Food news roundup

The News & Observer’s (Raleigh, N.C.) series Meet Farmer Joe focuses on a husband-and-wife team. (And I always ask when I see this series: What about Farmer Josephine?) Both are also ordained ministers. Read more here.

Readers offer their ways to eat quick, fast and health in Kathleen Purvis’ blog at the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer. Get the recipes and more here.

A man, a goat and the search for perfect cheese. Sound like a movie plot? Well, it is. Read more in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, here.

Let’s get small…. And if you recognize that line, you’re probably too old now to stay awake long enough to see the TV show it came from. But I’m talking about watermelons. You must have noticed they’re tinier, even down to “personal size” watermelons. I guess “personal size” depends on one’s definition of a serving. Anyway, the New York Times explores the incredible shrinking watermelon here.

I still heart books and bookstores

Kindle, Nook, iPad. I’ve felt like a dinosaur, pulling my dead tree-based reading material from my groaning shelves. But read this, from a Wall Street Journal article today about Barnes & Noble going up for sale:

“Despite the array of suggestions tailored to my interests (or at least to my recent purchases) that appear when I open the Amazon site, I still yearn for someone intelligent who can recommend a good book. I enjoy the community of other people who love books. I like talking to someone both before buying a book and after reading it. I think independent bookstores may be able to provide these services even while selling over the Internet. Their overhead should be lower, since they don’t need to carry huge inventories of physical books and don’t need huge retail spaces. Maybe I’m naive, but I’d like to think there are new opportunities for booksellers.”

Local…really local

When I lived in Salisbury, N.C., an old-time grocery store was a five-minute walk from my duplex. Pope & Arey had

sign at entrance to bickett market near five points, raleigh nc

sign at entrance to bickett market near five points, raleigh nc

worn wooden floors and minimal grocery items, but the draws were the meats and, to a lesser extent, produce. Most of the meats didn’t come from big companies because P&A was a small, independent place. It was the first time I got a sense that chicken could taste different from the stuff in the garish supermarket packages. The guys behind the butcher counter could tell you how to cook anything, from the sausage they ground in the store (scooped from a mound molded to look like a pig) to a fancy roast. I still use the method they recommended when I have occasion to roast a standing rib.

I thought about P&A when I walked into Bickett Market, a new Raleigh, N.C. market near Five Points. The wooden floors of the building for one thing. But mostly that the produce, meats, breads and seafood, and a handful of condiments and other prepared items, are local. In some cases, the produce is extremely local. The market works with New Grass Gardens, a company that specializes in edible landscapes. “A lot of it is grown in my yard by New Grass, and other yards in the neighborhood,” says Jason Stegall of the market.

The owners visit farms and select the pigs for the market’s pork offerings, including lard, which a recent missive to the store’s email list called it “ten times better than the best butter you have ever tasted…the all-natural fat is actually healthy for you.” Well, I don’t know about that health claim, but it does show the hands-on aspect of the market and their enthusiasm for products. The store also offers French Label Rouge heritage chickens from Triple T Farms in Fuquay-Varina, free-range eggs, coffee and roasted cornmeal from Muddy Dog Coffee Roasters, and other goodies.

There’s a variety of local items – but don’t expect everything to be there all the time. Many of the items are available in small amounts – produce, especially, as the weather and season dictate. Stegall says that most customers at the store, which has been open since mid-July, “get it,” that all-local, all-the-time can mean variability. Bickett received an unexpected number of shoppers recently due to an online coupon promotion, and Stegall said some shoppers brought in by the coupon didn’t understand why some items were sold out.

It’s not easy to get to the market with the current road construction in the area, but there’s plenty of room once you get there. And for the neighborhood, it’s a real asset. Find out more about the market here, and sign up for the email list to find out the latest on what’s in the store.

Food news roundup

If you’re cuckoo for Locopops, the exotic takes on Mexican paletas that have fed Triangle sweets lovers for years, you’ll like The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) today. This article features the company and its founder, and how she has found that small is beautiful. And she’s so creative – one spring, I purchased haroset-flavored pops there.

The fleeting nature of summer’s goodness is Kathleen Purvis’ theme at the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer. Read here, and savor your cantaloupes while you may.

Five years since the state limits on alcohol levels in beer were lifted, the Triangle is in a brewery boom. Find out what’s happening and why that repeal matters for good beer in The Independent (Durham, N.C.) here.

A new study says that the Winston-Salem – Greensboro – High Point area is tops in the country for consumption of fast-food breakfasts. And they ain’t ordering smoothies. Read more in the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record, here.

Guy Fieri. Don’t even get me started. Read the New York Times article about this large flash in a very large pan, if you must.

Busy beer

I’m looking forward to the opening of Fullsteam Brewery’s tasting room in Durham, N.C. on Aug. 13. I like the brewery’s commitment to using local products in different ways, such as incorporating scuppernongs and other local flavors, plus working with projects to grow hops in the state. Until the tasting room opens, mere mortals have had to be alert for locations serving the beer, which was the case at Busy Bee Cafe in Raleigh this week. The hub and I went to sample the Carver Sweet Potato Lager (yes, sweet potatoes) and Summer Basil Farmhouse Ale.

I think I tasted the sweet potato lager before, at a Southern Foodways Alliance event, but the beer I had this week was different from what I remember. It tasted quite hoppy and bitter, and neither of us could detect a sweet potato flavor per se, but the beer did have a rich, deep red color. I don’t care for extremely hoppy beers, so that was not to my liking. The hub thought he detected more sweet potato flavor as the beer got warmer.

The Summer Basil, however, had just a hint of the herb, refreshing without being overpowering. I wondered how it would stand up to food, and it did well with our dinner of calamari, tuna with Israeli couscous and even the hub’s steak frites.

Fullsteam’s brew-local philosophy is exciting and different for this area. I hope the beers live up to the ideals.

Food news roundup

The canning expertise of yours truly is mentioned in today’s News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) article on taking canning beyond the basics. Once you learn the important stuff – sterilized jars, pectin for jelling, etc. – it’s easy to branch out. I made some fig jam with vanilla and cinnamon this week. You can make jelly from virtually any liquid. Read the article here.

Over at the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, Kathleen Purvis sings of smoothies. The hub and I are hooked on them, too. And they make a good little sweet something in the afternoon or evening as well as a breakfast. I like almond milk better than soy (for the non-dairy hub), and I add a scoop of soy protein powder to up the protein and make the smoothie more filling. Read more here.

It’s tomato time, and the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal has a chef’s recipe for slow-drying them in the oven. Read more here.

You can sass up your summer salad with ideas from the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. I never considered a salad stuffed in green peppers, but it’s certainly pretty. Read more and recipes here.

Lunch may not be able to last forever, but it has lasted 30 years for a Dallas club. The Dallas Morning News has a story today of a neighborhood lunch club that has been going for three decades. Read more here.

Mega-maters and contraband pork

black cherry - photo from previous tomatopalooza

black cherry - photo from previous tomatopalooza

I had a big food weekend, and it’s taken until now to recover and tell y’all about it. On Saturday, I assisted with registration at Tomatopalooza, which drew more than 100 people in a drizzle at Apex Community Park. This annual festival of heirloom tomatoes is organized by Craig LeHoullier and Lee Newman. Craig sells heirloom tomato plants and has been involved in locating, saving and growing rare heirlooms for many years. Read more about them here.

I have attended for several years but felt obliged to help this time, since the article I wrote on the event for Our State magazine might have led to a flood of tomato fans. There were more than 160 varieties of tomatoes, ranging from pearl-sized Mexico Midgets to a Georgia Streak weighing in at 1.8 pounds (that’s for ONE tomato). Black Cherry won the popular vote for best tasting. The medium-sized, purple-and-green tomato is a perennial favorite, and I like its balanced flavor. It’s too small for a BLT, though. You need a big slab of tomato, preferably one with enough acid flavor to balance the richness of the bacon (in my opinion). It’s still hard to beat Brandywine or Cherokee Purple for a good BLT. I discovered that a big advantage of helping is getting to take home the leftovers, so I have been throwing a wide range of tomatoes into dishes ever since.

That night, the hub and I attended a birthday party. I will disclose neither the location nor honoree, because the hosts were serving smuggled pork product. They had visited Spain recently, and returned with a hunk of rare Iberian jamon, which they sliced with a generous hand. I’ve never seen this stuff around here. It’s like prosciutto, except deeper and richer, a little more fat and less salty flavor. It comes from a special breed of pig found only in Spain (our host said Spain won’t even let the DNA out of the country) and fed on acorns. I wondered how they got it back here – I’ve seen customs take food away from nuns, for goodness sake. The fresh-faced, young couple convinced customs that they were late for their connection, so the officers didn’t open the luggage. There they would have found a bouncing baby jamon wrapped in clothing. With fresh figs from their yard – ham heaven. But I realized that you’re really getting old when you’re more excited about ham than the joint that was passed around.