Monday, September 25, 2006

And a Child Shall Lead Them

In my younger days, I looked forward to Saturdays with eagerness. It wasn't that school was out for the week –- rather, it meant a day of TV. A whole day! And after morning cartoons (watched in between chores), My Wonderful Parents took control of the dial and flipped the channel to the local PBS station.

I can't say I fully appreciated the merits of The Victory Garden until I had a garden of my own, but I loved to watch the cooking shows. And of all the televised chefs, one stood out: Julia Child, The French Chef.

Who doesn't remember Julia with a certain fondness? Her distinctive voice, her joie de vivre, her way of wielding a cleaver –- ah yes, that was the kind of cook I wanted to be, with the easy skill and vast knowledge of classic dishes. (And it didn't hurt that her height and practicality closely aligned her with the Chef Mother.)

Of course, in college, such cooking seemed too complex to be worth the bother (though I did pull off at least two memorable dinner parties that were undoubtedly influenced by dear Julia), and once I became a vegetarian, so many of her dishes and techniques seemed useless to me. That doesn't mean, however, that I didn't still admire her.

So when the book My Life in France, written by Julia with her grandnephew Alex Prud'homme, came out, I knew I wanted to read it. And what a treat! I found it fascinating that prior to her marriage to Paul Child in her mid-30s, Julia had little experience or interest in the kitchen. But when Paul was assigned to a USIS post in post-war Paris, Julia quickly developed a fascination for French cuisine and enrolled at the Cordon Bleu.

…I suddenly discovered that cooking was a rich and layered and endlessly fascinating subject. The best way to describe it is to say that I fell in love with French food –- the tastes, the processes, the history, the endless variations, the rigorous discipline, the creativity, the wonderful people, the equipment, the rituals. (p. 63)

Julia and Paul found a number of like-minded friends in Paris, and one, Simone Beck, became Julia's partner in teaching French cooking to Americans as well as her co-author on Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And thus began the career that endeared Julia Child to us all.

Julia died in 2004, but her legacy lives on in our national passion for gourmet food and the wide variety of TV chefs and the Food Network (for better or for worse, some might argue). Most important, however, is her simple belief in the attention we should give our food.

...nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should. Good results require that one take time and care. If one doesn't use the freshest ingredients or read the whole recipe before starting, and if one rushes through the cooking, the result will be an inferior taste and texture... But a careful approach will result in a magnificent burst of flavor, a thoroughly satisfying meal, perhaps even a life-changing experience. (p. 302)

Thank you, Julia, for all you taught us over the years and for helping us all appreciate good food and the work behind it even more.

Bon appétit to you, too, dear lady!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Taming of the Stew

I'm hoping it's only due to the damp, cool weather that has persisted throughout the month, but the farmers' market appears to be winding down much more quickly than I had hoped. In my visit this morning, I discovered a little over half of the usual vendors in place along with a very small crowd of customers.

That, of course, didn't stop me from enjoying myself fully and finding lots of good food, starting with a large order of whole grains from the grist mill folks. I picked up two 5-pound bags of whole wheat flour, 2 bags of oats, 2 of cornmeal, 2 of corn grits, plus a bag of corn flour and one of spelt flour (to try something new). Though they may not be back to the market this year, I at least have their phone number should I need to call them midwinter and order more.

After dropping those bags off at home, I made a second round at the market, finding:

--a good-sized pumpkin, some red onions, and more Fairy Tale eggplant at the Gentleman Farmer's stand
--green beans, parsley, garlic, Dutch apple jam, and reduced sugar blackberry-elderberry jam (for my Dear Papa) from the Cheerful Lady
--more Prima apples from the Orchardist
--dried shiitake mushrooms from the mushroom farm
--a last batch of tomatoes from the Tomato Farmer's Wife

All in all, it was a nice mix of vegetables to keep for winter and some to use this week. And since I'm currently trying to clean out the cupboards, I decided to use a few items in a batch of curried vegetable stew.

On a damp, dreary day, nothing satisfies quite like a pot of rich, chunky, savory stew, especially when I can use it as an excuse to clean out the last of some vegetables (like last week's edamame and some older potatoes and onions). It's the sort of dish that doesn't even need a recipe: just sauté onions and garlic, add spices, toss in vegetables (like carrots and celery and potatoes) and beans (like lentils), add broth, and let it simmer a bit before adding anything else (like tomato puree, parsley, edamame, brown rice, and more spices). On low heat, it can simmer away quite happily for a few hours while I go about my other chores or plans for the day, and when I come back to it, dinner is served:

Such an easy way to enjoy my vegetables and clean up the kitchen all at once!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dates for the Perfect Pear

Summer has its flashy fruit, the small, colorful, juicy berries of June and July and the succulent melons of August and September. But come Labor Day, I start yearning for the subtlety of autumn fruits, especially pears.

Why? I like that they're compact and portable with minimal fuss, like apples, only softer. I like that a ripe pear offers a sweet, thick juice that needs nothing more on its own but becomes deep and rich when poached in wine (or mead) or drizzled with honey or chocolate. And I love how its unassuming, delicate flavor pairs well with some of my other favorite flavors: ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and nuts like walnuts and hazelnuts.

So it should come as no surprise that I've bought beautiful little Bartlett pears at the farmers' market for two weeks in a row. Aside from enjoying the occasional fruit solo, I've started this year's batch of pear-ginger liqueur and baked a rich, luscious pear-hazelnut torte.

This week I decided to try a recipe variation that has been in my mind since last fall, taking my scrumptious date-fruit bar recipe and using pears in place of the blueberries I last used in it. This, of course, meant a change in spices, as well, with an emphasis on ginger (the mini diced candied kind, my favorite) and a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg.

What's not to love here? Locally milled oats and whole wheat flour, local pears, rich dates my parents picked up in California, velvety butter and deep spices... it's a grown-up twist on a classic favorite, sure to please everyone.

And it suits me perfectly.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Shallot Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?

One of the joys of having friends who love to cook as much as I do is sharing cookbooks with them. On her recent vacation here, the fair Titania spent many an hour in the evenings slowly turning the pages in Local Flavors and delighting in the photos and recipes.

And, of course, when I visit those same friends, I often spend time curled up with their cookbooks, in search of new recipes.

Several years ago, while visiting a friend in Florida, I rummaged through a large portion of her cookbook collection, copying recipes that intrigued me. And in one of the books (I believe it was Recipes from a Vegetarian Garden, but I could be misremembering the title), I found a recipe for an unusual savory condiment: garlic-shallot jam.

Though I wasn't entirely certain about having garlic in something called jam, I still copied the recipe into my notebook, thinking that perhaps someday I might be so bold as to give it a try.

That someday came this summer, when the Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe had not only lots and lots of garlic at their market stall but also baskets of small shallots wrapped in burnished bronze papery skins. Since I like the somewhat more mellow flavor of shallots when compared to most onions, I stocked up. And when I found this recipe again, I knew the time had come to accept the challenge.

I made a small batch of the jam about a month and a half ago, and not only did it smell divine, it tasted wonderful when thrown into steamed kale or an autumnal squash dish. The rest of the shallots beckoned from their perch on the windowsill, and tonight, I made another batch.

The prep work for this recipe can be time consuming, especially when your shallots are as small as mine. But, like with most prep work, I accepted the slow pace and enjoyed unwrapping each new fragrant bulb before slicing and dicing these beauties into the pot.

After they had time to cook down and soften in the rich olive oil, I added some good dry red wine and balsamic vinegar (found at the local deli) and allowed the whole mixture to simmer for well over an hour. (Yes, the house did smell wonderful all night long!) Then I added the honey and the spices, and after a little more cooking, the jam was ready to go into jars.

I'm not sure how meat eaters might use this jam, though I suspect it would make a nice replacement for chutney or work well in a simmered dish. As for me and my fellow vegetarians, I heartily recommend it as a simple topping to swirl into steamed vegetables or into a braise or a stew. The alliums are mellow and richly flavored, not harsh and raw, and the wine and balsamic vinegar add that extra depth that is so welcome in the hearty dishes that comfort the soul at this darkening time of year.

It's sheer poetry in cooking.

Garlic-Shallot Jam

I can't find the original recipe at the moment (since my household is in an uproar), but I think it came from Recipes from a Vegetarian Garden. This is close enough to the original, and though it takes time and patience, it's well worth the wait.

1 onion, peeled and minced
8 shallots, peeled and sliced
4 bulbs garlic, peeled, cloves left whole
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c red wine
1/2 c balsamic vinegar
1 T honey
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté onion, shallots, and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until soft, translucent, and just starting to brown. Add wine and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Stir occasionally while mixture simmers, about 1 hour or more. Mixture is done when the liquid has almost entirely evaporated and the garlic cloves are soft. Stir in honey, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and allow to simmer 5 minutes longer to meld flavors. Ladle into sterilized glass jar(s) and cover.

Keep in the refrigerator (I'm not sure how long yet) and stir a spoonful into any recipe you like. May be warmed and spooned over a finished dish, too.

Makes 1 1/2 cups of "jam"

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Market Go Round

It's been quiet in the kitchen this weekend as other priorities have pulled me out of the house for long stretches of time, causing me to eat out more than usual.

But I can't let the weekend slip by without a report from the farmers' market... not when the produce this week was so good that I made two rounds.

On the first round, I picked up those heavy items that will keep a long time: plump orange sweet potatoes from the new farmer (I cleaned 'em out), fingerling potatoes and sweet onions and garlic from the Cheerful Lady, red potatoes and a butternut squash from the Gentleman Farmer, another pint of honey from the Bee Man, and a quart of local maple syrup.

After dropping those off, I returned eagerly to the market, much to the amusement and delight of my favorite farmers. (As they often tell me, "I've never seen anyone get as excited about food as you do!") And once again, I stocked up:

--lettuce and green beans from the Gentleman Farmer
--Roma and cherry tomatoes, plus a surprising reprise of edamame from the Tomato Farmer's wife (who was surprised herself to have enough to bring this week!)
--more fresh sage and a cucumber from the Cheerful Lady
--Fall Russet apples and Bartlett pears from the Orchardist

I carried home a lighter load the second time around since I'm winding down my food preservation for the year (with hopes for one last batch of salsa and one more of applesauce) and since I know I'll be too busy to cook much this coming week.

But I settled in with a good salad later that evening, along with a delightful book by Mike Madison called Blithe Tomato. Madison himself is an organic farmer, and this collection of short essays captured not only the local color seeking and providing the local flavors at the farmers' market but also the ups and downs of being a farmer. His realistic, honest portrayal of his struggles on the farm help you appreciate all the more the effort and the sheer grace that brings food to our tables:

For centuries, to tend a little plot of land was the fate of most of humanity, and most were ill-suited to it, and so it was looked upon as drudgery, to be escaped from if at all possible. Now hardly anyone is left who can live a comfortable life by operating a tiny farm. Now we recognize what a rare privilege it is. (p.35)

Most of his stories focus on the local personalities from his own area, but they gave me a new insight to my own local farmers, making me want to get to know and support them even more. As Mike's more famous sister, Deborah, mentions in her foreword:

And as the food we cook can't be any better than the ingredients we start with, no matter how brilliantly we shape them, we all owe a huge debt of thanks to these farmers who bring good food so close to home. (p. xii)

Amen to that!

So for the next few weeks, I may well go around the market twice on Saturday, gathering as much of the last local produce as I can stash away for winter and giving as much money as I can to my local farmers in the hopes that I'll see them again next year.

What goes around, comes around.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Call me Grace.

You wouldn't think it from seeing me stride my way through the day, tall and confident and radiating authority (or so I'm told), but I'm a klutz. I sometimes wonder how I manage to stand without falling over... that's how bad it can get. Blame it on wobbly ankles, fear of heights, a distinctly dysfunctional relationship with gravity, or just sheer clumsiness, but over the years I've managed to injure my feet repeatedly.

Think I'm kidding? The summer of 1993 I managed to sprain both ankles simultaneously on a short flight of shallow stone steps. Eight years later I skillfully cracked my ankle while mowing the lawn. And this week? Well, this week I dropped a bed on my foot, so I've been taking a couple days off to rest and ice the poor thing. (Fret not: nothing is broken, just splendidly bruised... and the offending bed has been removed from the house.)

But if you think that a mere injury can keep me from the kitchen when inspiration calls, you haven't been paying attention. (During that week off in 1993 when I was told to stay off my feet completely, I baked croissants. Stupid? Hungry? It's a pick'em.)

When I picked up fresh apples and sage from the farmers' market last weekend, the ideas started churning in my head. And after one morning this week when I sauteed apple slices with chopped sage and maple sugar to toss over a whole grain pancake, the ideas started coming together with delicious clarity.

I had already invited Mr. Nice Guy over for dinner as a respite from his student teaching duties (and woes), and knowing that he has always enjoyed my cooking, I decided to try out my ideas on him. Given his regular enthusiasm for my home cooking, I knew he'd enjoy what I had in mind. (And I knew he'd be more than happy to brag about it to the lovely Phoenix, who is no longer in the area and available for such taste-testing.)

Interspersing the prep work with periods of Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation for my foot, I managed to cook individual ingredients ahead of time so that I could simply throw it all together in one pan shortly before Mr. Nice Guy showed up. After sauteeing good local, organic onions and garlic in rich olive oil until they softened and browned, I tossed in fresh sage and rosemary, salt and pepper, steamed squash cubes, crumbled cooked "sausage," and slices of apple. I also added a heaping spoonful of another recent creation, garlic-shallot jam (which I will make again soon and describe to you in more detail later), and a healthy splash of a dry red wine, letting the whole mixture simmer and soften and fill the air with a seductive fragrance.

At the last minute, I added cooked whole wheat pasta and stirred it in before moving the pan off the burner in order to cook the kale. And in no time at all, we had gorgeous piles of savory autumn vegetables garnished with a tangy blue cheese, just begging to be devoured.

We sank into the sublime symphony of flavors, trying desperately to find a name for this dish that would do it justice. How can a mere recipe title capture the rich warmth and velvety texture of cooked squash and apples mingling with aromatic herbs and onions, with the intoxicating sweetness of the balsamic vinegar-laced "jam" thrown in for good measure? How could a few mere words convey the lush comfort of such a dish on a damp, chilly day when the leaves have already begun to turn and drift downward?

We finished the meal with slices of a toasty, lightly sweetened pear hazelnut torte (from the recipe found in Local Flavors)... also richly flavored with a pleasing contrast between the silky Bartlett pears and the coarsely ground nuts, and with a crust reminiscent of toasted coconut, milky and deep and utterly satisfying.

I sat back contentedly while Mr. Nice Guy paid lavish compliments and then cleared the table for me, thinking that a foot injury wasn't so bad if it meant good food and service like this.

Not that I plan on making this a habit, mind you.

But I do have more squash in the pantry.

Fall's First Harvest Saute

It's a wholly inadequate title for food so amazingly good, I admit, and if anyone can come up with a better name, please let me know! Each ingredient on its own is pleasant in its own way, of course, but when they come together with a little time and patience, they make magic. I don't expect anyone else to have garlic-shallot jam on hand, but you can easily substitute a dash of balsamic vinegar and a splash of red wine to get the essential flavor. And if you prefer real sausage, go right ahead and use it... just don't invite me to dinner. Serve over steamed greens for color and flavor contrast, and enjoy with a glass of red wine or a cup of mulled cider.

1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp chopped fresh sage
1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 c butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1-2 apples, cored and sliced
2 vegetarian "sausage" patties, cooked and crumbled (about 1/2 c)
1 T garlic-shallot jam OR 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 c red wine
1/4 c water or vegetable stock
1 c cooked whole wheat pasta or brown rice
steamed greens (kale, spinach, etc.)
crumbled blue cheese for garnish

Saute onions and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until soft and slightly browned. Add sage, rosemary, salt, and pepper and cook for another minute. Add squash, apple slices, "sausage," garlic-shallot jam or vinegar, red wine, and water or stock, and allow to simmer until squash is tender. (Add more water or wine if needed.)

While vegetables simmer, cook the pasta or rice. Toss 1 c cooked grains into the sauteed mixture to blend flavors.

To serve, pile steamed greens on plates, then top with squash mixture and blue cheese (if desired). Serve with red wine or mulled cider to hungry friends.

Serves 4

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Turn Up the Heat, I'm a Little Chile

With an abundance of tomatoes passing through my home in recent weeks, and with plenty of jars of crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce already filling my stores, it seemed only logical to try canning another tomato product: salsa.

The Archivist had brought me a selection of sweet and hot peppers from her garden, and not being accustomed to using fresh hot peppers, I proceeded with caution on my first batch of salsa, using a Hungarian wax pepper.

To my astonishment, I found that salsa to be so tepidly mild as to be almost an insult to my palate. So this time around, I decided to pull out the heavy-duty (for me) heat: the jalapeno.

I cut up the rest of the Romas plus some local organic onion and garlic and bell pepper, tossed it into the pot with one seeded and finely chopped jalapeno, and let it simmer for a bit before adding spices.

It wasn't a big batch of salsa, so I just poured most of it into a jar to store in the refrigerator. But of course I had to have a sample with my dinner.

This salsa had a little more of a burn to it, but I suspect my heat tolerance can take a little more in future.

After all, chile weather is on the way.

Chard Times at the Market

Fall seems to have settled in for good here at the farmers' market: everywhere you turn, the cool-weather produce overflows from baskets and bins, reminding everyone that though the popular fruits and vegetables have passed their peak, autumn has its fair share of luscious foods.

And as with some summer vegetables (dare we mention zucchini?), some autumn veggies just keep growing until the farmers hardly know what to do with them. Thus it was that when I stopped to visit the Asian Lady and admired her beautiful chard, she told me, "Take what you want – no charge!" How could I refuse?

Though no one else was giving away free produce, I still picked up plenty of good deals on good food:

--The Gentleman Farmer and his son had more tomato "seconds," so I bought another half-peck for the last round of canning. I also bought a quart of green beans (to freeze) and a large eggplant for this week's cooking.

--The Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe had a wide variety of things on their table, so I splurged a little: onions, garlic, sage, carrots, and some tiny egg noodles made by one of their neighbors.

--The Bee Man was back with good local honey, so I bought two pints from him for winter baking.

--A new farmer had two small acorn squash for $1.00 –- how could I resist?

--The Orchardist returned with loads of lovely apples, and I simply couldn't help myself: I bought a bag of Fall Russets (tart and crisp), a bag of Primas (sweet and juicy), and a bag of Bartlett pears.

--The Tomato Farmer and his wife had the last Romas of the season, so I bought five pounds' worth to make tomato sauce and salsa.

Unfortunately, the Tomato Farmer's Wife told me that these would be their last Roma tomatoes ever at the market. They won't be returning next year because they took a hard loss with this year’s crops and can't afford to keep farming.

And there you have, in a nutshell, the hidden tragedy of every farmers' market: for all that we might support the market, we can't always keep every farmer in business. The awareness of the true costs of foods still eludes many people, and the appreciation of the need for local foods still has not spread widely enough to make farming an economically viable option. And when these small farmers find little help from the government (federal or local) in the form of subsidies or the encouragement of local demand, there's little that any one person can do.

So after a lengthy conversation to commiserate with her and to express my appreciation for all their hard work and fine produce, I shouldered my bag, picked up my basket, and headed home.

And though my full pack weighed me down considerably, I felt my own burden less than that of the farmers who can't make a living from producing good food. As much as I personally can get excited about local foods, I still get discouraged when I realize how few people think the same way.

What else can we do, though, but keep trying?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Mind Your Peas (and Cute Carrots, Too)

I've admitted before that I'm not overly fond of peas. I'm not sure how to pinpoint what exactly it is about them that I don't care for, aside from the starchy taste, but at least I've learned to eat them and appreciate them as needed. (The Chef Mother still can't quite believe that, but I've assured her that they'll never show up on their own as a side dish on my plate.)

Since I've been able to find fresh edamame, though, I don't feel so bad about not freezing too many peas for winter soups and curries (and the occasional samosas). And since I ran out of freezer bags before I finished preparing the edamame for freezing, I decided to clean out the refrigerator and put a new twist on one of my favorite home-cooked Indian dinners.

Thanks to the glorious bounty found at the farmers' market, I could throw together those edamame with some tender and colorful organic carrots, organic French fingerling potatoes, good Roma tomatoes, organic garlic, and a couple of the dried chiles My Wonderful Parents sent me from Arizona a year and a half ago, resulting in a simple vegetable dish that never fails to satisfy.

Dishes like this never fail to make me happy: the vegetable prep may take a little while, but I usually enjoy the repetitive, meditative nature of the work, and once everything is together in the skillet, I can turn the heat down low, walk away, and read for a while.

When I return, I find a simple, savory, healthy meal just waiting to be spooned over brown basmati rice (or pasta; depends on what I have on hand) and eaten with relish (er, chutney) while I give thanks to the farmers who brought the produce in to the market.

Peas, Carrots, and Potatoes

This recipe from The Indian Vegetarian was the first in which I succeeded in achieving the level of spice and heat I've grown accustomed to having in Indian restaurants. I have long been wary of cooking with fresh hot peppers, but I find that now even two dried chiles, punctured with a fork, don't make it quite hot enough for me, so next time I'll have to pull out the jalapenos to work up a nice light sweat. This dish makes a great lunch of leftovers, too... folks at work are jealous when I bring this in and reheat it! Serve with rice and some raita for a simple but filling meal.

2 T canola oil
4 jalapeno peppers, skin punctured to prevent them from bursting
OR 2 dried chile peppers, punctured with a fork
1 T peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 c finely chopped fresh tomatoes
1 c loosely packed finely chopped cilantro
3 c shelled fresh peas or edamame
2 c young carrots, cut into 1/2-inch slices
3 small red or white potatoes, cut into 6 wedges each
Up to 1/2 c water
1 tsp mango powder
3 T chopped cilantro for garnish

Heat the oil in a large nonstick saucepan over moderately high heat and cook the jalapeno peppers, ginger, and garlic, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, and salt. Mix in the tomatoes, cilantro, peas, carrots, and potatoes. Cover the pan and cook over high heat about 3 to 4 minutes. Add water, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 15 minutes. Gently stir in the mango powder, ensuring that the potatoes do not break.

Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with the cilantro, and serve hot as a side dish with any entree.

Serves 8 (4 as an entrée)

Nuts About Chocolate

Peanut butter, that quintessentially American sweet and salty spread, reigned supreme in my childhood diet, finding its way into my lunchbox in a thick layer between slices of soft white bread (sometimes with butter or with strawberry jam) or in melt-in-your-mouth cookies with the classic tic-tac-toe grid pressed into the top.

Gradually I came to appreciate how that salty richness mingled perfectly with creamy milk chocolate, how the two flavors balanced each other, brought out each other's strengths. I even attempted a chocolate and peanut butter milkshake one time while visiting my grandmother (though I admit, neither of us was terribly impressed with the result).

And though nowadays you'll find me using my peanut butter in somewhat more sophisticated and savory ways, such as in dipping sauce for spring rolls or on a sandwich with carrot salad, I still love combining peanut butter with chocolate.

So this weekend when I decided to do some baking for the returning students as well as for myself, I pulled out these two old favorites and dressed them up for the slightly more adult but still nostalgic palate found among most undergraduates (and grown-ups) of my acquaintance.

Yesterday I made chocolate charms, a crisp shortbread cookie made more intensely chocolatey with the addition of black cocoa and laced with a hint of cinnamon. Most of the dough I shaped into small balls that spread into truffle-like mounds that I dusted with cocoa powder.

But for myself, I flattened a few morsels and let them bake in thin rounds. Once they had cooled, I spread them with peanut butter goat milk fudge from the farmers' market and enjoyed my own twist on sandwich cookies.

Crisp and crunchy met smooth and creamy in an utterly decadent cookie treat. I admit to overindulgence: I had three such cookies... but they were well worth it!

This morning I pulled out my peanut butter brownie bar recipe and whipped up a pan full of peanut butter shortbread with a rich dark brownie and a handful of chocolate-covered peanuts on top. And again, those two flavors proved to be a perfect match.

The old commercials used to herald chocolate and peanut butter as the "two great tastes that taste great together," and I've always believed that to be true. With examples like these, can I doubt it?

And I'm sure all the lucky recipients of these cookies will be nuts about them, too.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Rain or Shine

The crazy weather we've had this year has taken another unusual turn (thanks to the remains of Tropical Storm Ernesto), bringing us cool, damp weather better suited to November than to the Labor Day weekend.

But that's OK. Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night... well, maybe not that... will keep the farmers' market from coming to town with tables full of good local produce. And though a few farmers weren't around right at 8 AM and the crowd looked fairly thin, it was (as always) worth my while to visit the market for my weekly produce.

I revisited the Tomato Farmer first thing to get more edamame... this week, splurging on the equivalent of 2 gallons of the fresh green pods. Yes, I'm planning on freezing on more, and though I think he was surprised by the quantity, he was more than happy to fill up my bag. I also bought another quart of Roma tomatoes for making more salsa (with a little more heat this week, I hope).

Both the lady from the grist mill and the Gentleman Farmer asked how I would cook the edamame and how I used it, so I was very happy to stop and talk with them about the taste (somewhere between a tender young bean and a pea, in my book) and how I cook them (I like to use them in place of peas in almost anything, especially curries). This is part of the joy I find in the farmers' market: not only do I learn a lot from all of them, but they're willing to learn from me, too, in order to try something themselves or pass the information on to other customers.

The Gentleman Farmer had more Fairy Tale eggplant, so I decided to buy four quarts so that I can roast, puree, and freeze most of them. Two small zucchini also called my name for quick sautés, and since they're probably among the last of the season, I'll enjoy a tasty farewell!

The Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe had a wide variety of produce, though I opted only to buy more shallots and garlic, along with a small butternut squash. Still, it was good to visit with them, though I did get progressively more damp and bedraggled as I stood there.

Finally, I also picked up some peanut butter goat milk fudge (wonderful stuff, and I have a great idea for it... stay tuned!) and a loaf of focaccia before during into My Favorite Coffee House for a mocha to warm myself before the wet and soggy trek home.

Nothing stops me from visiting the farmers' market... nothing!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Eat Like You Live Here: September

Somehow, somewhere, someone flipped one too many calendar pages. Though it's only the beginning of September and still technically summer, the weather feels as though we've been set down right in the midst of autumn, the leaves are starting to drift down from the trees, and my favorite fall produce is already appearing at the farmers' market.

In short, summer is dwindling rapidly with every evening's sunset arriving a little earlier, and if you're like me, you're torn between rushing to preserve the last of summer's bounty and sitting back to enjoy the slower pace and joys of autumn.

While I didn't keep track throughout August as to how much local food I included in my meals, I know it made up the bulk of my diet as I rarely set foot in the grocery store except for dairy and the occasional non-local produce (like lemons). Certainly I made good progress on the preserving front as I've run through a dozen new jars and have been scrounging around for more, I've dried more herbs, and the freezer is more than half full.

I never did get around to inviting over company for a home-cooked all-local meal as it was a busy month, but since I cooked a couple of local meals with my housemate, I think I'll count those.

As the growing season draws to a close, here are a few ideas for keeping the local foods on your table during September and into the winter:

1. As always, visit your local farmers' market and farms. If the market isn't a year-round event, talk to the farmers now to find out what they might have growing beyond the market season and show your interest in continuing to buy local goods from them. If you're lucky, they'll be willing to meet you halfway!

2. Keep preserving the harvest. You still have a little room left in the freezer, right? And soon you'll start seeing apples, potatoes, onions, and other produce that can keep for longer periods without special processing. Stock up!

3. If, like me, you didn't get the chance to invite friends over for an all-local meal last month, there's nothing that says you can't try again. I know I'll give it my best shot.

4. In case you forgot from last year, September is National Organic Harvest Month. Be sure to buy some good food from local organic growers, and tell them you really appreciate their commitment to organic methods. Then go home and cook yourself a wonderful organic feast!

Since this might be your last chance in a while to buy lots of those good local fruits and vegetables, give yourself the permission to splurge a little. Savor those last tastes of summer, and, if you can, don't forget to save some for the cold depths of winter, too.

Then sit back and enjoy... that's part of the fun.