After an organic process encompassing eight years, my cookbook Vegetarian Traditions: Favorite Recipes From My Years at the Legendary Inn Season Cafe is at last available. While writing the book, I realized the story is much larger than just the favorite recipes from the restaurant. In addition to my own culinary journey, it is a tale of an entire community which ultimately honed their definition of good food by what we served. The secret behind our success turned out to be the local organic farmers and artisan vendors who made the delicious, energizing food possible. They are the life-blood of the ongoing food revolution in this country, of which we have been eager participants.
Every year as spring progresses toward summer, the Royal Oak Farmers Market starts to fill the stalls with the bounty of Michigan’s fertile land; has been a ritual shared by the residents of South Oakland County since 1929. I started going to the market in 1981 when we first opened the doors of Inn Season Cafe. Over the years, the farmers and I came to know each other; we shared family stories, cooking tips and arduous tales of the fickle Michigan weather. this
Frequently, if there was something special grown or found, they would save it for me knowing how much I appreciated the rare gems of the Michigan soil. When George Uhlianuk discovered a giant puff ball mushroom in the woods behind his farm, he would bring it to the market for me. Those mushrooms were not a commercial variety and could grow eight or nine inches in a day. They had to be consumed right away while still white or they would begin to age and develop a yellow hue around the edges, no longer fit to eat. When prepared at the peak of freshness, these mushrooms are a delicacy. Sliced and sauteed in olive oil with a touch of tamari, balsamic vinegar and fresh ground white pepper, puff balls satisfy a vegetarian’s rogue cravings for rich and meaty flavors.
In addition to fresh produce, the market was my primary source for planting and gardening materials. I would fill my earthen plots with perennials from farmers and growers who found new and unusual varieties every year. One spring, a farmer dove into his pond to gather Michigan irises for me. They still show their bright yellow blooms in the secret garden pond at my old house across the street from Inn Season Cafe.
Saturday mornings at the market were a weekly festival of shopping, talking, sharing and laughing. I developed many friendships over the years with like-minded folks who shared my passion for fresh food and market-inspired cooking.
After selling the restaurant, I began shopping at various markets throughout North America and found many of the experiences I had in Royal Oak to be part of a common thread. Aside from the tremendous difference in quality between produce purchased from local farmers and that purchased in a grocery or warehouse, we benefit on a societal and economic level by renewing the connection between farmers and communities. This is the magic of farmers markets.
I now live in San Diego enjoying the year-round harvest in the farmers markets. Yet, I still miss the excitement and anticipation of spring at the Royal Oak Farmers Market. Memories of full sensual immersion–the spring garlic shoots at Cinzori Farms, Randy Hampshire’s freshly-ground corn meal, Jim Burda’s succulent raspberries, Jim VanDenBerg’s sweet carrots, Don Van Houtte’s candy-like sugar snap peas, Maple Creek Farm’s nutrient-rich kale and Kate & Al Weilnau’s organic, hand-snipped asparagus. I think of those crisp and cool mornings at the market and I can feel the cooking inspiration swell inside of me.
My desire to share my feelings about the connection between the earth, farm and table was one of my motivations in writing Vegetarian Traditions: Favorite Recipes From My Years At The Legendary Inn Season Cafe. The book identifies the real heroes behind every great chef’s cuisine–the farmers.
The book has over 150 vegan recipes. Elegant entrees, soups, salads and melt-in-your-mouth desserts are in an easy-to-follow format accompanied by beautiful color photos.
Each dish is packed with “super-foods”–energizing, healthy and delicious. Signed copies are now available for a limited time through my store. Just click on the “order now” button on this site.