Friendship, Food & Farmers’ Markets

One of my first posts was about how food connects and over the last few weeks I’ve had evidence of it!

Last week I received a text message from my friend Tracee which got me thinking about writing this post.   Her text began, “Holy early good morning!!  Sorry to message you so early but…”  OK, let’s stop here and analyze the beginning of her message – she completely understands that for me 7:48 am (her time) and/or 9:48 am my time is early!!!  She was off to a great start!  The message continued, “I am at this awesome produce market in Ft Worth Texas and I thought of you…”  Now some friends would think of you when they hear your favorite song, or watch your favorite t.v. show, or see you favorite flower; but a good friend knows – and understands that – you have a passion for produce markets and thinks of you when she’s looking at fresh fruits and veggies!  She went on to write, “…need anything you can not find in pa?”  A seriously great, true friend would travel from Texas to Pennsylvania with produce in tow if you asked!!!!

I replied to her, “Happy Friday!  You know me well….I love a good produce market!  I’m good [meaning I don’t need you to bring anything back] but send some pics!”

Her reply? “OK will do.  Great stuff!  I knew you appreciate interesting ingredients.”  She then proceeded to send me 14 pics – with captions!  You gotta love a friend like that!

The following is a slide show of Tracee’s pics (some with captions) with her permission to share!

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This text exchange also got me to thinking of a recent trip I took with a different friend (no, I’m not bragging / yes, I am blessed) to Roots Country Market & Auction.  I’ve written about my friend Tammy in previous posts (in fact, one of her delicious recipes made one of my “Best Thing I’ve Eaten All Week” posts).  Tammy is another friend that falls into both the “friend that gets me” and “true friend” categories.  She’s a gem.  In my mind, I equate Tammy with Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) [the glamorous Hungarian wife of Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert)] who is dragged unwillingly from an upscale Manhattan penthouse apartment and the city life she adores to a ramshackle farm.  You see, Tammy is a beautiful, put-together woman who at first glance seems like she might not be tough enough for life on a farm; but if you think that of her, you’d be underestimating her strength – both physical and mental.  In fact, she now lives on a farmette and raises chickens.  Anyway….as usual, I digress.

Tammy and I travel well together and enjoy the same kinds of experiences.  So when she suggested a trip to Roots Market on our most recent day together, I was fully on board.  And I was armed with a restaurant to introduce her to.  We left around 8:30 (early for me and late for Tammy) and started at Roots Market.  I’m so glad Tammy drove and knew exactly how to get to Roots.  You see, she and her hubby frequent the auction to purchase produce for “the girls.”

We zig-zagged our way through the market looking at fresh produce, baked goods, fresh meats, etc.  We plotted our purchases and had to backtrack to a few stands once we’d made our way through the whole market.  But, we’re not just about produce markets.

When we left Roots we headed for downtown Lancaster and shopped at some cute boutiques, home stores, and an olive oil tasting room. We looked at shoes, clothes, jewelry, home items, soaps, lotions, hats (lots of cute hats), coffee, tea, etc.  In doing so, we worked up an appetite.

Being married to Jeff has prepared me well to have a restaurant in my hip pocket for nearly every occasion!  On this day the restaurant was Hunger-N-Thirst Craft Beer and Provisions. I made a quick stop in the bottle shop to see if I could get any HopSlam for Jeff (alas, I could not), we made a pit stop and then made our way to the dining room.  We each ordered a glass of wine (red for Tammy  / white for me), we shared the shrimp cocktail appetizer and ordered our entrees.  For Tammy, the BLT Panino.  For me, Veggie Panino.  The shrimp cocktail was not your mama’s shrimp cocktail!    It is described on the menu as “Chilled Horseradish Dusted Shrimp / Herb Puree / Pickled Vegetables / Crostini / Tomato Jam” and it was D’lish!  I didn’t taste Tammy’s panino, but mine was an odd choice for me.  I typically would not order a veggie sandwich at a restaurant.  I would eat one at home, but would typically find many other things on a restaurant menu that appealed to me.  In this case, however, the combination of “Sweet Potato / Kale / Red Onion / Smoked Provolone / Maple-Sage Aioli” was too interesting to resist.  And it was quite yummy!!!

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We were too full for dessert and Tammy had to hit the road to make it home in time for a class so we got back on the road after lunch.  But the day of adventuring was wonderful.  A time to REconnect, REfuel and RElax!

So next time you’re thinking about a friend, head to a farmers market and send them some pics or, even better, take them along!

And a special thanks to all my friends who “GET” me!

And because they’re so darn cute – here a pic of TyDy connecting over food earlier today!!!

tydy

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Think Spring….Rolls

The day after an epic fail by weather forecasters is a great day to talk spring….spring rolls that is!

On Monday night our friends Ben and Christa invited us to their house for dinner. Since I had spent all day Sunday and Monday, and would be spending all day Tuesday, at the 2013 Home Builders Show helping Ben in his booth, I didn’t have much time to cook.  AND especially because we always have a great time when we get together with Ben and Christa, we replied with a resounding, ‘yes!’

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Food Journal

I realized today that even though I’ve only been Blogging about food since September of last year; I’ve been Jlogging about food for a lot longer!

Front Cover w FlowersI’ve spent the majority of the day committing to paper recipes for a class I am teaching in a few weeks; and, as often happens when I am thinking about things I’ve made in the past, I pulled out my food journal.  It will come as no surprise to those of you who have read past posts that I got sidetracked!  My self-diagnosed ADD kicked in AGAIN and with a smile on my face I traveled down memory lane.

My food journal is a beautiful brown-leather covered volume that I swore I would keep in pristine condition – I vowed to only write in it in my best handwriting.  Ahhh, the best laid plans…… A few of the pages began neatly – with legible printing; but over time they have become splattered and spilled upon and you can see some days where my passion for what I was recording overtook my desire to write neatly!  That’s how passion goes….

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Market Value

Another successful day of farmers marketing yesterday.  Mimi (my mom) and I departed her house at approximately 9:00 am (only an hour later than our designated departure time, which for us is not bad at all) and hopped on the PA Turnpike for an hour-ish ride to Reading.  Our destination – The Fairgrounds Farmers Market.

I did a little research (no, I did not simply throw a dart at the map) early in the week about PA farmers markets and the Fairgrounds Market sounded interesting.  Someone commented on yelp that it is, “not the prettiest or the most eclectic, but for quality of food, it’s the best.”  That review had me expecting a dumpy place – and while it certainly wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as Lancaster’s Central Market or the Ardmore Farmers Market, it was decent-looking.  It seemed clean and was well laid out with wide aisles and good lighting.

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It’s a Family Tradition

Yesterday, Jeff and I met my “cousin,” Richie, for a little shopping and lunch in Philadelphia’s Italian Market.  This meeting got me to thinking about family and about traditions.  Richie is considerably younger than I am – in fact I remember he was still in a car seat when I was in my freshman year of college – and for some reason it struck me yesterday that his memory of our family’s traditions is very different from my memory of them.

All this ruminating on traditions got Jeff and I talking about them on the way from central PA to Philly in the morning.  He shared with me what he remembers about holiday traditions throughout his life (who he spent the holidays with, where they held their holiday meals or celebrations, and what kinds of food they had) and I shared with him what I remember about holiday traditions throughout mine.  We talked about how in his family the holiday traditions changed over time (at least during the time he was living with his family, roughly from birth to his early 20s) and how in my family they remained very much the same – at least from my perspective.

Of course, we talked about the subject with Richie over “sangwiches” at Paesano’s in the Italian Market. And he has a completely different perspective on the subject than either Jeff or I.  Not only is he from a different generation; but his parents are divorced and so he has two separate celebrations of each holiday and he is also dating a lovely girl whose family lives in a different state than his family, which adds another layer of holiday travel and tradition.

Don’t miss the pics of marketing or “sangwiches” at Paesano’s.  Click here to view them!

I wonder, since his generation is much more transient than mine (and mine is much more than my parent’s), if we’ve lost traditions over time or just built a new kind……

In my parent’s “day,” holidays were all about family (and, of course, food) and it was fairly easy (compared to today) to get the family together because for the most part the extended family lived relatively close to one another.  I see with people in my age cohort, that holidays are less about family – perhaps due to geographic spread.  And I wonder in the generations younger than mine, if the holiday traditions will be even less about family.

OR, do we have to change the way we define family?

When I was thinking about family this evening – what popped in my head is, “family is the people God gave to you and the people God gave you to.”  That could encompass biological families; but it can also include the families we choose….spouses, friends, etc.

It makes me sad to think that traditions are lost over time; but perhaps they aren’t lost so much as they evolve.  And I wonder, if we could, what we would choose for our traditions….

Strangely enough, I was thumbing through this month’s edition of bon appetit magazine just before I sat down at my computer and began reading an article by Adam Sachs entitled “The Tradition Starts Here.”  The end of the article reads, “The main thing I hope he’ll [author referring to his son] remember is to improve them as he goes.  Our traditions are only as good as we make them.”

So as much as I want to pass down the traditions of my youth to my nieces; I’ll be sure this year to ask them what they want their traditions to be or how they’d like to change/improve them.  AND I am looking forward to starting some new traditions….I’ve written before about how much I enjoyed “visiting” on the holidays as a kid, but that’s gotten more difficult because of geography.  Our extended family is much more spread out now than ever before – so (1) we’ll have to start “visiting” on the actual holidays with friends, and (2) we’ll have to be more intentional to set aside time for “visiting” with family.  It certainly won’t be as spontaneous as I remember, but the important part is that we’ll be together.

Jeff, Me and Richie waiting at a VERY crowded Paesano’s. Waited a LLLOOONNNGGG time, but it was good to catch up and worth the wait!

 

Marketing

I had a whirlwind of a day today, but it sure was fun!  I met my mom and dad at their house at 9:00 this morning and we didn’t stop moving until we got back to their house at 4:30 pm.  We covered a lot of ground, saw a lot of yummy food, and scoped out a new place to visit when we have more time.

Our day started in Hershey with my mom having a bone density scan…from there we began our adventure to the Lancaster County Farmers Market, which incidentally is not in Lancaster County – go figure.  It’s actually in Delaware County on the Main Line in Wayne, PA.  Normally it’s pretty easy to get there, but we were in technology hell today….the ATM machine at the Turnpike rest area at which we stopped was having a meltdown and both my GPS and my parent’s GPS were persnickety as well!!!  But after RECALCULATING several times and using common sense (uncommon, I know) we finally made it.

Although it’s not a big market, there are some very nice stands to capture your attention and tempt your taste buds.  My first stop was at Sugartown Smoked Specialties. The smoked trout spread looked delicious, but I was there for advice and information.  On Sunday I’ll be experimenting with smoking clams (which I have never done) and wanted an expert opinion.  The gentleman at Sugartown pointed me in the right direction. THANKS!

The next stand we stopped at was Semaan’s Homemade Specialties to ogle the olives, which is completely strange since I don’t like the way they taste.  I like olive oil and I love the look of olives – they LOOK like something I would love.  And I’ve certainly given them a fair shake…..I try them at least once a year to make sure my taste for them hasn’t changed, but so far….nothing.  But I still think they’re beautiful – particularly these that were marinating with all kinds of herbs and spices!

From there I gawked at the fresh seafood and pre-made foods at Mainline Marketplace. Of everything we saw all day, I rated the jumbo lump crab meat at this stand the most beautiful!!!  I could imagine using this amazing lump crab meat in Jeff’s crab cake recipe OR it would make a fabulous addition to a creamy crab soup OR it would make a delicious lemony cold crab salad…….the possibilities are endless.  I did not buy any because we didn’t have a cooler AND because what you don’t see in this photo is the price behind the garnish – $29.99/lb. A little too rich for my blood today!!!!

The salmon also looked amazing, but again no cooler….. I recently found a recipe for a honey spiced salmon sandwich in which this salmon would be great.  Next time, when the cooler is in the trunk, I’ll be buying some seafood….maybe I can start keeping my spare change in a jar so I can get some crab!!!!

The Ultimate Bake Shop had some gorgeous desserts and baked goods.  Although expensive, the biscotti that looked terrific – packed with delicious ingredients.  The cakes were all beautifully decorated and the descriptions of them sounded tempting.  I do wonder when I see such pristine looking desserts, if they will taste as good as they look.  Perhaps next time I will be “in the market” for desserts and I’ll let you know if the desserts live up to their looks!

We saw some fine-looking produce – in fact, I took pictures of some beets, carrots and cauliflower that I am happy to share.  And I couldn’t resist buying some fresh figs. Just this morning I saw an idea for a flavorful, but health-conscious dessert – fresh figs dipped in dark chocolate.  So how fitting that I be tempted by fresh figs at the market.

After buying the figs, we wandered around a little more, pointing out a few goodies here and there, including some pretty tea towels at The Cottage at The Market and some tasty looking Asian food at Foo To Go.  In fact, the food looked so good at Foo that my mom bought a container of curried rice and one of cold sesame noodles.

After one final trip around the Lancaster County Farmers Market to make sure there wasn’t anything else we needed/wanted, we hopped back into the car and headed to Ardmore.  Our plan was to make stops at the Ardmore Farmers Market at Suburban Square and Trader Joe’s; however we were running short on time so we had to make a decision – farmers market or Trader Joe’s.  Although they are right next to one another, our schedule only allowed for one.

We chose the farmers market, and I am so glad we did. First thing in the door we were greeted by the sight of the most beautiful coral/orange roses at Inspired Blooms.  After taking a few photos, my mom called me over to Ardmore Seafood to look at some of the most amazing colossal shrimp – they were so large I swear I thought to be safe I should address them as “Mr. Shrimp.”  From there we spied the small eggplant for which my mom was on the lookout all day.

And then……Di Bruno Bros. in search of Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar from England.  SUCCESS!  The cost of a pound of this cheese makes the price of the crab meat look like lunch money; but every bite is worth it!  It is described as “a sublime balance between sharp and fruity” and the description couldn’t be more accurate.  I’ve also heard it billed as “quite possibly the best cheddar in the world” and again, I can’t argue. A bit of the Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar and some Clandestin made it into my shopping bag.  The Clandestin is an aged sheep’s milk and cow’s milk cheese from Canada.  It is a soft cheese, like a Brie and is absolutely delicious.  And in addition to the cheeses,  I also had some lively conversation with the “cheese guy.” He was talking with another customer about Grana Padano cheese, which he referred to as “the son of Parmigiano Reggiano.” I asked him why you’d want the “son of” when you have access to the real deal – it was a serious question, I was truly not being a smartalec.    He replied with something to the effect of “Grana Padano is still Ivy League, but it’s Brown, not Harvard” (which may have offended his other customer) and he and I were off to the races on good cheeses vs. lesser cheeses.  I enjoyed the conversation almost as much as the cheese.  I am looking forward to a nice glass of wine, a crusty piece of bread and some bits of the cheeses I purchased today.

After Di Bruno Bros. there was time enough for a very quick spin around the rest of the market – only enough to see what other vendors are there so that when we return we know what we want to see.  Just before getting into the car, I got myself a Kale Shake.  I know, it doesn’t sound great; but I truly believe veggie juices get a bad wrap.  Besides, it wasn’t all veggie juice – it also had lots of whole fruits whizzed up in it.  The kale shake did not disappoint.  It was the color of the inside of a kiwi fruit and tasted like freshness in a cup.

Back in the car, we wound our way through the Main Line back to the Turnpike and headed for home.  We each had a little something to nibble on since we didn’t get a chance to eat lunch.  My dad had a piece of pizza from Pallante’s Pasta Company, my mom had her selections from Foo To Go and I had my kale shake and a little treat my mom surprised me with – an arancini (the literal translation is little orange, the food translation is a risotto and mozzerella ball with onion and flecks of basil – in other words, mmm mmm mmm) from Di Bruno Bros.

All in all, we had a successful trip.  We made a few purchases, sampled a few really good foods and found a future destination for a day of foodie fun!!!

Is Service a Four-Letter Word?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone utter the phrase, “Customer service is dead.”  And it’s not only when I am the one uttering it!

So how do you know when service is bad?  I think the answer is like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography/obscenity in Jacobelis v. Ohio.  He wrote, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so.  But I know it when I see it…”  [Emphasis added].

Two service interactions got me thinking about this today.  The first was at a farmers market stand.  I arrived at the stand at approximately the same instant another customer arrived.  I wanted to purchase one thing – a small bunch of Tuscan kale, which I promptly picked up.  The person working at the stand (let’s call him Herb) glanced over at me and began a personal conversation with the person who arrived at the same time I did (let’s call her Rita).  Herb and Rita continued talking about things unrelated to the stand for about 2 – 3 minutes, glancing over at me periodically.  I was quietly holding my bunch of Tuscan kale thinking to myself, “surely he is going to excuse himself to wait on me.”

Well, I was wrong.  After the initial 2 – 3 minutes of conversation, Rita started her shopping – or something you could call shopping.  She was indecisively asking about this and that with no real urgency or direction.  And rather than wait on me, Herb continued to indulge Rita’s indecision for at least a full five additional minutes, after which (and I’m not making this up) Rita had to tell him a story about something that happened to her in Kenya. So now, I am not only faced with bad service but also bad manners.

Now I’m sure you are asking why I waited.  Believe me, I asked myself the same thing several times!  The answer is simple.  I had only two things on my list – peaches and Tuscan kale – and I had already walked the entire market and this was the only stand that had Tuscan kale.

After the market, I went to lunch at a microbrewery and had the second service interaction.  The waitress introduced herself to me and my dining companions and we had some sociable chit chat.  She seemed friendly and efficient.  However, as the meal progressed her rating for efficiency dropped like a rock.  She was one of those servers who had to interrupt the conversation frequently to tell us she was going to clear our plates or tell us she was going to bring us more water, rather than simply serving without intrusion.  And during the meal one of my dining companions asked about a specific beer and whether it was available. Please keep in mind, we were at a microbrewery.  Not only did she not know if the beer was available, she replied, “I have my hands full (which she LITERALLY did) so you’ll have to look in that menu on the table.”

Some of you may be scratching your heads and asking, “what’s wrong with that?”  I am a firm believer that you can say anything you want to someone, but HOW you say it makes all the difference.  I would have been fine with her saying something like, “Let me just put these plates down so that I can give you my full attention.  I will be right back.”

While neither of my interactions was horrific, both were disappointing.  Having been a restaurant server in my college days and having worked retail as well; I know the challenges in both situations and hope I provided better service than I received today.

So what does this have to do with cooking, eating and entertaining?  Service – whether in a restaurant or when you’re entertaining in your home – can make or break a meal.  It can be the difference between someone leaving feeling like they’ve been pampered or leaving uttering obscenities!