Saturday, December 14, 2013

Have You Eaten?

Fare City Feed (Note - No longer open for business)

As with all good rumors, the truth that lies beneath the gossip can be disappointingly minimal. After moving to Columbus I began hearing that the place I now call home is known as the test market for new products, restaurants, menu items, and all things trendy. What’s so special about the local demographic? The answer lies in the diversity of the people that reside in this city; a melting pot of ethnicities, ages, races, and incomes. It’s this mix of backgrounds that makes the food scene here a force to be reckoned with. I have been delighted to discover, through my destination visits, that there is more than just a glimmer of truth behind all the chatter and the people that are growing and producing food in and around Columbus are in fact, anything but stereotypical for Ohio - case in point, my friend, Diana (Xuedan) Wang, who is cooking up small batches of Fare City Feed granola packed full of delicious locally-sourced ingredients.

Born in Chengdu, China, Diana moved to Ohio when she was seven years old. As we sat in the dining space of her cozy German Village apartment, she explained to me the importance of food within the Chinese culture. Instead of the simple American greeting of “hello”, the expression commonly used there is "ni chi fàn le ma”? or “have you eaten”? Even though food has been an underlying infatuation for Diana, long before her granola baking days her passion lied within the fashion industry. She attended Miami University for a few years and transferred to The Ohio State University for the remainder of her collegiate tenure. In 2010, Diana made the decision to move to New York City and pursue her fashion dream. She landed a position at Harper’s BAZAAR, and after a relatively short period of time in the city that never sleeps she reluctantly chose to follow her heart (and her boyfriend)back to the Buckeye State. Upon returning, she obtained a temporary position working for Local Matters during their annual Local Foods Week. Diana’s work there came to a close in the fall of 2012 and she began to search for something to keep her busy while looking for a permanent position. Having witnessed the boom of the local and artisanal food movement first hand in New York, she was impressed with what was happening in Central Ohio and began thinking of ways she could get in on the action.

Today, Diana makes Fare City Feed granola to order as a part-time gig, one batch at a time. She carted along four flavors for her first appearance at market and has grown to a standard line as well as revolving seasonal flavors (this fall was Apple Cider Praline). I’m particularly fond of Gold Rush, a flavor that was influenced by her childhood and contains Chinese five-spice, cashews, and vanilla. What sets her granola apart from the sea of brands on the store shelves is the unique flavor combinations and use of local ingredients – including oats. You can find Fare City Feed granola for sale at the Greener Grocer in the North Market, Celebrate Local at Easton Town Center and various coffee shops around town. Diana vows she does not have plans to take over the world with granola, and aims to keep her operation small and local. Fare City Feed granola is just one more example of what makes Columbus’s food scene diverse and great and I am happy to report that the rumors, for once, are true.


The Fare City Feed granola (pictured left) traveled 0 miles to Columbus, while the granola (pictured right) traveled roughly 2,230 miles to Columbus.


Columbus, Ohio Test Market of the USA

Gingerbread & Granola Parfaits

I chose Fare City Feed’s Constanti-nola granola for this recipe because of the pomegranate molasses, candied ginger, dried apricots and other flavors that are prevalent during the holiday season.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

One Recipe: Coconut Shrimp with Blueberry Balsamic Reduction

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

Let’s talk anything but turkey. It’s not even Thanksgiving and all the recipe sites have been flooded with the usual suspects of traditional holiday dishes. I thought I would share a non-traditional recipe that is sure to please even the most stubborn of guests. It is both sweet and savory and if you happen to have any blueberry balsamic reduction that doesn’t get gobbled up with the crisp coconut shrimp it would be excellent with, dare I say it, turkey.

This recipe combines frozen Blueberry Patch blueberries with sweet HoneyRun Farm honey and balsamic vinegar to make a delicious reduction sauce that pairs perfectly with golden fried coconut shrimp.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

One Recipe: Maple-Kissed Sweet Potatoes & Eggs

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

Just the thought of foods that combine salty and sweet flavors gets my mouth watering. French fries dipped into milkshakes - yes please. Pears topped with melted pecorino - don’t mind if I do. Cheese and caramel popcorn tossed together to create one tasty mix - absolutely! Breakfast is a perfect way to satisfy this type of craving. You may choose to dunk your sausage into pancake syrup or prefer trendier concoctions like bacon donuts. I decided to take some of my go-to breakfast items (eggs, potatoes, and toast) and rework the flavors to create this salty and sweet combo to start your day.

This recipe combines sweet Sticky Pete’s Pure Maple Syrup with hardy Dangling Carrot Farm sweet potatoes and Bird’s Haven Farm fresh eggs. Bonus: If you are lucky enough to have leftover potatoes just mash them with a little cream and butter to make a whole new side dish.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Beginning with the Basics

Northridge Organic Farm

I have a confession to make: Seeing the circular USDA ORGANIC seal atop food at the grocery store has made me a little skeptical. It’s kind of like when something is described as being “green”. It is so overused and watered down that although it began with the best of intentions, it somehow lost its transparency and has become all muddy and confusing. I remember the first time I saw the word organic in conjunction with food while I was living in Chicago. I have to admit I was puzzled. If this food is tagged as “organic” what on earth have I been consuming all these years? Why doesn’t the food I normally purchase bear this fancy label? Is buying food from someone who says they follow organic principles the same as buying from a certified organic farm? Is it really worth the extra money? I decided it was finally time to get some clarity regarding this topic, and rumor had it that Mike and Laura Laughlin of Northridge Organic Farm were just the folks to help me sort it all out.

Long before meeting Mike and Laura, I tasted the fruits of their labor. I was introduced to their farm’s butternut squash during a Sunday Supper at Jorgensen Farms (unfortunately, no longer held because of the farms busy wedding calendar). For my previous blog posts, I have discovered a farm or producer, and unless they had a signature crop or product, I would wait until my visit to find out what ingredient I could use to create my recipe. This case was a little different. I sought out Northridge Organic Farm because I knew they grew delicious organic butternut squash and I had to get my hands on this local veggie for a recipe I couldn’t wait to share. I headed to the farm and began my conversation with the Laughlin’s on the property where they have been growing organic produce since 1995. Ironically, Laura explained how both she and Mike retired from public service positions in their early 50s’, and this “retirement” allowed them to focus on the full time demands of the farm. While neither of them had a background in agriculture, Mike’s father along with Laura’s grandfather and father grew their own food. Although their family started out growing their crops sustainably, like most of American farms after the WWII, they were quickly sold on the benefits of using fertilizers. As Laura explained, her and her husband had a different plan in mind. They wanted to revert back to a sustainable method of growing, and although their relatives motivated them to start Northridge Organic Farm, Laura said it was her and Mike’s sustainable stance that encouraged her father to also revisit his roots and grow food they way he did pre-war. Laura noted, “They inspired us and I feel we inspired them again”.

As we began our tour, the three of us jumped into a 4-wheeler and headed over the river and through the woods to twenty acres that made up the Northridge Organic Farm. Ever since the environmentally conscious couple started growing food they have been doing so organically. Laura said in the beginning there wasn’t a lot of information available about organic farming. Mike stumbled upon the local organization OEFFA (Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association) and decided to check out their annual conference. He described the people he met at OEFFA as one big family, sharing similar interests and goals regarding farming. Soon after becoming a member, they asked Mike to chair the Organic Certification Program; a volunteer position which he gladly accepted. The first year he helped certify 12 farms in Ohio, and today there are over 700 certified organic farms in the state. Being a certified organic farm has its challenges and advantages. Mike went on to discuss that because certified farms are limited on the products they can use, the two biggest challenges of growing organically are disease and weed control. Mike didn’t try to hide the fact that holding this certification is a commitment. Every year the farms need to be re-certified, and despite the fact that the list of standards have grown, it all starts (as it did years ago), with filing out paperwork. Many grumble about the extra expense (hence why organic food is more costly) and added work it takes to become certified, but according to the Laughlin’s, the majority of effort has to do with record keeping. If detailed record keeping is not your thing, running a certified farm will change your ways in that it forces you to be organized in a manner which ultimately makes your business more viable through the monitoring of yields and costs of producing certain crops. Mike’s stated if you are considering becoming certified organic you should know if it will increase your bottom line. He was happy to share that at farm markets customers seek out Northridge’s stand because of the farm’s certification. I asked him about other farms that are not certified, but still follow organic principles. His answer was that you can say you are organic, but what does that actually mean? Being a certified organic farm is verification for the consumer and peace of mind that the food they are purchasing meets a specific set of standards.

Sadly, 2013 marks the last season Mike and Laura will maintain a full farm at Northridge Organic. Next year, they will be dividing up the farm and will keep winter squash and sweet potatoes as their main focus. This will allow them to plant in the spring, harvest in the fall, and have their summers free to spend with family. Val of Jorgensen Farm will be taking on some of their more than 60 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and their squash and potatoes will still be sold to local restaurants such as Northstar Café, The Worthington Inn, J. Alexander’s, Heirloom, and Thai Grille, just to name a few! As they look forward to the new chapter of Northridge Organic Farm, Mike and Laura both agree the people they have met and the connections they have made over the years are what they cherish and will miss the most. Mike echoed that they don’t look at those who buy their produce as customers; he said “they are all friends, and I get to visit them twice a week”. As I left, I couldn’t help but think that this visit marked a bittersweet end of a long successful chapter for Northridge Organic Farm. Once you meet Mike and Laura it is easy to see why they have had such a strong presence in our Central Ohio local food movement and although I am happy that they are finally semi-retiring, I’m also sad that I won’t be seeing them around as often, and yet somehow I have a feeling that they will still be involved educating others of the benefits of growing organically.

Butternut Squash

The Northridge Organic Farm butternut squash (pictured left) traveled 34 miles to Columbus. The butternut squash (pictured right) traveled 259 miles to Columbus.



Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I know, I know, if you google search “butternut squash soup recipe” it generates over 7 million results! Regardless, of what you have tasted, you need to give this recipe a try (friends who have eaten it, this is where you chime in and comment) and I promise it will make it to the top of your list.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Bushel and a Peck

CherryHawk Farm

My eighth grade teacher, who just happened to have a reputation for being amongst the strictest in school, owned a small apple orchard in northeast Ohio. Each year she would let her students earn “brownie points” by working a day on her farm picking apples. Those of us who were brave enough to labor for our extra credit shouldered our burlap harnesses and set out to the fields to pick our bounty and trek it back to a rustic barn, where the apples would be washed and either sold or pressed into cider and bottled. Even though these extracurricular days were spent dodging bees, enduring the scratched arms which come from stretching for that one perfect piece of fruit just out of reach, and carrying what felt like my own bodyweight in apples, I still to this day carry with me a fondness for picking my own fruit of any variety (refer to my previous post Pick Your Own Memories) and was thrilled to have one of my closest friends and her three-year-old daughter accompany me to my latest local destination.

Apple picking marks the end of summer, the start of a new school year, and one of the prettiest times to explore Central Ohio. I was excited to hear about a less-commercialized husband and wife owned u-pick apple orchard just a few minutes northwest of Columbus, near Marysville. The sixty-seven acres that make up CherryHawk Farm were purchased by the current owners, Steve and Wendy, in the fall of 1993. They started by planting a test area with a couple dozen fruit trees the following spring. What began with a few fruit trees grew to numerous cherry, apple, and apricot trees. As their orchard started to take shape, the couple realized the soil, microclimate, and setting were ideal for and the customer demand was aimed at apples, and apples alone. Steve and Wendie centered their attention on planting a variety of apple trees and, through word of mouth, sold the first of their fruit in 2003.

A decade later, CherryHawk Farm still takes pride in the fact that they listen to feedback from their customers. When I asked about their plans to expand, they mentioned that Fuji apples were added to their lineup at the request of those who visit. The farm recently started pressing its own cider and also has hopes of making apple butter in the future. During my visit, McIntosh, Gala and Jonafree were ready for picking and I had an absolutely memorable afternoon watching my little helper experience the excitement of picking her own apples for the first time. She reminded me why I not only enjoy picking apples each year, but additionally why I love blogging about local food.

Depending on when you chose to visit CherryHawk Farm, their close to 1,000 trees take turns offering the following types of apples: Williams Pride, Red Free, Jonafree, Gala, Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, Mutsu, Enterprise, Braeburn and Granny Smith. Bring a picnic and spend your afternoon on their beautiful property contemplating which apples you should bring home with you – A baking variety? An eating variety? Or my personal preference, a combination of both! The farm is open from the middle of July through early November, but before venturing out, refer to their website or Facebook page for the low-down on which varieties are ready to pick. If you would rather your apples be picked for you, visit their stand at the Marysville Farmers Market on Saturday from 8am-12pm. Even though apples can be “picked” off a store shelf year round, spending an afternoon in an orchard is one of my favorite fall activities and taking your family to pick your own bushels or pecks and share an old-fashioned experience at CherryHawk Farm will certainly keep the doctor away!


The CherryHawk Farm apples (pictured left) traveled 33 miles to Columbus, while the apples (pictured right) traveled 320 miles to Columbus.

Apples are a great source of fiber, low in calories, and packed full of Vitamin C. They are a great snack that suppresses your appetite and are known for lowering your risk of both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease.

Note: When I hear the words bushel and peck I think of apples, but in case you are unfamiliar with these units of dry measure, they are used to describe all fruit and vegetable produce and are broken down below:

  • One Peck = ¼ bushel, 2 gallons, 10-12 pounds
  • One Bushel = 4 pecks, 8 gallons, 42-48 pounds


5 Health Benefits of an Apple

Autumn Apple & Pumpkin Galette

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