Shauna Thomas: I studied surface design at Bloomsburg University. In 2006 I attended a Surface Design Conference in Kansas City with my professor, which is when I truly realized my love for the medium. I began working on wearable art with the intent of just making beautiful fabrics. All of my fabrics are designed by hand. April 2007 I won Best In Show at a local wearable art extravaganza. I now work from home, where I live with my husband and our beautiful son.
It seems I’m a bit behind in writing this column. Some of you overachievers — I’m looking at you, California — have already sent your kids back to school; last week even. The first week of August! And I’m not going to lie, I want to know how you managed it because my kids, who do not return to school until the second week in September, have interrupted me six times while I wrote this first paragraph. I’m ready for back to school.
As a matter of fact, if I’d known there were states out there who sent kids back to school in early August I may have settled elsewhere to raise my own. In the meantime all I can do is hope Michigan gets with the program and plan for the days when mine do go back. And, if you happen to be one of those parents wistfully thinking of school days ahead with me, I can share those plans I’m making. Especially those that have to do with food. Which is exactly what I plan to do. For the next three weeks we’ll be talking back-to-school food of the local, artisan and handmade types.
On the menu this week: breakfast! Experts agree it’s the most important meal of the day and corporate food giants expend a great deal of marketing moolah harking products that promise to get kids off to a great start — never pausing to divulge the sugar and preservatives that’ll accompany that breakfast, of course — without taking too much time from the precious few moments most families have. What isn’t widely publicized is that locally sourced, handmade breakfasts don’t have to take copious time either and they can be a whole lot healthier.
Here a few of our favorite simple breakfast pleasures that can be taken from farm (or farm market) to table in no time:
French Toast. You’ve eyed the homemade breads at the farmer’s market long enough. This weekend make your way to the booth and buy a few loaves. Yes, a few. Take them home, cut them into thick slices, coat them in egg and make french toast, removing them from the heat just before they’re done. Freeze them with a slip of wax paper between each slice and you can literally pull french toast from the freezer for a quick and easy breakfast all fall and winter. Just pop the slices in the toaster or toaster oven and warm. And remember, this is not your Grandma’s french toast. Experiment with herbed or onion bread dipped in garlic spiked egg and topped with sour cream rather than syrup, for instance.
Overnight Oatmeal. In a large bowl mix enough steel cut oats for the whole family with just enough soy milk to cover and leave the whole thing in the fridge. In the morning pull out the oatmeal, which will now be soft and thick, mix it with your favorite local fruit — dried or fresh — nuts, spices or honey and either eat cold or microwave just long enough to heat through.
Scrambled Eggs. I like mine topped with salsa; my husband likes his with sliced mushrooms and sharp cheddar; my oldest daughter likes her with just a dash of pepper and my youngest, well, she’s a purist, she likes them plain. No matter the fixin’s however, it never takes long to make them. I use the microwave. Yes, the microwave. And the bonus, very little clean up. My girls can even make eggs themselves this way. Just break an egg or two into a glass dish, microwave on high at thirty second intervals, stirring and fluffing with a fork each time until the eggs are done to your desired dryness.
Fruit Smoothies. Remember all those berries I told you to stock up on earlier in the season? Now is the time to pull them from their freezer resting spot and put them to good use. Add one of fall’s first apples to the mix and blend up a few cups of your favorite with a little ice and milk (soy, goat, cow, almond, the sky is the limit) and enjoy. For an added protein boost you don’t need powders from the health food store, drop in a handful of steel cut oats or pair the smoothie with a handful of nuts.
What’s your favorite on-the-go breakfast that doesn’t have your family relying heavily on corporate food giants and their products?
Cabbage. The red-headed stepson of the brassica family. Not nearly as good as its broccoli and cauliflower cousins when dipped in ranch dressing. The food of famines, of the poor, of your gassy great uncle. And who can forget that famous line in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Cabbage Soup is not enough!
But I’m not so sure cabbage deserves such a bad reputation. In fact, it’s the base of one of even my kids’ favorite meals. A recipe that lends itself perfectly to local eating this time of year depending only on store-able baking potatoes, garlic, a little on-the-hoof goodness, bacon, and the underrated spring green itself, cabbage. It’s a recipe that is so scrumptious I wish I could take full credit, but I must give credit for where credit is due; a recipe inspired by Rachel Ray’s Bacon Cabbage Home Fries.
Now, I must warn you. I never measure. If there were a religion against measuring I would probably join it. And I purposely make a lot of this particular dish so that there will be ample leftovers the next day; it’s one of those dishes that gets better after an overnight stay in the fridge. But if you can deal with a little experimentation and a heaping helping of leftovers you simply must give this one a try. So, without further ado, my Bacon Cabbage Home Fries:
1 lb Thick Cut Bacon, Cut into 1 inch Squares
1 medium Baking Potato per person you’re serving, cut into bite size chunks
1 medium head Cabbage, Sliced in thin strips
1 medium Onion — whatever type you have on hand, just roll with it — diced
Garlic, to taste. I use a lot!
Fresh Ground Pepper
In a deep stock pot cook bacon over medium heat until done. Remove, set aside. Add potatoes, onions and garlic to bacon grease (I never said this was a healthy recipe, just a favorite.) and cook, stirring regularly, until potatoes are tender. Add cabbage and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring, until cabbage is wilted. Salt and pepper to taste.
Of course, you could also skip the kitchen and just click over to Etsy through any one of the amazing photos in this post and choose some cabbage inspired decor for your home, too.
Here, last weekend marked the final Farmer’s Market of the year. While it’s a bittersweet passing of time for growers — the loss of convenient, weekly contact with customers is never a welcome thing, but the late fall and winter downtime that is a result of a lightened market schedule is imperative in the planning of the next year’s crop — it’s mostly just bitter for shoppers. Especially those new to eating local and those who are not accustomed to stocking up. Many will have few choices other than to turn back to their local chain supermarket to feed their families.
Last year in On Year-Round Appreciation, I briefly grazed the topic of keeping in touch with your local growers year round, and the advice there is still relevant and useful to this day, but if you’re committed to eating local even in the off-season you may need to dig deeper. The end of organized markets doesn’t necessarily mean the end of local food, but you may have to do a bit more homework to find it. And even if your local Farmer’s Markets are still open, doing your homework may yield you better sources of local food than you had before.
Most locales are still supporting some growth, though the variety will be less impressive than it has been. If your markets are still open be on the look out for those early spring vegetables that are making a comeback for a second season this year. Greens are huge — spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, collards — as are fast growing root crops. Think: radishes. Also keep your eyes peeled for long-season crops that are just now ripe, such as leeks, egg plant and winter squashes, as well as those crops that store well for winter like potatoes, onions and garlic. Those that store well can be stocked up on now, and eaten throughout the coming cold months. Just be sure to ask the grower to make sure the variety they’re selling is one that stores well; not all do.
While you’re out there also ask the vendors you frequent whether or not they’ll have limited crops available during the time when the market is no longer operational. You may be able to pick up local food on-farm all winter. If your market, like mine, has already closed for the winter search Local Harvest for growers near you and get on the phone to line up sources of your favorites for the whole winter season.
Of course the transition to the non-growing season also means a transition to those foods that have no season. Meats, soft dairy and hard cheeses can be produced and harvested year round and are excellent staples for hearty, warming winter meals. Canned products, if you didn’t can your own during the months of summer bounty, are also something you may want to be on the lookout for as December approaches. Think outside the box and even a simple jar of jam can go a long way. Raspberry, spread atop a pasture-raised pork loin is to die for.
However you choose to round out your winter pantry this November, happy local shopping!
For the first quarter century of my life I thought that I hated beets in all their forms. Hated. “They taste like dirt! I’d adamantly regurgitate. I’m sure I’d heard it somewhere, at some point, because I’d never actually tried them myself. And while it’s true, they can taste like dirt, one day in what I like to pretend was no cosmic accident, I picked up a salad from a local market; a salad that contained — unbeknownst to me — pickled beets and a love affair was spawned.
As it turns out I love beets. At least when they’re sweet pickled. I could sit and eat them straight from the jar with a fork. And I probably will as soon as our 2011 crop ripens and I’ve pickled up another year’s supply. You see, I’ve been out of pickled beets for quite sometime now and my patience is growing weary. Everything in this area — and so many others — is considerably behind this season. While beets should be a staple of May production even in some of the more northern parts of the country it may very well be June before we see any. In the meantime, I may have to tide myself over with a jar from Pick-a-Peck. There is no better way to dress up salad greens and spinach — my favorite is a greek style spinach salad with feta — and if spring continues on in the manner it has been greens and spinach may be just about the only local bounty we’ve got to work with.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to keep your eyes peeled. And, especially if you’re in a more southern locale, you may just get lucky. In addition to beets, asparagus continues cropping up from south to north this month, strawberries will start producing in most of the southern states working their way towards a June and July harvest up north, potatoes are making their appearance along side many of the cole and brassica crops — cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and the like — and green onions — one of spring’s tender delights — will also start gracing market tables.
As always for more relevant seasonal food shopping tips be sure to check out the full What’s In Season Now series. It’s impossible to mention all the seasonal produce it’s possible to find at Markets around the country so be sure to pay special attention to recent months’ editions and this month’s edition from previous years for inspiration. Happy Market Shopping!
*Both the beet and green onion photos above are Fine Art Prints, click either photo to be taken to the artist’s Etsy Shop. Vegetable photos make excellent kitchen decor!