Monday, July 5, 2010

my happy place

recently, the city of baltimore came up with yet another bizarre slogan. in the past, we've seen "the city that reads", "the greatest city in america", "get in on it" and now..."find your happy place." well, my happy place is the waverly farmers market. every saturday, i head to east 32nd street with my bags in hand and a set amount of cash to spend. once the bags are full and the money's gone...i'm out. oh, and the farmers market is also part social event, but with bedhead.

for me, the best part of the market is one straw farm. i met farmers joan and drew norman almost 15 years ago when i babysat their nephews out in white hall - and now, those boys are old enough to work at the market and i see them from time to time. it's funny how things come full circle - especially in smalltimore. i participate in one straw farm's CSA = community supported agriculture program. before the growing season starts, you send a check for a share of crops each week (one straw farm's is june through november.) i'm a relatively new cook, so it's fun to learn from joan about foods i had never used before like swiss chard, beets, tomatillos, kohlrabi, garlic scapes, etc. i now roast beets almost every week. who'da thunk it? (ina garten's roasted beets with orange vinaigrette is my go-to recipe lately.)

the other vendors i visit at the waverly market are andy bachman for eggs, chesapeake greenhouse for bibb lettuce, south mountain creamery for milk, neopol and broom's bloom for cheeses, fountain farm for rhubarb, asparagus, corn and other seasonal items, and hollow farms for fresh shelled peas and beans. after i get the essentials and i have a few dollars left, i sometimes buy flowers by the stem from john at locust point flowers or maybe some ginger hemp granola from michele's granola.

each week, i get this great local produce and cook it all up for the week, share with neighbors and friends and take photos of some of my work.

the farmers market allows me to shop like my grandparents did - directly from people they knew in their community. i'm old school, i guess.

p.s. my other happy place is the wine source, but we can talk about that another time...

Friday, July 2, 2010

tapas with a twist

finally got to centro, the new federal hill tapas restaurant where the wonderful bicycle restaurant used to be. i'd heard so many raves from many friends and was really looking forward to it...and secretly hoped not to be disappointed.

since the sweltering heat in baltimore had just broken (holy dirt...finally) we sat outside in the lovely back patio. it was surprisingly free of city noise with buena vista social club playing quietly, simple potted plants placed to soften corners and white lights glowing along the walls.

the baltimore sun describes the food as traditional spanish tapas with a venezuelan spin and the wine list as "tidy" and i agree with that. there is something for every palette and the prices are excellent.

water for the table was served in very simple and attractive chilled glass bottles. then, sangria for my friend (they offered red and white) and viognier for me. one thing i loved was that the wines were served in rustic stemless glasses. perfect.

my friend has dairy and gluten issues and the waiter was really helpful and patient, consulting with the chef about what she could have. he also offered her a very tasty gluten-free beer. we shared some delicious marcona almonds (fried in olive oil and salted) and a shaved fennel, apple salad and arugula salad, which had great flavors and was beautiful, too. next, i had some amazing little sweet corn pancakes with queso blanco and topped with a chili glaze. my friend had (and i stole several bites of) wilted spinach with roasted chick peas, dates and this insane pine nut butter. i could've had a huge plate of that! i also loved the empanadas, which that night were filled with beef and spicy black beans.

the service was excellent and it felt like a nice night out...yet it was not stuffy or fancy - what a great spot. i cannot wait to go back. love centro. go!