Sunday, June 26, 2011

Greens Day

We've had good weather this weekend -- sunny, warm but not blazingly hot, breezy -- so today I convinced myself it was a good time to get out to the gardens!

I started with putting in about an hour in the Renaissance Man's garden, weeding like mad. The plot has a tendency to harbor wild onions along with the usual weedy suspects and unruly mint and lemon balm, so I needed to take some time to beat back the greenery and find my own crops. Sad to say, the weeds had overtaken most of the pac choi and chard I had planted, so I will need to replant, and the radishes succumbed to early heat and went straight to flowers without developing the roots.

On the up side, the strawberry patch produced a nice amount of berries for us this year and is sending out new runners, and the garlic is almost ready to harvest. The lone surviving tomato seedling has set fruit, the basil is coming along, and despite a few nibbles, the broccoli plant is holding strong.

After cleaning up the garden, I harvested chamomile (off the newly transplanted plants), more lavender, and a big bunch of oregano for drying, and I think I will have to return soon for more mint and lemon balm.

I returned home for lunch and enjoyed a light meal of this delicious fava bean dip I had made earlier in the morning. The fava beans came from The Sheep Farmer at yesterday's market, and the dip includes garlic scapes and goat cheese -- all good things! I pulled out some leftover pita bread for dipping, then cleaned out the bowl using slices of fresh cucumber. YUM.

Shortly after that satisfying lunch (and a cookie), I headed out to the Contradance Callers' garden to do some additional cleanup and to check on my vegetables. (Sorry, forgot the camera yet again!)

I weeded a LOT -- around the bean spiral, half the raised beds in the "inner sanctum," the squash and cucumber beds, and my back patch. Whew! I was pretty exhausted after that.

But after all the cleanup, I had more work to do -- harvesting! The Red Choi pac choi has done well in its first round, and I picked four medium-sized heads to add to this coming week's vegetable rolls for market. I also picked a small amount of golden chard and a BIG bread bag full of broccoli raab (also destined for vegetable rolls).

It's a good year for herbs, too, as I was able to pick a large amount of dill (enough to fill two dehydrator trays) and a bit of basil. The smells of summer!

After a glass -- well, a quart jar! -- of lemonade and a visit with the Contradance Callers, I headed home to put away my green finds for the day -- and to rest.

But oh! it's all making me hungry already!

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cheese! That Makes Sense!

How keen are your senses? Can you distinguish even fine levels of saltiness, bitterness, sweetness, or sour? How much do you know about cheese and your sensory enjoyment of this widely varying food? I try to maintain that there's always something new for me to learn, so last evening, I joined about fifteen other people at Local Roots to learn more about the nuances of smell, taste, and touch when evaluating cheeses as Brian Schlatter of Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese and Abbe Turner of Lucky Penny Creamery hosted an evening of "cheese sensory evaluation."

Brian started the evening with a quick overview of the body's senses and their role in how we select the food we eat. He followed that with an exercise to test people's sense of smell, passing around more than twenty opaque tubes containing a variety of unknown substances. Participants were instructed to open each tube directly beneath their noses and, relying solely on the sense of smell, attempt to identify each item. As Brian reviewed the answers, he pointed out some of the subtle differences between things like cultured and uncultured butter or milk and yogurt.

In the second exercise, Brian shared three samples of cheddar cheese from one cheesemaker, explaining how visual evaluation of a cheese can provide surprising taste results. Each of the three cheddars looked very similar, but one had nutty overtones, one tasted sweet and mild, and the third had a "catty" or overpowering flavor that many people found less than optimal.

Next, Brian and Abbe offered each participant a plate divided into eight sections, with two examples each of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter tasting ricotta cheese. These examples, Brian noted, were intended to help develop the palate so that differing levels of each of the tastes could be perceived.

Finally, Brian and Abbe shared six different cheeses –- Lucky Penny chèvre, gouda, Canal Junction's Charloe (a washed-rind cheese) and Flat Rock, a Comté, and a Manchego –- with everyone to begin to put together all that had been learned up to that point. In tasting each cheese in turn, participants shared their impressions as to overall flavor as well as to ask questions about how the cheeses were produced, what created certain flavors and overtones, and what could cause variations in the taste from season to season.

To round out the evening, Abbe shared samples of her new peanut butter goat milk fudge, a product that many hope to find at Local Roots soon!

Many thanks to Brian and Abbe for sharing their combined knowledge and good humor –- not to mention some very delicious cheeses! –- in celebration of National Dairy Month.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Independence Days 2011-4: Summer's Here!

Summer is finally here! In a way, it seems like it wasn't that long ago when we were desperate for the ground to warm up enough for planting, and yet it also seems like it has taken forever for summer to get here.

This week at the market I've been watching the Renaissance Man start installing the big vertical sundial on the south face of the building. The gnomon (the metal shadow-caster) went up late last week, and this week -- right around the Solstice -- the RM has gone up regularly in a lift to mark the hours on the wall as the occasional bursts of sun create the necessary shadows. While the sundial won't be "done" until after winter solstice, when final markings are made, it's exciting to become more aware of the seasons and the changing of the Earth-sun relationship through the year.

Summer has taken hold in the gardens as well: last week I picked enough chard from garden #2 to use in this week's vegetable rolls (sold at Local Roots in the bakery case). My goal in planting seeds this year was to have enough to feed myself, put some up for winter, and use some in baking -- so far, so good!

In other Independence Days activities:

1. Plant something: walking onions, Golden Detroit beets, Sugarsnax carrots, Masai pole beans at the Southern Belle’s

2. Harvest something: garlic scapes, dill, chocolate mint, bronze fennel, nasturtiums, broccoli, mountain mint at the Delighted Gardener's; golden chard, lavender, dill, cilantro at the SB; strawberries, lavender, mint, cilantro at the Renaissance Man’s

3. Preserve something: dried dill, chocolate mint, lavender, bronze fennel, lemon balm, parsley, basil; froze strawberries, broccoli, garlic scapes

4. Reduce waste (Waste not): tried to stay on top of produce better, and bought less at outdoor farmers’ market; used butter wrappers to grease pans for tea rings

5. Preparation and storage (Want not): prepared croissant dough as soon as I baked previous batch; restocked baking powder, olive oil, butter; chopped and froze garlic scapes and put off making the pesto for a while

6. Build local food systems: baking for market; baked for WB; helped the Delighted Gardener half a day on her farm (lots of weeding!); meeting and potluck about the Local Roots newsletter; sent out press release about Local Roots farm tour; started baking for the Innkeeper’s summer guest season; worked out more trades with fellow producers; chatted to local bookstore owner about the coming cafe at Local Roots; started baking bread for Local Roots Cafe

7. Eat the food: fresh lettuce, straight up; rhubarb-strawberry tart; potato salad with beans and asparagus; grilled cheese with kale and radish; sugar snap peas, eaten straight up; asparagus kale white pizza with leftover artisan dough; chocolate-strawberry flourless tart laced with lavender syrup; grilled cheese and mixed greens with strawberry-vinaigrette on first day at Local Roots Cafe; potato salad with broccoli; local vanilla ice cream with fresh raspberries and raspberry syrup

How did you welcome summer this week?

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Just Have a Lunch

Here's a red-letter day for your calendars: As of today, Local Roots is now living up to its full name of Local Roots Market and Cafe!

That's right, the cafe is finally open for business, though we expect the first couple of weeks to be a little slow with simple and spare offerings. But when you figure that we were awarded the grant for the first-phase kitchen in October, started construction in February, and are now licensed as a "risk level 4 facility" by the Health Department, that's pretty darn impressive!

Cafe meals will eventually be prepared by a rotating team of local chefs and producers, but for now, it's all on the shoulders of one man: Jerrod, the Cafe Chef. He was scrambling in a big way today as there was an impressive crowd in at lunchtime, but he kept the panini press fired up and had plenty of salad ready to dish up.

The cafe offered just two items today: grilled cheddar cheese with chives on garlic-herb bread (from yours truly, The Grain Maker) and mixed salad greens with a strawberry-mint vinaigrette. Since the Renaissance Man and I had decided to head down for lunch to celebrate the occasion, I picked up two sandwiches and a big salad for us to share while he talked with a local reporter about the progress on the market sundial (another story; very cool!).

Good stuff! It's a simple meal, true -- even with the lemony herb iced tea from a local producer -- but with fresh quality ingredients from people I know, it was well worth the treat. (We didn't even bother getting dessert from the bakery case, which just goes to show how satisfying the meal was. Or perhaps that's because the Renaissance Man remembered I had a nice big fresh pecan roll at home with his name on it.)

Follow the Local Roots Facebook page to find out what the daily specials are -- and if you're in the area, stop in and enjoy a great local lunch!

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Be Still, My Tart

Life gets so busy sometimes. The business picks up, the days start to blur, and pretty soon you find that you just don't see your friends as much as you used to. (Nor do you blog as often as you used to, but that's another story...)

When we found out that the fabulous Jen spread the news that she was expecting a wee little sprout later this year, she noted that someone else would have to pick up the layout and design of the market newsletter for a few months while she and the baby got used to each other. In light of this news, the Market Manager (formerly known as the Wannabe Farmer; she's so busy now running Local Roots that I doubt she thinks much about farming any more!) decided that she should meet with the fabulous Jen and myself to sort through what Jen does for the market (quite a lot, really, though it's all behind the scenes) and how we can keep things running smoothly while she's enjoying the first months of motherhood.

The three of us used to meet regularly during the planning stages at the market, discussing how to "market the market" through ads, flyers, the newsletter, and more, and we usually made our meetings potluck dinners so that we could enjoy spending time together as friends as well as colleagues. We hadn't done that in a while, so when the Manager called the meeting, I suggested food -- and we quickly planned a good local meal.

The fabulous Jen, our hostess for the evening, whipped up a pot of vegetarian chili. The Market Manager brought corn chips from a new producer at the market -- along with a four-pack of the summer Great Lakes beer. (She and I indulged, as did Jen's husband -- poor Jen looked on longingly.) And I brought dessert.

Since I've been bringing home lots of rhubarb from garden #3 (the Contradance Callers insist), I've been looking for new ways to use it. (Bear in mind that I did not even like rhubarb until a French rhubarb pie two years ago changed my mind.) I found a recipe for a rhubarb tart with walnuts in the crust, and I decided that -- with a little tweaking, of course -- it needed to be sampled. Soon.

So I made a whole wheat crust with the crushed walnuts, some maple sugar (local), some rhubarb syrup (also local), and butter (yep). While that baked, I simmered chopped rhubarb with more rhubarb syrup and some powdered dried strawberries (a very useful thing to have on hand!) for the filling.

After spooning the filling on top of the cooled crust, I added a few halved strawberries from the garden and let the whole thing chill until dinner time. Then I cut it, topped each slice with real whipped cream and a wee sprig of mint, and served it up to my friends.

Was it a hit? Let's just say that I had their attention just at the description, and when they saw the finished product, jaws dropped in admiration, followed quickly by murmurs of approval as they scarfed down every last bite. Yes, it was that good.

I just love when a new experiment gets such a warm reception. It warms the cockles of my tart -- er, heart.

Rhubarb-Strawberry Tart

Based on the Rhubarb Tart with Walnut Pastry recipe from -- but, of course, altered a good bit from the original just because that's the way I roll.

Tart crust:
1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c. ground walnuts
1 T maple sugar
1/4 c. chilled unsalted butter
1 T rhubarb syrup (or water)

Tart filling:
1 c. chopped fresh rhubarb
2 T rhubarb syrup
2 T powdered dried strawberries (I grind mine in a coffee grinder)

Combine flour, walnuts, and maple sugar in a medium bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in rhubarb syrup until dough just holds together. Press into 8" tart pan (or two small tart pans) and dock the crust. Bake 25 minutes at 350 F, until just browned. Let cool.

In small saucepan, simmer rhubarb with syrup over low heat, stirring. Cook until rhubarb is tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add strawberry powder and stir until mixture thickens slightly. Spoon filling into tart shell. Refrigerate tart until time to serve.

Serve topped with real whipped cream.

Serves 4-6

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Hoe, Hoe, Hoe

Though I'm not working regularly at anyone's farm this year, I promised myself to find time to help out on occasion as well as to explore new-to-me farms. On Monday, having nothing else pressing on my schedule, I decided to meet both of those promises.

My best barter buddy from Local Roots -- a woman I'll call The Delighted Gardener (you know, it's really tough to come up with a nickname for someone when they are just waiting to see what you will call them!) -- is a farmer who has frequently accepted a goodly amount of my leftover bread from the market in exchange for herbs, greens, and other good stuff. Knowing that she was growing a LOT of garlic this year, I offered to head out to her farm in Kidron to help when it was time to cut garlic scapes (something I use in a really delicious pesto, smeared on flatbread).

Tucked back off the road, her quiet farm shows a wide variety of plantings and ideas in progress. This "edible landscape" appears right out front of the house, full of herbs, salad greens, strawberries, and her favorite edible flowers. Behind the house, rows upon rows of vegetables, herbs, and flowers create an impressive contrast to the rolling fields behind the property.

A walk back through the gardens and skirting the woods led us to the garlic patch: 5 or 6 long rows filled with many varieties of garlic. I started my work day here, weeding between two of the rows while she hoed through another path.

After making a good dent in the garlic patch, we both grabbed hoes and hacked through weeds in a retired lettuce bed and around tomatoes. As we cleared, we laid down newspapers (topped temporarily with clumps of weeds) to prepare for a straw mulch (due later in the week).

I mixed up my weeding between standing to hoe and bending or kneeling to pull by hand, but between the two of us, we cleaned up all the tomato rows as well as around the peas. Whew!

Once the Delighted Gardener had sufficiently worn me out, we had a chance to wander through the rest of the gardens. Each of her five children has their own garden plot, from the 16-year-old's rows with tomatoes and enough salad for his own eating to this wee patch of tomato (sprinkled with lime and guarded by one of his favorite toys) belonging to the toddler. And given how all of the children wandered through the garden to snack as well as to work, it's clear that they've learned from an early age that the best food comes from the backyard. (Though they've been known to demolish one of my pecan rings in record time, too.)

One of The Delighted Gardener's specialties is flowers -- both for creating beautiful bouquets for special events or to complete her CSA customers' shares, and for eating. (She'll be teaching a class on edible flowers at the local kitchen store in July.) She's very fond of nasturtiums (as am I!) and already has an impressive array!

Though the wide selection of vegetables planted was impressive enough, I was tickled to see that she was willing to try new things each year. This bed of fava beans is something new to her, so I offered to take the first batch and come up with a recipe to share with her CSA customers when she includes them in a weekly share. (Am I not helpful?)

One of the things that has delighted me the most in our recent swaps has been receiving the first fresh broccoli of the season. I've said it before and I'll say it again, broccoli is my absolute favorite vegetable, and I am insanely jealous of her having all these plants! Lucky me, though, she was more than willing to share and broke off several small heads for me to take home.

My friend's generosity knew no bounds today -- not only did she let me fill a canvas tote with all the garlic scapes I wanted, she also let me pick my fill of herbs (bronze fennel, basil, dill, and more), pressed the broccoli on me (darn!), and sent me off with an astoundingly fragrant "Grandma's" rose. All because I helped her weed for three hours! I love working for food.

As I headed out, passing the old barn and waving to her husband and children, a loud raucous cry caught my attention. We had seen (and heard!) the neighbor's peacock wandering through the gardens earlier, but when I saw this gorgeous bird perched on an old manure spreader, I had to stop and take a photo.

What a delightful end to a delightful morning!

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Independence Days 2011-3: June Is Bustin' Out All Over!

You can tell that June is here: all of a sudden, plants are experiencing growth spurts, the rain is tapering off, and the to-do lists have doubled. The growing season is well underway, which means I am playing a LOT of catch-up!

So here's a quick Independence Days update for the past two(!) weeks:

1. Plant something: zucchini, scarlet runner beans, Blue Coco pole beans, Laurentian rutabagas, Red Choi pac choi, golden chard, broccoli at the Contradance Callers' garden; Stupice tomato seedling, more basil at the Renaissance Man's garden.

2. Harvest something: rhubarb, lettuce, dill at the Contradance Callers' garden; strawberries, roses, lavender, lemon balm, radishes at the Renaissance Man's.

3. Preserve something: dried dill, anise hyssop, chamomile, tarragon, chocolate mint, lemon mint, rose petals, lavender; made and froze first batch of garlic scape pesto

4. Reduce waste (Waste not): used leftover pita bread instead of buying tortilla chips for snacks and meals; shared leftover crackers and a wheat loaf from the freezer with a friend teaching her cheesemaking class (for sampling)

5. Preparation and storage (Want not): prepared croissant dough as soon as I baked previous batch; picked up more freezer bags for storage, plus more pantry items; used some of last year's glass honey jars (all cleaned out) for new herb storage

6. Build local food systems: baking for market and for Woo's Brews; answered questions about cottage food rules from a friend who wants to start home food production; mixed more herbal tisane blends to sell; worked out a swap with fellow herb growers for more lavender; visited with Amish farmer and author David Kline during a recent day trip; compiled recipe handout for upcoming cooking class at Today's Kitchen Store; made a great swap of bread for the first garlic scapes of the year

7. Eat the food: raw asparagus with peanut sauce; leftover veg rolls; lots of lettuce!; big salad with carrots, broccoli, dill, Swiss cheese; curry broccoli with rice; broccoli walnut pasta; grilled cheese with kale; fresh strawberries!

How is June going for you?

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