Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 - Happy New Year!

It's that time of year again. Yep, you know, the New Year's resolutions. I'm going to the gym everyday, I'll swim, jog, bike -and possibly meditate, regularly. I am going to totally reorganize my life and in my spare time learn how to speak three foreign languages fluently -and take that wood working class which should help me in my several planned volunteer efforts. Did I mention a knitting class?

If any of this sounds familiar -or if you've found medication to control this kind of obsession, you may realize that these frenetic, multi-faceted types of resolutions generally go down in flames, or just get slowly washed away in the tides of a busy year. After quite a number of decades with broken resolutions under my belt I came to the awareness that I need to focus on one thing (or one resolution) at a time.

For me 2015 is going to be the year of the Baltimore/Chesapeake Locavore. Being a chef and a restaurant owner, I think a lot about food: what we eat, how we eat, where we eat and where the food we eat comes from. The more I read and hear about all sorts of food-borne illnesses, the poor quality of much of the food produced by our centralized-industrial food system, and diseases resulting from an “affluenza diet”, the more firmly I believe the only answer lies in rebuilding our own local food supply and local food economy. 

So my resolution involves setting myself up to live and eat in a more local manner. I'm trying to keep it simple - and it's just a small start - but I came up with three steps for myself.

1 - Shop regularly at my farmers' market or local independent grocer. This helps keep farmers in business and precious land out of development. Recent studies have found that locally grown food, eaten in season, is better for our health - and the health of our community. The money stays local and like Dolly Levi said in the play Hello Dolly, "Money is like manure... it does no good unless you spread it around and encourage things [like small farmers] to grow." It helps to put together a flexible menu plan and a flexible shopping list before I head off to the market. I can make changes along the way depending on availability, but I do not get overwhelmed at the market with the many choices I encounter.

2 - Have a regular shared common table meal. I've been thinking about my mom and grandmother Gertie, and how there was always a hot meal on the table where family, extended family and friends would meet for good local food and good company. Lately I find myself with too little time spent around a common table with friends and conviviality. It only makes sense that if I am going to go to the farmer's market to gather local food to cook a meal, it should be for a meal shared with others. I'll start off with once a week and see where I go from there. 

3 - Plan to grow at least three edible items this coming growing season. If I'm going to dive into this locavore lifestyle I believe it is important to grow some of my own. And I don't need a lot of land. It could be a window box, a five-gallon bucket, or a small backyard plot. You can grow just about anywhere. All you really need is a little sunlight, some dirt and some water! Just some herbs, cherry tomatoes, and pole beans grown on the balcony is a fine start. For me, watching plants grow is witnessing the awesome miracle of nature up close. It slows me down a bit and reminds me where, and who, I am in the big scheme of things.

So nothing earth shattering this year... Just a little resolution to depend on my local farmers for substance, and to spend my time sharing locavore delicacies with others. Wish me luck! 

- And a Happy Locavore New Year to you all!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Full Quiver Farm in Hampton Roads

Next stop on the New Chesapeake Kitchen tour was to Suffolk, Virginia to Full Quiver Farm where Bonnie North and I met farmers Scott and Alison Wilson. The Wilsons are part of a new breed of Chesapeake farmers. They did not inherit the farm from a long line of ancestral farmers, or spend their formative years in 4-H, but rather, had very successful careers in the high-tech world, he as a web designer and she as a graphic artist, skills that have been instrumental in their farm business, but more about that later.

Photo courtesy of Full Quiver Farm
The Wilsons were leading very busy lives in the world of business while at the same time starting a family of their own. As their first four children were growing up Scott & Alison were constantly concerned with the various health (or maybe un-health) conditions the kids were experiencing, from persistent earaches to asthma.

As they read and learned more about how our (industrial) food was grown and raised all the signs pointed to food as an integral part in their children’s illnesses. What’s a high-tech couple to do? Well, Scott & Alison made a series of life-altering decisions that resulted the now well-known and very successful Full Quiver Farm.

In doing so they laid out a vision and clearly defined their goals:
  1. Begin to build a family business where all children from the young to the old can be involved in real, meaningful work. Give children more access to the outdoors and large open spaces for plenty of exercise, fresh air, and sunshine.
  2. Eat healthier and more responsibly by growing most of our own food. Raise our own vegetables and meat in a natural and environmentally friendly way.
  3. Provide fresh meat and vegetables to health conscious consumers, who are looking for a locally and naturally grown alternative to the conventional fair found at the grocery store.
In 2003 they moved out of the suburbs to a ranch home on 25 acres in Suffolk, Virginia and started trying their hands at raising free-range poultry according to Joel Salatin's methods. Utilizing the skills they brought with them Alison and Scott were well poised to launch a sound marketing plan. Alison created attractive, professional brochures and offered to give free talks at local libraries educating folks on the importance of healthier eating and "re-learning how to cook." She promotes utilizing what we often think of as "low end cuts" of meats by crock pot and slow-cooking methods that bring the highest nutrition for the price point: "If you want to eat organic and healthy you will need to see that chicken a little differently."

Their farming philosophy focuses upon several key points:

Photo courtesy of Full Quiver Farm
  • Grown locally with integrity, not diesel trucked halfway across the country
  • Eat fresh green pasture, nothing green grows in a metal building
  • Fresh feed, ground and mixed locally, not old stale feed that sits and becomes rancid
  • Grown outdoors in the sunshine, not in big metal buildings where tons of manure reeks with ammonia fumes... unhealthy
  • You get to talk to and have a relationship with the farmer/steward that produces your food... Not just have blind faith that the stuff in the cellophane package in the supermarket is OK to eat
  • Our farm enhances the environment. Compost and manure nourishes our pastures and gardens to help grow organic vegetables. We don't stink up the air and pollute the water with giant manure lagoons
  • Our farm enhances people, providing a means to raise healthy, faithful and responsible children for our next generation
  • We firmly believe that our health depends on the health and quality of life of the food we eat.
Healthy, happy animals = healthy happy humans!

Within 2 years the Wilsons had added dairy and beef cattle, and pork. By 2007, a mere 4 years on the farm, the operation had proven so successful that both Scott and Alison left their careers completely behind to devote all their energy and time to Full Quiver and to raising their children to be healthy in both body and spirit.

Full Quiver sells at local farmers' markets and operates a Buying Club through which customers can pre-order and pick up from a number of locations in the area. They offer beef, which Alison warns usually sells out immediately when they get it back from the butcher, pork, including a variety of homemade sausages, fresh brown eggs, pastured chicken and turkeys.

There are quite a number of folks in our Chesapeake region starting out in small-scale production of produce and animal products, but the Wilson’s had the jump on some of the others due to their backgrounds in the high-tech world. Blending old world, traditional farming techniques with the ability to communicate with their greater community via web-based sales and marketing, have helped make Scott and Alison’s operation so very successful in a relatively short period of time.

From Alison: Here is a recipe from my mother’s mother that was passed down to me and my family enjoys. We make it with our own chickens, homemade chicken broth and homemade butter and milk from our cows.

Many thanks to Bonnie North for her research and help with this blog post.

Until next time!

- John

Mima’s Original Chicken Pie Recipe

Serves 4 to 5

Make a sauce out of the following:
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 ¾ cups chicken broth
2/3 cups whole milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups cooked chicken, cut into 1-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and continue cooking over medium heat, whisking constantly, for about 3 minutes. Do not brown the flour.

Off the heat, whisk in the chicken broth and whole milk. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer, and continue cooking for about 5 minutes. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper. Add the cooked chicken to the pot pie sauce. Set mixture aside to cool while making the crust.

Place the pot-pie filling in a long, buttered casserole and cover with the following crust (no thicker than ¼ inch).

Pot Pie Crust

1 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
About a ½ cup of milk

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a mixing bowl. Add the butter and work into the flour with your fingertips or pastry cutter, until incorporated. Stir in the milk, a little at a time, until a soft dough is formed. Do not over work the dough, or you will have a tough crust.

On a floured board, roll out the dough and place it over the filling in the casserole pan. Make a few slits in the crust with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape while baking.

Bake the casserole for 30 to 35, or until crust is nicely browned.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The New Chesapeake Kitchen Tour Continues to Virginia Beach

Often I forget just how expansive the Chesapeake Bay really is. For the Maryland-centric, a reminder that the Bay actually does continue on southward beyond Chrisfield. Driving from Baltimore down to Hampton Roads, Virginia, the southernmost reach of the Bay, takes a little over 5 hours, if all the traffic gods are with you. So it is one big bay, stretching over 200 miles north to south, the largest estuary in North America.

My good friend, Patrick Evans-Hylton, a Norfolk based food writer, author, and chef - and all around lover of all things Virginia and Chesapeake - recommended a number of must-meet folks for my visit to the Hampton Roads area, and his suggestions were perfect.

After a visit to Colonial Williamsburg (see previous post), stop number two on the New Chesapeake Kitchen tour with my partner-in-crime, Bonnie North, was to New Earth Farm in south Virginia Beach. It is an amazing oasis just outside bustling Virginia Beach, the State of Virginia’s largest city. I’ll let Bonnie tell the tale from here:

New Earth Farm is a collaboration between "Farmer John" Wilson, who began farming organically in the Virginia Beach area back in 1995 and launched the first CSA in the region, and Kevin Jamison, who came to the area with a wealth of experience in community development in the global arena. Before heading down to Virginia Beach Kevin served as the Director of the European Affairs Committee at the United Nations Association in New York City from 2005 to 2010 where he was also a co-founder of the 2009 flagship program "The Haiti Expedition Project," raising awareness and funds for educational and environmental projects in Haiti.

New Earth Farm is a working, sustainable operation running a CSA and wholesaling high quality vegetables, fruits, herbs, pasture-raised eggs and fresh flowers to stores like Whole Foods, but today the primary focus has become education and outreach through their non-profit organization, Community Development International. They work with the City of Virginia Beach Public Schools training students and teachers on creating and maintaining their school gardens and host classes for both students and adults at the farm in their new Learning Center.

Their focus is on teaching how to build healthy soil through composting, input of biological material, utilizing cover crops, crop rotation, natural mulches, and IPM, Integrated Pest Management techniques that combat crop pests by introducing predator insects like wasps, ladybugs, and praying mantises, instead of pesticides.

As Kevin puts it, “by demonstrating sustainable farming New Earth Farm provides super healthy food that has no additives and no chemicals, healing the land, making it sustainable for a lifetime rather than degrading it.”

The Learning Center’s beautiful classroom building was made with mostly recycled materials, uses passive solar heat, harvests rainwater and utilizes a green roof system. Surrounding the educational building is the Learning Garden, a working example of sustainable practices—over 5,000 square feet of vegetable, fruit and herb gardens which grow almost year-round, a flock of ducks, and a 35 foot barrier of trees around the garden to protect the integrity of their organic growing methods. You can see the difference in the plant coloring at the property line of New Earth and where it meets the property line of the neighboring farm that raises crops using chemicals—bright green meeting yellow brown.

The Farm-To-Table classes for adults led by local well known chefs sell out fast. The classes are geared to the public but also serve to introduce locally grown organic products to the chefs themselves. The latest additions to the educational roster are their "Food Lab" classes, teaching and demonstrating the various old and new processes of preparing and preserving good local food, like lacto-fermenting, canning, and dehydrating.

New Earth Farm won the 2012 Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s local and regional Clean Water Farm Award for their safe and sustainable practices and biological treatment of the land as well as the City of Virginia Beach Public Schools "Partner in Education" award in 2014.

Kevin, who besides working the land, knows his way around a kitchen has provided us with a terrific farm fresh recipe for a Savory Oats “Risoatto.”

Savory Oats (Risoatto) 

Makes 4 servings

1 lb rolled oats 
8 tbs unsalted butter 
2 cups field peas 
2 cloves garlic 
1/2 cup chopped basil 
1 bunch of green onions 
About 6 cups vegetable stock 
2 cups of whole milk 

Farmers cheese (can also use Cotija, Feta, any crumbly cheese) to crumble on top
Egg yolk (1 per serving) - separate egg yolk and put into a bowl of cornmeal. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes until coated. Gently sauté in butter for about 30 seconds on each side) 
Pickled okra - several pods per serving. 
1/2 cup chopped Sun-dried tomatoes 
several slices of cured ham like Edwards and Sons Surryano 

In a large pan sauté green onions, garlic and field peas in butter until tender. Add the field peas last to the pan and cook lightly to retain the color and texture. 

In another pan lightly sauté oats in butter until they begin to turn golden brown. Begin to add vegetable stock to just cover the oats and stir. When oats absorb the majority of the liquid but before the liquid at the very bottom is absorbed, add more vegetable stock to just cover the oats. Taste for firmness. The oats should have a slight firmness left to them as they will continue to cook even after removed from heat. Next add 1-2 cups of warmed whole milk and stir in. Remove from heat. 
Stir in the sautéed onion, garlic and peas. 

Spoon about 1 cup of the oats onto plates. 

In this particular recipe, which I originally made in the summer, we topped the risoatto with a fresh crumbled farmers cheese, sun-dried tomato crisps, chopped basil and a cornmeal crusted egg yolk that was very lightly sautéed as well as a couple slices of pickled okra for the acidity. Cut the Surryano into long thin slices and crisp lightly in olive oil in a pan. Put several of the slices on top of each serving to add a nice smoky saltiness to the dish. 

This recipe (like many) is very adaptable to any season so feel free to experiment with other ingredients as per what is in season in your area.