Author Archive for: ‘dsimmons’

Got Weeds? Use Vinegar!

Weeds in your gravel path or walkway?

  • Use cheap, undiluted, store­brand white vinegar
  • Use watering can, bottle or pump sprayer to apply
  • Use vinegar instead of toxic name brands!

Caution – DO wait for a calm (not windy) day, since vinegar is not selective and will also
harm grass & ornamentals

The Roanoke food scene

A friend & I decided to walk around downtown Roanoke Saturday evening. I used to go downtown just about every weekend, but it’s been years since I spend any time there. There are all different types of stores-you can get high-end designer clothing, uniforms, ‘hippie’ attire (think tie dye). There are several art galleries, jewelry stores, bead shops, what-not or tshatshki stores, sweet shops & bakeries and so on-just about anything you want or need can be found in the 3-4 blocks of the downtown market-including a huge farmers market on Saturdays. In addition of the fresh produce, meats, dairy & baked goods you would expect to find, there are local artisans selling furniture, jewelry, soap, etc.

The most pleasant surprise was how many cool new restaurants there are! The newly renovated Market Building has NY style subs, Japanese food, burgers, salads, pizza, and a couple other cool kiosks. My favorite (and where my friend & I had dinner Saturday) was the Cuban place, Habana. You can access it from inside the market building as a grab & go option or you can get a table-inside or out, and be waited on.

I had a house salad with avocado vinaigrette. It wasn’t as good as I remember Carlos’ Brazilian cuisine dressing being, but still very tasty! The Cuban roast pork with black beans & rice was delicious. The pork was tender, and the rice & beans very flavorful. I will definitely go back!

Another place I’d like to try is the Lebanese restaurant on Campbell. I’ve heard their falafel is the best around. I’ve been to Alejandro’s-great Mexican! Nawab has an excellent Indian buffet. And in my opinion, Picaso pizza has the best pizza in Roanoke!

If you’re in the area-stop in to downtown & check out the scene. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

What makes the difference between a good cook & a great one?

What makes the difference between a good cook & a great one? In my opinion, it’s layering of flavors. You can make a decent beef stew by putting raw beef, water, vegetables & spices into a crock pot & letting it cook all day. The meat will be tender, there will be some flavor. But how do you make a great stew? You take the same ingredients & add a few steps.

First step-browning the meat. By carmelizing the natural sugars, you’re adding wonderful flavor as well as texture & color (remember, we eat with our eyes first!).
Second step-use broth instead of water. Homemade is best, but, let’s face it-who has 12-24 hours to spend lovingly tending a pot of beef stock? If you do, awesome! If you don’t, there are great premade broths available at your nearest grocery store. I prefer ones that are MSG free & reduced sodium-it gives me the opportunity to season to my taste.
Third step-sauteing or roasting vegetables before adding to the stew. Again, the process of carmelizing the sugar adds color & flavor.
Fourth step-adding seasonings, herbs, additional flavors.
Fifth step-taste as you go! Food needs to be tasted & seasoning adjusted as it cooks. Start slow, with small quantities. Allow that stew to cook a little while. Taste it-does it need a little more rosemary? Pepper? Add just a bit. Allow it to cook a little longer. Taste it…what does it need?

Yes, layering flavors takes more time than just putting it all in a pot & turning it on. But trust me-it’s worth it!

Here’s the same bit of advice from another person, with a little more detail…the food bloggers version of adding layers….


Layering flavor is a gourmet technique any cook can use. It’s all about combining, expanding and deepening flavors in a dish with spices, vegetables, meats, liquids and seasonings.

How to layer flavor
“Layering flavor” is a term that’s really in vogue thanks to a number of food television personalities. However, what, exactly does it mean and why is it important for making great food at home?
In many ways, layering flavor is something that everyone who cooks, from the chef at a five-star restaurant to the bachelor who can only make chili, does. Put simply, layering flavor just means that while building a dish, chefs add a number of different, yet complementary tastes beyond just the basic ingredients. For instance, it’s one thing in a dish to saute onions by themselves. It’s another to saute onions in a butter/oil mix with onions, leeks, shallots, white pepper and thyme. Both add flavor to a dish, but the second option layers in more.
Layering flavor has become a popular buzzword recently because so many chefs and cooks are going beyond traditional recipes and trying to build new and complex flavors into every bite. This is true for very fancy and for very simple dishes, which means that you have the opportunity to do it on any dish you might cook.
Of course, it’s hard to cover the entire breadth of layering flavor without surveying every recipe. We’ll cover some general concepts in layering you can use in many dishes.

Layering with seasoning and spices
The most important thing you can do to make your meals taste good is to season them well. Even if the recipe fails to call for it, anytime you add an ingredient, make sure it’s well seasoned. Vegetables that get sauteed, meats that get added, should all have, at the very least, a pinch of salt. A lot of chefs like to add a little black pepper as well.
Also, consider what other spices might work well in a dish. For this, you will need to keep the finished product in mind and think about how it will taste and which spices might build better flavor. When in doubt, add a little garlic as its earthy flavors can deepen a dish’s taste. You can also use stronger spices like paprika or nutmeg sparingly and only when you know it will help. Each additional spice will help layer in extra flavor.

Layering with vegetables
The choice of vegetables that go into a dish, even one where meat is the star, can often have a big impact on the final outcome. Therefore, be careful when you add vegetables that are not called for by the recipe. Even vegetables that might not seem to have a big flavor, like cauliflower or carrots, can radically alter the finished dish. However, you can usually add vegetables with similar flavors to those called for in a recipe and subtly change the dish without going too far overboard.
For instance, onions, shallots, and leeks are all used to add oniony flavor to a dish. Therefore, they can be substitutes for each other, even though the different types of ingredients all add something a little different to a dish. Red onions and shallots are sweeter. Leeks a bit more green in flavor. Vidalia onions are much sweeter. This is good, though. If you substitute or you use multiple types of onions, you will layer in new and unique flavors.

Layering with liquid
The choice of cooking liquid is vital to layering flavor because the right liquid can really affect the outcome of a dish. The rule of thumb when layering is, unless you are absolutely sure it’s necessary, never cook with water unless you’re boiling pasta. Instead, just about every dish can be cooked in chicken broth (for milder tastes) or beef broth (for strong flavors). Water is flavor neutral and can actually rob ingredients of their flavor. Broth, on the other hand, has its own taste that it can inject into the ingredients around it. Beer, soda, whiskey, etc., also can add flavors to the rest of the dish.
In fact, in some cases, you might want to hit your dish with a little broth, beer or whiskey even when the recipe doesn’t call for it. Do this only when you’re reasonably sure it will work, but that extra shot of taste can really layer in the flavor.

Layering with acid
Acid is a great way to add flavor, especially when it’s added in right before the dish is finished. Citrus juice is the most common form of acid one can add to a dish, though vinegar can also do wonders for some dishes. The nice thing about acid is that it awakens different parts of the taste buds (sour and bitter) that might otherwise lie dormant.
To layer flavor with acid, the easiest way is just to grate a little zest of lemon or lime into a dish and give it just long enough to cook so that the oils in the zest can cook out (usually a minute or so.) Just doing that will add a completely different flavor profile.


Trash Talk – ‘Sustainable’ help from unexpected sources!

  • Fish tanks – when you clean the tank, instead of pouring the dirty water out the door or down the drain, use it as a nutrient-rich solution for plants!
  • Pet beds – the next time dog or cat needs a newbed, look for one made from recycled materials, and be sure to recycle the old one!
  • Pet toys & treats – just say ‘no’ to allthe packaging (marketing to your pet, who –guess what? doesn’treally care!!) Buy loose, in bulk, and recycle what little packaging you must get!

Will you take a small step to help?

ECO (Eastern Carolina Organics)

I’ve been struggling for a few weeks now on a topic for my next blog post. I’ve thought about sharing some of my current personal struggles, but I’m just not quite ready to do that yet. Instead, I’d like to share my thoughts & admiration for ECO (Eastern Carolina Organics) and the farmers who have made it successful.

When we started at Guilford College, one of the first people we met was a representative from ECO. They’re a co-op of sorts…it was explained to me that they use money from big tobacco lawsuit settlements to help farmers throughout the south turn their tobacco farms into organic vegetable farms. ECO then contracts with the farmers to promote, sell & deliver the products grown on the farms.

In my studies of the local and organic produce movement, some of the biggest hurdles have been finding enough quantity of product to make transporting to foodservice locations worthwhile, and how to go about that transporting. ECO has developed the system that I think should be a template for farmers & chefs worldwide. How can you not love & respect a company that promotes organic & local produce, sustainable practices for harvesting, transporting & delivering those products, and providing farmers a better-than-living wage.

Who would have thought that so much positive could come out of big tobacco?!

Below is a brief note (included in the product availability listing I receive twice a week), from the folks at ECO about a farmer, Charles Church, a founding father of ECO, who recently passed away. It shows the depth of caring by the company he helped create. There is also a short video of the Charles, talking about his land and how he came to be an organic vegetable farmer. I hope you take a few minutes to view it-he seems like he was a very likeable guy… tho I think most farmers are.

Friends, our hearts are breaking as we mourn the loss of one of our own – Charles Church of Watauga River Farms in Valle Crucis, NC. Charles was a founding owner of ECO, and helped organize other organic growers in the High Country to grow more produce and carpool their product down the mountain for ECO. He believed in what we were trying to do from day 1 back in 2004. He was always a powerful mentor to new and young organic growers around Boone, and was tremendously proud of the organic community in the High Country. A great farmer, a Valle Crucis legend, and most importantly, an incredibly nice man. Charles was a ridiculously hard worker, and sweet and generous in every way.

Charles, we will miss you dearly and will continue to make you proud! Our love and prayers go out to Charles’ family and the Valle Crucis community.

“You got to just about have an inborn love for farming to do it… you got to understand what you get in to, and you got to love every day of it.” -Charles Church

Trash Talk – Celebrate Earth Week!

3 simple things

Canopy Project – plant a tree, or donate to the Canopy Project; for each $1 you donate, they will plant a tree!
Go Paperless – online bill-pay & paperless statements are easy ways to save, save, save!
Recycle e-waste – each year tons of devices are pitched when they could have been recycled! Learn more & pledge to help.

Will you take a small step to help?
Visit the Earth Day Network

Trash Talk – More ways to save: sports & exercise

Golf – golf loses about as many new players as it attracts each year, so if you are just starting, buy used, and/or begin with a half set of irons. As you improve, you can add!
Tennis – play outdoor, during daylight. Lighting a single tennis court can consume over 4,700 kilowatt­hours of energy per year – enough to power the average home for about 6 months!
Surfing / beach combing – stay on the appropriate paths, keep your vehicle on the road, & help protect the dunes by not climbing over them!

Source: The Green Book

A beautifully written piece on what it means to ‘put the love’ in the food. If you don’t receive the updates on what’s happening in your area, do so now-it’s great information!

LocalHarvest Newsletter, March 29, 2013

Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.

A little while back I was on a road trip and stopped at a coffee shop for a snack. I picked up one of the extra large cookies on the counter to see what was in it, and there, listed at the end of the usual ingredients was ‘love.’ I am sorry to say that my initial reaction included a tiny bit of eye rolling. It felt a little gimmicky – but it got me thinking. If we can put love into food, all sorts of possibilities open up, including how we think about good food.

We who appreciate good food sometimes struggle when it comes to describing it. Does it need to be grown within a certain number of miles? Does all organic food count? What if its parent company was a multinational? It gets complicated. Maybe there is some shorthand that would help, and maybe that shorthand is this: good food is grown and prepared with love.

What does that mean, exactly? How do we add love to our food? For myself, one important piece is simply paying attention to both the ingredients and the act of cooking. It’s the easiest thing in the world to throw together a quick supper while thinking a thousand racing thoughts about everything but the vegetables in my hands. But really, it is almost as simple, and infinitely more satisfying, to close the mental door on the day, focus on the task at hand, and take note of the fact that this food – this onion, these beans, this rice – this food right here will nourish me and my family, will become the energy that sustains us. Being mentally present and open-hearted changes what happens in the kitchen. It’s noticeable. My husband appreciates food and the effort home-cooking requires, and even when I’ve just thrown dinner together he looks at it and says, “Thank you for cooking, sweetie.” But when I’ve really put my heart into it, he’ll almost always say something like, “Wow, this is beautiful.” And it is.

So love changes food and the way we perceive it. I think this is one reason so many of us are drawn to farmers markets, farm stands and CSAs. Much of this food has been loved its whole life, and some part of us knows that. While not every farmer would use the word “love” in relation to what he or she does in the fields, I think it’s a fair descriptor of what’s going on when someone works for months to raise a crop, poring over crop rotations and seed orders, scraping weeds away from seedlings, sifting soil between their fingers to test the moisture, and getting up at 4:00 every morning to care for animals and load trucks and do the million other things necessary to bring in the harvest. Such work requires sustained attention, and usually, what people attend to deeply opens their hearts. Crops raised in this way, like meals prepared with care at home, are good food.

When we give our full attention to that which sustains us, whether we are growing, preparing, serving or eating it, that attention becomes a form of blessing. And we too are blessed.

Until next time, take good care and eat well.

Erin Barnett

Trash Talk – Ways to save: sports & exercise

The calendar says ‘Spring’ but will it ever arrive?!? When it does, here are some ways to save: sports & exercise

  • Donate – your used sporting goods; contribute to a good cause, save resources, and delay adding to the landfill; plus a possible tax advantage
  • Used equipment – trying a new sport? Check out used equipment! Often just like new, and you reap the benefit of someone else’s change of heart. 
  • Research – yoga mats made from plant based material; helmets that are recyclable (vs. non-biodegradable); pressure-less tennis balls, etc. 

Will you take a small step to help?
Source: The Green Book

Trash Talk – Do you file a tax return?

Do you know someone who files? (parents? friends?) e-file & direct deposit – please!
It’s quick–and secure - get any refund due back from the IRS electronically, instead of waiting for a check to arrive by mail.
Save paper & other resources, going & coming! – About $135 billion in tax refunds is still printed and mailed to individuals, which means printing checks and stuffing & mailing about fifty four million envelopes. What great opportunities to SAVE!

Will you take a small step to help?
Source: The Green Book

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