From Dawn Til’ it’s Gone: Hilo Farmer’s Market is a must-visit

Whenever I travel, I make a point of hunting down the local farmers market. I’m obsessed with them. Whether I’m nibbling fresh-from-the-oven baguette in Southwest France, chomping down on a grilled sausage sandwich topped with Walla Walla onions in Washington State, or noshing a big plate of pork ribs in French St. Martin, I’ve found that the best way to get a true taste of what your destination has to offer is to start with the market.

And let’s face it. Local markets are cheap. For a quick lunch on the fly before site seeing, the local farmer’s market can be your money-saving friend. I’ve sampled platters of homemade paella piled high with fresh mussels and clams for a meager three dollars, crunched tacos de carne asada at a buck a piece, and dug into bowls of conch fritters washed down with icy Heinekens for under $5 total. Market food is tasty, often incredibly so. Boasting fresh, local ingredients carefully tended to by local food artisans, farmers, cheese makers and bakers, how can one go wrong?

If you’re a cooking fiend like I am (and especially if your accommodations include a kitchen) there’s no better way to spend a morning than piecing together the ultimate dinner by filling up paper bags with exciting foodstuffs like fresh figs, free-range duck eggs, bison tenderloin or artisan-made truffles. For traveling foodies, the farmer’s market is our candy store (a really big, super-fresh, uber-healthy candy store) just waiting to be plundered.

One of my all-time favorite markets is the Hilo Farmer’s Market on the Big Island of Hawaii. Located in Hilo’s historic district, the Hilo Farmer’s Market has grown considerably since its humble beginnings back in 1988, when there were only four farmers selling their goods. Today, the market boasts over 200 vendors who hock everything from gingerroot to bongo drums.
Taking place every Wednesday and Saturday from “dawn til’ it’s gone”, the Hilo market is a busy, bustling place. While local crafts, clothing and artwork are a big hit, the ultimate star is the food. Exotic fruits beckon hungry travelers, where local papaya can be snagged three for a dollar. Jack fruit, lychees, white pineapple and Chinese longan fruits are in abundance as well.

Locally grown vegetables are a cooks’ dream and include such delights as hydroponic lettuce, bok choy, Maui onions and bitter melon. Hawaiian specialty products round out the offerings and include Kona coffee, Portuguese bread and jars of homemade lilikoi butter.

If you happen to get hungry while shopping (and trust me, you will) there’s a variety of food available to enjoy on the spot or take away. Reflecting the many cultures which make Hawaiian cuisine so varied and utterly fascinating (Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino and Portuguese) you can sink your teeth into just about anything. Japanese bento boxes featuring traditional sushi as well as local specialties such as Spam musubi are offered alongside Vietnamese spring rolls, Filipino-styled empanadas, pad Thai, Peruvian tamales and Hawaiian lau lau (pork wrapped in taro leaves). If all of this shopping and eating makes you thirsty, buy a green coconut and have the vendor hatchet it open. Stick a straw in it and drink away the rest of your afternoon.

Hitting the Hilo Farmer’s Market is an absolute must when traveling to the Big Island, especially if you’re planning to visit the many nearby beaches that dot the island. A picnic basket filled with Hawaiian sweet bread along with a few Portuguese sausages will certainly make for an afternoon of tasty beach time.


Chicago City Provisions organic farm dinners

It’s Green Travel Month here at Gadling, so to get into the green spirit, I booked a special dinner with Chicago’s City Provisions Catering and Events, an eco-friendly catering company. City Provisions works with local farmers and suppliers, sends its organic waste back to farmers for composting, and sources all of its ingredients from organic and sustainable providers. The company offers catering services both off-site and at its city space, and is in the process of opening up a deli. It also hosts a monthly supperclub. In winter, dinners are held at the storefront location, but in the warmer months the meal is served out on a local farm, using fresh ingredients grown on-site. August’s dinner was held at Heritage Prairie Farm, about an hour north of Chicago. Heritage Prairie also does its owns farm dinners, but drinks and transportation are not included, as they are with City Provisions.

At 1 p.m., my husband and I arrived at the City Provisions location in Chicago. While we checked in, we were offered soft drinks – served in 100% compostable glasses – and light snacks. Then we, and the 38 other diners, boarded the biodiesel bus for the ride out to the farm. Along the way, we were introduced to Cleetus, the mastermind behind City Provisions. We enjoyed some BLT sandwiches, tomato gazpacho, and Great Lakes Brewing beers, and prepared ourselves for the upcoming feast.

Once at the farm, we met the owners and the farmers who work the land. They led us on a tour of the small property and explained the sustainable practices they employ to make the farm as efficient as possible. While Heritage Prairie is not a certified organic farm, the methods they use, such as allowing weeds to grow in certain areas rather than using pesticides, are green and eco-friendly. One of the most unique features of the farm is the three movable greenhouses, which allow the farmers to engaging in a practice known as “four-season farming”. The greenhouses are on tracks and can be moved up and down the length of the field, covering different sections as needed. This allows the farm to harvest some crops as late as January, long past the time when most other farms have halted their efforts for the year.

The tour took us through one of the smaller greenhouses, where we saw the wooden growing beds where seeds were left to germinate. Due to the farm’s small size, it’s very important that it be as efficient as possible. To ensure that every inch of the field is productive, the soil beds in the growing greenhouse are cut up into smaller squares, and only the successful ones are moved to the field. In this way, no field space is wasted. After exploring the grounds, we browsed through the farm’s market for honey made on-site and fresh produce and herbs grown at the farm.

By 5 p.m., we were sitting down to dinner at an elegantly-dressed table in the field. As we helped ourselves to baby eggplant baba ganouj with pita chips, servers began pouring the beer that would accompany each course. Provided by Great Lakes Brewing, one of the most environmentally-responsible brewers in the US, the beer was paired according to each course, and many of the dishes utilized the beer for their sauces.

Over the next three hours, we enjoyed five courses of delicious, fresh-from-the-farm food expertly prepared by the City Provisions chefs, who were all decked out in organic cotton chef’s jackets that had buttons made from nuts rather than plastic. Between each course, we had the chance to mingle with fellow diners and we learned about the process of brewing beer and about the sustainable practices at Great Lakes Brewing from owner Pat Conway.

Our first course, a delicate micro-green salad, was topped with sun gold tomatoes and a vinaigrette made with Grassroots beer from Great Lakes and honey produced on the farm. Next came a colorful mix of seared rainbow chard, baby leeks, currants and pine nuts, with crispy pancetta served over brown rice with a balsamic sauce made from the accompanying Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.

Course three – a zucchini cake topped with basil creme fraiche and served with baby carrots and more of the farm’s microgreens – was just as delightful. By the time course four rolled around, everyone at the table had become fast friends, and we traded stories while oohing and aahing over the grilled pork brat that was topped with grain mustard and served with potato salad and green beans in a browned-butter sauce.

Just when we thought our tummies had been filled to bursting, the final course was brought out. A light-as-air pavlova was topped with caramel-honey cream and fresh peaches and was served alongside a rich Glockenspiel beer. As we licked the last of the cream from our forks and tilted back our glasses to catch the last drops of beer, the chefs were busy setting up another surprise. While dinner had ended, the evening was far from over, and as we stood from the table, we saw that a bonfire had been started, more beer was ready to be consumed, and the ingredients for classic s’mores were laid out nearby. We drank, ate, and relaxed while enjoying the searing colors of the sun setting over the fields.

At 10 p.m., it was time to re-board the bus and return to our city lives. Our indulgent dinner may not have single-handedly saved the planet, but our support of farmers and producers who use sustainable methods may help encourage other restaurants and farmers to take a step in a greener direction too.

Can’t make it to Chicago to book a farm dinner with City Provisions? Here are some other green-focused farm dinners around the country.

Austin, Texas – Dai Due Supper Club
Portland, Oregon – Plate & Pitchfork Farm Dinners
Old Lyme, Connecticut – Dinners at the Farm
Ashville, North Carolina – Maverick Farms
Boulder, Colorado – Meadow Lark Farm Dinners
Point Arena, California – Oz Farm
Various locations – Outstanding in the Field

The Accidental Chef Travels: A culinary journey through Southwest France

“Here’s to those who show up”, cookbook author and artisan chef Kate Hill announces as we raise our glass of Baron D’Ardeuil Buzet (a Merlot blend) to toast the fruits of our afternoon labor. Yet, labor might be considered a misnomer, since by no means did I consider those precious hours tasting Floc de Gascogne, a local specialty made from Armagnac, while touching and tasting my way around Kate’s extensive gardens replete with fresh lovage, chervil, butter lettuces and soft, green almonds remotely arduous.

Perhaps, I was feeding off the relaxed, peaceful vibe of her uber-content dog, Bacon, who spent most of the afternoon lying on his side in front of the grand hearth fireplace merely inches away from four, bakery fresh baguettes. Like Bacon, in order to fully grasp the atmosphere of life at Kate’s farmhouse kitchen, one must exercise both patience and restraint to properly reap the grand reward found at the end of the day.

Relais de Camont is Kate Hill’s culinary haven. Situated in a small hamlet in the heart of Gascony, the 18th century Camont illustrates the gastronomic concept of farm to table in its purest sense. A raspberry custard tart is made with eggs from her chickens while a cold, radish soup laced with herbs and shallots hails straight from her vegetable garden or potager. Visiting Camont is to experience the “cooking life” of Gascony, where the traditions of classical French farm cuisine meld with all that’s fresh and local.

Kate’s cooking clientele include home cooks looking for a sound introduction to the regional and seasonal flavors of the area, which include Agen prunes, Magret duck and plenty of foie gras. Education is not left out as Kate’s classes often incorporate basic cooking techniques such as emulsifying a vinaigrette or the art of making French cassoulet. For these clients, a day class or one of Kate’s “French Kitchen Adventure” weekends might be in order, which begin with a local farmers market visit and includes hands-on cooking and multiple meals along with accommodations.
For the more advanced cook or professional, Kate opens her kitchen for longer, more intensive stays that are tailored individually. During my visit, a fellow food writer was spending five weeks under the tutelage of a local farm butcher in order to hone her butchery skills while an American chef was there to learn the art of French charcuterie.

Kate’s Camont is what you make it, and everything that’s made here is fresh and luscious. For us, after watching a brief cooking demonstration which included such wonderful tidbits as the importance of freshly grinding your spices to understanding the difference between French and U.S. bay leaf, we sat back with wine in hand and watched the day’s meal unfold.

Guests can participate as much or as little as they want, and for us on that day, it was all about the show. Local Magret duck breast was delicately seasoned with dried spices and then roasted in an outdoor Portuguese bee oven (which lent a wonderful smokiness to the meat). A can of duck confit (salt-cured duck leg that is preserved in its own fat) made its way into the fry pan, lifting its aroma high into the rafters of Kate’s two-story kitchen. Chanterelles were pickled, fresh greens were washed, and croutons, made from leftover baguette, were cubed and fried in duck fat. The end result? A Salade Gasconne served buffet style where the assembly was left entirely up to us.

As we dined outside under a canopy of hanging vines sharing stories of our lives at home, I could feel myself connecting or should I say reconnecting with cooking and eating as it’s designed to be. Off in the distance, one of Kate’s roosters let out its signature crow while nearby, a handful of bumblebee’s busily buzzed about in a lavender plant, and in that moment, I couldn’t help but think how glad I was to be the one who showed up.


Undiscovered New York: Green NYC

You can’t go more than 10 feet lately without hearing about the burgeoning green movement. Whether its organic food, carbon footprints or green travel, it’s a word on the tip of everyone’s tongue. For travelers on the hunt for all things green, New York City is not exactly the first eco-destination you might conjure. Yet remarkably, the past 15 years have seen New York City dramatically cleaning up its act.

Although there’s still a long way to go, New York is more than ever a city that’s “all about the green.” From its increasingly bike-friendly streets and plentiful public transportation to bountiful farmer’s markets and eco-friendly businesses, it’s clear that New York’s residents are working hard to make the city a more green friendly place for locals and tourists alike.

Best of all, you don’t even need to work that hard to enjoy New York’s many green-friendly advantages. All you’ll need is a love of good food, a desire to get around as easily as possible and a healthy appreciation of nature. Ready to enjoy all things green in the Big Apple? Click below for Undiscovered New York’s roundup of the best Green NYC shopping, food and activities.
Grab a bike

There’s simply no way to describe the radical transformation that’s happened to biking in New York in the last 10 years. All of a sudden, bikes are everywhere – from the ubiquitous bike ownership among the city’s young and old, the increasing number of bike lanes on NYC streets and more and more bike-friendly activities.

Coming from out of town? Don’t worry, it’s easy for New York visitors to take advantage of all the biking fun. Cultural sites like Governor’s Island allow visitors to rent a cycle for the day, even giving away free hour rides each Friday. If you’re looking for more NYC bike info, check out the rental list over at Bike New York, where you can track down NYC cycle clubs, bike rentals and figure out some great local rides.

Head to the greenmarket
New Yorkers were already pretty snobby about their food before the word “organic” started to get thrown around. With the organic and local food trends in full swing, we’ve had further opportunity to gloat: New York is one of the best spots anywhere to get fresh, local produce, meat and even seafood.

One need only spend a day at one of the city’s many greenmarkets to enjoy the bounty: a cornucopia of fresh eggplant, locally grown chiles, fresh-baked organic chocolate chip cookies, and grass-fed beef are all on offer. Though Union Square is perhaps the best-known of New York’s nearly 50 greenmarkets, they can be found everywhere from the Bronx to the far reaches of Brooklyn. Check New York’s Council on the Environment website for more greenmarket info.

Shop and eat green
In recent years, New York has seen a healthy spurt of new retail stores open that cater to green purchasers. Yet it’s easy to forget that New York has hundreds of great thrift and vintage stores, offering some of the city’s best “green” shopping since long before “eco” was trendy.

Check out New York Magazine’s shopping pages or this list for some of the city’s best thrift and vintage clothing. If new stuff is more your thing, boutiques like Gomi NYC and Kaight specialize in sustainable, eco-friendly clothing. Bookworms, don’t feel left out: if you’re in the market for printed materials, why not save a few trees and check out one of New York’s massive variety of used book stores? Strand Books is among the city’s best.

After all that shopping, you’re probably going to be hungry. Don’t feel like cooking? Head to one of New York’s many restaurants that specialize in organic/locally grown ingredients. Although you’re likely to find green items on just about any NYC menu these days, there are several restaurants that specialize in “green cooking.” One spot is Chelsea’s The Green Table, known for offering some of the city’s freshest, most sustainable food. Meanwhile, downtown diners favor spots like Spring Street Natural, which has found favor among vegans, foodies and locavores alike.

Become a chef for a day at the Lodge at Vail

Culinarily inept? Well, if you are, you’re not alone (and you’re in good company … with me). The Lodge at Vail, a RockResort, has exactly the solution for those of us who believe cooking dinner involves a phone call. The Colorado Cookin’ package will make you a chef for a day, as Executive Chef Rahm Fama takes you through the local farmers’ market and into the Cucina Rustica restaurant’s kitchen for the insights you’ll need to become a pro.

This deal is on through September 21, 2009 and comes with two nights (Saturday stay is required) and some great Sunday activities – from a tour of the Vail Farmers’ Market to a four-course brunch at The Wildflower and a cooking class led by the top chef himself. It starts at $274 a night, and extra days can be tacked on at $149 each.

Hell, it’s enough to make me consider stepping into the kitchen.