I went to cooking school at Ballymaloe in Co. Cork, Ireland. That school is situated in the middle of 100 acre organic farm. Each morning students are responsible for harvesting the salad greens, herbs, and produce that will be used in that days recipes.
It was in this bucolic setting where I decided that I wanted my food to be a snapshot of a particular piece of land at a particular time. This spring I returned to rural life in pursuit of that goal.
I joined the team at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan as the Chef in Residence. Granor Farm is 22 acres in Michigan’s Harbor Country. It is certified organic, producing vegetables and grains. It is committed to education. Every summer, we host Farm Camps for kids where they get to do chores, learn about how things grow, identify beneficial bugs and pests, and do a daily cooking lesson. Read on…
I grew up in a hunting family. My grandfather and father participating in that early morning ritual of quietly making a thermos of coffee, loading up the gear, and driving into the dusky glow of morning twilight.
Upon returning home (empty handed) after one such outing, I asked my dad what was the appeal of this ritual. He told me to just come along. The next day I was groggily roused and a thermos of hot chocolate accompanied his coffee. We sat together in the tree stand. And I was bored. I had brought a stick and pocket knife to whittle. After about 15 minutes of fidgeting and making myself busy, my dad put his hand on my leg and said, “Abra, just sit and watch.” I (internally) rolled my eyes but put down my activities and sat quietly. We didn’t see a dear that day, but we did hear the birds slowly wake and start to chirp. We watched as the woods went from dark purple to pink to morning light. It was the first time that I had participated in the simple witnessing of the day breaking anew. Read on…
Autumn olive is an anathema to conservationists.
It was brought into the ecosystem to prevent erosion and help feed a formerly dwindling deer population. It was brought in before it’s invasive traits were fully understood.
Its leaves come on earlier and stay out later than indigenous species. It spreads via its multitudes of seeds and sprouts from its root crown. It fixes nitrogen in the soil pushing out indigenous low-nitrogen adapted plants. It is hard to cut out. You can’t burn it out. And you can’t prevent all of those seeds from scattering no matter how you try.
But since it’s here, we might as well eat it, right? Read on…
I have a tendency to anthropomorphize fruits and vegetables—their physical characteristics translating to a perceived personality in my kitchen and in a dish.
Peaches epitomize childhood summers with their fuzzy skin and liquid sunshine dripping from each bite. Cherries, on the other hand, are always at the ready for a jubilee. Their pits always game for a spitting contest. Nectarines very polite and adult like a crisp white linen shirt and just as striking.
Apricots have always had a sense of melancholy to me, or at least a sense of road weariness. Their flesh is drier in texture than the others listed above. Their appearance is subtle by comparison. Their flavor coy and changing, at the same time evocative of honey and almond or tart with an edge of citrus. Read on…
Green beans epitomize the dueling energies of summer.
On one hand summer is the always bustling, parade of people visiting, things to do outside every night hustle. Lots of hands asking “what can I do,” sliding over each bean, snapping the stem end away making dinner prep faster with so many people around the table.
For these nights I’m drawn to a fast, high heat cooking method for beans—usually on the grill or in a smoking hot frying pan. The goal here is to quickly blister the skin leaving a good amount of char on the skin while maintaining a bit of snap when bitten.
On the other there are the ambling days. The days where I find myself on a long walk and then retiring to an afternoon nap avoiding the heat of the afternoon—cooled by the soft cotton of an old quilt on an inviting bed. Only to rise, stretch and glance through the garden for what is for dinner. I’ll stand alone by the kitchen sink pulling each bean from the harvesting basket, snip the ends away, and run them and my hands under the cool tap.
For nights like this I turn to a relatively slower braise of beans. Beans the color of an army tent is often given the bad reputation of being over-cooked. But that longer cook replaces the crisp crunch of the bean with a tender and yielding sweetness. Read on…
For the next month, Green City Market (and almost all other markets in this region) will be flush with blueberries, peaches, eggplant, summer squash, and green beans.
Thanks as always to the growers for managing the height of summer bounty and getting to market (at least) 2 times a week. And thank you to Elise Bergman for the beautiful design.
Go here to see the whole packet.
It started with strawberries. This year the strawberries around me were disappointing. They smelled great and every other one tasted really good. But none of them were great and some where full on dull.
Then it was the raspberries. Same thing. Every other one tasted great like the seedy, sweet, sticky finger toppers of summer. But the others were just fine. I am now suddenly gripped with anxiety for cherries and peaches.
With each bite I felt disappointed. Let down that this season was a bit of a loss. Every spring I lie in wait, anticipating summer fruit season, practicing self control and eschewing berries from far away, for all sorts of reasons but mostly because they are a lifeless version of the fruit grown around here.
And then our fruit was not much more. Bummer. In the midst of my very small, private pity party I heard the voice of the first man I cooked for in my ear. “Welcome to being a chef,” was his reply when I was bemoaning the challenge of portioning vegetables that were vastly different sizes. Read on…
I am cooking for several exciting upcoming events.
Monday, July 11, 2016
Stock Smorgasbord @ Nomad Food Company
At Stock—the café within Local Foods—our favorite way to eat is to eat a lot! A lot of different dishes of food with different textures, flavors, and colors. We also like sharing. And we like to eat like it’s a party. And so what better way to combine all of these likes than an unconventional, Midwestern Smorgasbord of food!
Join me for the official unveiling of the Stock Smorgasbord. For $40 per person your party will receive 7 composed, family style dishes featuring the best of Midwestern vegetables and meats alongside wood-fired flatbread to share. Jars of Moody Tongue beer complete the Monday Night food party.
Spiced Carrot Dip
Tomato Zucchini Chevre Salad
Beets w/ Dill Crème Fraiche and Smoked Whitefish
Green Bean “Casserole”
Poached Sausages w/ Charred Radicchio and Maple
Sherry Marinated White Beans w/ Arugula and Crispy Bacon
Tapioca Pudding w/ Summer Berries
Get tickets here and at the door.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
Chicago Women’s Brigade @ Virtue Cider
We’re taking the girly show on the road and headed to southwest Michigan! Together chefs Melissa Corey (Virtue Cider), Sandra Holl (Floriole Bakery), Sarah Rinkavage (Lula Café) and I will be cooking pork and veggies from the Virtue farm while drinking copious amounts of hard cider while all proceeds of the dinner will go to Kim Snyder at Faith’s Farm. Kim helped Virtue establish their hog program and specializes in small scale animal production.
Please join us for our summer cook out and hard cider. Tickets available here. It’s going to be super rad.