Friday, April 29, 2011

Some Good Lookin' Dudes Rockin' Old Husher's Gear

Through the years from time to time, I get a jpeg sent to my personal email with a picture of somebody, somewhere rockin' the "A Farm in Cleveland?!" t-shirt. Here's some of those jpegs.

First up is Kevin Glutton, sporting the tee on a warm Maui beach. Kevin has been bonelessing around Cleveland for as long as anyone can remember, plays bass and sings in the appropriately named Gluttons, and is a fairly regular farmhand at Old Husher's Farm. Sorry Ladies, this one's taken.

Last, but not least, is Earache Wallace. He's a very well assimilated Portlander via Ohio. His skills include rock n roll poster art and being one of the best psychedelic/metal crossover guitarists this or that side of the Mississippi. If Kylesa ever needed a third guitarist to do a modern version of "Freebird," then Earache would be my first suggestion. Until then, Earache is earning his teaching degree in art and is looking forward to teaching hessians the fine craft of silk screening.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cold Chillin with Chef Cooley @ AMP 150

One of my favorite things in modern life is a gathering/special event, where no one takes any photos, not by a "cameras verboten" kind of thing, but because people are in the moment and that outsider lens even on a phone is just outside enough. I first recognized this as-a-happening several months back at the Ohio City Seed Swap in the Open Yoga Gallery. Even though there was an insane spread of heirlooms and weirdo cultivars and probably at least over a million seeds laid-out over three foldout tables, nobody took a photo.

On 4/20 of 2011, the Cleveland Farmer's Summit commenced at AMP 150 to cold chill with Executive Chef Ellis Cooley. I am fairly certain it was one of those no photos nights. Annabel Khouri of Bay Branch Farm organized the evening and kudos to her. Also in attendance were Turning Point, Erie's Edge, Basil and Beyond, a newcomer named Laura, George Remington Steele, and Sonia DiFiore, who just bought land in Oberlin for her blueberry farm, whose name is unbeknownst to me!

Now, AMP 150 is in a Marriott, basically next to the Cleveland Airport. So despite AMP 150's near-guru status amongst locavores, given these precepts, I had my reservations. Rest assured, by the end of the evening, not only was I blown away by my micro-bok choys in oyster sauce and pork/sweet potato sammich, I also felt that I just hung out with one of the most straight-forward, local foodie chefs in Cleveland. Chef Cooley got a sort-of Miami surfer-dude glow to him that matches his hometown and his stylized blond mohawk. When I called him dude, I don't think he objected too much.

The Cleveland Farmer's Summit had a special room set aside in AMP 150, where we ate and fired off question after question to Chef Cooley. I learned all sorts of things that night. Definite mentionables include AMP 150's quarter acre garden in the would-be-just-mowed grassland at the end of the parking lot and the Marriott's rooftop apiary (that's awesomely insane!).

Though we all flirted with hints of dollar pricing, specifics were kept gray. Instead, we learned of standards in terms of quality with re-assurances towards premium dollar pricing. After quality (which by the way Old Husher's Farm excels in), storage seemed to be the next major concern. I was hoping for the magic bullet when I asked Chef Cooley about basil storage, but all of our heads scratched in unison regarding the basil storage conundrum.

So after quality and then storage, one of the overriding, underlining themes to our dinner chat was "alot of early communication" with an emphasis on "alot." My interpretation of this sentiment correlates perfectly with my "Local Vegetable of the Couple of Days" concept from prior blog. Boiled down, it means that Chef Cooley is willing to work with us, small Cleveland farmers, given that we let him know what we have, when we can have it, and then ultimately deliver it at that time with prior notice. The "at that time" clause is the variable I'm most worried about. Being that I don't own weather (this 2011 Cleveland temperate rain forest spring is a perfect example), I work in ballpark time frames, and not space shuttle countdowns.

For an urban farmer like myself, I think a perfect example of sales synergy would be Old Husher's Walla Walla Onion Rings. Once harvested, the onions will have a curing period, and then have a one month shelf life, which in the case of the Walla Walla is the trade-off for being awesomely sweet. For me with a couple hundred pounds of Wallas, I will need to move those quickly. During the curing, I can give a restaurant a heads-up to approximate weight and delivery time. The restaurant then has time to adjust their menu accordingly and hopefully hype Old Husher's Walla Walla Onion Rings. Given everything Chef Cooley said that evening, this scenario seems win-win.

To conclude just for the record, I want to mention that Old Husher's Farm is the closest urban farm to AMP 150, a mere 20 blocks away. Thanks again to Chef Cooley for cold chillin with us, Cleveland Farmers, and to Annabel Khouri for organizing the event. McDermott, your presence was missed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Brussel Sprouts Battle Royale

From the end of February and throughout March, I pushed myself to the limits of brussel sprouts addiction, seeking them out wherever I could in the seediest of places so that I may present the straight dope on this terrifying member of the cabbage family. Warning: this blog may be a little too real for some of you.

I, too, used to be afraid of brussel sprouts, having cried at the tender age of 12 when my parents forced me to eat them at the kitchen table. Just like the rest of the 80's that included Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign/Minor Threat's "straight-edge" and Tipper Gore's "Parent's Resource Music Center," I was scarred further into complacency. While I discovered the pleasures of micro-brews in the early 90's with the likes of Jason Brady and Jeremy Sanford over Edmund Fitzgeralds, and I always had a love affair with fairly insane-o music, this wound carried another two decades into my life.

I'm not really sure how I fell so hard so fast. All I can tell you is where I'm at now, and it ain't pretty. There's the at-home weekly roasting or pan-searing/pan-frying. I'm on the Web, looking at menus to feed my fix. Web page, per Web page, I keep asking, "do they have sprouts, do they have sprouts?" I peruse the starters, the apps, the sides. "Might they be hidden amongst an entree," I wonder while salivating? I've even gone so far as to use social media sites like Facebook to find my next hookup. My farm planning hasn't escaped this scourge either, and I'm ashamed to admit that in 2011 I will be growing brussel sprouts on Old Husher's Farm. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that brussel sprouts have now impacted all aspects of my life.

It is with this mindset, I present you, "Brussel Sprouts Battle Royale," a no-holds barred match between Cleveland's brussel sprouts dealers. I may lose some present/future customers because of this blog. I may also throw out some zingers that I later regret because of said loss, but I go forward with a clear and unbiased conscious. Disclosures will be appropriate.

After a month in the field, patterns emerged. The police will be glad to know that the epidemic is currently contained within Cleveland's Westside. After many attempts to find the most elusive of brussel sprouts on the Eastside, I have determined, that like the rest of us in Cleveland, the brussel sprouts have not made it over the formidable border known as the Cuyahoga River. The going rate on a plate of sprouts seems standardized, consistently ranging from $4-$6. Furthermore, the preparations often took on a similar theme: pork and/or fried in lard, a tanginess, and a crunch.

1st Place: Bar Cento on W 25th

Disclosure: I have sold mizuna and baby bok choys to chef, Mike Nowak of Bar Cento, recipient of 1st place standings in the first ever Brussel Sprouts Battle Royale.

Now, what makes Bar Cento's sprouts so good? To start, the sprouts are deep-fried in a combo of lard/duck fat to the point of slight searing crispness on the outer edge leaves. This single detail is what separated Bar Cento from the rest. The sprouts were then tossed with candied bacon/pancetta and a mustard/cider vinegar reduction. Salty, roasty, firm and crisp, these brussel sprouts rule. Priced at $5, the portion size was average. On the evening of this tasting, the brussel sprouts were paired with Bar Cento's french fries, which I, for the record, think are the best in town.

2nd Place: Tie between Tremont's Fat Cats and Lorain Avenue General Store

Disclaimer: Though I have given samples to Fat Cats kitchen, I have never sold to any Ricardo Sandoval establishment or even heard back from them.

Coming in at a whopping $6, Fat Cats topped the scale within the limited pricing category. Parma prosciutto filled the pork and salt void, which was complimented with chicken broth and sherry. The whole plate came together with some gorgonzola that just perfectly, funk-ily rounded out all the edges. From what I can tell from 4-7 pm, Monday through Friday, Fat Cats has the best food values in town with their food and beverage happy hour.

Disclaimer: The Lorain Avenue General Store folks are my friends, and these brussel sprouts were formally served at their house and not in a restaurant.

This is a time where my memory is a little foggy, where you might be able to say the brussel sprouts are really having a impact on my short-term memory. I remember the sprouts were served family-style to a table of ten diners. I remember that I didn't want to embarrass myself and wanted to look like a moderate brussel sprout eater. But when that Pete guy helped himself to the last sprout, I could hardly control my rage. Thankfully, there was a molten lava cake on hand to subdue my anger. Again, the details are foggy. Pan-seared in bacon fat and then roasted in the oven with garlic, and then all mixed with Aaron's wild-style dressing that was like Sri Racha, soy, honey, maple syrup, and a slew of other things...I think. This was the most complicated preparation of the Battle Royale.

3rd Place: Melt Bar and Grilled in beautiful downtown Lakewood

Disclosure: Matt Fish and I have exchanged exactly one back and forth email about me potentially selling sprouts to Melt this fall.

Even though Melt's brussel sprouts came in third place overall standings, there's enough uniquenesses here that they could be arguably the best sprouts in Cleveland, especially to the Cleveland Jewish/Muslim/vegan/vegetarian communities. That is to say, Melt's sprouts were the only sprouts out of seven preparations that did not contain the swine. Considering all the "game" most of the other restaurants have in the Battle Royale, I find this pork-based standardization bewildering.

Now look at that jumbo plate of brussel sprouts! Just like most things Melt, the portion size was huge. It could feed an army of vegans. Three of us got kind of full before our sandwiches even got there, and then we still had leftover sprouts, as well as, the extra half a sandwich. The glaze was peach chipolte and every once in a while had a slow subtle burn. Amazingly priced at $5.50.

Editor's note: I technically don't know if these brussel sprouts were vegan. They seemed like it. Empower yourself, and ask next time you go to Melt.

4th place: Lolita's in Tremont

Disclaimer: None needed.

Coming into the Battle Royale, Lolita's was a strong favorite to win, being owned by Michael Symon and also being the birthplace of this extreme love affair about a year and a half ago. I considered it a homecoming. My hands got sweaty just entering the restaurant.

While the sprouts were still really good, they weren't great. Lolita's also fries in lard, and I think they simply forget to drain the sprouts. Between the little layers of leafy cabbage folds, it felt like corpuscles of lard popped out at every bite...and not in a good way. Once, I got over this unpleasantry and laid-back a little bit, I still enjoyed the sprouts (tossed in white anchovy, capers, and walnuts) enough to finish the bowl. $5.

That however can not be said for Michael Symon's world famous burger that night. I ordered medium rare. The aforementioned, Aaron, ordered his rare. Neither of our burgers came out with any redness. For that matter, neither of our burgers came out with any pinkness. Like, for real, what's up with that?

5th Place: Stone Mad Pub in Gordon Square

Disclaimer: None needed exactly (please see below).

But to be fair to Stone Mad Pub, I am not so sure if they are deserving of such low rankings in the Battle Royale. Basically, I went to Stone Mad after I had already eaten dinner for a Gordon Square Farmer's Market Meeting. Though I had expected to have a beer, I didn't expect to randomly find brussel sprouts on the menu. Even though I was full, I couldn't deny what may have been the from-out-of-nowhere x-factor. The sprouts were completely palatable with bacon, sauteed onions, and strong cider vinegar. I just had a hard time enjoying them because of fullness. When the weather warms up, I can't wait to hang out on the beautiful Stone Mad patio and try the sprouts again. If it's any consolation, my friend's teenager who doesn't like sprouts, liked these sprouts. That's actually a pretty big consolation. Low price of $4.

6th Place: Deagan's, also in beautiful downtown Lakewood

Disclaimer: Deagan's is the new "Gastro Pub" in town that I'd like to sell to in the future due to proximity to my home/distribution center. However, I am giving them last place, and I'm gonna gripe a little bit cause I keep it real.

I've had these brussel sprouts twice now, and both times they have failed to impress. As a matter of personal preference, I'm just not a fan of jumbo sprouts like the ones pictured below. The pairing with salted pork belly sounds good on paper, but the salt just doesn't impart the same uniform flavor in the way bacon does. Furthermore, the ample chunks of pork belly with their chewy, fatty, gristly-ness could be off-putting to some. As for the service, it's full of teenage-girls, who describe $6 pints as, "light," or "dark," which is very, very annoying. In Deagan's defense, the rest of our dinner was good. Also, $5. Thanks to Aaron Pearl, who accompanied me and professionally photographed (meaning he had a smart phone with flash, whereas, I just had a phone) three of the seven outings. I believe he used the three outings as surveillance so that he could help achieve a 2nd Place standing for Lorain Avenue General Store. The world of brussel sprouts is seedy, indeed.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Last Week's Pictorial

I'm dedicating this blog to my buddy, Gabe, who I didn't help move at all last week. Instead, I tilled, planted, sorted, potted-up tomatoes, unrolled some nasty second-hand greenhouse plastic, and performed other necessary/tedious chores. Thanks goes out to Chad Krawtschenko, Josh Klein, and Lynn Rodemann, who all assisted with various tasks.

This photo is just kind of cool and does not represent any amount of sweat equity. I call it "Lettuce and Onions under a GlowCube." Here's the germination station again. This time it's a little more full. We have some soil blocked beets in the top foreground and hardy kiwis on the bottom edges. A totally charming photograph of myself and the nasty aforementioned plastic. That single piece was over 100 feet long and 24 feet wide with gallons of water stuck in the seams. Josh, Lynn, and I unrolled it and took box knives to it in order to cut it into manageable pieces. Photo by Lynn. That's alotta onions! This photo represents the first purchase by the Cleveland Farmers Buyer's Club. Twelve of us went in on 3,600 onions, which allowed us to drop the price of a single bundle from $12 all way down to $2.50. Please note, about 1,500 of these onions are mine. A picture of my tilling handiwork. Directly left of the photo will be the 650 square foot asparagus bed, going in some time within the next week. All of them potted-up tomatoes. Yes, my house is a mess.