Category Archives: tasting north carolina

9/100: Columbus County Beet & Goat Cheese Pizza

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There are many things to love about a Farmer’s Market– an excuse to wake up early on a Saturday and indulge in a freshly made breakfast, the opportunity to eat locally and seasonally, the chance to taste fruits and vegetables that are as fresh as they can be. For me the best part might be talking with the farmers, getting to hear how things are grown, joking with them about the best ways to prepare certain foods, gaining insight into the food philosophy of the people growing my fruits and vegetables. It’s an empowering experience, something that brings you much closer to your food than standing in a grocery store aisle.

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Recently I met my friend Heather at the Columbus County Community Farmer’s Market, a permanent open-air market in Columbus County, NC. Columbus County is a rural county located in Southeastern North Carolina, about an hour’s drive from Wilmington. In the two years that we’ve been here I’ve traveled to Columbus County a few times to visit Lake Waccamaw, a beautiful fresh water lake surrounded by campgrounds and a small community. When I started researching the area for this series, I stumbled across the farmer’s market, which was established in 1998 and has been funded by the Rural Advancement Foundation International and the North Carolina Tobacco Trustfund Commission. The farmer’s market is housed in a permanent open air structure and boasts space for up to 20 local vendors.

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Strolling through the market on a late Spring Saturday reminded me of all those midwinter days when I found my thoughts drifting to warm summer mornings, fresh fruits, crisp vegetables, air thick with humidity. The drive combined with my total inability to wake up early (ever) meant I arrived at the market midmorning after the early riser rush. I may have missed out on some of the vegetables but the trade off was well worth it- the farmers were free to chat. One of the things I was surprised by was how many of the farmers we met were excitedly offering organic heirloom vegetables. At almost every stand we had a conversation with the farmers about the sometimes underappreciated beauty of mis-shapen heirloom vegetables, why it’s best to avoid using Sure-Jell in your jams, and how a solution of vinegar and soap can keep the pests away. One farmer that we spoke with for a while who was the essence of charm, was John of Higher Ground Organic Gardens. He had a beautiful crop of potatoes, beets, carrots, kolrabi, beans, squash, and (much to Heather’s delight) rhubarb. John was sweet and kind, answering our questions and telling us about how things are growing this year. I walked away from the market with fingerling beets, beet greens, green beans, and patty pan squash.

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Heather came down from Raleigh for the weekend to talk blogging and work on her practicum project. She is a finishing up her graduate work at Meredith and has decided to work with me for her practicum project, helping me research three counties for the Tasting North Carolina series- Wake, Forsyth, and Lenoir. I thought visiting an additional county on my list, Columbus, would be a good way to kick off the weekend, so after meeting at the farmer’s market we headed down to Lake Waccamaw for lunch at Dale’s Seafood. When I was researching things to visit and see in Columbus Co. I found an article from Our State that does a much better job of explaining the history of the lake than I ever could, particularly the theories concerning how it was formed and the life teeming in the water. Dale’s sits on the shores of the lake, overlooking its 9,000 acres. We sat and took in good old fashioned Southern meat and three fare- I had a deviled crab, fried okra, and hush puppies and Heather enjoyed the steamed shrimp platter- and watched the lake, which is serene and breathtaking in its expanse.

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Columbus County is surrounded by Bladen, Pender, and Robeson counties to the North and Horry and Brunswick counties to the South. Its county seat, Whiteville, is where you’ll find the Columbus County Community Farmer’s Market, as well as the community that it serves. The next time you’re driving down to the beach stop by for some fresh vegetables, good company, and a glimpse of one of the Carolina Bays.

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Beet and Goat Cheese Pizza 

Dough: 
1 tbsp dry active yeast
2 ½ cups bread flour
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
¾ cup warm water
½ tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tbsp kosher salt

topping:

6 fingerling beets, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup goat cheese
2 spicy pork sausages, cooked and sliced
Olive oil
Sea salt
Handful of beet greens or kale

Whisk together olive oil, yeast, salt, basil, and water. Whisk until fully incorporated, at least 2 minutes. Add half of the flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Add remaining flour and knead for ten minutes, until the dough feels like a stress ball.

Coat a glass bowl with olive oil. Place the dough ball in the bowl, turn once, and cover with a damp towel. Let rise for at least an hour. Punch down and let rise another 15 minutes.

Roll out your dough and heat your oven to 500 (or as high as it goes).  Spread goat cheese evenly across the dough (as best you can), then follow with beets and sausage. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Top with fresh greens and serve hot.

8/100: Durham County Grilled Pimento Cheese

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When I started this series creating recipes that represented each of North Carolina’s 100 counties, I always knew that Durham would be the most difficult. As a Durham native who has been living outside of the 919 for almost 10 years, I didn’t know where to start. Do I make a burrito in honor of the many afternoons and late nights spent at Cosmic? Do I honor the fried chicken sandwich at Shrimp Boat, a sandwich I regularly have dreams about? Is it even a post about Durham without a nod to the late great Magnolia Grill? Or should I write about the new restaurants and eateries popping up on the Durham food scene, like Scratch or Mateo? The directions feel endless.

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Thankfully, my friends at the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau were there to help me see my home county through objective eyes. They suggested I stop into Parker and Otis. Immediately I was all, “Duh.” As an alum of Durham School of the Arts, I spent a lot of time frequenting the restaurants in the Brightleaf Square area. Parker and Otis is a stone’s throw away from the school and has been a favorite hangout since it opened many years ago. It’s a favorite place to meet friends and family for coffee, meals, shopping; and it’s a place where I always run into someone that I love. Their food is incredible: Southern, quirky, homemade, and delicious – perfect to represent Durham.

grilled pimento cheese 2Dan and I both love the grilled pimento cheese with bacon, something that immediately came to mind when I started noodling on what to cook for the blog. I adapted their recipe slightly, adding fresh tomatoes and basil. It turned out to be out of this world. The cheese melts and binds together all the flavors and textures, creating a sandwich that hits it out of the Durham Bulls Park. I originally made this sandwich in the fall when my counters were still bursting with tomatoes, but it’s just about now (in the dregs of February) that this sandwich, made with some local hydroponic tomatoes (I found some and they were heavenly!) or pickled green tomatoes and basil from the plant in my living room, hits the spot exactly.

durham blt 1It’s hard to express what it means to me to be a native of Durham, especially these past few years. Growing up it often felt like Durham had been abandoned in a different era, a more prosperous era. Its story is one that is common throughout America- it was heavily impacted by industrialization, negative race relations, white flight, the fall of the tobacco industry, the destruction of thriving cultural hubs in the name of “progress.”. During my formative years it felt like Durham was having an identity crisis; being from Durham carried the weight of the feeling that your town was always fighting to be seen, to be heard, to be valued. But  recently it seems as though that underdog spirit is what allowed it to pull itself up and push forward into the amazing place it is becoming. Durham is experiencing a renaissance. duke 1When I was a senior in high school my friend Julia and I did a photography project where we documented downtown Durham. More than anything, it felt like we were photographing a ghost town. Today, ten years later, a trip down Main Street feels like a completely different world. There are new restaurants and businesses opening up in spaces that were vacant for years. Instead of continuing to sprawl towards Apex people are coming back downtown, reinvesting themselves in the heart of the community. James Beard nominated restaurants are opening, local urban farms (including my brother’s farm, Sol Patch) are cropping up all over town, young graduates from some of the best universities are choosing to stay in the area, Durhammites are making the choice to return to Durham, to be a part of something great. It’s exciting to watch the town that I love grace the pages of the New York Times touted as an amazing place to visit and live. It makes me proud, as proud as ever, to claim Durham as my own.

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Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwich

8 slices sourdough bread

1 1lb thick cut bacon

Bunch fresh basil

Red tomatoes

pimento cheese:

3/4 lb cheddar cheese

2 red pimentos (or 1/4 cup jarred pimentos)

1/2-3/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tbsp paprika

1 tsp red pepper flakes

Salt & pepper

Dice the pimentos and toss in olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes or until tender at 425. In a food processor combine cheese, mayo, red peppers, and spices. Pulse until combined, adding more mayo as necessary until pimento cheese is smooth. Cook bacon and set aside. Drain off most of the drippings, leaving some in the pan. Smear each piece of bread with cheese and layer bacon, sliced tomatoes, and basil on each sandwich. Assemble sandwiches and cook in bacon drippings for 2-3 minutes per side. Serve hot.

7/100: New Hanover County Watermelon Kefir

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In the 1840’s a man named John Kwiatkowski immigrated from Poland to the United States, coming through New York City. After settling in and changing his name to John Rosemond (Kwiatkowski meant “man of the flower” in Polish) he hopped on a boat heading to Mexico, ready to fight for his new country in the Mexican- American war. Unfortunately John, along with many other new recruits, suffered from terrible seasickness, and couldn’t hack the long trip. These men were dropped off in the port of Wilmington, where they made a new life. John opened a small business, married a woman named Sarah Pleasants, and eventually moved his family to Hillsborough, where Rosemonds can be found to this day. John had a son named Jerome, who had a wife named Mary Parker and a son named James, who had a wife named Sybil Walker and a son named Kenneth, who had a wife named Barbara Ballenger and a son named James who had a wife named Cathy Waldron and a daughter named Elena, who has recently found herself living right back where it all started, in New Hanover County.

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Before I moved to Wilmington I hadn’t spent much time in New Hanover County. When we beached we headed to Morehead City, where the Rosemonds have had a family home since the 1950’s (the Swamp House), and had only visited Wilmington once or twice in high school and college. It is an understatement to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of life and culture that this town is brimming with. Thanks to a thriving film industry (thanks to North Carolina’s tax incentives for film) and a large University, Wilmington draws people from all over the world, all walks of life, who have changed this small port city into a diverse and fascinating place. New Hanover County is located in the Southeastern part of the state, and was formed in 1729. It is one of the original port cities in North Carolina and played a vital role in the development of the state and the colonial USA. It is surrounded by Pender County to the North and Brunswick County to the South.

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I was particularly amazed to find a rich food culture in Wilmington that went far beyond your expected coastal fare. There is a community of people focused on eating and making real food, with an emphasis on whole, local, and responsible eating, things that I am personally commited to and passionate about. Organizations like Feast Down East and Down East Connect help local farmers and community members connect to bring fresh seasonal food into kitchen’s without a middleman. The local co-op Tidal Creek just finished a month long challenge motivating and helping people to eat a month of local food. And one woman, Ryanna Battiste, is helping people change their relationship with food through a small business called GRUB.

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I met Ryanna through many connections all at once, and it became clear after we moved to Wilmington that Ryanna was someone that I needed to know. Over the past year I’ve attended her workshops, partnered with her, and had long, amazing, compelling conversations over a glass of wine about how food can nourish us, and harm us, and how important it is to commit yourself to learning about what it is you’re putting in your body. One of the things that GRUB is doing that I was immediately intrigued by was promoting a fermented probiotic drink called water kefir, something she describes as an “affordable and bio-available way to deliver healthy bacteria” that produces a “fizzy and delicious fermented soda.” Water kefir, like kombucha or yogurt, introduces probiotics into your system that can help with gut health and over all body health. Since she started selling water kefir kits she’s grown a community of over 400 home-brewers all over the country.

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After attending a water kefir demo I brought home a kit (you can also order them online: http://thisisgrub.com/projects/water-kefir/) and immediately started brewing. The kefir is flavored with fruit, and since we started brewing we’ve made everything from lemon ginger to mango to our new favorite, watermelon. The brew is light and fizzy, like a soda, and the watermelon kefir is nothing short of incredible. It’s easy to see why so many people in this community are whipping up batches of their own.

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This summer watermelon  has made up around 80% of my diet, leaving me to wonder what else I can do with it. Smoothies? Absolutely. Watermelon vodka tonics? Naturally. Watermelon, mint, and feta salad? Of course. Watermelon and lime jam? Why not! Nothing says summer to me quite like a cold slice of watermelon, so I ask- what are your favorite ways to use this most delicious of fruit?

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Ed note: After I approached Rye about featuring her in this series, she decided to sponsor B&S through a Water Kefir badge in the sidebar. Thanks for the support, Rye!

Watermelon Kefir
makes 1 quart

1/4 cup sugar, cane or brown

3/4 quart filtered water

2 dried figs

1/4 cup kefir culture

1 cup pureed watermelon

In a quart jar combine water, sugar, figs, and the culture. Mix to combine, cap, and store in a dark cabinet for 24-48 hours.

Strain out the grains and discard the figs. Combine the liquid (the kefir after first ferment) and the pureed watermelon in a second jar. Let ferment an additional 24-48 hours. Chill and serve.

Watermelon Lime Jam
makes 1 1/2 pints

2 cups pureed watermelon

4 tbsp instant pectin

1/2 cup sugar

Juice of 4 limes

Stir all ingredients together until thoroughly incorporated, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to half pint jars and let sit 30 minutes. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.