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.
Crust 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 aparchment 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.
Spring is here and that means one of my favorite Michigan events–VegFest–a wonderful opportunity to discover a world of plant-based food and associated lifestyles. There will be cooking demonstrations by chefs from all over the country, free food samples, lectures and lots more.
So, join me on Sunday, April 29, 11am to 5pm, at the Suburban Showplace in Novi. I will be there demonstrating a recipe from my private collection, Pistachio Quinoa & Kale Croquettes–simple, delicious and served with Garden Fresh Black Bean and Corn Salsa–one of my favorites. See you there!
1 ½ cups shelled pistachios, toasted
2 cups lacinato kale, stemmed and blanched
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1 cup quinoa, cooked
Place pistachios in a food processor and grind until a meal consistency. Add kale, olive oil, salt, garlic, lemon juice and water.
Puree. Transfer to a medium sized bowl and add quinoa. Mix well. In a griddle or saute pan on medium-high heat, add a small amount of coconut oil.
Form batter into silver-dollar sized disks (approximately 1 ounce) and place onto griddle. Turn when brown and cook until other side is brown.
Serve hot with Jack’s Special Black Bean and Corn Salsa by Garden Fresh Gourmet.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place patties on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
The last segment of our San Diego to Detroit veg restaurant tour took us to the town of Downers Grove, a southern suburb of Chicago, where our destination,The Borrowed Earth Cafe, awaited. This turned out to be a little gem–an oasis of delicious raw cuisine, with all the food prepared on-site and served with an efficiency that rivals fast food restaurants.
Owners Danny and Kathy Living’s passion for the raw cuisine they serve is evident through beautiful presentations, a magical environment and great humor–Danny had Sara in stitches the entire two hours we were there.
We began our meal with a wonderful creamy coconut and corn soup,
followed with a colorful sweet potato quesadilla exploding with vibrant flavors–each morsel felt like an indulgence.
Kathy recommended the special walnut-crusted green beans, her version of “fried” green beans–raw and unfried. She explained that she loves to experiment with comfort foods from her childhood to create raw, living versions which are then served at the cafe. The dish was very satisfying and provocative with a nutty flavor and delicate crunch.
The finale was Out of this World Cheesecake and has made it to the top of our raw dessert list–Sara and I were practically fighting over the crumbs!
At the Borrowed Earth Cafe, we discovered the passion, talent and presentation we had been yearning for in our veg restaurant tour. We left Downer’s Grove feeling great about the state of the veg union–not to mention, fully satiated and thoroughly entertained.
The last stop was our home turf of Detroit–a city in the budding stages of a veg renaissance with pockets of culinary passion and a surprisingly large collection of veg cafes and farmers markets.
As we stuck our forks into the incomparable Inn Season Cafe salad, piled high with fresh, organic produce, nuts seeds, avocados and marinated onions, we couldn’t help but feel that there’s no place like home!
Day three of our veg restaurant tour from San Diego to Detroit began in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, the oldest capital in the United States. It was Memorial Day and this unique city of all adobe-style buildings was full of tourists, musicians and artists enjoying the cloudless day. Not far from the festive atmosphere of the old town center, was our destination, Body–a one-stop-shop with an organic restaurant, spa, yoga studio and clothing boutique.
Body’s calming atmosphere and enchanting decor set our expectations high. After exploring the various rooms, the popular yoga studio and the spa, we took our seats in the large, yet surprising empty, dining room. Although there are numerous items for omnivores, there is a substantial vegan and raw offering. We ordered all raw and the food began to arrive shortly thereafter.
The coconut lemongrass soup, fresh and beautiful in color, was light and flavorful; unfortunately, the rest of our meal was not as exciting. The wrap lacked flavor and was mushy, the pizza was too salty and had far too much tomato sauce and the dessert was simply passionless. We were a bit surprised, considering the care the owners had taken to provide such a comprehensive facility to the residents of Santa Fe.
To be fair, our visit was a snapshot, only a glimpse at what was obviously a well-thought-out concept. It may be that they over-extended themselves to the point of having gaps in the details of the food. It certainly deserves another try the next time I’m driving through Santa Fe.
We continued north to Taos, another remarkable old Spanish town and artist colony. Entering this city made us feel as though we had stepped back in time. It is located in a tributary valley off the Rio Grande and on its north side is the famous Taos Pueblo, said to have been built between 1000 and 1450 A.D.. Nearly 1900 people occupy the pueblo community today.
Surprisingly, as far as vegetarian offerings, Taos is a one horse town and that horse is called El Gamal--a very casual and artistic vegetarian cafe serving traditional Middle Eastern fare. We ordered babaganoush, tabouli, falafels, salad and hummus–unfortunately, they had run out of chick peas and couldn’t prepare the hummus. The food was fresh and flavorful and we were grateful for their effort.
Our meals in Santa Fe and Taos did not come close to our amazing experiences in Sedona and Scottsdale, but still were a marked improvement from our last trip a few years ago and good enough to get us through the Cimarron pass and north to Colorado.
Our next destination was in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in one of the most liberal cities in Colorado–Boulder. Known for its stunning setting and “hippie” appeal, it constantly acquires top rankings in health and quality of life. Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant is a small, upscale, jewel of a place located in the charming downtown area. As we walked in, we were immediately taken with its beautiful decor, cleanliness and organization.
We began with a raw beet ravioli–a really stunning presentation, but, rather flavorless, relying entirely on the taste of the raw beets. Sara chose a delicious looking Mizuna salad with sea vegetables and I ordered Jamaican Jerk, tempeh over black rice with plantain chips, which was truly a work of art.
Although we appreciated the freshness and quality of the ingredients, the salad lacked pizazz. The Jamaican Jerk was heavy on tempeh, but was nicely balanced with black rice and good flavors. We finished the meal with a peanut butter and chocolate vegan cheesecake, presented with impressive artistic flair, but it didn’t knock our socks off.
Leaf deserves another shot. They have worked hard to earn their wonderful reputation and are extremely conscientious about presentation, as well as providing a positive restaurant experience. It would require several more visits for a proper review. Still, when a restaurant strives to achieve levels of gastronomic perfection, any misstep is unfortunate. Consistent culinary home-runs are a difficult thing to achieve, but a chef or owner’s personal attention increases the odds tremendously.
It was becoming apparent that veg restaurants in this country become great through vision and passion. With the heartland of the Midwest ahead of us, we continued to search for restaurants which define culinary perceptions in their local communities with dedication to quality of food and life through good ingredients, working with local farmers and using high quality organic products. This is especially true for plant-based restaurants where customers expect healing and life-enhancing characteristics on their plates. This attention-to-detail enables an everyday dining experience to be life changing.
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Next time, we visit the heartland of America in Nebraska and Iowa to continue the discovery of the State of the Veg Union!
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Inspired by our journey through the ancient desert lands of cliff-dwellers, pueblos and conquistadors, I created this Anasazi Bean Enchilada recipe to honor the rich traditions and sun-drenched history of the American Southwest.
Feeling rather full after stopping at two delightful veg restaurants in Scottsdale, we headed north toward ChocolaTree Cafe in Sedona, Arizona, a mostly raw cafe with an awesome reputation. The journey through the mountains was breathtaking.
The landscape slowly transitioned from a desert-scape dotted with saguaro cacti to a high mesa semi-desert grassland with clumps of riparian forests and a rocky balsatic plateau of dormant volcano rock. The road danced around the Agua Fria river creating dramatic landscapes and vistas.
We diverted off the main highway to the old mining town of Jerome, now an artist colony and tourist destination.
Around the corner from a popular biker gathering at the local saloon, we discovered an early 20th century diner which originally served the Chinese mine workers in an era of oppressive segregation. This unfortunate history explained why the diner was tucked away and out of sight from the main street. Today, the location is appreciated for its spectacular panoramic view and the new owners are committed to working with local farmers to supply fresh produce for the restaurant, which was probably done when it first opened over 100 years ago. A nice addition to a meat-centric tourist town like Jerome.
As the sun was reaching for the horizon, we meandered down the mountain and continued our journey into Sedona. Every time I come here, I am in awe of the incredible red rock formations which frame the town. This time, with the intense pre-dusk light, the town looked like it was surrounded by a large, gold picture frame. Sedona is known for connections to planetary energies–a place to commune with natural forces and to recharge. I often wondered why the much-touted spiritual connections bypass food as a vehicle of awareness–this culinary adventure turned that around.
We arrived at ChocolaTree just as the setting sun made the red rocks surrounding Sedona glow like burning embers. The outside of the restaurant building and patio was adorned with handcrafted art pieces and paintings. Walking in, we were greeted by a four foot tall Shiva Lingam from India, the centerpiece of this warm and cozy restaurant.
We were encouraged to peruse the offerings of both packaged and fresh menu items. While ChocolaTree puts most of their energy into raw living food, they offer some cooked vegan dishes. The Curried Spring Roll and the Raw Falafels were recommended as appetizers. We also ordered the All Raw Wrap and the cooked Ethiopian Collard Greens on Quinoa for entrees.
We walked to the open-air garden courtyard, past the retail displays of crystals, essential oils, talismans and artwork. Tables surrounded a beautiful old tree strung with delicate lights. Adjacent to the seating area was a kitchen garden full of borage, amaranth, basil, oregano and many other scented herbs in various states of growth and harvest. The patio held magical appeal and gave us something to ponder and discuss.
The food arrived in a timely manner and we applauded the suggested Curried Spring Rolls–we consumed them in a flash. The Falafels were a good attempt, but had not been dehydrated quite enough. The All Raw Wrap was more like a salad–leafy greens and vegetables in a seasoned wrap with a light dressing.
The Ethiopian Collard Greens on Quinoa didn’t look appealing on the plate, but once I tasted it, I was hooked. The collard greens, cooked to a buttery perfection, had a touch of fresh ginger and were topped with crumbled kale chips, giving it a slight crunch. The bed of quinoa was the perfect match, making the dish a delicious and sensuous home run. After dinner, we met owner Jen Moore and discussed mutual acquaintances and what a cafe like hers can do for a community. We polished off the meal with a piece of Pecan Pie–raw and creamy with a fantastic maple-like flavor. It left us practically speechless. Wow! We left with a few packaged food items and, finding all rooms booked in Sedona, proceeded toward Flagstaff.
The meal was not only fulfilling, but, energizing. We stopped on top of the mountain and gazed at stars so profuse the sky seemed white. We discussed the power of food, how it can create change in society, the quality of life and spiritual pursuits. Perfect meal, perfect night…
Please check out our next travels through dust storms and dessert to reach Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico.
My home is in Mission Hills, a gorgeous area of San Diego founded by early 20th Century visionaries in the Arts and Crafts tradition with charming historic homes, parks full of spectacular foliage and a strong community presence. I was thrilled when a farmers market sprang up in the middle of the tiny downtown several Fridays ago. There are a number of good vendors in the one city block which comprises the market. This Friday market kicks off my weekends with fresh, organic ingredients.
I have been buying sweet and plump blueberries at Smit Orchards stall for the last few weeks. Their radiant blues and purples have been a colorful addition to morning oatmeal, smoothies, cobblers and pies.
Pepper season heated up in the last month. The Padron Peppers from Suzie’s Farm have been an exciting side dish when I saute them a skillet with a little olive oil and coarse sea salt. Robin, the owner, described how the peppers start off mild and become hotter as the vines get older. He plants them at intervals to make sure he’s able to harvest the sweet young peppers at their prime.
When Suzies Farm has the historic Italian Jimmy Nardello peppers, buy them! I prepared them the same way as the Padrones. They have a sweet flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Tender baby-beet greens from Maggie’s Farm went into my summer squash with coconut curry dish. They also had a variety of heirloom potatoes which I used for a roasted potato chole and baby romaine heads which I cut in half, browned in a skillet and served as an antipasti plate garnish.
Saturday at the Little Italy Mercato
Saturday mornings are in full swing at the Mercato in the heart of Little Italy. Each market is defined by the neighborhood it is in and this three block market has an Old World Italian flavor with modern urban chic.
Justin Noble of Sage Mountain Farm grows starship zucchini, a type of patti pan squash which I steamed and served with a lemon-dijon sauce. He also grows Armenian cucumbers which are not really cucumbers, but a member of the melon family. They are a refreshing and crunchy addition to salads along with heirloom tomatoes, which are starting to flood the markets.
The founder of La Milpa Organica, Oasis Benson, moved north and entered the organic olive business. Good Faith Farm sells two kinds of raw, organic olives– Sevillanos and Kalamata–along with their delicious olive oil, which is so fresh it must be refrigerated. These delicious olives are cured with first quality ingredients (brown rice vinegar) and are probably the healthiest olives one will ever encounter.
There are several musicians throughout the market. Santiago Orozco and his band Todo Mundo often play in the amphitheater at the top, east end of the market. The upbeat Latin rhythms and positive message of his music enhance the festive atmosphere.
Sunday at Hillcrest Farmers Market
Mariella Balbi of Guanni Chocolates is located in the center of the Hillcrest Market and always greets me with her beautiful smile. Her vegan Wari Bars made from 100% Peruvian Criollo cacao are a chocolate lover’s delight.
La Milpa Organica is the gold standard of market stalls in San Diego. This week I purchased amaranth, Swiss chard and magenta spreen lamb’s quarters to make tarts, pies, tortes and simple seared greens with garlic, hot red pepper and coarse sea salt.
Karen at Archis Acres picked out a giant head of red leaf lettuce for me. I made lettuce wraps filled with Haas avocados, Cherokee red tomatoes and pepita, cilantro and lime pesto.
Phil of Sage Mountain Farm had Italian torpedo onions, cherry tomatoes, hard-neck garlic and fresh basil with the root–the perfect ingredients for a fresh heirloom tomato, basil, red onion and rubbed garlic crostini.
Matt of Lone Oak Ranch supplied me with some of his very best white and yellow nectarines, white and yellow peaches and candy-like pluots which I am using for grilled fruit salsas this week.
If you have been keeping up with my blog, you will have noticed me waxing poetic about red walnuts from Terra Bella Ranch. The season is over, but Jeff and Nicolina’s excellent Chandler walnuts are still available, as well as their beautiful dried apricots, raw almonds and sun-dried tomatoes, all of which I use regularly. I toast the walnuts and almonds for approximately 12 minutes at 325 F degrees and keep them available for snacks, salads and garnish. Because of the healthy volatile oils in nuts, they can become rancid. I store untoasted nuts in the freezer.
The small Poblano chiles from Sage Mountain Farm are delightful. I cut off the tops, scoop out the seeds and fill them with a corn tamal-style filling or a thick and creamy walnut filling, reminiscent of an Oaxacan walnut sauce which Frida Kahlo used to make at her Blue House. Next I put them onto a chili roasting rack which goes directly on the grill. I can never make enough of these!
I found Palestinian sweet limes, sweet cocktail grapefruit and Reed avocados at the Rancho Mexico Lindo Farm booth. She also had red, pink and green prickley pear fruit, which are considered a health tonic.
San Diego farmer’s markets are a treasure trove of exciting, fresh and organic ingredients. Markets like this can be found across the country in every community.
“I learned from my two year’s experience that it would cost incredibly little trouble to obtain one’s necessary food even in this latitude; that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength. I have made a satisfactory dinner, satisfactory on several accounts, simply off a dish of purslane ( Portulaca oleracea) which I gathered in my cornfield, boiled and salted. I give the Latin on account of the savouriness of the trivial name.
And pray what more can a reasonable man desire, in peaceful times, in ordinary noons, than a sufficient number of ears of green sweet-corn boiled, with the addition of salt? Even the little variety which I used was a yielding to the demands of appetite, and not of health.
Yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not for want of necessaries, but for want of luxuries; and I know a good woman who thinks that her son lost his life because he took drinking water only. The reader will perceive that I am treating the subject rather from an economic than a dietetic point of view, and he will not venture to put my abstemiousness to the test unless he has a well stocked-larder.”
Barry Koral, one of the farmers at the Hillcrest Farmers Market in San Diego, and I wax poetically every Sunday as shoppers clamor for his avocados, chermoyas, guavas, sapotes, passion fruit, Persian limes, kumquats, blood oranges, Meyer lemons and local macadamia nuts. Although he is not “certified” organic, he describes everything he does at the farm as “beyond organic.” He is a “fixture” at the market, proclaiming to all who pass by the value of his avocados, the life-giving properties of his figs or the “passion” in his passion fruits.
A few weeks ago, he invited my wife and me to an event at his home and orchard in Vista, a community within San Diego County. It was a live-food celebration with about fifty people in attendance. When we arrived, I immediately sensed that this was a “connected” domicile, reminding me of similar homes where the energy of the residents seem to be “one” with the living cycles of the planet. Barry seemed to take enormous pleasure entertaining his guests with his wit, creative spirit and love of life. It was a marvel to see him work the room and share quality moments with each person in attendance. After he delivered a spirited talk and shared poetry with all of us, the crowd took to the raw food buffet like wheat-grass to a juicer. The food was fresh and vitalizing, and everyone seemed re-energized by the association and community spirit.
Raw Ginger-Beet Salad
6 cups raw beets, peeled and grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh ginger juice
1/4 cup sweet onions, minced
Mix all ingredients in a bowl fifteen minutes before serving.
The world is huge and we are a small part of it, comparable to small cogs on an immense wheel. Cooking is a natural part of this mechanism. Beginning with foraging, every aspect of collecting, preparing and serving food connects us to the cycles of regeneration in this world. Whether we admit to it or not, our lives are defined by this relationship.
For me, the more I look into the food connection, the greater my sense of fulfillment and nourishment. Often, many of us search for answers to universal questions in obscure places to discover the secrets of life. One of the biggest secrets is something we deal with many times a day and is virtually right in front of us: Our relationship with food is the source of good health and spiritual well being!