Sun Gold Tomatoes

Sun Gold Tomatoes

At first I thought I’d make a pasta salad with these sun gold tomatoes from Tecolote Farm. Then I ate one. And another one. And other one. And soon they were all gone.

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Meal Plan 6/9 – 6/14

Is there anything sadder than tossing a slimy, spoiled head of lettuce into the trash? Of course there is, but that’s not keeping me from wallowing in culinary pity. I forgot my cooking at home last week because of all the food blogging activities in Austin (ironic, right?) and now I’m  dreading cleaning the uneaten, spoiled food out of my kitchen. Last week’s peaches on the counter are more brown than peach, and I can’t tell whether the beets in my crisper have farm dirt on them or something else. I’m procrastinating the monumental food-toss-clean-out by listening to music by The Moldy Peaches, and by looking forward to the week ahead.

We’ve got new, non-moldy peaches, blueberries, and two kinds of tomatoes in the kitchen, and I’ll be able to get cooking with those just as soon as I make a little room. Here’s what’s in the Local Box this week. Thanks to Stephanie for putting all the hyperlinks for the farm websites.

Peaches – Caskey Orchards
Blueberries – Berry Best
Yellow Onion – Gundermann Acres
French Carrots – Gundermann Acres
Large Cucumbers – Acadian Family Farm
Valley Girl Tomatoes – Fruitful Hill Farm
Golden Cherry Tomatoes – Acadian Family Farm OR Tecolote Farm
New Potatoes – Gundermann Acres
Red Beet Bunch – Acadian Family Farm

Here’s what I’m planning to cook:

Thursday: Homemade tortillas with picadillo, a traditional South American hash made with venison, onions, peppers and squash.

Friday: Potato Chickpea Curry, Rice, Carrot Halwa

Saturday: Picnic! We’re having our favorite tomato sandwiches, potato salad, icebox pickles, and molasses cookies. Hopefully Rami will make sun tea. He learned how a few weeks ago and since then our large mason jar has had a new flavor of sun tea in it every few days!

Sunday: An informal group of food bloggers and tweeters, including me, are meeting at SWAD on north Lamar for a late lunch at 2 PM. There’s no invitation or formal guest list, so please join us if you want to! There are 8-10 of us planning to go so far.

Monday: Vegetarian Borscht, beer bread, peach crisp

Tuesday: Leftover Awareness Night!

CAFB Hunger Awareness Challenge: A Follow Up

A few weeks ago I shared some snack recipes as part of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance Hunger Awareness Blog Project benefiting the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB). I promised a three-part series in that first post, and I didn’t deliver. This is just post number two, and I’m way past the deadline. Sorry about that. I’ve stewed about this for weeks now, and I wasn’t ready to share this piece until today.

Before I embarked on the AFBA Hunger Challenge, I assumed that poor people shopped at grocery stores because they didn’t know about farmer’s markets. And that they didn’t cook from scratch because they were lazy. (I am crying as I write this because it is mortifying to admit how judgmental and naïve I was.) Lucky for me, the staff at CAFB used this challenge to teach the facts about the real face of hunger. For example, over 80% of CAFB beneficiaries are not homeless, and many are children. I also learned that nearly 50% of Americans will be on food assistance at some point in their lives, many because of circumstances beyond their control.

Through my research of the SNAP (food stamp) application process I discovered that my husband and I are just a few thousand dollars above the annual income threshold for food stamps. And if we chose to have children now, we would definitely need government assistance to help feed our family.

I’m ashamed to admit that I never used to think that someone on food stamps could be just like me, but now I know better. People in poverty aren’t stupid and they don’t need my advice. They do need support from their communities–including access to clean, healthy food– to succeed against the odds which are often stacked against them.

I originally intended to write for this challenge about how SNAP clients could use food stamps to buy safe, healthy foods from local farmers via community supported agriculture (CSAs). In the CSA model, local farmers deliver baskets of affordable, healthy food directly to consumers. There’s no middle man, so prices for CSA produce are often lower than those for equivalent products at grocery stores. The neighborhood delivery part of CSAs helps end food deserts, and CSAs benefit local economies by keeping food dollars close to home.

CSAs seem like a no-brainer solution in the fight against hunger, and according to the USDA, “many SNAP licensed firms have incorporated CSAs into their business portfolios.” However, not a single CSA program I contacted in the CAFB service area accepts food stamps as payment. (I reached out to thirteen farms and local organic delivery services and counting.) When I asked Greenling Organic Delivery, the CSA-type business that sponsors my blog, whether they plan to expand their payment options to include SNAP benefits, they said “not at this time.” I was tearful and angry after that phone call, and it has taken me over a month to work up the courage to talk about it publicly.* Hopefully I won’t lose them as a sponsor if they read this post.

When I called to talk with farmers about their CSAs and food stamps, I simply asked whether or not they would accept SNAP benefits as payment. Now I’d like to ask “why not?” As it stands, this is a glaring inequity in our local food supply. I am lucky to have the means to eat well. Much of the focus of my blog– eating good food made with local ingredients– is born out of my privilege. As I become aware of this, my thinking about food and hunger changes.

The poor do have a personal responsibility in eliminating hunger, but so does the community. As part of Austin’s food community, we food bloggers must acknowledge barriers that stand between healthy, local foods and families in poverty. We need to demand fair policy from our politicians and fair treatment from our food producers so that everyone in Central Texas can eat as well as we do.

*Edited 6/8/11 to add: Since I first published this post, Mason Arnold, the founder and owner of Greenling, left a comment to explain that no vendors can accept SNAP payments online. That restriction knocks out Greenling and most of the other large CSA and CSA-type businesses in Austin, who accept payments (either monthly or weekly) via credit card over the internet. 

Lisa Goddard, a staff person at CAFB, sent me a lengthy email with lots of information about the barriers that exist for non-grocery stores to accept SNAP payments. They are numerous, and much more complex than my initial research lead me to believe.

I  hope to write additional posts that explore the relationship between poverty and access to local food. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has not yet returned my calls requesting information about this issue, so I really appreciate Mason and Lisa’s input as I continue my research. Thank you, Mason and Lisa! 

7 places I wish I could have taken you during IACP

This past week Austin hosted the 2011 conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), a gathering of some of the most important food communicators in America. There were chefs, cookbook authors, journalists, bloggers and corporate food folks in attendance, each more famous and friendly than the last.

Non-food blogging Austinites might have noticed that the conference was happening because of the deluge of #IACP tags in the Austin Twitterverse, and because there were special IACP meals, tours and tastings at many of Austin’s restaurants. Many of these food events were once in a lifetime opportunities for the city’s best chefs to cook in the national spotlight on their own turf, and it was pretty awesome to see the likes of Jacques Pepin and Dorie Greenspan excited about Texas cuisine. A high point for me was when Elise Bauer tweeted, “Austin is food heaven,” from a taco truck last night.

Every moment of the IACP conference made me proud to be a Texan. However, some of my favorite Austin food experiences weren’t represented at the conference. Here’s a list of seven culinary adventures that keep Austin weird– and delicious– for me.

1. Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon

Three words: Chicken. Shit. Bingo.

Photo © Gary J. Wood

2. Creamy Jalapeno and Chips at Chuy’s

Tex Mex restaurants in Austin are a dime a dozen, but Chuy’s chips are the thinnest and crispiest in town. Locals know to ask for “creamy jalapeno,” the house-made jalapeño ranch dressing that made Chuy’s famous. It’s a spicy cool and creamy accompaniment to chips in the Texas heat. During happy hour at Chuy’s Mexican martinis are just $6 and you can get free, self-serve chips and creamy jalapeño out of a vintage car trunk near the bar. Seriously, it’s around the corner from the restaurant’s Elvis shrine.

3. Black Star Co-op

One of the major themes at IACP was the growing awareness of community  in consumer-food relationships. I heard over and over in sessions that “consumers want to know where their food comes from,” and “it’s all about the relationship.” As the first co-operatively owned brewpub in the United States, Black Star Co-op personifies these trends. The bar is literally owned by its neighbors (membership shares are $150), and its operations are governed by a member-elected board of directors.  Chef Johnny Livesay used to be the produce manager at Wheatsville, Austin’s farm-to-market grocery co-op, and he uses his connections with local farmers to source the best local produce for Black Star’s kitchen.

Photo © Ed Menard

4. Swad

The atmosphere at Swad is about as far from culinary hype as you can get, which is nice when you need a break from trying to impress people at a food conference. It’s tucked in a strip mall in a working-class area of north Austin, between a dance club called Desperado’s and an Indian market. Swad serves south Indian and Pakistani street food, all vegetarian, all spicy, all awesome. The enormous menu is printed mostly without English translations, and it includes lots of exotic dishes along with some familiar Indian selections like Naan and mango lassi. Standout items include samosa chat, potato-stuffed samosas in a terrifically spicy chickpea curry, and any of the dosas (stuffed lentil crepes). It pays to order adventurously at Swad; I try not to get the same thing twice, and I’ve never encountered a disappointing dish.

5. Casa de Luz

There are many hippies in Austin, especially south Austin, and I’m not sure that came across in the local programming at IACP. Lunch at Casa de Luz is one of the best ways to experience life as a south Austinite, and its vegan, macrobiotic menu would have been the perfect antidote to all the sausage and brisket served at the conference. A three-course meal includes a set menu with soup, salad and delectable entrees like blanched greens w/almond cilantro sauce and corn on the cob with umeboshi paste. The dining room’s community-style seating and bus your own table policy contribute to Casa de Luz’s hippie atmosphere.

6. Alamo Drafthouse

Movie theaters with full menu service are a rising trend in the food industry, and Alamo Drafthouse is a great example of How To Do It Right. They remove people who talk or text during the show*, they bring you Shiner Bock by the bucketful, and instead of lame pre-show advertising, the Alamo creates custom preshows for each movie (think clips of Dan Akroyd as Julia Child before Julie and Julia). Besides the usual theater offerings, Alamo Drafthouse contributes to Austin’s food scene with special culinary events. When Food Inc. opened, the theater produced a menu of local, organic offerings. And each year for the annual showing of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Chef John Bullington prepares an epic twelve hour long feast, with themed dishes like New Zealand lamb, lembas bread, elevensies and coney stew.

*Edited 6/6/11 to add: Alamo just released a new preview that’s going to start airing before its R-rated shows here in Austin. (Caution, NSFW: language.)

7. Mrs. Johnson’s Donuts

This Austin institution would have been the perfect way to celebrate National Donut Day during IACP. Hot, fresh donuts and some of the best people watching in Austin starting at 9 PM on Airport Boulevard every day. If you’re looking to make a night of it, dive bar Barfly’s down the road will even let you bring in a box of donuts.

Photo © Jeremy Sternberg

Basil Ice Cream with Strawberry Ripple


This dessert tastes like summer vacation to me.  Ice cream is the quintessential warm-weather indulgence, and the tart strawberry ripple undulating through this recipe’s sweet basil cream makes it the perfect poolside snack.

The inspiration for this sweet treat came from my sister in-law, Fatima. When I was visiting her last Christmas, she taught me to make mint chocolate chip ice cream from scratch using bunches of fresh spearmint to flavor the ice cream custard.  I used Fatima’s technique along with fresh basil from Pure Luck in Dripping Springs, Texas, to create this not-too-sweet basil ice cream.

When I was testing this recipe, I discovered that the earthy flavor of basil creates a very full-bodied ice cream. To punctuate and balance that richness I used some homemade strawberry jam to create a ripple: a thin layer of sauce that’s distributed throughout the ice cream.

Creating a fruit ripple in home-churned ice cream is easy, and all you need is some jam, pie filling or sweetened fruit purée. As soon as the churned ice cream has been poured into a storage container, gently spread an even layer of jam or fruit purée across the top of the ice cream. Cover and freeze as usual, and when you serve the ice cream later a perfect ripple will appear automatically in each scoop.

If you’re out of fresh strawberry jam, peaches from Caskey Orchards in San Marcos or blackberries  would pair just as well with basil, and they’re in season now. To create a blackberry or peach ripple, you can macerate chopped fruit or whole berries in sugar and purée them, or you can use your favorite recipe for pie filling or freezer jam and purée the finished product. Whatever fruit, jam or pie filling you use, it’s important that the ripple be completely smooth since the high water content of whole berries or peach chunks turn them into ice cubes when they freeze, ruining the creamy texture of the ice cream.

Basil Ice Cream with Strawberry Ripple (yields 1.5 quarts)

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 pinch salt
1 bunch fresh basil
5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup strawberry jam

Before you begin, you’ll need some specific equipment for this recipe: a mesh strainer, a saucepan, a whisk, a few spoons, a 1.5 quart ice cream maker, and a few bowls: one large metal mixing bowl which will sit in an ice bath (use a bigger bowl or the sink for this) and a small mixing bowl. A kitchen thermometer isn’t absolutely necessary, but it is useful.

1. Wash and dry basil and tear it into several handfuls of loose leaves and stems. In a medium pan, warm milk, sugar, one cup heavy cream, salt, and basil. Stir occasionally. Once mixture is hot, about 150 degrees, remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes to infuse basil flavor.

2. Set a large metal bowl over an ice bath (a bunch of ice in your sink or in a larger bowl.) Pour the reserved cup of heavy cream into the bowl and set the mesh strainer on top. If you haven’t already separated your egg yolks, do that now, and set them aside until step 4.

3. Once 30 minutes has passed, remove the basil leaves and stems from the infused cream by pouring the mixture through a mesh strainer into a small bowl.  Use the back of a spoon to press down on the basil leaves, squeezing out any remaining liquid, then discard the basil.*  Return the infused cream mixture to the pan.

4.  Rewarm the infused cream mixture over medium low heat. In a separate bowl (the one you strained the cream into before is fine) whisk together the egg yolks. Temper the egg yolks by ladling the warm, infused cream into the egg yolks a little bit at a time, whisking constantly, until the egg yolks are warm.  Pour the warmed egg yolks into the pan with the rest of the infused cream.

5. Cook the custard, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spoon, or at about 170 degrees.

6. Immediately strain the custard into the big mixing bowl with the reserved cream. Stir together over the ice bath until cool. Transfer cooled custard to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Overnight is better.

7. Freeze the ice cream according to the directions that came with your ice cream maker.  When ice cream has reached soft serve consistency, transfer it to an airtight container and gently spread strawberry jam in an even layer over the top of the ice cream. Freeze for at least three hours before serving.

*I saved the basil leaves in a Tupperware in the fridge and used them to sweeten tea throughout the week. This was a real treat and much less indulgent than the ice cream!

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog, “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Picnic at Northwest District Park

Picnic Food

Rami and I stayed close to home for this weekend’s picnic, at Northwest District Park in the Shoal Creek neighborhood of Austin. This park is one of my favorites in the city, and it’s the perfect place for families to hang out on Memorial Day Weekend.

Northwest District Park Sign

Northwest District Park has lots of picnic tables, a pool, a pond, basketball courts, and a large playground. It’s a huge park, with two entrances: one on the east side of the park at 7000 Ardath Street, and another on the west side of the park at Shoal Creek Blvd. between Dover and Pinecrest Blvd. The park has many grassy lawns and paved walking areas shaded by tall trees.

One of the best things about picnicking at Northwest District Park is its abundance of picnic areas. Like many of Austin’s parks, Northwest has three large, reservable picnic areas with many tables. However, it also has several more secluded picnic tables tucked around the park.

 

We chose this one to set up our picnic since it was situated in the shade of a pecan tree and overlooked the playground.

Our menu for this picnic was our favorite yet.

  • Mint sun-tea from Zhi Tea: fill a large mason jar with water and add two teaspoons of tea for each six ounces of water. (I used a large tea filter like this to hold the loose tea.)
  • Peanutty Carrot Tea Sandwiches: these are a wonderful alternative to plain PB&J. We skipped the raisins and used Confituras marmalade in the recipe. Yum!
  • Corn Radish Salad with Jalapeno Dressing An awesome spicy salad that uses radishes! I’m going to play with this recipe again for next week’s picnic since we enjoyed it so much.
  • Strawberries and Blackberries: sadly, local strawberries are gone for the season, but the blackberries from Wheeler Farm were super sweet!
  • Summer squash bread with beet-pecan sandwich spread.
I loved the corn radish salad and the blackberries. Rami’s favorite thing was the peanutty-carrot sandwich spread and the iced tea. And see the mint leaves garnishing the berries?? I grew those in a flower-pot outside my house! 😀

One thing that’s not coming across in these pictures is the ridiculous number of bugs swarming around us and our food. I got 13 mosquito bites while I was plating the food and taking this picture!

Because of all the bugs, Rami and I ate in record time and hightailed it outta the park. We spotted an egret at the pond as we left, just before the sun set.

Meal Plan 5/26-5/31

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I am in a great mood today for many reasons. The top three are (1) the week is halfway over, (2) we get the day off on Monday! and (3) Rami’s and my first wedding anniversary is on Monday!!!!!! It seems like just a few months ago that we were planning our wedding in Iowa. I smile every single time I see a lemon because they remind me of our marriage, and I’m planning to make some lemon bars over the weekend so we can relive that part of our wedding day. 🙂

Rami and I were talking today about whether either of us was surprised that the first year is nearly over, and while neither one of us doubted that we’d still be married after one year (whew!) we both agree that the year has gone by really quickly. It’s also a little shocking to be married for a year because that’s something that grown-ups do. Even at 26 years old, I am surprised when I have moments that define me as a grown-up.

Still, grown-up I am, and that means making a menu plan. Even on wedding anniversary week! Here’s the produce I’m working with from the Local Box:

Here is what I am planning to eat and cook:

Wednedsday: we went out to Chuy’s for dinner. Creamy Jalapeno is my friend.

Thursday: venison meatloaf, pickled beets, lettuce salad, baked sweet potato

Friday: Corn Radish Salad, Zucchini quick bread, pickled beets

Saturday: Picnic: Corn Radish Salad, Peanutty Carrot Tea Sandwiches, Beet-and-Pecan Tea Sandwiches, Basil Goat Cheese Tea Sandwiches

Sunday: Leftover Tea Sandwiches, Pesto Pasta Salad on a bed of lettuce

Monday: Blackberry Peach Cobbler, Roast Chicken with beets and carrots, Lemon Bars

Tuesday: Leftover Awareness Day!!

Breakfast: oatmeal! I am doing really well at eating breakfast at home lately. Three times this week!