Farm to Table

IMG_0749Farm to Table. It’s the new hot hashtag, all the rage. Restaurants popping up all over the country who partner with local farms so that they can claim the freshest food in town. Traveling chef’s like Jim Denevan from Outstanding in the Field have gotten in on the action by linking up with farms to put on exquisite farm to table dinners, using ingredients picked or slaughters that day, selling tickets to the first 50-200 people willing to pay anywhere from $150-$1000 a meal.

As we travel we find ourselves seeking out the freshest, organic foods we can find. Firstly because of our health, and also because we want to support local as we make our way. We thought we had a pretty good grip on where to find fresh food and how to cook with local ingredients but nothing tops what we learned during our week in Lafayette, LA on the Gotreaux Family farm.

It’s been a week since we last sat at the Gotreaux family table sharing our last meal and saying goodbye. As I sit at my desk eating my egg salad sandwich made with the fresh eggs from their farm, hatched the day we left, I am reminiscing about our rich time with them.

This was our third visit with this awesome family of 12 and unlike previous visit where we just observed farm life, this time around we were invited to actually work alongside of them on the farm and in the kitchen. Craig helped build a brooder house (nursery for baby chicks) and Banjo learned how to care for and catch the organic Tilapia. We all had our hands in the dirt on harvest day and on market day Graciana and I got to make our first meal for the whole group, 18 of us in total. We had the help of the twins and through out the week they would stay by our sides, helping us navigate in the kitchen, find or pick ingredients, and prep cook. Occasionally, some of the boys would drift in the kitchen, observing and if they weren’t busy I’d put them to work. We also had the help of our friend, Victoria Jones, one of the Gotreaux’s interns.

IMG_0755Our first meal out of the gate was Moroccan Vegetable Ragout, fresh-baked naan, Greek Salad and Blueberry Pie. All but a few ingredients came from the Gotreaux garden. The dinner was a hit, and as the week progressed we were invited to cook a few more meals. Because of the cold rainy weather and ingredients available we ended up choosing hardy winter recipes. Our menu included:

Dinner: Sweet Potato, Red Bell Pepper soup, Cheesy Cauliflower Bread, a Garden Salad and Aussie Lemon Bars.

Lunch: Turkey Burrito’s, side of Guacamole and chips/salsa.

Dinner: Rosemary Potato Soup, Fresh Baked Baguette, Arugula Pear and Fresh Parmesan Salad, Choc No-bake cookies.

Formal Dinner: Fresh Tilapia Ceviche appetizer, Savory Chicken Crepes, Spinach Apple Blue Salad, Aussie Lemon Bars.

IMG_0832There is nothing like cooking with fresh ingredient but I have never had the privilege of cooking with eggs, vegetables, dairy, or tilapia that was fresh picked or caught that day and not just that day, but moments before I used them. I could ask for anything and if it was in season and available it would be brought to me, ready to use. I might ask, do you have celery and one of the girls would answer yes, walk out the door, over to the garden and minutes later walk in with celery. And, did you know that most nutritious, delicious part of the celery are the leaves? I learned that celery is really not meant to go to stalk and the pale green celery we buy in the store looks and tastes nothing like the lush dark green savory celery I used in my Rosemary Potato Soup. I still love ants on a log, but I’m not sure I can go back to the vacant celery stalks in the grocery store without feeling like I’m being duped.

IMG_0848There is also nothing like cooking for 10 (plus our two) growing young people, all excited see what I can do with their harvest, ready to try something new. Each meal, I could feel the anticipation and when they sat down to give my recipes a try, they were open and honest about how my flavors impacted their tastes buds. Thankfully, they liked most of what I made.

I know the rest of my family had an epic time on the Gotreaux farm and that they each have individual stories that are just as profound. But for me, as far as travel experiences go, the opportunity to learn and create with the freshest ingredients, cooking alongside some of the most precious souls, and watching so many beautiful smiles as they raised their forks to mouth will go down in my top ten moments of community and growth. Farm to table has taken on a new meaning to me. It’s not just the new hot thing to do, it’s not just a marketing term, it’s an inspiring way of life and we are so blessed to have had the opportunity to live it!

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By the way if you are interested in any of the recipes that we made during our visit with the Gotreauxs please visit  Behind The Apron Strings; Recipes from the Road.

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Around the Table in Colorado

We’ve spent the last three weeks in Colorado including Denver, Winter Park, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. We had a handful of legit folkie shows and the rest of our time was spent around the table.

Our first stop was in snowy Denver with the Stephan family. We were referred to them by a dear friend in Green Bay, WI. We parked street side in the new Stapleton Estates. Easy going, the Stephan’s made us feel right at home. We rested after a long trek across the plains states, enjoyed encouraging conversation and on our final night I had the opportunity to make a dinner for us all in their kitchen. Stocked with full amenities, all the bells and whistles, I was like a kid in a candy shop. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking in my bus kitchen, but this was a delight. We had organic Shepard’s pie, leafy greens and flourless chocolate cake for dessert, all from my ‘The Apron Strings‘ Cookbook.

   

The Stephan’s also connected us with a local charity, The Urban Farm and we were able to connect for a benefit show. That lead to us meeting a first grade teacher at Fletcher Primary, who invited us to come and share our Australian Folklore workshop with eighty 1st graders. They loved Craig’s mustache, and sang ‘Waltzing Matilda’ with all their might.

Next we stored our rig with our dear friends at Radiant Church and drove our mini-van up to Winter Park/Fraser to serve at Timberline School. The drive is terrifying coming up that pass but once we were there the beautiful sunshine and snowy mountain tops erased all the fear.  Our friends, Dan and Sarah Thomas are the directors at Timberline and we have always wanted to offer some sort of service to their efforts. So when we were planning our fall tour, we blocked out a week to pour in. We shared in song with the students, we joined them for most of the morning and lunch meals, we helped with child care, building projects and enjoyed making a meal or two for the Thomas’s. And, just a small family affair, we celebrated Graciana’s sixteenth birthday with a home-made pizza party. We had a french themed party for her in September with all of our friends in Chicago, but it’s special to celebrate on the day as well.

Back to Denver for a gig at Swallow Hill and short but sweet say with some of our old friends; Randy, Beki and Diego. Through out our travels we have met amazing kinfolk but there is something about a visit with an old friend. There is an ease to laugh, cry and share deep moments. This was just what we needed. We meet Beki and Randy at Lifest in 2007 and have performed with them and enjoyed community with them. Plus we were able to share a meal in celebration for Craig’s birthday, which falls right after Graciana’s.

On to Colorado Springs to spend a few days with the Penley family. We met them through the Thomas’s and have connected with them over the years. The Penley’s are generous and kind kinfolk. Younger than us but wise beyond their years. Their house was full to the brim with family and the laughter of children. With three children and fostering one, Christy is a super mom in the best sense. She is strong, organized and gentle all at the same time. And, Paul, he’s about the smartest person we’ve ever meet. We enjoyed conversations over delightful meals, a bon fire, quiet time of reading, baking with the kids and shared in song at their church, 1st Presbyterian. While there, Graciana connected with a new friend, discovering a similar taste in books, music and in the journey of being homeschooled.

 

We also had an opportunity to do a little sight-seeing, visiting the Olympic Training Center. Highlight was seeing the wide open arm span of Michael Phelps. That boy is big!

  

And our final Colorado stop was in Fort Collins with the Borden family. Dear friends from Chicago, Diane was my boss at Grrr Records and, the most encouraging person you’ll ever meet. We dove right in at the Borden house, cleaning and getting the garage space ready for about 28 folk to enjoy a Thanksgiving fest. It was a joy to sort through and organize (I’ll admit, I love organizing, I have been known to spend a good amount of time at the thrift store organizing the dresses by size, then color. Ha!) It was also a great visit for our kids, as the Borden clan is five strong. They watched movies, played a building video game called mine craft, helped prepare Thanksgiving decorations, put on plays with dress ups, and made funny movies on their I-Pad. We connect with kinfolk and got our worship on at ECC. Craig got his craftsman fix in by laying down a deck for the Borden’s. And, on our last night I made Asparagus/Mushroom/Leek with a wine cream sauce and Crepes for dinner.

 

We are thankful for our time in Colorado, for the community and encouragement that keeps us on our way and for the many meals shared with kinfolk, new and old.