Vegetables

There’s a commercial on TV about some sort of food where the voiceover says something along the lines of “Nobody comes home and says, ‘I can’t wait to eat a big bowl of lettuce.'” But  that’s exactly what happens in our house on the days our local hydroponic farmers, Steve and Connie Carpenter, open their farmer’s market. I promise you that once you eat fresh hydroponic lettuce, you will never let plastic-packaged iceberg pass your lips again. Steve’s explained why lettuce develops more flavor when it’s grown hydroponically, but all I know is that a sandwich made with good toasted homemade bread and some of this tender-yet-crunchy lettuce is beyond delicious. Literally, it’s one of the things we just stand there and eat out of our fridge. But if you want actual recipes, go to http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100428/ARTICLES/4285000 to find some recipes from a “Meatless Meals” cooking class I covered recently. Sherry Campbell, my friend and the director of the Shoals Culinary Center in Florence, Alabama, is a confirmed meat lover, but fresh and homegrown vegetables rank right up there with her, too, and she gave us some wonderful veggie recipes — although of course she admitted that at home she’d add a nice grilled steak to the menu. Go to http://www.jackolanternfarm.com/ to find out more about Jack O’Lantern Farms. Farmers’ markets are gearing up here in northwest Alabama/northeast Mississippi/southern middle Tennessee, and we can’t wait.

A Week of Spring — Easter Candy

Easter candyWelcome to day No. 3 in A Week of Spring. I love Easter Easter candycandy! Well, not really the candy part — I’ll take a bar of deep rich dark Green and Black’s over a milky chocolate bunny any time — but the oh-so-cute and whimsical spring-time packaging always makes me smile. And who wouldn’t? Fresh Market has an overflowing abundance of Easter candy this year and I can’t help but picture adorable Easter baskets filled with Easter Candyall sorts of sweets and treats. I think it’s the fascination of boxes and wrappings and what-wonderful-things-could-be-inside that’s so intriguing. And I probably have passed that on to my Easter candydaughters, who are in their 20s but still delight in candy-laden Easter baskets … although they rarely eat it all.  Since they’re vegetarians, we’ve banished Peeps but anything with caramel, fudge, peanut butter or vanilla creamy goodness at least gets a nibble. We’ll see if my 1-year-old grandson carries on the family tradition — I’m betting one bite won’t be enough for him! Come back tomorrow for day No. 4 in A Week of Spring.

Tuesday morning

Hot, hot and more hot! Even though I love warm weather, 105 degrees on the heat index is a little much for me. Flowers are shriveling, grass is crunchy and everybody is wilting. Dog days, indeed.

Here are some new food nuggets from northwest Alabama and middle Tennessee:

1) Boskey’s Grille on McMinnville Highway in Manchester, Tenn. in the Willowbrook Golf Club — Had dinner here Saturday night with the Wood family. Menu focused on steak, pasta, chicken and seafood. The bar only had opened two weeks ago — no fresh mint for my brother’s motor and a limited wine/beer selection. Good variety of vegetable sides, including broccoli (cooked perfectly — enough to get the bitterness out but still crisp), asparagus, sweet potatoes and smashed white potato. My two vegetarian daughters had the Autumn Salad, which had fresh greens with a tasty apple vinaigrette. Prompt and friendly service. Here’s the link for Willowbrook, although the site doesn’t have restaurant info. http://www.willowbrookgolfclub.com/. Boskey’s Grille phone is (931) 723-7955.

2) The Nestlé Toll House Café, Athens, Ala., on Hwy. 72 next to Starbucks — This is the first Nestlé Toll House Café in Alabama and it’s been open since mid-July. This sounds like a super idea, doesn’t? I mean, a whole bakery devoted to chocolate-chip cookies!!!  But don’t make a special trip — at least, not based on our experiences. While the wonderful chocolate-chip baking smell hits you as soon as you walk in the door and we could see that actual cookies were actually being baked, we were disappointed in the flavor of the cookies we bought. My daughter got a triple chocolate cookie and my husband got a Turtle brownie and the chocolate taste in each of them seemed off somehow. I thought it tasted artificial –not pleasant at all. I got a chocolate-chip peanut-butter cookie half-dipped in chocolate, and it was okay. Nothing I’d drive especially to Athens to get, though. None of our choices had the warm and melty homemade taste, either. You can also get cookie cakes there and ice cream and other goodies. I’ll give it another try — maybe Sunday afternoons aren’t their best times — but they’ll have to work hard to impress me now. Here’s a story from the Athens newspaper about it http://www.enewscourier.com/homepage/local_story_205222544.html/resources_printstory and here’s the Nestle Cafe site: http://www.nestlecafe.com/. And, if you want the Best Chocolate Chip cookies ever, try this recipe from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/09/dining/091crex.html

3) Connors Steak and Seafood, Bridge Street Town Centre, Huntsville — Liz, Nolan and I ate here with some book-club friends on Monday. This is part of The Chop House chain (not the lone and locally owned Chop House in Franklin, Tenn., but the University of Tennessee-centric Chop House franchise from Knoxville) and carries out the Chop House theme of upscale casual dining centered around meat quite successfully. Liz and I ordered the Baby Spinach and Strawberry Salad (everything was fresh but my salad could have used less dressing — I’ll remember to ask for it on the side next time) and I added some pan-seared ahi tuna, which was cut a little thicker than I like but was still good (my all-time favorite restaurant ahi tuna is Outback — go figure!!!) Service was prompt and friendly and the place was packed with lunch-hour diners from nearby offices as well as Bridge Street shoppers. In fact, Liz and I had planned some shopping but it was way too hot for walking in the sun. We did manage some goodies from Chocolate Crocodile, though — of course!!! Web sites are Bridge Street, http://www.bridgestreethuntsville.com; Connors, http://www.thechophouse.com/connors; and Chocolate Crocodile, http://thechocolatecrocodile.com/

4) But the best thing I ate all weekend were the blueberry-lemon bars my brother and nephew made from their own blueberries. I could have eaten the whole pan — I tried, anyway! I’m still waiting for that recipe (Samuel?????) and will post it as soon as I get it. So, so yummy.

Happy eating!