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Holy cow!  It’s Labor Day weekend!  Donnnnnnnnnn’t go, summer!!!!!!!!!!!  Man.  What’s next?  Halloween?  Thanksgiving??  2014???  I am not ready, y’all.  I wish we could slow it all down and relish each moment a little bit longer.  But, I supposed life isn’t gonna slow down for me or you any time soon.  Here’s what I’ve been chewing on lately….

I have spent the past eight days reconnecting with many of my closest friends.  Yeeehaaa!!!  As an extrovert, I very literally recharge my batteries and gain energy by interacting with people.  When I was a school teacher, I was surrounded by women and children constantly, and I soaked up that powerful force of humanity like a giant sponge.  These days, however, I work by myself almost every day planning, shopping, and cooking for my clients.  My trip to the DeKalb Farmer’s Market tends to be the shiniest moment of my work day (until I deliver edible happiness to my people), since I’m able to chat with folks I know, trade a hug or two, and exchange lots of smiles.  I truly enjoy the cooking part as well of course, but the being lonely part is tough for a girl like me.

Life is busy for all of us and it proves to be more and more tricky to keep up with friends and family the older we get.  You know the laundry list of reasons that makes it complicated to get together with even your favorite folks very often in this land of adulthood.  But, as an extrovert, I start to feel low, sad, yucky- estranged even- from my friends when I don’t talk to them for more than a couple weeks.  It’s a seriously visceral feeling.  I don’t ever want to be viewed as “needy”, and I try to always give my pals the space they need to sift though life, knowing in my heart of hearts that whenever we meet again, it will be like no time has passed.

me and emily

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Hey, Y’all.  I’m not going to talk about the rain today.  Not the bajillion days of rain we’ve had this summer or the number or inches of rainfall we’ve experienced beyond our average.  I’m also not going to talk about the terrifying elementary school shooting that took place a few miles from our little town.  Nope.  I’m going to talk about something awesome to bring myself and the rest of you a smidgen of cheer.  FRIED OKRA.

The markets have been teeming with green and red pods of okra over the past several weeks.

okra at market

eggplant and okra

okra at EAV famers market

And I’ve been on a bit of a fried okra kick.  I get that it’s not the healthiest thing in America to eat, but when the okra starts flowing, we must eat it.  If you’re like me, and you didn’t grown up in the South, then you probably don’t have an affinity for that unique okra slime.  I abhor it.  It freaks me out, and I want no parts of it, unless it’s helping to thicken up a pot of legit gumbo.  Even I can understand that the slime has a job to do in that regard.

But, let’s be honest here.  The best way to consume okra is in its fried state.  What I discovered this summer though, is that okra doesn’t have to be battered to be fried.

fried okra with breakfast

While completely delicious, even as an accompaniment to the fattest breakfast sandwich ever, the batter just wants to fall off the okra.  Perhaps the pods feel constricted or weighed down.  We all feel that way sometimes.

Good news!  Okra can be fried naked and skinny in a shallow pool of oil in your very own cast iron skillet.
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Working with seasonal ingredients affords me the opportunity to experiment and create constantly, making me one lucky girl, because I love that sorta thing.  Mostly, I tap into my intuition about how foods behave and how flavors and textures play together, and I try to highlight the star fruit or vegetable in a simple and yummalicious way.  Fortunately for my clients and me, the combination of those efforts usually yields very tasty results.

Sometimes though, I get an idea in my head and the execution of the dish doesn’t work out to my satisfaction the first time around.  Or the second.  Absurd, I know.  That’s what happened with these swiss chard cakes.

swiss chard cakes early recipe

I saw a recipe a while back for very easy swiss chard and garbanzo bean cakes in the Whole Living magazine that one of my sweet clients always passes along to me after she finishes reading it.  I made the cakes (mostly) the way the recipe intended, but I was unimpressed by the texture of the final product.  The outside kind of crisped up, but the inside was just mush.  Over time, I revisited the concept of the chard cakes, adding sauteed veggies and utilizing panko and Parmesan cheese, and I still wasn’t blown away.
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Finally this week, we’ve gotten a good dose of sunshine!  I was dropping off meals to a client and humming a little John Denver to myself, enjoying the glory of the warmth on my face.  I got into the car, turned on am 1690, and “Sunshine on My Shoulders” had just begun.  Whaaatttt?!?!?!  Apparently the DJ was feeling my vibe, also thankful for a break from the gloominess.  I cranked the volume, rolled my windows all the way down, and proceeded to croon along with Mr. Denver all the way home.  I was more than a quart low on that sunshine, and man- it felt good!

It was even dry enough on Sunday for Adam and I to get out and visit the Grant Park Farmers Market for the first time in a long while.

pretty onions at Grant Park Farmers Market

cukes le tre lune

fleurs

The market has grown tremendously this year.
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I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much rain in my life.  Over the past few weeks, the rain has become less a topic of idle chit chat and more a state of being.  The ground is just soaked, streams of water carving out dark, muddy pathways which only lead to more water.  Big, fat, juicy raindrops fall so quickly they turn roads into rivers in a flash, making me very thankful for my SUV.  I’d say it feels like Seattle here, but someone told me that the rainfall in Georgia this month has far surpassed the yearly rainfall numbers in Seattle.  Whoa.

In its wake, the rain has left folks crabby, lethargic, powerless, firework-less, blue, and WET.  Trees are keeling over left and right- their roots atrophied from previous drought, unable to hold onto the mushy earth any longer.  And strange mushrooms are popping up everywhere!  Jackson Lowe Vegetable Farm has experienced more devastation than ever before from all of the rain.  The vast majority of their seeds and transplants for summer crops were washed out repeatedly, forcing them to discontinue CSA services to over half of their members.  And with that, I will no longer be writing recipes for them or utilizing their beautiful ingredients after next week.  It is a sad and unusual time.  I’ve noticed the grocery stores taking a hit too- waiting days for green beans that should be coming out our ears at this point.

The silver lining?

1.  Rainbows.  During rare breaks between downpours, the sun tries to peak out while it’s still raining and we get to see the magic of rainbows.

fred's rainbow

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Tomorrow is the 4th of July, and I am wondering where the heck the first half of 2013 has gone.  Geez Louise.

Just in case you are feeling a little behind the eight ball too, I figured I’d share a few last minute Independence Day recipes with you.

I hope you will have a safe and happy holiday, celebrating with friends and family.

beet hummus
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Last Friday, I had the exceptional opportunity to volunteer my services at The Center for Well Being and Palliative Care Clinic at Grady.  For the second year in a row, I was able to create and present a workshop called “Eating Well for Living Well” designed to educate and entertain a group of local adults living with illness.  My goal was to provide insight about these big questions:

How can I learn to plan my meals ahead of time?                       

Is fresh food better than frozen?

How can I eat healthy on a budget?

How does the food I eat affect my total health?

Combining my love of teaching with my daily mission to provide happiness through food is exhilarating for me, and I was stoked for this experience!  So, I tied on my apron and put on my ole teacher hat, and here’s how it went…

I set up my table with local produce and tons of tools/gadgets/bowls I had hauled from my kitchen,

table set up for workshop

along with items I prepped ahead of time to build two dishes to share on site.
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Since I grocery shop and cook for folks for a living, I spend an inordinate amount of time at Your DeKalb Farmers Market.  Only five minutes from my house, this place is a gigantic hub of culture, food, and activity.  The store is packed nearly all the time with 100,000 customers per week, and people in my town tend to have a love/hate or hate/hate relationship with YDFM.

I have an almost exclusively love/love relationship with the market.  I’m constantly amazed and tickled by the kinds and colors of people I see there, speaking a wide variety of languages, wearing all manner of eye-catching outfits, perusing a wild and ever-changing assortment of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and live sea creatures, cheeses, coffees, and housemade specialties like breads, pastas, sauces, soups, and desserts.  I go to the market nearly every day to grab fresh produce for clients, always hunting for items grown in Georgia or neighboring states.  Even if I’m not feeling particularly chipper when I arrive, I find myself smiling shortly thereafter.  If you must know, I’ve even made a “scavenger hunt” list of what to look for at the market…someone wearing tons of bling, someone with a crazy hat, someone freezing out their baby (it’s super cold in there), someone who should have grabbed a cart instead of the jammed basket that is threatening to spill over at any moment, etc., etc.  It is a magnificent place to people watch.
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It seems that the older I get, the more I have to learn.  Twenty years ago, when I was seventeen, I thought I knew everything.  Haha!  Silly younger version of myself.  With age and experience has come acceptance of the glaringly obvious- I hardly know anything at all!!!!!  Er, alright, I can give myself some credit.  I’ve completed my fair share of schooling, taught young children for nearly a decade, and have been cooking food incessantly (viewed as an expert?!?!) for more than a few years now.  Even so, I feel like the “things to learn” list is boundless, in an exhilarating way, and I am struck by the power of that.  An open mind and a curious soul allow me to chip away at the vast world each day, tucking little bits of information under my cap, saving it- hording it- reveling in the acquisition of knowledge.

Over the past couple of days, during the process of envisioning and executing this meal,

grilled salmon with roasted beets and grilled kohlrabi, horseradish dill sauce

I have learned lots of lessons.  I’ll share them as I go along.  I’m going to mark said lessons with an asterisk (*).
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I’m pretty sure that Adam and I found the perfect way to commemorate Memorial Day.  We spent a week traveling from Georgia to New Jersey and back again with the “excuse” of a family wedding propelling us.  The last time these two Prices took a real vacation was four years ago, and we were beyond ready for an adventure.  I tried to prepare Adam for the beauty that we would experience, as I have trekked this path before, although my memory short-changed me.  It was all so much more glorious than I even remembered.

What I didn’t expect from this whirlwind tour of the Eastern United States was the sappiness that overwhelmed Adam and I as we chatted about Memorial Day.  Exercising our freedom to explore our country, which so many men and women have fought to protect, over this holiday weekend was poetic.  We rode highways and crossed bridges named for Veterans and viewed battlegrounds and museums dedicated to heroes of our time.  Our gratitude is abundant.

We aimed to travel at a mostly leisurely pace and to absorb the gifts of city, country, mountains, family, and beach.  Taking in the sites along the way, we started with the great community of Asheville,which is chock full of art and nature.

bouquet wall art
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