Cinco de Mayo Rhubarb Mojitos

I am like… oh, 95% positive that I made the first purchase of the season at Carmel’s Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning.

I had been in Indianapolis Friday night for dinner with friends who were running the next morning in the 500 Festival’s 5k and Mini Marathon.

Hey, girls, heyyy!

Hey, girls, heyyy!

I, however, was not.

I can power through an intense spin class like a champ but am pretty sure that I have not run more than two miles since last summer.

I blame the winter.

So, the girls all rose early to get to the race and I began the drive home. On the way, I stopped in downtown Carmel to check out their Farmer’s Market.

It was opening day of the market for 2014, but I had never been to the market period. I had always heard great things so I was eager to see what they had to offer.

I got there about forty minutes before the market opened thanks to the early race start so I grabbed a Starbucks and brainstormed a few blog ideas in my car while I waited. Ten minutes to open I decided to hop out of my car and see what was going on.

I took a lap around the market and was beyond impressed.

There was so much available, despite the cold, late spring. I even saw tomatoes. Obviously, green house tomatoes. But still… tomatoes!

By the time the mayor began her opening day speech and rang a bell to signal the commence of the market, I was standing underneath a vendor’s tent that was selling vibrant rhubarb and big, green spears of asparagus handing over some cash.

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Note: There’s no prize or celebration for the first purchase of the season. Dang!

They were the two things I was looking for and I couldn’t wait to get them home.

Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable and is typically cooked in sugar to be added to desserts. Rhubarb is typically harvested in mid to late spring. The color of rhubarb is the best. It can be from deep reds to pinks with a little green.

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I had never had rhubarb until I started dating Adam. Rhubarb crisp is one of his families most loved desserts.

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I thought about making the crisp but then remembered that Cinco de Mayo was just around the corner and decided to use the rhubarb to add subtle flavor to one my favorite Mexican vacation cocktails, the mojito.

Mojitos are incredibly refreshing and are not as sweet as a margarita. And, with all the mint left over from the Derby’s Juleps it seemed perfect for Cinco de Mayo!

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Rhubarb Mojito

Rhubarb Syrup:
3 large stalks rhubarb, thinly sliced
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ cups water

Place all ingredients in a medium pot, stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about five minutes or until rhubarb is tender.
Strain rhubarb collecting the liquid mixture in a bowl. Clean pot and pour liquid mixture back into pot. Boil over medium heat until liquid becomes a syrup. About fifteen minutes.
Let cool completely before using.

Rhubarb Mojito

6-7 mint leaves, torn
3 tablespoons rhubarb syrup
1 ounce white rum
Club Soda
Fresh lime juice

Add the mint, syrup and rum to tall glass. Stir to combine. Add ice and top with club soda and juice from a lime wedge. Garnish with mint and lime wedge.

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Dollars and Sense at the Farmer’s Market

Farmers Market Season is upon us!

And I love it.

I love the energy at a Farmer’s Market.

I love the people watching.

I love checking out the unique, artisanal products or heirloom produce that I could never find at a normal grocery store.

I love it all.

This morning Adam and I ventured out to our local Farmer’s Market.

It was a quick trip as we had some landscaping work to do back at the homestead. (… Work that made us realize we really are adults as our alma mater is celebrating its biggest spring event with the bars opening at 7AM.)

The Farmer’s Market didn’t have many produce vendors present thanks to the chilly, late spring we are experiencing. But, we did pick up some bratwurst from a local pork producer. They seemed like a great idea for dinner after a day of working in the yard.

As Adam paid the vendor $15.60 for the ten brats, I thought of the most common question and biggest complaint I always tend to hear in regards to local meat: Why is it so expensive?

Last year, after a trip to the Farmer’s Market, I came home with a free range whole chicken. I was excited about this bird. The vendor was full of information and clearly very passionate. And, I wasn’t sure that I had ever had a free range chicken. I kept reading the taste was amazingly different in comparison to a normal chicken breast at the store.

I also had never cooked a whole chicken. So, it seemed like a fun challenge and I couldn’t wait to see if I could taste a difference.

Adam was excited too… and then he asked how much it was.

I had not told him because in the back of my mind I knew how my [insert nice way to say “tight ass”] husband would react.

And, I was right.

The word “ridiculous” was used often and before I knew it he was researching how to raise meat chickens.

God love him and his “Why pay someone when I can do that” attitude…

Proof of this attitude?  His landscaping project of the day was creating this beautiful wall for our patio.  So happy to give it a little character.

Proof of this attitude? His landscaping project of the day was creating this beautiful wall for our patio. So happy to give it a little character.

So, in early September, we became the proud owners of fifty free range broilers.

The babies from last September.

The babies from last September.

Adam created a “chicken mobile” out of a large wagon. The top of the wagon had bedding, water and feed. Then a little ramp gave the chicken’s access to the ground so they could roam and snack on grass and bugs. We could move the wagon around the yard so the chickens wouldn’t eat one piece of land to entirety.

A chick on the top of the chicken mobile.

A chick on the top of the chicken mobile.

And relaxing in the grass under the chicken mobile.

And relaxing in the grass under the chicken mobile.

We thought it was going to be great. Easy, too. We would have little, happy, free range birds and, in a couple months, a freezer full of organic, natural roasters for far less then we could purchase.

Right?

Wrong.

Okay, not totally.

In the end, the chickens came out great. They taste wonderful. We have enjoyed sharing them with family and friends and love how one bird can make us a couple meals.

However, they were a lot of work.

They required our attention twice a day, everyday.

They ate a ton. They drank a ton. (Note: Getting water to chickens on a cold, dark late November morning? Not exactly fun.)

There was quite a bit of cost to get started and the butchering at two bucks a pop added up fast. (… Although, that was worth every penny, in my book.)

When it was all said and done, Adam and I sat down and went over all our expenses. There was the chicken mobile, the feed, the equipment like heating lamps and water dispensers, the bedding, the butchering, and our labor.

We realized, using basic economics, if we were going to sell them at a market, $20.00 per chicken really isn’t that “ridiculous.”

As consumers, we have not just a choice, but also a voice.

And for the last sixty years or so, American consumers have voiced that meat should not only be available for every meal, it should also be cheap.

It started with fast food. We want a cheese burger for a buck. Five chicken nuggets for 99 cents.

And, it’s now what we see in the grocery store and that is why a $20.00 chicken has such a sticker shock.

We are lucky, in a sense, that in America meat is so widely available and isn’t going to break the bank. In fact, out of all the countries in the world, American’s spend the least percentage of their income on food.

However, farmers feel the backlash of the availability of the cheap food, even though our society demanded it, and some farming practices are coming under fire.

Farmers are smart, resilient and able to adapt. That is what they did and they will do it again, if that is what the market demands.

However, thanks to my food service role in K-12 education I know the reality is that the cheap, widely available meat is likely here to stay. And, I could never completely go over to the one side of this agriculture fence and say “Organic or BUST” because there is not just a huge market, but a need.

I know that I am incredibly fortunate that I am able to make a choice when I purchase food for Adam and me. And my choice in purchases is reflected in my belief to support local growers.

I am also fortunate to have a voice.

A voice that wants to ask, if we really are spending so much less of our income on food in comparison to our peers around the world, couldn’t we ditch the amped up cable package and reallocate that cash to receive a product that supports the earth, local farmers, the local community and provides great nutrition?

I swung by the grocery store this afternoon and couldn’t help but check the prices on bratwurst. A package of five was for sale for just under six dollars.

I spent a whopping four more dollars for my ten brats.

Four dollars that might go back and help that farmer raise more pigs. Or pay his rent. Or send his kid to college.

Or perhaps its four dollars that will stay in my community supporting other small business like my husbands. Or the cute lady who owns this fun accessory boutique that sucks me in when I drop off my dry cleaning. Or the new bakery on the square that I haven’t been to yet, but sounds delicious.

Four bucks.

Four bucks is less than a fast food meal.

… less than my drink at Starbs!

Money well spent.

Becoming a Farm Girl: Part Three

Note: This is the final post in a three part series to celebrate National Agriculture Day that will show my (non-traditional) journey to Agriculture. My hope with this story is to shed light on the many different faces of a “farmer” and how those who are not born into family farms can still learn, celebrate, find careers and purpose in this important industry.

Becoming a Farm Girl: Part One
Becoming a Farm Girl: Part Two

Adam and I had a blast together at the fraternity dance and continued to see each other.

It didn’t take me long to see that he was completely different from all of the other guys I had ever dated.

And, it wasn’t just because he drove a big, diesel truck you could hear coming down the road causing all the girls in my sorority to yell “Bye Claire!” before he would pick me up for a date.

He was a good friend. He made me a priority. He was motivated and intelligent. He was a leader on campus.

And, he had a job lined up after graduation… in Indianapolis.

At another one Adam's fraternity's formals as we approached graduation.

At another one Adam’s fraternity’s formals as we approached graduation.

The more I learned about him, the more I loved and I began to redefine my job search. By Valentine’s Day, I had a job offer of my own in Indianapolis.

Flash forward three years, Adam had returned to his small hometown to work with his dad at their family agriculture construction business and, after our May 2011 wedding, I joined him.

May 21, 2011.

May 21, 2011.

A hospitality job was hard to come by in the small town, so when a local school reached out because they were looking for a food and nutrition director, I took the job.

It was a great school, but it was by no means my “dream” job. I often felt confined by the rules and regulations in the world of school lunch and my culinary creativity was pretty stifled within the medium of chicken nuggets.

I spent a lot of time trying to make my day to day more stimulating.

After getting to know some of the students, I wanted to do more to make students feel engaged and excited about lunch. I began to look around at the many school lunch websites and blogs to see what other directors across the nation were doing to enhance their school lunch programs. One program that really caught my eye was Farm to School.

Farm to School is a program that connects school lunch programs to local farmers and provides education opportunities, such as school gardens and field trips. Programs were strong in states like California and Texas.

I loved the idea. After all that I had learned about farming and where food comes from in my college years and summer internship, I thought it was a great thing to teach kids, especially those who grew up like me. I wanted to teach them there is no stereotypical “farmer” and they can grow food too, be it in their own backyard or as a potential career down the road.

In late 2012 I reached out to the leaders to see what the program was doing in the state of Indiana. I learned that the program was in its early stages of getting off the ground. I asked if I could get involved and was met with an eager “yes.”

I was actually the first food service director involved in the Indiana group full of local growers, Extension officers, leaders in the Nutrition Services of the Department of Education and more. Because of this, I was asked to speak on a panel at the 2013 Horticulture Congress in Indianapolis to introduce local growers to the program and gauge interest.

I even made the cover of AgriNews... which really excited Adam!

I even made the cover of AgriNews… which really excited Adam!

The impact this day had on me was amazing. I think it may be the first time in my life that I truly felt inspired.

The panel went great, but what was so exhilarating to me was meeting all the people who grew food and were creating unique products with their food. Their products were fabulous. They had neat stories and passion.

Ironically, the congress was held the same week Adam and I had moved into our new home, set on a large piece of land. When I got home that evening, I told Adam about my great day. I told him that I wanted to learn to grow our own food and that we had to plant a garden.

It didn’t take much convincing: Adam, recalling his childhood dreams of being a farmer, was on board.

In order to get our first garden into the ground last summer we hit the library, talked to some family and friends, and watched a lot of YouTube videos. The amount of information we found was pretty amazing.

But, as the garden grew, we wanted to learn more. We wanted to do more in taking charge of growing food, not just for ourselves, but maybe even for others.

I built relationships with extension office leaders and learned about some free work shops they were hosting to educate the community. In the fall of 2013, I went to a hands-on workshop about composting and an info session about community gardens.

Also, thanks to some of those relationships and my eagerness, I was able to attend a weeklong produce safety training hosted by the USDA. There I learned so much. We received information about how produce is inspected, what certifications, insurance, and handling practices are needed at a farm in order to supply food for sale, how to create urban and community gardens and more.

During the training I also went to an actual farm that is a resource for inner city schools in Baltimore. It introduces students to gardens, food that they might not see at home, raising goats and chickens and teaches them culinary skills. Two young men I met and spoke with were preparing to be the first in their families to graduate high school and hoping to serve in the military… as chefs!

I still have a lot to learn, but these experiences are tools that could potentially help Adam and I create a new business venture down the road. Maybe we will help contribute to a CSA, a Farm to School program, or have a stand at a Farmer’s Market. I have since moved on from K-12 food service and in my new role I work closely with chefs. Maybe we create a company that supplies fresh, local produce directly to chefs. But, then again, maybe I go back to that younger demographic and help them learn how to grow their own food. Who knows!?

And speaking of Adam, he is also learning a lot and making moves to help feed others. He made a connection with a longtime farmer who is now serving as his mentor. Last fall, Adam asked if he could donate his time helping with the harvest. He was looking to learn more about the challenges and realities his clients face. He continued to ask questions and learn as much as he could about working a field of corn.

A Shot Adam took farming last fall.

A Shot Adam took farming last fall.

Thanks to his persistence and excitement, he will be going 50-50 with this farmer on forty acres of land this year. He is beyond excited to get into the field to continue to learn, to play a small part feeding the world, and to fulfill his childhood dream of being a farmer when he grew up.

Adam even asked the farmer, “Why are you letting me farm with you?”

His response “I’ve never met someone who shows so much passion and excitement for farming. It’s hard to find someone willing to work for free just to be involved.”

I know that we wouldn’t have had these opportunities and knowledge if we had not spoken up.

I am a firm believer that what you get out of life, be it opportunities or information, that you can’t work your butt off for, is what you have the guts to ask for.

I would not know what I know about growing food or how others grow food if I had not asked questions and asked to get involved.

I am the girl asking questions at the market. I want to know.

In order to create a successful garden, I reached out to old pros and asked questions.

Adam did the same.

It’s really hard to get into actual farming if you are not born into it.

He was interested. He wanted to learn. So, he asked.

If you want to know about how the produce you see at your farmers market is grown, ask the farmer.

If the farmer at the edge of town raises cattle and you want to know how he treats his cows or who he sells the beef to, ask. You might be surprised. A lot of family farmers sell to corporations like Tyson.

(However, another fun question to ask is if you can buy directly from him. There is nothing better than making a relationship where you can support someone in your local community and get fresh meat for your family.)

A farmer will likely be more than happy to answer any question and help give you a better understanding of their world. They are proud of what they do and they want to clear up any misconceptions that, unfortunately, strike the agriculture industry every day.

If you want to know how to start a garden, do what I did. Reach out to your extension offices, ask questions at the local nursery, or you could even ask me.

I am by no means an expert, but I do have a year of experience under my belt and if I don’t know the answer, at this point, I probably know someone who does.

And, like the farmers, I am proud of what I have learned and accomplished. Not to mention, nothing makes me happier to know that someone is inspired by this blog and wants to start a garden.

… Isn’t it funny?

If you had told me ten years ago that this would be my life and this is what makes me feel like I have a purpose, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Chickens? Dirt? Muck Boots? Puhleease.

I might have even laughed.

But, I have picked up a bit of wisdom since sixteen. And, yes, I still have a lot to learn about life, but one thing I know to be sure is that life takes us all down many different roads.

And if there is anything on those roads that makes you truly fulfilled and alive, you should listen to it.

As a young adult, I honestly have struggled trying to determine what to be when I grow up. I didn’t know what really drove me or what I was passionate about.

Until now.

I love the evenings when I am in the garden with Adam enjoying the sunset and a glass of wine while the hens are roaming nearby.

I can’t help but smile when I have a fabulous conversation with a farmer at the market about the food they grew.

I feel like I have a purpose when a friend texts me saying she wants to grow cilantro, but doesn’t know where to begin.

My heart is so happy when I see Adam thrilled about making his childhood farming dreams come true.

And, never in my life do I feel more completely “Claire” than when I am in my kitchen preparing an amazing meal with fresh ingredients straight from my backyard.

Fresh ingredients that I planted, tended to, and picked with my own hands.

… So, maybe I am a Farm Girl after all.

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Becoming a Farm Girl: Part Two

Note: This is the second of a three part series to celebrate National Agriculture Day that will show my (non-traditional) journey to Agriculture. My hope with this story is to shed light on the many different faces of a “farmer” and how those who are not born into family farms can still learn, celebrate, find careers and purpose in this important industry.

Just days after my eighteenth birthday, I headed to college at Purdue University.

First football game!  Showing off our student tickets with my roommate, Sarah in our dorm.

First football game! Showing off our student tickets with my roommate, Sarah. Sarah was so nice and was also a member of Purdue’s Triathlon team!

Like many undergrads, my hometown bubble burst the instant I got to campus. (As it should.)

There were a few girls I made connections with on my dorm floor. But, for the most part they were pretty different. (… Think poor hygiene, curious sexual orientations, painfully shy, etc.)

I remember the huge sense of relief that came over me when I arrived at the orientation for sorority recruitment. Finally, girls that were friendly, passionate, motivated, and, not to mention, looked like they could be great shopping buddies.

Finally girls that made me feel more like me.

Throughout recruitment we were put in groups of about twenty girls and spent a lot of time in alphabetical order. I was sandwiched between a tall, beautiful girl named Amy and a tiny, peppy blonde named Kelsey.

Kelsey’s dorm was one building over from mine. She was a cheerleader and Homecoming Queen in high school. Amy and I quickly made the connection that our mom’s were in the same Purdue sorority only a few years apart.

Kelsey and Amy also found a lot of common ground. They were both from small towns in Indiana. Kelsey’s family had horses. Amy’s raised pigs. I listened as they talked about funny memories from the summer’s fairs where both of them participated in 4H competitions.

During their conversation, I was reminded of an English class as a sophomore in high school:

We were learning to write resumes and the textbook shared a few samples. One of the samples listed 4H as an activity. Our poor teacher had to explain the organization to the class full of “yuppie” teenagers.

I remember the sense of confusion and even giggles that day.

Sewing, farm animals, and pageants?

We all were certain this was the oldest textbook on the planet. 4H had to be something that was only around when our parents were kids.

Please. No one does anything like that now.

Back in the recruitment line, I looked at my new “friends” and thought “Huh… So 4H really is a thing…?”

I also remember thinking, “These girls are really nice and kind of remind me of my friends at home, but wow… we grew up so differently. Could we really be friends?”

At the end of the week the three of us wound up in the same sorority.

(And, to this day, they are great friends of mine.)

Bid Night 2005.  New members were in blue.  Kelsey is on the far left.  Amy is in the center right.  Yours truly has the big, blingy, white sunglasses on her head.

Bid Night 2005. New members were in blue. Kelsey is on the far left. Amy is in the center right. Yours truly has the big, blingy, white sunglasses on her head.

My first year of college wore on and I continued to meet new people and to learn new things about myself, the world, and others.

And it was in that first year, I learned that farming is far from backwards.

Many of the students at Purdue had parents who raised animals, were farmers, or had careers somehow related to the agriculture industry. And, many of these students were following in their footsteps.

In fact, one in ten students at Purdue were a part of the College of Agriculture.

Before college, I was led to believe that agriculture and farming was “old fashioned” and that it was not viable career. But, the young people in the College of Agriculture knew that the industry was diverse, growing and innovative. These future agriculture leaders were studying at Purdue because the future of the industry demanded higher education.

They knew that there were jobs in agriculture that would put the over thirty different majors within the College of Agriculture, including Agriculture Communications, Agribusiness Sales and Marketing, Food Science and Engineering, to use.

The industry of producing, processing, and selling food actually makes up 15 percent of the American work force.

However, it also wasn’t too out of the ordinary for the students to be preparing to take over their parent’s roles on the family farm. Of the over two million farms that cover the nation, 97% of them are family owned and operated.

They knew that they were learning skills in the College of Agriculture that would help them feed not only America, but the world, as nearly a quarter of the raw US farm products are exported. These students were motivated and beyond intelligent.

But, they didn’t carry these facts around with them every day. At school, they were just fellow Boilermakers.

And at the time, I didn’t realize how much my selected course of study relied on the Ag Students.

I chose to study Hospitality Management thanks to a passion for putting on events. (…Thanks, High School 5K!) However, the summer before my junior year I studied abroad in Switzerland and was bit by the culinary bug.

Prepping an Apple Tart at a culinary class in a Swiss kitchen.

Prepping an Apple Tart at a culinary class in a Swiss kitchen in 2007.

This led me to Los Angeles for an internship the summer before my senior year. The internship was with a food service company that was contracted at a large corporation to handle the catering and cafeteria service.

As a Midwestern girl, I was beyond stoked for a summer in LA. I packed my bags and headed west with visions of hanging with surfers, spotting stars everywhere and becoming Lauren Conrad’s next BFF on The Hills.

I never in a million years would have imagined the group of people that I ended up spending a lot of time with in Southern California… Farmers.

In addition to the day to day tasks in regards to catering events and running a large cafeteria, I was asked to help with a handful of projects. One particular project was to create an onsite, bi-weekly Farmers Market.

The corporation valued work life balance and to support that my boss decided to bring the Farmer’s Market to work. The employees would have the opportunity to shop on their lunch hour versus giving up time at home with their families on the weekend.

I worked through our produce supplier to connect with growers located close to LA County. As I met with them to learn about their produce, I was so surprised to see the many different faces of farmers. Some were young, some old. Some men, some women. There were many different backgrounds, from Hispanic to Australian to American through and through.

But, they all had one common thread: They were so proud of the food they produced. And, they couldn’t wait to share it!

My conversations with these farmers left me energized and eager to do their products justice as I tried to sell them at the pseudo Farmer’s Market.

But, I didn’t have to try too hard. It was 2008 and SoCal was on the forefront of the organic, local, green, Farm to Fork movement. The farm fresh produce sold itself.

The market was a huge success. We sold out of everything each week. I loved seeing the corporation’s employees so thrilled to have healthy options to take home to their children instead of swinging by In-and-Out after work. I was also intrigued with how interested some of the people were in learning about the people who grew their food. And also, how they grew the food. They weren’t afraid to ask questions.

Lovin' Life in SoCal in 2008!

Lovin’ Life in SoCal in 2008!

That August I left LA to begin my final year at Purdue, convinced I would be back the following June to start my career.

But a couple months later, my plans began to change when a boy, named Adam, asked me to his fraternity’s dance.

… His Agriculture fraternity’s dance.

Spring Has Sprung.

Well okay, not in Indiana.

There were snow flurries today.

But, we spent the weekend in Atlanta celebrating a good friend and sorority sister’s wedding.

And, in Atlanta spring had arrived.

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It was gorgeous day for a wedding. Saturday was sunny and temperatures were in the seventies. Trees had come in bloom and the wedding was held at Atlanta’s Botanical Gardens where large tulips made the perfect background for the outdoor ceremony.

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Like any wedding, I really look forward to spending time with my college friends who are now located in new homes across the nation. This weekend was a lot of fun because we had so much time to spend together and were able to really catch up.

Everyone got in on Friday and Ashley, whose boyfriend is currently assigned to a project in Atlanta, lined up a dinner at Einstein. Einstein was located right in the heart of Midtown in an area that is similar to Chicago’s Boystown.

Einstein is a restaurant and bar that has a great menu. They have a good amount of small plates and a few entrees, many sandwiches, and amazing selection of sides. They also have received plenty of accolades about their brunch.

With so many great choices, I struggled deciding on something for dinner. I ended up making a meal out of the Crab and Shrimp Cake small plate that sat on a bed of edamame succotash and sides of beets and fried green tomatoes.

Fried green tomatoes are a huge staple in the south and we actually saw them at every meal we ate this weekend in Atlanta… even at the wedding!

Out at an Irish pub after dinner!

Out at an Irish pub after dinner!

The next morning I made brunch reservations at South City Kitchen. Based on some research I had done before the weekend, South City Kitchen sources meat and produce from local growers and bread from a local bakery. It also happened to be right around the corner from our hotel.

South City Kitchen is a bright and cheery restaurant in the Midtown area. There was a patio in the front of the restaurant just off the street and seating inside on both the first and second floors. The waiter led our group upstairs where we were seated at a large table.

We ordered cocktails, because…

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I had a Bellini and Adam had a bloody Mary.

Corn bread and biscuits with apple butter were brought to the table. The corn bread was great and got me inspired to make my own with all the corn in the freezer. Stay tuned for that one…!

Yummy, mini corn bread muffins.

Yummy, mini corn bread muffins.

The South City Kitchen’s menu was a good balance of brunch and lunch options. There were salads and sandwiches, and then your typical brunch fair like eggs and pancakes.

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Adam had been excited all morning to try chicken and waffles. He had never had it, but as an avid Diners, Drive In’s and Dives viewer he had to see what it was all about.

When it arrived his excitement was at an all time high. He even took a picture of it and texted it to a couple friends.

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He dug into the fluffy waffle and decided it was well worth all the excitement.

“It’s like sex in my mouth,” he exclaimed between bites.

“God, your classy,” I replied as I reached over to get a bite.

I am a big fan of a sweet and salty combo. I mix in M&M’s with popcorn. Chocolate chips with nuts. And, Chicken and Waffles is basically the epitome of sweet and salty combinations.

There’s the juicy, salty fried chicken and then the sweet maple syrup and soft waffle. It was good.

I had barbecue pulled pork egg Benedict with pork and coleslaw with, in true southern fashion, grits on the side. The eggs were perfectly poached and the sweet barbecue worked so well with this brunch classic.

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Other entrees that graced our table were the smoke roasted beef eggs Benedict, a BLT with fried green tomatoes as the “T,” salmon, chicken livers and two more plates of chicken and waffles.

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After brunch the boys headed to a bar to catch up on March Madness and some craft beers. My friends, Kelsey and Katie, joined me for the walk to Piedmont Park. Piedmont Park is a park in Midtown, but what we didn’t realize just how huge this park is.

Girls at the park.  Loved the views of the city!

Girls at the park. Loved the views of the city!

It’s massive and, on the nice Saturday afternoon, it was booming with life. We saw soccer games, baseball games, kickball games, runners, bikers, boot camp classes, families picnicking, and lots and lots of puppies!

At the edge of the park, there was a large farmers market that was just winding down for the day. Many of the vendors were selling early spring produce such lettuce, kale and green onions. We weren’t really looking to buy anything because we had long drives back to our homes.

Although, if we had seen asparagus I would have found a way to make that work.

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As we were approaching the end of the vendor tents, a table of pretty glass bottles caught my eye. The sign said it was a USDA organic ginger farm named Verdant Kitchen. The couple that ran the table offered us a sample of their ginger syrup.

It was zingy, sweet and interesting!

I looked down at the other items on the table, as the woman told us about all the different things you could make with the syrup, ranging from desserts to cocktails. You could even make your own ginger ale. In addition to the syrup, they also were selling ground ginger, dehydrated ginger and chocolate covered ginger candies.

She went on and told us that their farm is located in Savannah. This got me wondering, “Where is ginger typically grown?”

I like ginger and love to use it in Asian inspired meals, like stir-fry. I had even considered it when trying to come up with the name of this blog because my first name is Virginia. Something like, “Ginger’s Roots.” It didn’t paint the whole picture though.

Despite a bit of a crush on ginger, we had never even thought of growing it in our own garden.

So, I asked.

The man asked if I wanted to know where ginger is grown domestically or internationally.

Unsure of what I was even looking for, I just said domestically. He said normally it’s in Hawaii and a little bit in California and that it was pretty unique to be grown in America, let alone Georgia.

Thanks to Google, I learned that it typically comes from India, Africa, or the Caribbean. (And, that it needs a pretty warm climate to survive. So, ginger won’t be gracing our garden anytime soon…)

I thought this was very interesting. I had never thought about where ginger grows or even how it is grown.

And, thanks to the woman who was still sharing recipes that you could create with the ginger syrup, Katie and I each bought a bottle.

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She said that we could find all the recipes on their website.

I asked the man what his favorite ginger syrup recipe is. He kind of laughed, saying that he enjoys them all. But, he really just likes it over vanilla ice cream and that it is also great in rum.

Something that I will have to try soon!

But, not tonight.

It’s a whopping 18 degrees tonight, making ice cream very unappealing. And, after all the fun at the wedding, it’s time for a little detox.

Sorority girls with the B&G!

Sorority girls with the B&G!

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Egg Series Day 7: Where to Find Fresh Eggs and A GIVEAWAY!

Woo Hoo!

It’s Day Seven of the Egg Series and it’s a fun one!

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Having backyard hens is surprisingly pretty easy. But, what if you don’t have the space? What if you live in a neighborhood with an HOA that wouldn’t be thrilled with your new feathered friends? I grew up where the neighborhood made rules for maximum the number of dogs and cats a family could have (two of each), so I know this is a reality.

Where can you get fresh, pasture raised eggs?

We learned earlier this week that labeling is tricky in the grocery store and “Pasture Raised” isn’t a regulated term.

One of the best places to find eggs from chickens that spend much of their time moving around and feeding on grass is the farmers market. At the market ask the farmer’s about their hens so you can make the most informed egg choice. Likely, they will be proud of how well their hens are treated and the fabulous eggs they create.

Community Supported Agriculture groups or CSA’s are gaining tons of popularity. CSA’s are programs that connect farmers with consumers. They are often weekly deliveries of various farmer’s produce, meats, and eggs. Some are even customizable!

You can check out localharvest.org and eatwild.com to find CSA or Farmer’s Markets near you so you can get some local eggs and a lot more!

Speaking of getting more… Bloom’s having its first GIVEAWAY!

Among Friends, the natural cookie mix company I wrote about yesterday is sending me more cookie mixes to give away to a lucky Bloom fan!

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Interested in these babies?

All the great flavors!

All the great flavors!

You should be.

To enter you have to do two simple things:

1. Hop onto Facebook and “Like” Among Friends, LLC’s page. They are a lot of fun to follow because they post lots of good information, like where you can find their growing brand, and they also post fun things that make you smile like this:

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… And, I think I speak for the masses when I say I need more things in my newsfeed that make me smile.

And 2. Comment on this post below and tell me your favorite thing to cook with eggs!

I will announce a winner on Sunday, February 2 and you have ‘til midnight on February 1st to enter!

Root Loot

During our visit to my parent’s home in Michigan earlier this month, my mom took Adam and me to Holland’s Farmer’s Market. Holland is about twenty five minutes away from my parent’s house and is a really neat little town.

The Farmer's Market/dish crew.... got to love family dinners.

The Farmer’s Market/dish crew…. got to love family dinners.

Holland is home to Hope College, where my little brother is a freshman and a strong backstroker on the swim team. The community plays up the connection to the country, Holland. It is decorated with traditional windmills and hosts a Tulip Festival each spring. There are also a bunch cute boutiques and unique restaurants that I cannot wait to check out on a future visit.

But, it is clear the town value’s the farmers market. A whole street is set up for the market which is open twice a week from May to December.

And even during the first weekend in December, the market was full of produce, baked goods and beautiful Christmas décor.

One vendor was offering a deal where you could fill a large department store bag full of any root vegetables of your choice. Adam and I took him up on this offer and filled our bag with Red, Yukon and Sweet Potatoes, lots of carrots, yellow and red onions, beets, and a celery root.

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The following are recipes showing what we did with some of these great root vegetables.

Homemade Terra Chips:

I love Terra Chips. If I buy a bag, it rarely makes it into my home unopened because I always seem to “need a snack” on my drive home.

But, I hate how they are so expensive.

So, using some of my beets, sweet potatoes, and Yukon potatoes from the Holland Farmer’s Market, I decided to make my own.

They were great and really easy. The beet chips were sweet and balanced the more savory flavors of the potatoes.
I loved having them around as a snack. Can’t beat getting a serving of vegetables but feeling like you are eating chips. (And saving you the $8 Terra bag…!)

The colors were amazing!

The colors were amazing!

Ingredients:

3 medium beets
1 large sweet potato
3 medium Yukon Potatoes
Olive Oil

Preheat Oven to 400 degrees.

Slice all veggies ¼ inch thick. I used my mandolin. Toss sliced vegetables with oil.

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Lay vegetables on a large cookie sheet.

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Bake for thirty minutes and place on a cooling rack. Chips will continue to harden as they cool.

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Consume within 48 hours.

Turning up the Beet on Risotto:

I recently was asked what my favorite thing to cook is. And honestly, I was stumped. I love to cook. Eggs, dessert, breads, vegetables, large roasts, soups, stir fry’s, homemade pizza… I could go on and on.

Then, it came to me at work when I was assisting a chef at my Alma Mater: I love to cook risotto.

I came to this discovery while cooking risotto for eighty sorority women. Even though the muscles in my shoulders burned from stirring the massive amount of Arborio rice, I knew this was my love.

It’s great anytime of year, but there is just something so cozy about it when it’s chilly outside. It is also so versatile. Risotto prep starts the same every time, but you can add all sorts of ingredients towards the end to make it your own. My mom often adds parmesan and scallops. That evening on campus we added coconut milk and toasted coconut flakes to the risotto as it served as an accompanist to some island style chicken.

I was searching for something to do with our farmer’s market beets other than roasting them and through my searching, found that goat cheese pairs great with the sweetness in the beets. Inspired by my risotto at the sorority, I thought it could be a great combination.

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And it was.

Ingredients:

3 medium beets
1 shallot, chopped
1 Tablespoon of butter
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup of Arborio rice
6 cups of chicken stock (… It may take less. I have found with any risotto recipe that I use far more broth than is called for. It is just a lot easier to be prepared and have more ready. I can easily use any leftover broth with something else. Also, for this, we actually used our turkey stock…worked just fine!)
4 ounce log of goat cheese
Salt and Pepper
Fresh Chives for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse any dirt off beets, pat dry. Roast Beets for 40 minutes. Easy way to do this is just place on a sheet of foil. Doesn’t hurt to drizzle a little olive oil on the beets. Once complete, let cool and remove skin. Cut into ½ inch pieces.

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Heat up stock in a sauce pan. You want the stock just to steam, not boil.

In a large, high sided skillet (We have found our wok works better than a skillet… I had forgotten about this when I made this risotto.) heat olive oil on medium high heat. Add the shallots and cook for about three minutes. You don’t want them to brown. Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil.

Reduce heat to medium and add a half cup of stock, stir until absorbed. Continue with a half cup of stock at a time until rice is cooked through.

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Remove from heat and stir in beets, butter, and goat cheese. Top with chopped chives.

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Roasted Whole Chicken and Root Vegetables:

So, the oddball in out root loot was the celery root.

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I had never cooked or had one, so we decided if there ever was a good time to give it a try, this was it.

It is a weird looking vegetable. And, really, not all that pretty. But, I read that what it lacks in looks, it makes up in flavor.

I also read online to prep it you need to remove the skin. I used a vegetable peeler and it worked okay. The skin is a bit thicker than anything on a carrot.

We had just had fifty of our free range chickens processed and we were eager to give them a try. We decided to roast one of the birds so it just made sense to roast some veggies as well. Using a few other of the root vegetables on hand we made a great meal when a couple friends were joining us for dinner.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken (Ours are about six pounds… Chickens at the store are typically smaller than this.)
1 Onion cut into 1/2 inch pieces (We used a yellow onion, but I wish I had grabbed a red one instead. It would have added great color.)
5 Carrots cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 Celery Root, cut into ½ inch pieces
Salt and Pepper
Juice of one lemon
Red Pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 425.

Rub salt and pepper onto chicken. Place on baking sheet and cook for twenty minutes.

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While cooking, season vegetables with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and lemon juice. Toss to coat.

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Add vegetables to baking sheet, turning to coat in the chicken drippings.

Continue to roast until vegetables are tender and the chicken is reaches at least 165 degrees internally and the juices run clear. (Should be about forty more minutes.)

Let chicken rest about five to ten minutes before serving.

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Pairs well with an oakey Chardonnay... and fun friends.

Pairs well with an oakey Chardonnay… and fun friends.

Savory Sweet Potato Fries:

Sweet potatoes seem to be all the rage these days. They are even showing up on menu at fast food restaurants!

But, I can’t knock them. They are full of nutritional benefits. For starters? They are a great source of Vitamin C, which is great this time of year because it helps ward off the cold and flu viruses. And another reason to eat sweet potatoes this time of year is because they are full of Vitamin D. Which, most popularly, we get from sunlight. Which, also happens to be in short supply as we near the Winter Solstice.

So, all those (self diagnosed…) Seasonal Affective Depression Disorder sufferers out there? Sweet Potatoes are for you us.

I think sweet potatoes already are pretty sweet, so I wasn’t looking to jazz mine up with brown sugar like they are traditionally done. So, I went the savory route with these fries based on a recipe from the Williams Sonoma blog and they were spot on.

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Ingredients:

About 2 large sweet potatoes cut into batons about ½ inch thick
2 Tablespoons of grape seed oil
Salt and Pepper
3 Tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place sweet potato batons on baking sheet with oil, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Make sure the potatoes are spread out so that they cook evenly.

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Roast for about twenty five to thirty minutes, stirring halfway through. You want the potatoes to be tender and a little browned.

While roasting, combine parmesan, parsley and garlic in a bowl.

Add the warm fries, toss gently to coat. Serve right away.

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Homemade Winter Brews

The weekend after Thanksgiving, Adam and I went to my parent’s new home. They moved to Saugatuck, a small beach town in Michigan this summer. They moved in this summer and I was there quickly in September, but have grown up spending summer’s in Saugatuck. It was Adam’s first time to the house and to the town.

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My dad had lined up an afternoon of craft beer making with a brew master at a local brewery. He wanted to create a beer brand for their new home (he is an ex-marketer, for those of you who might be thinking that’s weird…) so, he befriended the Brew Master at Saugatuck Brewing Company, Dexter.

Saugatuck Brewing Company is similar to any other brew pub: Big wooden bar, traditional pub food, only serving good home brews, so on and so on. One major difference is that Saugatuck Brewing Company shakes up the traditional feel with an area for creating your own unique microbrew, literally from start to finish. Or, from milling grains and barley to bottling.

My Dad’s new pal and our Brew Master had prior conversations about what we would be creating so we started our afternoon with a few samples of similar brews. My dad wanted to make winter beers, so we opted for a stout and IPA, but he also wanted to incorporate flavors that have a connection to the new house and our family’s journey to the west coast of Michigan.

The new house is named “Blue Water Lodge” (Yes. The house has a name… And this was done well before the branding extraordinaire knew it even existed, so he can’t take total credit for it.) It sits on the wooded east end of a long property that sprawls westward to the sand dune cliffs that drop into Lake Michigan. Because of all the trees around the home, we added hints of Pine to the IPA.

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The view to the west is the main focus of the exterior, but on the interior the hearth is the focal point.

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The whole home is very open thanks to a large living and dining area that connects to the kitchen. The hearth is large and made of stone, warming the whole space. We added a light smoky flavor to the stout, in addition to Quaker Oats. My parents worked together at Quaker in Chicago during the eighties. There, they met great friends that took them over to Saugatuck for long weekends and they fell in love with the area.

Dexter lead us to the back where we pulled our grains and barley needed to create each beer.

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His knowledge and passion for beer was impressive. He had precise measurements based on his recipes for each.

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Then we ran the grains and barley through a mill that made them fine, catching them in a long, mesh colander, and headed out to the main room to get brewing.

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We used the kettles the brewing company used years ago before they expanded production. This was very cool because we were using the same tools they started with.

It was here that I realized making beer is kind of like making tea, at least that’s how it seemed to me.

We put the mesh collander full of dry grains into hot water where we let it basically “steep” for an hour. To help spread the flavor we twisted and mashed the grains, discovering muscles in our forearms we never even knew existed.

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After the first hour, honey, molasses, Irish moss and hops were added to the kettle at different times throughout the next hour. Hops bring in a bitter, tangy flavor and help balance the sweetness. We learned here that hops are actually flowers related to cannabis flowers. In the dry state, it looked like green little pellets we used to feed my sister’s hamster, but it did have a definite smell similar to marijuana… Or, so I have been told.

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So, hot water. A sieve of dry ingredients put into the hot water adding flavor. Then adding sugar. It’s just like a cup of tea! (Okay, so minus the hops thing…)

But, what is happening in the next thirty days is what makes it beer: The sugars in the liquid mixture (now called wert) will turn into alcohol.

Each batch of beer will make about seventy two bottles and my dad will come back to bottle our brews around the New Year. He also has been working with my younger sister, who is a graphic designer in Chicago, to create a logo for the Blue Water Brews.

While at Saugatuck Brewing Company I tried two of the beers they create in house. I had the Oval Beach Blonde Ale, which was perfect for me. I am not too daring when it comes to beer and this was light and drinkable. I also tried the Michigan Wheat which was 100% made from Michigan grains, barley and hops.

But, the weekend didn’t end with just local Michigan beers. We also visited Fennville Winery, which is maybe seven minutes from my parent’s new house. Um, amazing?

The wine was great. They make them at the estate and use only Michigan grapes, 80% of which are directly from their vineyards.

Fennville Winery Vinyards

Fennville Winery Vinyards

We enjoyed a free tasting of six different award winning wines of our choice and even got to try some warm, mulled cherry wine that seriously tasted like Christmas in a glass.

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Based on the event calendar, there is often something unique going on at Fennville Winery. Adam and I were particularly interested in a chili cook off in January. Wine and Chili? Can you say heaven?!

But, even if there isn’t an event the next time we visit the Michigan coast we will be sure to visit Fennville Winery again. There is a great tasting room and they offer a big discount when you purchase wine in bulk. Their prices per bottle are incredibly reasonable and they are really tasty!

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And with all this booze, we of course needed a little sustenance. My mom took Adam and me to the Farmer’s Market in Holland. The market runs year round and my mom loves it.

I was a little skeptical because I couldn’t imagine there being much there the first week of December, but I was way wrong.

There were huge bunches of kale. Lots of apples. Baked goods. Christmas décor including wreaths made from blueberry branches, which turn red after blueberries are harvested. And this one particular vendor that caught my eye… at this booth you could fill up a department store bag with any and as many root vegetables that you wanted.

I told Adam this was a deal so we got busy selecting carrots, onions, beets, potatoes, yams, celery root and loaded up our bag so much that Adam had to carry it in his arms versus using the handles.

Some of out root  veggie loot... Spuds!

Some of out root veggie loot… Spuds!

More on this and what we did with these veggies next time… 🙂

Adam and I had a ball in snowy Michgan. And we are so looking forward to a lot fun and local food on future visits!

A chilly, winter sunset our last night on the lake.

A chilly, winter sunset our last night on the lake.

Natural, Roasted Chicken. It’s What’s for Dinner.

It’s hard to believe that it really is late August.

School has started and is in full swing.

The sun is down before nine.

The corn is tall.

And the garden is full of produce.

Like these peppers.

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And tomatoes.

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Tomatoes.

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Tomatoes!

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With so much naturally raised produce in the kitchen I decided to cook the naturally raised chicken from my Farmer’s Market trip in July for dinner on Monday night.

I had never cooked a whole chicken and used the website 100 Days of Real Food as a stepping stone. I visit this site often as it is a great resource for cutting out over processed food from your diet. The author takes a realistic and relatable approach as she has (precious) kids and she doesn’t want to “worry” about food, but rather be confident in her family’s food choices.

On the website there is a post about roasting a whole chicken: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2013/05/14/recipe-how-to-roast-whole-chicken-safely-defrost-meat/

Perfect.

A chicken seasoned with lemons, garlic and rosemary.

Even more perfect. Some of my favorite flavors and I already had local rosemary and garlic in the house.

The post begins with how to properly defrost a chicken. She mentions that even though she has lived to tell about defrosting meat on the counter, the USDA recommends that meat should be defrosted slowly in the refrigerator.

… Something that made this ServSafe certified, hospitality professional proud.

Once defrosted, I mixed the herbs, seasonings, and oils together in a small bowl.

The next order of business was to remove the “giblets or bag of ‘parts’ that may be stored inside the chicken.”

The chicken man at the market had mentioned the “giblet bag” was in there. I remember thinking when I made the purchase, “Oh wow. That’s nice. He bagged those up and put them back in. I bet there are people who want to keep those.”

I looked in my defrosted chicken’s butt. I didn’t see any evidence of a ziplock baggie or saran wrap like I was expecting.

Weird.

I opened the rear end more. A sleek brown, jelly-ish mass was in plain sight.

I had just read the chapter in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” where Michael Pollan processes free range chickens on Joel Salatin’s Virginia farm. Pollan wrote about removing the chicken’s insides after the bird bleeds out.

I knew what I was looking at… it was the bird’s liver.

There was no actual “bag.”

I had been lied to…? Maybe he just forgot to bag up this one…?

Or, it’s an expression. Slang, if you will.

… For chicken organs.

I also remembered from my read that removing these organs needs to be done carefully. Pollan warned that a ruptured gall bladder can be a big mess.

“What the heck am I supposed to do?” I thought, desperately wishing Adam was home. He could handle this.

I looked at the clock. Adam wouldn’t be home for about an hour. And the bird would take that long in the oven. I couldn’t wait.

So, I did what every girl who didn’t know what 4-H was until she was eighteen would do: I Googled it.

The first page I saw said to “Gently reach in and simply remove the giblets.”

Seriously? That’s all you got, Google?!

After many other failed searches and confusing youtube videos, I decided to suck it up.

“Like a band aid,” I told myself, sticking my hand in the bird’s rear end. I wrapped my fingers around the bundle in the cavity of the chicken, wincing, eye’s shut and gave it a pull.

Ohhhhmyyyygodddd,” I squealed out loud as my hand emerged.

Browns, pinks, yellows and blues made up the still slightly frozen mass. (Thank God. Had that been any squishier we would have had issues.)

Just be glad I didn’t take a picture.

Once I recovered (and threw the giblets away), I brushed the bird with the herbed oil marinade, stuffed the lemon peels in the chest cavity, and placed him in the oven for about an hour.

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Right around the time Adam got home from work the chicken had reached 170 degrees. I let it rest on the stove top while I chopped up some tomatoes and cucumbers to serve as a side with a splash of red wine vinegar. Light and easy.

The aroma of the rosemary, garlic, and lemon married well with the chicken, filled the kitchen and demolished any traumatizing mental images of giblets.

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By the time I plated everything I couldn’t wait to give it a try.

It seems crazy, but the natural, free range bird did taste different than the chicken breasts from the grocery store that I am used to. It was moist, flavorful, and felt as though I could really taste the chicken.

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I am looking forward to having more natural birds from our own backyard this winter.

… And having someone else do the processing.

Saturday at the Farmer’s Market.

Weekends at home this summer have been rare.

We are constantly on the road for weddings, family events, visits with friends, concerts, sporting events, trips to the lake, etc. etc.

So, yesterday when I woke up, in my own bed with no plans until dinner, I was in a great mood. It was a gorgeous, sunny, yet unseasonably cool morning. Adam had some errands he needed to run so I saw the time to myself as a great opportunity to go to the Farmer’s Market in town.

A Farmer’s Market is one of my favorite places. I grew up going with my mom and have tried to make an effort to go when I can since living on my own. I love the spirit of the market. There are families, dogs, amazing produce, baked goods and crafts. You can see some people just enjoying the morning and others clearly doing their shopping for the week.

Even with everything coming out of my garden these days, I wanted to look for fresh eggs and herbs. I also was inspired to try to cook some beets after the Chopping Block class.

So, I made a quick list of things I wanted to look for while there based on items I knew were in season and not in my garden. Making this list I knew I may not be able to find any of these items but I think it helps to have an idea of what to look for.

I actually got to take sweet corn off the list because two friends from college surprised us with a quick visit when they were in town visiting family and ten ears of sweet corn!

I actually got to take sweet corn off the list because two friends from college surprised us with a quick visit when they were in town visiting family and ten ears of sweet corn!

Below are a few other tips I have for a trip to the Farmer Market based on my experiences:

Bring cash and make sure you have small bills. It will be easier on the farmers so they don’t have to make change. They probably are prepared, but if everyone else is paying with twenties this may eventually be hard for them. (More and more Farmer’s Markets are becoming technology friendly and can take credit cards. Many also beginning to accept food assistance stamps or cards, which is awesome.)

BYOB. Bring your own bags. Farmers Markets are a great way to give plastic shopping bags another use or just invest in a few reusable bags before you go. They are for sale everywhere and a lot of grocery stores will knock a little bit off your bill when you use them. (When at the grocery you can also ditch the cart and just load up your bags throughout the store. You get the added bonus of a little arm workout while you shop!)

Cher, in the nineties classic, Clueless, suggests that when at a party to “do a lap before we commit to a location.” The same is true for the Farmers Market. I always take a lap, see what each vendor is offering, maybe price shop a tad, check out quality, and then make a purchase.

I know it seems, like, totally “Saturday Chic” to grab a latte after yoga and hit the Farmer’s Market but having the grande Starbucks in your hand the whole time is annoying for you and the farmers. You will need your hands to touch and smell the produce. To carry your shopping bags. To pay. Not to mention, it can spill. (Remember how I said all of these were based on actual experience…?) Just swing by the drive through on your way home.

I have heard mixed reviews on this one, and I can understand both ways, but I say get there early. I want to make sure that I have the farmer’s best products to choose from. I don’t want the picked through produce. Also, farmers can, and often do, sell out of things. The flip side to this is that at the end of the market some farmers may give you a deal so that they don’t have to take things home. I am bad at finding shoes I like on sale, let alone food. So, that’s your call.

Things won’t look like they do in the store. A good example is tomatoes. Typical grocery store tomatoes are bright red and round. A Farmer’s Market tomato may be short and fat. It may have ripples. It’s because that is how a tomato grows naturally. It will still be great, if not better. Farmers Market produce will also be straight from the ground so don’t be alarmed by roots, stems, or dirt.
Here are some red flags and things to be aware of when picking out produce:
– Tomatoes continue to ripen, even after they are picked. It’s okay to have some green on the top.
– Berries do not continue to ripen after they are picked so pick ones that have full, vibrant color.
– Like I mentioned above: Use your hands and nose. Melons should smell sweet. Herbs should smell fresh and not be brown. Produce should be soft. Pass on wrinkled or squishy items.
– Inspect the produce to ensure there isn’t any mold, decay, or evidence of insects.

Remember, the produce at the market is fresh and should be consumed sooner rather than later! So, get cooking!

And that is what I plan to do with my beets and brown eggs from a young man on the eastern edge of our county.

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Garlic, thyme, and rosemary from a woman who grows her produce on her mother-in-laws property at the northern most part of the county.

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A whole chicken from this passionate guy from northern Indiana who claimed he has perfected chicken in determining the best age and weight it should be.

Pork Chops that were raised in a good friend’s hometown by a family who told me “They all are great!” when I asked for their suggestion for the best cut of the pig.

I also, with the help of the chicken man’s wife, designed a gorgeous summer floral bouquet with flowers from their farm. The colors even match the theme to my brother-in-law’s wedding next weekend!

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So, stay tuned… and in the mean time, find a Farmer’s Market close to you!

Love this info graphic about Farmer's Markets.

Love this info graphic about Farmer’s Markets.