along the way.

I can tell you that when I was 11, we moved into a house where the previous owners had grown prized hybrid daylilies in a huge plot of land in the backyard. They took most of their daylilies to their new home and we were left with a huge raised bed full of beautiful, fertile soil. My mom, a master gardener, took one look at it and starting planning out our new vegetable garden. The harvest was much larger than two adults and their scrawny red-headed daughter could consume, so we passed along our bounty to the neighbors, to family, to friends from school and church, and still we had more than we could handle. We scaled back after that first year, but my parents kept growing and growing delicious vegetables until they moved from that house after I graduated from college.

During those first years, I began to understand something about food that I never fathomed before. Food doesn't just come from the grocery store or a restaurant. It can come from your backyard, and it is so much more delicious when it does. A homegrown tomato, still warm from the sun can be sliced into quarter inch rounds, sprinkled with salt and pepper and eaten immediately. It becomes a totally different animal than those hard, grainy pink things you pull off of the shelf on a January day. We would have sliced tomatoes with dinner every night from July to early September.

My mom had tried to teach me to cook off and on growing up. I have memories of using a pairing knife to chop carrots and celery on this horrible ceramic cutting board that would make me cringe every time I sliced through the veggies. (My parents have since converted to wooden and plastic boards, but at a recent dinner at my grandma's house I saw that these cutting boards are somewhat of a family tradition and was loathe to cut up ingredients for salsa on one). These early cooking lessons were probably more of a way to keep me busy while my mom cooked dinner so she didn't have to look after me than an actual attempt to get me motivated in the kitchen.

It was Mother's Day 1996 when everything changed. On Saturday, my mom tore out a menu from Bon Apetit magazine, placed it in front of my dad and I on the kitchen counter and said, "this is what I want for Mother's Day." I was hooked. I can't remember everything we made, but there were blackberry shortcakes with cinnamon biscuits. We plucked the blackberries straight from the garden, popping a few in our mouths as we filled the basket. All I know is that seeing that spread in the magazine showing how beautiful food could be and outlining all the instructions on how to make it so beautiful was life changing for me. It seems a little silly now, but that was the first time I ate with my eyes. From this point on, there was no turning back for me. I wanted to eat beautiful food and I wanted everyone around me to enjoy it with me.

It wasn't until I was in culinary school and started working at Muss & Turner's, my first kitchen, that I started to realize that you didn't have to have a garden in your backyard to source food locally. Under the guidance of Ryan Turner and Todd Mussman, and most of all, Dave Sturgis, I went from being a silly, timid girl who just wanted to eat beautiful food, to someone who was passionate about where that food came from, how it was prepared and how the guest received it. I started to understand the importance of heritage foods, and that you couldn't get more ground lamb for your burger just because you ran out and the customers wanted it, you had to wait until those lambs were mature enough to go to slaughter. Things worked on a much more sensitive schedule than I was used to, and nature was in control. When Dave left Muss & Turner's to come to Athens to work at Farm 255, I bobbed along after him about 6 months later. Getting to work that closely with the ingredients and those that produced them was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I came to Athens, dove into local food, and have never looked back.

While I have taken a respite from cooking locally in my work, I have been working hard with PLACE to continue to foster a strong, accessible local food culture here in our awesome city. We just released my baby, the Taste Your Place cookbook, that can be found at all of the Taste Your Place events happening July 10-24, and I am working hard to help bring you the pinnacle event of Taste Your Place, the tapas tasting at Cine on July 22.

Before I leave you, I want to focus on one last final important aspect of my life....I am in the process of opening my own business. It will be a locally sourced restaurant and market, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and providing a more accessible resource for local foods, both in the raw and made for you with love. We are working hard to find a site, at which time we will be coming up with a name that reflects its location, and then BAM, things will start moving very quickly.

So what you will be getting from me is a deluge of information about local food, things that PLACE does in our community, the progress of the restaurant and anything else that fits within these boundaries. I appreciate any time that you devote to reading this blog. I know that people are very busy, but I wanted to take this opportunity to share with others the things that are important to me.