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Berry My Heart*

strawberry09Strawberry season is upon us again, oh joy, oh joy! My first local strawberry of the year came from Poteet and was soused with white wine, brandy, and prosecco in a specialty sangria at Fino last night. Have you had your first Texas strawberry yet this year? How was it? (If you missed my treatise on the relationship between berry size and flavor last year, check it out here.)

[*Thanks to my mom for the title of this post. It was the title she wanted to give her book, The Berry Grower's Companion. Her publisher didn't go for it.]

Local Wine and Cheese at Central Market (Austin)

goat cheeseA dynamic duo in Texas wine and food will offer up their insights along with their goods this Thursday evening from 6:30 until 9 at the Central Market Cooking School. From the Mozzarella Company, Paula Lambert will cook with her Dallas-made cheeses. Susan Auler, of Fall Creek Vineyards in Tow, will pair dishes like Celery Salad with Blanca Bianca & Pecans with Texas-made wines.  No guarantee that Paula’s fresh goat cheese, pictured at left, will be on the menu, but as of this morning there were still slots in the class. For reservations, call 458.3068.

Gelato Savings (Austin)

In what he has dubbed an original economic stimulus plan, Teo of Austin gelato fame is offering $2 gelato servings every Tuesday from noon until 10 at both Teo locations. Ask for the TEO Plan – that’s Teo Economic Opportunity. Hey, don’t knock it. This is high-quality, locally made gelato. We’ll take our discount and eat it, too.

Texas Eats: Butter

butter

Not traditionally considered a health food, butter has had some good press recently. If it’s made from milk that was produced by cows that ate grass, new sources say, it can be full of fatty acids and proteins that are actually good for you. That’s good news for butter lovers! More good news for butter lovers in Texas? Lucky Layla. It’s the name of a dairy in Plano that’s a collaboration between a third-generation dairyman and an experienced milk producer. Says that producer, Lucky Layla plant manager Edgar Diaz, the composition of their butter is superior because their milk comes from Jersey and Guernsey cows instead of Holsteins. (This, says Diaz, actually has more to do with quality than butterfat content.) What’s more, grazing on grass results in plenty of beta carotene, responsible for the butter’s yellow color, no dye added. Jerseys and Guernseys can be raised in just about every state, and surely grass grows widely, too. But eating butter made locally still matters. According to the editors of The Gourmet Cookbook, freshness is key when it comes to butter quality. Shorter shipping distance, then, can mean fresher butter for your bread.

An Exceptional Drought

drought

You hear and read about it in the news: Central Texas is experiencing a drought. Personally, I feel like someone’s always complaining about the weather, so I don’t always pay a lot of attention. After all, it doesn’t seem like that long ago that we Austinites lived like ducks in a record-settingly rainy summer! But this is serious. Check out this message, sent out in an email by the good folks of Fredericksburg Grass-Fed Beef last week:

Unfortunately we will be absent from the Austin Farmer’s Market for a few weeks.  The extremely dry weather has slowed our harvest calves growth dramatically, no green grass.  We have a few calves that we are hoping to harvest in March.  It is our hope to return April 18.

No rain, it turns out, means no grass. And that means no beef. In the simple equation, WATER + SUN = FOOD, there’s very little room for error. And the drought draining Central Texas right now is serious business. It’s the worst in the country and especially bad news for families who earn their living selling grass-fed beef. But if you eat, it’s bad news for you, too. It’s just a shame we can’t vote ourselves out of this mess.

[Image from the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, NE. For more details, see this website.]

Dai Due Announces March Schedule

whole_hog
The inimitable Jesse Griffiths and Tamara Mayfield offer something for everyone with next month’s selection of Dai Due suppers. Go for “Rabbit, demystified” if you’re a hard-core foodie. Just want to have fun? “Bacchanal” may be for you. There’s a picnic, a chef’s table, and a whole-hog class and dinner, too, that includes the good stuff pictured at right. (Thanks to the fine bloggers over at Boots in the Oven for the photo.) How to pick just one? Your options may be limited if you don’t sign up soon, as these slots go super-fast. When last I heard from Jesse today, though, there was still space in each. Email info@daidueaustin.com to reserve.

HOT LOCAVORE TIP: Betsy Ross’s Beef

betsy-ross-beefWHAT: Texas-raised, grass-fed beef

WHERE I FOUND IT: People’s Pharmacy on North Lamar.

WHEN: I visited on February 5, but Betsy delivers a new batch of lots of different cuts every Thursday. You can call in advance to check availability [512/459.9090].

PRICE: Varies depending on the cut. I paid $13.00 per pound for top sirloin.

WHY IT’S GREAT: On Ross Farm, in Granger, cows live as cows should. They graze on pasture their whole lives, right through finishing. This means their meat is rich in omega-3 fatty acid and conjugated linoleic acid, both of which are now known to promote human health in a variety of ways – and both of which are lacking in traditional, corn-fed beef. Finally, cows raised on Ross Farm are treated humanely right up through slaughter. It’s just the right thing to do.

More Local Options for Valentine’s Day

tiffsVdayA couple more ways to love, locavore-style, have come across my desk since I last posted on the subject:

  • Who could forget Tiff? With her sweetie Leon, she opened Austin’s first cookie-delivery company ten years ago. (Check out the story Addie Broyles wrote about them in a recent issue of the Statesman.) Tiff’s Treats is offering special Valentine’s Day packaging, as seen at left, for only $3.99 this weekend.
  • Have you noticed all the chocolate-covered strawberries around town? Amy’s ice cream shops have them now, and Lamme’s will have them again tomorrow and Saturday. Even HEB is in on the craze!

With two days to go, you still have plenty of options to go local for your Valentine – or your anti-Valentine, if you wish – this year.

A Few New Local-Food Finds

super-sproutsLucky me! I was invited to a special, food-bloggers-only class at Central Market last night. Chef Vance Ely served up a great spread of several courses sourced near-exclusively from within 200 miles of Central Market’s North Lamar location. (My tablemate summed up the evening quite nicely at Poco-Cocoa, if you want to read more on that.)

Chef Vance really did his homework for this event, and I learned about a couple of new-to-me local products. First, he served this excellent salad of mixed greens topped with Super Sprout Salad, an Austin-grown mixture of sprouts and other goodies in a light dressing. (See the package lid at right. It’s available at Central Market, of course.) He also revealed that HEB-branded salt is distilled from Gulf seawater right here in Texas! super-sprouts-lidAnother revelation of the night was Austin Slow Burn’s pasta sauce. Vance mixed it with Thunderheart bison and Texas venison to make a rich, meaty sauce he served with toasted, Texas-cheese-filled ravioli.

This was an experimental event at Central Market, but the cooking-school staff would like to do more locavore classes. Stay tuned.

HOT LOCAVORE TIP: Lucky Layla’s Butter

WHAT: Great-tasting, unsalted butter churned in Garland from milk produced by cows pastured in Plano

WHERE I FOUND IT: Central Market, North Lamar

WHEN: Thursday evening (02.05.2009)

PRICE: $6.79 for a 12-ounce tub

MORE DETAILS: Lucky Layla’s website

ABOUT: At last, a tasty butter joins Texas olive oil in our arsenal of locally produced fats!