Monday, May 14, 2012

Summertime Bucket List

People who know me well, know that I absolutely love summer. Summer gives me the opportunity to do some of my very favorite things, like spending days in the water and going to outdoor concerts, while also enjoying some of the year’s most delicious in-season fruits & veggies.

I’m also a complete sucker for To-Do lists (Guilty confession: I sometimes add tasks to my list after I’ve already completed them just so I can check them off).

With my favorite season just around the corner, here’s my list of what I’m dreaming up for Summer 2012.

1.      Have a picnic on the beach (x 100), and pack these.

2.      Join Lisa in Bellingham for the Common Threads Farm Camp Pizza, where we’ll help kids make our favorite food.

3.      Celebrate my birthday with this cake.

4.   Visit The Farmshop in Brentwood & Umamicatessen in Los Angeles.

5.      Hike to the Punch Bowls in Santa Paula, and remember to bring these.

6.   Visit Avila Valley Barn so I can pick my own berries.

7.      Make a pie with the berries I pick.  

8.    Dip my toes in the water of Grassi Lakes in Canmore, Alberta. This is on my bucket list every summer and you may understand why when you look at the evidence below.

9.      Go to a Dodger game.

10.    Take an outdoor yoga class.

11.   Go for a bike ride in Ventura while remembering to hydrate.

12.     Bust out some dance moves at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

13.   Master the art of grilling the perfect peach.

14.   Find the recipe for the perfect veggie burger.

15.   Enroll in a kickboxing class. Check. (oops, see?)

One of the amazing things I love about food is that it can help people feel their best so they can accomplish everything on their bucket list, no matter what the season is. I also love that so many the items on my bucket list focus on the incredible ability for food to bring people to together  –whether it’s at the kitchen table, at a pick-your-own fruit farm, or at a picnic on the beach.

What's on your bucket list for the summer? I would love to know what everyone is dreaming up.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Blackberry Farm

I can’t remember where I first heard about Blackberry Farm—maybe on Food Network The Blackberry Farm cookbook has been on my bookshelf for years, tempting me with gorgeous food photography and images of rolling pastures, a candlelit barn and outdoor picnics.  A stay at Blackberry Farm topped my bucket list.

Did you notice the past tense?

In April, my sweetheart and I spent two nights at the family-owned Blackberry Farm, greeted with warm Southern smiles and chocolate-pecan ‘Welcome’ cookies on our pillows that are, perhaps, the best cookies ever.  We ate them too quickly to snap a picture.  But, I have requested the recipe.  Think chess pie meets chocolate chips meets cookie.

Blackberry Farm lives up to its reputation.

The ultimate destination for farm-to-table-obsessed food lovers, Blackberry Farm embodies the interwoven Southern trifecta of food, family and place, preserving and elevating traditional Tennessee foothills food culture, all in a refined country setting.  Sam Beall and his family have created an oasis for those who love and appreciate real food and those who support a real food movement.

Our room in the original farmhouse, with its toile-covered walls and feather-topped bed, inspired several naps over the course of the weekend. 

While Blackberry Farm is known for its elaborate and uber-local multi-course dinners, the breakfasts and lunches can certainly stand proudly on their own merit.  Almost everything—including the breads, sauces and pickled vegetables—are made on-site, and the homemade philosophy truly makes a difference.  As does the Southern hospitality.

At lunch the second day, I debated out loud with myself between the barbeque brisket or fried green tomato sandwiches.  Which one to choose?   Our server kindly suggested I get half of each sandwich, with a side of sweet potato fries.  Yes, please!

Think about the best roast beef sandwich you’ve ever had, including the special sauce.  And then imagine it elevated 10 times better.  Tender, slightly smoky slices of farm-raised beef brisket sandwiched on a buttered and grilled homemade roll with just enough of a subtly-sweet, tangy sauce with crispy, crunchy onion rings—on the sandwich.  Oh, and white cheddar cheese made at the farm’s creamery.  Heaven. 

Not to be outdone by the aforementioned fried green tomato sandwich—a cornmeal battered and perfectly-fried green tomato on buttered, toasted bread with smoky Benton’s bacon from down the road, and an herbed aioli. 

Scrumptious, delectable choice. 

I shared, of course, eating half of each of the halves and giving the other halves to my sweetheart.  I highly recommend choosing a partner in life who likes to share.

At Blackberry Farm, you do need to share—and pace yourself.  Every time you turn around, there are homemade cookies, chocolates and desserts offered with every meal.  We started stock-piling the cookies and treats and left at the end of the weekend with a bag filled with goodies.

Breakfast is one of those meals where you can truly and immediately judge the quality of ingredients.  Just take a look at these eggs.

Yolks like that come from happy chickens.  And it doesn't hurt that they’re swimming in a ham and ramp broth. 

And we were certainly happy eaters, enjoying breakfast outside at the picnic tables overlooking the pastures and the pond.  

While the reputation of the food at Blackberry Farm first drew me, the picturesque farm setting and accompanying gentile activities available on the 4,200 acres complete the experience into a true vacation.  Fly fishing, horseback riding, biking, spa treatments, lessons on gardening and cooking—it’s all available.

We indulged in the simple pleasures of the farm, beginning with the tree swing.

Laughter, especially with someone you love, truly nourishes the soul.

We filled the sun-drenched afternoon with a short hike in the woods (fear of poison ivy turned us around), an hour on the tennis court, a leisurely canoe ride around the pond with the guitar in tow, and a nap by the pool before dinner. 

We felt spoiled.  And very happy in this fairy tale world.        

Dinner at Blackberry Farm is like eating a living diary of the farm itself.  Everything on the plate reflects the season and the bounty of the farm’s gardens, bakery, butchery, salumaria and creamery.  The ramps, morel mushrooms, strawberries and spring onions featured on the menus clearly indicated spring’s arrival.

The whole dining experience is exquisite.

The Barn itself feels magical, candlelit and filled with tables set with antique linens, custom china and sterling silver place settings.

Every dish coming out of the open kitchen felt carefully crafted and yet simple at the same time.  Approachable, clean, and simply delicious—it’s just what good food tastes like. Good food, from good sources, expertly prepared.

I won’t stretch out details about each of the sixteen courses we had over the two dinners, but here are a few highlights.

A beet salad with a blue cheese mousse converted a non-blue cheese lover into a believer.

Guinea confit with potato gnocchi and Hen of the Wood mushrooms made us want to lick the bowl.  And look at how beautiful.

Our server poured the potato and spring onion soup tableside into bowls laced with mushroom gelĂ©e and spring onion panna cotta, giving alternating earth and bright bursts of flavor in every spoonful.  We're going to try and recreate this dish.

Roasted—and very crispy—Peking duck breast was playfully presented with a cornmeal crepe to fill with the accompanying asparagus, morel mushrooms, snap peas, ramps and dip in a little sweet tea gastrique.  Need we say more?   

At its core, the idyllic Blackberry Farm is a place of nourishment, and nourishing yourself is about more than just food.  It begins with food, but it doesn't take long to realize we nourish ourselves with the adventures we take, the people we love, the traditions we follow and the philosophies we embrace. Who we are—and who we want to be—both are nourished by the world we live in and the worlds we visit when we travel. When we’re living our best lives, everything and everyone nourishes us.  And Blackberry Farm allows you to live your best life—even if only for a weekend.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Breakfast Cookies

Sometimes it’s so fun to bend the rules – or even just to change up your daily routine. Like when you go out with friends on a work night, wear your hair curly instead of straight, take a walk during lunch rather than sitting at your desk, or even have breakfast for dinner. Who doesn’t love that? Wait. We have something better. Cookies for breakfast.

 While having cookies first thing in the A.M. may not sound like a recommendation from registered dietitians, we promise this recipe delivers both a tasty and nutritious result.

 Our breakfast cookies are packed with whole grains, fiber, good quality protein and a little touch of satisfying sweetness. It’s is a good way to start your day.

 Another added perk? These keep so well in your freezer. So, on those mornings when you push the snooze button one too many times, you can still grab a breakfast cookie, zap it in the microwave for about 20 seconds, and start your day on a happy, balanced note.

Here’s the recipe.

Breakfast Cookies

Makes about 20 cookies

1 ½ cup old fashioned oats
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
¼ cup almond meal
1 cup flaked coconut
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup dried fruits of your choice, coarsely chopped (I used dried tart cherries)
1 cup mixed nuts, chopped (I used chopped walnuts & pecans)

3 ripe bananas, mashed
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

 Place coconut flakes on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 2-3 minutes until slightly browned.

 In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, almond meal and toasted coconut.

Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a second medium bowl, whisk together mashed bananas, canola oil, apple sauce and vanilla.

Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and fold together until thoroughly incorporated.

Add dried fruit and mixed nuts to mixture. Stir until evenly combined.

Spoon heaping tablespoonfuls of batter onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven, allowing the cookies to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy, preferably with those you love.