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Archive for the ‘seasonal’ Category

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If you made anything besides the standard pumpkin pie last week, which neatly uses exactly one can of pumpkin puree, chances are good you opened your refrigerator this weekend to find a half full can of pumpkin.  You probably unearthed it as you removed containers, dishes, bags and bowls of Thanksgiving leftovers and wondered “what the hell am I supposed to do with that?”  If you’re like me, you probably shoved it right back in with an instantly forgotten mental note to deal with it later.  Well, if you haven’t already tossed it, now is the time.

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I have a difficult time getting excited about fall vegetables.  After the flashiness of those late September tomatoes has passed, the garden basil has gone brown and the multi-hued peppers have started to wane, what’s left?  Squash?  Wheeee.  Root vegetables?  Exciting for about 1 minute.  I had a conversation with a Twitter friend recently about how boring roasted root vegetbles can be – uninspired, plain, typically underseasoned and snooze worthy.  Roast them with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and maybe a drizzle of balsamic vinegar but then, what’s next?  How can you take something simple, hearty and abundant and add some life?  Some excitement?  Well, I’ll tell you.  High heat and simple but delicious flavors: butter, of course, but also maple, that classic flavor of cold weather.  And bourbon.  Everything is simply better with bourbon.  It’s a fact.

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2012 was a crap year for Michigan fruit, particularly tree fruits, particularly apples.  An unseasonably warm spring coupled with a late frost dealt a crippling blow, knocking out by some estimates up to 80% of Michigan’s apple harvest for the year.  It was devastating and maybe you didn’t notice, satisfied with Washington apples or imported fruit, but those of us who frequent Midwest farmers markets noticed.

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Earlier this week, quickly in the waning sunlight and cold wind, I made the final call on my little community garden plot. There was a frost advisory and I wasn’t sure what remained would survive so I dug up and loaded my herb plants into a shopping bag, cut down all my chard and kale and stripped my glorious and hyper productive tomato plants of the last little orbs. It was downright cold and I wasn’t too sure what I was going to do with all this late season abundance, but I hurried home with my heavy bags knowing I’d figure it out.

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It’s entirely possible that I am the only person on the planet that is indifferent to a Bloody Mary.  I want to like them, I do, but for a person that doesn’t really care for tomato juice that’s a high hurdle to clear.  Too acid, too sweet, too thick.  Often they’re just not right and I’d rather drink something else.  I will admit that sometimes I’ll find a good one that catches me by surprise.  House-made mix with a good spicy kick and loaded with lots of “stuff”. A single sad celery spear doesn’t cut it. I want a fully loaded skewer of house-pickled hipster tidbits and one of those shorty Miller Hi Lifes on the side.  It’s often the kind of Bloody Mary that costs 15 bucks and is typically found in trendy weekend brunch joints with 2-hour waits.  What can I say?  I like a drink that 14 people have put a lot of thought into.  I can appreciate that.

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Earlier this summer I went to a rather fabulous farm dinner event at Rustic Road Farm in Elburn, IL.  Yes, Elburn.  Head east of downtown Chicago during rush hour and it’ll take you two hours.  The farther you go, the more the landscape changes from highways and subdivisions to fields and fields of corn and soybeans, dotted with the occasional red barn. Eventually, you hang a right and end up at Chef Marc Bernard’s farm, Rustic Road.  I was in heaven and it took all I had to get back in my car and drive back into chaos.

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Something comes over me in the waning weeks of summer.  An intense, insatiable need save the best of the seasonal produce becomes too strong to fully ignore. Preserve, can, pickle, jam … anything that makes it possible to enjoy a little hope in the gray, dreary months of winter.  I turn into a hyperactive Betty Crocker.  In the last few years I’ve dialed it back a bit from the epic high of the Summer of 2010 when I worked for a fruit farmer and made colossal amounts of jam that I’m still trying to work through.  But there’s something about tables piled high with flats of tomatoes that I find hard to resist.

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