Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chestnuts Roasting

It's officially the Christmas Season and by now you've probably heard these lyrics somewhere: "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." I've always associated chestnuts with the holidays and I have many memories of being in New York City and Philadelphia, bundled up to the point where I could barely walk, rushing to get where I was going to get in from the cold, and smelling the roasty smoke of chestnuts on the grills of street vendors. It was a beautiful smell. Even the thought of that chestnut smoke makes my heart ache to visit Herald Square in December. Chestnuts are an "Up-North" thing, I thought.

My dad likes chestnuts a lot. He can't wait until they appear in the grocery stores and doesn't mind where they come from. He painstakingly carves little x's into the shells of each one before charring them on his BBQ grill. We always have them on Christmas and I admit they are the absolute last thing I ever thought would remotely be considered a local product. I almost fainted in Whole Foods this afternoon when I saw an enormous bin filled with Florida chestnuts.

But that's why I'm so glad I started this project. Writing this blog makes me keep my eyes open for the unexpected. It makes me try things and think about my food and the world in new ways. I learn things like this. Chestnuts come from Florida. Well, some of them do anyway. Right next to these homegrown chestnuts were red mesh bags of chestnuts imported all the way from Italy. There were also canned versions and a jarred chestnut cream that looked fancy and french.

I didn't buy any chestnuts today. The only reason why not is because chestnuts are quite perishable and must be refrigerated. I'm busy this week and won't be able to get to my parents' house to use their grill until next weekend. I would rather buy the chestnuts closer to when I plan to eat them in order to avoid waste and cluttering up my small refrigerator. I also want time to research some chestnut recipes. I've only ever had chestnuts roasted, but there are a million things you can do with them that are more creative than that. They are hugely popular in France and show up in the oddest of dishes where they are called marrons (also the name for the color of my hair). I think when I visited Paris a few years ago I recall seeing some sort of elaborate meringuey, chocolatey, chestnutty torte of some sort that was intriguing. In addition to desserts, chestnuts can be used in savory dishes. They are extremely versatile, so I want to see what I can come up with, but in the end I may just opt for plain. Plain is good. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

As I researched Florida Chestnuts, I found two growers who also take online orders, though it seems like the season is just closing up. I guess I discovered these a little too late. If you want some, they have plenty at the Fort Lauderdale Whole Foods.

Shamrock Square, in Monticello, Florida has an extremely informative website that will tell you all about Florida chestnuts. There are also some recipes and an interesting history. Turns out that American Chestnuts were once a staple of our diet and were common in American forests. Many people and animals depended on these trees for food and shelter until a blight caused by an invasive species wiped them all out. Finally, growers like Shamrock Square are helping the species make a comeback. Yet another important reason to eat local!

You can also order from Hillcrest Chestnuts in Lake City.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pompano Beach Green Market



Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, there is no CSA delivery this week and I decided to make a visit to the Pompano Beach Green Market, which is located at Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway in Pompano. Last year and the year before that I went once, so one could consider today my annual visit. Each year I hope it will get better, so I go, optimistic, and leave a little disappointed.

I think it's great that Pompano Beach has a green market at all. I really do. The market is in a very old section of Pompano, right along the train tracks, and it's appealingly quaint and picturesque. I like the atmosphere. When you visit the Pompano Green Market you really do get a sense of community spirit and I love that.

The market is tiny, but it tries. There is a live band playing and vendors selling homemade soaps, skin creams, a small selection of plants, crafts, books and one booth selling stone crabs, seafood and fish dip. Today, there were only two tents of fresh produce and of course (you know what I'm going to say) the majority of it was not from anywhere around here. This saddens me.

While there wasn't a lot of Florida produce there was some, which is a start. A friend of mine had recommended the booth run by the Indian lady. She has a larger variety of fruits and vegetables than the other produce vendor and more of her items are from around here. At certain points later in the season she will probably sell some items that she grows herself. Today she had local peppers, squash, zucchini, eggplant, green beans, okra and bok choy. I bought all of the above except okra, and she even threw in several free yellow squash for me. This vendor's wares looked fresh and were nicely displayed, even the ones from Honduras and Costa Rica (grumble grumble). While some of her fruits and vegetables were shipped from elsewhere, at least they were all tropical. She had a big pile of boniato which appeared to be of a much higher quality than that in the grocery store.

The other produce vendor was different. This vendor had a couple of the same items, but also had several Northern-style items like russet potatoes, a few, very standard varieties of apple and pears. I find better local variety than that at Whole Foods. I was disappointed in produce vendor two, although on a more positive note, produce vendor two did have some local tomatoes, but none of them were ripe. I'd rather have no tomato than a pink tomato. I can wait a few more weeks and I still have some cherry tomatoes left from last week's CSA box.

It took me less than ten minutes to zip through the Pompano Green Market. I liked the Indian lady's stand the best and was pleased that she offered some locally grown vegetables at extremely inexpensive prices. She told me they came from the Boynton area, so that's really close. I also liked the service she provided and I will be back later in the season to see what else she might have. Next time, I would also like to ask the seafood vendor about the origins of some of his seafood. If he makes his own smoked fish spread, I'll try some of that too. Unfortunately with smoked fish dip, a lot of places use a pre-made food service brand and try to pass it off as their own. Beware of this dirty trick.

The Pompano Green Market has a pleasant atmosphere and is a good place for a short, morning outing. There are locally grown items, but they are outnumbered by things grown out of state and out of the country, so you have to really pay attention to what you're buying and ask the vendors specific questions. While there are better farmer's markets much further south, the Pompano Green Market is a good start and Broward County's best, current option.

The Pompano Green Market runs until April 24th, every Saturday morning from 8am until 1pm.

Pompano Green Market Official Page on the Pompano Historical Society Site


Pompano Green Market on Local Harvest


The Pompano Historical Society Site - some really interesting info on local history in blog form. I really enjoyed this site and found it worth checking out, especially if you like learning about the unique culture and diversity of old Florida.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you all have a beautiful Thanksgiving holiday. Celebrate the harvest, the land, the farmers and the animals which provided your feast. May you eat everyday with compassion, mindfulness and gratitude. May every day be a day of thanks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Finished Roselle Tonic

I'm in love with the color. It's such a nice Autumny, holiday red.

Roselle Tonic



I've had roselle on my mind for a long time. I have had hibiscus tea before (remember Red Zinger?) and I am particularly fond of a Latin drink called Agua Fresca de Jamaica. In fact, that's the only name I've known it by and I get very excited when I find it on the menu in Mexican restaurants. I love Jamaica (pronounced Ha-MY-cuh, not like the island). It's a bit like fruit punch and maybe a little like cranberry juice. It's sweet-tart and refreshing. I knew that Jamaica came from the roselle hibiscus flower which grows well in tropical climates all over the world, but I didn't know where I could get any fresh. In Latin markets you can often find the dried calyces but they aren't local.

I was so excited last weekend when, included in my first CSA delivery, there was a bag of fresh roselle calyces, and a recipe for making roselle tonic, which is essentially a tisane made from the roselle and some spices with a little sweetener. I decided to make my own version and luckily I had the recipe to go by because I had no idea that you had to pull the sepals off of the seed ball. With all these calyces, sepals and seed balls I almost feel like I'm back in 10th grade biology again. The sepals are like hard petals. You can see in the picture above. Once you pull them off the green seed ball, you toss them in a pot of boiling water. I also included a few chunks of crystallized ginger and a cinnamon stick. I also decided to make use of one of my lemongrass stalks by chopping it up and throwing it in the pot too. The roselle and the lemongrass complement one another very nicely. I brought the whole thing to a boil and then turned off the heat and let it sit for about an hour. While it was steeping I stirred in some brown sugar. Last, I strained it into a glass pitcher and let it chill overnight in the refrigerator. This morning I poured a glass and it was wonderful - light and refreshing, sweet, tart, spicy and lemony. It tasted more like iced tea than the Agua Fresca de Jamaica I am familiar with. I'm almost certain they either make that from a mix or from larger amounts of the dried calyces, resulting in a more concentrated drink. I think I actually prefer my lighter version and it's such a lovely ruddy color.

Apparently roselle tonic is a popular Christmas drink all over the Caribbean, so it was perfect for this festive time of year. I think it will be lovely on my Thanksgiving table. Roselle is also a diuretic and may lower cholesterol. How exciting! I love when I find something that is healthy that actually tastes good and is pretty too. I read up on roselle and you can make syrups and jellies with it too. Maybe if I get more of it in the future, I'll try something else.

Here is roselle's Wikipedia entry.

A very detailed site all about roselle.

Monday, November 23, 2009

CSA So Far

Well I made a big Sunday dinner yesterday which included some of my share. I have to admit to you that I did nothing wild, exciting, daring or original with my produce yet. I didn't even make the tomato stewed green beans. You know what I did? I steamed them. And I made corn on the cob. How boring am I? But sometimes I like my vegetables plain, so they taste like themselves and local, organic veggies have more flavor and depth than their wilted, limp cousins in the grocery store. It's been a while since I've had a just-picked anything so I've been relishing the vegetables in their purest, most unadorned states so far. This morning I actually ate leftover, cold green beans out of the container while standing in front of the open fridge. I also popped a cherry tomato into my mouth as if it were a doughnut hole. I didn't take pictures. You've all seen a steamed green bean before.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My First Delivery!

Yesterday I received my first delivery and look at what a bounty it is. All I need is a cornucopia! Can you believe this is only a half share? (CSA shares come in half or full.) Since it's just me and my husband a half share is more than enough. We get a huge amount of vegetables and other goodies each week during the growing season. This week we got a mixture of strange and familiar, though mostly familiar and I tend to really love when they include unusual items that challenge my palate and cooking skills. In our box we got (clockwise from left): cherry tomatoes, red leaf lettuce, corn, callaloo, lemongrass, green beans, a red flower that has many names but which I call Jamaica (more on that later), and an avocado which I am determined to enjoy when it gets ripe. There is also some dill hiding in there too. I plan to make a big salad with a buttermilk dill dressing. I'll definitely do some coconut callaloo rice and my imagination is all awhir about what I can do with lemongrass. So far, I've been cracking open the stalks and smelling them. Lemongrass makes for great aromatherapy. It kind of smells like Pledge, but I mean that in a good way. It also reminds me of the lemon lollipops I used to get at the bank when I was little. The items I was happiest to receive were the green beans and tomatoes. I stew the green beans in a lemony tomato sauce and eat them as a meal on their own. It's a middle eastern recipe I learned from my family. I'll show you how to make it too. I'm just happy to get some tomatoes with flavor. Last summer, when tomatoes weren't in season down here so much, there was a tomato blight up north. The tomatoes in the grocery store were scarce and the ones they did manage to import from God knows where, were hard, tasteless and pink; not fit to eat. I didn't think it was worth it, so I haven't had a good tomato since I was in the Chesapeake region in August and got some of their local crop which hadn't been harmed by the blight. I think I'll probably eat these tomatoes raw like little candies, although my mother mentioned to me that she had some excellent cherry tomatoes in Napa last summer which were stir fried in olive oil and balsamic syrup. That sounds tempting too. We'll see. Luckily I have plenty!

Friday, November 20, 2009

I'm Still Here

Tomorrow is the start of CSA season! Tomorrow afternoon I will go pick up my first box of locally grown fruits, vegetables, herbs, roots and fungi. I list all of those things because you just never know what you're going to get each week and the last CSA season in which I participated, I received all of the above. For me, the waiting for the deliveries to start feels like waiting for Christmas. I guess that makes today Christmas Eve! I'm absolutely beside myself with excitement because I plan to use whatever is in my box tomorrow to create some exciting dishes for Thanksgiving and it's been far too long since I've gorged myself on fresh Swiss Chard. I'm hoping for some of that, but any fresh greens make me happy.

Once I get home and get everything sorted out, I will photograph the contents of this week's delivery. Then I will post and explain everything, including how a CSA works for those of you who may not be familiar with what it is.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Martha Stewart is a Temperist

I am mildly outraged. This afternoon I was watching Martha Stewart, who has had several farmers and culinary artisans on her program in the past year touting the local food movement. Today Martha's guest was Liz Thorpe of Murray's Cheese in New York City. Ms. Thorpe has recently written a book called The Cheese Chronicles which discusses cheeses from all over America. I plan on ordering the book immediately to see what it says about our fair state. As Ms. Thorpe mentioned that wonderful and unique cheeses are now produced in all fifty states Martha Stewart recoiled and said: "EVEN IN FLORIDA????"

No, she did not just say that, I thought to myself. How dare Martha Stewart?! Why on earth would she say something like that? What did her reaction imply? Why didn't she say "Even in South Dakota???" What does Martha think we are down here? A bunch of Kraft Singles eating culinary heathens? Come on Martha. Get with it. Why wouldn't cheese be made in Florida? Of course artisan cheese is made in Florida and while Martha Stewart may be shocked to hear this, I think South Florida in particular has one of the most diverse, exciting and thriving local food communities in the country. Locavores down here, as I'm learning, have a wider variety of edible resources and actually have more options than their counterparts in temperate climates. And pfft, we get more fresh mangoes and mahi-mahi than we even know what to do with and yes, Martha we do have local cheese.

Winter Park Dairy in Winter Park produces an artisan bleu cheese, which is available for order. I know I'll be ordering some immediately. You can see it in the photograph above, which I borrowed from their thorough and detailed website.


You can also order freshly made, local, artisan goat cheese from Redland Mediterranean Organics. I've had it and I know how fantastic it is. They make several varieties of cheese.

Those are but two examples of Florida cheeses.

Martha Stewart, stop privileging the temperate climate and dissing Florida. The tropics are where it's at.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Callaloo



I really like Callaloo. It might be the name - it sounds a bit silly and a bit like a howl. The first time I ever had it, I was in Jamaica. In Jamaica, Callaloo is practically the national dish, right after Jerk and the leafy green is extremely popular all over the Caribbean where it is cooked in a stew of the same name. Most people who eat Callaloo enjoy it in stew form or mixed into coconut rice. Both recipes are delicious. Until two years ago when I joined my CSA, I had never seen fresh Callaloo outside of Jamaica. Here in Florida we have a robust and thriving population of people from all of what we call "The Islands." These people do a good job of maintaining their rich and diverse cultures here in South Florida and our grocery stores do a fair job at stocking products from the Bahamas, Jamaica and other islands. I enjoy the Jamaican section of Publix where one can find all sorts of interesting, imported products. They sell Callaloo in cans. Canned Callaloo is as disgusting as canned spinach. I wouldn't eat it if you paid me. I have never understood why, if we have such a big population of people from the Island nations living in our area, we can't sell fresh Callaloo in the grocery stores. What's even more ridiculous is that Callaloo is a hearty crop and grows very well here. It's nutritious, keeps well and tastes good, so why is it so hard to find?

As I anxiously await the return of my CSA box in less than a month, one of the things I most look forward to is Callaloo. I like it better than collards, turnip greens, mustard greens and kale. It cooks faster and has a better flavor than most other greens I've tried. It's only a little bitter. I would describe it as a cross between spinach and collard greens. I prefer it sauteed in olive oil, fresh garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. I either enjoy it plain or I stir it into rice cooked in coconut milk.

Last week I finally got my Callaloo fix from the Bee Heaven Farm booth at the Edible Garden Festival. I can't tell you how excited I was. Since I hadn't had it in almost two years, I opted for the simple sautee. It was instant gratification.

First I pulled off all the leaves (you can eat the stems, but I don't like them as much). Then rinse them very well in a tub of water. I rinse them a few times because I find a lot of bugs and dirt in fresh greens. Then you just heat up a swirl of olive oil and throw the wet leaves in. Stir them and add some chunks of fresh garlic, sea salt and pepper to taste and some hot peppers. I have dried, but a little fresh scotch bonnet would be really good if you can manage the heat. Stiry fry until the leaves wilt and then add in about a 1/2 cup (or a little more) of water. Cook the leaves in the water for about ten minutes (stirring) or until the water cooks away. I find ten minutes is the best amount of time because the leaves get tender but not overcooked and they still retain their emerald sheen. A lot of people cook Callaloo much, much longer, but I don't like to eat food the color of Army pants. When it's done, check for seasonings and eat it up. I have to warn you though. Callaloo suffers from major shrinkage, so a gigantic bundle of raw greens will only make about one or two servings once it's cooked.

I think we should start a petition to make Publix carry fresh Callaloo. I also think the plant would make a good addition to home gardens, though I searched and searched and found it almost impossible to find Callaloo seeds for sale. Maybe Farmer Margie can tell us where she gets her seeds and give us some advice on growing it in our yards.