Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Old Man Festival, Italian Style

While visiting friends in Italy, I am enjoying as man old man liqueurs as humanly possible. It is not hard, as a bottle of Campari is like 12 bucks, and they sell it at the grocery store.

I knew already that I loved bitter, rooty, lightly sweet Averna, an Amaro I first tried at a dinner at Rosso Trattoria back home in Columbia, SC. Then I found a bottle of Amaro Lucano in my hosts' liquor cabinet -- it is pretty similar, but a little smoother.

(We're out in the country at the home of dear friends in the far-flung Marche region near Ancona (in Macerata province on the east side of the country), no major cities in sight, so there is blessedly little to distract me from my personal little old Italian man festival.)

I was already in lurve with bitter, herbaceous (and let's face it, borderline nasty) Fernet from my days as fancy restaurant server in San Francisco. Pretty fun to just throw it in the grocery basket at less than half the price than in the States.

Is part of the appeal the fact that the bottles are slathered in gorgeous, old-timey graphic design and illustrations? Never underestimate the power of good packaging. I am a sucker for it.

At the beach the other day at Porto Recanati, I had the great pleasure of choosing from many, many little old man liqueurs at this beachfront liquor bar. (Btw, good luck getting any sort of "normal" liquor in Italy. Embrace the old man festival.)

Amaro Montenegro might be my most favorite thus far! Bitter and a tad sweet like Lucano and Averna, but much lighter and less syrupy. (Nice Averna glass in which it was served!)

Pretty delish with a macchiato caldo.

Apparently it is socially illegal to order a cappucino after 10:30am in Italy. So, people cheat (including me) by ordering macchiato, an espresso "marked" with foam.

After a casual beachfront lunch like this with The Shop Tart, a digestivo and a macchiato were just what the doctore ordered. Grigliata di pesce (grilled fish on the American translation) apparently means a bunch of random fried fried. This is good.

Chitarrine con gamberi = square long noodles with giant prawns and delish red sauce. Awright.

Also? In the Marche region, they like to serve the local white wine varietal, Verdicchio, all fizzed up from a tap. Um, it is delicious.

Y'all know how the little old man inside me feels about a beach chair and a beach umbrella. At the Italian beaches, there is pretty much no other way.

That? Oh, that's the Adriatic Sea. No big deal. Just chillin' in Europe. (This is ridiculously surreal.)

Fired up after a beach day, the three Southern girls got the Italian man (the real one, not the imaginary one living inside my head) to go to the IperSimply mega grocery store to get piles of fresh clams and mussels.

Then The Shop Tart commenced to whip up a lemongrass-ginger-coconut broth for all those cozze and vongole that was pretty much beyond awesome.

I have no idea how many kilograms of shellfish were demolished by the four adults and four children at the table, but suffice it to say that the only vessel big enough for the empty shells was this giant, Euro-style Beaufort stew pot, which is about a foot tall and 18 inches wide. 

Then, unsurprisingly, it was time for the old man festival to recommence. Averna Amaro, some Blonde Redhead on the iPod stereo, and a few rounds of Rummikub and Bananagrams on the porch.

Long live the old man festival.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tasty Tomato Magic from Thackeray Farms on Wadmalaw Island, SC

Dear America,

Today my colleagues and I are throwing a giant tomato festival in Columbia, South Carolina. Giant for us, anyway. Expecting anywhere from 2000-3000 people at City Roots urban farm, and there's not a cloud in the sky. Good juju.

Clockwise from left: Homestead tomatoes from Sumter Organic Co-op, then Cherokee Purple, German Striper, and Red Brandywine tomatoes from Thackeray Farms on Wadmalaw Island, SC, for the Heirloom Tomato Taste Test at The 3rd Annual Palmetto Tasty Tomato Festival, July 15 2012 at City Roots farm.

I will say this: our team at Slow Food Columbia, one of the festival's two presenting organizations, researched and procured 700 lbs of heirloom tomatoes for our Heirloom Tomato Taste Test, an integral part of The Palmetto Tasty Tomato Festival.

The bonus? They're from Shawn Thackeray's farm on Wadmalaw Island, SC, near Charleston. You may have read about him in The New York Times or Garden and Gun, or seen his 'maters on Chef Sean Brock's menu at McCrady's or Husk.

You know, no big deal. Just one of the best tomato purveyors in the country, growing on one of the most legendary tomato growing islands in all the land.

Big ups to Tasty Tomato Festival host committee member April Jones and to City Roots Farm Manager Eric McClam for doing the legwork, research and 'mater procurement. Eric, my fellow board member at Slow Food Columbia, is going to be our delegate to Slow Food International's Terra Madre event this Fall, one of only 5 from the Southeast!

Our sustainable chefs here in Colatown have been matering it up on our behalf all week, btdubs.

From judging and providing hors d'oeuvres to the Tasty Tomato Contest judging last Wednesday (Executive Chef Tim Peters, Motor Supply Co. Bistro; Chef/Owner Kristian Niemi, Rosso Trattoria; and the team at Rosewood Market & Deli) to throwing down apps at the VIP tomato potluck later today at the festival (Chef/Owner Ryan Whittaker, @116;  Chef/Owner Mike Davis, Terra; Chef/Owner Alex Suaudom du Monde, Baan Sawan; Chef/Owner Ricky Mollohan, Mr. Friendly's).

Our Slow Food Columbia potlucks are becoming the stuff of legend. People bring really cool stuff.

We have also been particularly stringent about our food vendors for the festival. Each vendor has to have at least one sustainable ingredient on their menu, and these guys should have no problem making that happen, as they are kindof the cream of the crop around here:

Chill Out Pops handmade popsicles, Bone-In Artisan BBQ on Wheels (fancy Q and such), Rosewood Market (tomato sandwich bar), Pawleys Front Porch food truck (burger-licious), Good Life Cafe (raw, vegan), and Spotted Salamander Catering, the only full-service caterer in the state that uses 25% or more locally sourced product. Love those guys.

Last year, El Burrito did amazing 'mater sandwiches, and this year it's Rosewood Market. Stoked!

I am excited. Despite going to bed past midnight, I was up at 6am thinking about easels and clipboards and punch bowls.

Cause 'maters matter!

Plenty of regular price tickets will be available at the gate at 5pm,  so should you happen upon this post today, Sunday July 15, 2012, put on your farm-casual party pants and come on down.

The Palmetto Tasty Tomato Festival
Sunday July 15, 2012
$15 gate
$20 “Supporter” ticket & covered tomato dish w/sustainable ingredient grants access to special VIP tomato potluck at 4pm.
Kids 12/under free with adult

$5 early advance discount $5 and $10 advance discount levels sold out, thank you!

City Roots urban farm
1005 Airport Blvd, Columbia SC 29205
Free parking