Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
In honor of National Coffee Day today, I'd like to give you a sneak preview of two stories I'm working on.
First of all, the one thing that all Locavores around the US complain about the most (except the ones in Hawaii) is the lack of local coffee. It just doesn't really grow well in most American climates. The only American coffee we have is Kona from Hawaii, which is good, but expensive and comes from so far that it may as well come from another continent. It sort of doesn't count. The other closest coffee is Blue Mountain from Jamaica - another country yes, but good coffee that's only about an hour flight away, as opposed to a thirteen hour flight to Hawaii.
Lament no more Florida Locavores. We have local coffee. We are the luckiest locavores in America! Yes, you heard me. Coffee is grown and roasted right here in Davie, Florida. I'm not kidding you. There's not a lot of it, but you can get your hands on it. Right now the only place that sells the Davie coffee, from a company called Wagon Wheel Coffee Roaster, is at a small fruit stand in Fort Lauderdale on McNab off of Cypress (in the Pine Crest area) called "By Their Fruits" (I'm writing about them soon too).
I was in By Their Fruits a few weeks ago when I happened on the coffee. I had heard of it before, and had attempted to contact the coffee farmer himself, but to no avail. He didn't answer my emails or phone calls. The owner of By Their Fruits knows him and sells his coffee. She assured me that his experimental coffee crops had been a success and that the coffee in the bags was indeed grown right here from local beans and not simply roasted here with imported beans. I told her I had tried to contact the farmer and she took my information to pass on to him, but as yet, I still haven't heard from him. Maybe he'll read this and call or write. I really want to visit his farm and see his plants and roasting equipment.
The bag I bought pictured above cost me only $7.99 and it's delicious! It works for me and I've definitely enjoyed it. I'm enjoying it right now in honor of National Coffee Day!
Wagon Wheel Coffee Roasters in Davie
By Their Fruits Produce
Monday, September 28, 2009
I'd like to state for the record that I have now officially lived because I've had farm fresh bananas. And wow. Yes, they really are that good. This is coming from someone who doesn't like bananas much outside of bread. To be exact, they were Orinoco Bananas. Kind of reminds me of that old Enya song from forever ago "Orinoco Flow" except my new version would be "Eat Away, Eat Away, Eat Away" instead of "Sail Away." I know, I'm corny.
Also, boiled salted jackfruit seeds are yum. They sort of reminded me of chestnuts, in theory. I'll write more on the food later.
I took so many pictures yesterday and as I'm working today (having lunch right now) I'll have to get them off the camera and all formatted nicely before I can show you some.
In the meantime, I'd like you all to know that a tiny little piece I wrote regarding my passion for home canning can be found on page 40 of the October issue of Real Simple magazine. The piece describes an experience I had around mid-summer where I raided my pantry and stood there and ate almost an entire jar of my friend's homemade apple butter with an iced tea spoon. My friend lives in Asheville where apples are local and like me, she's really into preserving her own fruits. When she came down she brought me some jars of pickles, jellies, chutneys and apple butter. Everyone needs a friend like this.
Also, it's Yom Kippur today, so it's probably best that I refrain from writing about food any more. If you celebrate this solemn holiday, I wish you an easy fast and a wonderful year to come.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
You'll need a pound of tomatillos for a small dish of salsa. I had ten, but one was rotten inside, so I ended up with nine. The world did not end and the salsa was perfect. This is such a flexible sort of dish. I didn't even use a recipe. You don't have to measure anything. You just add as much or as little as you like. Tomatillos are not, by the way, little green tomatoes at all, but their own independent kind of fruit that is related to the tomato, yet not a tomato. I like how they wear a lovely lacy petticoat to protect their pretty green skin. This is formed by the calyx of the plant's flower and it has to be removed before the tomatillos are cooked an eaten. As you husk them, you will find that the tomatillos are extremely sticky and the sap will get all over your fingers. It's harmless and rinses right off. Other ingredients you will need if you want to make this salsa are: tomatillos, jalapenos, white onion, oil, salt and pepper, a lime, garlic to taste, a little bit of red onion and a handful of cilantro if you like it. Some people are genetically wired to despise cilantro. It tastes funny to them. I am not one of these people. I can't get enough of the stuff, so I used a big handful.
Cut everything up and throw it in an oiled roasting pan. I halved the tomatillos because it seemed like it would make life easier once they were roasted and needed to go into the food processor. I was right. Also in the pan is one, cut up white onion and a jalapeno which has been seeded and rid of its white pith. You should always test your jalapenos before adding them to recipe. I take a little taste and I do this because all jalapenos are different. Some aren't hot at all while others will singe your eyebrows off. This will determine how much jalapeno you should add to your recipe. This particular one was so hot I started choking and needed some chips to cool my tongue, so I only added one and it was plenty. The end result was still a pretty picante salsa verde. Removing the seeds and white part also helps to ease the heat, but it didn't do that much in this case. Somewhere I heard that chiles are hotter in the fall. This appears to be the case.
Once it cooled off I put it in the food processor. The tomatillos had shrunk enough that I was able to use the mini-prep without hauling out the heavy artillery of the Cuisinart. I also added a minced clove of garlic, juice of half a lime, some red onion and a hanfdul of cilantro with salt and pepper to taste. It seemed a tad acidic so I threw in a dash of agave nectar too. Then I whizzed it around.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
This morning I had to run some errands and I stopped by the Fort Lauderdale Whole Foods to see what local produce they might be carrying. There's not a lot to be had this time of year, but I know that Whole Foods always makes an effort to carry some local products and I was able to find a couple pleasant surprises. First I noticed some lovely yellow squash from Oaks Farms in Naples. I love yellow squash. My mother has always sauteed it in bacon until it gets very soft, brown and caramelized and it's delicious. You can also make squash casseroles and fritters with it or shred it up and eat it raw in salads.
Next I found a variety of exciting peppers from Southern Specialties in Homestead. These got me in the mood to make salsa. The poblanos were beautiful. I like to rub them with oil and roast them slowly on the grill until the skin chars. Then I like to use them as an accompaniment to grilled or roasted meats. They're particularly yummy as a burger topping.
Last, I was thrilled to find local tomatillos. I had no idea they grew down here. I've always been much more of a salsa verde kind of girl, though I've never tried to make it. I think these tomatillos, along with the peppers, were just the inspiration I needed to try inventing my own green salsa recipe. I can't wait to get into the kitchen this weekend when I don't have to work.
These few ingredients gave me the idea for a simple, light, local meal. I'm going to grilled up some Key West pink shrimp or some locally caught mahi-mahi, top the seafood I choose with a tomatillo salsa and a Florida grown avocado and serve it alongside sauteed yellow squash. How good does that sound? Now all I have to do is come up with an idea for dessert.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
That said, I wanted to wish everyone a Happy First Day of Fall! This is practically a holiday for me. Fall is my favorite season. I just love it, but at the same time, this is the time of year when I start to get really depressed about not living up North. My heart aches for chilly days, the smell of burning leaves and the tang of spiced cider. When we were little my parents used to take my sister and me to a cider mill in Northern New Jersey called Van Riper's Farms, to get apples, pumpkins and hot cinnamon doughnuts. I remember jack o lanterns and corn mazes, bushel baskets of Macintoshes and bird houses made out of gourds. So when October rolls around, I start longing. It's like a kind of Season Affective Disorder I think.
For a long time, after I first moved down here in 2000, I tried to recreate an artificial version of a northern fall. I notice the malls and stores do this too. Just go into any Starbucks and you'll see maple leaves and pumpkin spiced lattes everywhere. I'd scatter fake red leaves all over the house and set out decorations that reminded me of northern falls. It really only served to make me more depressed and it's a tad creepy with all those plastic pumpkins and crepe leaves.
I don't want to live like that - always wanting to be somewhere else. I want to love where I am and to bloom where I'm planted as they say. A few years ago I read Isabel Allende's novel Daughter of Fortune. In that book, there was one small paragraph that stood out for me and I've never forgotten it. The book takes place a long time ago when Europeans were colonizing and settling in Chile in the Southern Hemisphere where the seasons are opposite from ours. In the book, the Europeans refused to adapt to the topsy turvy seasons, so in January, in the middle of a Chilean summer, they were used to it being winter, and they'd all wear heavy clothes and bundle up even though it was hot. Now this is not even what the book was ultimately about at all, but that one little thing stood out to me because I realized that is exactly what I was doing too, both literally and metaphorically, and frankly, it's pretty silly.
Just because Autumn means something else in South Florida than it does in a temperate climate, doesn't mean that our more subtle version of the season doesn't have a lot of things to love too. I want to figure out what these things are. I want to redefine Autumn for myself. I want to embrace a tropical fall.
So what does Autumn mean for South Florida? What happens here in the fall? What new treats does fall bring down here? What can we look forward to over the next few months?
For one thing, it will soon be lobster and stone crab season again. As the farmer's markets up North shutter their doors to the approaching sleet and slush, our markets will just be opening. The humidity will dry up pretty soon. I know right now all of our area farmers, both big and small, commercial and private are figuring out what to plant and readying the ground for new seeds and plants. In a couple weeks it will be time for planting and our growing season will take off.
What else does fall bring in South Florida? How do you define a Florida Autumn? What other things can we look forward to after today's Autumnal Equinox at 5:18 pm? Leave me some comments and let me know what the season means to you and how you've redefined it. What is your favorite thing about South Florida between now and December? What are the best fishes, fruits and vegetables that come in season during our fall?
I can't wait to hear from you. Happy Fall.
Yahoo News had an informative article this morning all about the scientifics of the Equinox. I found it really fascinating.
The above, gorgeous picture of the red sea grape leaves on palm fronds came from microgardener's Flickr photo stream. I just thought it was beautiful and really captured the season perfectly. I thoroughly enjoyed looking at this talented photographer's nature photos. You can see them all here from their original source.
Monday, September 21, 2009
I haven't experienced any rosemary disasters. I just love this herb. My favorite use for it involves roasts. Any kind of a roast anything is pretty much delicious with rosemary. Last night I made a roasted chicken with rosemary and lemons. I've used it for pork tenderloin, beef and I especially love rosemary roasted potatoes. I always add a few sprigs to my tomato based pasta sauces. You should too. I've also used it for scented sachets, holiday decoration and I've hung bunches of it in my closet to repel moths without harsh, stinky chemicals. I adore the smell of rosemary and if I have a cold I like to boil it and inhale the steam. It's like a milder version of eucalyptus.
Rosemary is rumored to have several health benefits which you can read about here.
This site provides a detailed article about growing rosemary from a cutting or a small plant. Rosemary is very well suited for growing here in our climate.
Friday, September 18, 2009
There are several honey producers all over the state of Florida. In fact, Tupelo honey, which most people agree is the world's best tasting honey (but really how can you even decide something like that?), comes from Northern Florida. It's not 100 mile local, but at least it's in-state. Also, I am very fond of it. Central Florida, citrus growing territory, also has several honey producers. Up there, bees make honey from the orange blossoms and it has a distinctly light, floral taste which makes it one of the most popular commercial varieties. Orange blossom honey from Florida is shipped all over the world. I don't prefer it.
Down here in South Florida, from Palm Beach to the Keys, we enjoy many unique varieties of honey due to the diversity of plants which thrive in our area. One notable variety is Sea Grape honey. Lime Honey, made by bees who frequent lime groves, is also delicious, but beware of producers who might add flavored oils to enhance the flavor. I don't know why they do that because plain lime honey is wonderful on its own. My favorite local honeys are Saw Palmetto Honey and (get ready for it) Avocado Honey. I like these two because I prefer a darker, richer honey. The more it looks like molasses, the more I'll want to lick it out of the jar with a long handled spoon. I tend to like the more complex, smokier flavors with faint suggestions of bitterness and these two fit that description. Some people though, may be turned off by these flavors and would prefer something gentler like Jamaican Dogwood and Gallberry which are also very good. I know because I've sampled them all.
There are so many local bee-keepers who sell their wares. Some produce honey on a large scale and some are much smaller or even private affairs. In the past few months I've sampled as many different local honeys as I could find and there are still many more to go (but honey sampling is fun so I have no intention to stop).
Here are some of my favorites:
Bee Natural Honey from Homestead.
Bees N the Keys from Key Largo (with hives up and down the island chain). These guys might be my favorite, but it's hard to really pick. I tried all of their varieties at the Fairchild Food & Garden festival last Spring and they were very patient with me wanting to eat everything in sight.
BuzznBee from Gainesville. Not 100 Mile, but in-state and very good quality. BuzznBee honey is easy to find at Whole Foods and I found their honeys to be mild, yet floral and flavorful. Some honey is so mild that it has no taste, but BuzznBee had a bright flavor that went nicely with winter strawberries.
Redland Organics from the Redlands. I had to mention Redland Organics. Honestly, their raw honey was my favorite, but it's pretty hard to come by. I got plenty of it in my CSA box two winters ago when I was a member, which is how I know about it. None is available for sale now, but I know they have honey shares available in the winter, though I think it's too late to sign up now. Don't worry. They sell their wonderful goods, compiled from several area farms, at farmer's markets. Come January, I have a feeling they'll have some of their honey for sale along with their other delights. If you can find it, make sure you buy a big jar. You won't regret it.
Here is another site called the Honey Locator, which lists honey producers by state. I think that most of the companies they list are larger, more commercial operations, though the site could still prove useful.
No matter where you get your honey and no matter if you're Jewish or not, I wish you the sweetest, healthiest, happiest New Year.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Broiled Avocado halves stuffed with Betel-leaf Farm Egg Scramble
and Nubian Goat Cheese Topping
Bee Heaven Farm Smoked Eggs
Boiled Salted Jakfruit Seeds
Roasted Rosemary-scented Roots Medley
Sautéed Vegetable Amaranth (Callaloo) with scallions
Allspice Muffins with Nubian Goat Honey Labneh
Honeyed Seasonal Farm Fruits
Minted Passion Fruit Ice Tropical Juice selection ~ Cas, Passionfruit & Carambola
Fresh Lemongrass Iced Tea
Cost: Adults $28; Children 6-12 $14; Children 3-5 $5; 2 and under free
Please reserve early – Attendance limited to 60.
Proceeds help support their farm internship program and local family farms.
If you want to go, reserve your spot pretty much right now, or at least before September 22nd. You may go here to do so and I hope to see you there so together we can figure out what on earth a Jakfruit seed is and taste some Cas juice, whatever that is.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Go HERE for everything you ever wanted to know about longans including how to grow them in our area.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
I've written before about how much I love and miss apples, about how apples define the season for me and about how dearly I miss Autumn. Living in an alternative climate has forced me to redefine a lot of the ways in which I view the passing of a year, how I eat and who I am in relation to the natural world around me. There are things about life in the tropics that I am passionate about, but still, I pine. Still, I want to pick apples from trees at the start of a new school year. I want. I want. I want.
But yesterday, I had an unexpected gift.
I'm not a student anymore. Now, I'm the teacher and I'm lucky enough to teach on what has to be the most beautiful college campus in South Florida. I teach an early morning class with a two hour break before my early afternoon class. During those free hours I like to stroll the grounds which are really like one enormous botanical garden. I enjoy looking at the diversity of tropical plant life.
Yesterday morning I noticed a small commotion of students around a tree where a groundskeeper in a little golf cart, was handing out some sort of fruit and the students were absolutely overjoyed about it. Really, you have never seen a bunch of eighteen to twenty year olds so excited about something. I had to see what was going on.
The groundskeepers were harvesting from a carambola tree. You probably know the carambola as a starfruit. Some of the fruits had to be cut down from the tree, while others were picked up off the ground, a little dirty, but sweetly ripe and fragrant. There were plenty of them to go around and I was lucky enough to receive one too. The groundskeeper made sure that he dutifully told each student to wash their carambola before eating and students rushed to water fountains to rinse the soil away before eating the fruit whole, out of hand. The brief event took on such a celebratory, exuberant energy. I felt so lucky and so joyful to be a part of it; to be part of the whole back to school excitement. With starfruit. How very wonderful and how very unique to this strange, different place where I live.
The carambola, as the fruit is known in Spanish, is called a starfruit because when sliced horizontally, the pieces are shaped like perfect, five-pointed stars. This has made the carambola a great novelty and the fruit is very popular as a garnish, because, of course, who wouldn't want stars studding their fruit salads, desserts, cocktails and buffet platters? The star fruit though, is more than just a garnish. It is a fruit that is delicious and versatile in its own right, just like an apple. Also like apples, there are many, many varieties of carambola, each with its own unique flavor and uses.
In South Florida, where the trees do very well in home gardens, there are two main kinds of starfruit: tart and sweet. The tart variety is mainly used for juice and makes a wonderful alternative to orange juice, which it is similar to. The sweet variety, which is slightly smaller and darker, is best for eating plain. In South Florida the most common tart variety is the Golden Star, while Arkin (named for Alan?) is the sweet kind you're most likely to find around here. Both are good. For more on these, visit this site which also has some interesting recipes.My starfruit yesterday appears to have been an Arkin. It was very sweet and had a delightful candied scent and flavor reminiscent of jasmine or orange blossom. The skin was waxy and completely edible and the flesh was crisp, yet delicate. Carambolas have a gentle, never bitter, strong or overpowering citrus flavor. There were a few seeds, some of which I have saved for my future orchard. One day when I get a house my future carambola tree can live beside my future avocado tree.
Until yesterday, I had never seen people eating carambola out of hand, like apples. I had only seen them sliced and spangled over various confections, always a decoration, a supporting player and never the "star" of the dish. Yesterday, at school, I think I may have fallen a little in love. No, we don't have apples here in the tropics, but maybe apples are a little cliche anyway. What a tired image of the apple for the teacher. This teacher needs a carambola, an odd, little candy-smelling fruit; a star shining in a system of round, planet-like oranges and apples. It's perfectly South Florida and it's something we only have here (starfruit trees don't do well north of about Martin County).
The famous line from Song of Solomon demands "comfort me with apples." Here in the tropics, from now on I think I'll request to be "comforted with starfruit."
More on the Carambola:
A Warning! Starfruit contains the same compound as grapefruit which causes the effects of certain medications to be magnified in the body. If your medicine says not to take it with grapefruit, avoid the carambola as well.
If you have kidney problems you should also not eat this fruit as it contains small amounts of Oxalic Acid. Normally this is safe, but in people with compromised kidney function this can cause renal failure.
Information about growing your own carambola.
Here is a List of Carambola Recipes from Fairchild Gardens.
I like to eat my starfruit sliced in a green salad and I've also had this served with a vinaigrette made from starfruit juice. Camellia Street Grille, in Everglades City, which is one of my favorite restaurants for enjoying a true, authentic taste of South Florida, serves this salad and it's heaven. The restaurant is currently on vacation until October 1st, so you'll have to wait a month to try it.
A commenter on the avocado post recommends a starfruit and Lula Avocado salad, which can't be bad either.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Now let me explain. I wasn't being a snob. It wasn't the clear heel store or the fact that Oakland Park between 95 and Dixie isn't exactly the most picturesque location in Fort Lauderdale. If I can get a deal on something good and if they carried local produce at reasonable prices, I don't care if I have to go to the worst area in town to get it. Oakland Park, by the way, is definitely not the worst area in town anyway, it's just ugly. My apprehension stemmed from the common practice around here, which I've complained about before, of places calling themselves "Farmer's Markets" because it sounds good and then not carrying produce from farms around here. These places have the exact same stuff as Publix for the most part and there's nothing about them that's like a real farmer's market. I had a feeling Alexa would be similar.
I was right. Of course I was right. Alexa didn't impress me. First impressions are important and my first impression when I walked in the door was that the place swarmed with gnats and smelled like I'd stepped into a bottle of vinegar. The smell seemed to be coming from rotten fruits and vegetables and was worsened by poor ventilation. On a positive note, their prices were low and they had a large selection. Unfortunately, the only local offering was a box of "Florida" avocados. They called them that. They did not specify the variety, but the things were as big and hard as bowling pins.
I don't want to dis someone's business, especially not a new business. I know things can be rough in the beginning, but I just didn't get the sense that Alexa Produce was trying to be a real farmer's market. To me, the place felt thrown together hastily to profit from the current, resurging popularity of farm stands. There are a lot of places like this popping up all over and they're great in terms of low prices and variety. I also like to see small businesses competing with gigantic corporations. I am a fan of small businesses. But places like this are terrible for people, like me, who want to promote things grown in Florida and who want to buy their goods in season from farmers in the community where I live. I'd absolutely be willing to make a special trip to a place like that, and in fact, I have driven over an hour to the markets in Homestead. I'm not at all willing to make a special trip to a separate store to buy the same exact goods I could get at Publix.
Sorry Alexa, but that's the most positive thing I can say right now. In the interest of fairness, I'll try back in a month and see if things have improved.
Alexa Produce, 79 E Oakland Park Blvd, Fort Lauderdale.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Did you know that a Florida company dominates the world's watercress market? I had no idea. To be honest, watercress is something I don't have a lot of experience with. It wasn't something we ate in our family and I remember as a child reading about frilly English teas with watercress sandwiches and wondering very much what it was and where I could get some. When I was twelve I made friends with a girl whose mother threw lavish dinner parties complete with cloth napkins, real china, flower arrangments and place cards. One time they invited me to one of these dinners and I distinctly remember my thrill when a watercress salad was served. Even the word watercress is pretty. I certainly didn't know it was grown in Florida. I think I pictured it clustered in clear, bracingly cold northern brooks. That, however, is not the case. Watercress is grown here in Florida, up in Fellsmere where there are no rocky, glacial streams. This revelation has made me very happy, because I like watercress, even without it's snooty associations. Watercress is good and I prefer its delicate taste in salads over the bitter snap of arugula. Coincidentally, last month when we had the BBQ where one neighbor brought us fifteen pounds of dolphin, another neighbor made a spectacular watercress salad. I asked her for the recipe and she said she didn't have one. She just combined the cress with slices of yellow pepper, fennel, red onion and sliced strawberries. She then dressed it with a simple vinaigrette made with strawberry puree, raspberry vinegar, plain yogurt, olive oil and salt and pepper. The combination was unusual and unexpected, definitely wonderful. I highly recommend it and now even more so because the watercress is local (not a hundred mile local, but in-state local which is my current definition for the purposes of this blog).
Here is an article about B & W Quality Growers where the watercress comes from.
Here is an article from Bon Appetit magazine about watercress in general with tips on choosing and storing the greens. This is also where I got the above photograph.
If you would like to purchase watercress, which doesn't appear to have a particular season and is available year round, I see it in Whole Foods' produce section every time I'm in there. Please correct me in a nice way if I'm wrong about the whole watercress not having a season thing. I'm interested in how that works and this is a new, fairly unfamiliar food for me.
If anyone has any favorite watercress recipes or ways that they like to eat it, please share in the comments section.