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Posts Tagged ‘Avalanche Pizza’

Chris and some Spicebush branches

Integration Acres’ Chris Chmiel is a passionate promoter of the cultivation and use of native plants. Known as the Pawpaw guy, he advocated for its designation as Ohio’s official native fruit, turned it into a cash crop, inspired the creation of many value-added products, and, for the last 13 years has hosted the Pawpaw Festival.  On June 23rd, he held the 2nd annual Summer Solstice Spicebush Celebration at the Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio.

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Spicebush is found throughout all of Ohio, and is an understory shrub of moist to wet woodlands. Its twigs and branchlets, when scraped, emit a spicy fragrance. Bright red fruits appear in late summer and early autumn on female shrubs. Its dark green, glossy foliage (like that of Pawpaw), is unusual for woody plants thriving in full shade. As a native of the Eastern United States, Spicebush can grow to 12 feet tall and 15 feet wide and is a member of the Laurel Family, related to Sassafras and other Spicebushes.

Michelle and Eric doing some scoring

Prior to Saturday, my only experience with Spicebush was as a tea, having purchased the dried leaves and twigs from Chris at the Athens Farmers Market. So I was delighted when Chris asked if I’d be a judge for the Cook Off event. Upstairs in the Dairy Barn, I joined Michelle Wasserman (a worker-owner from Athens’ much beloved Casa Nueva) and Eric LeMay, a food writer and OU professor – both dazzled me with their ways of describing food, over the next few hours). With our rating sheets at hand, our cameras nearby, we were ready to discover the tastes of the Spicebush. Kristen LaMay helped coordinate the tasting and kept a steady supply of Spicebush infused items coming our way.

Iced Spicebush tea in cups made for the Celebration

We began with the beverage category. The first entry was iced tea, served up in a cup with the Spicebush Celebration logo – a perfect beginning since it delivered a clean and uncluttered taste of the Spicebush, and educated my palette to the plant’s unique taste.

Lovely Kristen pours our Arnolds.

Next up, a Spicebush Arnold Palmer (a combination of tea and fresh lemonade), created by Stephanie Katterhenrick, also a worker-owner of Casa.

So pretty, so tasty and refreshing

Lastly, a shot glass of Dancing Tree Distillery’s Spicebush gin. Entrant Kelly Sauber explained that his gin contains wild harvested, dried Spiceberries, certified organic Juniper berries, organic rosehips, non-GMO and organic corn from the nearby farms of Kim and Larry Cowdery and Matt and Angie Starline, and some Briess Organic 2-Row Barley from Wisconsin. Wow! If you like gin, you’re going to love Dancing Tree’s clean taste and aromatic woodsy nose. The gin took home the first prize in this category.

How’s that Spicebush gin, judges?

We still had room for this artful bread

Onto the appetizers – dips, cheeses, and more, but the prize went to Michelle Gorman’s (Integration Acres) Smoky Goat Chevre rolled in salt, black pepper and freshly ground spicebush berries. In the savory bread category, the judges selected Patty Nally’s (Avalanche Pizza) Fougassee with a Spicebush pesto.

Savory Spicebush entree

Our favorite savory dish was Stephanie Katterhenrick’s mashed potatoes, but it was quickly overtaken by her entree presentation. The potatoes (from Cowdery Farms) were boiled in water infused with Spicebush berries and leaves – a clever move! A summer and zuchinni squash dish seasoned with ground Spicebush berries complimented an English beef chuck roast from Sunny Mead Farm, cooked with ground Spicebush berries and steeped leaves, fresh minced garlic from Yankee Street Farm, onions from Cold Comfort Farm, and fresh thyme from HerbaVore Gardens. I never tasted such tender and lovely meat. As we licked our lips, we decided to give her a spontaneous accolade – the Spirit of the Spicebush award.

Then it was on to dessert…Who doesn’t love Snowville ice cream, this one with a creamy vanilla with a hint of Spicebush? But Carole Schloss literally took the cake (award) for her Spicebush German chocolate cake. So delicate, yet infused with that allspice-like, maybe peppery-ness, hard to describe, Spicebush flavor.

The final bite of Carole’s cake

Like the entire Spicebush Celebration, the Cook Off  brought together a mix of local ingredients that satisfied the belly and the soul. Thanks, everyone. I hope you’ll let me do this again.

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While 30 Mile Meal Restaurant Week officially began yesterday, we were delighted to find Avalanche Pizza‘s John Gutekanst jump starting things with his 30 Mile Meal Bread at  Saturday’s Athens Farmers Market. Our 30MM table was just a few spaces down the aisle from his and we were quite happy when he gave us a loaf (can a loaf be less than 2 inches tall?) to put out as samples along with some blackberries from Vest Berries and brownies from Casa Nueva and Shagbark Seed & Mill Co. (made with black beans).

As usual we were located next to the live music spot. This week’s musician was a grandfatherly type, playing some fine Appalachian tunes on his guitar. It wasn’t long before his granddaughter, perhaps 6 or 7, found her way to our table. Standing just a foot or so above the platter of 30 Mile Meal bread, she asked if she could try it. “Of course,” we said, though we did mention that it contained some hot peppers. She took a bite and smiled. “Is that corn, too?,” she asked. Sure was, along with bacon from King Family Farm, parsley and cornmeal from Shagbark Seed & Mill Company. Pretty sure she came back for seconds. Good work, John!

We’ll be by to try your 30 Mile Meal Pizza, made with local vegetables and cheeses, later this week.

John must have been up all night baking...

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Nearly there

Yesterday was a hot, steamy day – perfect for getting out of Athens and heading into the hills of Morgan County.  The approach to the Chesterhill Produce Auction (CPA) was marked by a tiny barn wearing a painted quilt square. The sun was shining as we pulled into the already packed parking area around 3:15pm. Ahead stood the auction pavilion, its open side doors catching any breezes.

the crowd examines lots of color and vegetation

CPA is now managed by RuralAction;  its mission to bring people to a rural site to buy quality produce and to provide Chesterhill with a rural food destination and economic hub. In 2010, The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs published a report on the development of the CPA which offers a detailed history of CPA’s beginnings and evolution.

At the far end of the barn several tables nearly groaned under the weight of pot luck food and drink. Cold water with fresh mint, an array of salads (Shagbark Seed & Mill Company’s spelt berries were spotted in one), focaccia from John Gutekanst’s Avalanche Pizza, and plenty of cookies and other sweet nibbles. Just behind the pot luck tables, I stepped up to the window to register for a bidding number and was ready to survey the auction’s goods.

awaiting the ride home

Off to the left side of the building, I could see some of the horses and buggies used by the Amish farmers to bring their produce to the market.  While the auction sells produce from non Amish farmers (known colloquially as English),  any producer can be part of the auction.

Brandon Jaeger

The region’s food-focused community was well represented: Leslie Schaller from ACEnet, Community Food Initiatives‘ Ronda Clark (and her daughters),  Michelle Ajamian and Brandon Jaeger, owners of Shagbark Seed and Mill Co., and someone who has become a major customer of CPA, Matt Rapposelli, the executive chef at Ohio University.

Rural Action's Bob Fedyski

Many of Rural Action’s staff and board were on hand including those charged with working on sustainable agriculture and the CPA – Bob Fedyski and Tom Redfern.

Not surprisingly, the heat gave way to a heavy downpour and flashes of lightning and the large pavilion doors were pulled down. But by the time the auction began at 4 pm, the sun returned and the bidding began. Lots of lots…asparagus, rhubarb, maple syrup, bird houses, popcorn (unpopped), wood shavings, garden stakes, and plenty of garden seedlings and hanging flower baskets.  My favorite items were some beautifully made apple crates (which I didn’t get), but I happily came home with some sweet potato starts.

heirloom tomatoes ready for the garden or porch

I highly recommend a trip to the CPA. It’s colorful, there’s a real feeling of community, and you can get some great deals. Auctions take place every Monday and Thursday through October 22nd, with the doors opening at 3pm, giving you plenty of time to check out the various lots.

Before heading back to Athens,  I said goodbye to the patient horses.

see you soon

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Last week’s spring-like temperatures had me imagining all the garden bounty that will be ripening in the coming months. But with this week’s return of drab and chilly weather, I remembered how lucky we are to have access to fresh foods any time of year, thanks to the year-round Athens Farmers Market.

Inside crowd

Every Saturday (between 10 am and 1 pm) I grab my 30 Mile Meal canvas shopping bag and head off to the Market on State Mall on East State Street. During the winter months the market’s vendors can be found both inside and outside the mall building. Usually 20-25 vendors offer their goods in the mall lobby.

My first stop last week was to say ‘hi’ to Becky Rondy from Green Edge Gardens (wow, nice Belize-induced tan). I filled my bag with their micro greens (green and purple radish), mixed leaf lettuces, spinach and shiitake mushrooms.

The pawpaw guy

Next I headed over to see Chris Chmiel from Integration Acres where I purchased some of their goat milk cheeses – chevre (the BEST I’ve ever had) and their luscious, creamy blue cheese rolled in ash. The week before I couldn’t resist some delicious cookies (the baking assisted by Chris and Michelle’s kids) with pawpaw and spiceberry jam sandwiched between two melt in your mouth whole wheat and rolled oats cookies.

King Family Farm sign

Across the lobby, I visited with JB and Charlene from King Family Farm. Before my move to Athens County, I didn’t eat much meat or fowl, but once I learned about the way the Kings raise and feed their animals, I gave their chicken a try. It is so tender and tasty. This week I bought some of their Italian chicken sausage.

Just down a few tables I purchased some pretty carrots (some orange, others purple) from Star Hamilton’s Shade River Organic Farm. She also has fantastic cilantro that keeps for at least two weeks in my frig.

Crumbs' Jeremy Bowman

My last indoor stop was Crumbs Bakery. This worker-owned business makes everything from tofu pasta to cookies. The line around their table is often 4-5 people deep, but worth the wait. I usually buy a few pastries and especially like their apricot and cherry rolls. I also recommend Crumbs crackers. Many are made with local grains, including spelt.

 

Outside crowd

Then it was back outside. On this Saturday a dozen vendors braved the cold.

Hola, Michelle

I was delighted to see that Michelle from Casa Nueva was back after a few weeks off and gladly bought a half pint of guacamole and some of their zippy bbq sauce.

Pizza Goon extraordinaire, John Gutekanst

Knowing I’d be hungry by the time I headed home, I stopped at Avalanche Pizza‘s spot and got one of their eight inch pies – mine made with plenty of mushrooms and cheese.

Matt Starline makes some change

Which got me thinking about Sunday breakfast and replenishing my dwindling supply of Starline Organics fabulous crunchy Maple Spelt Cereal – a million times better than Grape Nuts!

Another hearty farmer

Nearly done, I couldn’t resist getting some fresh green onions for the soup I planned to make with the Italian sausage, spinach, carrots and cilantro.

Cold and crisp apples

 

Oh, and a few apples from Cherry Orchards, because their apples are so good anytime of the day (or year).

One for the road home

 

 

My final stop, Brew du Soleil, for a Cappuccino.

Many thanks to all the farmers that make mine and others’ 30 Mile Meals possible!

 

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John Gutekanst

What’s it take to make a 30 Mile Meal? Plenty of partners and as the former executive director of ACEnet, June Holley, would say, “lots of network weaving.” A tasty example of this ‘tapestry of local’ is the recent addition of spelt flour to pizzas made by John Gutekanst’s Avalanche Pizza.

In his blog, Pizza Goon, John tells the story of discovering locally grown spelt and Brandon Jaeger during a 2009 visit to the farm of Joe Hirshberger in Chesterhill. Brandon and Michelle Ajamian (owners of the Shagbark Seed & Mill Company) had asked Hirshberger, an Amish farmer, to grow spelt for them. SS&MC is an offshoot of the Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative that works with regional small-to-mid-sized farms to produce, process, market, and distribute fresh, whole, sustainably-grown staple foods.

Serving up local-lious food

Whenever possible, Gutekanst uses locally grown ingredients in his pizza-making and like other 30 Mile Meal champions, showcases the farms and farmers that provide them. A recent series of Avalanche ads puts the faces to the food – Michelle, Brandon and spelt. They also remind us that as we nourish our bellies, we can also nourish the local foods community.

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