Earth Fare: Food with Philosophy

Although I love to shop at farmers markets on Saturday mornings, it is impossible to get everything I need in this one place. It is my mission to purchase as much of my produce, meats, and cheese from local sources as possible. My belief in #EatLocal is strong, but I am not anti-grocery store. There is a middle ground, and honestly, for me it boils down to options. Stores with a buy local or sustainable mission are my first choice. Unfortunately, the list of stores with this business practice is quite short. One of my favorites is Earth Fare. This is usually the first stop on our way in to Asheville, NC. We can load up on snacks, local produce, and drinks for our stay.

Organic, local, and regional produce are some of the options at Earth Fare.

Organic, local, and regional produce are some of the options at Earth Fare.

I was excited to hear that one would be opening much closer to home in Park West Village. Earth Fare began in Asheville, NC in 1975…I was surprised it has been around that long! Originally a restaurant called Dinner For the Earth, the owners soon branched out into a market format with local products and produce as their focus. What most impressed me about Earth Fare is their Food Philosophy. The products they carry contain:

NO High-Fructose Corn Syrup

NO artificial fats or artificial trans fats

NO artificial colors

NO artificial flavors

NO artificial preservatives

NO artificial sweeteners

NO antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones in our fresh meat or dairy

NO bleached or bromated flour

The bulk section has a large variety of grains, beans, flours, nuts, and more.

The bulk section has a large variety of grains, beans, flours, nuts, and more.

This sign denotes items that are sourced locally.  Mapleview Farms milk is in the dairy case at Earth Fare.

This sign denotes items that are sourced locally. Mapleview Farm milk is in the dairy case at Earth Fare.

On a recent behind the scenes tour of their newest store in Cary, they shared that this philosophy means that they read the labels so the consumer doesn’t have to. They also work with local producers to bring in produce within a 100-mile radius of the store. You’ll also see products that are local to one of their over 35 stores but offered in all stores—this is a great way to help local businesses grow regionally! Signs point the way to conventional and organic produce, locally sourced items, and gluten-free options in every section.   They have a wellness area, a bakery, a nitrate-free deli, a café and a juice/smoothie bar.   It is truly one stop shopping you can feel good about.  Check out the Earth Fare website for ways you can save at Earth Fare. They even have an app and will text coupons to your smartphone.  Their goal is to reduce paper waste while still saving you money.

Earth Fare support local NC breweries, too.  Glad to see Fullsteam Brewery or Durham represented!

Earth Fare supports local NC breweries, too. Glad to see Fullsteam Brewery of Durham represented!

Nearly every aisle has a gluten-free section.  In between those signs, customers will find gluten-free options.

Nearly every aisle has a gluten-free section. In between those signs, customers will find gluten-free options.

These soaps are one example of an item that is local to one of the over 35 stores.  It is carried in other stores as part of the Earth Fare family products.

These soaps by Biggs and Featherbelle are one example of an item that is local to one of the over 35 stores. It is carried in other stores as part of the Earth Fare family products.

The best way to experience what Earth Fare offers is to visit their newest NC location in Cary—and what better way do it than with a $50.00 gift card! I am giving away a $50.00 gift card to one lucky reader. Enter for a chance to win below by leaving a comment below with your email address.  Winner will be drawn at random on April 27th and contacted via email.  Good luck!!

Celebrating the Images of NC

You all know by know how much I love to take photos of food, but my passion for capturing a moment in time goes beyond just capturing a meal or a recipe in action.  I take pictures when I travel, and those travels take me throughout my state of North Carolina.  I am always lagging behind on a trail hike in the wooded mountains or far down the beach studying the waves through my lens.  I want to see my world, my state…with intention and pause.

I appreciate the way others see the world through their photos, so I was intrigued by The North Carolina Blogger Network’s NC Photographer Awards 2015 sponsored by the Mast Farm Inn.  It is a contest for both professional and amateur photographers that celebrates the images of North Carolina.  If you would like to see some of my favorite images of NC, check out my submissions by typing (ssprenz) in the search bar on this page. I urge you to browse the amazing images that people have submitted, vote for your favorites, and submit some of your own by March 23rd!

Midweek Options: Bella Bean Organics

My favorite place to be on Saturday morning: a farmers market. I have some favorites, but honestly, I enjoy visiting different markets each month. The variety that my community offers when it comes to seasonal, locally-grown produce and pasture-raised meats is what makes living in central North Carolina so great. From fresh ginger and shitake mushrooms to peaches and heirloom tomatoes—the abundance of produce here is immense.   I can find farm-fresh eggs or pasture-raised pork, lamb, goat, and chicken. Everything I need to create delicious meals can be found at my local farmers markets on Saturday morning. There is, however, a downside to my farmers-market-centered world: I can only buy enough for a few days. By Wednesday, I have usually exhausted all of my supply of fresh local ingredients. I do my best to avoid food waste, so I try to control my impulse buying and only get what I know I can prepare while it’s still fresh.

The solution to this problem was recently revealed to me when I tried Bella Bean Organics for the first time. I ordered by 5:00PM on Friday, and the following Wednesday a box of beautiful produce, herbs, eggs, and pasture-raised meats from Coon Rock Farm was delivered to my doorstep. No weekly menu in my home would be complete without ingredients from local artisans, so I also ordered cheeses from Hillsborough Cheese Company and rice from Anson Mills. The variety of products and produce was not only impressive, but also allowed me the convenience of avoiding the grocery store as my only mid-week option. I came away from my ordering experience thinking, “If this is what they offer in the winter, I cannot wait to see the spring/summer options!” I always feel a sense of victory when I can get the majority of my ingredients from local sources. Bella Bean Organics offers both local and non-local items as well as certified organic options.

Bella Bean Organics is not your typical farm-to-doorstep business. Owners Jamie DeMent and Richard Holcomb also own Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough, NC and Piedmont Restaurant in Durham, NC. Their passion for sustainable local agriculture and their vantage point as farmers makes them the perfect curators of an online farmers market. A large percentage of the produce, eggs, herbs, and pasture-raised meats offered through Bella Bean Organics are grown and raised on their farm. Because it is farmer-owned and operated, ordering from Bella Bean Organics is much like visiting a farm stand. The great thing about ordering is that you can do it from the comfort of your home and have it delivered to your front door for a small fee. Convenience, variety, sustainable choices, and southern artisanal products—who could ask for more?

If your goal, like mine, is to use as many locally and regionally grown, raised, caught, and made products in your weekly menu, then check out what Bella Bean Organics has to offer.   Here are some recipes to get you inspired to use the last of the winter abundance, too. I promise spring, with its sugary peas, tender lettuce, and ripe delicious strawberries, will be here soon!

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Winter Market Stir Fry

  • 3 medium carrots, julienned
  • 2 small heads of cabbage, thinly sliced *
  • 2 small turnips, peeled and diced *
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ½ cup Shitake mushrooms, stems removed & sliced *
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 ½ tbs. local honey *
  • ¼ cup chopped green onion (white and green parts) *
  • 3 bundles Rice Vermicelli Noodles
  • Sesame Oil
  • Canola Oil
  1. Prepare noodles according to package. Once drained, toss with 2 tbs. sesame oil and set aside.
  1. In a bowl, combine: soy sauce, honey, garlic, and green onion. Set aside.
  1. Heat 2 tbs. canola oil and 1 tbs. sesame oil in a wok on medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté for about 2-3 minutes.
  1. Add cabbage and sauté for 3 more minutes or until cabbage starts to wilt.
  1. Add the carrots and continue sautéing for 3-4 more minutes or until carrots begin to soften.
  1. Reduce the heat to low and add the noodles to the wok. Pour the soy sauce mixture over the noodles and vegetables, tossing to coat.
  1. Remove from the heat and serve.

* indicates items from Bella Bean Organics

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Breakfast Dates

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F
  1. Place the dates in a small oven-safe baking dish and drizzle with the honey.
  1. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until dates are caramelized and soft
  1. Place caramelized dates in a shallow bowl and top with the lebna
  1. Sprinkle with pecans (and a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg if you desire!), drizzle with additional honey, and enjoy.

Note: To make this dish completely local, use seasonal fruit such as peaches or figs!

* indicates items from Bella Bean Organics

Better with Butter

Butter makes everything better. At least, this is something I believe to be true. Give me a loaf of artisan bread and some soft, creamy salted butter—I am in heaven.   Mashed potatoes, Belgian waffles, and banana bread—I put butter on all of it! Butter has received a bad reputation over the years. It fell from grace with the dawn of the low cholesterol diet and has, just recently, regained some respect in the food world. Now, I am not suggesting we go overboard and put butter on everything. It is one of those ingredients we should use in moderation and with intent.

Butter has long been used as vital ingredient in basting roasting meats. It makes for a crispy exterior and keeps the meat juicy. Using this fact as inspiration, I wanted to inject more flavor into the meat of roasted chicken. Why not use butter as a vehicle to accomplish this task? Instead of basting the bird, I smeared the butter between the skin and the meat. Now, let’s talk flavors. Butter by itself is great, but a compound butter—softened butter mixed with herbs and spices—is even better. For this recipe, I mixed minced garlic, lemon zest, chives, and parsley with my softened salted butter. Using my fingers, I separated the skin from the meat. There is a membrane in there that breaks easily with slight force. Once the skin and meat have been disconnected, there is a great space to spread the compound butter.

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After spreading the compound butter under the skin of each piece of chicken, I applied a light coating of olive oil, salt, and pepper to the outside. I used leg quarters for this recipe, and roasted them at 375° F for 40-45 minutes. I like something puréed or mashed with my roast chicken like celery root and potatoes. Add a little balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of chives…and you have an impressive meal for your family and friends. Don’t be afraid to play with different flavors in your compound butter. The possibilities are endless!

Celery Root & Mashed Potatoes

  • 1 large celery root
  • 12 medium new potatoes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 5 tbs. butter
  • 1/3 c. crème fraiche
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Remove the outer layer of the celery root and cut into 1 ½ inch cubes.
  2. Cut small new potatoes in half
  3. Place the potatoes and the celery root in a pot of salted water and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat to a low boil and cook for about 15-20 minutes or until celery root and potatoes are fork tender.
  5. Strain and place in a bowl.
  6. Add butter and crème fraiche
  7. Mash the mixture with a potato masher to the desired consistency—I like some chunks in mine!
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste

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Chef Ben Adams: Refined Comfort Food

As I strolled through the Durham Farmers Market on a beautiful day in May 2013, I stopped and spoke to a chef who was gathering local produce, cheese, and herbs into large plastic crates. Glancing at his list as he moved from vendor to vendor, he wore a vintage brown and tan ball cap—the kind truckers wear—with the word Piedmont on it. His name was Ben. I told him how refreshing it was to see a chef shopping the farmers market. We didn’t see that often (or at all) in the small towns we had previously lived. When I asked him where he worked, he motioned down the street and said we should visit Piedmont sometime.

Fast forward to January 2015. I am sitting across from Chef Ben Adams in that very restaurant, Piedmont. It is a warm, inviting space on Foster Street in downtown Durham with an elegant yet industrial vibe. It is owned by Jamie DeMent and Richard Holcomb who have a deep passion for local sustainable agriculture. Chef Adams sips tea while I tell him the story of our first meeting and how this interview feels like it was two years in the making. He smiles and says that he must have just started his job at Piedmont when we met at the market.

Photo by Tierney Farrell courtesy of Piedmont Restaurant

Photo by Tierney Farrell courtesy of Piedmont Restaurant

Chef Adams’ journey to Piedmont began with cooking school in Portland, Oregon after which he returned to his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina to work at Hominy Grill and later, McCrady’s. Chef Adams also spent time in Belgium, Australia, New Orleans, and Boston—each destination adding an element to his personal style, which focuses on seasonal produce with a refined twist.   Local, seasonal produce, meats, and products were the theme woven through all of Chef Adams’ experiences. He saw his mentors, like Chef Sean Brock, operating with this focus and wanted to do the same wherever he went.

Chef Adams explains that there is a balance between showing care—putting time and effort into the preparation and plating of each dish—and creating an element of home cooked comfort food. It’s a balance that he has perfected. He seeks to elevate the local produce through the method of preparation and the flavor pairings. Chef Adams is motivated by the challenge of creating new menus with the same ingredients in each season. In his second winter at Piedmont, he is pairing a sweet potato and bacon hash with pork. To compliment the pork, he added apple butter, toasted hazelnuts, and a juniper jus. Last year, a similar hash accompanied a beef preparation. Winter can be a difficult time to cook seasonally, so Chef Adams looks for inspired ways to prepare ingredients. He explains that last winter; he juiced sweet potatoes and made them in to a reduction, adding sorghum and sherry vinegar. Sweet potato sauce? Brilliant! This year, North Carolina’s beloved orange tuber debuts in a sweet potato and pear soup with bacon jam, hazelnuts, sage oil, and browned butter. This is refined comfort food at its best.

Chef Adams believes there is a strong community of people who care about food here in the Triangle. He takes his responsibility to source and serve local produce, meat, and seafood very seriously. The chef-farmer relationship is vital to this mission. His dedication to cultivating these relationships has provided him with consistent supply and farmers who seek to grow what he wants. In his dishes, he also incorporates many products grown, raised, and made in North Carolina and beyond—Anson Mills, First Hand Foods, Joyce Farms, Chapel Hill Creamery, Rappahannock Oysters—just to name a few.

On January 27th, Chef Ben Adams will compete in the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series – Triangle.  He is going up against Chef Chelsi Hogue from Ed’s Southern Food & Spirits in Goldsboro. It his is first time participating in this challenge. I asked him to explain his approach…without giving away any secrets. He leans forward with a huge smile and begins telling me about his team. Isaac, formerly of Pok Pok in New York City, and Candice, a chef with a modernist approach, are his teammates in this battle of secret local ingredients. He purposely chose two people whose approaches are different from his. They all have an ability to think “out of the box” and get creative with local ingredients, so he is confident they can win. The adrenaline and stress of cooking is something he enjoys and will be an asset during the competition.

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Because Chef Adams enjoys the spontaneity of creating menus with ingredients that might have to change without much notice, he will be a worth adversary. The weather, growing conditions, pests, and other unexpected obstacles can throw the proverbial curve ball into a menu based on local, seasonal produce. Chef Adams has dealt with this circumstance before which will likely help him in a chef’s competition based on North Carolina ingredients revealed moments before the cooking begins.

If you have not been to one of the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series events, you are missing out. It is not only delicious and fun, but as a ticket holder, you get to vote on each course. So, check out their schedule and get your ticket today. The Triangle portion of this statewide competition should prove to be quite amazing with chefs like Ben Adams in the line up.

A huge THANK YOU to Chef Ben Adams for taking time to sit down and talk with me. I look forward to my next visit to Piedmont, and I will be cheering for him on January 27th!

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Make 2015 a Great One

I have a love-hate relationship with this time of year.  I love it because it is a time of reflection and renewal. I hate it because, as I get older, it also brings with it the realization that life is about constant change–children grow up too fast and people we love don’t live forever.  There is always a bit of sadness in looking back and realizing that another year is gone. Thankfully, the idea of a clean slate at the beginning of a new year holds an incredible amount of hope.  Whether we proclaim a New Year’s resolution or simply make a quiet promise to ourselves, this time of starting anew can be exciting…even exhilarating.

Each year, I make a restaurant bucket list.  Part of the process of making this list includes reviewing the list from the previous year.  It is a fun walk down my food memory lane.  In 2014, my list included both new and established places in my community and beyond.  I believe life is too short to eat at chain restaurants, so you will not find them here. I have had the great fortune of getting to know some of the owners and employees of these amazing places.  It isn’t just about eating for me–it’s about community.

Rose’s Meat and Sweet Shop

Bida Manda

Mandolin

Acme Food and Beverage

Tazza Kitchen

Mami Nora’s

Pompieri Pizza

Jubala Village Cafe

Driftwood Southern Kitchen

Curate

Straw Valley Cafe

Cala Vela Empanada & Tequila Bar

Sitti

Poole’s Diner

I remember each meal, and I enjoyed every bite!  I look forward to tackling my 2015 bucket list.  I promise to share a few of them with you…and if you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments.  Happy New Year!  May your 2015 be filled with delicious local food and drink!

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Sugar Cookies and Kids: A Winning Combination

When you are invited to bake holiday cookies with a precious curly-haired four year old, you know you must be someone special.  So, I packed up my favorite baking pans and rolling pin and headed to the home of friend and fellow blogger, Leigh Hines (Hines Sight Blog). Have rolling pin, will travel?  Absolutely.

Leigh’s daughter had requested this event not long after meeting me last summer.  She and I share a special bond–we’re both curly headed girls!  It was an instant connection only made stronger by the fact that I could converse with her about ALL of the Disney princesses.

Baking with children is not only fun, but it can be a great way to teach math, kitchen safety, and share a life skill that will stay with them forever.  Having baked with my own children, who are now grown, I knew engaging my curly-haired friend in hands-on work would be important.  I chose easy to decorate shapes: candy cane and snowflake.  I opted for colored sugar and three colors of icing to keep in simple.  She was a pro at helping me roll out the dough and cut the cookies.  Decorating is the best part, but it can be difficult for a little one to wait for that task.  So, while the cookies cooled, she assisted me with measuring the ingredients for the icing.  When waiting became cumbersome, she was easily reengaged rolling out some of the excess dough and cutting out a few more cookies (to be baked while we decorated).

The whole event was captured by her mom, Leigh, and placed on Leigh’s Hines Sight Blog.  Check out the fun, the smiles, and the recipes here.  I can’t wait to return next year for Holiday Baking 2.0!

These Christmas trees were last year's design.  Maybe my curly-haired friend and I can conquer these next year!

These Christmas trees were last year’s design. Maybe my curly-haired friend and I can conquer these next year!