Buying Local – Arkansas Grown

Our packed agenda at Moss Mountain Farm included lots of topics, all built around a common theme: Farm to Home. One of the fun events was a shop-around with sampling that included lots of local makers and farmers and their wares. It was so fun to see vendors like Homayd (where I bought a coconut oil-based shampoo bar), Jelly Madness (orange-rosemary jam – yum!) as well as beef farmers and processors, vegetable farmers making probiotic sauerkraut and Grower’s Gift Spaghetti Sauce – a canning operation that gleans extra crops to benefit the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.

Loblolly Creamery Ice Cream Truck

Loblolly Creamery is so yummy! they were out sampling their tasty ice creams.

Homayd Soap and Body

Homayd hand-makes soap and body products

Arkansas grown produce

An abundance of local farm raised greens, berries and big red onions

Arkansas grown music

Adorable hipsters sang, danced and played instruments next to a cold brew coffee bar. I felt like I was in a Portlandia episode.

Arkansas Made White River Creamery Cheese

White River creamery raises goats and produces goat cheese as well as cow milk cheese. It’s a family operation. The oldest daughter stayed home from Moss Mountain to cheese-make that morning.

There were also lots of baby animals. Angora Bunnies. Goats. Even a baby raccoon!!!!!!!

Lisagayb holds a bunny

I hold the softest angora bunny you ever did see

Baby raccoon hygiene issues

And here’s a baby raccoon. So cute, but I didn’t want to touch it.

All of this fun sampling and shopping was designed to whet our appetites for the next agenda item: a forum on Arkansas Grown. This is a government-funded initiative to make Arkansans more aware of where their food is made, and to seek out local producers and restaurants that serve local product.

argrownLogoHome

I try to shop local, but by no means exclusively. When my wallet is feeling pinched or I’m short on time, I’m not at all above stopping at the big box retailer, picking up some Chipotle….yada yada yada. It can cost additional time and money to shop local. But you get better tasting food and you boost to the local economy. In fact, if we all just increase our local shopping by 5%, it will generate a $5 million increase in revenue for the local economy!

And if you’re on a fixed income, don’t rule out local. Many farmer’s markets accept SNAP (FKA food stamps). In fact, some markets offer double dollars for SNAP that is spent at the farmer’s market. The goal? encourage those on fixed incomes to seek out fresh food, rather than opting for the processed food available at the grocery store.

What to do if you’re wanting to buy more local products? Here are a few suggestions that I plan to incorporate into my market trips and dining-out:

  • Seek out the store manager or the department manager at your grocery store of choice and tell them you make shopping decisions based on availability of local food. I find that Edwards Food Giant does a pretty good job of sourcing local products and their service is the best in Central Arkansas. I’m also told that Kroger is trying hard – but is having trouble finding local farmers who can keep up with the demand.
  • Make a date to go to your local farmer’s market for a fruit and veggie run each week. The Rivermarket Farmer’s Market is open in downtown Little Rock on Tuesday mornings during high season. (If you shop this market, be sure to ask where the food was grown – some vendors are not local.)  During my last trip to the market, I was able to get everything I needed to make a delicious tomato salad with local Kent Walker feta cheese. I topped the salad with some baked chicken and basil from my little backyard garden and we had dinner for the evening. The whole dinner for 4 cost less than $15.

    Ugly Fruit

    Funny, ugly Bradley County Arkansas tomato

  • Look for the Arkansas Grown sign at the local restaurants you visit. Some to try in the Little Rock area: HAM, Cache, Red Door, Trio’s (there are tons more – this is just a starting point). If your favorite restaurant isn’t serving local food, ask them to!

Tomato Salad with Basil-Yogurt Dressing

For the salad:

1 large Arkansas summer tomato, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 head of red leaf lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces (err on the small side here. it’s annoying to get a large leaf of lettuce in your salad bite)

1/4 lb local feta, cut into small cubes

For the dressing

1/2 cup greek yogurt (I like Fage)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large minced shallot

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup fresh basil, cut into chiffonade

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Toss the salad and dressing together right before serving. To make this a main dish salad, you can add some sliced chicken or some drained chickpeas. You may want to reserve a bit of the dressing to top the chicken and place it on the salad plate beside the salad.

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Farm2Home15 – at Moss Mountain Farm

Farm to School

Farm to school brings local food to Arkansas school kids.

You know I love me some P. Allen Smith. And I got to go back to Moss Mountain Farm this June to participate in a really fun event: Farm2Home15. I’m going to cover the event over the course of a few posts, topic-by-topic. We started the day with a really great discussion of Farm to School. It’s a program that works to bring local farm raised produce into the school system. The program is funded by a national grant.

P. Allen Smith at Moss Mountain Farm

isn’t Allen cute? and that house…gorgeous

Farmers are super-strapped for cash and schoolkids are obese (20% in 10-17 year olds) and eating too much processed food, ultimately setting them up for an obese adulthood with high risk for diabetes. Moreover, kids don’t understand where their food comes from. The marriage between local farmers and schools is truly a marriage made in heaven.

Everybody wins when schools are supplied by local farmers, rather than factory farms and food processors. Kids learn where food comes from (and it ain’t walmart). And just a 15% increase in locally supplied food can mean $15 million back into our Arkansas farmers’ pockets.

Just like grown-ups, kids can taste the difference, too. When presented with local watermelon vs. the shipped-in stuff, kids actually started eating the fruit – even choosing it over the other non-local foods available!

I was struck by the sincere interest in doing the right thing for kids that the farmers displayed. This program really isn’t just about making an extra buck (though our local farmers need that buck – let’s not fool ourselves). The program does so much more than that. And with most kids being raised in urban or suburban settings where, if you ask them where their Halloween pumpkin comes from, the default answer will be “Walmart”, the program does so much for everyone involved.

Cajun’s Wharf – a new discovery in Little Rock

Thanks to Arkansas Women Bloggers for the invite to a blog event at Cajun’s Wharf – on the Arkansas River in Little Rock. I’ll get to the food & drink experience in a bit, but first I must say – the ladies at the event were a real treat! I’m happy to have met some fun people & hope to see them all again very soon. As a bonus, I sold the shirt off my back to one of my new friends. So there’s that.

But we weren’t only invited to Cajun’s to socialize. We were there to eat! and drink! The day started with a wine tasting (I mean it was 12:10 pm, so at least we weren’t morning-drinking, just day-drinking) 2 whites (a reisling and a sauvignon blanc) and 2 reds (a pinot noir and something else I didn’t get to) for each of us. We got a quick talk from the head of beverage service, where I learned that Cajun’s and its sister restaurant Capers are both regularly recognized by Wine Spectator for their wine cellars.

After our quick sampling, we tucked into our first meal of the day – lunch off of Cajun’s daytime menu. We started with an insane sampler plate of appetizers. When I missed out on the oysters bienville, one of my new friends made some magic happen and a brand new platter of oysters appeared. They were magic.

@deltamoxie makes sh@t happen.

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Nevermind that I was already full and had moved on to iced tea by the time our entrees arrived. Had to soldier on with a delightful Kentucky Hot Brown, served open-face with swiss cheese, sliced tomatoes and a bechamel sauce. During lunch, the head chef & partner in the restaurant group told us her philosophy on food: cook with real food & start from scratch. And that philosophy showed. The food was beautiful and tasty.

We ended up with a platter of gorgeous desserts. I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves here.

Good god. Bread pudding.

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Pretty pumpkin cheesecake

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Then we waddled on over to the open kitchen for a demo. Chef Mary Beth prepared some clams & mussels in a white wine sauce that was redolent with fresh herbs and talked to us about Thanksgiving techniques, including turkey brining. I don’t think I’ll ever take that on – it’s just too much of an ordeal – but I do enjoy a cooking demonstration and talking technique with a professional, so it was great fun.

Fresh herbs at the ready.

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Along with a swag bag,  Chef Mary Beth sent us on our way with recipes, which I appreciate.

Yay! Recipes and a cooking demo!

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After a sample of the mussels, we moved into the bar (Cajun’s is ginormous! They offer catering as well as restaurant service & can cater groups from 20-500 or more). Here’s where things got (even more) fun. A local whiskey expert brought some bottles from a distillery in Nashville. We got little samples of whiskeys, ranging from “traditional” to “more complex”. I’m FAR from a whiskey expert, but this stuff was great. And the fall light played into the bar so beautifully – a really pleasant space to wind down the afternoon.

Pretty whiskey. #daydrinking

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With no designated driver and a full slate of mom-duties to return to, I plopped back to reality a little early while the rest of the group moved on to a pretty Christmas drink & social hour. Rest assured, I’ll be back.

Christmas Martinis!!! @cajunswharf #CajunsCC14

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Fall

I’m craving fall right now, just as I do every

Fall country road

Look at this beautiful country road. I don’t know where this is, but I want to go there. Today would be nice, since our high temp will be 97 fahrenheit

year. It’s my favorite season. Football, sweaters, boots, chili.

Where the hell are the pimentos?

Image courtesy of Whitney's World, though this is what my pimento cheese looks like too

Image courtesy of Whitney’s World, though this is what my pimento cheese looks like too

Yesterday, I took a biweekly trek to Walmart to stock up on lunchbox food, cereal, and other necessities. I have changed my food shopping habits in the past few months. In an effort to find the perfect mix of good pricing, quality and local or near-local when possible, I moved away from Kroger, which, in conjunction with Walmart, runs a monopoly in our city. I now buy non-perishables at walmart (they have the best pricing and, in spite of being the largest retailer in the world, are local to Arkansas). I buy my meat and stuff I need in a hurry at the local Edward’s Food Giant, along with some produce, since they have a good selection of local fruits and veggies. Then I fill in with more produce from one of the great farmer’s markets in our city. Yeah, that’s a lot of stores, but I don’t visit them all on the same day, usually not even on the same week.

So, like I said, I’m there at walmart for my biweekly trek. I wanted to make homemade pimento cheese for lunch this week. I spent a good 5 minutes on the aisle where the pickles, olives and roasted red peppers live. No pimentos!! I ended up buying roasted red peppers and they’re certainly tasty, but require the extra step of mincing the peppers. And there are little bits of blackened pepper skin attached to the peppers, which mildly effect the appearance of the delicious pimento cheese.

For lunch today, I just finished a healthy portion on Dr. Kracker crispbreads with a big handful of blueberries on the side. Here’s how I make it.

1 lb grated sharp cheddar cheese (I grate my own, using the food processor, to avoid that powdery coating that comes on the pre-grated cheese)

1/3 cup pimentos (or roasted red peppers, if your walmart is incompetent)

a big pinch of sugar

1/2 tsp of dried mustard

1/4 tsp of garlic powder

Several shots of louisiana hot sauce *

Enough Duke’s mayo to bind the mixture together and make it spreadable

Dump all these items in a big bowl and stir it up. Taste & correct seasonings. Refrigerate overnight to let the flavors blend. So good.

*I think I’ll try Sriracha next time.