Friday, January 7, 2011

Shopping Without January

Now, I'm not trying to say that I am the best cook in the world, nor am I passing (much) judgement on those who must shop with recipe in hand.  All I am saying is that, if you really want to get things done, shopping with a recipe is NOT how you shop at a farmer's market.  Shopping with a LIST is almost pushing it.  The point of shopping at a farmer's market is to fill your basket with whatever catches your fancy and then make the menu later.  I think recipes are wonderful but I honestly think that they are the biggest obstacle in the way of empowering us all to the best best cooks in the world.  Recipes are not LAWS, even for very inexperienced cooks.  They are simply guidelines written mainly by people who do not live in Chattanooga, Tennessee or the surrounding area.   They don't know what our farmers grow or what is in season in our area at any given time.  But we do so we can take what they give us with a grain of salt, take out the celery, and add extra carrots.   I walked past an abandoned cart at the grocery store the other day and I could tell exactly what the shopper was going to have for dinner.  There was 1 small hunk of ginger, 1 chicken breast, 1 head of garlic, 1 can of coconut juice, 1 red bell pepper, and 1 green.   Any guesses?    If you took that list to the Main Street Farmer's Market last blustery and rainy Wednesday you would be sorely disappointed.  If you took an empty shopping basket and enough money for 3/4 of your weekly food budget (they don't sell salt or beer yet at the market) and a very open mind you would go home happy as a pig in mud.   It is a little harder in January, I will admit.  But that's what eating seasonally is all about.  We can't have what we think we want all the time, but what's there is actually all we need.  A little creativity never hurt anyone either.

 When Jim and I did the Pulse article together we started at one end of the market with a wad of cash and worked our way to the other end.   The second booth had the squashes and Jim asked me So, what are we going to do with them?  And I thought, Are you crazy?  I have no idea, they just look good so let's get them.  We'll figure it out later.  Jim is in no way an inexperienced cook.  I'd even bet that he is better than me at some things, like cornbread.   But I realized at that moment that that question is NOT the gateway question for  shopping at a farmer's market.  If you had to ask that question with every ingredient you bought then it would take well over the hour you have alloted in the winter to shop.   You would be rummaging your mind for beef flank recipes while the carrots zipped off the table next door.  Just BUY the dern thing and think about it later.  And if, when you find the recipe you like most of all, fajitas for example, don't be deterred by the lack of ingredients on the list.   Make something else up.  Don't have peppers?  Thinly sliced turnips and carrots marinated in lemon juice and garlic and then sauted til soft with some cumin and ancho pepper are a wonderful substitute.   Come up with an idea, look at the recipe and then pretend like you never saw it.  Grated beets and thinly sliced kale make a great slaw. Or beets roasted with cumin seeds til shriveled are amazing in fajitas or on top of refried beans. It also helps to have a shelf full of jars of relishes, tomatoes, and pickles from last summer when you went overboard at the market.   As taste of the summer bounty always jazzes things up.

We are amazingly blessed  to have so many farmers in our area with such diversified product.    The staples of meat, honey, eggs, grits, cornmeal, polenta, sorghum, flour, and coffee are always there.  And every week is a new opportunity to try out an old recipe in a whole new way, for every week comes something a little different.    Last week at the market made me feel happy and proud to live in Chattanooga.  When I showed up in the rain at five minutes after the market began the parking lot was packed and Crabtree had already sold out of green onions.   Can you believe that?  In the dead middle of winter.


and a snack while you wait til next week.....

SCC Cumberland Quesadillas

I do buy tortillas from time to time.  I like the whole wheat ones from Greenlife/Whole Foods.  I REALLY like the sprouted grain ones but they are on the more expensive side.  Quesadillas are a perfect and wonderful snack, especially pared with homemade sauerkraut and made with "the good stuff" (Cumberland cheese of course).  Just grate it up, cover half the tortilla with it, and cook in a medium-hot cast iron skillet til browned on both sides and melted in the middle.  Serve with homemade kraut, cucumber and pepper relish from last summer, or just as they are- warm and yummy.

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