Friday, January 4, 2008

Local Restaurants Serving Local Food

I spent 2007 focused on getting a better handle on my garden and incorporating more seasonal-based recipes in the kitchen. I officially designate 2008 to be the year of exploration. I've couped myself up the past few months searching for resources and thinking about my garden, but I would like to get to know area farms and restaurants that have a similar focus. I did visit several restaurants and became acquanted with several farms in the area this past year:

Poste has an organic garden on the back patio of the restaurant. Looking at their menu, it also seems as though they have relationships with some area farmers as well. I have been here several times for dinner in the past few months. I've read it's a mad house for happy hour in the summers, which is a deterrent for me. I enjoyed my meals there though and the service was great. I can't say enough about ambiance at this place either. It's in the old post office building and it's gorgeous.

Agraria Restaurant
When Agraria opened I was ecstatic about the idea that family-farmers were opening a restaurant in the city. I went during Restaurant Week about a year ago. I thought the food was pretty good and they had some great organic beers on tap. The drawback for me was that is was in Georgetown on the waterfront. I typically feel like that is for tourists and I usually hesitate before going there. Another drawback was that I couldn't feel the small family farmer there when I ate. It was such a huge selling point for me that I'd like it if they incorporated the concept into more than their marketing materials.

Karl's Farm
I joined the Karl's Farm CSA this summer. This was my first experience with CSAs and I was excited about getting a bucket of vegetables each week, including some I had never heard about before. If I didn't have my own garden, I would highly suggest becoming part of a CSA. I know there are a lot in the area. Karl's Farm had a difficult year with the drought, but they were great about keeping everyone updated and were always on time with the delivery.

South Mountain Creamery
Wow, my mom wasn't kidding when she said milk from a glass bottle is so much better. I usually opt for rice or soy milk, but when this came, it was reason enough to enjoy a cold glass of real cow milk. Their yogurt is great as well. It takes a little getting used to as it's not as custardy as the grocery store kind. I tried some of their artisan cheeses, and wasn't a fan, but I must admit, I am a huge cheese snob. The milk, butter, cream and yogurt is definitely worth a try.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Seasonal Dinner on a Cold Night

I have always hesitated to make pot pies. I have attempted some pretty radical recipes, yet I fear making pot pie. Why? It's too close to baking. And I suck at baking. I'm good at cooking. You know, you can improvise if you are craving something specific, change the ingredient amounts up a bit, throw in whatever is in your fridge (or hopefully your pantry and/or garden). But baking, that's about being precise. At least to me. I always feel like I am about to fail chem lab when I bake.

Anyway, I decided that tonight was cold and a good excuse to get over my pot pie phobia. I made sweet potato pot pies thanks to Heidi Swanson from Sweet potatoes are in season right now, but you really can add anything you have from the garden or in your pantry like turnips, swiss chard, or carrots (which are also all in season).

Sweet Potato Pot Pies (adapted from 101 Cookbooks by Heidi Swanson)
Serves 4

3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium vidalia onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 1/2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt (plus more to taste)
2 tablespoons adobo sauce from a can of chipotle chilies
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
2 cups cold 2 percent milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups pulled chicken, from a store-bought rotisserie chicken
1 box puff pastry dough, thawed
1 egg white

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Saute the garlic, onion and sweet potatoes in olive oil with 1/2 teaspoon of salt until potatoes are soft. This should take about 10 minutes with your burner on medium. Add the corn and adobo sauce and saute for 2 more minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk the milk and cornstarch together. Pour the mixture slowly into the sauce pan, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and cook until the filling starts to thicken, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and season with more salt to taste. Divide the rotisserie chicken into 4 bowls and pour the mixture on top to fill each bowl 3/4 of the way.

Cut a piece of puff pastry dough to fit over each bowl, with some overlap. Create several small slits with a knife in each square to allow steam to escape. Place the dough on the bowls and fold over the edge of the dish. Brush the dough lightly with egg white.

Put the bowls on a baking sheet covered in foil in case it boils over a bit. Bake until the crusts golden, about 15 minutes.

I served the pot pies with a salad made with lettuce, Asian pears, persimmons, goat cheese, toasted pinenuts and balsamic vinaigrette. Most lettuce, Asian pears and persimmons are in season (from cold storage) and you should be able to get them from your local farmer's market. I still have some great heirloom lettuce growing in my garden that has survived the recent cold. This salad was sweet and light and complimented the heavy, wintery pot pies really well.

I must admit, I am over my pot pie phobia. At least for now. This recipe was really easy and quick to make with just a few ingredients. You could replace the adobo for some thyme sprigs while you are cooking the potatoes if you don't like the smoky taste. I'm feeling a lot more confident and hopefully I can try this with more veggies from my winter garden.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Resolve to Live More Sustainably

Now that the holiday craziness is over, I had time today to reflect on some resolutions I'd like to make this year (and to catch up on reading all the latest newspapers piled up in our living room). Eviana Hartman wrote a simple list of new years resolutions that focus on living more sustainably for the Washington Post:

Put a Green Spin on Those Same Ol' Resolutions
Sunday, December 23, 2007; N05

Each holiday season, many of us make similar New Year's resolutions -- and then, just as inevitably, let them slide. Going green may be the most effective resolution of all: Making planet-friendly choices is not just a selfless act, but also a way to improve your quality of life. Here, five of the most common resolutions and how living more sustainably can help you achieve them.

Resolution 1: ExerciseGreen Solution: Bike or Walk to Work
Taking your polluting car off the road can raise your physical fitness. For the average person, bicycling at a moderate rate burns 300 calories per hour, a figure that nearly doubles for speeds faster than 10 mph; walking briskly can burn 460 calories per hour, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If getting yourself to and from work without a car isn't an option, use public transportation and walk or bike to and from the station to get your heart pumping. And if you must drive, carpool. The American Lung Association gave Washington a grade of F on its 2007 State of the Air Report, so cutting down the number of cars will help all exercisers breathe easier.

Resolution 2: Spend More Time With Family and FriendsGreen Solution: Switch Off and Get Out
Instead of passing your free time in front of a giant flat-screen TV, surfing YouTube or slaying digital monsters on your Wii -- and consuming extra electricity in the process -- focus on enjoying the company of loved ones. The simplest group activities, such as charades or a good conversation, are often the most fulfilling.
If you're itching to get out, hop on the Metro for a museum excursion or start a family garden (you'll strengthen your bonds while your plants are absorbing carbon dioxide).

Resolution 3: Go on a DietGreen Solution: Eat Organically and Locally
Whether you're looking to lose a few eggnog-related pounds or simply want to be healthier, resolve to base your diet on organic vegetables and fruits -- preferably local produce from farmers markets or a community-supported agriculture service, which would reduce the amount of fuel needed to transport the food to your plate. (Organic TV dinners and "natural" cheese puffs don't count!)

Though it takes more time and effort to cook using straight-from-the-farm produce, slow, home-prepared meals are great for enjoying with others (see Resolution 2) and make you far less likely to shovel down fattening fast food on the run. Not only will a nutritious, high-fiber, unprocessed diet help you keep a trim figure, but your overall health (and mood) will improve. And you may have better breath (thanks to the chlorophyll in fresh greens) to boot.

Resolution 4: Save MoneyGreen Solution: Consume Less
Next time you have a hankering for a new gizmo or handbag, think twice. Unsustainable spending and unsustainable use of the planet's resources go hand in hand. If you must redecorate or find a cute belt for Friday night, buy wisely. Secondhand or vintage clothing and furniture are usually cheaper, save resources and often make for a more interesting style.
Also, conserve electricity at home: Swap your incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent ones, turn off the lights when you leave a room and keep the thermostat down this winter (don a sweater if you're chilly). Your bank balance will get a boost when you reduce your footprint, and you might be surprised at how spending less makes you want less -- and be more satisfied with the life you have.

Resolution 5: Help OthersGreen Solution: Help the Planet
Anything you can do to help the well-being of the planet -- reducing your carbon footprint, choosing pesticide-free products, avoiding polluting plastic -- will help the well-being of all its inhabitants. Supporting local businesses, manufacturers and farmers, which keeps shipping fuel use down, also strengthens community ties.
Finally, mark your calendars for such events as the Green Festival, held in the fall. You might also volunteer for environmental organizations such as Earth Day Network ( Eco events are a great way to get informed, get connected to others and expand your awareness.

-- Eviana Hartman

Here is a bonus resolution that I made for myself this year: get yourself off those mailing lists for all those catalogs!