My mission to write a blog a day for the entire month of November was ALMOST successful. I came up four blogs short. But a promise is a promise…so, four more to go. Starting with this one–which was actually the one I’ve been trying to write for two months, that spurred me to start the blog-a-day mission in the first place. It’s finally done!
I am not a food snob.
Oh, sure, I guess I have my moments. I won’t eat Taco Bell, for one thing. I try to avoid any food whose name contains the word “Whiz.” At home we just upgraded from regular ol’ Digiorno’s to their schmancy new “Pizzeria!” line, with little flakes of oregano or parsley or whatever that green stuff is. And I usually go for the Kashi frozen dinners over Lean Cuisine. (Lemongrass Coconut Chicken, y’all. Seriously.)
But I am not a food snob. I drink Miller Lite and screw-top wine. My favorite restaurant is Cracker Barrel. I’ve actually consumed and enjoyed those frozen chicken wings so devoid of actual chicken that they’re legally required to call them “WYNGZ.” And while I do own several cookbooks, the only one I really use is something called A Man, A Can, A Plan.
So when the owner of Barilla Pasta went full-on homophobic on a radio show earlier this fall (that link covers some of his choicer comments), I was shocked to find—amidst the usual calls for the usual boycott—this weird strain of folks who kept saying it was no big loss, because Barilla was terrible pasta anyway.
“Noticeably poorer!” said one.
“Gummy!” said another.
And while I really really wanted to hate on Guido Barilla, all I could think from then on was:
“Seriously? There are pasta snobs?”
Let me go back. There’s a very simple reason why I’m not a food snob: I really can’t tell the difference. Not even lying. I’ve learned that steak is better if you marinate it, but otherwise it’s basically just beef. I can sip wine and tell you if it’s “red” or “white,” but I can’t tell a “shiraz” from a “cabernet.” Oh you should have seen me at the Biltmore last year, trying to make sincere comments at the wine tasting that didn’t involve the phrase “I’m only here for the free booze.” (What is a “note”? Somebody enlighten me.)
So when it comes to pasta, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all the same ol’ lina.
But—apparently—there are others with more distinguishing tastes.
“I prefer DeCecco!”
What in the hell is going on? It’s pasta, people! Nitpick if you will over boxed versus homemade or gluten versus gluten-free, but good Lord, man, are they not all the same vaguely beige stringy sauce receptacles, regardless of the name on the package? Has this Barilla episode not taught us that discrimination in all its forms is wrong?
(Apparently it’s taught Mr. Barilla. Score one for international pressure.)
It boggled my mind. But then I thought—maybe it’s me. Maybe there’s something I’m missing. I’ve been a pasta fan all my life—ordering spaghetti-with-meat-sauce off the kids’ menu three times a week at the Golden Gate in Lansing, or dragging my parents to all-you-can-eat nights at this restaurant or that, or scouring central New Jersey to find the most perfectly wonderfully stereotypical pizza/pasta place in the state.
Had I been inhaling spaghetti so fast I never stopped to taste it?
There was only one way to find out.
I had to put Barilla—and myself—to the test.
From A To Ziti
Fortunately, at least, I wasn’t alone in my confusion.
“Wait,” said my friend Paula. “They’re saying Barilla sucks because—because it’s anti-gay?”
“No,” I said. “Well, actually yes, but it’s also the pasta. They’re saying the pasta sucks.”
“You mean, like, Barilla sauce isn’t as good as other brands?”
“No, it’s the pasta. They’re saying it’s low-quality pasta.”
A couple seconds went by.
“Because it’s not ‘al dente’?”
“I don’t even know.”
The mission! Test-taste a whole bunch of different pasta brands at once, and see if I can identify any tangible difference at all. (Aside from the ideology.)
The accomplice! Kit FitzSimons, my roommate and partner in crime.
The supplies! In my cupboard: one box of Barilla-brand elbow macaroni and several boxes of Harris Teeter store-brand spaghetti.
(Oh, I can feel you pasta snobs shuddering already.)
I needed more variety. But where to begin? So many choices—DeCecco! Bertolli! Tamagotchi!—and as far as I knew they all came off the same assembly line. This whole scheme would be a total failure if I went out and tried a dozen brands, only to have them all turn out to be differently-named Monsanto subsidiaries.
Clearly some research was in order.
So here’s what I learned, after a half hour on the internet:
1. Good pasta is bumpy and dusty. Bumpy to hold the sauce, and dusty for some reason I couldn’t quite figure out that has something to do with how heavily-processed it is. But you definitely want something that doesn’t feel smooth, and if it looks like it’s recently been rolled in flour, all the better.
2. Apparently it’s supposed to taste “nutty.” I did not know this. Did you know this?
3. And DeCecco seems to be a popular brand, at least among the demographic that spends its time posting on Internet comment threads. So, minus ten points for DeCecco.
(And my very, very Italian friend Kristen added: “You have to try gluten-free. You’ll definitely tell the difference with gluten-free.”)
So, armed with all that, off I went to boost Orange County’s sales tax revenue.
I started with a bag of Trader Joe’s organic spaghetti. Some guy from the Sopranos had said good things about Trader Joe’s spaghetti, and you don’t want to cross a guy from the Sopranos. Check one. From there, it was off to Harris Teeter, where DeCecco happened to be on sale. Check two.
But I still didn’t have any really schmancy stuff. Trader Joe’s Organic was all well and good, but to make this work I needed something really pretentious. Where, where, where does one go in this town to buy the sort of food that thinks way too highly of itself?
(My other option was Whole Foods, but I think I’m supposed to be boycotting them too.)
Weaver Street turns out to have a terrific selection. The first thing I spotted was something called Ancient Harvest: organic, gluten-free pasta made from quinoa, of all things. Well, gosh, you gotta have quinoa. (Plus, it was calling right to me. “YOU’LL NEVER GO BACK TO ‘PLAIN’ NOODLES AGAIN!” it said. Quotation marks and all.)
I figured that would be enough: regular pasta from Harris Teeter, DeCecco and Barilla; fancier organic stuff from Trader Joe’s; and the gluten-free quinoa. A nice mix, all in all.
And then—right there in the Weaver Street pasta aisle—I saw it.
Oh sure, I already had my gluten-free selection—and I wasn’t about to say no to quinoa—but good lord, how could anyone turn this down? Organic! Kosher! “GOOD CONSISTENT TEXTURE NOT MUSHY AL DENTE WHEAT-FREE GLUTEN-FREE!” Seven different distinct fonts, just for the product name! (Not even exaggerating. Count ‘em.)
And that’s just on the front of the package. On the back, it gets even better:
This pasta is made from quality rice and formed to gourmet class. For years, our focus has been on making a pasta from rice that delivers an ultimate enjoyment of pasta…
JOY! A rice pasta that cooks likes any regular pasta. Award-winning taste. Al dente and not mushy. Its texture, superb.
“Ultimate enjoyment of pasta,” you say? “JOY!”, you say?? “Cooks likes any regular pasta,” you say?! Sign me up!
Plus, who could turn down these cute li’l bunnies?
(Because if a BUNNY says it’s not mushy, it’s got to be true.)
So there it was. Armed with six different pasta brands, I marched off to the kitchen to make some magic happen.
A Penne For Your Thoughts
Now, when it comes to preparation, I’m pretty easy to please. I won’t go full Honey Boo Boo and pour butter and ketchup all over it, but I’m usually good with cheap tomato sauce in a can.
But even I knew that that wouldn’t do for such a highly scientific taste test as this one. Sauce covers up the pasta, and it was the pasta we were after. (“Harris Teeter rotini taste just like Barilla when you cover them in pesto and cheese!” reported my friend Brad. Well, that just wouldn’t do at all.)
So after much discussion (about fifteen seconds), we decided on a twofer. Taste all the pastas first completely plain, then once more with sauce and Parmesan.
Fire up the stove!
ROUND ONE: Barilla Elbows; DeCecco Spaghetti no. 12; Harris Teeter Half-Cut Spaghetti
The kitchen was hot and the action was hotter. Boiling pots bubbled side-by-side as the culinary world breathlessly watched, and waited. “Al dente perfection in seven to eight minutes,” the package said. Four minutes went by. Five. Six.
Oh, what the hell. It looks about done.
We sat down and dove in.
First, Barilla! We tasted the noodles plain.
“Hmm,” said Kit.
“I like it,” he said after a few seconds. “It’s hard to dislike when it’s my favorite kind of pasta.”
“No, elbows,” he said. “Like macaroni and cheese.”
“Without cheese,” I said.
I took another bite. I chewed slowly, pondering. The world turned.
“We’re not very good taste testers, are we,” I said.
Second, Harris Teeter! Indistinguishable by sight from Barilla, except for the shape.
“This—this has no flavor,” said Kit. “It—tastes like water.”
“Did Barilla have a flavor?” I asked.
“Sort of,” he said. “More than this, though, right?”
“I really couldn’t tell the difference.”
“I mean—” He started examining the back of the box. “I mean, I don’t know what ‘durum semolina’ is, but this is nothing but durum semolina.”
“Does that matter?”
“Well, Barilla—” He started reading that box. “See. Barilla has all these other ingredients.”
I looked at it. He was right.
INGREDIENTS: SEMOLINA (WHEAT), DURUM FLOUR, NIACIN, IRON (FERROUS SULFATE), THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID.
“But I don’t know what any of those ingredients mean,” I said. “Is it the thiamine mononitrate that’s adding the flavor?”
“Maybe it’s the riboflavin.”
Third, DeCecco! Darling of the Internet message board!
The DeCecco was a little dusty out of the package, and it had a bit of texture. Score two.
We took a bite. Neither of us said anything.
We took a second bite.
“This tastes like—” Kit started.
I threw up my hands. “Okay,” I said. “I can’t tell the difference between any of these.”
“Well, the texture’s different,” Kit said. “It’s—it’s chewy. Like Twizzler pull-and-peel.”
“That’s bad, right?” I said.
“Well, it’s not good.”
“Maybe I didn’t cook it long enough,” I said. “The package did say cook it longer.”
“Maybe this is ‘al dente,’” Kit said. “What’s al dente?”
“I think it’s—well, it’s like—” I started. I paused. “I don’t really know.”
We Googled it.
“Google says it means ‘firm but not hard,’” Kit said.
“That isn’t helpful.”
We’re bad pasta snobs, y’all.
So after all that, the verdict: three brands of fairly inexpensive, mainstream, store-bought pasta, and they all taste pretty much exactly the same, which is to say they didn’t really taste like anything at all. Adding sauce and Parmesan didn’t help distinguish them.
On to round two!
ROUND TWO: Barilla Elbows; Trader Joe’s Organic Spaghetti; Tinkyáda’s Gluten-Free Pasta Joy; Ancient Harvest Gluten-Free Quinoa Supergrain Pasta
With special guest stars Ragu sauce, Parmesan cheese, Coca-Cola, and I think that’s Cool Ranch Doritos photobombing there on the right.
Okay, there’s an extent to which pasta is pasta. But with organic, quinoa, corn, gluten and gluten-free all in the mix, there HAD to be a difference here.
And there was.
“The Trader Joe’s tastes like nothing,” Kit said at first.
“No, it does,” I said. “Wait for it.”
He waited for it.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “It’s got a—it tastes like—”
“Cinnamon,” I said. “The Trader Joe’s tastes like cinnamon.”
Trader Joe’s Organic Spaghetti does, in fact, taste a little like cinnamon. It’s delicious. It’s even better with sauce, especially the kind of sauce that’s enhanced by a hint of cinnamon. (You know. Ragu and what not.)
“Wow,” I said. “I never knew.”
“Okay,” said Kit. “Let’s try the gluten-free.”
( I should pause at this point to mention that I’m paraphrasing a conversation that took place quite a while ago, so the conversation didn’t necessarily go exactly like this. For instance, Kit did not actually say the phrase “Okay, let’s try the gluten-free,” nor do I believe he’s ever said that once in his life.)
But we tried the gluten-free.
Now, I should pause at THIS point to say that we have a friend, Sylvia, who’s been a gluten-free baker for a couple years now, and her stuff is terrific. Good gluten-free breads and pastries and pastas are not easy to come by, but we know from experience that it’s not impossible.
But THIS gluten-free pasta? Not so much.
The Ancient Harvest actually wasn’t terrible. “But it’s gritty,” Kit said.
“It—” he paused. “It tastes like pasta with sauce, without the sauce.”
“The texture, I mean,” he said. “It’s as if there’s something on it, but there’s not.”
“Let’s try the Tinkyáda,” I said.
Again, I remind you that I may or may not have actually uttered the phrase “Let’s try the Tinkyáda” here. But let me assure you, I will NEVER utter it again.
“Ugh,” I said. “It’s—sticky.”
“It’s chewy,” Kit said. “Not in a good way either. Like—bouncy chewy.”
“It’s got this sticky film on it,” I said.
I touched it. The film came off on my fingers.
I checked the pot it cooked in. The sticky film had congealed on the edge.
Appetite spoiler alert.
“I am not finishing this,” Kit said. He physically pushed the bowl away.
“Do you want to try it with sauce?”
He looked at me.
“I’ll take that as a no.”
So into the trash it went. It didn’t even survive a three-bite taste test.
The bunnies LIED!
And thus ended—successfully, I guess—our quest to find a pasta that’s distinguishable from Barilla.
So after all that, what have we learned?
Well, first off, we learned that “food critic” is not the job for me.
Mainly, I learned that there are, in fact, real substantive differences between (some) different types of pasta. I’m still not convinced there’s any significant distinction between Barilla and DeCecco and Harris Teeter—except for the politics, that is—but man, once you go beyond the mainstream store-bought stuff, there’s actually a pretty wide spectrum. Both better and worse.
I will not be eating Tinkyáda again.
But Trader Joe’s Organic Spaghetti is a winner.
Always trust the Italian peasant over the bunny.
(Shame I’m having to leave my apartment. I’m walking distance from Trader Joe’s right now.)
So, chalk that up to an interesting culinary adventure. I haven’t had too many. The one that still takes the cake is that time in Albuquerque when my friends and I went into the Standard Diner (“Guy Fieri ate here!”) and I ordered something called the “Bourbon Butter Burger” (“as featured on ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ with Guy Fieri!”). It came to the table, open-faced. “Man,” my friend Stip said. “That’s a giant hunk of cheese on top of the burger.”
“That’s—that’s not cheese,” I said.
It was an inch-thick slab of pure butter.
(It was delicious, by the way.)
So this didn’t quite measure up to that. But at least we got enough pasta out of it to last several months. And we’ll be buying a new kind of pasta from now on, assuming I can work up the energy to trek to Trader Joe’s.
(The whole point was to find something to replace Barilla, after all.)
The leftovers, though, I have to say, weren’t great.
So it is with my cooking style, I guess. Even when I try something fancy and gourmet, it always comes out looking like I would’ve been better off with Spaghetti-Os.http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/barilla-heart/
Shoot, I’m a day behind on NaBloWriMo! A couple shorter posts to follow, so I can catch up.
Last night my friend Ted and I made plans for dinner. He wanted to go to that new Korean place in Chapel Hill, the one that specializes in bibimbap. So he gets in the car and I’m blithely driving along Franklin Street, when suddenly he looks around and says, “Um—where are you going?”
“To the new bibimbap place,” I say.
“No, no,” he replies. “I meant the other new bibimbap place.”
So congratulations, Chapel Hill. You’re never allowed to call yourself a small town ever again.
Where we ended up was “Mixed,” the new restaurant in the former Tedesco’s location at 1404 East Franklin, at the bottom of the hill near Estes Drive. (It’s actually been open since early summer, but this was our first time.) It’s been getting great reviews, and word of mouth seems to be spreading: the place was hopping on Friday night when we went in. (Word of mouth is how we ended up there too: Ted had heard about Mixed from a coworker.)
Bibimbap, by the way, is a standard Korean dish: a mixture of rice, meat, vegetables and sauce served together in a hot stone bowl and topped (if you want) with a fried egg. You mix it all together before you eat—hence the name of the restaurant. (The word “bibimbap” means “mixed rice.”)
I’m still a Korean-food newbie, incidentally: counting last night, I’ve maybe had Korean five or six times in my life. So I can tell you: if you too are a Korean-food newbie, Mixed is a great place to start. At Mixed they let you build your bibimbap from scratch—you go through a line and pick out all your ingredients, so you can tailor it to your own personal taste.
As Ted described it: “It’s basically like a Qdoba for bibimbap.”
(I think they’re going for a little more upscale, but that’s still pretty accurate.)
And the inside looks great: spacious, open, well-lit and inviting—and for the uninitiated, a nice description of bibimbap in giant letters on the wall. The line was long but moved pretty quickly.
I went with bulgogi—that’s Korean beef, always a safe bet—with mixed-grain rice, miso sauce, five different vegetables (you select from a list of 15), and a big hell yeah to the fried egg. (Ted went with chili sauce: he likes it spicy, I don’t.) Depending on your meat selection, the cost ranges from $8.00-8.75. It’s a two-dollar upcharge for the hot stone bowl, but that’s worth it. I think they charged me 50 cents for the egg; it doesn’t add too much—you can take it or leave it—but you might as well get it for the full experience. It was very good. (And huge: for ten bucks you get about enough for two meals.)
We also ordered dumplings, which come stuffed with ground beef, shrimp, or kimchi. Don’t think I’d get them again, though: they were fine, but the bibimbap was much better.
As we were wrapping up, Ted ran into the same coworker who’d recommended Mixed to him in the first place. She and her date were going with dessert, so we had to stick around to see how that turned out. Dessert at Mixed comes in the form of “bingsoo,” sweet shaved ice with a variety of toppings. (Again, your choice, but the traditional topping—and also the best—is “pat,” or sweet red bean.)
At Mixed, bingsoo comes in small, medium, or large. Ted’s friend ordered a “medium” ($6.75, with five toppings) and got an enormous bowl the size of a flower pot. Seriously, y’all, I cannot overstate the size of this thing. I do not know what a “large” would entail, but I imagine you’d have to pick it up outside. (It was quite good, though. It all got eaten.)
So, conclusion? Great experience, great atmosphere, friendly service, generous portions, excellent food, decent prices. I highly recommend Mixed; it’s a great addition to the Chapel Hill dining scene. (That location has cycled a few restaurants in and out, so here’s hoping Mixed is able to stick around.)
Now. Off to try that second bibimbap place. (Ted says it’s even better.)http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/mixed-emotions/
CHAPEL HILL – More than 1.7 million of your neighbors in North Carolina will see less food assistance starting on November.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as food stamps—saw an increase in benefits provided in 2009, but on November, that increase will expire, leading to a reduction of $29 per month for a family of three.
Devon Ross, a community organizer with Orange County Justice United, says the reduction in SNAP benefits is one of the many challenges facing people living in poverty.
“Families living in poverty in OrangeCounty are getting increasingly squeezed,” Ross says. “I think cuts to SNAP will increase, in general, the financial pressures that everbody’s already facing.”
Justice United, a community power organization, conducted a series of talks with Orange County residents this spring to find the biggest issues in people’s lives.
Ross says Justice United received more than 600 responses, finding that people are most concerned about affordable housing, unemployment and public transportation.
“We do have a transit system, of course, but one that’s often more geared toward students than toward working people,” Ross says. “That’s a real problem for people who can’t afford a car.”
According to the U.S. Census, the poverty rate in Orange County from 2007 to 2011 was 16.9 percent. Ross says this, coupled with unemployment for lower-income residents, leads to poor treatment.
“There are a lot of instances of day laborers having their wages stolen or working in unsafe environments,” Ross says. “We’ve got people who are falling through the cracks.”
In addition to the reduction in SNAP benefits, the U.S. House is considering a $40 billion cut in the program.http://chapelboro.com/news/health/food-assistant-reduction-affects-those-in-poverty/
CHAPEL HILL/CARRBORO – A majority of UNC faculty and staff say the university is a “highly effective organization” with a strong vision for the future. That’s according to the results of a University-wide organizational effectiveness survey conducted in January.
UNC officials say they received more than 3,000 responses, an uptick from the last time they conducted the survey three years ago.
Among the results: 66 percent of respondents say UNC is a “highly effective organization,” and 79 percent say they’d recommend Carolina as a place to work.
The numbers aren’t all rosy, though: 54 percent also say UNC needs to make “significant changes” in order to remain successful five years from now.
Head to the Carrboro Farmers’ Market this Saturday for their annual Strawberry Jamboree. Beginning at 8:00 a.m., you can sample fresh strawberries, plus shortcake and homemade whipped cream; you can also find lots of strawberry recipes—and Benjamin Vineyards will be on hand to offer strawberry wine.
The Carrboro Farmers’ Market is located at the Carrboro Town Commons, on W. Main Street adjacent to Town Hall.
And beginning this Thursday, May 23, Southern Village is kicking off “Swinging Big Band Thursdays,” a concert series that will host big bands on five different Thursdays throughout the spring and summer.
The concert runs from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on the Village Green; the 17-piece Heart of Carolina Jazz Orchestra will be performing. It’s open to the public and entirely free, but donations for the orchestra will be accepted.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/news-around-town-strawberries-jazz-facultystaff-satisfaction/
CHAPEL HILL – In downtown Chapel Hill, construction began on Friday, April 12, to put in a new sidewalk on the east side of Henderson Street between Franklin and Rosemary. Traffic won’t be affected and businesses will remain open, but pedestrian access will be unavailable during construction.
The $57,000 project will run about three weeks; Town officials say it’ll be done in time for UNC’s commencement on May 12.
Another national honor for our local community: Livability.com has identified Chapel Hill as one of the “Top 10 Foodie Cities” in America. The website released its annual list earlier this month—making an effort to focus on smaller towns and avoid the usual suspects like New York, Chicago and New Orleans.
Chapel Hill came in seventh overall and third among Southern cities. Decatur, Georgia, topped the list.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is wrapping up the Visions Art Show, its annual three-day showcase of art created by students and teachers in the district. This year’s show began on Monday and concludes on Wednesday at Lincoln Center, with student artwork filling display boards and display cases all over the building.
Wednesday’s show gets under way at 6 p.m., highlighting the artwork from students at Ephesus Elementary, Estes Hills Elementary, Rashkis Elementary, Phillips Middle and East Chapel Hill High. All of the artwork will remain on display until May.http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-town-great-art-great-food-sidewalk-construction/
Baby Ginger, gorgeous, exotic and delicious! Thanks to Alex and Betsy Hitt, farmers/ owners of Peregrine Farm and vendors at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, you can stock up on this versatile root with its pale thin skin and mild, though distinctive sweet peppery flavor. This will definitely be my new culinary love, as Betsy says they should have them available until December…ginger ale, ginger juice, pickled ginger, candied ginger, gingersnaps and gingerbread! And, for this blog, Ginger-Tamari Sauce.
Betsy Hitt, with basket of ginger root
No time for baking, and frankly it is not my favorite form of cooking, I decided to make a simple sauce to dress up a salmon fillet. In the fridge there was a bag of spicy arugula, purchased from John and Cindy at Eco Farm, that would provide the perfect bed for the fish and ginger-tamari concoction was developing in my mind.
Ingredients for Ginger- Tamari Sauce:
1 t extra virgin olive oil
2 T chopped green onion or shallot
1 T minced garlic
2T minced baby ginger
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
1 cup unsweetened orange juice
1/2 t Sriracha sauce
1 t fresh lime juice
Heat oil, over medium-high heat, in medium saucepan.
Add onion, garlic and ginger. Cook until onion is softened. Don’t let the garlic get dark brown or burn. It will become bitter and you’ll need to start over!
Add wine and cook until reduced and pan is almost dry. About 3 to 5 minutes.
Mix in orange juice and tamari. Bring to a low boil and let it cook about 5 minutes.
Taste, season with Sriracha and lime juice. Taste again and adjust flavorings to you preference.
Cool. Makes about 1½ cups. Will keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Arugula. So tender, I don’t even stem at all. Though, do make sure you rinse several times as it tends to be sandy! Dry in spinner.
Salmon. Rub both sides lightly with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill or bake.
The dish. Mound arugula in center of plate. Drizzle with sauce, top with fish and spoon on however much ginger goodness you like!
The beverage. White wine, or club soda, tinged with a coin of ginger and a slice of lime.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, this is the week for my post to get heavy.
While catching up on my blog backlog, I read a great piece from Good* about the Eight Foods You Should Stock Up On Before Climate Change Takes Them Away. And. It. Was. Scary.
Being a food-oriented person in Chapel Hill is easy – lots of people like to geek out about their favorite specials at The Pig or Lantern (OMG! She posted her recipe for White Sweet Potato Soup!) We love our locavorism, but as dozens of folks on the chowhound board prove, we have resources that provide us with obscure hard to find items from around the globe like Ajvar at Mariakakis Fine Food and Wine, yogurt soda from Jahan International Market and Landjaeger, ahem Southern Season – woot woot!
I’m definitely part of the takey takey takey, buy buy buy consumer culture that sucks in food people so quickly – perhaps even Queen. The Eight Foods article gave me a chance to stop and think about the big BIG picture things I like to forget when I’m scouting out the best burger in town. And of course, it also made me think about my favorite places to find these 8 items to stock up on before climate change takes them away. Old habits…
Bread – Chicken Bridge Bakery at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market (naan and gougeres!)
Coffee – Joe Van Gogh kiosk now at University Mall
Chocolate – A Southern Season
Bourbon – The Crunkleton
Wine – 3Cups (wine, drinking chocolate, food trucks, fresh NC seafood = my devotion)
Honey – Chapel Hill Bees
Agave – Weaver Street Market
Peanuts – Big Spoon Roasters at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market
*Good is a fantastic, crunchy, online magazine, not a blog.http://chapelboro.com/columns/orange-zest/good-stuff-eight-foods-to-eat-before-climate-change-takes-them-away/
Um, look, since we’re pals and everything, you’ll understand why I’m going to feel a little ill if I don’t see your pretty face at TerraVITA this Saturday. I mean, you say you love the food scene here in North Carolina and you love to talk to friends about seasonal eating. You’d love to get out more and explore the other fabulous restaurants around this great state but you just haven’t found time – it’s been a crazy summer. I get it. Things have been nuts.
You know what is even more nuts? Missing TerraVITA. It can be tough to convince your favorite friend or lover to join you for a few hours sampling delicious food, booze, and bevvies on a gorgeous fall afternoon. So, let me do the dirty work for you. Please note the following reasons you need to be at TerraVITA in Southern Village this Saturday.
Soooo, yeeeeah. Like I said. You have a 15% off discount code to use, enter Grow2 at checkout. JACKPOT.http://chapelboro.com/columns/orange-zest/terravita-a-coupon-a-few-good-reasons-to-attend/
Okay kids, it wasn’t too long ago that I shared a discount code with you, my favorite readers, for the best foodie event in Chapel Hill, TerraVITA, a celebration of the best in sustainable food and beverage. This year TerraVITA takes place on Saturday, September 24th, and like last year, dozens of your favorite chefs, food and beverage artisans from around the state will be on hand to chat and share samples of their favorite creations. Confirmed participants this year include Vivian Howard (Chef & the Farmer, Kinston, NC), Amy Tornquist (Watts Grocery, Durham) and yes, French Broad Chocolates in Asheville. Good thing you already bought your tickets, they are going fast!
Also wanted to make sure you tell those last minute friends of yours about the fabulous new element of TerraVITA, the Sustainable Classroom. From 9:30am – 12:20pm on the morning of the Grand Tasting on the Green, you can pay just $35 to hear four sessions of classes on a wide range of subjects–such a great way to dig a bit deeper into the concept of sustainability from pint to plate. Confirmed speakers include April McGreger (Farmer’s Daughter), Sean Lilly Wilson (Fullsteam), Maximilian Kast (Fearrington House) and Rob Bowers (Whitted Bowers Farm, one of only two certified biodynamic farms in the Southeast!). What are you waiting for? Buy your tickets to both events now for a full day of education and tastings!
* Session 4 – 11:45 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.http://chapelboro.com/columns/orange-zest/sustainable-classroom-at-terravita/
Last week I introduced you to two authors of new food books that celebrate the joys of preparing and eating fresh farm food in season.
In that column I wrote about Andrea Reusing’s “Cooking In The Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes,” which, as the title suggests, is organized by season, and “Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen,” which uses a more traditional cookbook approach of groups of related dishes.
This week we feature Watauga County native Sheri Castle’s “The New Southern Garden Cookbook,” with groups of recipes organized into chapters on each of about 40 vegetables and fruits. Finally, we introduce Diane Daniel’s “Farm Fresh,” which organizes its information by the geographic location of the farms, markets, and other places to get fresh food.
Castle is a popular food writer and cooking teacher who celebrates delicious and healthy home cooked meals made possible by fresh, local, seasonal food. She has packaged that enthusiasm into “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes.”
Castle’s book has about 40 chapters, each one devoted to one particular fruit or vegetable from apples to zucchini. She suggests that you go to the market without a shopping list, buy what is the most freshly available and tasty, bring it home, consult her book, and find all kinds of ways to prepare your purchase.
Castle entertains her readers with stories about her mountain family and even a song or two. Because I love tomatoes, here are lines she shares from a song by Guy Clark: “Only two things that money can’t buy/That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”
But tomatoes are not the only stars in Castle’s catalogue of fresh foods. For instance, she gives great advice to overcome two different contradictory ideas about how long to cook snap beans. “At one time, most snap beans were sturdy pole beans with thick, tough pods that required extensive cooking to become edible. However, subjecting the newer stringless varieties to long cooking would dissolve them into a tasteless mess. … If a bean pod is delicate and tender enough to eat raw, it needs quick, gentle cooking. If a bean pod is thick and has strings…, it needs long slow cooking. When you know your bean, you know your cooking method.”
Assuming that you now are sold on the idea of doing anything you can to get fresh seasonal food on your table and in your tummy, where can you get the your raw materials?
There are good answers in Diane Daniel’s “Farm Fresh North Carolina: The Go-To Guide to Great Farmers’ Markets, Farm Stands, Farms, Apple Orchards, U-Picks, Kids’ Activities, Lodging, Dining, Choose-and-Cut Christmas Trees, Vineyards and Wineries, and More.”
Daniel, a nationally known travel writer who lives in Durham, tracked down farms, farm stores, markets, and other agricultural related places that welcome visitors. She organized her finding by region and wrote them up in travel guide fashion.
As a result, you can find detailed information about farm related places to visit near where you live or travel. For instance, you learn that you can visit the Millstone Meadows Farm near Morganton and purchase daylilies without appointment from May to July. Or, at other times for visits or meals, you need to call in advance.
Daniel includes favorite recipes from farm kitchens. Anticipating my love for fresh summer tomatoes, she included a recipe from Millstone’s co-owner, Sara Hord, for an heirloom tomato cobbler. It combines a pastry with tomatoes, a sweet onion, basil, parsley, and fontina and white cheddar cheeses. I can’t wait.
Should I rush up to Morganton or preheat my oven to 350 degrees and try to make my own tomato cobbler?http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/more-help-for-farm-fresh-food-eaters/