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

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
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.

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.