Thursday, April 17, 2014

Learning at The Philly Farm and Food Fest 2014

What a wonderful experience the Fest continues to be!  This year, the Fest's third year, was the largest.  More exhibitors and lots more attendees.  Walking around the huge halls, sampling all sorts of delicious tid bits, and of course buying some of the same, was pure joy.

In addition, there were those great, spontaneous conversations with other attendees. Frequently, as I stood on line waiting for a sample, someone next to me, who already had theirs would more often than not turn to me and whoever else was nearby and comment on what they had just popped into their mouth.  And not just, "yum" or "good" or "I don't like that" but rather a layered comment offering comparisons to similar foods or what they would use it for and make with it.  You get the idea.  The Fest fills an enormous convention space with people who love to eat, who care about what they eat as well as how their food is raised/grown/made, who want to get to know the folks who produce what they eat, and are, in addition, always looking to learn more.

We were lucky to be able to get seats at the "Shellfish Salon".  Of course, my first thought was, "Oh, an oyster tasting.  What could be better?".  And yes, there was a tasting, but there was also a lot of great information that the presenters at the Salon shared with us.   Cape May Salts (oysters) have always been much loved in my home.   They are grown in the waters off of Cape May.  And they were harvested out of existence in the late 20th century.  Thanks to the efforts of a coalition of scientists and folks in the fishing and seafood business, they were brought back.  They are delicious, briny oysters - and they are local!  We had the opportunity to slurp a number of Cape May Salts, and other types of oysters from this area, and ask questions, meet the farmers, and hear lot of interesting facts. 

Fun Facts re: Oysters and Clams

"Farming" shell fish is the way to go.  The French have been doing this for generations.  Oysters and clams fit the growing and harvesting techniques central to aqua-farming so well because the way they eat is actually a filtering process.  The oysters eat, the water gets cleaned, and we consumers get delicious shellfish.  It is a wonderful win/win process.

The waterways of the Delaware Bay and off of Cape May are now rated Class A.  This means they are pristine.  These waterways have come back better than ever.  A fabulous thing to hear.

Merroir - a French term and my favorite new word. Recall that the word Terroir refers to the unique flavors and qualities that a growing region imparts on the grapes, and thus the wine, from the area.  It's also a term used by coffee growers and chocolatiers.  The marine environment, the Merroir, likewise affects the flavor of oysters and clams in much the same way.  All of the oysters that grow along our area of the East Coast are the same species of oyster.  The different conditions that they grow in are what contributes to their different textures and tastes.  Their merroir. 

And one, immensly disturbing fact:  over 90% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. annually is imported!  We have wonderful waters around us; we have some delicious shellfish and fish; and yet, rather than pay for this high quality and healthy food, Americans eat seafood from all over the world and not the U.S.!  This applies to the individual consumer and to the restaurant business and retail seafood businesses as well.  I like to say, "Know where your food comes from". In the case of seafood and fish, it is immensly important to do so. And if you live in the Philadelphia Tri-State area, check out, not only the oysters, scallops and clams, but the wonderful fish that run in our waters:  Bluefish, Fluke, Haddock, Butterfish. Weakies,  . . . it is really a very long list!

Other great finds at the Fest included Beet Kavas.  I had a tasting shot, iced cold, and was immediatley hooked.  It's briny with a back taste of delicious beets.  It is very good for you, apparently, which is great because I find myself pouring myself cold shots throughout the day!  Fermentation is a process that I am hoping to learn more about in the coming year.  Many fremented items have significant health benefits, and are delicious.

Pictured above with the Kvass are the oils of Susquehanna Mills Company in Montoursville, PA.  They produce all organic, non-GMO Canola and Sunflower Seed oils.  The oils are delicious, local and processed naturally, and again, no GMOs.  As I make my own mayonaisse, and use canola oil a great deal, I was thrilled to meet these folks and purchase the oils.  We are hoping that their oils will be available soon in our local retailers. 

And, of course there were lots of producers whom we have come to know at the Fest - with products that are must haves for us.  For example, Obis Black Garlic - if you try it, you will be changed forever (if you are a garlic lover of course).  Beechwood Orchards who provide us with wonderful apples, pears, apple and pear ciders and the like through our Fair Food Farmstand.  Also in attendance was Birchrun Hills Cheeses and proprietor Sue who we have come to know well and who produces some of our favorite delicious Pennsylvania cheeses.  The Caputos from out near Harrisburg PA were handing out samples of their wonderful Mozzarella and Ricotta. The Caputos sell frozen curds so that you can make your own mozzarella at home!  We attended one class - and a fabulous producers' dinner - with them, and are still learning, but we are getting better!

I could go on, and I just may in subsequent posts, but as must be obvious, not only was the Fest great and entertaining and informative, but so are the Food Times we find ourselves living in right now.  What a joy to have all of these wonderful things happening in the food world - and how lucky are we to be living in such abundance.  Get to know the folks who farm, produce, raise and/or make your foods.  You'll be glad you did!

Happy Passover.  Happy Easter.  Happy Spring.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Winter's Toll: What We Lost

As we have been cleaning up the gardens and the planting and growing areas over the past week or so, the first things we had to deal with were the fatalities from the unusually brutal winter.  As locals know, the past few winters in the Philadelphia area have been very mild.  This one just past, along with nearly six feet of snow, presented us with temperatures that dropped and stayed down.  Most morning walks with the dogs were completed in single digit temperatures. Along with ourselves, our garden took a beating, that's for sure.

For me, the most painful aspect of that "beating" is the age and longevity of those plantings that are no longer part of our garden.

Our nearly 20 year old Delaware White Azalea is gone.  Also our big Rosemary plant - we called her, "Rose, Senior" based on the 20 some years she was with us - is gone.  A tall, potted evergreen that came to us a number of years ago as a tiny Christmas plant did not make it. The big sage plant that was already in the ground when we bought the house over 18 years ago and was moved to our then new Herb Garden was merely a clump of dead wood when the snow finally melted away.  

It's not all doom and gloom of course.  Our bulbs are happily pushing through. Our garlic chives - toughest plants ever - are back and growing like mad already. Every morning there are more seedlings poking through all over the place. The sorrel making a comeback and the cole crops and early things that we planted in the cold frame are doing fine.

What I think speaks to the soul of us who "play in the dirt" is how attached to those lost plants it seems that I was.  This is reflected most clearly by the fact that I've yet to remove any of those that didn't make it through the Winter of 2014.  I know I have to - they're dead, I need the pots or planting areas, and they look pretty bad, being dead and all. And yet I continue to find reasons to do other things and leave the dearly departed where they, well, departed.

I'll deal with them, just not yet.  I need a little bit more time.

Quick Recipe Tip

Parsnip Chips

These are delicious by themselves and wonderful with hummus and other dips.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Wash, peel, and slice a parsnip into thin - very thin if you like - slices.  In a bowl, mix together grapeseed or any other neutral oil, some granulated garlic, a bit of smoked hot paprika and kosher salt. Toss the slices in this mixture until well coated and spread them out on a cookie sheet in a single layer.  

Keep an eye on them.  They should be crispy after 8 - 10 minutes.  

When you take them out of the oven, let them sit for a minute of two before serving. 

Good and good for you!  Enjoy.