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Hillcrest Farmers Market in San Diego

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I was visiting colleagues this weekend and we ventured out to the festive Hillcrest Farmers Market this morning before the airport.

I love the diversity of crops in California because of their temperate weather and couldn’t resist buying cherries, avocados and pluots. I also bought a bag of dried Christmas limas, some salami from Meatmen and some truffle salt. Definitely a fun morning and a great way to end a trip to San Diego.

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Road Trip: California Dreamin’

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In March, I embarked on part of a trip that I’ve been dreaming about for years.  I have always wanted to (and will some day) start in San Diego and drive all the way up the coast to Seattle with no plan, no deadlines, just driving and playing – very not me.

As luck would have it, this year the stars aligned for me to join friends in San Francisco and Napa, then travel down the coast to the Edible Communities conference in Santa Barbara over a 10 day period.  It wasn’t the full trip of my dreams, but it was a good start, and it was made possible in large part because Chevy loaned me a car. Thank you Chevy! The otherwise ridiculous car rental fees would have sidelined the whole plan, but Chevy came to the rescue with a zippy Sonic hatchback.  Doesn’t it look fabulous at this overlook on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)?

Sonic_PCH

I started the trip with my friends Natanya and Robby in San Francisco to serve as cheerleading support for Natanya’s first marathon.  Since we were making sure Natanya got plenty of rest, we were more subdued than normal, but that didn’t stop us from eating some really terrific food.

I was thrilled to dine at several new spots and didn’t mind at all standing online at Swan Oyster Depot for our first meal.  It was worth the wait to devour oysters and crusty bread dipped in crab fat.  Yes, crab fat.  The seafood was so fresh and sitting at the bar watching the servers hustle the plates was great dinner theater.

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Crab fat in the shell

San Francisco is generally a magical place to me and exploring it with Natanya and Robby made it even more so. Even our hotel sparkled.

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Curtain of lights at Hyatt Regency San Francisco

We had delightful Japanese izakaya at Chotto and completely pigged out at Mama’s on Washington Square for breakfast.  I had three meals in a row that were laden with seafood and I LOVED it.

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Japonica roll at Chotto

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Gyoza at Chotto

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Dungenes crab benedict at Mama's on Washington Square

Robby and Natanya indulged me as I made my requisite spin through the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.  I will never cease to be amazed at all the produce that is simultaneously in season in California.  I was surprised to find kiwisand was tickled by the Fatted Calf jerky cones.  Now you can get a meat cone from Boccalone and a jerky cone from Fatted Calf.  Who needs meat on a stick when there is an abundance of meat cones?
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Ferry Plaza farmers market

 

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Jerky cones from the Fatted Calf

The unenviable job of packing the Sonic for the trip to Napa went to Robby.  Thank goodness he volunteered; Natanya and I might still be there trying to get the bags in the car.  Not to be stereotypical, but, he was traveling with two women and one of them (that would be me) packed for ten days. Luckily the Sonic handled the burden well and, while cozy, it was still comfortable.

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Packing the sonic

Our attention in Napa was focused on the marathon, but we still had time to nibble.  We practically took up residence at Oxbow Public Market (three visits in two days), enjoying the variety of food and the free wifi.

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Flying livestock at Oxbow Public Market

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Lunch at Gott's Roadside at Oxbow Public Market

When Natanya and Robby headed back to Austin, I started down the coast, taking my time and stopping at every scenic overlook that struck my fancy. I meandered down to Monterey Bay and spent a lovely morning at the Aquarium.  What an amazing place!

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Scenic Overlook on PCH

Driving down to Morro Bay, I stopped to stretch my legs and discovered sea lions warming themselves in the sun.  Who could blame them.

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Sea lions on the PCH

I resumed my seafood overdose enjoying clams, mussels and more oysters to my heart’s content.  I think I ate five dozen oysters during the trip.

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Steam clams in Morro Bay

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Morro Bay

I ended the drive in Santa Barbara to meet Jenna for the Edible Communities conference.  We had a bit of free time and enjoyed a visit to the Carr Winery tasting room and dinners at Julienne and The Hungry Cat.  After a week on the road, I cherished Santa Barbara’s laid back attitude and gorgeous beach backdrop.  By Saturday, my friends threatened me if I didn’t stop tweeting pictures from my morning walks on the beach.

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Carr Winery in Santa Barbara

crudo at Julienne

Crudo at Julienne

clams and chorizo at Hungry Cat

Clams & Chorizo at Hungry Cat

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Cheese Board of my dreams at Hungry Cat

I came home inspired by the beauty of the drive, the fresh California cuisine and a plethora of new ideas – not the least of which is to plan the rest of that drive.

View the full photo set on Flickr.

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Learning to Love the South in Cajun Country

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As I prepare to head to New Orleans for the Chefs Collaborative annual summit, I find myself thinking about my trip to Louisiana earlier this summer that opened my eyes in unexpected ways.

My dear friends Katey and Marshall and I were planning a trip to the Big Easy when Marshall called wanting to move the dates so that we could join the  Southern Foodways Alliance’s Cajun Country field trip to Eunice, Louisiana.I hesitated. I love New Orleans, but did I really want to explore rural Louisiana?

I’ve had a difficult relationship with the South. When I was younger I thought that since I grew up in Texas, I was Southern, but then I met my college roommate Beverly who grew up in Georgia. When I told her Texas was the South, she giggled, patted my hand and said, “oh, you’re so cute.”

When my sister started at the University of Mississippi, I gradually learned that Beverly wasn’t being patronizing – the South is a whole different world and I wasn’t particularly comfortable in it.I’m not naive. I know there is racism everywhere and there are many ways to be wrong, but every visit to see my sister resulted in an incident or encounter of overt racism that was more uncomfortable or blatant than the previous.

The final straw for me was when we were refused entry to a bar on her graduation night because there was a black man in our group. Fortunately, my sister was wise enough to not tell me why were turned away or about the unpleasant slur some girls called us in the parking lot until after we were in the car because I promptly came unglued.  After that incident, I avoided traveling to the Deep South whenever possible.

Now Marshall wanted to go spend two days in the middle-of-nowhere Louisiana. I hemmed and hawed, but he pressed, and he’s my friend, so I caved. And, he was right.

The Southern Foodways Alliance did a fantastic job preparing us for the trip with an extensive reading list. I decided an open mind would lead to an open heart and dove into the pre-trip reading.  I started with two of Marcelle Bienvenu’s books as I knew she would be one of the speakers on the trip. I really enjoyed Stir the Pot: The History of Cajun Cooking for the historical background and perspective on the area and the cuisine and I fell in love with her stories of growing up in Cajun Country in her “Who’s Your Mama, Are you Catholic and Can you Cook a Roux?” cookbook.

I read Hungry Town by Tom Fitzmorris and countless articles about Cajun culture. I suddenly had a much better understanding of my dear friend Jenna who grew up in Labadieville, Louisiana (yes, it’s as small as you think) and will drive across town to eat something delicious before she will dine on something mediocre. I was beginning to understand the important elements of Cajun cuisine – fresh ingredients, prepared with care to create complex, layered flavors – and get a better feel for the area.

 

Fried green tomatoes with shrimp & remoulade at Elizabeth's in New Orleans Photo by Marshall Wright

 

For two days, we explored the food, music and history of the area surrounding Eunice. We learned about crawfish, the meat and three (sides) lunch and the difference between gravy and smothered. We listened to Cajun music and zydeco and learned that they are indeed different. We sipped Carolina moonshine from a Ball jar and taught diners at our table who were from north of the Mason Dixon line how to peel crawfish. We ate the most amazing breakfast biscuits with boudin balls from the French Press in Lafayette as we drank our morning coffee in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express. You can check out the play by play of our adventures on our Tumblr blog.After two days in New Orleans, we were primed for our Cajun Country field trip when we arrived at The Mowata Store just outside of Eunice, Louisiana. You would never suspect that the quaint cabin next to the gas station was the perfect place for an introduction to Cajun boudin sausage – fragrant, rich and spicy. As we listened to Bubba Frey recount the history of boudin and how he makes it, I felt myself being pulled into the rich tradition of the food.

 

Rendez Vous de Cajuns radio show Photo by Marshall Wright

Boudin ball biscuits with Steen's Cane Syrup from French Press Photo by Marshall Wright

But, the most incredible part of the trip was the company. From the attendees to the business owners to the restauranteurs, I met some of the nicest, kindest people I have ever become acquainted with on this trip. They were big hearted, caring and real. It was lovely. I asked a few of our companions about the issue of racism, always careful to couch it through my personal experience and qualms. One fellow traveller said, “Well, it’s (the racism) always there, and it’s not right, so, the best we can do is be different than that.” I agree and it put things in perspective for me.

I realized that by going on this trip, I was seeing the South, or at least this part of it, through the eyes of the Southern Foodways Alliance crew who they truly love this place. I won’t forget those negative experiences and will never condone racism or prejudice, but, by experiencing the traditions, culture and food in the center of Louisiana, my eyes and heart are now open so that I can appreciate it for what it is – a beautiful place and the heart of one of the most unique cuisines in our country.

I may never fall in love with the South, but I think we can become good friends, and maybe that’s enough. Since I’ve been home, I’ve cooked countless Cajun dishes from the “Who’s Your Mama?” cookbook  and have grown to truly appreciate their seasonality dishes and the incorporation of fresh ingredients.

Photo by Marshall Wright

A few weekends ago I celebrated one of my favorite traditions, watching Longhorn football with friends, by thawing out some of the boudin I brought back from The Best Stop in Scott, Louisiana and whipping up a batch of Maque Choux (creamed corn). I figured one good tradition deserved another
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Learning to love a new home at the market: Crystal City Farmers Market in Washington DC

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By Sandra Ramos

My dear friend Sandra Ramos recently moved to Washington DC and has been visiting the local farmers markets to learn about her new community.  She has generously offered to write guest posts for Austin Farm to Table about her adventures.  Thanks Sandra!  I  miss you!
Moving to a new locale can be daunting for many reasons, not to mention learning about the local community. Fortunately, moving from Austin to Alexandria, Virginia has been an easy transition when it comes to local food. There are over 20 local markets in the Washington DC/Northern Virginia/Maryland area – the majority of which are easily accessible by local transit and Metro rail. FreshFarm Markets  is the umbrella organization that coordinates the majority of the markets, and so I decided to start there.

 

Braving the oppressive heat wave weʼve all been tackling (plus an unhealthy dose of humidity), I busted out the Metro card and headed a few stops over from our new apartment to my first of many weekly farmers markets around DC/Northern Virginia.

Todayʼs stop: Crystal City Farmers Market, Tuesdays 3-7pm, Crystal City Metro

Among the tall corporate and government buildings (think defense contractors) and high-end chain restaurants (notably Tedʼs Montana Grill and Legal Sea Foods,) is a lovely afternoon oasis – the Tuesday market. Just a block north of the Metro station, and super easy to find, this market was (surprisingly) teeming not only with lots of local freshness (with about 20 vendors), but lots of men in ties and polished shoes tasting wares and toting plastic bags of goodies!

Crystal City Farmers Market

I stopped in on the small tent run by the market organizers to find some very useful information beyond the recipes – a Mid-Atlantic seasonality calendar! A well-thought out 12”x12” 5-fold pocket calendar of local availability for fruits and vegetables, sponsored by local fave Jaleo, a tapas restaurant that often shops at the FreshFarm markets for its menu.

Planting guide

The 150-mile radius of this region encompasses West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and southern Pennsylvania. This allows for a staggering of climates and allows for longer growing seasons for particular fruits and veggies.

After noticing the beautiful array of colors of the cherry tomatoes, including a very juicy chocolate cherry tomato (which is a lovely eggplant purple), I knew just a pint wouldnʼt do!

Tomatoes and squash

Chatting with the guy at the OberGood goat cheese table, as I perused his photo album of billy goats and the farm, he informed me that their farm hails from Sharpsburg, MD, the site of the famous Civil War Battle of Sharpsburg (or Antietam, which I take is a sore subject.)  But I will tell you that his camembert-style cheese
smooth as silk and the goats are very cute.

Cheese

Live music filled the air and I continued tasting the peaches and apples and nectarines (oh my! the white nectarines were divine – sweet with what seemed like a hint of vanilla taste.) I dreamed of a luscious fruit
salad and creamy yogurt for my morning breakfast – could I wait that long?

My graphic design background kicked in as I wandered through the center of the market and noticed that the typeface Papyrus is a popular choice among the southern Pennsylvania crowd. Though not a fan of that
font, I didnʼt let it stop me from talking with the very nice Amish family selling lamb chops, fresh eggs, and honey. But my disappointment of the afternoon came when I was mesmerized by the fresh bakery cart with loads of loaves, only to have arrived too late for the last cinnamon raisin bread.

Apples

At the end of the market was a cute flower cart and a very nice woman, whom I found out, ended up in Virginia via Oregon and Los Angeles. We commiserated about the humidity and horrible drivers of the Mid-Atlantic and I bought a pretty bouquet of yellow and orange zinnias for my apartment.

At this point, the oppressive heat and humidity had taken its toll, as I wandered back toward the Metro. Goodies in hand, I was comforted and excited about my future farmers market adventures in my new home town.

Sunflowers

View the full photo set on Flickr:

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