BIRMINGHAM DISPATCH: FARMERS’ MARKET AT PEPPER PLACE, A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL

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Who would’ve thought that putting words and images on a page with any great regularity would be so difficult for me? Aside from the fact that writing is difficult, I’m not very good at it, and my brain stops working after 10:00PM, all this traveling back and forth between B-ham and B’klyn is an exhausting time suck. But this weekend I stayed in Birmingham. In fact, this weekend I explored Birmingham and discovered the city I’d hoped to find.

It started with a terrific run along my usual path, but this time it was relaxed, meandering and without time restrictions. I had nowhere to be but present–it was luxurious! Breakfast was an almond croissant and more than decent cup of coffee at Chez Lulu, a local bakery/restaurant. I’m still partial to the almond croissants at Runner and Stone in Brooklyn, but these were pretty darn tasty.

That was followed by a trip to Pepper Place. “Have you been to the farmers’ market at Pepper Place?” I’d been asked since arriving in January. Being back in NYC most weekends, not to mention being a little jaded, what with Union Square Farmers’ market as my benchmark, the answer had always been “No.” My maiden voyage to Pepper Place was a most pleasant surprise! Though the variety wasn’t astonishing, the quality of the produce more than made up for the limited options. Chilton county peaches, fragrant and juicy truly were the best I’ve ever had. As were the blackberries which were the size of my big toes. And the tomatoes, not yet ready in New York were silky-sweet and meaty. All that lovely produce sold by lovely people with warm smiles and ready answers. One farmer, with sweet plump blueberries the size of cherries, mentioned that he came back to the farm after 40 years as a contractor in Denver. We discussed the merits of bat-guano-tea as opposed to chemical fertilizers.

Then later that afternoon I attended a fund-raiser for the local community farm, Jones Valley Teaching Farm catered by about a half-dozen local bars and restaurants. A few favorites of mine were in attendance: Little Donkey–bourbon and mini emapanadas; Carrigan’s–moonshine and bahn mi sandwiches; Hot & Hot– tequila and gazpacho…all good! And all for a good cause.

As if it the weekend couldn’t get any better, the following day, a friend introduced me to the Latin community by way of a pretty authentic Mexican bodega/restaurant/bakery, Gordos. The tacos and huaraches  with carne asada, pollo guisado, and chicharones  rivaled anything I could get in Sunset Park or Redhook in  Brooklyn, AND at a fraction of the price (which are already pretty cheap)

In any event, more than the food, I think I was craving a connection to something familiar–something i hadn’t had in a long time–something that made me feel at home.

 

 

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Sweet and Spicy Tomato Jam

 

SWEET AND SPICY FARMERS’ MARKET TOMATO JAM

Makes Three (1/2-pint) jars

4 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (8 cups)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon roasted garlic (optional)

2 canned chipotles in adobo, minced

1 teaspoon pure ancho chile powder

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

In a large non-reactive saucepan, combine the tomatoes, sugar, garlic, chipotles, ancho chile powder,  vinegar, and salt and bring to a boil.  Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thick, glossy and jammy, about 50 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Pour the jam into clean jars and let cool. Seal and refrigerate.

 

 

 

TRINIDAD ROTI: THIS (DEFERENTIAL) WHITE GIRL’S ATTEMPT AT THE GREATEST FLATBREAD ON THE PLANET

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Flaky, tender Trinidad Roti with Goat Curry

One thing that running has taught me, among other things, is that getting from points A to B–crossing the finish line–is not in and of itself the ultimate goal. Rather, it’s how you get there, what’s in between, the journey. Art school taught me a similar lesson, but it never quite stuck, especially when you’re left with a crappy painting unfit for even the closet walls. No, running is my process and the goal is to find shit out (work shit out, too) along the way.  It can be therapeutic, or physically and mentally challenging, or aimless and exploratory. It’s  those “aimless” runs that I often enjoy the most: hitting an unfamiliar trail or neighborhood is by far my favorite way toward discovery–of all kinds. I’ve been places I’d not ordinarily have visited any other way. Some people are welcoming, others suspicious and others downright hostile. That’s when I smile, nod and pick up the pace a bit. But I’m always glad to have seen something, learned something or met someone new.

Without beating the metaphor too much, cooking is like running. Ideally, I’d like the end result to be edible and not a colossal waste of ingredients, but it’s the learning along the way that really keeps me in the kitchen.  The more foreign the food, the more of a challenge it is, and therefore the more obsessive I become.  Which leads me to the subject of this post: Trinidadian Roti, a flaky, chewy/tender flat bread that’s cooked on a griddle and served with a rich and spicy curry. My neighbor, Dionne, who’s Trinidadian, introduced me to roti many years ago, taking me to just about the best place in the city for West Indian food, Gloria’s on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. (It should be spelled phonetically, Glorious, it’s that good) and I’ve been hooked ever since.  According to the New York City’s Department of City Planning,  “More persons of West Indian ancestry live in New York City than any city outside of the West Indies.” And I think they’d all agree about Gloria’s.

On a recent run though another very Caribbean part of Brooklyn, I spotted someone rolling roti on a big table, getting ready for the day’s lunch rush and was inspired to give it a try myself later that afternoon. Internet research shed some light on the topic which was a decent enough start, but, remember,  I am in it for the discovery, so I gathered my ingredients and equipment and began.

Simple enough ingredients, flour, salt, baking powder and water come together to make a soft, pliable dough which gets shaped into balls and allowed to rest for 30 minutes. Then each ball gets floured and rolled to a thin disc, then brushed with a mixture of butter and oil, rolled into a coil and allowed to rest again. The coiling of the dough is what forms the flaky layers. Think Caribbean puff pastry. The whole thing gets repeated once more before rolling into a thin disc, oiled and cooked on a tawa (griddle) until blistered and golden. My first attempt was actually pretty close but a bit tough–I hadn’t added enough water or baking powder. My second attempt was far better–the right combination of flaky, chewy and tender. We had it for dinner last night with super spicy curried goat–thankful for the bread to sop up the rich, peppery sauce and thankful for that delicious place between A and B.

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roll thinly, brush with fat and roll up

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Pinch the ends to form a ball

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cook on a griddle

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Griddle both sides

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Flaky, tender Trinidad roti with curried goat

TRINIDAD ROTI

 

3 cups (400 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and dusting

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/4 cups water

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

 

1.     In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Add the water and stir to form a sticky dough. On a lightly floured board, turn out the dough and knead briefly, adding a bit more flour to keep your hands from sticking. Shape the dough into 4 balls, place on a floured baking sheet and cover loosely with a sheet of oiled plastic. Let sit for 30 minutes.

2.     In a small bowl, combine the butter and oil. On a floured surface, roll a ball of dough into a 10-inch disc. Brush with a thin layer of the fat. Using a knife, make a cut starting in the center and extending to one edge. Roll the dough into a cone-shaped coil and press the edges together. Using your fingers, pinch the ends together to form a ball. Return the ball to the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes in a cool place. Repeat the rolling out, brushing and coiling once more, letting the dough balls sit for 30 minutes in a cool place. (The coils create the flaky layers.)

3.     Preheat a griddle over moderate heat. Roll the roti dough to an 11-inch circle and brush one side with more of the butter mixture. Working with one or two at a time, place the roti on the griddle, buttered side down and cook over moderate heat until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Brush the surface, flip and griddle until golden.  Brush and flip the roti once or twice more until blistered in spots and cooked completely through, about 2 minutes longer. Lower the heat if the roti darken too quickly. Fold the roti into quarters and serve with curry, dal or grilled meats.