Snacking in the Forest

There is a fruit that grows wild that your local grocer does not carry.  It rhymes with the sound a crow makes.  Know what it is?

Find out.

So next time you’re hiking in the forest and get a little hungry from the excursion, look for this fruit and you might just be transported to the tropics.  Maybe.

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What’s in Season – the blessed bounty

For those who love to eat well, August’s bounty blesses us with flavors that titillate our taste buds and satiate our appetite.  In season: everything (pretty much).

  • corn
  • cucumbers
  • zucchini
  • squash
  • basil
  • purslane
  • eggplant
  • bell peppers
  • garlic
  • cantaloupe
  • watermelon
  • tomatoes
  • eggplant
  • romaine
  • radishes
  • green onion
  • cabbage
  • blueberries
  • lettuce
  • apples

There are likely other vegetables and fruit that I have missed, but this is what I found at the local farmer’s market, the homegrown-labeled produce at the grocery store, and in the back yard of my good friends (who insisted that I take home their surplus basil and tomatoes.  Twist my arm…I know). The tomatoes were gorgeous, as were the basil but because they were in bloom their leaves were a bit more peppery and bitter than normal.  Still though, they made a great addition to the panzanella I had for dinner tonight. It is a dish that celebrates the seasonal foods in August. The original recipe called for cucumber, red pepper, and parmesan, but I had none in the fridge, so I omitted them. It tasted great despite the lack of a few ingredients.

Panzanella (adaped from Epicurious)

  • 4 bread rolls (any kind), sliced into 3/4-1 inch slices
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 5 assorted ripe heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Toast the sliced bread to dry it out (my solution for keeping the oven turned off in the hot month of August). You may need to toast it a couple times. Chop them into 3/4-1-inch pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, capers, zest, and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until incorporated. Add the onion, tomatoes, bell pepper, basil, and fennel to the bowl and toss. Lastly, add the bread and toss.


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What’s in Season – this week on your grocer’s plate

August. The hot summer month of humidity and sun. Great for plants; not so pleasant for us. But our suffering means we also eat like a king (or queen)!  This week, the list of vegetables and fruit that are in season here come from your familiar grocery store.  Farmer’s markets aren’t the only places that sell local produce; your grocery store does as well.*  Just be aware of the labeling and read.  The list below includes items that can be found at your local Kroger, Meijer, and Dorothy Lane Market.

  • Mustard greens 
  • Collard greens
  • Green onions
  • Radishes
  • Yellow squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Green beans
  • Cabbage
  • Bell peppers
  • Watermelon
  • Eggplant
  • Sweet corn
  • Turnip
  • Zucchini
  • Cherries (At Dorothy Lane Market, look for the locally grown label. They sell cherries from Washington as well as from a local farmer.)

Need some inspiration? Add some booze to your watermelon. Make a watermelon granita for a refreshing dessert. Go with an Italian theme and make panzanella–and add bacon. Make a cool soup with all those ripe seasonal tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers.

One of my go-to green bean dishes is a simple stir fry.  Take two or three handfuls of green beans and roughly chop them so they’re about 1-2 inches long. Take two to three cloves of garlic; slice them thin. Heat up a pan to medium heat and add 1 teaspoon of oil.  Wait until it’s hot and throw in the garlic and saute until golden.  Add the green beans and saute for a couple minutes.  Add a little bit of water and cover the pan for 3-4 minutes (until the green beans turn really green).  Uncover and turn off the heat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If you like it hot, then throw in a dried chile pepper or two.

This cucumber salad is a standard at home and is super easy to make. And forgiving–so much so that I’m not going to give you very exact directions!  But I will include a few photos.** Peel a few cucumbers. Slice it in half lengthwise; remove the seeds with a spoon. Slice each half into 1/4 inch slices (width-wise). Salt the cukes and leave them in a bowl to release the water in the cuke.  Wait about 5-15 minutes (depending on how hungry you are). While you wait, chop of a half inch of ginger root and skin it using a spoon or knife. Julienne the ginger. Take a clove of garlic, skin it, and set it aside. Once you deem the cucumber has lost enough water, take a handful at a time and squeeze out as much water as you can, then put them in a different bowl. Toss the cuke juice. Add the ginger and garlic. Sprinkle some sugar, add some cider vinegar and drizzle some sesame oil to taste. Toss well and let sit for the ginger, garlic, cukes, and sesame oil to get cozy with each other. Once they’re cozy, go disturb them and scoop them onto a plate and enjoy.

* I plan on discussing this topic in greater detail in a future post.

** These were taken with a camera phone; please forgive the raw unprocessed state they are in.

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Food for Thought: Beauty contests

Would you buy me?

Why or why not?  If no pesticides were used, would you buy me?

Even our fruits and vegetables compete in the looks department when we go shopping for them. Many ugly ducklings get passed over when being prepared for the grocery store because the consumer (me included) will pick over them and choose the unblemished specimens. In other words, they just won’t sell–even though they are exactly the same in taste and nutrition as their prettier counterparts.

Pesticides are a necessary part of farming. Organic farming included. Food marketed as organic may conjure up images of idyllic farms teeming with abundant fruit unspoiled by critters, pesticides, and chemicals. The reality is not so romantic. Chemicals and pesticides may be the most effective approach to combating insects, bacteria, and other diseases that decimate crops. Recognizing this, the USDA organic standards allow use of certain pesticides to manage insects.

Take, for example, the cucumber beetle. It feeds on vine crops (such as cucumbers and squash) and can damage stems, young leaves, blossoms, and fruits. These beetles may carry disease and introduce bacterial wilt to the plants. Depending on the infestation size, damage may range from ugly looking—and potentially unmarketable—fruit to the complete destruction of the crop.*

If a farm experiences a small infestation on a field with mature plants which merely disfigures the fruit, an incentive still remains for pesticide use. Ugly fruit = less $. Pretty fruit = more $. What if we change that incentive? What if we (the consumer) were willing to pay for pesticide-free produce at the price of beauty? Would you do it?


* Info on cucumber beetles found here.

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Meeting the makers

Imagine this scenario. Your Nana calls and tells you she’s coming over to drop off a freshly made peach pie still sizzling from the oven and to stay put while she gets there. You agree and wait, drooling to sink your teeth into her world-famous pie.

Then imagine this. While at work, a colleague whom you barely know approaches you and others in your area and asks generally whether anyone wants a pie made by another acquaintance of his.  How would you react?  “Mmm…peach pie…my favorite…ok!” Or “hmm…dunno this dude…he looks professional, so maybe the pie tastes fine. Wait, but why is he giving it away? Does it taste bad?”

There are plenty of reasons why you react differently, even if both pies are equally delicious. One that comes to mind for me is the relationship. You know your granny. She’s a fabulous baker. She’d make the Two Fat Ladies look like dieters. If she had stock in Krispy Kremes, she would have invented the Luther burger.  (OK, maybe not.) Your colleague’s friend on the other hand…who knows what kind of baker he or she is. The next Julia Child? Or your college roommate who set a muffin on fire in the microwave?

Relationships let us find out more about people—what makes them tick, what they value, and more. Dorothy Lane Market, a local grocery store in Dayton hosted its first ever Honestly Local Dinner on Wednesday. They provided an opportunity for their customers to meet some of the local vendors in a casual setting that featured the vendors’ products.*

It was a 5-course meal of taste explosions, beginning with salads. Zucchini, cucumber, and beets—all in season.

Next was a bowl of tomato soup garnished with uncured bacon and a slice of cheese toast.

The main course featured organic chicken with sage-infused sweet corn and green beans.

Afterwards came a cheese dish pairing brie, honey-topped ricotta, and chevre with biscotti and bread.

Dessert. Yum. The only thing I can say is that I’ll either have to learn how to grill or find a guy who’s a master at grilling.  Grilled pound cake drizzled with caramel sauce paired with pecans, fresh (in season) blackberries, and grilled (in season) peaches. And yes, they all tasted better than they looked.

The stars of the event, though, were the farmers and producers who came to rub elbows with us plebeians (who paid to eat and rub elbows with them).  I met a young couple that drove three hours to attend the dinner who are part of a USDA-certified organic co-op, Green Field Farms.  The wife, Ruth, told us they were lucky that the rains didn’t affect their fields too much so they were able to plant their crops somewhat on time despite the heavy rains.  And I learned that zucchini plants are annuals.  She also told me how to make sauerkraut (a key ingredient to my all-time favorite sandwich, the Reuben).  I also met a young entrepreneurial couple that started their own food business called Fab Ferments, specializing in all things fermented. Kumbucha. Kvass. Kimchi. Kefir. Natto. Sauerkraut.  They had me at sauerkraut.  They exuded passion for making food using old fermenting techniques. I learned much about their philosophy in creating great food from their stories of travel, descriptions of the techniques employed in their kitchen and the local farmers with whom they work.  More art; less scientific method. One hundred percent TLC.

I walked out five pounds heavier from the smorgasbord of local food and with a few new connections. Next time I see beets in the market, I know just how far it traveled to reach my grocery basket. A hop, skip, and a jump. And just hours ago.

* Many of the vendors are listed in this brochure.


Feeling inspired to create deliciousness in your own kitchen?  Try these recipes.

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A marriage of season and locals

Months ago I began a search, looking for a perfect site which married two large facets of the local food movement: local produce; peak seasonal veggies and fruit.  Why?  Simply because seasonal produce tastes much better than off-season produce. And the less it travels, the less the produce loses nutrients and flavor.  So I wanted a website that could tell me when and where I could find local seasonal food.  Interestingly enough, a site which provided such information proved to be elusive.  Plenty of websites called themselves resources for such data, but none delivered the depth I was looking for.  Many had great references to local farmers, CSA programs, and guides.  Those that had CSA links did not have information on seasonal produce. Others talked about seasonal produce but had no links to local farmers.

Enter the hero of the story: the underused resource called your local state university’s extension office. They fielded a call from a random city girl with a hippie-locovorish request asking if they knew of any organization or website which provided in-depth information that intersected local markets and peak in-season produce.  I spoke with someone in the Agricultural office who said she’d check with others and get back to me.  Time passed. Thinking they had forgotten, my search continued, reaching out to other organizations I had discovered, and using social networks.

There’s nothing like traditional resources.*

The Ag office came through when I received an email yesterday telling me about a site which they thought fit my description.

What’s it called, you ask?  MarketMaker.  It is a project incubated by the University of Illinois (go Big Ten!) and spans much of the Midwest.  (Sorry Californians, you get the good weather, local produce, vineyards, sandy beaches…oh wait…I’m still envious. But you don’t have a site like this!)  The Ohio site is here.

Wonder what’s in season right now?  Cabbage, for one. So where can you get cabbage?  Well, click on your state from the national list, click on cabbage, and voila! A map with little dots representing farmers and/or their markets pops up. Pretty cool huh?  Now instead of wondering what you’ll get at your local farmer’s market, you can find out ahead of time, plan your meals, and then go to the market to get the in-season produce. You can set out several hours during the weekend to make your grandma’s famous cabbage rolls and impress your friends with your culinary genius.

So my search is over; now to search for other elusive items, which may or may not include the perfect husb–New York style pizza made in Ohio, Bigfoot, or unforgettably delicious falafel.

*(Remember books? The ones with actual paper made from trees? Yea. The extension office is like that. Still around; not obsolete despite the prevailing winds created by techie young ‘uns glued to their mobile devices who would likely be unable to identify a 3-hole puncher or a trapper keeper.)

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Eating your backyard

Transportation has given us the luxury of eating tropical fruits and expanding our palate beyond such American offerings of burgers and apple pie.  We enjoy California fruits and vegetable all year long, but what about finding edible plants a stone throw’s away from your front door?

Start learning by looking at this list compiled by Our Ohio.  Make some little bites of heaven with the Golden Child Raspberries you can grow just outside your door.

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