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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Barnum’

Cooking with fire!

Saturday, Feb 4, 2012
9:30 am – 3:00 pm

Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery
14955 SW 214th St.
Miami, FL 33187-4602
305-235-1768

Convert your gas grill to burn wood. That’s the first of a series of survival workshops that grower/chef Robert Barnum is teaching. “I teach long lost trades, arts, and skills that can be quite useful if the situation becomes less than what it is today,” he said. Robert has teamed up with Jason Long, who started the Re-skill Florida school “where anyone can teach and learn honorable useful skills,” according to their web site.

Bring your gas grill to the workshop and Robert will show you how to safely modify it. Instead of expensive gas, burn wood, and use your own. Being able to cook with wood can save money, and teach you how to be more frugal and self-reliant. Robert has plenty of experience when it comes to being self-reliant. Over the years, he has experimented with which woods are better for cooking, and which are to be avoided. “Don’t use Brazilian pepper, oleander or mango,” he suggested, “as the smoke can be irritating to some people.” He should know — he has 40 acres of trees on his Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery.

There’s room for 35 people, but hurry as the class is selling out. The cost if the workshop is $50. It includes the registration fee, instructor fee, grill modification fee, and lunch. You could try to register online at the Re-skill Florida web site, but when I checked on Wednesday night, the registration button was still not working.

Instead, call Robert at 305-235-1768 to let him know you’re coming, and bring cash to pay at the door. If you haven’t been to Possum Trot before, you will need directions, as the entrance is a bit tricky to find, and the address doesn’t show up on some GPSs.

The gas-to-wood grill workshop is the first of a series of Saturday classes. Coming up:

Feb. 11th — Rope making with Agave
How to make rope from agave plants. Optional: Learn preparation, and camp out the night before.

Feb. 18th — Introduction to economic botany
Learn which trees and plants to grow in your yard for food and other useful purposes.

Feb. 25th — Kitchen frugality
What to do with all the food in your CSA box, and how to shop in bulk and store food.

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Have you signed up for any of the sessions scheduled before the Community Food Summit? There’s plenty to choose from. The one that caught my eye is the Regenerative Farm Tour on Sunday Oct. 2. Regenerating is a good thing to do on a weekend, to clear out big city craziness at various farms, big and small, both urban and rural.

Tour guide Corinna Moebius will visit The Farm at Verde Gardens, Frank Macaluso’s Edible Yard, Yve Rose’s Backyard Food Forest, and Muriel’s Little River Market Garden. The tour runs from 9 am to 3 pm and costs $45.

Included is a stop at Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery, where Robert Barnum, the Cantankerous Chef, will prepare a delicious vegetarian lunch. He’s using as much farm raised and local food as possible. The menu includes:

  • drink made with cas guava
  • vegetable casserole with okra, cabbage, squash, zucchini, tomato sauce (made from Teena’s Pride heirloom tomatoes), betel leaf, topped with Hani’s organic goat cheese
  • fresh fruit platter including monstera, jakfruit and carambola
  • Sem Chi organic rice (grown in Belle Glade FL)
  • carambola pie
  • homemade tropical fruit wine (optional)

Register here for the tour and lunch.

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The choice is not local or organic but how, through your organic food purchases, you can incorporate supporting local agriculture, local communities and and local economies into an organic lifestyle. The more you were into local culture, the more important it is to support organics in your region.
– George Siemon, Organic Valley

Carolann and Ted Baldyga, Hani Khouri

As the locavore dinner unfolded I couldn’t help thinking that maybe this was the way previous generations ate in this area. Crab, wild pig, cobia, coconut for sure, and other foods were later introduced. Many tropical things, whether native or  introduced, don’t grow in more northern latitudes. Jaboticaba, bignay, betel leaf, callaloo, Red Ceylon peach, rangpur lime, Mysore raspberries  — you’re not going to find most of those at a supermarket in Miami — or New Jersey! (But you can find some things at farmers markets, or grow others in your back yard.)

James and Donna Patrick, Laura Veitia

Earth Dinner calls for us to honor the earth, the very dirt we stand on, by honoring our food. And by so doing, we honor our farmers — a stubborn, determined, independent tribe — who work very hard to feed us. In fact most of the growers who provided the ingredients for our dinner were present — Robert Barnum, Margie Pikarsky, Hani Khouri, George Figueroa, Teena Borek, and guests Thi and Bill Squire representing our local Slow Food Miami chapter.

Bill and Thi Squire

Robert and Margie’s Earth Dinner was only one of two in the entire state of Florida. I’m a bit surprised there weren’t more. A wide range of food grows in the spaces outside urban development, and agriculture is the state’s second largest source of revenue. City dwellers are quick to forget that they live among farmers, even as farmers are pushed back by relentless waves of development.

Robin and Carol Faber

Margie stood up and spoke at the close of dinner. “This dinner is about the importance of the local farmer. It’s important that we support the local foodshed and the richness of the local food here. This is the way to keep our country strong and our food safe. By keeping food regional, it’s easier to control food safety.”

Anthony Rodriguez, George Figueroa, Tina Trescone

Know where your food comes from, or how it was grown and processed. Connect the food with the place where you live, and you will be healthier and stronger for it. At last month’s Earth Dinner, the taste of this place was in the food and drink. It was unlike any dinner I’d eaten anywhere else. And it sure made for good experience and good memories! If I were to savor a perfectly ripe Mysore raspberry or take a sip of bignay wine, blindfolded, years from now, I would remember in a heartbeat this dinner and this particular abundant land — thanks to our local farmers!

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Add family, friends, and sharing stories about this connection with one another, and you have the recipe for change. Each element is of equal importance to an Earth Dinner and to the food culture — spinning yarns, savoring food, learning to truly listen. We have much to connect here, and we need each other’s wisdom to do it.
– Theresa Marquez

Guests settled in at table.

With the sun setting and appetites provoked by wood smoke, guests made their way back to the house and took their seats at table in the high ceilinged, open beamed dining room. Even Robert’s unassuming house has a story. It’s positioned on the property to make the best use of the prevailing breezes and stays cool with cross ventilation (something that contemporary house builders have forgotten to do). High ceilings, large windows and wide overhangs are part of the design to stay cool in tropical heat. Only two fans supplemented the evening breeze to keep guests comfortable.

Each dish that was served came with its own story about where the food came from. Margie and Robert took turns telling those stories, and fisherman George “Trigger” Figueroa also chimed in with his own tales of adventure. The foods were accompanied with wines from Schnebly and some of Robert’s best vintages.

Heirloom tomatoes topped with goat cheese and purple basil.

And so the dinner began, and grew to a torrent of local abundance and deliciousness. Salad featured Teena’s heirloom tomatoes, and right away I fell in love with the orange one called appropriately enough, Tangerine. It has a bright, citrusy flavor, thus the name, and is said to be loaded with lycopene. Other varieties in the salad were Pink Brandywine and Cherokee Purple. Tangy and rich tomato flavors were balanced by crumbles of mild goat cheese. The salad was paired with Schnebly’s avocado wine, which tastes surprisingly crisp and clean, similar to a pinot grigio, and not one whiff of avocado. Teena said she has been growing tomatoes and vegetables in a sustainable way for over 35 years in Redland.

Vichysoisse with multicolor potato chips.

If you attended the Potato Pandemonium dinner last year, you’ll remember the vichyssoise. The soup was light and delicate in flavor and texture, but this time was more orange than lavender in color. (The color is determined by the mix of potatoes in a particular batch.) A handful of crispy potato chips topped the soup and gave it a salty crunch. The creamy half and half used to thicken the soup came from Dakin Dairy in Myakka City. Robert explained the potatoes came from a nearby field where the State of Maine tests their seed crop of spuds every year. Many different kinds in all different colors — red, blue, golden, white — are grown. Robert has permission to forage after they plow the crop under. Potatoes were a popular crop in Redland, grown in clay-like marl soil. But in the last decade, potato fields have given way to fields of houses and paved roads.

Tempura battered betel leaf and blue crab rangoon.

Tempura battered betel leaf with crab rangoon had also gone through its evolution into a lighter dish. Robert got several pounds of local blue crabs from Card Sound Crabs Company located not too far away on rustic Card Sound Road. The crabs had been swimming just the day before. It took three people about three hours to pick out all the crab meat. (Talk about slow food!) The crab sauce was less creamy than I remembered, and that was a good thing, allowing the delicate crab flavor to come through. The crunchy fried leaf served as a deconstructed fried wonton wrapper and added smoky flavor. This dish was served with Schnebly’s coconut wine, which had a slight coconut flavor that became more pronounced as it warmed.

Wild caught cobia with broiled red grapefruit and Ponderosa lemon.

Crab rangoon was followed by another seafood dish, wild caught cobia. It’s a gamefish that migrates from the Gulf, around the coast of Florida and into the Carolinas. When this particular fish was swimming, it was about 38 inches long. Local fisherman George Figueroa speared it while free diving in about 25 feet of water off the coast of Jacksonville, and was present at the dinner to tell the tale.

Robert Barnum opens up a Ponderosa lemon.

The carambola glazed, wood grilled fillet was thick and meaty, much like cod, and its flavor reminded me of mackerel. It was served with broiled red grapefruit from David’s Organics and a huge slice of Ponderosa lemon which Robert grows. He passed one around to examine. It was bigger than a softball and had thick bumpy skin. Its taste was mildly acid (similar to Bahamas lemon which Margie grows at Bee Heaven). The dish was accompanied by one of Robert’s wines made from araça, a tart yellow fruit that also makes great ice cream, but is too sour to eat on its own. The araça wine was light in color and a bit fruity, but not quite as complex as chardonnay.

Wood smoked wild boar with tamarind-peach chutney and callaloo.

Smoked wild boar came with its own story too. The meat had been donated by chef Michael Schwartz, who shot it on a hunt in the woods near Lake Okeechobee. (Read about the hunt on Michael’s blog.) George explained to dinner guests that feral pigs roam all over Florida, and can cause a considerable amount of damage as they root for food. But this particular pig was a menace no more. Robert smoked the pork for eight hours in his outside wood fired smoker, using Florida mahogany wood. It was glazed with a tamarind-peach chutney sauce, and served with more of the same on the side. The lightly smoked roast pork was lean and had a slightly chewy texture, to be expected from an animal that got lots of exercise. Fruit for the chutney came from Robert’s grove. Red Ceylon peach has a light colored flesh with red around the pit, and its light peachy flavor makes for a good ice cream (which made an appearance at the ice cream social last summer). Robert explained that this peach is one of very few varieties that had been grown commercially in South Florida over 50 years ago but no longer, because it is susceptible to fruit fly infestation. The wild boar was served with two large dollops of callaloo (also known as Jamaican spinach) grown at Three Sisters Farm. The greens were cooked with scallions and garlic chives from Bee Heaven Farm. The dish was served with Robert’s jaboticaba wine, which was purplish, tasted a bit sweet and grape-like, and went quite well with the chutney. It seemed to be one one of the more popular wines of the night.

Grassfed beef with oyster muchrooms and roasted multicolor potatoes.

The third entree was grassfed beef raised at Deep Creek Ranch located in DeLand. (According to their web site, the cattle are raised on pasture according to organic practices but are not actually certified organic.) On my plate was a large chunk of meat with a marrow bone that appeared even larger because it was draped with sauteed oyster mushrooms from Happy Shrooms, and was accompanied by a side of smoked multicolor potatoes from the Maine testing fields, carrots and onions from Worden Farm, and parsnips and rosemary grown at Bee Heaven. Robert said the shank meat had been browned and oven braised in a blend of his homemade tropical fruit wines for about eight hours until it was tender. I was starting to get full when the beef arrived, but after one bite, couldn’t set it aside untouched. It had a rich taste and the wine reduction added to the depth of the flavor. The meat was falling off the bone, and a dollop of marrow was worth pursuing with the tip of a knife. The beef was served along with Robert’s bignay wine, which has a dark red color and tastes similar to cabernet. Some people think it’s too astringent, but it held up well to the richness of the beef.

Carambola pie with rangpur lime/sapodilla gelato and fresh Mysore raspberries.

Dessert — as if anyone could eat another bite — was Robert’s familiar square slab of carambola pie made with a whole wheat crust, accompanied by two scoops of rangpur lime/sapodilla gelato made with goat’s milk. The carambola, rangpur lime and sapodilla came from Robert’s grove,  and milk from Hani’s goat herd just down the street. The pie tasted like a tangy peach pie, and the gelato was a light dance of sweet and sour. Both were topped with a sprinkling of freshly picked Mysore raspberries from Bee Heaven. The dessert was paired with a sweet bignay wine that was as thick and strong as an elixir, almost too strong and sweet for me. Robert said he made it with twice the fruit and twice the sugar.

Weber, Mike and Sadie from Bee Heaven Farm helped with prep.

I’ve been to several dinner events at Robert’s and with this one he had outdone himself. His cooking and presentation gets better and better with each event, and it doesn’t hurt that he had excellent fresh local ingredients to work with and lots of willing helpers. Yes, there were a few minor glitches — the appetizer and soup courses didn’t come out of the kitchen in order, others weren’t paced evenly, and a few stray cobwebs lingered in a chandelier. But for the most part, the event went smoothly. Food presentation was professional and the service (by volunteers!) was very, very good. Kudos to Kathy, Karen, Sadie, Mike and Weber!

<< to be continued >>

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The dinner table is perhaps the most powerful and delicious place to plant the seeds of change; the return to simple truths, change, and wisdom all go hand in hand. Our first step toward change can be to pause when we take our first bite and think about our connections with food. Aha! Understanding this connection is the essence of the Earth Dinner.
– Theresa Marquez, founder of Earth Dinner

Earth Dinner is a new holiday tradition meant to celebrate Earth Day. It was started four seven years ago by Organic Valley and Chefs Collaborative as a way to gather friends and loved ones around the table for a fresh, seasonal meal made of local ingredients. The focus of the Dinner is to have a meaningful conversation about the food — where it came from, how it was grown or harvested, and who grew it. So it was only natural that farmer Margie Pikarsky and grower/chef Robert Barnum would organize their own Earth Dinner,  held the weekend after Earth Day.

Earth Dinner at Possum Trot Tropical Fruit Nursery.

Call it extreme locavore. The challenge was to source all ingredients — except for flour and olive oil — from what was available locally. And so the hunting and foraging began. Chef Michael Schwartz  donated wild boar he had hunted himself together with local fisherman George Figueroa of Trigger Seafood, who donated cobia. Hani Khouri provided cheese and milk from his goats. Large beautiful heirloom tomatoes came from grower Teena Borek. Callaloo came from Three Sisters Farm, and a variety of herbs and vegetables from Bee Heaven Farm. Winemaker Peter Schnebly donated two kinds of local fruit wine. And a plethora of fruit came from Robert’s own grove.

At the wood smoker, Weber bastes wild boar and Sadie checks multi-color potatoes.

Margie and her crew volunteered to help clean and cook, and Robert’s friends pitched in. Preparations took days and went up to the last minute. When I arrived an hour before dinner, a plume of blue smoke chugged from the wood smoker outside the house, as wild boar and multi-color potatoes cooked inside. Both kitchens were humming with activity as helpers chopped, stirred, snipped and tossed. In the dining room, two long tables were covered with white linen and glittered with fine china, glassware and silver. Centerpieces of mixed flowers — food for local bees — from Bee Heaven Farm graced the tables. Glass goblets were stocked with braided breadsticks that had been baked in the wood oven and looked like branches plucked from the grove. Even the sea salt was local, produced by a small company in the Florida Keys.

Donna and James Patrick smell crushed bay rum leaves.

While there was still daylight before dinner, Robert offered guests a short tour of his 40 acre property. Everything he grows is useful in some way. He pointed out bay rum, lemon bay and citronella outside the house, and invited guests to crush leaves and smell different scents. Jaboticaba was nearby, with small, unripe berries growing on its trunk. It bears fruit three or four times a year. Robert harvests the berries for wine, of which we got a taste later in the dinner. Guests strolled through the grove and saw macadamia, mango, and lychee trees (to name just a few of the edibles that I recognized).

<< to be continued >>

Robert Barnum holds up a jaboticaba fruit.


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