Locavores

Fresh: Farmers markets are a wonderful way to buy your produce, but figuring out how to get the produce home and then what to do with all that bounty is an ongoing issue. (Dan Honda/Contra Costa Times/MCT)

Organic, sustainable, local -- everyone talks the trendy talk, but some foodies are taking the locavore message to heart.

They're not only frequenting farmers markets, they're launching locavore supper clubs and recipe-rich blogs, and subscribing to CSAs -- small, local farms whose Community Supported Agriculture programs eliminate the middle man by delivering fresh veggies direct.

You can credit Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver -- and the San Francisco Bay Area's wealth of fresh produce and small farms -- with the transformation.

"A lot of people are buying organic," says San Jose, Calif., resident Carol Provenzano. "We wanted to take it to the next step."

Provenzano and her friends began subscribing to a farm CSA and hosting locavore dinners after reading Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," which recounts the novelist's yearlong effort to lead the life of a locavore, serving only food she'd raised herself or that came from growers and ranchers she trusted.

It was Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" that abruptly raised the consciousness of Christina Valencia and her best friend Jillian Abernathy, San Francisco twentysomethings who started researching local CSAs within days of finishing the best-seller.

"I didn't know anything about organic foods or pesticides," Valencia says. "It opened my eyes to a lot of things. I loved farmers markets, but it's Saturday mornings. I'm usually sleeping in! CSA was a great way to get local produce without hassle -- and support our local farmers."

If strolling a farmers market is casual dating, joining a CSA is going steady. Instead of browsing and picking and choosing, you commit to pick up weekly or biweekly boxes of fresh-from-the-farm produce -- and in some cases chickens, eggs and herbs. But for every delightful heirloom tomato discovery, there comes a time when the box brims with something strange.

"You just get what you get, which is pretty fun," says Provenzano, who picks up her CSA box at a drop-off spot on the Santa Clara University campus. "Farmers are able to provide varieties of vegetables that have a shorter shelf life, so you're getting different tastes, and the stuff is very fresh. You think you know what a strawberry tastes like and then you taste these."

Still, it can be startling. One of Provenzano's first CSA crates contained, apparently, weeds. They were edible greens, she knows now, but at the time, they bore an uncanny resemblance to the greenery she'd just weed-whacked in her backyard.

"It's definitely an adjustment," says Valencia, whose produce came from Farm Fresh to You, a large CSA that delivers to homes and offices, rather than general drop-off spots. "The first box I ever got, I threw most of it away because I didn't know what to do with it. Beets and beet greens -- I didn't know you can actually use those beet greens. But the more you explore, the more adventurous you are. You research it, and that's part of the fun. I just cooked for the first time with green garlic."

Soon, Valencia and Abernathy were recounting those culinary adventures with tender broccolini and leafy kale on their Bay Area-based food blog, Farm and a Frying Pan. It struck such a chord, the blog has begun adding writers in Chicago, Denver and Southern California. And Valencia, who moved to New York City earlier this year to join the staff at Epicurious.com, has added a bicoastal element.

EXPANDING AWARENESS

CSAs and farmers markets are a wonderful way to buy your produce, but figuring out how to get the produce home and then what to do with all that bounty is an ongoing issue, says food writer Janet Fletcher. Her new book, "Eating Local, The Cookbook Inspired by America's Farmers," is a joint venture with Sur La Table. The cookware boutique's corporate headquarters in Seattle is a drop-off point for CSA boxes in a pilot program the company hopes may eventually expand.

The idea, Fletcher says, is "to make it easier for people to buy local, support local farms and get fresh food on their own table."

Part of that effort also lies in expanding, "people's produce awareness," says Fletcher. "Get people thinking about trying and cooking some of the vegetables they may have shied away from in the past -- kale, tomatillos, rutabagas, things that turn up in those produce boxes."

Meanwhile, Provenzano and her friends have moved beyond the CSA box. By fall 2009, what had begun with a book had become a passion.

"I was making cheese and yogurt, and canning tomatoes, and they were making jam and orange juice, and sharing with each other," Provenzano says. "We were trying not to use stuff outside the farmers market, our box and our backyard. And we thought, 'Let's see if we can do a dinner.'"

LOCAVORE SUPPER CLUB

Now it's a neighborhood supper club, with monthly locavore dinners that feature only ingredients grown or produced in a 100 mile radius. The distance allows for much in California: Sonoma sea salt and Napa wines, as well as organic cream from Petaluma's Clover Dairy. A recent dinner featured grilled London Broil -- from Morris Grass-fed Beef in San Juan Bautista, Calif. -- that had been marinated in garlic and rosemary and served with a balsamic glaze. The velvety corn soup used produce from the farmers market and CSA box, and in true locavore fashion, a recipe from Berkeley, Calif., chef Alice Waters.

The only problem were the spices. Cinnamon, vanilla beans and pepper come from the other side of the planet, Provenzano says. No wonder Columbus was so motivated.

But this isn't some club with bylaws and gavels. The group just grins and looks the other way when the pepper grinder comes out -- they get it -- then cheers for the rest of the locavore meal, which displays the area's bounty.

"Our kids think it's crazy," Provenzano says, "but we think it's cool."

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BRAISED FENNEL, CARROTS AND ONIONS

Serves 8

4 fennel bulbs, stalks removed

1 tablespoon butter, divided

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 cups onions, chopped

1 teaspoon honey

4 large carrots, cut into thick matchsticks

1-1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped fennel fronds, or fresh parsley

1. Cut each fennel bulb into 8 wedges, but do not remove the core. In a large saucepan, bring some water to a boil, add the fennel wedges and cook for 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and blot with paper towels.

2. Heat 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 teaspoon oil in a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, add half the fennel and cook, stirring, until nicely browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a dish. Repeat with the remaining butter, oil and fennel; transfer to the dish.

3. Add onion to the pan, sprinkle with honey and cook, shaking the pan back and forth, until nicely browned, 4 to 6 minutes.

4. Return the fennel to the pan along with carrots and 1 cup broth. Season with salt and pepper and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, adding more broth as needed to keep the stew moist, 15 to 20 minutes. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve.

-- Adapted from "EatingWell in Season, The Farmers' Market Cookbook" (2009)

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GRILLED LONDON BROIL

2-3 pounds London Broil

2 teaspoons sea salt

Marinade

6 tablespoons olive oil

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary

Balsamic vinegar glaze

3/4 cup Mission Fig Balsamic Vinegar

1 tablespoon butter

1. Puree marinade ingredients in a blender until smooth. Place the London Broil steak in a dish and prick with a dinner fork. Rub each side with sea salt and then with the marinade paste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. For the glaze, simmer -- do not boil -- the balsamic vinegar until reduced by half. Add the tablespoon of butter and let melt.

3. Using paper towels, wipe the marinade paste off the steak; season both sides with pepper. Grill until medium-rare. Slice and serve, with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar glaze.

-- Marinade adapted from Cook's Illustrated, vinegar glaze from Big Paw's Olive Oil and Vinegar, www.bigpawgrub.com

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BROCCOLINI SALAD

Serves 2

1 bunch broccolini (about 6-8 stems), cut into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 garlic glove, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled

1. In a large stock pot, bring salted water to a boil. Blanch broccolini for 3-4 minutes. Submerge broccolini in a bowl of iced water or rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.

2. Meanwhile, mix balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and garlic in a medium-sized serving bowl. Add broccolini and toss to combine. Sprinkle with goat cheese and serve chilled or at room temperature or chilled.

-- Jillian Abernathy, www.farmandafryingpan.com

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GOLDEN BEET AND BLOOD ORANGE SALAD

Serves 4

4 medium golden beets

Vinaigrette

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Champagne or white wine vinegar

Sea salt, black pepper

Salad

2 large or 3 small blood oranges

1/4 small red onion, very thinly sliced

1 heaping tablespoon thinly sliced fresh mint

1. Preheat oven to 375. If the beet greens are attached, remove all but a 1/2 inch of the stem. Reserve the greens and stems for another use. Put the beets in a baking dish, add water to a depth of 1/4 inch, cover tightly and bake until a knife pierces the beets easily, 45-55 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel the beets and slice into thin rounds.

2. Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together.

3. Cut a slice off the top and bottom of each orange. Working with one at a time, set the fruit on a cutting board, cut side down. Slice away the peel from top to bottom, following the contour of the fruit and removing all the white pith. Slice the orange thinly crosswise. Repeat with remaining orange(s).

4. To assemble the salad, alternate slices of beet and orange on a platter. Scatter the onion evenly over all. Whisk the dressing briefly and spoon it over the salad. Sprinkle with mint and serve immediately.

-- Janet Fletcher, "Eating Local, The Cookbook Inspired by America's Farmers" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 304 pp, $35)

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(c) 2010, Contra Costa Times ( Walnut Creek, Calif.).

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