Saturday, August 29, 2009

This is a great farmers market-oriented site I recently discovered. Check it out at the address above. To link to a review of Southern Farmers Market Cookbook and a story I wrote about farmers' markets as culinary and spiritual inspiration, go to:

Happy shopping and cooking!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Farmers' Markets as a Culinary Muse

Van Gogh found inspiration for his masterpieces in the fickle clarity of Provence’s brilliant light and landscape. Rodin found it in the mystery and magic of human hands. Beethoven heard it in the trumpeting sounds of nature.

I am not an artist, but I am a chef and a cook and a food writer. For me, the greatest inspiration doesn’t come from a cookbook or a fabulous meal, though these usually rank pretty high on my list. Instead, it’s a farmers’ market, any farmers’ market, any time of year that tweaks my culinary muse.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been a farmers’ market addict for nearly twenty years. It really kicked into full force when I was living in rural France where village “marche’s” were offered daily like delicious sacrificial lambs to my empty, yearning basket and curious culinary mind. Each market in this rustic corner of the Pays Cathare was different, not unlike each of the markets I’ve uncovered in the great region of the South I explored while researching and promoting Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Like people, each has a personality, a pulse, of its very own. Some are prettier than others, some are more sophisticated, some are more local, some are more organic, but to me, they all offer a brilliant and spiritual palette from which I can “paint” while nurturing my body and soul.

Consider a table stacked with ruby red and pale purple heirloom tomatoes roasting in the morning haze of the August sun on a crude table situated at a farmers market, Anywhere U.S.A., or world, for that matter! Is there a more beautiful site to see? An aroma more intoxicating? In my mind, the tomatoes realize myriad culinary possibilities, even before they reach my kitchen. Might they become a lazy tomato sandwich, dressed simply with mayo, salt and coarsely ground pepper, maybe a sprig of basil or two, gently pressed between two soft slices of white bread? Or, a succulent tomato sauce to embrace the grass-fed beef sausages I picked up two booth’s ago? Or, a perky gazpacho? The list goes on and on, and it doesn’t matter the ingredient, as long as it’s fresh and seasonal.

As the number of farmers’ markets and their popularity continue to mushroom across the country, this is an attitude with which I hope more people will become increasingly comfortable. I hope they will let their local farmers’ market bounty dictate what they bring home and what they create in their kitchens. I hope that people will ditch their shopping lists and their plans and embrace the whimsy of freshly picked produce and artisanal cheeses, charcuterie and breads to make unforgettable meals – edible art, if you will.

For this, along with the unsurpassed communal spirit of farmers’ markets, is what it’s all about. This is what living is, and this is the culinary muse that farmers’ markets provide the artist within us all.

From the Southern Farmers Market Cookbook Recipe File

Yellow and Red Watermelon Salsa over Red Leaf Lettuce and Smoked Ham Salad
(Serves 4 to 6)

Like tomatoes, watermelons are increasingly showing up at Southern farmers markets in a range of colors and sizes. This recipe puts both the sunny-hued “Yellow Flesh” and bright red “Cannonball” watermelon varieties to good use in a zippy, cool salsa served over a simply dressed salad of summer-seasonal red leaf lettuce and cubes of sautéed smoke ham. Mix and match with whatever local and seasonal watermelon you find. Freshness is always the key, and local is always how to find it.

For the salsa:

1 cup each cubed “Yellow Flesh” and “Cannonball” watermelon, seeded and cut into ¼-inch cubes
10 mint leaves, cut into thin strips
3 tablespoons finely diced red onion
Dash of fresh lime juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

1 head red leaf lettuce, cleaned and gently dried
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 ½ cups diced smoked ham
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the vinaigrette:

Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon local honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

To prepare the salsa, combine all salsa ingredients in a small bowl and chill up to 30 minutes before serving.

To prepare the salad, clean and dry the lettuce and tear into bite-size pieces. Reserve in a bowl, covered with a damp kitchen cloth, in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan. Cook ham, tossing occasionally, until golden brown on the edges. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside, keeping warm.

To prepare the vinaigrette, whisk together the juices, honey, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually drizzle in the oil, whisking the entire time to incorporate. Taste and verify seasoning; set aside.

To assemble, season the lettuce and dress it lightly with the vinaigrette; toss gently to coat. Arrange the greens on serving plates and top with a generous portion of the chilled salsa. Sprinkle warm ham over the top and edges of each plate. Serve immediately.

(Recipe from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook by Holly Herrick, published by Gibbs Smith, June, 2009)

Farmers’ Market Faves

Though I’m not really comfortable picking “favorites” here are few markets that I’ve visited that really impressed me and why:

Morningside Farmers Market
1393 North Highland Avenue
Atlanta, GA
(404) 313-5784

This small, intimate market is 100% organic and all produce comes from within a range of no more than 30 miles. More importantly, it swells with community support and enthusiasm. People, young and old, pour in from the neighborhood to pick up their morning produce and friendly fix and to take in live music, chef cooking demonstrations and more.

Carrboro Farmers Market
301 West Main Street
Carrboro, NC
(919) 932-1641

Another tiny market, this one is huge on heart. What I really love is the palpable curiosity and enthusiasm not just of the vendors, but of the shoppers. They ask questions at every booth – “How do I prepare this?,” “What would you pair this with?” It’s intoxicating, and the setting in a small park in this hamlet of Chapel Hill is exquisite.

Spring Park Farmers Market
Spring Park
Tuscumbia, AL

This is the only farmers market I’ve ever been to, anywhere, that has a tiny choo choo train riding through and around it. As if that weren’t enough, it’s situated in an expansive, verdant and recently refurbished park. The town mayor is a regular attendee, the produce is local, the mood is light and the living is good.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yes, We Have No Bananas!

This apt phrase, reflecting the all-local theme of Columbia's All-Local Market, is etched in a large billboard on the front of the small, gray shed that houses this nascent market. Newly moved into its permanent digs, this market smacks of homespun, local pride and brims with beautiful breads, produce, pecans, Caw Caw Creek's heirloom pork, and more.

Covered and open to the balmy breezes of a summer Saturday morning, I spent last Saturday here to sign Southern Farmers Market Cookbook, chat with the locals, and, of course, do some shopping. I found the most brilliant green, petite, sweet/mild butter beans I've ever had the joy to behold (and later, eat) as well as a steady stream of regulars that clearly love their little market. Neatly nestled in the shade of Brice Stadium and surrounded by gorgeous, old 19Th century mill warehouses, this market feels, as the name implies, particularly local.

Two gentlemen, who were soon to travel to Paris for a working vacation, stopped by my booth and I signed my first ever book in French. C'etait trop bon! Another Columbia resident and native of Washington state stopped by to buy five books for her friends back home who are all "into" gardening. It is so much fun to think of people all over the world waking up to the wonders of farmers markets and buying/supporting local farmers.

It was a morning well spent and an easy drive from Charleston. If you're in the Columbia area, you can visit this market on Saturday mornings during season from 8 a.m. to noon. Breakfast is provided by a busy vendor and attendees gobble it up at a large, inviting community table.

All-Local Market
701 Whaley Street
Columbia, SC 29201

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Absolutely Not Whistlin' Dixie..These Are Great Eats

Anyone who's lived in the South for any period of time has experienced tomato pie. It's a tasty summertime rite of passage that is usually memorable but not necessarily something worth writing home about. Let me tell you, the whole world should know about Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe's tomato pie - and more.

This place blew me away in the best possible way. It's situated in a space that used to be a dreary looking greasy spoon I never found the courage/desire to enter on a slightly dingy stretch of State Street next to L'il Cricket at Cumberland Street. It looks a lot brighter these days with bold blue lettering and inviting chairs and tables with plaid covering. The scents from the tiny, tiny kitchen are staggeringly delicious and the eye candy in the pastry case - particularly the coffee cake - is fresh and sweet.

The menu, a hodgepodge of dressed up sandwiches (think turkey bacon melt, burgers and ham and cheese - all around $5 to $6), salads, and more truly shines when it steps into the Southern realm of sophisticated soul food. Enter the gorgeous tomato pie ($5.95), this one made with local, seasonal heirloom orbs of goodness stacked between layers of melted, deep-orange, aged cheddar cheese and (mercifully!) limited dabs of has-to-be-Dukes mayo. At Dixie, they dare to go where grandma never went before, giving the pie a slightly gourmet kiss of fresh basil and a drizzle of green onions. The crust, though it bore the tell-tale crimping of mass production, was golden, flaky divinity. Served alongside the fat wedge of pie was a bar of cinnamony sweet potato cornbread that landed somewhere in culinary heaven between a biscuit and cake. Mmmm.

Even though this feast was more than sufficient, I force-fed myself a virtual bowl of squash casserole ($2.25) because the owner told me it would be good because she made it. She lied. It was great! More sweet, local produce bathed in a souffle-like custard and nuggets of melting cheese, it simply doesn't get better than this.

The restaurant serves a full breakfast menu and offers a host of daily blue plate specials. Be prepared to wait. The food doesn't come out fast here, but it comes out good enough to wait. In the meantime, just breathing the scent-rich air is a wonderfully appetizing way to pass the time.

Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe
62 State Street, downtown
(843) 722-5650

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bluffton's Belle of a Farmers' Market

Visiting a new farmers' market for the first time is a little bit like going on a first date. Exciting, anticipatory, thrilling - that is if all goes well. My visit to Bluffton did not disappoint. Indeed, it exceeded my wildest dreams. Situated between busy Savannah and Hilton Head, the joy began with the pleasant pocket of a town that happens to be dripping with visceral delights. The market itself is situated in the scenic and historic "Old Town." Late 19th century bungalows and churches and large swaths of green surround the local-only market.

The market runs on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 6 p.m. from April through November (see site for more details) and the day I was there, it was jammed from the get-go. People actually lined up like race horses at the entrance gate well before the market opened. Enthusiasm swelled the crowd, which was an eclectic one, full of locals as well as vacationers visiting from as far off as Iowa.

The market is structured around a small green where a local artist played toe-tapping,live bluegrass music throughout the afternoon. Just a happy and beautiful place filled with produce and tasty treats like fresh-squeezed lemonade and barbecue, this is yet another market to add to your list of places to visit and, of course, to shop!

Farmers Market of Bluffton
40 Calhoun Street, Carson Cottages
Old Town, Bluffton, SC
(843) 290-6831
Market Manager: Deborah Boyd

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Notes from the Book Signing Road...'Bama Beauties

Alabama is a large and beautiful state. One literally rolls into it traveling west from Atlanta on I-20 into that state's largest city, Birmingham. A former mill town, it's embraced with rounded mounds of mountains and leafy, green trees. Downtown sparkles with Frank Stitt's culinary wizardry at three restaurants, the mainstay being Highlands Cafe and Grill. There we supped on unforgettable fresh figs wrapped with thick slabs of smoked prosciutto nestled on savory beds of lightly mounted cream peppered with lemon zest and fresh mint. Also on the menu, succulent roasted peanut soup and a vegetable plate of garden fresh creamed corn, fried okra and eggplant gratin - all of which were heavenly testament both to Stitt's skill and the sweet bounty of Alabama's farmlands.

Fortified from the feast and time well-spent with good friends, the following day we set off for Tuscumbia, birthplace of Helen Keller and the virtual birthplace of Southern rock in neighboring Muscle Shoals.

A small town, I didn't anticipate such a large and animated market, but that's exactly what I found at the Spring Park Farmer's Market. Situated at the edges of a large, leafy park, its personality is reinforced by a carousel and the choo choo sounds of a little red train that runs through it.

Huge watermelons, bountiful tomatoes, ear-upon-ear of corn and bushel- upon-bushel of peaches weighed down tables. Quickly and eagerly, the large afternoon crowd of hungry locals lightened the tables' respective loads, as they filled their canvas bags with the goods. The town's mayor and his wife were there and it seemed everyone knew everyone. This market, unified by the able hands and ample spirit of farmers market manager Sherry Campbell, personifies the community spirit that makes shopping at farmers markets so much fun. It didn't hurt that nearly everyone wanted a book and that they loved the okra and tomato soup demo/tasting of the recipe featured in it. Many kindnesses were extended by all, including Debbie Malone, manager of fabulous Cold Water Books in beautiful downtown Tuscumbia, making it feel like a sweet home, indeed.

A hundred miles of picturesque farmland away, awaited Huntsville, home of NASA and the place of my notably less (than Helen, anyway)celebrated birth. The small and nascent Bridge Street Town Center Farmers Market hugs the edges of a gorgeous, upscale shopping center and community about 10 miles west of downtown Huntsville. Though it features just a handful of vendors, it rocks with the pulse of live, beautifully played music by a local vocalist and weekly cooking demonstrations. On this day, it was ratatouille and the mood was light. The farmer vendors next to my signing booth had also been at the Tuscumbia market and offered me all kinds of goodness, including a long, tall glass of cold lemonade and beautiful Tuscumbia tomatoes. As in Tuscumbia, the crowd was proud, friendly and so happy to be at their market. Many came by to visit and buy books.

The long trip home to Charleston was infused with feel-good memories of sweet home Alabama. The very next day, I had that anticipated tomato sandwich prepared with those sweet Tuscumbia babies. There couldn't be a more succulent way to close this delicious chapter from the Alabama book.

Spring Park Farmer's Market
Spring Park
Tuscumbia, AL
Thursday, 4 p.m.-7 p.m.

Bridge Street Town Center Farmers Market
Bridge Street Town Center
Huntsville, AL
Saturday, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.

Back From the Road - New Local Book Signing Dates

Come celebrate Farmers Market Appreciation Week!

It seems like forever to me, but it's been six weeks since I've been home to sign books. It's going to be a hot, steamy few days, but I'm happy to be around to see local, smiling faces at my upcoming signings the next few days.

Tomorrow, 8/6, I'll be at the nearby Bluffton Farmers Market from 4 to 6 p.m., signing Southern Farmers Market Cookbook and handing out taste samples. The market is located at 40 Calhoun Street in Bluffton. For directions or more information on the market, please visit

On Saturday, 8/8 (which also happens to be Roger Federer's birthday -yeah), look for me at the Charleston Farmers Market downtown at Marion Square. I'll be signing the book at the market's main information counter from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

See y'all there!

The Five Guys Experience

Nobody, including me, likes a food snob.

All good food is good, including chain food. It's just that my chain experiences have, for the most part, left me wanting. So, despite all the rave reviews I've heard over the past year or so since Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries opened in West Ashley, I've resisted the temptation to dig in. That was until last week when a friend told me she saw something on Twitter by FIG's venerable chef Mike Lata about how much he loved the place.

Turns out, he and the rest of the Five Guys "fanatics" (there is a page dedicated to them on the web site)are right. Eating here is an experience in fun and fabulous. A splash of red and white corralled with bushels of real Idaho potatoes, Five Guys feels at once 50's-retro and thoroughly modern. Sparkling clean, the center of action is the grill and fry station which operate like well-oiled (peanut oil only) machinery, while the guy at the register merrily calls out "patty" orders as they arise.

It's entirely systematic and delicious. Burgers are prepared with fresh (never frozen) beef and come "big" (two quarter pound patties, $4.49)or "little" (one quarter pound patty, $3.19)on a fresh, sturdy bun and hand-wrapped in aluminum foil. The extensive and free topping selections - from sauteed mushrooms to jalapeno peppers - gives a whole new meaning to the "special orders won't upset us" theme. Heck, even the celebrated fries can come dusted with salt or with Cajun seasoning.

The fries, which are literally fried to order from baskets that are stacked up near the fryer like so many stars waiting to shine, are epic. Skin-on slabs of Idaho deliciousness, they're delivered deliberately spilling out of their cup and steaming hot. Ketchup flows freely and easily into over-sized plastic ramekins (so unlike the too-little Wendy's variety) at the well-stocked and impeccably clean condiment counter. The likable quirky guy at the counter told me that the regular ($2.49) fry order feeds two, while the large ($3.99) feeds two to three people. That's a pretty accurate assessment, assuming these are pretty hungry folks. The portions are more than ample.

Release your inner food-snob and give Five Guys a try. It's one of the best burgers in town and the fries are unrivaled.

Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries
1662 Savannah Highway, West Ashley
(843) 556-5489


1795 U.S. Highway 17 North, Suite 2, Mount Pleasant
(843) 881-4550

Culinary Cost-Cutting 101

Coupon Crazy

When I was a little girl, I marveled while watching my Great Aunt Frances sitting at her linoleum-topped kitchen table, cutting coupons from the daily newspaper in the tiny Kansas town she lived in until she was nearly 100 years old.

It seemed like such a waste of energy in order to save a few pennies on, what I thought, were probably things she wouldn't normally buy anyway. But, I was naive. She, a thrifty survivor of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, had her coupon system down pat and it's probably one of the reasons she made it through a long life of hard times, many of them spent alone.

The latest bout of monetary unpleasantness, however, has created a market for New Age couponing systems. The internet now has a number of hot coupon sites (I like which provide free, brand-name coupons and more if you select to register as a member. They're just a click, a printer, and five minutes away. In addition, many grocery stores' websites offer lists of daily specials. And, here's the kicker. Many provide selections from the kind of items you usually purchase, anyway. That was it for me. The last straw supporting my long-standing anti-coupon mindset finally broke its resistant back.

Harris Teeter's online specials shopping list became this list-hater's new best friend. I dipped into it with reckless abandon. With a little practice and increasing knowledge, I'm slowly forming my own semi-profitable coupon system. By combining the free manufacturer's coupons from sites like with a daily special shopping list constructed from Harris Teeter's web site ( , my handy VIC card, and an extra dose of concentration at the grocery store, I have scored some serious savings.

The best yet happened last week. Granted, it was a big sales day at the downtown Teeter. The store was offering buy one get one, two or even three, all over the place on big ticket items like beef, coffee and wine. Since I'm expecting company in a couple weeks, I decided to stock up on these and other staples. The net result was a whopping $67 total savings. In essence, I bought three weeks-worth of groceries for less than I usually spend in one week!

My heart raced with anticipation as I watched the basket cave with the weight of my cache and the numbers creeping slowly higher on the cash register. Then, as the cashier started calculating in the selected coupons, the numbers amazingly started going down. It was like getting on the scale after a week of gorging Haagen-Dazs only to find you'd lost five pounds. I was beaming. She was beaming and said, "You did good today!"

Admittedly, a follow-up trip to replenish the fresh vegetable drawer just one week later only yielded $10 in savings, but next time I'll do better. I'm on a coupon-crazed mission. Intelligent use of coupons and smart shopping add up to saving a lot more than pennies. And, I'm not in Kansas anymore.

One Plucky Chicken, Four Marvelous Meals

With grocery costs rocketing to the stratosphere, it’s imperative to save wherever you can at the supermarket without eliminating taste. In addition to reaching for reduced daily specials, what you buy and how you put it to use in your kitchen can happily translate to huge savings with bodacious bite.

In this era of grocery gouging, chicken can become your new best friend for just pennies per four ounce serving when paired with practical pantry staples like pasta and veggies. Low in fat, high in protein and exceptionally versatile, chicken marries equally well with the exotic (think truffles or saffron) to the humble (think roasted potatoes and rosemary).

For these reasons, it’s a regular menu guest at my house, where I pride myself on transforming a single, four pound chicken (preferably organic and purchased at a reduced rate) into four fabulous feasts for a group of four. That’s sixteen meals, folks! A four pound chicken runs anywhere from $6-$10 (depending on where and how you shop), throw in a little change for ingredients to flesh it out into a meal (4X), and you’re looking at less than $20. A night out for a family of four at any fast food favorite will set you back the same amount or more faster than you can say “heart attack”.

Gotcha? Let me tell you how it’s done!

Meal #1: This is the launching pad for the meal plan event(s) – a whole roasted chicken. Since it’s going to be transformed several times, keep the seasoning simple – ground pepper, a nice crust of coarse salt and a rub down with olive oil. Roast at 425 until done (about 20 minutes per pound) and top it with a few love pats of butter to sink deeply into the bird. Allow the roasted chicken to rest and re-absorb its juices. Cut the both legs and thighs away from the chicken (reserving warm). Cut the breasts away from the rib cage, cool and store in your refrigerator for later use. Serve both legs and both thighs with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes for a satisfying, nutritional meal. Go ahead and prepare a pan gravy with a little roux, white wine, chicken stock, Dijon mustard and fresh tarragon to dress things up, but hold on to the carcass!

Meal #2: Start this after the roast chicken dinner to prepare for tomorrow’s old-fashioned and DELICIOUS chicken noodle soup. With a sturdy chef’s knife, cut up the reserved carcass remnants – the rib cage and spine – into four or five coarse chunks and put them in a two quart soup pot with a quartered onion, carrot, celery stalk and a clove or two of garlic to make an impromptu stock. Add a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and fresh thyme for added flavor. Bring it up to a boil, reduce to a slow simmer over low heat and forget about it for three to four hours. Allow to cool and refrigerate, covered, overnight.
About thirty minutes before you’re slotted to serve dinner, skim off any accumulated fat off the top of the stock, strain it, discarding all solids except any bits of chicken flesh. Finely chop an onion, carrot and celery stalk and sauté them in the same pot with a tablespoon of olive oil until softened. Season, return the strained stock to the pan and bring up to a boil. Add reserved chicken and about ¼ pound of dried pasta (flat noodles, spaghetti, linguini – your choice) and cook until tender. Serve with a drizzle of fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, or thyme will do) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A small, fresh salad and warm baguette make this a meal.

Meal #3: Chicken Salad Deluxe! This is where you can really have fun with chicken’s flavor/texture marriage versatility. Cut one of the reserved breasts into chunky, ½” cubes and toss in a bowl with coarsely chopped dried cranberries (or another dried fruit like figs or currants), coarsely chopped roasted almonds, fresh herbs, a dollop of Dijon, a dash of mayo and vinegar, salt and pepper and you’ve got a meal in minutes over a bed of greens. Other flavors that work in tandem with chicken include curry, paprika, cinnamon and almost any fresh herb imaginable. Make this your own!

Meal #4: Chicken Sandwiches Supreme! Again, versatility and imagination set the stage for show-stopping chicken sandwiches prepared with freshly roasted chicken breast. Go for the best quality bread you can find, from baguette to whole grain, and fill it with thinly cut slices of the remaining breast and toppings. One sliced breast will handily complete four sandwiches. Zip up mayo with fresh basil and Dijon mustard for a fresh, personalized sauce, top with a slice of red onion and crisp romaine. Go whole hog and add a few pieces of browned bacon and a slice of avocado if the mood moves.

Chicken never tasted so good for so little.