Sunday, December 9, 2012

Inspiring Something Sweet

Sweet Thing Gourmet

Some of my fondest memories are of Christmases spent at my grandparents. I’m not sure how she did it, but Grandma Vivian would have the screened-in patio table stacked miles high with cookie tins by the first hinting of snow. Sampling her confections took you on a culinary trip around the world. From Italy, we had crispy pizzelles and moist ricotta cookies. Powdered sugar dusted Russian tea cakes (a.k.a. snowballs) accompanied American chocolate kissed peanut butter blossoms and soft butter-rich sugar cookies cut into your favorite holiday shapes. Her German spritz cookies were always perfectly uniform and decorated with colorful candy sprinkles, while her Hungarian nut horns wore a coat of cinnamon and sugar. My favorite, the fruity jam filled Polish kolacky, always made an appearance. I cannot express how much I treasured helping my grandmother in the kitchen and I accredit my interest and passion for food to her. So, when I met Kyla of Sweet Thing Gourmet and she told me her inspiring story, I knew I had to save this ingredient for something special.

In the summer of 2003, Kyla Touris began cooking up a rather unique and sweet idea. After struggling to find a full time teaching job and raising three children under the age of three (including twins) she knew something had to give. Kyla wanted to embark on something she was passionate about while simultaneously being a stay at home mom. Much to her delight, she discovered Vosges Chocolates, and became inspired by Katrina Markoff’s story and her unique combination of flavors. From there everything started coming together. Kyla’s concept was to couple her adoration for cooking with the jam making secrets her mother taught her. When strawberries were at the peak of the season, Kyla packed up her children and put them to work in the fields picking fruit. As she recalled the story, she laughed remembering how chaotic it was. In fact, the original name of her company was “In a Jam” and sported an overwhelmed frizzy haired woman on its label. She rethought her image and knew that staying home with the kids, focusing on her passion and experimenting with food was a “sweet thing”. Hence, Sweet Thing Gourmet was born.

When I visited Kyla and her husband Mark at their home in Bexley, I was amazed to discover that they were making their jam in a moderately sized kitchen using cookware and utensils I had at home in mine. The fact is everything they do is in house, from scratch, and made in small batches by hand. Although this began as a passion for Kyla, Mark soon realized that it made sense for him to focus on jam full time as well. His help with the company’s brand, given his background in fine art and years of advertising experience, certainly didn’t hurt. During my visit, the jam making duo was busy cooking up a batch of Blueberry Lime. They walked me through the steps they take to pair plump berries from The Blueberry Patch with the citrusy bite of fresh lime. Kyla pointed out that “the acid of the lime makes the blueberries sparkle".

Sweet Thing Gourmet began with five flavors, and over time, in concert with local in season fruits, new combinations were added. Today Sweet Thing Gourmet’s standard line of jams that they maintain totals around thirty flavors. You can find their sweet concoctions at a variety of retail locations around Columbus including Celebrate Local at Easton, Whole Foods, the Bexley, Clintonville and Worthington farmers markets, Katzinger’s Delicatessen…and the list goes on and on. They even started a new Signature Line using high end spices and ingredients that result in flavors like Damson Plum Jam with Tangerine & Tawny Port. All of their products are simply delicious and incorporate the same basic principals Kyla’s mother instilled in her. Months after my visit, I had the daunting task to decide on which jam flavors would make the perfect fillings for my cookies. As I began following the instructions of my grandmother’s hand written recipe card, I couldn’t help thinking how sweet it is to keep her holiday traditions alive.


The Sweet Thing Gourmet Jam (pictured left) traveled 5 miles to Columbus, while the jam (pictured right) traveled roughly 2,500 miles to Columbus.

From a distance they all look very similar, but as I checked out all the fruit spreads on the grocery store shelf I began to wonder what the difference was between jam, jelly, preserves and marmalade. After a little research, I discovered the difference lies in the form of fruit each contains.

  • Jelly – made from fruit juice
  • Jam - made from pureed fruit
  • Preserves - made from whole fruit chunks
  • Marmalade – a term applied to citrus preserves


Primer Magazine

Grandma Vivian’s Kolacky Cookies

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Scarlet and Green

The Ohio State University Student Farm

Moving to Columbus at the end of the 2008 college football season was an instant wake up call as to what Central Ohio held in store each fall. I was inundated with everything scarlet and grey; tunes of Hang on Sloopy echoed in my ears, and the massive crowds of fans sporting OSU gear were almost as mind-boggling as a mirage. I was taken aback by the discovery that mere days after the season closed, storefronts were donning countdowns in anticipation of next year. To say Columbus is fanatical about their Buckeyes is an understatement, but after a few years of calling Central Ohio home I discovered that there is more growing at The Ohio State University than their love for new head coach Urban Meyer. Not only is their student farm producing fresh, healthy food minutes from campus, their mission to educate through demonstration and research is planted deep into the roots of this small urban farm.

Minutes from downtown and in walking distance of “The Shoe”, is one of the best kept secrets on campus. The Ohio State University Student Farm is the brain child of Dr. Marc Bennett, Professor of Horticulture & Crop Science. Dr. Bennett helped coordinate and manage the beginning phases of making this dream a reality, and through the help of the OSU Excellence in Engagement Grant the student farm was soon up and running. It is a true partnership between the OSU students and faculty, Metro High School students and instructors, and a number of community volunteers.

During my visit, I met up with Volunteer Coordinator Henry Peller. In between instructing a few new volunteers on which crops to pick for the upcoming market, we toured the property. Henry filled me in on the history of the student farm and how valuable the hands-on experience is to him and his fellow students. He mentioned how closely involved they are in every aspect; from the design, to planting seeds, the hours of tedious weeding and maintenance, harvesting, and finally selling the crops. At the student farm, an impetus is placed on learning about food systems and food production. As we debated the nuances of organic versus traditional agriculture, Henry explained the various plots and why each plays an essential role in its mission. The farm contains an organic plot that is sans chemicals, as well as a plot where Integrated Crop Management (ICM) is studied. The goal of this particular research plot is to prove that extreme use of pesticides and herbicides is unnecessary and using them on an as needed basis could mean the difference between a successful season and irreplaceable loss for the farmer. Henry also discussed some of the long-term goals, one of the most exciting of which involves converting campus dining hall waste into farm compost.

If you are like me and enjoy the opportunity to experience hands-on learning, then rejoice! The Ohio State University Student Farm welcomes the community, giving aspiring green thumbs the opportunity to get their hands in the dirt. My day on the farm was an exciting glimpse into the future of Central Ohio agriculture, seen from the eyes of the next generation of local farmers; yet another reason to cheer O-H…I-O!


The Ohio State University Student Farm turnips (pictured left) traveled 0 miles to Columbus, while the turnips (pictured right) traveled roughly 2,300 miles to Columbus.

Turnips are a starchy root vegetable in which the root and the leaves are able to be consumed. They have high levels of cancer fighting antioxidants, are a natural anti-inflammatory, contain high levels of calcium and potassium, and are high in fiber which keeps you fuller longer. They have fewer calories than potatoes and can be prepared in a similar way – roast, boil, mash, or bake your way to measurable healthy benefits.


8 Health Benefits of Turnips

Roasted Turnip, Potato & Apple Hash

Turnips tend to be bitter, so adding something sweet such as apple will help mellow their flavor.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

One Recipe: Chocolate, Peanut Butter & Banana Protein Shake

This post is another in the “One Recipe” series in which, in between destination visits, I am sharing recipes featuring previous Local Choice ingredients.

I don’t know about you, but other than on the weekends I don’t have time to prepare an elaborate breakfast, and I need something quick that keeps me full until lunch. This recipe combines your favorite chocolate whey protein, Krema Nut Company creamy peanut butter, Snowville Creamery fat free milk, and a potassium rich banana to make a delicious thick and healthy protein shake. It couldn’t be simpler – throw it all in the blender and go! It is how I start my day, but it would also make a great recovery drink post-workout.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Farming for Happiness

Dangling Carrot Farm

When I picture the typical American farmer my mind conjures images of a rugged, sun-wrinkled, straw hat toting middle-aged man spending long hours toiling in his fields. Then I met 30-year-old English Literature and Sociology major Becky Barnes outside of her 4.5 acre Dangling Carrot Farm in Williamsport, Ohio. While Becky may adhere to the adage of long hours in her fields, the daily pursuit of happiness replaces the straw hat and wrinkles stereotypes.

As we began our conversation, Becky casually pointed out her aunt, cousin, and brother homes all within eyesight. Becky comes from a family of local grain farmers, and while earning her undergraduate degree she had early goals of produce farming. After college and period where she called Montana and Wyoming home, Becky returned to Ohio and reluctantly worked a 9-5 office job while saving money and longing to get her hands in the dirt. Her family suggested she grow sweet corn because of its high yield and profit. She disagreed. Becky likes setting herself apart by experimenting with crops that no one in the area is planting.

In fact, at Dangling Carrot things on the farm are a little unorthodox. To begin, Becky doesn’t surround herself with strapping young men as her part time help, instead, choosing to hire only women. She laughs that the men she has hired were “just terrible” and having female employees lightens the mood with gossip filled stories and other interesting conversation. Next, despite suggestions from her friends and family, she isn’t growing the typical crops found in the area. Her farm is anything but a monoculture. As we walked around the land rented from her parents, Becky pointed out a few of her plants including 35 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, a rainbow of different carrots, sweet peppers, eggplant, and numerous varieties of greens. Becky’s attention to detail is clearly displayed in the well thought out runs of colorful produce and her selection of seeds is based off of a few criteria; One –it must be something that she enjoys harvesting and of course consuming and Two – an unusually beautiful species, such as her deep rich purple gumball-like cherry tomatoes certainly doesn’t hurt! Naming her farm was also an atypical feat - instead of the characteristic “Surname – Farm”, Becky credited her name to Slavoj Žižek, a Slovenian post modern philosopher who believes happiness is found in the pursuit of a goal. Žižek thinks only by overcoming obstacles you get what you truly desire, hence the dangling carrot.

Dangling Carrot Farm is certainly an anomaly in comparison to most. It has been six years since Becky attended her first farmers market and she hasn’t looked back. Today she not only sells a bulk of her produce to the Green Grocer for their weekly Market Bag, but several Columbus restaurants such as Skillet and Northstar also use her delicious and beautiful crops. When I asked Becky where she sees her farm in the coming years, she puzzled me with her answer. Normally, I hear stories of growth and expansion, but for her, the farm is “just the right size”. She exclaimed that she is happy to be in control of her own farm and grow what she wants. There is nothing wrong with desiring more, but it was refreshing to meet someone who is content with what she has and seems at peace with her life. After visiting Dangling Carrot, I realized that Becky is not only growing beautiful crops, but has a beautiful outlook on what it means to be happy.

Sweet Potato

The Dangling Carrot Farm sweet potatoes (pictured left) traveled 34 miles to Columbus, while the sweet potatoes (pictured right) traveled roughly 2,435 miles to Columbus.

Swapping out your regular spuds for sweet potatoes will bring you amazing health benefits. This root vegetable contains the antioxidant enzymes copper and zinc, anti-inflammatory nutrients, and blood sugar-regulating nutrients. They are low in calories and high in vitamin A, vitamin C and manganese. So get your hands on one of the over 400 varieties of this tuber and enjoy!


Why Be Happy When You Can Be Interesting?
Jen Reviews

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Nothing says fall like sweet potato biscuits with homemade apple butter!

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