Archive | July, 2010

Buying Local at the New Braunfels Farm to Market

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DSCF2470As I prepare for the annual family trip down the Comal, I’m looking forward to visiting the New Braunfels Farm to Market on Saturday morning.  This fairly new market, launched this Spring, is located on South Castell next to Friesenhaus in New Braunfels’ quaint downtown.

The market has quickly attracted a lengthy list of vendors who also serve the Pearl Farmers Market in San Antonio and the Austin markets.  On my last trip to the market, I was delighted to find some of my favorite vendors including CKC Farms and their delicious goat cheese, Montesino Ranch, Ottmer’s Family Farm, Harvest Time Farm Stand and The Mediterranean Chef.

In addition to a wide selection of produce, you can also buy olive oil from Texas Olive Ranch, bread and baked goods from several bakeries, salsa from Kelly Jo’s and granola from Cowgirl Granola.

DSCF2499The market is very well attended, packed with shoppers starting at 9 am.  I highly recommend getting their early if you are looking for something particular.

I also recommend showing up hungry.  There are several vendors serving up barbeque, tacos and even kettle corn.  (Honestly, is there anything that smells better than kettle corn?)

If you are looking for a fun day trip, the New Braunfels Farm to Market is a great way to kick off the day.  Pack a cooler and your shopping bag and enjoy a lovely morning in historic downtown New Braunfels.  On second thought, maybe you should bring two shopping bags.

See you at the market!

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Celebrating the Gulf with Shrimp and Corn Chowder

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Some of my fondest childhood food memories involve shrimp and crab boils.  What an amazing creation – food that you not only got to eat with your hands, but you get to be as messy as you want.  Glorious!

I was so disappointed when I had to miss the Gulf Coast Disaster Relief Benefit at the Hotel San Jose last week; a giant shrimp boil with great music, all to benefit the victims of the gulf oil spill.   To lend moral support, I decided to make a shrimp and corn chowder for family dinner Saturday night.

Saturday morning I shopped at the Cedar Park Farmers Market with my friend Beth Ann and was delighted to find a seafood vendor at the market.  Originally I had only planned to buy shrimp, but they also had blue crabs from Kemah and I couldn’t pass up the chance to add them to to the mix.

I was pleased that I was able to buy everything except the garnishes – avocado, cilantro and lime – from the farmers market or my Farmhouse Delivery box.  I was even able to use the shrimp stock I made from the shrimp shells I saved from a dinner earlier this year.  I felt like I was doing my part to stretch my little piece of the Gulf even further.

Gulf Shrimp & Blue Crab Meat

I researched a number of chowder recipes and most called for one to two cups of heavy cream.  We are trying to substitute fat wherever we can in our family so I decided to experiment a little.  I used a cup of milk and then made a puree from some canned corn that I had leftover from the food bank challenge.  The puree helped thicken the soup.  Adding the crab gave it some additional lusciousness that would have been missing without the cream.  If you don’t want to go to all that trouble, use cream instead.

The chowder turned out to be a great way to celebrate our Gulf Coast seafood traditions.  If you are concerned about the future of the Gulf and all of those who have depended on it for their livelihood, I highly recommend reviewing the new booklet from the Renewing America’s Food Traditions alliance to learn more about the effects of the spill on our wildlife and future.  If you’d rather have a hard copy, I picked one up at the Downtown Farmers Market.

See you at the seafood stand!

Shrimp & Corn Chowder

Gulf Shrimp & Corn Chowder
2 tbsps butter

1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 large poblanos, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 ears of corn, kernels removed
1 lb new potatoes, cut into quarters (or 1/8 depending if they are large)
3 cups broth, I used shrimp but you could use chicken
1 can corn, processed in food processor with 1/2 cup of liquid
1 tbsp salt
1 cup milk
2 lbs shrimp peeled and deveined – chopped
2 lbs crabs boiled, meat removed
1 avocado, sliced
a handful of cilantro, chopped
1 lime, sliced for garnish

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large pot.  Add the onions and poblanos and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the corn kernels, potato, pureed corn, 1 tbsp salt and the broth.  Cook for about 10 minutes, until the flavors begin to meld.

Lower the heat, add the milk and cook for another five minutes.

Add the shrimp and cook another five minutes or until the shrimp are cooked through.

Ladle the soup into a bowl and top with a small handful of crab and a slice of avocado.  Serve with cilantro and lime as garnish.

Note:  If crab meat is not easily available or affordable, you could substitute a few of grilled shrimp as a topper for the chowder.  I suggest grilling them in their shells and then removing the shell before you serve to make it easier for your guests to enjoy the dish.

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Slow Money Picking Up Speed

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Sometimes I lay awake at night worrying about sustainable food.  I wonder how we can ensure the sustainable food movement isn’t just a passing phase.  I fret about making sure local food is available to everyone, not just people in higher income communities.  I ponder how we get people to stop buying Twinkies and start buying from great local vendors like Hope & Glory Pastry or Retro Bizzaro.

How will we build the infrastructure to keep it going?  How on earth will we pay for it all?  Toss, turn, toss, turn….

Fortunately, I am not alone.  Apparently, Woody Tasch, founder of the Slow Money Alliance and author of Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money, and many other like minded folks worry about the same things.

If you aren’t familiar with the idea, Slow Money is a movement that is working to build a financial network that will invest in sustainable food endeavors from soil preservation to farms to food artisans to food distribution networks – the whole gamut.  These investments may not have as high an ROI (return on investment) as traditional markets, but will have a greater return to the community and our future.

This grassroots movement, named by BusinessWeek as one of the Big Ideas of 2010, has gained incredible momentum since I first heard of it at the Texas Book Festival last fall.  In less than a year, a small group of volunteers formed Slow Money Texas and organized a Showcase and dinner in April to introduce and explore how we might support a sustainable food ecosystem here.   Since then, the Texas chapter has appointed an Executive Director, Joanne Marino, and begun building chapters in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and El Paso.

Last month, three Texas sustainable food companies were selected to present at the National Slow Money conference.  Greenling, Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill and Rhythm Superfoods each pitched their company and investment needs to a national gathering of Slow Money devotees.

Investors are choosing to back these ventures because they care as much about the future of our food industry as they do about their dividends.  With a strong support system, hopefully both can thrive and grow.

Intrigued?  Wondering how you can learn more and get involved?

The Slow Money Alliance offers a list of 10 Things You Can Do Now.  Some of them are as simple as watching a video and signing a petition. Come on, be bold, go click on the link.

You can also learn more about Slow Money this coming Thursday, July 29th at a Slow Money Primer hosted by Slow Money Austin from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at Ventana del Soul Cafe & Cultural Center, 1834 E. Oltorf.

Whether you are flush with cash or have time to give instead of dollars, I hope you’ll consider how you might be able to help the Slow Money movement.  After all, in addition to investing in our future, you’ll be helping me sleep through the night, and I appreciate that greatly.


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Road Trip: Local Eats in Buffalo

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Earlier this year, some friends invited me to join them for a week at the Chautauqua Institution, an organization committed to lifelong learning that runs 9 weeks of programs during the summer outside of Buffalo, NY. I always loved summer camp as a kid and jumped at the opportunity to relax and feed my brain for a week.

I flew in the night before we were to leave for Chautauqua so that I could explore Buffalo a bit.  I had heard good things about the city from my friend Jodi Bart of Tasty Touring, but in my mind, Buffalo is one of those dying Rust Belt cities like Detroit.  Not having had good experiences in the Motor City, my expectations were low.

Buffalo surprised me.  While it’s true the city has shrunk in size as industry has moved away, Buffalo has reinvented itself as a center for higher education and the health care industry.  The city has a vibrancy and optimism that was refreshing and the friendliness of everyone I met was contagious.

For my short visit, I consulted Edible Buffalo for guidance on a restaurant and market to visit. They recommended Trattoria Aroma in the Elmwood Village neighborhood, Buffalo’s version of SoCo, for dinner.  The restaurant is charming with a bustling bar and a large patio area for al fresco dining.

Guests are greeted at the door by a chalkboard listing the daily local produce and featured farms.  The menu is packed with locally sourced dishes, name dropping a local farm in almost every dish.  I selected an appetizer of grilled local asparagus, with prosciutto, shaved parmesan cheese, a fried farm egg and a drizzle of truffle oil.

The dish was luscious and I could not help but groan a little with pleasure as I savored the first bite (slightly embarrassing when you are sitting by yourself.)  My server heard me and said, “Amazing, right?”  I happily nodded my agreement.

For dinner, I ordered a pasta dish that featured local produce.  The ripe squash, chard mushrooms and tomatoes tossed with a delicious handmade pasta was rich and surprisingly satisfying for a vegetarian dish.

Trattoria does a fantastic job of highlighting the best of Buffalo’s local meat and produce in their creative offerings and it was a lovely place to start my adventure.

Saturday morning, I got up early and visited the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market, located in a small parkway in the same neighborhood as Trattoria Aroma.  The producer only market was bustling this early July morning with plenty of offerings for any craving.

My favorite part of visiting markets outside of Austin is finding goodies we don’t have.  The first booth I saw as I entered the park was a produce stand with cherries. C-H-E-R-R-I-E-S!!!!!! I’m sure there were other vegetables and fruits on the table, but I could only see the cherries.   I bought a bag and exercised immense self-control to not eat it immediately.

The harvesting season in Buffalo begins in late May/early June and the market offered much of the produce that we see in early spring in Central Texas with an abundance of lettuces, Swiss chard, sugar snap peas, turnips, onions and asparagus.   Blueberries, raspberries, currants and gooseberries were also plentiful.

As I wandered through the stalls, I was delighted to recognized so many farm names from the menu at Trattoria Aroma.  I mentioned to one farmer that I had enjoyed their eggs and asparagus the night before at dinner and she beamed with pride.  “It’s nice to work with such a great restaurant,” she said.

The market offers a number of prepared foods and meats as well.  You could fill your fridge with smoked sausages, chicken, rabbit or beef.  White Cow Dairy sells a variety of bottled yogurts and juices including low-fat yogurt.  You can buy a complete pasta dinner at the Pasta Peddler who sells both handmade dried pastas and jarred sauces and even pair it with a nice wine from one of two Niagara based vineyards.

I found popcorn in three varieties for the low price of $1/bag.  I bought one of each for Carla Crownover of Austin Urban Gardens who has missed popcorn immensely during her year without a grocery store challenge.  One vendor was selling Cherrywood Grilling Chips and I bought a couple of small boxes in hopes that I can convince Marshall Wright from Eat This Lens to smoke some bacon with it.  

There is even a salsa vendor, Saltamontes Salsa.  I gave the owner, Ron Glatzhofer, a mildly hard time about salsa in Buffalo until I learned that he had lived in California for many years.  The salsa was tasty, although not spicy enough for me.  I did buy some of his Buffalo Wing sauce which had plenty of kick.

The Elmwood-Bidwell market offers a great introduction to the local food scene in Buffalo and I had no problem filling my market bag with goodies for our vacation house.  When I was done shopping, I meandered across the street to Caffe Aroma (owned by the same folks as Trattoria Aroma) to grab some coffee and watch the World Cup game.  It was a pretty terrific way to start a week of vacation and I’m looking forward to the next time I can shuffle off to Buffalo.

View the full Buffalo Road Trip photo set.

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