Sunday, September 6, 2009

Durham Market and the Search for Heritage Poultry

This weekend I went to the Durham Farmers' Market, and this was the line at Fickle Creek Farms, where they sell free range chicken and grass-fed meats, as well as an assortment of vegetables.  I didn't wait in line to see what is so special, but I am in the process of inquiring.  I bought some bison from Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm and some ground chuck from Meadow Lane Beef, LLC.  I have decided, after a month of eating no meat, and very little dairy, to bring some back into my diet - but only clean, pasture-raised meat, and either organic dairy - or dairy that is nearly organic  (and I know so because I have talked to the folks who milk the cows).

But what I am really on a quest for right now is heritage chicken.  What is that?  Something other than Cornish Cross, the chicken that has been bred to mature in six or seven weeks and to be so fat and indolent that it scarcely has the energy to find its own food, nor the same vitality to resist weather and disease as its slower-growing counterpart.  Don't get me wrong - I do appreciate the farmers who are raising free range Cornish Cross chickens, because that is infinitely preferable to the factory chicken that now appears so utterly disgusting to me.  At least these chickens are treated humanely and fed well.  (Apparently you have to be careful not to overfeed Cornish Crosses, because they don't know when to quit on their own).  Anyway, if anyone is reading this and knows of a good local source for slow-growing chickens, please let me know.

The Durham Farmers' Market had some nice veggies I hadn't seen at other markets, including some tiny eggplants (see the picture) and a number of different sources of arugula and fall lettuces growing in pots.

Here's a yummy summer dish I cooked this weekend:

Summertime Zucchini and Tomatoes

2 T olive oil
1 T butter or other oil
1/2 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
4 small zucchini, julienned
2 tomatoes, peeled & sliced vertically
2 T. fresh basil, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste
3 T grated Italian or organic Romano or Parmesan (optional)

Slowly carmelize the onions and garlic over medium low heat until lightly brown.  Remove from pan and reserve.

Add zucchini to the pan, a little more oil if necessary, and saute until almost tender.  Add tomatoes and onion/garlic mixture, and cook briefly until tomatoes are hot and flavors combine, about three minutes.  Add basil & sprinkle with a good Italian romano or parmesan cheese right before serving, if desired.  If you are using the cheese, use less salt.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hemlock Bluffs & Leaf Shadows

Here in the Raleigh area, we have had two perfect days in a row for getting outside.  Yesterday I went to Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve for my walk.  I chose the Swift Creek Trail, an easy loop that I walked twice as I usually do.  You have to watch your step on the boardwalk, which is damp and very slippery.  The only hard part of this walk is at the end - more than 100 steps back up the bluff, with two decks with benches along the way for resting.

There are a few hemlock trees at Hemlock Bluffs, but it is not a hemlock forest.  There are some magnificent tulip trees here, among others, and many varieties of flora and fauna.  I always hear birds, and yesterday I wished I had my binoculars.

Here are a few pictures I shot along the way.

The sun was very bright and the shadows were deep and intriguing.  I began to look for shadows everywhere, and I took these pictures of the beautiful leaf patterns.  The brighter the sun is, the deeper the shadows; and a tall tree will cast a fuzzier shadow than a small bush.

Eventually, I started playing with my own shadow, and took these pictures for fun.

Stevens Nature Center, a center for educational programs and a resource in the natural history of the area, is the gateway to the trails.  Yesterday there was a small group of children on a walk with one of the park staff.  Overheard:

Child:  "Oooooh, look what I found!"
Park Staff:  "That's a chewed-up pinecone."
Child:  "Awesome!"

That child is awesome in my book.  What's awesome in yours?

Monday, August 31, 2009

NC Museum Park and Southern Falafel

Yesterday I indulged in a beautiful two hours at the North Carolina Art Museum, which is only going to be open for a few more days until it closes for the big move into its amazing new space.

I started with lunch at the Blue Ridge, where chef Andy Hicks prepares imaginative and beautiful dishes from luscious fresh produce he gets from Ford's Produce.   You can find Ford's in its own building at the rear of the North Carolina Farmers' Market.  I have always loved the restaurant at the Art Museum, and was delighted to discover that the Hicks' (Andy and his wife Jennifer, dessert-magician) are staying on.   We will be able to dine with them again in April in the new building.

I have been experimenting with vegetarian cuisine, so I ordered the Southern Falafel Sandwich - made with black-eye peas - accompanied by a side of quinoa salad.  I was impressed with the falafel, as I have tried twice to make it at home, also using fresh local peas instead of the usual garbanzos.  My first batch was dry (baked) and my second batch was heavy (fried).  Mr. Hicks' falafel was crispy on the outside, and moist but not heavy on the inside.  The quinoa salad had yellow bell peppers and green onions, an herb I think was flat leaf parsley, and was dressed with a light lemony vinaigrette - delicious.  I am inspired to try to make my own southern falafel and quinoa salad.  I will keep you posted!

After lunch, I walked in Museum Park, taking my time and snapping these pictures of nature and art along the way.  I walked the very easy, 4/10 mile paved Museum trail.  Today, as I was researching the Museum Park page for this blog, I discovered these teasers that make me want to go back and explore more:  (1) the footbridge that crosses I-440 is only a mile away, and (2) Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky by Chris Drury is on the Woodland Trail, that I have never walked.   Must go back and see that!

Can anyone tell me what wildflower this is, that I found growing along the trail?  I looked for awhile online, and then I gave up and decided maybe one of you know.   There is another picture of this plant in my slide show (link above).  Also, if you look at the slideshow, tell me if you think the picture labeled "Invasive?  Bamboo?" is indeed invasive bamboo or whether it is some plant I just don't know about.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Peas, Apples and Brother's Bargain Peppers

I scoffed up some of the last of the six-week peas at the NC Farmers' Market today, a one-half bushel bag (already shelled, see the picture) for my freezer.  Apples are just in, and it was fun to taste and choose.  I got a $3 box of rustic goldens, a sweet and tart apple good for eating and cooking.  The picture shows my beautiful haul for the day.  Now I have to cook!  In a day or so, I will post a recipe I fixed with something from this picture.

As a result of reading the book The China Study and watching the documentary Food, Inc., I am eating a lot more vegetables now, for both health and ethical reasons.   I am actually having a lot of fun finding yummy local produce and creating something wonderful with it.  

Brother's Bargain Peppers:  On Monday my brother and I shopped at the Farmers' Market, and after I had just paid $3 for a pint of blueberries, I found him paying $10 for a flat of very ripe blueberries.  He went with me again today, and here is what he found for $8:  a whole box of multi-colored bell peppers with a few spots on them.  This time I didn't pay full price (about $.90 each!) - I got two for free from him.  Maybe if I keep taking him with me to market, I might learn a thing or two.  

If you want to see more of what was at market today, click here, and choose "slideshow."

Thanks, Sheffield, for becoming my first follower!

Does anyone have any produce shopping tips to share? I welcome your comments and feedback.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Water Sings in Umstead Park

What is more refreshing than a walk by a rushing creek on a hot summer's day?  Yesterday I hiked down to the Company Mill site in Umstead Park in Cary, NC.  It's usually about a 20 minute walk from the parking lot to the Mill site, but yesterday I was dilly dallying, taking pictures.  Here's a few of them, in an album you can watch in a 45 second slide show.

This hike is one of my favorites because of the rushing creek.  I usually have to allow about 1 1/2 hours plus travel time for this one, but it is well worth it.  There is some uphill and downhill walking and there are ruts and rocks, so it's not for really old folks.  It is almost all shady, except for the walk to and from the parking lot, so it's a great choice for a steamy day.

No matter how ambitious you are, there is enough at Umstead.  I have never hiked the entire Company Trail, which is only one of the many trails in the Park.   I frequently see runners there, although there were none yesterday.   You could easily throw your lunch and water in a backpack and spend the entire day hiking.

For more about Umstead Park:

Moving water entrances me.  It is always changing, always making beautiful patterns of light and dark, freely expressing itself each moment with no attachment to any form.  How does it feel to be the water?

My very first ever blog post!  See you tomorrow.

Feel free to share your favorite parks and farms/farmers' markets - and any comments you have - below!