The First Farmers Market

The hallmark of summer in Birmingham, Michigan is the opening of its farmers market. Since its beginnings, ten years ago, the market has become one of the most festive in the Detroit area with special events, fresh food, organic produce, flowers and live music. As I entered the market last Sunday, the welcoming notes of blues singer Paul Miles filled the air. Excited patrons, families with their children and canine friends crowded around the stalls.
My first stop was Nature’s Pace Organics represented by Jacob and Katie Mullane-Bach with their children Forest and Freeda. We caught up on our winter adventures and shared plans for the new season ahead.They were proud to tell me about the hoop houses installed on their farm and of plans to provide their carefully tended organic produce at some of the year round markets. Beautiful butterhead and romaine lettuces, leeks, young Swiss chard, black radishes and arugula flowers filled their stall. I bought a little of everything and then moved on.
In addition to the tender spring produce, the warm weather brings a social season. Frequently, in the mid-west, neighbors only see each other when tending their yards or at the market. It is a happy time and every year people act as if they are experiencing spring for the first time.

Arriving home, it was already lunchtime and I was excited to start cooking with the fresh harvest in my bags. The big leeks, procured from Nature’s Pace Organics only an hour before, inspired me to create a recipe which features the robust flavor of this freshly harvested vegetable of the allium family.

White Pepper Leek Tart

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
4 cups leeks, sliced thin
1 cup water
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 cup blanched almond flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons dill weed, minced
1/2 teaspoon white pepper, fresh ground

Using a sauce pan on medium heat, cook the olive oil, garlic and leeks until the leeks begin to stick.  Add water, cover and turn down to a simmer then cook for 5 minutes until tender. Stir in remaining ingredients, cook another 2 minutes and reserve.
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup garbanzo flour
1/2 cup potato flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup water

Place all ingredients in a food processor, make a dough and press into a parchment lined 10 inch springform pan. Add leek mixture and top with thin tomato slices. Pre heat oven to 375 degrees F and bake for 25 minutes . Take out of oven, let rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Whether at the market, in the garden, cooking in the kitchen or savoring at the table, I am often charmed by the unique experience each meal brings to daily life.  In the great food cultures of the world, life is measured by the succession of meals and food is the glue that links together family, friends and community.

Summertime, and the Livin’ is Easy–in Michigan!

In May, 2010, I released my cookbook, Vegetarian Traditions. The following 10 months, I traveled from San Diego to Michigan a number of times for events, book signings and cooking demonstrations–short trips which barely gave me time to catch my breath.  My wife, Sara, and I decided to spend the summer of 2011 in the Detroit area, allowing us to do events every week, catch up with old friends and take part in community activities.  What I discovered was exciting!

Michigan, as a whole, is in a heavy state–consistently near the top of the charts for the most overweight, even though it is one of the top agriculture producers with farming being the second largest industry.  I was always troubled by the obesity since there is so much fresh produce available in the numerous farmers markets, road side stands, grocery and produce stores, all carrying the amazing Michigan bounty.  However, this summer, I felt change in the air.

We kicked off our Michigan summer with a cooking class on Mackinac Island during their Lilac Festival.  Although the natural beauty of Mackinac Island is dazzling, the tourists always seemed to be disconnected with what they ate. Food on the island is solely for entertainment purposes–fudge, candy and restaurant cuisine prepared for taste and presentation.  This trip was different.  Not only did they invite me, a vegan, health-oriented chef, to do a demonstration in the community center, but the local chefs and residents seemed to be yearning for change towards a better and healthier cuisine.  This was evident, not only through what I was told, but also on the restaurant menus.  Mackinac Island has not lost its status of being the fudge capital of Michigan, continuing to use more sugar than anywhere else in the state—but, Rome was not built in a day.

My next surprise was when I was invited to teach a class in Wyandotte.  This is in the “down-river” area of Michigan’s very industrial community with hard working, blue collar folks.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered the class was sold out.  In a charming health food store, Total Health Foods in Wyandotte’s historic downtown area, the impressive crowd was eager to learn and discover as much as they could about healthy food and cooking. The down-river experience didn’t stop there.  I was invited to pass out Inn Season Cafe’s Brown Rice Salad and sell my book in three areas which are not synonymous with vegetarian lifestyles:  Allen Park, Shelby Township and Warren.  All of these events were organized and run by the optimistic and high energy Mary Ann Demo.

Allen Park, a down-river community where the Detroit Lions practice in the summer months, is a wholesome, unassuming town and, much like Wyandotte, many of the residents worked for the auto industry or one of the other numerous plants in the area.  The farmers market was set up in a parking lot close to the downtown area.  It was quiet and may take a while to catch on, but at least Mary Ann and the Allen Park residents are making the effort and it is a good place to spend a Friday afternnoon.

The relatively new Warren Farmers Market is housed in the Warren Town Center, a wonderful facility with pavilions, a wading pool and an interactive fountain located near the GM Tech Center.  This busy market had farmers selling Indian lauki (calabash) squash, purslane and amaranth in addition to a robust presentation of the usual Michigan bounty.

The Shelby Township Farmers Market is located on the historic Packard Automotive Proving Grounds, a beautiful property with buildings designed by famed architect Albert Kahn.

Although the day I participated was unusually hot, many local residents braved the heat to purchase fresh, local produce.  One of the farmers was selling a succulent and very sweet watermelon in addition to an impressive selection of Michigan produce–the perfect antidote for the heat.

I was really excited to see several Detroit urban farmers at the historic Eastern Market, the nurturing core of Detroit’s urban expansion since 1841. Brother Nature and Grown in Detroit, just to name a couple, feature an impressive variety of fresh-picked produce from local gardens. In addition, Randy Hampshire of Hampshire Farms, is still the certified organic anchor here, selling grains, beans and breads–not to mention his fresh ground cornmeal.

The Royal Oak Farmers Market and the Birmingham Farmers Market, the two I frequent the most, were busier than I ever remember.  The Royal Oak Market is located within blocks of my former restaurant, Inn Season Cafe, where we sponsored the first organic farmers back in 1990.  Today, certified organic farms, such as Cinzori Farms, Hampshire Farms and Maple Creek Farm, anchor the organic presence, providing some of the best produce in the area and often feature unique heirloom varieties.


Cousin Don Hobson has worked tirelessly to make the Birmingham Market a success.  A wonderful addition to a beautiful city, it has become a must-do on Sunday for many of the local residents.  In addition to a wonderful organic presence, including Nature’s Pace Organics and Blue Water Organics, the market highlights numerous vendors with local hand-crafted products.  These two markets are great for finding vegetable treasures to make everyday meals an event!

So, as my summer trip comes to a close, I leave feeling that Michiganders are now riding the crest of the modern food revolution–actively incorporating healthy changes into their lives.  I am pleased that my book is now in the kitchens of so many on that path to change.  Sara and I feel an even stronger connection to our home state as we have come to appreciate how rich Michigan is with the incredible farmers markets, wonderful restaurants like Inn Season Cafe and The Cacao Tree and the best corn, cherries, blueberries, peaches, heirloom tomatoes, potatoes, kale–just to mention a few!

Our last Summer hurrah will be the Food Is Medicine event at the Wellness Training Institute with Dr. Michael Dangovian, an integrative cardiologist who combines modern cardiology with a Yoga-based stress-reducing program.  Late September is the peak of the Michigan harvest and I will showcase foods from local farmers while demonstrating how easy it is to add these gastronomical treasures to any home repertoire.

Book update:  Vegetarian Traditions is now available to purchase at the Birmingham Wellness Institute in their new location in the Birmingham Triangle District  and Essence On Main in Clarkston.

A Market Inspired Recipe:

Big smiles and bright faces greeted me as I approached the Green Tops booth at the Birmingham Farmers Market.  This is what the high school students participating in the farmers market program at the Baldwin Center in Pontiac call their self-grown produce business.  I was pleasantly surprised to find Asian long beans on their table and bought all of them.  My first experience with this type of bean was in India, but soon discovered this is a favorite type of green bean throughout Asia.  They have a nutty flavor, are tender when cooked and only need trimming every foot or so–a real prep bonus!

Asian Long Beans in Tahini Sauce

Serves 4
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon garlic, minced

1 cup sweet onions, thinly sliced

3 cups Asian long beans, trimmed into 4 inch long sections and steamed

1 ½ cups cooked garbanzo beans¼ cup tahini (sesame butter)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 ½ cups water

½ teaspoon sea salt
In a skillet on medium heat, cook olive oil, garlic and onions until clear.  Add long beans, garbanzos, tahini, lemon juice, water and sea salt. Turn down to low heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Serve hot.
Note:  Green beans may be substituted if long beans are not available.

Farm Tour in the Michigan Thumb

One knows a native Michigander immediately when they use their hand to indicate an area in the state.  This is natural considering the oven-mitt shape of Michigan.  Last month at the Birmingham Farmers Market, Lee Chaput of Blue Water Organics invited me to a certified organic Amish farm in Brown City, the middle of the Michigan Thumb.  I took the opportunity to visit three very different farms in the same region: Blue Water Organics in Brown City, Hickory Hill Farm in Clifford and Maple Creek Farm in Yale.

It was a perfect autumn day, cloudless blue skies with a warm gentle breeze.  As I drove into the Thumb region, rows of corn were intermittent with yellow soy bean fields.  The road led me through charming small towns rich with Victorian and early twentieth century architecture.  This was the agricultural heartland of the industrial Midwest.  Now, the fields of corn and soy are mostly those of agribusiness, grown for biofuels and commercial commodities.

However, the increasing number of farmers markets has created a lucrative venue for small organic farms.  In addition to helping existing farms survive, a number of stalwart city-folk have discovered their calling by growing fresh, organic produce for weekend markets around metro Detroit, which now boasts twenty markets.

As I approached my first destination, a sign read Welcome to Brown City, where the motorhome was invented — no small irony as an Amish horse and carriage trotted by.   Lee met me at the grain elevator nearby and I followed her to Elmer and Edna Slabaugh’s Amish farm, known as Blue Water Organics at the markets.

The lack of telephone poles and wires going into the house were my first indication that they were off the grid and living a traditional Amish lifestyle.  As Lee and I entered the house, Edna was in the kitchen rolling out pie crusts with one of her daughters, while one of the others was sewing.  The house was simply appointed with hand-crafted furniture and quilts.  It was charming, yet practical, and everything had a purpose, even the suspenders hanging from the door.

Watch my video of the Amish farm tour

Lee began the tour at the barn.  She described how it had burned down a few years earlier and that immediately following this potentially devastating loss, the members of the Amish community came together and raised a new barn within ten days.  The 150 or so community members had specific skill sets and the work was completed like clockwork, almost without speaking, a marvelous example of a tightly woven community working to help each other.

Watching the Amish Build a BarnFrom the book Growing Lavender and Other Poems
Iris Lee Underwood

I hear their hammers in summer
the steady rhythm of work
welcoming dawn, waking me
with the musice of building a barn.

I spy them from my bathroom window;
straw hats glowing in sunrise,
blue shirts and blacks pants with suspenders
raising timber from the ground.

They stride scaffolds into autumn,
waltz on two-by-fours like ballerinas in boots,
carpenter belts hang on their hips
as if some universal law says they cannot slip.

Like super-heroes, they climb ladders
in snowfall, dance on the roof
until the veil of dusk falls on the barn,
and they descend in the dark for dinner.

Watch my video about Iris’ Yule Love It Lavender Farm

We proceeded to the vegetable gardens.  The majority of the farm is a working, certified organic commercial farm run by Elmer. The gardens are Edna’s domain; Lee helps her to grow and supply the vegetables, berries and herbs for the farmers markets. The fields were strewn with Roma tomatoes, squashes and sweet red bell peppers dangling from the plants, marking the end of the season.

The dogs followed us to the basement where Edna has her canning pantry.  The ten by twenty foot room was fully stocked, telling the story of the summer harvest.  Canning is a family operation and is scheduled with the ebb and flow from the gardens.  Elmer and Edna’s refrigeration is an ice house, still full of ice from the previous winter, even with this year’s insufferably hot summer. They also use a large unplugged chest freezer which is used as a modern ice box containing a few fresh-cut blocks of ice to keep certain items cold.

Back in the house, the air was full of the intoxicating aroma of Edna’s fruit pies, which were cooling in the oven.   Her kitchen was like everything else here, simple and efficient.  She bid us farewell with a warm smile, while she served three of her eight children lunch.

Next, I made my way past more golden cornfields and pastoral landscapes to Clifford, where the Birmingham market master, Cousin Don Hobson, operates Hickory Hill Farm, an 80 acre farm which has been in his family since 1888. Unlike the previous farm, this one had many vehicles and farm implements in various states of repair and a very old barn.  While driving the rural roads, I had noticed many dilapidated barns.  Cousin Don explained that barns shelter hay and hay keeps barns dry.  Today, it is not a cost effective crop, so many barns have become obsolete.

Cousin Don and I spent time in the vegetable field admiring the Peruvian blue potatoes and baby leeks.  He entertained me with stories of farming and the common-sense relationship farmers have with Mother Nature.  As we stood in the field, it felt as though every inch of his farm lived and breathed history and I could feel the deep connection he had with his land.  I could have listened to his stories all day, but it was time to get to the next farm.  He sent me off with some beautiful tomatoes to use the next day in my cooking demonstration on Channel 7.

Yale was nearly eight miles from Clifford.  Compared to the other two farms, Maple Creek Farm was cranking.  As I walked up, I was again greeted by curious dogs who loudly announced my arrival.  Michelle Lutz was tying hundreds of bunches of basil, while a few people were washing squash in what looked like a large apple-washing machine.  They were preparing the 200 CSA boxes which needed to be delivered the next day.

It had been a tough year for Maple Creek Farm with unusually hot days and little rain.  According to Michelle, farms just a few miles away had plenty of rain, but the cloud pattern did not unload on this area.  Michelle is one of the most dedicated farmers I know.  She is active in the community and shares her knowledge and perspective at the markets, events and educational venues.  She reaches out in a way which endears people to the farm and the idea of organics.

We hopped into her ATV wagon and took a tour.  Michelle pointed out one plot after another that had been lost to the weather.  Although the farm is completely irrigated and the well pumped day and night for a month, they still could not keep up.  I looked at the weather map on my iphone and tried to comfort her with the prediction of rain.  As I drove away, I promised to visit her at the Royal Oak Farmers Market.  When I did, she told me my prediction of rain was right, ensuring that she could fulfill her farmers market and CSA commitments for the duration of the season.  The ups and downs of weather makes Michigan farmers tough and adaptable to adverse circumstances.

Connecting to the land through farmers like these is one of the simple joys of life.  I encourage everyone to run, not walk, to your nearest farmers market and remember to connect the dots with your food, know where your food comes from and support your local farmers!

My interview on TV5 Grosse Pointe talking about the farms, markets and Autumn harvest

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Michigan Book Tour, The First Part


Thursday Night:  I was full of anticipation as my evening flight from San Diego landed in Detroit.  A week of touring and catching up with old friends and family lay ahead.   As the plane taxied, I was thinking of the many ways one can benefit from my cookbook, Vegetarian Traditions, and the best way to communicate that at the numerous events.

The first thing I did after picking up my rental vehicle was load 1200 pounds of books from the shipping terminal into the car.  Good thing the Chevrolet Traverse had substantial shock-absorbers! It was hot and humid and after that workout, I was eager to get to the hotel.

Friday:  A meeting with Dr. Michael Dangovian of the Wellness Training Institute kicked off the day.  We discussed my participation at Saturday’s celebration of the first anniversary of his institute. We see this event as the first step in a Food as Medicine program.

Later that day, I made my way to Stephan Brink’s Health Oasis in Royal Oak to teach the art of spicing, namely, how to make masala.

The class was a benefit for the local chapter of Women For Women, a group which helps women deal with health and social crisis situations.  It was held outdoors in a courtyard; the balmy Michigan evening added to the intimacy and culinary magic.

Masalas are provocative spice mixtures which are the basis for Indian cuisine.  I demonstrated, to the twenty or so attendees, how to toast, grind and mix three masalas and provided spicing techniques for making a large variety of Indian dishes with the authentic flavors achieved only through the freshly ground spices.  The intoxicating scents of toasting urad dal, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and a multitude of other whole spices wafted through the quiet neighborhood.

Inn Season Cafe provided a delicious Bengali Rice Salad which satiated the wetted appetites. Most of the guests took my cookbook home with them.

Saturday:  At 7:30am I arrived at the Royal Oak Farmers Market, the bustling 81 year-old indoor market.  Don, Donna and Anthony Cinzori welcomed me as if I were long lost family.  They have one of the largest certified organic farms in Michigan and tirelessly provide some of the best produce I have seen anywhere.  The Cinzori family is warm, generous and knowledgeable.  I always look forward to discussing the latest in produce and organic trends with Don.

There wasn’t much time for that this day.  The market started to buzz and customers hummed around the colorful Cinzori stall like bees looking for sweet nectar.  The market is like a second home and I was able to speak with one person after another about the cookbook and the Don’s produce, which had inspired many of the recipes.

At about one o’clock, my son Spyros and I headed over to the Wellness Training Institute in Sterling Heights.  Dr. Michael Dangovian was celebrating the first anniversary of his new clinic and I was honored to be the featured speaker. Over two-hundred people attended the event which included food from Inn Season Cafe, talks by Dr. Dangovian and various teachers who participate in his program of integrative medicine and preventative cardiology.

My lecture was organized around the importance of connecting the dots with your food–knowing where it comes from and supporting your local farmers. I also spoke about food and community, food being not only the primary nourishing element in life, but the primary nurturing element.  All the great food cultures of the world weave food into the daily fabric of life and see it as a measure of life’s quality.  Without it, there is no benefit to longevity.

Most of the questions fielded were about specific ingredients I recommended and the health benefits they provide.  The afternoon was a success and as a result, Dr. Dangovian and I are planning future events with targeted information for attendees to gain specific tools they can apply toward a healthier life. This was just the beginning and we are excited by the possibilities.  If there is one thing I have missed about running the restaurant, it was seeing the fulfillment in the faces of our guests.  This Saturday afternoon, I saw the same looks.

Sunday: I arrived early at the Birmingham Farmers Market,  an empty parking lot with a few tents going up. As I set up my booth, the market began to take shape;  trucks pulled up with bushels of fresh corn, potatoes, zucchinis, pumpkins and fresh flowers.  A number of organic farmers came together on the south side of the lot with their splendid hand-picked vegetables.

Cousin Donny Hobson, the market master, is not just a farmer, he is a showman.  This day he planned to attract shoppers with Hay-Day.   Antique tractors, farm implements and bales of hay decorated the market with a festive county fair-like atmosphere.

Two of my favorite farms at the Birmingham market are Natures Pace Organics and Blue Water Organics.  Natures Pace is family-operated with a core dedication to sustainable foods.

Lee Chaput of Blue Water Organics is not a farmer by trade, but has the passion of one. She discovered Elmer and Edna Slabaugh’s certified organic Amish farm in Brown City, Michigan.  Living a dedicated Amish lifestyle, the Slabaughs use neither electricity or automobiles, so Lee brings the vegetables and the feel of the Amish farm to the Birmingham Market.  Look for a post down the road for a story about the farm.


Each week there is something new at the market.  I loved being in Michigan at the beginning of the harvest with the trees displaying the vivid colors of autumn.


A visit to the Birmingham Farmers Market


My book signing and homecoming tour in Michigan was a great success.  After the dry desert air of California, it was nice to be back in verdant land with the soft, humid Midwestern breezes.  It was also inspiring to reunite with old friends and see many of them working to make Michigan a better place.

I’ve known Cousin Don Hobson since he began selling at the Royal Oak Farmers Market.  For the last 10 years Cousin Don, the founder of the Birmingham Farmers Market, has been the market master.  He invited me into his booth to sign, sell and discuss the book with shoppers.  The last Sunday of our tour, I rejoined him to pass out samples of Blue Water Farm organic strawberries with my organic vegan hot fudge sauce on top.  Needless to say, the chocolate added a bit of evxcited frenzy to the event.

As farmers markets go, Birmingham is a great mix of fresh vegetables (with a good organic presence), prepared foods, craft items and music.  My friend Bill Loizon grills franks on his vintage Volkswagen surfer bus, known as Franks-Anatra.  What many don’t know is that he also serves a tasty vegan or vegetarian sandwich called The Veg-Anatra, prepared separately of course.
During the market hours, Cousin Don makes the rounds socializing, answering questions and making sure all is well.  Click on the picture of Don and me for a video tour.