Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shittake Sausages

At the OSOME gathering this past Wednesday as we went around the table to tell what we made for everyone, Andria proclaimed that it is not a contest to see who can use the most local ingredients. "Too bad," I said jokingly, "because I would have won." So there!

Read about my vegetarian shittake mushroom sausages HERE.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Third Wednesday

After the wealth of mosquito bites I got last weekend, I was thrilled that I was able to get the grass cut a few hours before this week's dinner. Then Cassius decided to make it snow -- he took a down-filled pillow off the couch and took it to the back yard, then went nuts. Geese feathers everywhere, thousands of 'em, flying onto the patio, into the holes he'd already dug, and all over the grass. I spent a good hour raking and scooping, but the problem just wasn't going away. Then, at 6 p.m., the rains came, matting down the feathers, and soaking the patio furniture...

Fortunately, we had a smallish crowd for supper -- 9 adults and 4 almost-teens, who preferred the glow of the TV set to our company.

We had so many beautiful local ingredients: shitake mushrooms in nearly every dish, plus potatoes, herbs, tomatoes, and lettuces.

Justin and Amy went all-out, making yummy sausages out of potatoes, wheat gluten and mushrooms, then tucking them into whole wheat hot dog buns with a dab of sauerkraut. Tara made a beautiful green bean dish, topped with bread crumbs. Lori and Tim brought over a delicious cold pasta salad chock-full of tomatoes and herbs. Sue tossed together salad greens and a wonderful homemade blue cheese dressing. Lori, the farmer in our group, came armed with the CSA I didn't have time to pick up, as well as a bouquet of gorgeous sunflowers. I got together a pizza crust just in time, and made 2 pizzas topped with sauteed shitakes, just-picked herbs and feta cheese. And Kerri brought over Pancho's Cheese Dip and a big bottle of Prichard's Rum. Sure, she thought outside of the box, but she adhered to the local theory nonetheless -- and the Pancho's dip was the hit of the night!

Paul and Angela came by too, although they couldn't hang around for supper. But they did bring some good news and enough eggs from their backyard chicken coop for everyone to take a half-dozen home. (I borrowed the photo above from their blog, although the eggs in that shot were eaten long ago.)

Thank you, everyone, for such great food and company.

And don't forget that as of June 4, we're switching to Thursday nights. See you next week!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Southern Sliders

Last Wednesday, I wrote a story about sliders for the Commercial Appeal. While researching the article, I found out that May is designated "National Hamburger Month," and I road-tested some of the sliders around town. I interviewed local restaurateur/gourmand Karen Foster Carrier, a VP at Krystal, Bardog's owner, Huey's employee Ashley Boggs Williams, and OSOME participant Justin Burks, trying to uncover what makes a tiny burger great.

Then, a few weeks ago, I made my own sliders, with Kerri's help. No secret ingredients -- just good, high-quality grass fed beef from Mathis Farms. We grilled 'em over charcoal, topped 'em with farmers market arugula, and served 'em up for OSOME's inaugural meal. Go here for the slider story and recipes galore, including the recipe for my own burger, The Chubby Vegetarian's patented N'Awlins Veggie Slider with Remoulade Sauce, shrimp sliders from the Lee Bros., and more.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Second Wednesday

Well, I failed to remember to take any photos last week -- until after the dishwasher was loaded. Oops. If you were here, you know what a great meal we shared, and just how beautiful it all looked. If you missed it, well, you know to try to make it here soon.

Local components: Potatoes, greens, shitake mushrooms, eggs, strawberries, milk, and herbs galore. We were initially worried that we'd be eating nothing but salad this early in the season, but so far, we've had plenty of variety in our meal.

Justin has already blogged about his frittata, a fantastic so-called pinch hitter after his pizza crust debacle. Tara and Esther made an incredibly delicate asparagus and mushroom phyllo tart, using shitakes from Lorette Greene's mushroom block. John brought a caprese salad laid out on a beautiful platter and topped with just-grown basil leaves. Melissa and James showed up with a gorgeous bowl of vegetarian stir-fry with fresh, local kale. Sue, Henry and Doug came with a bowl of the best guacamole I've ever had, using Lorette's cilantro for extra flavor. Alan had a loaf of bread, freshly baked in Arkansas. I made my first ice cream of the season, combining strawberries from Lorette's CSA and Jones Orchard with Mennonite milk purchased at Easy Way.

There was plenty of food to go around, and I discovered that one of the best parts of hosting these weekly gatherings is the leftovers I get to enjoy the next day. Nothing like a cold slice of frittata followed by a forkful of mushroom tart. Mmm...

One more thing to mention: Lorette and Hattie brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers from Whitton Farms in a mason jar that looked perfect on the table. I had to toss most of 'em into the compost heap today, but I still have this stem to enjoy. None of the blooms in my own garden are ready to cut yet -- I have marigolds, phlox, a few leftover Lenten roses, and Sweet William going strong, but I prefer to leave those blossoms on the plants. Soon enough, I'll have flowers galore. What's getting ready to bloom in your garden? Anyone here have luck with Lady's Mantle? I had a nice chat with my friend Chanda this weekend, and she's got it in her Pacific NW beds, but I think it's too dry in the summer to grow it here...

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Justin's last post, plus a recent drive through Tipton County, and a wedding notice in the newspaper, all got me thinking about Oak Hill, my mother's family's farm.

Oak Hill is a Tennessee Century Farm. It's also, according to my recollection, the oldest home in the state that's still lived in by the same family. It was established as a plantation in Keeling in 1832, although a Maclin (my mother's family name) didn't actually move there until 15 years later. By the time I was born, much of the land had been parceled off (mainly during the Depression) and the plantation had been converted into a dairy farm. The old house still stands, and I remember playing in its earthen cellar during a family reunion in the mid-1970s. Back then, my mother's great cousins, Lancelot and Helen Maclin, lived in the big house, and their children and grandchildren resided in another newer house down the hill. The last time I drove out there -- October 2008 -- it looked like my cousin Steve ( one of the grandchildren, who got married a weekend or two ago) had moved into the old house with his kids.

My mother had never spent time at Oak Hill -- she was raised all over Louisiana, and on Pedernales, an island in Venezuela, before she was parceled off to boarding school in Vicksburg, MS -- but the farm was writ large in our family lore. My grandmother, Alice Minor Maclin, had spent the summers there along with her siblings and cousins. Oak Hill -- we always called it "the farm" -- served as a makeshift summer camp during the Depression and the wars, and the cousin-children would be bussed in from Texas and Louisiana to stay there so that their mothers could more easily hold down the fort at home. Because our part of the family was so mobile (even my great-grandmother, Beatrice Maclin, didn't emigrate from England until the early 1900s), the Oak Hill branch of the Maclin family, which had resided in one TN county for the better part of the last 150 years, perfectly illustrated our idea of home. Five years ago, my brother even named his daughter Maclin.

Farm-wise, I don't know much about the Maclin crops. I remember the dairy cows, grazing between the tombstones in the old family cemetery, and a feist dog named Foo-Fi that I wanted to take home with me when I was about 7 or 8, when we stopped at Oak Hill for a few days on our move from suburban Chicago to Lafayette, LA. What I do know, however, is that I love, however distant, having some connection to the land.

Interestingly, through my mother's side of the family, I am related to all kinds of Memphis folk: Through my cousin Tempe Walker Chancellor, I am related (by marriage) to photographer Perry Walker, the Malco theater family, and my friends Adam and Jason Hoenberg and Katherine Greenwood. I'm also, according to this abstract, related to the Broadnax jewelry family via Imogene Maclin, a cousin who was born 9 days after the Battle of Shiloh and who lived to be 101. I also have a great uncle, Jack Findley, who emigrated from St. Andrews in Scotland (by way of India) to marry a Maclin girl and ultimately build most of the country club golf courses in Louisiana, including, I believe, the Tallulah Golf and Country Club and this course in Bogalusa.

And last fall, after that trek out to Oak Hill (supplanted by a trip to the original Gus' Fried Chicken in Mason), my friends Jay and Chanda from Portland OR and I stopped off at the Big S Lounge for a beer. There were two guys sitting on barstools who wanted to know who we were and where we'd been, and it turned out one of 'em was from Keeling. His last name, of course, was Maclin.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tomato Time

Last summer my dad would show up at my door periodically with a box of the best tomatoes I'd ever tasted. All he could tell me was that his friend Jimmy drove down to Holly Springs, Mississippi to pick them up whenever he got the call that the tomatoes were ripe and the farmer would be picking that day. Soon Jimmy will get the call that the first tomatoes of the summer are ready, so my dad and I will catch a ride with Jimmy down to Holly Springs. It was there that I first met the man who has mastered the tomato: Brad Carpenter.

Mr. Carpenter sells his 'supernova' and 'jet star' tomatoes and other home-grown vegetables out of a small stand that sits between his two vegetable fields on Carpenter Road. He is a fourth-generation farmer who speaks poetically about the sun, seed, and soil. He and his family work the fields by hand, tying up each vine and waiting patiently for the fruit to become ripe enough to pick. He does not irrigate or use pesticides, and every drop of water that nourishes the plants is rained down by God himself. Mr. Carpenter told me that he doesn't care about high yields. He treats his plants in a way that will produce the best tasting fruit, not the most fruit. He let me know that a plant that struggles in the soil is better for it in the end.

He was kind enough to take me on a tour through his fields. I was endlessly astounded by his depth of knowledge of the land and his innate ability to turn Mississippi soil into delicious food. As we walked, he pulled potatoes from the ground, allowed me to taste the roma tomatoes he was trying out, and picked a dozen squash blossoms right off the vine. These ended up on my plate only a few hours later. As we walked back toward the stand, his father pulled up in a red pick-up truck and handed him a pail of freshly picked blackberries to sell. It almost goes without saying that I took a few of those off of his hands as well.

Tomatoes are my favorite food and Mr. Carpenter raises the best around. Without people like him and his family we would all be damned to eating those flavorless, red orbs they try to pass of as tomatoes in most grocery stores. So, next time you are down in Holly springs to take your friends to Graceland II, stop by and see Brad Carpenter, buy a few pounds of his home-grown tomatoes, and thank him for what he does.

Consolation Frittata

I told everyone that I was bringing pizza. I had this dough in my fridge that I had let rise for 3 days and I believed that it was ready to be made into pizza. It was a mess. I can make pizza in my sleep, so I'm not really sure what went wrong. It was sticky and flat. So it is now 10 past 6 and I'm supposed to be at the OSOME gathering at 7ish. What do you do? Frittata, that is what. I had the pizza topping already prepared, and I had gotten some eggs from a friend earlier in the day. I used some select pizza toppings to fill and top the frittata. It was some unplanned local deliciousness.

2 red potatoes (thinly sliced)
10 eggs
3 slices of bread (torn into small bits)
1 sweet onion (sliced and caramelized in some butter)
2 field roast sausages (sliced and browned)
1 cup mozz (shredded)
1/2 cup goat cheese (crumbled)
12 sprigs of thyme
S & P
olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Mix the onion, eggs and bread together in a large bowl. Oil a large non-stick skillet and place over medium heat. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer. Pour egg mixture over potatoes and top with sausage. Cover and cook until the edge starts to set. Place into the hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove cover and add cheese. Cook until the center is not jiggly and the cheese is golden. Top with fresh thyme.

Local ingredients: potatoes, onions, eggs, thyme

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What Constitutes Local Food?

In other words, if you live in Florida and you're eating Lay's Potato Chips made from Florida-grown potatoes, are you still a locavore?

This New York Times article tackles that very topic. In a world where marketing is everything, the folks at Frito-Lay are doing their best to cash in on a craze birthed by writers like Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. Dave Skena, the VP of potato chip marketing at Frito-Lay, even declares of his company's latest ad campaign, “This is celebrating the notion of community."


It pisses me off, and I'm not even a real locavore. I'd die without bananas, year-round spinach, or blueberries for my cereal, come wintertime. But I am aware, with every penny I spend, whose pocket it's going into, and what effect it has on my local community. Sure, I do more than my share of shopping at Kroger and Target. I also switch to local purveyors as soon as they have enough bounty to sell. I buy from local farmers because I'm selfish -- the food I get is gonna taste much better than anything that's been shipped cross-country. Come over for dinner tomorrow, and you'll understand exactly what I mean.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Through the eyes

I couldn't resist. Hattie is 5 years old, armed with a pink digital camera, a burning desire to be a "garden girl" some day, and lots of time on her hands. She knows we are blogging and she wanted to show everyone the perfect pea pod, full of plump little English peas. If you ever wonder how a kid sees the world, get them one of those new fangled digital cameras covered in rubber so they bounce when you drop them. 
Think peas... with mint... with pearl onions... with fettuccine and cream...with tuna and shiitakes. Or eat them like Hattie, unzip one and pop the peas straight in your mouth. 
I can't wait til the next potluck and I thank you Andria for hosting a wonderful dinner last Wednesday. So much soul satisfying food and good conversation. 

Friday, May 15, 2009

Justin's BBQnoosh

Because The Chubby Vegetarian is always such a great source for meatless recipes -- and because I knew he'd just taught a roomful of Whole Foods clientele how to make veggie burgers -- I called on Justin earlier this week for an upcoming CA story on sliders.

Justin delivered with some great commentary and a fantastic recipe that will appear in the pages of the CA next Wednesday. He also hatched an idea for a savory BBQ eggplant slider, to accompany my Mathis Farm Black Angus beef sliders that I grilled for our inaugural OSOME meal.

Local component: Honey Slaw, which Justin created using cabbage and onions from Whitton Farms, and honey from Peace Bee Farm. The slaw topped caramelized eggplant doused in homemade smoky barbecue sauce and gouda cheese. For the recipe -- and to see Justin's professional shot of the sandwich -- go here.

To register for The Chubby Vegetarian's next cooking class, "The Vegetarian Grill," go here.

First Wednesday

Twelve people -- the perfect test run. John and Justin are hamming it up for the camera. Thank god for Kerri, who, after doing some major prep work, spent the evening running up and down the stairs getting plates, forks, glasses, etc. We had some delicious food and drinks -- Justin and Amy brought barbecued eggplant sliders, Sue and Doug brought a "kilt" salad, Tara and Robert brought a radish salsa, and John and Scott brought wine and vodka. Lorette, of course, grew most of the food we ate, and brought beer. And Kerri and I made burger sliders using local beef and arugula... Everything was delicious! More on the recipes -- and the incredible 8-foot table Doug built (along with the entire patio) -- coming soon.

Writing About Cooking, Writing About Eating

I will write for food!

Here's the evidence:

Farmers Markets
Teach-A Pizza
Crawfish Celebration
King Cake Tradition
Tennessee Peaches Blues
The Lenten Tradition
Cold Comfort
Vietnamese Feast For the New Year
Super Bowl Food
All from the Commercial Appeal...

How It All Began

Last March, I sent this email to about 20 friends:

okay, folks, I know that summer seems like it's still a long way off, but I wanted to get out this email sooner rather than later -- and I know that a lot of my gardening friends are planning their crops now.

I have a proposal to make -- a weekly potluck meal that involves local ingredients.

right now, I'm calling the concept "our summer of magical eating" -- hopefully Joan Didion doesn't decide to sue me!

here's the scoop: we each make a dish using a locally grown item as the star ingredient. it could be something you've grown, picked, received as part of a CSA, or bought at a local farmers market or produce stand. make enough for every member of your family, x 4 (i.e., if you're a couple, you'd probably just double your recipe). find a recipe in a book or a magazine, or create your own. it could be something as simple as mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil, or as complex as a cocktail using local fruit.

bring your dish over to my house, along with a serving utensil and the beverage you'll be drinking, every wednesday at 7 p.m., and we'll have a potluck dinner.

I plan to serve dinner in my backyard every wednesday, from may through august (or elsewhere if anyone wants to take a turn hosting it). no RSVPs, no need to divvy up courses. kids are welcome. maybe some weeks, 20 folks will show up; maybe just 4 diners another week. there are vegetarians among us, but since we're talking summer bounty, I figure much of the fare will be vegetarian friendly. I also have a charcoal grill if anyone wants to do some cooking over here (hello, Neola beef eaters!).

a huge component of this will be a blog I'm setting up so that everyone who participates in the potluck series can post their recipes, discuss their gardens, swap crops, etc.

if you have any ideas, let me know. I'd like this to be a fairly organic, low-key production that sates our appetites, our social lives, and our budgets.