30 July 2009

Founding Farmers

Just as all of the reliefs, murals, and monuments in Washington DC commemorate in symbolic detail the pantheon of American history, the smart logo at the restaurant Founding Farmers also pays homage to the nation's foundations. One F looks to the left, honoring the agricultural origins of the land; the other F looks to the right signaling the importance of farming for the future. The figure in the middle of the logo is a corn cob with multicolored kernels to represent the diversity of all of the founding farmers.

The food and the principles behind the restaurant pay homage, too, with nostalgic entrees, clever names, and of course, a list of local farmers and producers. The full range of the menu reflects a sophisticated respect for heritage, history, and - as the slogan says - true food and drink. The pasta is handcrafted using "only the best '00' flour, inspired by Thomas Jefferson;" the "Simply Barackwurst" is from Simply Sausage Farm in Virginia; there is pimiento cheese and tomato jam on the menu, both of which were decidedly the best I've had.

To start, I ordered a drink called "Nice Coat!" (with an exclamation mark) - "A little fresh basil, a little lime juice, a little Blue Coat American Dry Gin, a little love. Nice!" And indeed it was. Just the first nice step in a very nice meal of fried green tomatoes, skillet cornbread, flatbread, butternut squash ravioli, and a fresh fruit tart (peaches) with pristine house made vanilla ice cream.

Dad ordered the Steak and Enchilada; it came with a corn cob in the middle. Two in our party ordered entrees that came with a side of green beans that were remarkable (so remarkable that I can't remember what their entrees were). Sergio ordered the veggie burger, of course. Everything was delicious.

The decor is rustic but refined - a sort of historical hip with agrarian influences. Bird lamps and cloud lamps suggest open air and bucolic notions of farm land; beautiful canned vegetables line the walls. The salads are served in big mixing bowls; the water comes in milk bottles and the water glasses are thick and homely. The entire experience - food, drink, and ambiance - is equal portions new and old, expected and unexpected, clever and plain, all perfectly combined into something at once refreshing, comforting and unique.

Oh yes, and on the window encircling the entire restaurant is a charming relic from Thomas Jefferson - a recipe for Macaroons.

From the Thomas Jefferson Papers

*Pour boiling water on your Almonds & take off the skin.
*Wash them in cold water wipe them well in a towel
*Beat them
*Add whites of eggs from time to time beating them always to prevent them from turning into oil
*Take them out of the water
*Add sugar
*Add whites of eggs
*Beat them well with a wooden spoon
*Taste the paste to see if it is too bitter
*Add sugar if you find it too bitter
*Dresser les avec deux couteaux le grosseur d'un noix sur des feuilles de papier.
*Put them in a oven, not too hot but hotter than after taking out the bread.
*You prove proper heat of the oven by holding in a bit of white paper. If it burns it will burn your macaroons. If it just browns the paper it is exact.

Founding Farmers on Urbanspoon

21 July 2009

Weekend Warrior

All I wanted to do last weekend was make blueberry jam. My one lonely half pint of blueberry spice jam from last year had been emptied by January. I've been anxious to make some ever since. Summer's here now, so I finally made time last weekend for a jam session. I went to City Market, and lo and behold ... NO blueberries! By some ridiculous oversight on my part I have missed the height of the blueberry harvest.

I did notice one solitary blueberry in a quart of blackberries and when I inquired, I was told that there might be a few more blueberries next week, but that what few they'd had that day were sold out and that - in fact - it's kind of the end of the season. I was aghast. Didn't I buy some last August? I thought I still had more time this year! I went back the next morning and still no blueberries; another farmer said they've already had six weeks of blueberries and may or may not get more this year. It's really been six weeks already? How could I have missed it? How am I going to make that lovely blueberry spice jam?

In my sadness I bought 5 quarts of blackberries, 13 ears of corn, and 4 quarts of peaches. Not to mention the 4 pounds of roma tomatoes, a half pound of okra, some summer squash, potatoes, onions, and pecans that I'd bought at the Brookside Market. I pouted all the way to the grocery store to get my pectin; to console my longing for blueberry jam I decided to make blackberry jam instead. I ended up making blackberry preserves (actually more just blackberries in syrup) and then peach jam, too (very happily reminiscent of Mema's fried pies), and I decided to spend the rest of the weekend preserving everything else I'd bought.

frozen berries, blackberry preserves, peach jam, frozen okra, frozen squash, frozen corn

I blanched and froze most of the other veggies: the squash, the okra, the corn. I even used my new contraption, the Corn Stripper which works pretty well if you hold it right; if you hold it wrong, you won't like it one bit, I can tell you for a fact). My four pounds of KCCUA roma tomatoes are now approximately one pound of oven-dried tomatoes. And I only used half the blackberries to make the preserves - the other half I decided to freeze for later.

And then, when I went to stow my bags of frozen blackberries in the freezer, do you know what I found? Two bags of frozen blueberries from last summer (one was marked August 11, thankyouverymuch). Blueberries!!! I couldn't believe it. I still had plenty of pectin, so before I took down all my canning gear, I made one last batch of jam - the coveted blueberry spice jam. Four full half-pint jars.

Peach Preserves
4 cups sliced, pitted, peeled peaches (about 4 pounds)
1 package powdered pectin
2 TBSP lemon juice
7 cups sugar

Combine peaches, powdered pectin and lemon juice in a large saucepot. Bring to a boil, stirring gently. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust two piece caps Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

Berry Preserves
2 pounds berries
4 cups sugar

Combine berries and sugar; let stand until juices begin to flow, about 10 minutes. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cook rapidly almost to gelling point. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust two piece caps. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Blueberry-Spice Jam
2-1/2 pints ripe blueberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg or cinnamon
5-1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1 box (1-3/4 oz) powdered pectin
Yield: About 5 half-pints

Procedure: Wash and thoroughly crush blueberries, one layer at a time, in a saucepan. Add lemon juice, spice, and water. Stir pectin and bring to a full, rolling boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Add the sugar and return to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, quickly skim off foam, and fill sterile jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. For more information on how to sterilize jars see "Jars and Lids," (FCS 8255). Adjust lids and process 5 minutes in a water bath canner.

20 July 2009


For months I've been wanting to watch Ratatouille again; I hadn't seen it since it was in the theaters. I kept forgetting to add it to the Netflix queue. Then when a two year old moved in with us, we decided not just to rent it but to buy it. We all watched it together the first night. And every night since then, Nina watches it over and over again. We all know the lines so well we could reenact the entire film.

We did reenact one part - the eponymous dish of the film. I had been rooting around Smitten Kitchen and stumbled upon this recipe. It looked simple enough, and we'd just gotten skinny eggplants in our CSA share. So I whipped out the mandoline and we made ratatouille, while Remi was on the screen doing just the same.

zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, pepper, summer squash, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, pepper, zucchini...

The recipe was simple in its ingredients but time-consuming in its preparation. As I put both dishes in the oven (for we had more veggies than would fit one dish) I was tired and decided that this dish just takes too long to put together. But when it came out of the oven nearly an hour later, and we finally tasted it, I decided it was well worth it all.

One dish, Remi style

We served ours with quinoa.

16 July 2009


I went to see the new film Food, Inc. tonight (along with many other Green Drinks folk). Having already joined the local food club, I didn't really need any convincing. But I was convinced anyway.

I am usually content enough with the choices I make for my food, but the scope of the matter, as portrayed in this movie, made me discontent about the state of the industry. The industry which shouldn't really be such an industry. I cannot understand why the system that our world operates in could get so off kilter. Why the same regulatory agencies in place to protect consumers from food are the same organizations that are increasing risk; why society has made such high demands on our pocket books and such low demands on our health?

And I can't quite understand how to get out of it. I can afford to buy everything local and organic, but what about the people who can't? I can refuse to eat factory farmed chicken, but what about those who are so down and out that they can't refuse a job at one of those hideous factories? I can refuse anything with genetically modified soybeans in it. But what about those farmers who can't refuse the pollen from GMO seeds that wafts over from neighboring farms and contaminates their fields and gets them sued by Monsanto for patent infringement?

(And - yikes - how did we ever get to this point in the first place?)

Well, we handed out many KC Food Circle fliers and farmer directories after the movie - lots of great info that I hope people were amenable to hearing, especially after the movie. And the website for the film offers suggestions so I guess that's another good place to start, especially on the national level. I guess I already started trying for change by hoppin' on the locavore bandwagon. But perhaps there's something to do to start more or to start anew or to start again.

12 July 2009

Pesto, Pesto, Pesto

Last week I had bestowed upon me a large lump sum of basil. Several big fat bunches. And there was plenty of extra garlic to be had at the CSA pick up. Perfect for pesto. At the farmers market on Friday I found myself drawn to a big bag of arugula - but couldn't decide what to do with it. Farmer Lew suggested I make pesto. So that was the theme for the weekend. One batch of spicy arugula & walnut pesto for dinner; two batches of basil pesto (one with pine nuts and one with walnuts) to freeze for the winter.

For all three batches of pesto I used Goatsbeard Farm Walloon cheese. It's a hard goat cheese that works well as a local replacement for parmesan. And since I'm already using olive oil and nuts from an undisclosed location, I was going for whatever else local I could get.

In the foreground, one tray of pine nut pesto ready to go in the freezer. In the background, sous-chef Nina (my assistant food processor button pusher and salad spinner operator).

While the basil pesto froze, we sat down to eat our arugula pesto, served with whole wheat pasta and sauteed summer squash, green beans, and tomatoes.

Basic Basil Pesto

2 cups firmly packed basil
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (or Goatsbeard Farm Walloon)
2 Tablespoons Romano cheese, freshly grated (also optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
lemon juice (optional, just a drizzle to prevent oxidation)

Wash the basil in cold water. Spin dry with a salad spinner!

Place the basil, pine nuts, chopped garlic, and an ample pinch of salt in the processor bowl, and process for a few seconds. Add the olive oil, scrape the sides of the bowl, and continue to process the mixture until a uniform creamy consistency is achieved.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl, and mix in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Romano cheeses by hand. Actually, I didn't do this step by hand; I used the processor. It is purportedly better for texture to do it by hand. I have not fully evaluated this claim. And I didn't want to dirty another bowl. Moving right along...

More optional options: When the cheese has been evenly amalgamated with the other ingredients, mix in 3 tablespoons of butter softened to room temp, distributing it uniformly into the sauce. When spooning the pesto over pasta, dilute it slightly with a tablespoon or two of the hot water in which the pasta was cooked. I left out butter

Make the pesto in the food processor, freezing it without the cheese and butter. Add the cheese and butter when it is thawed, just before using. Pesto may be frozen in an airtight container for several months.
Confession: Everyone I have asked told me they freeze theirs with cheese and I have done the same with no ill effects.

PS: After freezing the pesto in two ice cube trays all night and all day, I took the lovely, lumpy little cubes out of the trays and put them in my new Reynolds Handi-Vac plastic bags. I'll admit, I was skeptical of this little doo-hickey at first. (Although clearly not too skeptical to shell out ten or so dollars for it and the special bags.) The good news is, it worked!

The bad news is...

... due to the tender nature of pesto, there was a bit of smushing. Even when fully frozen, pesto tends to be pliable. But I think it will work just fine for other veggies. And I think it will still be easy to remove from the bag a few frozen hunks of pesto at a time.

Ask me in January - I'll let you know how it goes!

10 July 2009

Guess Whose Diploma Came in the Mail

"The Curators of the University of Missouri
To all whom it may concern

Be it known that the Curators, having been advised by the Faculty that Emily Jo Akins has completed the Course of Study required of candidates for the degree of Master of Arts English and is qualified to receive the same, do confer said degree with all the honors and privileges appertaining thereto. In testimony whereof the signatures of the proper officials and the seal of the University are affixed.

Done at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in the City of Kansas City, State of Missouri, this eighth day of May, in the year two thousand and nine."

09 July 2009

Wild Edibles Walk

On our "cabining" trip last weekend, Sergio and I went out on a Wild Edibles Walk, a guided tour of all things even remotely edible on the Natural Wonders Trail at Meramec State Park. Naturalist Lisa was our informative guide and the walk was a beautiful traipse through the woods. We saw a myriad of flora both edible and not (no fauna but for the tracks). We learned so much, too, and are continuing to learn with the public copy of Wild Edibles of Missouri that I checked out from the library upon our return.

Earlier I read something in the brochure for the park that caught my attention: it was an admonition to all visitors and hikers that they should be prepared to "meet nature on its own terms." This choice of wording made me keenly sensitive to the idea of whose terms most of my world is currently running on. And I wondered what that means for all things uncultivated - for all the things we saw growing 'wild.'

The trail we walked, the Naturalist, and the books, were all cultivated and tame. But I feel confident in saying that the things we saw were still pretty wild indeed.

Naturalist Lisa and her resources

Sassafras from the top: this plant is unique for its three different leaf shapes: large three pronged leaves, football shaped leaves, and mitten shaped leaves.

Sassafras from the bottom. The sassafras root is edible (was used for root beer) but has been banned by the FDA for being potentially carcinogenic.

Wild Ginger grows low to the ground and has beautiful leaves. Its flowers (not pictured) grow from the ground, at the adjoining base of two stems, and are pollinated by ants.

Acorns of many trees are edible; I believe this one is oak.

We saw a number of mushrooms along our walk - none of us could tell if they were edible. When in doubt, assume that they aren't.

Besides learning about edibles, we learned a bit of dendrology. The walnut tree has compound leaves - that's one leaf with many several (in this case about 18) leaflets.

The walnut is also edible, but you need a sledge hammer or car to crack open the hull.

More incredible spreads of mushrooms - beautiful whether you can eat them or not.

Blackberries grow wild; these aren't quite ripe so we didn't taste them.

Every time we came across a plant that had been nibbled on, Naturalist Lisa referred to it as having been "browsed." I loved that word for it made me think of bugs with grocery carts. Here's an actual browsing in progress. If you look closely you'll see a second bug on the back of this caterpillar. And perhaps there's a third, microscopic bug on the back of that bug.

None of us could identify this one, we just loved the way the stem appeared to be sewn into the leaves, instead of the leaves growing out of the stem.

Don't know what this is besides a beautiful compound leaf.

Deer tracks!

Gooseberries are green when ripe and black when overripe. We think.

There are wild grapes in Missouri; this is a wild grape vine.

All the photos from our Wild Edibles Walk can be seen HERE.

05 July 2009

Meramec State Park


For the fourth of July holiday we went camping at Meramec State Park. Well, it wasn't precisely "camping" since we stayed in a cabin. A fully equipped cabin. A cabin with electricity where Sergio and I tweeted by day and charged our iPhones by night. Not exactly roughing it, I know. But we still convened with nature and most importantly, with our friends - and all of it was just lovely.

now this is what I call camping

There were 6 of us altogether (about half of us better at detaching from technology than the other half). We arrived on Friday, just in time to check into our cabin and catch the 3:00 tour of Fisher Cave, the largest and most spectacular (according to the brochure) of the 40 caves under Meramec State Park. What our guide, Justin the Naturalist, lacked in sense of humor, he more than made up for in his extensive knowledge of sediments, rocks, formations, stalagmites (g = ground), stalactites (c = ceiling), cave wildlife, geology, and Missouri cave history. He adeptly led us crouching and craning past jagged protrusions and through narrow passage ways into giant rooms, which, he told us, with the year-round temperature of 57 degrees (cool in the summer, warm in the winter), were enticing locations for dances held by the residents of 19th century Missouri.

Naturalist Justin at the entrance to the Fisher Cave

giant rooms make it easy to forget that you're really, really far under ground and are in a tightly enclosed space

The morning of day 2 brought nothing but rain and we sat down to breakfast resigned to the idea that we'd have to forgo our pre-arranged canoe trip. But as our great luck would have it, the rain cleared up by 10:00 and gave us just enough time to catch the 11:00 canoe trip and our fantastic plan for the day was resumed. We were out paddling on the river all afternoon.

The cave of day 2 was Green's Cave on the Meramec River. It's open for exploration - if you bring a flashlight, which we did. On the day before, the combination of a tour guide, many flashlights, and lots of other cave tourists had enabled me to keep The Claustrophobia at bay. At Green's Cave I had none of these crutches and found myself very quickly short of breath the further we got past the entrance. I turned tail and came out, but managed to shore up some will power, and on my second try I made it MUCH further in. The oppression of the enclosed space eventually won, but not before we'd made it far enough back to see glittering mineral formations and a frog.

After I got out of the cave, I took a number of very deep breaths and then we peacefully, calmly floated and paddled the rest of the way down river, swapping beers from canoe to canoe and enjoying the incredible views.

relaxing on the porch between canoe trip and dinner

In the evening we drank, grilled our food, ate, and solved all the problems of the world late into the night, just as we had done the night before. And this morning it was time to gather our things and check out, which we did reluctant to see our great fun come to an end. Before finally departing we made one more stop at the Toy Museum in Stanton, MO where we had some last laughs. And then with our Meramec State Park commemorative medallions safely stowed, we packed up our memories and headed home.

in the semi trailer at the Toy Museum

All my pictures from the weekend can be seen HERE.

01 July 2009

Potato and Kale Soup

The temps have fallen into the 80s this week - down right cool compared to last week. So I made soup.

Potato and Kale Soup

2 lbs potatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1/2 bunch of kale, collards, or chard (use more or less depending on size of leaves and bunch)
1/2 lb chorizo, soyrizo, salami, or Field Roast Italian Sausage
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup milk
1/4 cup Mexican crema or sour cream
1 Tbsp dried oregano
a drop of liquid smoke

Set a relatively large pot of water to boil. Boil the potatoes until quite soft, about 20 or 30 mins. Set a smaller pot of water to boil for the kale/chard/collards. While the potatoes are cooking, chop and sauté the onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil, then set aside. Chop the kale/chard/collards into ribbons and boil for 5 to 7 minutes, then set aside. Chop and sauté the sausage/chorizo/salami, then (you guessed it) set aside.

When the potatoes are finished, drain most of the water, but reserve it in case you need it to thin the soup. Add the sauteed onions and garlic to the potatoes and begin mashing with a potato masher. Add milk, oregano, liquid smoke, and any reserved cooking water you think the soup needs to achieve the desired consistency. Stir in the kale/chard/collards.

Serve with a spoonful of the sausage on top and a swirl of crema or sour cream on top.

Makes 4 - 6 servings