After several days of July, it’s back to glorious April here. Fresh air that does not resemble a wet sponge, crystal sky, a breeze that calls. Should I be able to resist it all, which is doubtful, there are pears on my kitchen counter and an idea in my head to combine them with cognac and cardamom in a pie. I have become intrigued with cardamom lately.

Birds making sweet sliding sounds, and the busy clucking of the backyard neighbor’s chickens, are drifting through my office window. Pie, maybe later.

Food news roundup

Grab the sponge cake and whipped cream – it’s time to pick your own strawberries. Lists of farms that offer PYO for crops all through the spring and summer are in The News & Observer (Raleigh N.C.), here, and the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, here. Remember to show good PYO etiquette: A farm is not a dog park, so leave the pooch at home; bring your own buckets; and don’t let the kiddies stomp all over the plants.

Read about the idea of Triangle Meatless Mondays in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) here. There’s a list of restaurants with specials for the occasion.

The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal offers an interview with Brian Sonoskus, chef of Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville, N.C., and recipes from the restaurant’s new cookbook here.

Over at NestMeg, see the results of a chocolate-chip cookie tasting by carefully selected judges. (Friends and fellow University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students, with a couple of ringers from Duke. Well, we must be broad-minded.) The cookies are rated by factors including milk dippability and taste of cookie dough.

It’s never late to “green” your kitchen. Although Earth Day was April 22, this post from that day on GreenEatsBlog offers good suggestions for any day.

It’s cheesecakes everywhere at JanNorris. No matter how much we talk about eating healthy, woe be the restaurant that doesn’t offer a cheesecake on the dessert menu. These are some interesting recipes, one including pistachios.

Tofu for a Passover Seder? Gefilte fish looks tofu-like, but a family mentioned in the Miami Herald served a tofu roast. The article here explores the trend to vegan and vegetarian eating (Bill Clinton claims he’s “almost vegan”) and the health aspects.

Sake: It isn’t just for sushi bars anymore. So so says the Seattle Weekly, here.


Food Blogger Bake Sale time

I can’t decide which baked good to offer for the Food Blogger Bake Sale, so I’ll let you hungry people vote. Johanna Kramer (DurhamFoodie) and Matt Lardie (GreenEats) have organized the Food Blogger Bake Sale in Durham, N.C. as part of the Great American Bake Sale, a nationwide effort to raise money for Share Our Strength. Share Our Strength’s simple, yet massive, goal: End childhood hunger in America. Nearly one out of every four children face hunger daily in this country. Simply unacceptable.

Area food bloggers – including moi – plan to participate. The event will be May 14, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Art Market at Vega Metals, 214 Hunt St., Durham, N.C. Tickets are $3 each or four for $10, and each ticket gets your choice of one item. And we bloggers will be watching to see whose goodies sell out first, for bragging rights. It’s not too late to participate – contact Lardie.

Oh, your choices. Should I make my Spicy Pumpkin Muffins (pumpkin with a ton of cinnamon, mace and cloves) or Bananaville Bread (banana bread made with coconut, pineapple and rum)?

Red and red and red all over

I’m looking at my calendar and planning my annual strawberry jam making festival with fellow Canning Queen, Linda. Because the flood of North Carolina strawberries is beginning. I purchased some early ones last week at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh. Usually the first berries are a little disappointing, but these first-run sweeties were excellent. Bodes well for future jam.

The Western Wake Farmers Market in Cary will hold a Strawberry Festival on Saturday during the usual market hours, 8 a.m. to noon. There will be strawberry dishes to taste and face painting for the kids. Find out more here.

You could make a strawberry day of it by also hitting the Cleveland Strawberry Festival in Johnston County on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s on Technology Drive in Cleveland.

The State Farmers Market’s Strawberry Day will be May 5, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. More on that is here.

Food news roundup

Eastertime is the time for ham, and the time for ham is Eastertime. And there’s a big ol’ one in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), along with other friends of ham. I’ve seen a lot of hunks of ham in photos recently. (See previous poem.) But…why do they look so unattractive? This one is dolled up with some fruit, so it’s OK. See it here.

There’s that hammy-ham-ham in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, too. Plus word on a gourmet rabbit dinner (on Saturday night; watch out, Easter Bunny) for $25K. Oh, yeah, John Grisham will be there, too. Read more here.

The Feed With Care column in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) details the rise in grocery stores that offer more products for people with food allergies. The author’s daughter is allergic to wheat, dairy, eggs and nuts, so she is always on the hunt for suitable products. Read more here. But no ham.

The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal writes about the new cookbook by Andrea Reusing, chef of Chapel Hill’s Lantern, here. And, yes, the ham is there, too. There’s no escaping it.

It’s the Return of the Ham in the Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.). I tell you, the hams in these photos don’t look a thing like the ones my mother cooked for Easter. They’re not cylindrical. Anyway, there is yet another new Southern cookbook, this one by Martha Foose, and you can read about it here.

It’s a ham-free Wilmington (N.C.) Star News. There’s an interesting article on the struggles of the county’s oldest restaurant and how it manages to remain open in these times. Read more here.

A bloomin’ lot of cookbooks

If you needed more proof that Southern food is hot, look at the number of cookbooks by North Carolina authors that have popped out like the azalea blossoms this spring. One is by longtime Durham, N.C. chef and caterer Sara Foster (of Foster’s Markets in Chapel Hill, N.C. and Durham). Another is by Chapel Hill food writer and cooking instructor Sheri Castle and the third shares recipes from Asheville, N.C.’s popular Tupelo Honey Cafe (yes, the recipe for the sweet potato pancakes is there).

Foster’s cookbook, her fourth, trumpets her Southern roots. “Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen: Soulful, Traditional, Seasonal” (Random House, $35) has all the requisite standards: Buttermilk biscuits, fried green tomato BLT, and a whole chapter on pork. Pork must make a substantial contribution to any cookbook that calls itself Southern. There are hints for matching cocktails to hors d’oeuvres, which is so Southern.

The book includes surprising recipes using what I consider an under-appreciated Southern vegetable: Summer squash. When it’s in gushing supply in midsummer, squash gets passed around – and avoided – like a baby with a stinky diaper. Everyone has squash, but no one seems to know what to do with it. Foster uses it in a version of hush puppies, plus as pickles, in a pot pie and soup. Of the three cookbooks, this is the most elegant, showing more than a touch of Foster’s previous life working with Martha Stewart.

Castle’s book, “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands and CSA Farm Boxes” (UNC Press, $35). is gorgeous, too. Rather than organizing recipes by course, Castle walks through the garden with chapters highlighting individual vegetables and fruits. Nice to have when the blueberries are pouring in and you’re looking for ways to use them. The organization makes it a bit more challenging to put together a menu, but you do have the serendipity of running into Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew alongside Sweet Potato Rum Cake. Nothing wrong with a meal of sweet potatoes, I say.

The book exhibits Castle’s wide range of experience and expertise, leading to clear directions, especially for the bread many fear to tackle, biscuits. It’s a homey read full of stories, too.

“Tupelo Honey Cafe: Spirited Recipes from Asheville’s New South Kitchen” by Elizabeth Sims with Chef Brian Sonoskus (Andrews McMeel, $29.99) is as much about life in the mountains and Asheville as the food. The book seeks to identify the food by rooting it in the culture of the mountain town, and it makes for a witty read. The book starts off with recipes for gravys. How Southern is that?

The cookbook recognizes Asheville’s place as a craft brew haven by offering both wine and beer matches for dishes. There’s a laid-back quality to this book that makes it feel accessible.

If you’re only going to invest in one, which cookbook should you buy? That really depends on what you’re looking for and which recipes call to you.

Matzoh mia

Brisket, chicken soup….it’s all been so DONE for the Passover meal. Now, this will liven up the group tonight: Bacon-wrapped matzoh balls and Manischewitz-braised pork belly. See it here.

Coconutty pancakes

In my continuing quest for decent substitutes for milk and butter, I purchased a carton of unsweetened coconut milk. No, it’s not the canned stuff that you make Pina Coladas from, although rum in pancakes would really wake you up in the morning. Or put you back to sleep. Depends on how much.

Since the advent of the dairy-allergic Hub, I’ve been making pancakes using a high-protein recipe which I altered, using unsweetened almond milk and non-dairy margarine, and removing the milk powder. It has done OK, but the almond milk is a little thin, and I miss my good, old buttermilk pancakes. I used the coconut milk to make cornbread recently, and it was much fluffier and more tender than the version using almond milk. And, no, it didn’t taste like coconut cornbread.

Coconut milk is thicker than almond milk. It also contains more fat. One cup of unsweetened coconut milk contains 5 grams of fat, all saturated; 15 milligrams of sodium and 1 gram protein. Unsweetened almond milk contains 3 grams of fat, none saturated; 180 milligrams of sodium and 1 gram protein. Therefore, I thought that the coconut milk might make a richer pancake. I’m going for flavor and texture, not health food. Also, after the success using coconut oil to make scones, I used it instead of the non-dairy margarine.

Now, the original high-protein pancake batter is rather thick, but I could have grouted tile with this stuff. I added more coconut milk, until I had probably doubled the original amount, before I achieved something that would come close to pouring. I lowered the griddle temperature and took more time to cook the patty-like pancakes all the way through. I thought the flavor was good, but the pancakes were a little heavy, even using the full 2 teaspoons of baking powder suggested in the original recipe. I think what I may do is go back to the almond milk – which I do add a bit more of, but not double – and use the coconut oil instead of the margarine.


Food news roundup

Passover starts Monday night, and The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) explores recipes for something I have never tasted, but have heard of: matzoh brei. The Hub described it to me once as French toast without the flavor. But how can something that starts with a big ol’ hunk of butter be all bad? Read more here. It’s in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer as well, along with the busting of a burger myth.

The tree-rat squirrels kept their nasty paws off my backyard lettuce plants, thanks to a dome of wire I installed to defeat them. Now, it’s salad season, and recipes are in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal here.

The latest on the Raleigh, N.C. food truck controversy is in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) here. And a rodeo is coming up.

It’s not beyond comprehension that people would go to baseball games for the food. That’s the only way you’d get me in one. No, I don’t like baseball – I prefer to take my naps indoors. At a field in Charleston, S.C., fans can feast on The Pickle Dog: Two pickle halves, hollowed out like canoes, which serve as the bun for a hot dog and coleslaw. And that’s not the only creation of the food director’s fevered brain. Read more in the Post and Courier, here.

Speaking of baseball, the winners of the annual Matzoh Bowl matzoh ball contest at a Ft. Lauderdale retirement community are revealed in JanNorris.com. Does the winner get to throw out the first one on Monday night?

Chapel Hill food writer Nancie McDermott takes a pie field trip to New York City, where she finds all the crust is upper. read more here.

In junior high school, a friend and I made butter by accident. We were trying to whip cream in a blender, then we got to talking about whether Deanie and Donnie had broken up AGAIN, and if Judy’s obsession with the Jackson Five would warp her forever. Important matters, which led to a ball of goo stuck to the blades. A more mature cookbook author who possesses the proper equipment (her views on the Jackson Five are unknown) teaches how to make butter in the Kansas City Star and talks about her cookbook, here.

That expiration date on food items – is it a rule or, like the Pirate Code, more like a guideline? The Boston Globe explores the issue here.


Eaters, meet farmers

For 16 years, the Piedmont Farm Tour has been introducing people to the sources of their food. More farms have been added every year, and his year’s tour on April 16 and 17 features 40 farms in Chatham, Orange, Durham, Person and Alamance counties. Advance tickets are $25 per car; $30 on the day of the tour. Proceeds benefit Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and more information is here.