Monthly Archives: February 2015

Meet Your Driver: Alex Elkins

ace driver selfieIf you’ve ever called the Papa Spud’s office, chances are you’ve spoken to Alex. He’s often answering customer questions, solving quality issues we may have, training new drivers, delivering vegetables, heading up new projects, or any of the other miscellaneous tasks in a given day. Originally from Morganton, NC, Alex has a strong love for nature, bluegrass, and dogs. He grew up in sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains and had a huge garden that his father maintained and with which he and his brother would help. He will be quick to tell you a story about harvesting with his father, stringing beans on the porch with his grandmother, eating food his family grew and mother cooked for dinner every night. They even found a way to use produce that had gone bad: Alex’s mother would dress him and his brother up in their snow suits and let them have rotten tomato fights. So if you’re ever unsure of what to do with rotting produce and your kids have even more energy that usual, maybe try the Elkins method. His connection to food and nature have driven him through his pursuits studying Ecosystems Management at NC State University and now working at Papa Spud’s. His parents’ one stipulation in what he does with his life is that he has to do something to make the world a better place.

Alex has found that working at Papa Spud’s connects his passion for preserving nature and for good, local food in an interesting way. Oftentimes people look at farming and nature preservation as two very different fields, but if you think about the passion and love for the land behind both they begin to come together; they just use different approaches to care for nature. He loves working with and supporting the farmers we source our produce from because they love their land and can share that love with others in the form of food. Hearing Alex speak about the way his childhood connection to his land, his family, and the food they ate together can inspire anyone to pay more attention to where they are buying their produce. He sees the world in such a way that makes everyone’s participation important. Love the food that you eat, love the nature you live in, enjoy some good music and good company, and we can recreate the world we have forgotten. When all else fails, do what Alex does and enjoy some live music, preferably bluegrass, preferably Alison Krauss and Union Station, but they don’t come around too often so a substitute will do.

Blue Ridge Parkway Autumn Sunset over Appalachian Mountains Layers

On Winter Months and “Gross” Veggies

gross foodWhy is it that the winter vegetables are the ones that get the most criticism? How often have you heard someone say: “I pretty much like all vegetables except…beets, or turnips, or cabbage, or especially brussels sprouts”? We think of winter vegetables as bland and boring, remember their strong smells from childhood forced dinners, and we all collectively shudder. But, I’m here to tell you that you should push those prejudices aside and embrace the smelly, weird-looking winter vegetables that are so abundant in these seemingly barren months.

“We kids feared many things in those days—werewolves, dentists, North Koreans, Sunday School—but they all paled in comparison with Brussels sprouts.”—Dave Barry

Let’s start with brussels sprouts, the ones with the worst reputation for their smelliness and their bitter taste. Both of these unfortunate aspects can be avoided by cooking them correctly and, most importantly, not overcooking them. The health benefits of Brussels sprouts are myriad: they are chock full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, folic acid, and dietary fiber, not to mention the fact that they are thought to help prevent colon cancer. They were likely cultivated in Ancient Rome and then became popular in Belgium in the sixteenth century and began to spread. Now we grow Brussels sprouts here in the cold months and once we learn to cook them correctly, we can actually enjoy their many benefits. The following is a delicious recipe from a cook at the Morning Times in Downtown Raleigh named Tommy.

Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts in a Balsamic Reduction
-Thinly slice Brussels sprouts
-Sautee in a pan on high heat with just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan
-When starting to brown and are slightly soft pour the balsamic reduction over them and salt and pepper to taste
-To make a balsamic reduction boil a cup of balsamic vinegar, to know when it is ready dip a spoon in the balsamic, while holding vertically swipe your finger down toward the bottom of the spoon to make a streak, turn spoon horizontally and when it doesn’t run, it is ready to use

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables…Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.”—Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

As a child I associated beets with the canned pickled beets my grandmother would serve for Sunday dinner. It was not until college that I had the pleasure of tasting a roasted beet and it changed everything. Historically beets were used primarily for their medicinal purposes to aid in digestion, reduce fevers, and cure wounds and skin problems. Beets became very popular in the 1600s in Eastern and Central European cuisine. Its popularity only grew and they were even used as a sweetener in puddings and desserts. Another fantastic aspect of the beet is that when you cook with it the whole dish turns pink! You can boil beets and then use the water to make pink rice for picky children. My favorite way to eat beets is simply to roast them with garlic and onion. I like to slice them in thin medallions, toss them in olive oil, salt, and pepper along with chopped onion and garlic, and bake on a cookie sheet at 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The turnip is a capricious vegetable, which seems reluctant to show itself at its best.”
–Waverley Root

The dislike of turnips might be rooted in history. It was the primary food of the peasants in Ancient Rome and Greece, it has been traditionally used as livestock fodder, and apparently Romans threw turnips at people that they disliked. The traditional southern way to eat turnips is to boil and mash them, like potatoes, which I actually like.; but there are many different ways to use turnips. A delicious recipe I found online (actually from a list of 18 different turnip recipes) was to roast turnips and then make a mustard sauce to pour over them. Incredibly simple, just chop up turnips, roast with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and while that’s cooking mix 1 T of spicy brown mustard, 1 T apple cider vinegar, 2 T of olive oil, and 1 T of maple syrup (optional).

“The time has come…to talk of many things: Of shoes–and ships–and sealing wax–of cabbages–and kings–And why the sea is boiling hot–And whether pigs have wings.”—Lewis Carroll

Cabbage has been around for centuries, it can be found in Greek mythology in which “Diogenes advised a young man, ‘If you lived on cabbage, you would not be obliged to flatter the powerful.’  To this, the courtier replied, ‘If you flattered the powerful, you would not be obliged to live on cabbage.’ ” While I’m not sure what exactly to do with this myth, it is safe to say that cabbage has been with us for most of history all over the world. You can find cabbage in almost every cuisine. Unfortunately cabbage is remembered mostly for its pungent smell, which actually comes from the sulfur in the cabbage, an important nutrient that helps the body fight off bacteria. Cabbage is incredibly rich in Vitamin C, fiber, iron, calcium, and potassium. Basically it’s amazing and you should eat it all the time (it is present in so many different cuisines that you can’t even get tired of it)! Here’s an intriguing sounding recipe for fried cabbage: Shred some cabbage, chop up and fry a few pieces of bacon, chop a yellow onion, add to the bacon, and sautee in butter, finally add the shredded cabbage and cook for 30 minutes, At the end add a little more butter, a dash of apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

Winter seasonal vegetables collection including potatoes, parsni

I know that February is a hard month physically and emotionally–the bitter cold has begun to sink into your bones and the soil is basically barren, we all may have forgotten what flowers actually smell like. February seems to be the month of waiting for winter to end. The best way to fight off that winter depression is to get into the warm kitchen and try new recipes with what is available. Hopefully you’ll be delighted by the delicious abundance that is readily available in the winter.

Our Local Food System

One of the most unique aspects of the local food movement is the community that it creates. Continuously new businesses, organizations, and farms are cropping up and working together; competition is not exactly a bad thing in the world of local food, the more diversity the stronger the system. We are in a very exciting time for the Triangle—the importance of a local, sustainable food system is just now beginning to come to the forefront which means the creativity and drive are on an upward slant. From food production to backyard gardening to environmental justice to arts and education, you can find where your passions can support a sustainable food system. Join the budding community and sustain the movement. Here are some great people and organizations to follow in the area:

grass

Durhamfoodie: Durhamfoodie is a blog by a travel and culinary writer based in Durham. She wrote A Food Lover’s Guide to Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill along with Barbecue Lovers’ Guide to the Carolinas. Her blog features events, farmers markets, cookbooks, recipes, restaurants, etc. Her website is: johannakramer.com, and you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tarheel Foodie: Similar to Durhamfoodie but based in Raleigh, Tarheel Foodie is a blog by a woman who is building a sustainably and locally focused lifestyle. She has gracefully transitioned to a seasonal diet by slowly experimenting one step at a time. Her blog features recipes, events, farms, gardening tips, and general musings. For a good dose of curiosity and encouragement check out her blog at www.tarheelfoodie.com, you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Piedmont Picnic Project: This is a blog that I just recently discovered, and I think they state their purpose better than I ever could: “The Piedmont Picnic Project tests the theory that the things we eat and drink and otherwise consume can be local, sustainable, and historical without being pretentious.” They host picnics with local food and incorporate Piedmont history and culture, teach classes, and blog about different gardening ideas, foraging tips, and recipes. If you need some inspiration to learn about the piedmont then a little trip to their website would certainly be a good first step: piedmontpicnic.com, they’re also on Facebook and Twitter.

Chop NC: For all you food fanatics out there, this is a group of “Culinary Historians” who meet on the third Tuesday of every month at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. They feature a cookbook author or food writer and it is open to the public! Check out their website for their events and resources: www.chopnc.com

Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI): RAFI is a Non-Profit located in Pittsboro whose “mission is to cultivate markets, policies, and communities that sustain thriving, socially just, and environmentally sound family farms.” Their work is done through educational programs, direct contact with farmers, political and community involvement, and agricultural reform. Their website has information on all of their programs and how you can get involved: Rafiusa.org, also on Facebook and Twitter.

Interfaith Food Shuttle: IFFS is an organization dedicated to fighting hunger in new and innovative ways. They use education, in-school nutrition programs, community gardens, job training, they “go directly to people in need and create what works to empower them.” Their website is full of information on all of their different programs and the many ways you can get involved and volunteer. Foodshuttle.org, also on Facebook and Twitter.

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association: CFSA is a Non-Profit that helps build the sustainable, organic food system of the Carolinas with education, building systems, and working for fair farming policies. The programs they focus on are: education, advocacy, food systems, and farm services. They host farm tours every year in different areas of the Carolinas so you can get out and see the farms that are providing your food! Check out their website for events and volunteer information: www.carolinafarmstewards.org

The Center For Environmental Farming Systems: “CEFS develops and promotes just and equitable food and farming systems that conserve natural resources, strengthen communities, improve health outcomes, and provide economic opportunities in North Carolina and beyond.” They do so with education, community organizing, creating clean technology, and creating economic opportunities. Their website is full of information, research, and resources: www.cefs.ncsu.edu and they are on Facebook.

SEEDS: SEEDS is an urban garden in the middle of Downtown Durham that acts as an “urban sanctuary” that promotes sustainable practices, education for adults, youth, and children, and food security. You can volunteer in the garden, teach your skills to others, cook food, or just attend their events and dinners. www.seedsnc.org and their Facebook page have information on all of their programs, mission and vision statements, and events.

urban farmI hope that the simple knowledge that these amazing organizations exist in our area is enough to inspire you. Get out there and get your hands dirty! Eat good food, talk to people you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to meet, shake hands with the farmers who feed you. We can’t have a sustainable food system without knowing each other and spreading the word.

Ashe County Cheese

Ashe County Cheese is located in Jefferson, NC a beautiful little town tucked away in the mountainous Ashe County. It has been around since 1930 when the Kraft Cheese Corporation provided the means and knowledge for several cheese plants in the area to distribute nationwide. Kraft then sold the plant in 1975 to the manager who owned it until his death in 1980; Ashe County Cheese has since changed ownership several times and been renovated. It now has a viewing room in the plant where you can come during business hours and watch cheese being made. They have come a long way from producing only cheddar cheese and now offer several different mouth-watering flavors. The plant has become a popular tourist attraction for North Carolina.

Ashe County
Ashe County

Fortunately for you, Ashe County Cheese is back on the Papa Spud’s order page and we are offering six of their most popular cheeses:

Ashe Co. Extra Sharp Cheddar– each batch takes over 18 months to age into a creamy, crumbly texture that blossoms with flavor in your mouth.

Ashe Co. Monterey Jack– this cheese has a fresh, mild flavor. Perfect for salads, enchiladas, or topping any snack.

Buffalo Jack– traditional Monterey Jack blended with a spicy Buffalo seasoning.

Tomato & Basil– sun-dried tomatoes and basil added to creamy Monterey Jack cheese to create this beautiful, delicious cheese.

Pepper Jack– the perfect union of mellow Monterey Jack with spicy jalapeños to create a creamy cheese with attitude!

Habanero Cheddar-a fiery cheddar that offers a blazing taste experience!

I have to confess that I love cheese, perhaps to a Wallace and Gromit level.

My mind automatically goes to the multitude of exciting dishes you can make with fancy cheeses: grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, quesadillas, pasta dishes, cheese dips, cheese and crackers, and the list goes on. I find great joy in crazy grilled cheese sandwiches, and looking at this list of different flavors of cheese, here are a few ideas to spice up your grilled cheese game.

Extra Sharp Cheddar: The sharp and tangy cheddar flavor is great when tastefully balanced with apples and caramelized onions. This is a great sandwich for a chilly day and good book.

Monterey Jack: If you’re feeling particularly British, the mild flavor of Monterey Jack can be complimented with apricot jam (or whatever kind of jam you have in your cabinet). Further the theme with a hot cup of black tea and an episode of Sherlock. Of course, I couldn’t make all of these sandwiches and take pictures so I decided to indulge in this one.

grilled cheese final

 

grilled cheese final2

 

 

 

 

 

Buffalo Jack: For all you wings lovers out there, try this Buffalo Jack cheese with shredded chicken, bacon, and ranch or blue cheese dressing. This sandwich is best accompanied with a beer and a basketball game.

Tomato and Basil: Jumpstart your day with a healthy fried egg, arugula, and tomato and basil cheese open-faced sandwich (if you like mayonnaise it would be a great addition). This mix of mild and spicy flavors will wake you up and nourish your body.

Pepper Jack: Enjoy the spice of pepper jack cheese with avocado, tomato, and red onion for some Southwestern flavors. If you’re feeling ambition you can make some homemade lemonade to cool off the heat.

Habanero Cheddar: Lightly spread some refried black beans on a slice of bread, sprinkle on some onions and cilantro, layer on the habanero cheddar cheese, and grill to perfection. You could top with salsa for even more flavor. Homemade refried black beans are so easy to make and much better for you than the canned version: just soak black beans overnight, simmer with onions, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper for about 2 hours, mash and fry in a pan in butter for about 4 minutes and serve.

Ashe County Cheese is a delightful treat from the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and I like to think that this makes it taste even better. Hopefully you enjoy these fancy grilled cheese sandwiches or at least feel a little inspired by them. I’d love to hear your feedback or even your favorite recipes for fancy grilled cheese!