‘Tis the Season for Farmers Markets! #1

It is officially summer. This may be my favorite time of the year. Not only do we have sunshine for over 12 hours, but the opportunities for in-season, local, fresh produce are almost endless. From farmers markets to roadside stands to CSA’s, each week we can be sure to find a mouthwatering summertime favorite.

As part of my practicum project, I have the opportunity to make it a point to visit farmers markets outside the Raleigh area. This makes me happy, as I get to drive to new places, meet farmers from various counties and most importantly…..EAT! Eat real, wholesome, locally grown food. Anyone who knows me will agree that I absolutely love grocery shopping. It doesn’t get any better when you actually get to MEET the farmer who grew your food. When it comes to waking up early on a Saturday for a market, I’ll be there.

I decided I will start a series of posts of farmers markets I visit over the course of the summer, which will very well lead into fall and winter. I’m so grateful for those farmers who brave the weather all year round! (Thank goodness I live in the South!)

The first ‘non-Raleigh’ market of the year started with a trip to Columbus County. After a drive through back-country roads to meet Elena, not knowing what to expect, I ended up at the pavilion.

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After speaking with a few farmers and buying cucumbers, beets, and turnip greens, grown mostly pesticide free, I was extremely ecstatic when I found a farmer from Higher Ground Gardens selling rhubarb!! Yes, North Carolina grown RHUBARB!!! Being from WI, this was a treat. I have not once found a farmer who was able to grow rhubarb in this state in the past 4 years I’ve lived here. Every time I asked about it, I received the same response: “It’s too hot for rhubarb to grow here.” Well, this farmer has proven that he is able to grow some great looking (and tasting) rhubarb!

The Columbus County Community Farmers Market is surely one I would recommend to anyone who is looking for good quality, wholesome food who lives south of Fayetteville, near Wilmington or even close to the eastern South Carolina border. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

Carrot, Beet, Rhubarb Smoothie
Serves 1

1 cup water
½ cup sliced raw carrots, frozen
¼ cup sliced raw red beets, frozen
¼ cup chopped raw rhubarb, frozen
½ tablespoon Coconut oil
Sprinkle of Ginger
Handful of Goji berries

1. Slice and chop carrots, beets and rhubarb after getting back from market. Freeze together in 1 bag for convenience.
2. Pour water into blender, add frozen ingredients and blend to break up.
3. Add coconut oil and ginger, blend. Taste. If the flavor is too earthy, add Goji berries to sweeten.
4. Enjoy!

I thank Elena for inspiring me to add beets to my smoothies and drink them out of blue mason jars!

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 Read more about my ‘Discovering North Carolina’ project here

Food for thought: What is your favorite summertime food or favorite smoothie ingredient?

Got to be NC Festival

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This month marks the start of my project, ‘Discovering North Carolina.’ Last weekend I had the opportunity to experience a ‘state-fair’ like festival held in Wake County, the Got to be NC Festival. This three day event had everything from carnival rides and antique tractor pulls to John Deere Ice Cream Makers, a Food, Wine & Beer Expo and a North Carolina local bluegrass band competition.

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My focus of attending this festival was not only to enjoy the sunshine and listen to some traditional live bluegrass music, but I was hoping to speak with anyone who might be from Wake, Forsyth or Buncombe County who was selling a local food/product in which I could learn a little more about their particular unique food culture and heritage. (see ‘Discovering North Carolina’ page for project details.) While I was strolling in the Food, Wine & Beer Expo I came across a booth from Old Salem Museums & Gardens, featuring the renowned Moravian Cookies from Forsyth County, NC.

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The two men who were tending the booth were both very knowledgeable and were able to tell me a brief but detailed summary of the history of the Moravian settlers. Topics we discussed included not only the history of the ever so famous Moravian cookies, but the mathematical origin of the Moravian Christmas star, traditional dishes such as the veggie-less chicken pie, and a potato and yeast bread known as Moravian sugar cake. Next to a couple cookbooks that were for sale was a gem of a book entitled ‘Preserving the Past – Salem Moravians’ Receipts & Rituals’. This book of “receipts contains a variety of topics ranging from 18th and 19th century etiquette notes to medicinal remedies to brief recipe descriptions for veggies, breads, meats, sweets and more. According to the author, this book is the first ever published recipe collection from the 250-year-old Moravian Archives in Old Salem. I immediately purchased a copy for myself as I felt this was a great find and productive start in researching Forsyth County.

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Overall my experience at the ‘Got to be NC Festival’ was enjoyable and a success. Even though I didn’t partake of any fried Oreos or corn dogs, I did indulge in a chocolate chip cookie from a Triangle (and Wake County) favorite, La Farm Bakery. This festival had something for everyone and exhibited the past and present culture of North Carolina in food, music and agriculture. Stay tuned and check back often as I continue with my series of ‘Discovering North Carolina’!

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Read more about my ‘Discovering North Carolina’ project here.
Food for thought: What is your favorite food or restaurant in Wake County, NC? I’d love to hear!

A Time to Reflect

Happy March 1st! This day brings me happiness and eagerness for the upcoming months, as highs today were in the 50’s in the lovely state of North Carolina. Bright sunshine and the sight of our first trees blooming brought a sigh of relief and reminded me of nature’s rhythm. Winter surely did a number on most of the country this year, and I think we are all a little more excited for the day we can let the fresh spring air into our homes with our windows wide open.

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While the earth thaws and flowers start to peek their green tips through the soil, this is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the past months. The holidays allowed us to reunite with family and friends. The ice and snow storms gave us an appreciation for power, heat, and driving on dry roads. Perhaps our New Year’s goals have already been forgotten. Wouldn’t this be a marvelous time to re-visit our thoughts, dreams and wishes for the year?

As for myself, my semester of grad school has taken me into a whirlwind of writing, studying and test taking. Not only have I learned about nutrition metabolism, but I have learned how much time I previously spent doing other things: cooking, baking, blog writing, yoga, reading and the list goes on. I have come to realize, even more, the balance one needs in life. No matter what the situation, how busy we become, there is always time to take a few moments to ourselves.

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With the temperatures increasing and days becoming longer, embrace the changing season and breathe. Even though spring isn’t officially here until mid-March, think of this month as a spring-cleaning for our minds and bodies. Take a walk during lunch and notice the daffodils, robins and smile as the sunshine warms your face. Start using your grill, buy the season’s first produce at your local market and take the time to appreciate new beginnings and new life. Reflect on the past, dream about the future, but most importantly, live in the present.

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Cocoa Banana “Ice Cream”

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Even though winter is blasting its arctic chill through the air, sometimes a cold, smooth, creamy, chocolatey treat is desired. So what does one use to make a dairy free dessert without coconut, almond, or soy?  Bananas of course!! This simple recipe is one of my favorites; I hope you find it delightfully satisfying.

Cocoa Banana “Ice Cream”

Serves 1

Ingredients:

1 frozen banana (break in half or slice before freezing)

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Dash of ground cinnamon

Dash of cayenne pepper

Cocoa nibs

Directions:

  1. Place frozen banana in food processor and blend to break up.
  2. Add cocoa powder, cinnamon and cayenne pepper.
  3. Blend until smooth and creamy.
  4. Serve in bowl sprinkled with cocoa nibs.
  5. Enjoy!

Optional: blend in 1 tablespoon of your favorite natural nut butter for added protein.

Food for thought: Do you have a favorite “ice cream” ingredient? I’d love to hear, please share your comments below!

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Holidays in NYC…Day 2

We woke up to bright sunshine on Saturday morning and were happy to start our day. Having one full day in NYC, we compromised and set out to explore, starting with our walk to Central Park. The wind let us know its presence as we followed the crowd to the skating rink, admiring the skyscrapers towering above us. We walked through a corner of the park, and realized how its 6.1 mile loop would be more than a breath of fresh air. Carriage rides, ice skating and a hot chocolate stand were a few of the sights that took the chill from the air, offering the city’s holiday spirit.

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As it neared lunch time, we tested our navigation skills and hopped onto the subway to head down and experience the culture of NYU and Union Square. We wandered the streets for a cozy eatery and stumbled across just what we needed, a Roman restaurant named Lupa Osteria Romana. While waiting for a table, we browsed the wine menu and chose an enticing Caraffina Di Vino Rosso.

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We didn’t mind waiting while we immersed ourselves in the savory aromas of the kitchen and were warmed by the friendliness of the staff. Once we were seated, appetizers such as Lingua (beef tongue), Prosciutto and marinated olives were ordered. We smiled and embraced the delicate textures and magnificent flavors of these fine hors d’oeuvres.

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For my main dish, I chose the Sabato special, the Heritage Pork Porterhouse.  This tender and juicy cut of meat was exactly what my palate desired. Topped with gorgeous, deep green kale and sweet butternut squash this meal was hands-down my favorite of the city. I would recommend anyone to seek out this warm and sustainable restaurant nestled in the heart of NYU.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening wandering the streets and holiday markets surrounding Union Square. It was soon time to enjoy our final meal in the big city. Friend of a Farmer in Gramercy Park was another spectacular find with a menu of local meat, seafood and veggies. This restaurant felt more like a home as its dark wood and wallpapered panels, candle lit tables and warm fireplaces surrounded us. Baskets with colorful vegetables greeted us at the top of the stairs while we settled in to enjoy yet another exceptional meal. The chef’s special of grilled grouper with steamed vegetables was my choice for the evening.

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To wrap up the night, we hailed a cab to take in the energy at Times Square. For most of us, it was our first experience to the notorious New Year’s Eve destination. We took a few minutes to embrace the sights and sounds of the enormous screens, bright lights, yellow taxis and tourists photographing this iconic attraction.

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On Sunday we packed up and made our way to Macy’s Herald’s Square just before claiming our seats on the train for our ride home.

Visiting New York City during the holidays was surely an experience to remember. I am thankful for good friends who I joined in sampling….ok, perhaps indulging, in the local cuisine. It is great to know that a city full of energy, phenomenal food and astounding sites is just a train ride away. Cheers to a spectacular weekend in the Big Apple!

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Holidays in NYC

Here we are, in the 3rd week of January and the New Year is well upon us. We have taken down our Christmas decorations and have stored them as the joy and excitement we experienced with our friends and family just 4 weeks ago, is in our distant past. The holidays bring with them lights, energy, travel and good food. Why not experience this all year round?

New York City is one of those cities where the energy fills the air no matter what time of year or what temperature. I was lucky enough to be able to experience this glamorous city during the holidays with great company.

Our three-day weekend started out with a six-hour train ride to the Big Apple. When we arrived at Penn Station, we were greeted with the hustle and bustle of the city, along with rain and cold temps. A little rain didn’t stop us as we made our way to the hotel, and then headed out to explore the city.

Our first destination was Rockefeller Plaza. As we rounded the corner with our umbrellas in hand, the brightly lit tree brought a smile to my face. We ventured into a wine bar, located right across from the tree in Rockefeller Plaza called Morrell Wine Bar and Cafe. As we browsed the enormous wine list, I settled on a glass of fruit forward French wine from Côtes du Rhône. A warm plate of olives and shaved Brussels sprouts with Applewood smoked bacon were a magnificent treat as we planned our Saturday itinerary.

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Our next stop was to Tiffany’s…. Need I say more? Although a few pieces were quite tempting, simply observing the gems was quite the experience.

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To end the evening, we headed over to Radio City Music Hall, where we had tickets for the 9:30pm showing of The Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Believe me, it absolutely was a spectacular show! The Rockettes, alongside the parade of wooden soldiers, the telling of the Christmas Story with live camels and donkeys and 3D glasses, what more could one ask for?  It truly was an unforgettable experience inside this iconic music hall.

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Stay tuned for day 2 adventures!

Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes

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On one of the coldest Saturdays of the year in North Carolina, I was determined to drive to a farmers market to stock up on needed essentials, such as sauerkraut, kimchi and carrots with ginger from Two Chicks Farm. Much to my surprise and delight, I stumbled upon a booth whose farmer grew Jerusalem artichokes. These little sunchokes resembled ginger and a root vegetable all in one. The farmer explained to me they were from the sunflower family and I could prepare them like a potato. Roasting sounded quite tempting, as I had never laid eyes on these little tubers before.

I was excited with my find and started researching what exactly a Jerusalem artichoke was. I quickly learned that they are not from Jerusalem, rather a native to North America. They grow in the winter months in the central and eastern part of the US. They are rich in nutrients such as Vitamin C, Iron, Thiamin and Potassium. Even though it is considered a starchy vegetable, it has a low glycemic index due to the amount of inulin it contains. Inulin is a carbohydrate that doesn’t breakdown in the human body and may cause GI upset, namely gas, if eaten in excess. As I researched more, I came across that particular tidbit of information in almost every website I visited. I felt as though I had my fair share of warnings, with the ‘Buyer Beware’ theme floating across Google searches that included the words ‘Jerusalem artichokes’.

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Despite the mixed reviews these vegetables received, I was eager to try them. I wanted to know more about their nutty flavor, and creamy texture, apparently similar to that of a globe artichoke. When I decided to roast them with thyme, garlic powder, sea salt and pepper, I couldn’t have been more pleased. These delicate vegetables were light and creamy, had a taste of both artichoke and sunflower. I did abide with the warnings and limited my consumption to a small helping with each meal. I would purchase them again and highly recommend them to anyone who loves to be fascinated with new foods. Since I am a soup lover, these little tubers will be turned into soup the next chance I get. Bon appétit!

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Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

1 pound Jerusalem artichokes

¼ cup melted coconut oil

½ tablespoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon garlic powder

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Rinse and scrub artichokes clean with water (no need to peel), pat dry with paper towel. Slice in half or in thirds, depending on size. Place in bowl.
  2. Add melted coconut oil, thyme, garlic powder. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir to combine flavors.
  3. Place on baking sheet and roast in preheated oven for about 45 minutes, turning halfway through with spatula.
  4. Enjoy as a side dish or a delicious fiber packed snack!