Sunday, November 13, 2011

"An Organic Orientation"- Beginners Guide to Having the Freshest Organic Food- by Evan Thomas

Organic Produce Grown in a Grow Annapolis Community Garden 

About the Author...
Evan is an architecture student studying urban planning with hopes of creating sustainable communities in the near future. He loves the outdoors, especially surfing, hiking and skiing.

Evan has recently paired with to create a Farmers Market Database and a Plants Database. These interactive tools are intended to help users easily find markets and plants based on the criteria that matter to them. The markets listed in the tool come from the US Department of Agriculture’s farmer’s markets database, and if a market is not listed in the tool, anyone can easily add or edit a market. Please feel free to add a review of the market too! Both tools are constantly being improved.

You can contact Evan by email at Evanthomas1 (at) gmail (dot) com

Evan contacted me to gain some insight on the Farmers Market Finder Tool. I love to check out markets when I'm on vacation, or out for a day trip.  I always get frustrated when searching for location, and hours of operation. I am so excited to see a searchable database of markets. Please check out the site and help Evan to improve the data! 

A guide to finding your way to healthy food that’s grown without chemicals and pesticides.

You’ve got two options when it comes to eating organic: grow your own, or shop for it.

The decision to buy versus grow organic relies in part on where you live, but doesn’t depend on it. Whereas urbanites benefit from proximity to farmer’s markets and grocery stores, rural dwellers have the space to plant. On the other hand, cities inspire creative spatial planning, and suburbs often attract the best farmers markets.

So what does this mean for finding organics in a city or suburban area?

Every Sunday (and the 6 days in-between) thousands of people visit farmers markets across the U.S. in search of the finest and freshest ingredients. Finding the best farmers markets shouldn’t be too hard considering how popular organic food has become in the last decade. In New York alone, over 30 markets dot the city streets of Manhattan selling everything from baked goods to cheese to seafood and vegetables. So there’s bound to be one close to your home. But for the more adventurous, growing plants with edible berries and seeds in the city just takes some planning.

No matter where you live, the benefits of eating organic food are well worth the time invested in planning. Here’s a quick guide to your options for eating organically grown foods.

Organic Gardening
Setting up an organic garden first means picking a plot. In cities, limited space drives creativity in garden planning; building indoor gardens inspire the enterprising organic grower. Community gardens continue to pop up around the cities, making this a viable plan for beginners.

Check out our local community gardening group Grow Annapolis!

The most important thing to remember is the size of the space available to you. Every kind of plant requires a different amount of space, and city gardens put heavy constraints on how spread out your plants can be. Look for plants that will fit your environment: plants with small root systems, plants that tolerate moderate temperatures and most importantly, herbs, vegetables and fruits you love to eat. Tomato plants, lettuce family plants, pepper family plants, and common herbs (thanks, Simon & Garfunkel) are great for small spaces to get you started.

14th and U Farmers Market in Washington, D.C.

In gardening, and especially organic gardening, soil is one of the most important contributors to the health of your plants. Pay close attention to what kind of soil you buy for your pots or frame; organic means no chemicals or pesticides. And once you’ve planted the seeds to begin growing, use only water – no pesticides or growth aids – to take care of your plants.

Find plants for your garden that help each other as well. Planting other herbs and flowers in your garden can help the health of your other plants: garlic plants, alyssum, borage, mint and lavender all provide health benefits in warding off bugs, worms and disease in other common fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Shopping At Farmers Markets
If you can’t grow your own organics, you’ll need to know where to shop for them. Farmers markets offer great opportunities to find organic food. When you find a farmers market you want to visit, remember these tips for your next trip:

1. Go early: We’ve all heard the expression the early bird gets the worm. Shopping at farmers markets is no different. The earlier you can make it, the more selection you’ll have. If you’re looking for fruits and vegetables, you can take your pick of the entire selection as well. Waiting until the afternoon risks giving up the juiciest fruits, heartiest vegetables and even missing the market entirely.

2. Bring a bag: Make sure to bring plenty of reusable bags along for all your purchases. Vendors may or may not provide bags – you’ll probably be hard pressed to hear anyone asking, “paper or plastic?’ Either way, you won’t be wasting any of that paper or plastic if you bring your own.

3. Make it Organic: Watch out for labels on all the products at the market, and make sure to ask questions. Not everything will be organic, so read the labels first to find out how the fruit or vegetable was grown. If it’s not labeled, ask the vendor how they grow their products and if they have anything organic.

4. Meet Your Farmer: Farmers markets offer the opportunity to meet the person who’s growing your food. Don’t be shy – introduce yourself!

5. Bring Cash: You’ve left that plastic bag at home, so leave the plastic card at home too. While some vendors may accept cards, it’s better not to risk it. Bring cash and you’ll be safe.

6. Try Something New: You’ll find all the stalwart food groups at farmers markets: tomatoes, apples, carrots, lettuce and corn. But some the best choice could be something you’ve never tried before; farmers markets bring those bizarre and delicious seldom heard of foods together with the popular ones. Now’s your chance – take the risk!

7. Talk A Stroll: Especially if it’s your first time at a certain farmers market, walk the whole market before you settle in to buy something. This way, you’ll get to see all the vendors and their products so you know exactly what you’ll want to get. Make your purchases at the end of your tip.

All Photos by Robin Riebman and Chris Rausch
Stay Tuned! Next week there will be another guest post, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. 
Please check out Grow Annapolis for more information on local community gardening projects.

Monday, October 24, 2011


I'm moving, again.

I know I've been M.I.A.

Please don't forget me. I'll be back soon. And better than ever!

Friday, October 14, 2011

4th Annual Field to Fork Dinner at St. Brigid's Farm, Maryland October 1, 2011

Last week Chris (BEERsimple) and I headed over to St. Brigids Farm for a Field to Fork dinner.

This was our first! We try to eat locally produced meat whenever we eat meat, but we've never had the pleasure of enjoying it at the source.

We were kind of there on official business as event photographers, but it didn't seem like work at all.

Although October 1st was a chilly Saturday, it was a fantastic meal and a great opportunity to connect with the community.

Proceeds went to Captian Andrew McCown and the Echo Hill Outdoor School.

Special thanks for delicious provisions and assistance via the following local businesses:

Flying Dog Brewery (Craft Beers) -  Frederick, MD
Against the Grain (Artisan Breads) - Chestertown, MD
Lockbriar Farms (Vegetables) - Chestertown, MD
Colchester Farm (Vegetables) - Georgetown, MD
Chapel's Country Creamery (Cheese) - Eric and Holly Foster - Easton, MD

Chef John Keller and his assistant Alexander Maas - Kent County High School Culinary Arts Program
Chef Dave Perry and Staff - Casual Caterers - Stevensville, MD

Jim Stephenson's Band
Eastern Shore Tents and Events

Please check out the St. Brigid's blog for more details!


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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ramen with Berkshire Pork Belly

Yes, this is a TERRIBLE iphone photo. But my camera is in the shop, and my computer keeps imploding.

Also, I am moving.

Things are a little crazy.

So, for now you get an iphone photo of some Homemade Ramen.

There is some marinated shitake, enoki, pan seared Berkshire pork belly, green onions, seaweed squares, and a whole lotta yum in that bowl. All covered in rich pork stock and garnished with a sexy ooey gooey soft boiled shoyu egg.


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Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I know I missed Charcutepalooza again. Between the week long power outage, loosing everything in my fridge and freezer, packing for vacation, and being out of town for a week, there was just no time to make and or eat any sort of dish for the challenge. Hopefully I have a nice day off on Sunday and can make up for the time lost. We shall see.

I just returned from another food filled vacation. It's a repeat city, but all new adventures. Chris and I traveled to the distant land of Asheville, North Carolina.

Back in March we stopped there for a few days on our way to Charleston, SC for the Brewvival. We loved it and wanted to return. The Brewgrass festival this past Saturday (Sept 17th, 2011) was the perfect excuse.

On our first trip the beer store, Bruisin' Ales, and the reputation for being both "Beer City USA" and "Foodtopia" brought us into town.   Despite being a small beer store, the proprietors of Bruisin' Ales, Jason and Julie, have a fantastic stock of beers. They are both super friendly, and every time I have popped into the store I have been party to an impromptu tasting. No complaints here. The store has been mentioned in every beer publication you can think of and it is rated the #4 Beer Store in the Nation 2011 by RateBeer. Not too shabby.  They know their beer, and they also know how to have a good time. We have been lucky enough to run into them enjoying their craft at beer events on the East Coast. They love their business, and they do it well. I'm not telling you to go to Asheville just to buy a beer from these two, but there's no excuse not to.

The best part about going to Asheville is the drive. The rolling mountains are such a welcome change from the flat grass lanes that span I-95. Its soothing even before you get to your vacation destination.
Once in town, be sure you have an empty stomach. Chris and I had to leave town early because we had no room left in our bellies.

We enjoyed all of the food on the trip, but the most notable evening was at Cùrate. This Spanish style Tapas bar is nothing new, and that's the beauty of it. Very simple and traditionally inspired Spanish foods, where the star is the complexity of the flavor in a single item.

Cùrate is one of the gifts El Bulli has begun to bestow upon the world. Head Chef and owner Katie Button, along with the Service and Beverage Manager Felix Meana both worked with Chef Ferran Adria at El Bulli prior to opening Cùrate. The learned restraint and balance and complexity and playfulness and they are sharing it with us at Cùrate. The pair have created a restaurant with memorable food and memorable service, one enhancing the other to create an experience instead of just a meal.

There are few times in my life where I have eaten an incredible meal, and then been able to recall every detail vividly. Usually I will enjoy a great meal and savor each bite, and I can tell you I LOVED it before, during, and after. But I can't recall what I had the next day. I think it's because so often your mind gets overloaded by the sheer enormity, you get caught up in the ambience and the event (if you're dining for a special occasion). There are other things that draw your attention. This meal was not like that. As I said, each detail played upon each other to create an experience. The timing, the atmosphere, the server were all just right. This isn't the type of restaurant where everything comes in perfect succession and you have 9 waiters and a very private table all to yourself.  I'm not saying everything was perfect, but it all worked perfectly together.

The atmosphere is cozy with welcoming chocolatey pumpkin colored walls and candle art warming the light. The tables are close together, and there is an open kitchen staged behind a short bar leading you down a hall, past the restrooms to your table... doesn't sound so inviting. But the light filled windows and the warm candle glow invite you to the table. The table setting puts you in a playful mood, making it seem as though you were in preschool again. The menu is your placemat, and your drink list slips out from your napkin which is folded into the shape of an envelope.

Before you can even look at the wine list you'll notice the pitchers of seasonal fruit sangria on the tables around you and its impossible to resist. The granacha wine, the cinnamon, the fresh watermelon and strawberries, with a hint of liquored spice and cirtus all perk up your tongue and get you ready for the onslaught of food.

We left no crevice un-filled in our stomachs that evening. We started simply with house cured olives, followed by a plate of jambon de serrano, jambon iberico, and jambon de bellota. Then we enjoyed the crispy fried eggplant with a honey drizzle and fresh rosemary. The combination of fried foods and honey is one of Spain's most delicious contributions to the culinary world. I could have eaten this dish for days. I nearly ordered another plate for dessert, although I would have wanted manchego crumbles in that iteration. I couldn't pass on the Branada de Bacalo, basically a hot dip of salt cod and potatoes served with crisp toasts. Imagine warm whitefish salad in texture, but no smoke in the flavor and a bit more earthiness. It just comforted your tongue. Chris loves anchovies so we chose a plate of Escalivada con Anchoas next. The roasted peppers, caramelized onions, and filets of anchovy were swimming in a bath of their own juices mixed with oiliness and a hint of 30yr sherry vinegar to cut through the fish. We planned to end the savory portion of the meal with Rossejat, a thin noodle paella, and the Butifarra con Mongetes, the sausage and fresh white bean dish served with all i oil. But we felt compelled to try one more dish, the Almenjas con Vino Bianco, clams with white wine, iberico, and toasted pine nuts. Those tiny little clams were so juicy and the broth so rich, I cannot believe we almost missed out on them.

Finally, we were finished the Sangria and moved on to dessert of Spanish Hot Chocolate, and Helado de Romero con Almendras, Rosemary Ice Cream with Almond Sponge Cake and Grilled Figs. The coolest thing was the sponge cake actually resembled a natural sponge, I'd never seen that before.  But I couldn't leave well enough alone and I also had to order a cheese plate. When we sat I inquired about the plate, as I always do, and I was elated to hear the La Peral was the blue being featured on the plate. If there is one type of cheese I love above all others, it is Spanish Blue. There is always a fantastic earthy, almost clay flavor to them, a bit of grit, and a mild creaminess you just can't find in Roquefort or Gorgonzola. The plate also had La Serena which is so creamy it has to be served in a little bowl, and some aged Mahon. Those are basically my favorite Spanish cheese so I was thrilled. This was an incredible meal and I look forward to another opportunity to dine at Cùrate.

Sorry, no photos. I left my camera at home. More adventures from Asheville to come.

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