Archive for April, 2009

At Market: West Virginia Ramp Crepes

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

In typical DC fashion, we jumped from unseasonably cool to 90 degrees this past weekend. Toddler in tow, I made it out to the markets a little earlier this time and successfully obtained my two wishlist items: ramps and asparagus. At the Old Town Alexandria market, the khaki-colored umbrellas of Bigg Riggs farm were a welcome oasis in a sea of dubious-origin produce. Melon, tomatoes and corn in April? Right…. I hope more local vendors will join Bigg Riggs as the season goes on, but unfortunately Old Town continues to disappoint those of us looking for authentic local produce. (Blue Ridge Dairy was there, and local bakers, but this market’s strength is its fresh flower vendors.

ramps wild leeks bigg riggs

Back at the Del Ray Farmers Market, Three Way Farms was rapidly unloading their fresh asparagus, even at the price of $5.50/lb. Fresh spinach was the last of my produce purchases before moving on for yogurt, cheese, ground beef and pasta. The warm weather crowds bode well for the season, though the small market space will quickly become crowded when fresh berries and more produce start rolling in in the next few weeks.

asparagus three way farm va

The West End Farmers Market re-opens this Sunday, May 3rd, in Ben Brenman Park. Tom the Cheese Guy was eager to let us know he’ll be joined there by a Virginia winery, North Gate, though the city forbids sampling their products at the market. At any rate, West End’s more spacious set-up — and wider array of vendors this year — make it great for a more relaxing stroll with meandering kids (or dogs – Lisa will be back with her homemade dog treats, too). The market is on Sundays, 9am-1pm; read more about this year’s vendors here.

Back to my finds… Sunday the toddler was in the early stages of a stomach bug, and requested pancakes for dinner. While he got plain old pancakes with maple syrup (I have a feeling he would have declared the ramps “too spicy!” but will have to test that another time), I used some of my ramps in a scallion pancake-inspired crepe, filled with leftover roast chicken. The quick and simple preparation let the ramps’ pungent garlicky flavor shine through, yum! Served along with simple roasted asparagus, this quick spring meal was perfect for breaking in our picnic table for the season. (Just be sure to stock up on breath mints before enjoying.)

Recipe: Ramp (Wild Leek*) Crepes

Ingredients:

  • 1 handful ramps, rinsed and thinly sliced
    - reserve some of the green portion for garnish
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • pinch ground black pepper
  • 2 cups cooked chicken meat, pulled into chunks
  • butter

Instructions: Beat eggs and milk in mixing bowl. Whisk in flour, salt and pepper until batter is smooth. Stir in ramps and let batter stand while you prepare the filling. Heat crepe pan or skillet over medium high heat. Melt a pat of butter in the pan. Pour crepe batter in a quick swirl to make a circular shape. Cook until just set and flip; cook just a minute or two more and remove from pan. Watch closely to keep crepes from browning. Fold in half and place on warm plate while you cook the remaining batter. Spoon warm cooked chicken (tossed with vinaigrette if desired) into crepes and serve. Makes a dozen or so 3-inch crepes.

* What’s a Ramp? Also called a wild leek, these delicate-looking little plants pack the flavor of a more potent spring onion and stench of fresh garlic. Use the whole thing, bulbs and leaves. They grow in the wild at elevations above 2000 feet, only in the mid-Atlantic region for a few weeks in early spring. For more ramp inspiration, visit Tiffany over at The Garden Apartment.

At Market: Chesapeake Oysters and Arugula

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

This past week finally saw some beautiful spring weather, and market hopping was a lesson in patience and perseverance as the spring crops are only just beginning to roll in. At Penn Quarter last Thursday, morels had sold out within an hour, so I settled for black trumpet mushrooms. Another customer snatched the last two bundles of baby beets at Sunnyside, so it was Harukei turnips for me. The turnips and their greens found themselves sautéed with garlic, salt pork (from Cibola Farms) and the mushrooms.

A beautiful Saturday morning drew a huge crowd to the Del Ray market, a drastic improvement from the rainy washout the week before. Three Way Farm of Warsaw, Va., was back with spring onions, greens and a limited stock of asparagus that sold out early. They assured us there will be plenty more asparagus the next couple weeks, and mentioned that strawberries are just two weeks away. The herbs and seedlings folks were doing a brisk business as people snatched up tomato, chard and other plants for their own gardens. St. Elmo’s was back serving coffee to accompany the plethora of baked goods from Bonaparte, Marcela’s and Vera’s. The most popular items – asparagus, Tom’s cave-aged cheddar, Smith Meadow’s fresh pastas – sold out before 11am. Clearly demand for fresh, local produce continues despite the economy.

at the markets

The quest for asparagus drove me to Dupont Circle’s FreshFarm market on Sunday, but I was too late once again. (Didn’t score any ramps, either.) There I consoled myself with one final pint of Buster’s Chesapeake oysters, the last until fall. Those were pan-fried and served atop chives and arugula (for me), on their own as “oyster nuggets” for the toddler. I tend to prefer oysters from further north, as I like a strong briny flavor, but I was pleasantly surprised the first time I tasted Buster’s local oysters. They are large, sweet and meaty, with a more subtle saltiness, a blend of flavors that transports you to a dockside perch on a warm summer day. (And you know, they help clean up the Bay.)

Recipe: Chesapeake Bay Oysters on Arugula

Ingredients:

  • 1 dozen raw oysters, drained
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup corn meal
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 bunch arugula, rinsed
  • several sprigs chives, chopped
  • raspberry vinaigrette
  • lemon wedges

Instructions:

Heat oil in skillet over medium high heat. Combine flour, corn meal and Old Bay in a small bowl. Gently roll oysters in mixture to coat, place in pan and fry until golden brain. Drain on paper towels. Toss arugula and chives with vinaigrette and place on plate. Top with oysters and serve with lemon wedges. Enjoy!

Blog for the Bay to Save our Chesapeake Blue Crabs

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

blog for the chesapeake bayI use the term “Chesapeake Bay Foodshed” to describe the region from which we source as much of our fresh food as possible. Foodshed is a play on the term “watershed,” and it’s no secret that the Chesapeake Bay watershed is in trouble.

Aside from a love of fresh oysters, crab and fish, I have strong personal ties to the Bay as well.

My mother’s ancestors were among the early settlers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore centuries ago. My husband and I were married on Kent Island, less than a mile from the creek bearing the family’s name.

On my dad’s side, he grew up in the District and no family gathering is complete without a crab feast. The day after our wedding, my Grandpop sat my poor Jewish husband down and said, “Now that you’re part of this family, you need to learn how to pick crab.” He was a good sport about it but still prefers to let others do the work. As for me, it just isn’t summer without a trip to Quarterdeck in Arlington for a dozen crabs on a humid evening.

If we’re going to continue to enjoy local blue crab, significant actions must be taken to clean up the Bay. The Clean Water Act is 30 years old. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had a 2010 deadline to get the Bay off the “dirty waters” list, and has admitted they might not make it before 2020. If you caught last night’s “Poisoned Waters” documentary, you saw how drastic the decline has been for oysters (2 million bushels to 100,000 bushels a year) and fish (most species are already gone completely). The Bay can’t wait any longer! Please join me and fellow “Blog for the Bay” participants and sign the petition to the EPA Administrator urging them to avoid any further delay.

Blog for the Bay Round-Up: Please visit these other local blogs to hear more stories about what the Chesapeake Bay and its seafood mean to all of us, and chime in with your own stories in the comments or on your own blog. Check back here and at my co-host The Arugula Files for updated links later in the day. And please share on Facebook &/or Twitter (hashtag #blog4thebay), too!

  • Arugula Files tells of an unsuccessful crabbing experience, and the iconic Cantler’s Riverside Inn. (And a previous post about the sustainability of Maryland’s blue crabs.)
  • Capital Spice tells of a favorite market vendor, Chris’ Marketplace.
  • The Green Phone Booth‘s JessTrev reminisces about roof deck parties and a soft shell sandwich to mark Bill Clinton’s inauguration.
  • Capital Cooking Show‘s Lauren was recently introduced to blue crabs after moving here from the Midwest.
  • Metrocurean used “pretty please with crabcakes on top” to beg favors from her father, and shares her grandmother’s crabcake recipe.
  • Plight of the Pumpernickel gives a tutorial in eating those steamed blue crabs.
  • DCist chimes in with a plug for the Maine Avenue Fish Wharf, and link to those terrific “save the crabs .. then eat ‘em” ads of a few years back.
  • Endless Simmer sees ulterior motives in our campaign. (Hey, we’re not denying our self-interest. Crabs are yummy!)
  • Internet Food Association is stung by Old Bay and scary magic cards.
  • Etsy Inspiration gives us a look at arts and crafts inspired by the Bay.

Related: The Chesapeake Bay Daily has a graphic representation of the Bay’s blame game, and our campaign is featured on the CBF blog.

Announcing “Blog for the Bay” on Wednesday, April 22!

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Can you imagine DC cuisine without soft shells, crab cakes and crab pickin’? Neither can we!

blog for the bayCalling all District foodies! FoodieTots and The Arugula Files will be co-hosting “Blog for the Bay” this Wednesday, April 22. Please join local food advocates on Earth Day and help rally District foodies to support clean water in the Chesapeake Bay. To participate, simply post about the Chesapeake Bay (a favorite memory, favorite place to eat crabs, best crab cake recipe, anything!) and include a link to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s petition urging the EPA to quit delaying action to help save our Bay. Please mention “Blog for the Bay” in your post and link to hosts FoodieTots.com and ArugulaFiles.com. Feel free to use the graphic as well (just right click to save to your computer, and upload to your own server).

See the Facebook event page or contact foodietots@gmail.com for more details. Links will also be posted in round-ups on FoodieTots.com and ArugulaFiles.com, and will be updated throughout the day. Please help us spread the word and check back on Wednesday for the “Blog for the Bay” round-up!

Free Range, Grass-Fed Beef (and Pork and Chicken)

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Part V of the Sustainable Family Supper series, and my submission to this week’s Fight Back Friday, hosted by the Food Renegade.

It’s probably obvious by now that we are not vegetarians by any means. I actually did abstain from red meat for nearly 5 years during my idealistic youth (high school and college) for “ethical” reasons, but was converted back during a Christmas visit to my Italian grandparents who served meat three times a day. My now husband, then friend, took me out for my first post-vegetarianism steak when I got back to college after the winter break. I was ecstatic to finally be able to order In-n-Out burgers with meat, and jumped back into omnivorism with barely a second thought. Fast forward nearly a decade, and my renewed interest in healthy, sustainable food led me to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I’d already sampled local, grass-fed meats from local farmers markets on occasion, but wasn’t fully committed to paying the higher price on a regular basis. Pollan’s book and my subsequent research set the ball rolling and we now strive to eat only grass-fed, pastured, hormone-free and preferably organic (and GMO-feed free) meat. I still have a little omnivore’s guilt when eating lamb or veal (cue cute baby animal images), but I was inspired to hear local sustainable agriculture hero Bev Eggleston speak at a Slow Food dinner last year about his own conversion from Berkeley vegetarian to pig farmer. As he explained, to solve the problems of conventional meat production you have to participate in the process and use your dollars to vote for sustainable solutions.

grass-fed pastured beef cows

Why Grass-Fed, aka Pastured, Meat? Without getting into the complex and hotly-debated issue of whether grass-fed cows fart more than feedlot-cows (yes, there are real scientists researching that!), there are true health benefits to grass-fed meat. Plus, you avoid supporting “Confined Animal Feeding Operations” (CAFOs or feedlots), which are essentially concentration camps for animals and which I am sure you have heard about elsewhere. (If not, read this, this, and/or this.) Other benefits include:

  • Grass-fed meat is higher in vitamins, especially vitamin E and D, which only comes from exposure to sunlight.
  • Grass-fed red meat is leaner, lower in fat and calories than conventional, and higher in better fats (Omega-3s).
  • Grass-fed means no genetically-modified (GMO) corn or soy feed, reducing the amount of corn byproducts (pesticides, chemical fertilizers, etc.) you consume. (You have seen King Corn, haven’t you?) – health benefits via Eat Wild.

One thing to note about grass-fed meat is that in much of the U.S., it is a seasonal product. Alice Waters reportedly turned down EcoFriendly’s meat for her Inaugural dinner event because it was not available fresh in January. In the winter, animals can’t always graze outdoors so be sure to ask your local vendors what they’re feeding in the winter months — ideally, it will be organic feed they grow themselves. If it is entirely grass-fed, you’ll probably have to buy it frozen. Just defrost it gently in the refrigerator and be sure not to overcook (medium rare is ideal), as leaner grass-fed meat becomes tough if overcooked.

Where to find grass-fed meat: The first place to look for local, grass-fed meat is your local farmers markets. Visit localharvest.org to find a market or ranch near you; Eat Wild‘s state-by-state grass-fed directory can also help. At the grocery store, ignore the meaningless “all natural” label and choose organic if you can, but ask the butcher if they carry any grass-fed brands. (If not, ask them to consider it!)

Grass-fed Meat in DC/NoVA: Joel Salatin’s Polyface, featured in Omnivore’s Dilemma, is right here in Virginia, and you can purchase their meats through their buying clubs. Bev Eggleston’s EcoFriendly co-operative is created in the Polyface model (Bev worked with Joel before branching out on his own) and is the gold standard for family-farmed, pastured meat in the area, with many of DC’s and NYC’s top chefs relying on EcoFriendly meats (including Cathal Armstrong at Restaurant Eve and Todd Gray of Equinox). Other smaller, family-owned farms are represented at nearly all of our local farmers markets. I’ve personally sampled and recommend the following:

  • Babes in the Woods, (Dillwyn, VA); rare-breed, forest-fed pork; at Old Town Alexandria, Clarendon and Charlottesville Farmers Markets.
  • Cibola Farms (Culpeper, VA); buffalo, pork, beef, goat, chicken; available at Dupont, Penn Quarter, Mt. Pleasant, Kingstowne, Burke, Falls Church, Reston, Dale City, Mt. Vernon, Fredericksburg Farmers Markets.
  • EcoFriendly (Moneta, VA), beef, pork, lamb, poultry, rabbit, Arlington/Courthouse and Dupont Farmers Markets.
  • Fields of Athenry (Purcellville, VA); lamb, beef, poultry; see website for drop-off locations.
  • Hilldale Farm (Palmyra, VA); organic chicken; at West End Alexandria Farmers Market.
  • Smith Meadows Farm (Berryville, VA); beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, goat; at Chevy Chase, Courthouse, Columbia Pike, Del Ray, Dupont, Falls Church, Glover Park, Palisades, Takoma Park Farmers Markets.
  • Smith Family Farm, (Gainseville, VA); beef, pork, poultry; at Burke, Kingstowne, Occoquan, Palisades, Vienna Farmers Markets – and on Twitter!

Local (NoVA) Butchers:

And look for the Spring issue of Edible Chespeake, with a cover story on buying beef directly from the farmer.