Archive | September, 2012

The Root: A Local Cafe

27 Sep
—by Deanne

Author’s Note: I wrote this review way back in February and for no particular reason it kept getting left in our drafts file.  We didn’t know if we should post it because it is so out of sync chronologically with our blog.  However, it is very much in sync with the information it provides.  I checked out their facebook page to make sure they are still open and found this inspirational interview with the owner.  It sounds like that in  just over a year they are getting great recognition for their hard work of running a restaurant and going to the extra work of sourcing locally.

The Root: A Local Cafe—Little Rock, AR

Each year we close our restaurant for the last two weeks of January.  This year we decided to learn new things by attending the Southern SAWG (Sustainable Agriculture Working Group) Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Prior to arriving, I looked for restaurants that would be a good fit for our Real Local Cooking Restaurant Reviews.

A photo of the signThe Root Café stood out as my number one choice to visit.  The owner’s commitment to the local food movement was demonstrated even before they opened their doors last summer.   According to their blog, they set up a table at a local food club starting in January of last year.  They sold locally-roasted coffee, home-made canned goods, muffins, pastries, and pan breads made with local ingredients such as Arkansas black apples, pecans as well as blueberries and strawberries which were preserved by freezing the previous summer.

Since The Root Café was located close to the adorable cottage we rented, all I had to do was travel a few blocks to find the part of town known as SoMa (which stands for Southside Main).  It’s a historic district that strives to be a livable, walkable community  that offers a mix of residential, commercial, retail and other services.

While in the neighborhood I also visited a creative park (that used to be an empty city lot), the Green Corner Store (a shop that offers products for sustainable living), and a bakery called Boulevard Bakery.

Review: (Real Local Cooking’s criteria)
Localness: 5

Yes, The Root Café does source their meats and veggies from local farmers.  A few days later, I heard the owner speak in one of the sessions at the conference.  He shared at least 12 local farms from where they source their products.  There’s also a map of ArkansaA photo of the map showing farmerss that has pins to represent all of the grower they support.  All of their bread and buns are from Boulevard Bakery, which is right in the neighborhood.  They also have edible landscaping that includes herbs used in the menu in season.

Flavour: 3.5

I ordered an Old World Style bratwurst which according to the menu is made from local, small-farmed and pasture-raised pork and served on a Boulevard bun.  The bratwurst was served with homemade sauerkraut and Dijon mustard.  The meat was seasoned nicely but the sauerkraut didn’t have much kick to it (it tasted like lightly pickled cabbage instead of strong sauerkraut).A photo of my meal

Their menu offers somewhat standard cafe items, reubens, ham and cheese, burgers, salads, but there are a few inventive dishes that I haven’t ever tried before. For example, a vegetarian banh-mi sandwich; if Luke was with me, I know he would have tried that because he loves Vietnmaese style banh mi sandwiches!

Pleasant Surprise: Yes

My order came with more than I thought I was getting.   I assumed it was just the sandwich and the sauerkraut, but on the plate next to the bratwurst was a nice pile of micro greens with a tasty homemade dressing and some radishes.   It was a nice to munch on some greens with my brat.

Comfort+Coziness = The C factor: 5

The Root Café is not fancy.  It is a former drive-in style with  a wooden porch added onto the front.  They had put up plastic tent-like covering in order to provide extra seating in the winter; the place was busy at lunch and the extra A photo of my tableseating was needed.  I sat outside in the front corner and soaked up a little sun while I waited for my food to arrive. 

The Root lives up to their sustainable focus by using real plates, former canning jars as glasses and best of all, cloth napkins, but not the ones that are so starched and stiff they are difficult to use. These napkins where mismatched, colorful and and well worn, perhaps they were even procured at a local thrift shop.  All these accoutrements added up to make me a happy camper.

Overall Rating: 13.5+

You might prefer a place where they wait on you and you don’t have to sit outside in a plastic tent, but not me, I like this kind of casual and unpretentious little restaurant.  When in Little Rock, I highly recommend rooting out The Root for good food, local food and a cozy atmosphere.

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Home Sweet Tomato

26 Sep
by Deanne

Like most gardeners who travel in late summer, we returned home to the reality of lots and lots of tomatoes. 

Thanks to my in-laws, the tomatoes were already picked and ready to be processed.   They where even so kind as to cover our raised beds for a few chilly Minnesota nights while we were away.

Photo of Tomatoes Waiting to Be Processed

Here is what we found in our commercial kitchen’s walk-in cooler.

My mother in-law shared an idea from a blog called Squash House Quilts.

It includes four simple steps: 

1. Washing

2. Cutting

3.  Roasting – include a drizzle of olive oil and garlic and salt and pepper, roast in 350 oven for about two hours

4. Blending- add some fresh basil.  (I forgot the basil but it was still good)

Check out the original post with beautiful pictures.

Photo of Tomatoes for Roasting

Photo of Roasted Tomatoes

Hmm….what should I make with my sauce?Photo of tomatoes in blender

A Fall Roadtrip: Montana, Idaho, Washington and Back to Montana

21 Sep
by Deanne

Steve and I jumped at the chance to help Luke drive to Missoula, Montana.  We arrived early Sunday morning after an all night drive from Minnesota.   We arrived just in time for brunch at a busy breakfast place, Catalyst Cafe, which satisfied my craving for a cute cafe.  Luke’s week long photography class, the reason for our trip out to Montana, was just down the street so he arrived (slightly) refreshed after a night on the road.

Before hitting the road again, this time to visit my cousin in Coeur d’Alene, we visited a farmers’ market a few blocks away.  The weather was lovely and the colors vibrant.

Photo of vegetables at Missoula farmers market

On Sunday evening Steve and my cousin, Susan, bonded over preparing the evening meal.  They put together a wonderful steak salad that Susan had seen in this month’s Sunset Magazine. In the end, we sat back and enjoyed a congenial conversation and a sunset meal with Susan’s husband and their friends. 

Susan told us about a place near Spokane called Green Bluff.  She explained that Green Bluff is an area with more than a dozen farms that to visit.  After touring a few farms, we checked out beautiful Manito Park, just south of downtown Spokane and enjoyed lunch on the patio of Rockwood Bakery.  I really liked the feel of the Rockwood Bakery which is tucked into a little neighborhood only a few blocks from the park.

We had so much energy about being in the northwest again, we got the bright idea to go to Moscow, Idaho.  Since we grew up in Idaho, we’d traveled there for college visits during high school. Link to Photo of DeanneOn the way to Moscow, I remembered that Mary Jane Butters, who started MaryJanesFarm and the whole farmgirl craze was from the area. A few clicks on our mobile device;) and we found the address of her original  retail store.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go inside because they are closed on Mondays.

Tuesday we traveled back to Missoula through Lolo Pass, an area of importance in the Lewis and Clark expedition…we read a plethora of historical markers to refresh our knowledge of United States history.

Photo taken at Lolo Pass

Onward we traveled to a town near Bozeman.  There we met an industrious farmer named Gary who is doing some amazing things to provide people with gluten-free oats.  (I will write more about gluten-free oats in an upcoming post.)  Truly gluten-free oats are very difficult to find in the US But we think we’ve found some that will work for one of the breads Steve is busy developing.

We ended the evening at another farmers’ market in Bozeman.  There we wPhoto of Cowboy Farmeratched as people gathered around an outdoor wood fired pizza oven and we saw a cowboy farmer selling produce.

The next two days were equally busy with new beautiful vistas and more historical sights.  We saw old mining towns, lovely streams and the sight were Lewis and Clark had to portage around the Great Falls.  Now we are relaxing in a cozy little studio apartment and getting rested for our drive home.

Have you ever been to Montana, Idaho or Washington?  Do you have any fall road trips planned?

Photos of Scotney Castle…continued

15 Sep
by Francine

It was gloriously sunny and perfectly warm last weekend so we headed to Kent (a county over) to visit Scotney Castle. A photo of the castleThis property and its landscaper garden is a well-known example of the Picturesque style, which literally means “in the manner of a picture; fit to be made into a picture.”  The castle was first built in the 13oo’s and it may or may not have ever been completed.  Then in the late 1700’s the family decided to build a house on the hill which over looked the castle ruins.  The owners then created a magnificent garden with the moated castle ruin being the main feature (sheesh…most people use gnomes or flamingos as focal point of their garden;).

A photo of a flower and the castle

A photo of the castle

A photo of the castle

A photo of the castle's reflection

A photo of the stairsSteps for a princess?

A photo of the gardenThis part of the garden was behind the main tower you can see in the photos above.  It was ruinous, calm and overgrown.  Favourite. 

A photo of a flowerA photo of the sunA photo of the gateBye bye Picturesque garden.

A photo of sheep And one more photo of meditative sheep because I spent a long time watching them.

Photos of a Kentish Castle

13 Sep
by Francine

Hi all!  Yesterday I promised photos of our weekend visit to a Kentish castle. 

I’ve processed them, and they’re looking good (I got a new camera)!  But…my pillow is calling my name; it’s time-for-bed time for me.  Until I get the rest up tomorrow, here’s one of my favourites.  Have a good Friday!A photo of sheepPeek-a-boo sheep!

A what nut?

12 Sep
by FrancineA photo of cobnuts at the supermarket

Last week I was poking around our local supermarket when I noticed a new item.

“Cobnuts,” I said aloud to Scott (my plus one), who was on the other side of the aisle rustling through onions.

“Cobnuts!” he said excitedly. 

“What are they?” I asked.

To which he selected a handful for us to crack open at home, promising I’d enjoy them.

After turning to the internet for answers, I’ll tell you what I learned about cobnuts.  They are commercially cultivated hazelnuts, the most popular is the Kentish Cobnut which has been cultivated in the region since the 1500s.  I also discovered that you can buy  cobnut oil, grown and produced in Kent.  (Remember when we visited a Kentish tea room?  Click back tomorrow, I’ll share some photos from our weekend day trip to the prettiest castle in Kent.) A photo of cobnuts Even though cobnuts are technically grown and sold commercially, Scott recounted childhood memories of checking to see if the cobnuts on the bush-like tree in his childhood garden (yard) were ready for picking.  He told me that the nuts required frequent checking to ensure you got a handful before the squirrels started munching on them too.

A photo of a cracked open cobnutAfter my internet research, we cracked open our cobnuts.  The green frilly casing was soft and easy to remove.  We cracked open the strong shell with a pair of pliers.  The next step was to remove ALL of the skin… I was told that even a small speck of skin will turn your tasty treat bitter and vile.A photo of the skin peeled

Once all the skin was removed, it was time for my first cobnut…the taste was sweet and earthy, it reminded me of the smell of freshly shelled peas, but since then I’ve heard it described as similar to coconuts.

We quickly munched through our handful of cobnuts and purchased some more on our next visit to the store. They are only in season for a few weeks and the wild ones are probably available for an even shorter period of time due to the gastronomic preferences of grey squirrels. A photo of a ready to eat cobnut

I loved discovering them at the store.  When I was in China new food discoveries were a near daily occurrence, but it hasn’t happened as much in my new home.  But when it does it makes me as excited as squirrel discovering a cobnut tree!

Do you know, can you pick wild hazelnuts in your area?  Have you ever tried a cobnut?A photo of the cobnut stages

Veg Out or Veg In?

9 Sep
by Deanne

Vegging out…according to phrase.org it means that we “relax in a slothful and mindless manner.”  While it’s sometimes nice to be slothful, in my experience it’s also the main way to deal with stress–large and small.

May I propose a new method of dealing with stress…vegging in?  Vegging in involves family, friends, cooking and of course, vegetables!  (Vegetables?   Yes.  Many a gardener will attest that planting a seed, watching it grow and caring for it is one of the best activities to bring calm to a stressful life.  We’ve found that it’s a mindful activity that has paid us back in flavour and adventure.)-The idea of vegging in is to take the vegetables, fruits, herbs, or another ingredients that you’ve grown or purchased at a farmer’s market add family or friends and head to the kitchen to cook together!

Our family vegged in to celebrate Labor Day here in the US.  We invited another family, looked at our box of veggies, divided into teams and then went into kitchen in teams to create a meal from the ingredients we’d gathered together.   That full box of veggies is what we had to work with (lucky us!)  If we were in the UK, Francine tells me that we’d call it a box of “veg” not veggies. :)

Photo of box of veggies for veg in

We discovered that a veg in is the opposite of mindless and slothful.  It was energizing to cook, share ideas and discover new ingredients with our friends. There were some non-cooks and shy cooks (me included) in the group, but that wasn’t a problem; they teamed up with a cook for awhile and then helped out by picking flowers or setting the table.  We found that the regular stress of having friends over for dinner vanished because we were all in it together.  And the final result of our veg in…delicious and precisely seasonal!

Photo of the meal we prepared at our first veg in

So Real Local Cookers, if you live close to us would you consider coming to our next veg in?    There is no cost,  just circle the date on the calendar and bring what you’ve grown or purchased from a local grower or an interesting ingredient you purchased from the local grocery store.  If you don’t live near us, will you try vegging in with your friends and family?