Archives for category: Food

CRR and I drove into the countryside on a recent lazy weekend, and veered off the main highways onto those beautiful lanes that remind us why we love living in Virginia. We visited two vineyards, enjoyed the scenery and then wandered into an orchard where we had picked apples with the boys when they were young.

Turns out it was cherry season. We’ve lived in Virginia for 30 years and didn’t realize cherries were grown here. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, apples – we’ve picked them all. But cherries? We were pleasantly astonished.

Stella-Cherry-Tree-450wWe picked huge bags full of cherries at $2 a pound. We gobbled some on the way home and schemed what to do with the rest. We compromised. I spent a couple hours sitting on the patio pitting the cherries. Then I froze half of them and CRR began fermenting his half for cherry wine, or whatever will result.

This weekend, I cooked my cherries in the easiest cobbler imaginable. Here is the recipe, adapted from myrecipes.com

4-6 c. pitted cherries (if using frozen, thaw them)

1 c. flour

1 c. sugar

1 c. milk

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ c. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bring the cherries and their juices to a boil. Set aside. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt in a bowl. Incorporate the milk and set aside. Melt the butter in a 2-quart baking vessel. Pour the batter over the butter. Carefully pour the cherries over the mixture. Do not stir. Sprinkle a teaspoon or two of raw or turbinado sugar over the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes until batter is browned. Serve warm or at room temp. Ice cream is optional: we tried 3 variations: pistachio, vanilla bean and pineapple coconut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confession: We have been cucumber failures. Utter abysmal defeat. Bugs got ‘em. Disease got ‘em. So we quit trying. Garden what you’re good at, right?

Then last year we cleared some gardening space in our back yard. It’s a long story but we almost quit the erratically-managed community garden where we’ve rented for a decade. At the last minute, CRR caved. So we’ve got two gardens: our back yard and the community garden mile away.

Time to experiment. We have about six hours of direct sun at home, so we tried vegetables that have failed us time and time again in the full-sun community plot. The sugar snap peas have had a spectacular season. No issue there – we eat them right of hand, or in salads. Arugula and butter lettuce have had a long spectacular season, apparently loving the cool shade. We love it.

cukesBut the cukes. O.M.G. After two months of agonizing over their lazy interest to thrive, BOOM, the vines took off. I watched the cute little yellow blossoms turn into tiny cucumbers-to-be. They’re climbing the trellises and threatening the tomatoes.

Now we are reaping the harvest. Suddenly we have 6-8-10-inch muscle-bound cukes. Gulp. After so many years of failure, I am ill-equipped to deal with this onslaught.

I’m making a mandoline-thin sliced cucumber feta salad for dinner tonight. But clearly I need more ideas. Send me your recipes! #Help!

Sandy K. Johnson is a journalist who writes real news and is a fierce protector of the First Amendment. 

It’s the 4th of July holiday weekend and, naturally, the Dakota kids have laid in an awesome amount of meat to grill. No matter that we’re going out for several meals – it is the principle of the thing. Holiday = grilling.

As I was shoveling protein into the refrigerator and freezer, I noticed a label on one package of beef: “100% American farmed.”

I started giggling, thinking of all the marketing and labeling shenanigans that have been foisted on the unthinking public: Light, lite, natural, low-fat, low-cal ,etc.

Protein has been particularly susceptible: organic, farm-raised,  free-range, 100% gluten-free, hormone-free, 100% vegetarian raised, wild-caught, blah blah.

People, read the labels. Then decide for yourself whether you really care that your fish was “wild caught,” when in fact it was wild caught in Thailand, where food safety rules may be, er, rather lax. Or that your pork loin, “100% farm-raised,” contains up to 15% water, vinegar and marinating chemicals.

meatCRR and I grew up with the original organic protein. Our parents raised the cattle, chickens and pigs that went to slaughter to pack our freezers. We snagged trout and walleye and perch directly from the rivers and lakes. But I also don’t sweat animals that have been raised in confinement – check out how super-expensive Kobe beef is raised.

If you really care, do your homework and make your own informed decision as a consumer. Free-range may mean something completely different than what you think. You may not actually know what a GMO is — but Jimmy Kimmel does.

Just don’t be fooled by stupid labels that some PR firm was paid millions to snooker you.

Back to the beef. Americans eat 24 billion pounds of home-grown beef a year; fewer than 1 billion pounds are imported, primarily from Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

And if you want to be truly informed, read this 92-page list of USDA rules about meat additives. Then go shopping, and know what you’re talking about.

And Happy 4th of July. Grill away!

 Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

Sorry I have been AWOL. Blame the job. I will try to do better this year.

Mother’s Day seems like a great time to renew this blog, since my mother has been such an inspiration to me. She’s 84 and she’s still gardening.

OK, it’s gardening “lite” – last year she had one cucumber plant and one tomato plant. But she still glories in the small joys of gardening: choosing just the right plant, procuring the right soil (JJJJ, this is your department) and nurturing the plants to harvest. I think she’s a “vegetable whisperer.”

It may be a micro version of the enormous garden she once had, but on the other hand she no longer has to feed six hungry mouths. She only has to enjoy the gifts that God gives us, with her expert care and vigilance against varmints.

Mom: CRR is trying to grow some gooseberries from seed. I remember them from Grandma Benner’s garden, small seedy juicy berries that we ate straight from the plant. They’re called husk cherries in other parts of the country, which I discovered in St. Louis last summer when a James Beard nominee chef joyfully incorporated them into his dishes.

Mom: I don’t “can” tomatoes like you did, but I diligently cook tomato sauce and freeze it, a frugal streak I got from you. Though I have to say, this time-consuming kitchen work is tried when I see that I can buy two 15-ounce cans of diced tomatoes for $1. Really, all that work for 50 cents?! I guess it’s the “love” component.

tulipMom: My flower gardens are a direct tribute to your love of gardening. All year long, as I baby the flowers and admire their beauty, I think of you. The lilacs just finished. Roses are blooming. Soon we’ll have iris and peonies and hydrangea. Everything in its time.

These things, so tangible yet so intangible, I owe to you. We owe to you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

xoxo, your favorite daughter (sorry, sibs, you knew that was coming)

Sandy K. Johnson is a journalist in Washington, D.C., and mother of two sons. 

Note: The pumpkins are back! Recycling this column and encouraging everyone to buy a pumpkin at the church on the corner of Quaker & Seminary in Alexandria. It’s a small price to watch little children giggle and toddle through the pumpkin patch. 

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I know fall has arrived when the Episcopalians set out the pumpkins.

The front yard of Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill turns orange with pumpkins every October. The congregation unloads hundreds of pumpkins of all colors and sizes, trucked in from a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Then church members sell the pumpkins (and some other goodies) from morning til night, through Halloween. The profits go to local charities like ALIVE! and Carpenter’s Shelter and international ones like Heifer International. “Buy pumpkins, help the world,” the church sign says.1186252_518431311583381_357164123_n

Like many places in 250-year-old Alexandria, Immanuel has a historical footnote. Gerald R. Ford lived a few blocks away and the Ford family attended Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill for years. He served as an usher and the first lady taught Sunday school (presumably before presidential duties intervened).

The church plays a role in our family history as well. After we moved to this neighborhood, we would roll a red wagon to the pumpkin sale with our sons and they would carefully choose among the pumpkin bounty. One year, Sam insisted that I not discard the pumpkin “guts” when we carved his pumpkin, and make a pie instead. So from that year forward, I have roasted a pumpkin and pureed it for a pie. A little more work than the $3.19 canned pumpkin from the store, but it brings back memories of Halloweens past.

This year, our “mystery” volunteer plant in the garden turned out to be a pumpkin vine that sent runners around two sides of the garden. Though lush with many blossoms, it produced exactly two pumpkins. CRR turned one into a savory pumpkin soup. The other one will be carved at Laurie and Mark’s annual pumpkin salon.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

 

I have been privileged to dine at some great restaurants.

Dinners at Le Bernardin before I even knew who chef Eric Ripert was. Same with Jean-Pierre. Dinner three nights running one magical week at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans in the era of chefs Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme. A buffet catered by Alice Waters. Dinner at the original Spago by Wolfgang Puck (ask me about him sometime…). Citronelle, Jean Claude, Le Bec Fin, Café Milano, Nobu, etc.

It is one of the few privileges of being a journalist – to dine with the rich and famous while you are neither.

This week I dined with journalists at a restaurant in St. Louis that is the equal of any of the elite. It was a meal that one jaded journalist said was the best of her life. I told her: if you can remember any one dish in six months, then indeed it was the best.

Where? Farmhaus, in St. Louis, where chef Kevin Willmann is at the helm. Born into a farm family, raised on the Gulf of Mexico, trained in kitchens all over and then came “home” to cook his own food, a passionate blend of local ingredients from Missouri, Illinois, the Mississippi River and the Gulf.

Willmann delivers. I had an amazing meal there with 20 journalists chosen for the National Press Foundation’s food and farm sustainability seminar. His restaurant is normally closed on Mondays but Chef Willmann made an exception to teach journalists about his special brand of locavore.photo (27)

He created a menu to showcase the best of the season:

*Missouri caviar (from paddlefish) on a corn blini

*Charcuterie board with porchetta di testa, smoked hogs head, chicken liver mousse, cheese and assorted embellishments

*Summer veg salad with corn, pepper, tomato, goat cheese on a lettuce leaf.

*Snapper en papillote with chanterelle mushrooms, husk cherries and fennel

*Bacon-wrapped meatloaf with charred tomato reduction

*Peach cake with candied ginger streusel and blackberry sorbet

Did I mention the local wine and beer pairings? Without reservation I can recommend Farmhaus. If you’re in St. Louis, see a baseball game or walk the amazing botanical gardens. Then find an hour or two for Farmhaus, a foodie’s dream.

Watch the 5-minute video by NPF digital manager Reyna Levine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eu9a6rpGVOM

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening