Atcharang (Pickled) Kohlrabi
Ah, summertime - when the livin' is easy but the bloggin' is not.
Maybe it's brain freeze from all that ice cream in July but whatever the cause, the sunny rays of blog inspiration have been obscured recently by dreary clouds of inertia and writer's block. I haven't posted in nearly two weeks.
Why have I stalled now - when the days are hot, the drinks are cold and fresh food is as close as plucking a perfect, vine-ripened tomato from my own garden? This is the season for farmer's markets, where early-morning shoppers jostle for space between rows of vibrant, fresh produce, and for county fairs, where the air is thick with the scent of roasted sweet corn. There are brats, 'dogs and steaks to be grilled and fruity, frosty cocktails to be sipped. With so much delicious fare to consume, I'm like the well-nurtured zucchini that we planted in our garden last year, bursting forth with more fruit (ideas) than I thought possible.
So, what's the problem? Like those zucchini plants, my blogging was started with enthusiasm and optimism over what it may yield, but I didn't realize that it might overwhelm me. And as with last summer's zaftig zukes, the only immediate solution has been to put everything in the freezer until I figure out what to do next.
Now, in search of a way to thaw out my blog, I've been visiting my favorite food bloggers for guidance on style, content and voice, hoping to find in their work a spark of inspiration for my own. But as it turns out, I've been looking in the wrong place: the answer isn't found in the virtual reality of the blogosphere, but rather in a much more real atmosphere.
Minneapolis Farmer's Market Annex
From Produce to Productivity
Since Twin Cities' outdoor markets opened for the season in late April, I've visited as many and as often as I can: small but nearby Excelsior on Thursdays, and alternating between the Minneapolis and Mill City markets on Saturdays. I've wandered the aisles, picking up bunches of lettuce and pots of herbs, sampling honey, cheese and sausages, and wondering what the odd-looking vegetables might taste like. A few times, I've taken my camera along to try and capture just a bit of the energy that hums between vendors and customers.
It was while scrolling through these photos recently that the clouds hovering over me suddenly parted. There, in picture after picture of local farmers, vendors and their wonderfully fresh food, was the guidance for which I'd been searching:
7 Lessons for Blogging That I Learned from the Farmer's Market
The Chef Shack, Mill City Farmer's Market
Farmer's Market Lesson #1: Keep the display simple and the content unique
As demonstrated by The Chef Shack, which parks its tasty self at Mill City on Saturdays and at Kingfield on Sundays, a simple, unassuming vehicle can hold the most delicious and complex content. No fussy signs or huge menu - the Shack simply turns humdrum lunch-truck fare (sandwich) into yum-yum gourmet-on-wheels (soft-shelled crab sandies).
Blog Takeaway: There are some gorgeously designed websites out there, but without professional help or mad coding skills, it's hard to match their visual appeal. Instead, I'll tweak my template as best I can and focus my energies on content. With so many food bloggers posting, there's bound to be some overlap in topics and I can set myself apart by putting my own tangled spin on them.
Bee Moua stand, Minneapolis Farmer's Market
Farmer's Market Lesson #2: Keep your content fresh . . .
No one wants the wilted bunch of greenery that's been sitting out all day, so there's a constant turnover of foodstuff on market tables. Even if it's basket after basket of the same variety of vegetable, the offerings are continuously replenished for the next customer.
Blog Takeaway: The key to keeping a blog fresh is to regularly post new content, which often depends on a continuous stream of original ideas. But if the well sometimes dries up, an alternative is to revive old posts by updating the information or exploring a different perspective. Both recent followers, who may have not seen it before, and returning readers, who may have enjoyed it the first time, might find new value in old content.
Kohlrabi from Bergman's, Minneapolis Farmer's Market
Farmer's Market Lesson #3: . . . and keep it natural
The beauty of the farmer's market lies in its imperfect-looking offerings; after all, when a vegetable is going from field to table, there's no time for primping. These foodstuff may not be much to look at in their natural and unadulterated states, but in the hands of an inspired cook, they'll be transformed into lovely meals.
Blog Takeaway: Some of my topics are not exactly the most crowd-pleasing (hello, chicken gizzards!) and I tend to indulge in earnest, term-paper-ish entries. I've considered an overhaul of content, such as adding restaurant reviews or posting more recipes minus the long-winded narratives, but they seem like artificial additives. Instead, I'll continue to write what comes naturally (with more prudent editing) and leave it to the reader to make of it what they will.
Farmer's Market Lesson #4: Variety is great but so is a single specialty
Throughout the market, there are many single specialty producers who focus on what they know best - be it fresh trout, sweet honey or hearty wild rice. There is great variety within their goods - the distinctive flavors of Ames Farm honeys, for instance, vary depending on the bees' flower sources - but by concentrating on a sole product, these farmers and artisans accumulate knowledge that make them trusted and authoritative resources about their particular foodstuff.
Blog Takeaway: I started this blog because I wanted to explore our complicated social and personal connections to food. While I include recipes and have considered doing restaurant reviews to offer more variety, the sociocultural study of food is what I know best. So, I'll leave the reviews and original recipe development to those more adept. By narrowing the nexus of my blog, I hope that instead of limiting my scope, it will free me to offer the most informative and trusted content possible.
Samantha and Tou of Nao Tou Yang Farms,
Minneapolis Farmer's Market
Farmer's Market Lesson #5: Make the commitment to success
Even before they make their way to the market, farmers like Tou and Samantha of Nao Tou Yang Farms and Greenhouses devote their days to planting, tending, harvesting and preparing the marvelous food we enjoy. There are no shortcuts, no half-hearted effort, no "I'll do it tomorrow". Their dedication is rewarded by loyal customers like me, who have come to recognize and deeply appreciate the hard work and personal pride that go into their produce.
Blog Takeaway: The level of quality reflects the level of effort. Unlike farming, blogging doesn't require a 24/7 commitment but it does need more than just minimal attention. One way to nurture my blog is to set aside proper time to do research and writing with diligence and consistency. If I truly want my blog to be more than just an outlet for my rambling thoughts, then I need to make the proper investment.
Farmer's Market Lesson #6: Everything has its time
You can't always find what you want when you want them: fresh produce have their seasons and not a moment sooner or later will they appear. Certainly, out of season (and out of region) fruits and vegetables are readily available, but they are not the best of what the farmer's market has to offer. Patience for the right season is rewarded with the most flavorful food imaginable.
Blog Takeaway: Blogging regularly is important, but there are occasions when a post has to develop at its own pace. I've found that rushing only results in stressed nerves and an underdeveloped entry. This post, for instance, took four days to finish and comes nearly two weeks after my last one. Although I could have published it earlier, the extra time allowed me to polish it to my satisfaction. I would like to establish a more precise publishing schedule, but in the end, a good-but-late post is infinitely better than a slapdash punctual one.
Young vendors at Mill City & Minneapolis Farmer's Markets
Farmer's Market Lesson #7: Keep that youthful energy
The people of all ethnicities and ages who throng farmer's markets generate an energy that is unmatched by the sugar-high of pastries or caffeine kick of a cuppa joe. It's common to see several generations of a family browsing the aisles, but it is particularly heartening to see the youngsters who are setting out vegetables, arranging flowers and helping customers as they learn the family business. They emanate enthusiasm and optimism that draw in customers and allow us to glimpse the bright future of local farming.
Blog Takeaway: One look at the shining faces in the photo above and it's not hard to recognize the simple joy these kids take in participating at the market. While I can't turn back the clock, I can certainly try to recapture the same enthusiastic and optimistic energy of being a bright-eyed new blogger by remembering the most important thing: blogging is FUN!
The next time you're at the farmer's market, take a good look around - perhaps you'll find your own lessons among the squash blossoms, sweet corn and sun-ripened tomatoes!
The Minneapolis Farmer's Market has been a source of culinary inspiration for me, as I try to be a more imaginative and fluid cook. Normally, I shop for ingredients based on the recipe at hand, but recently, I've been picking up unfamiliar produce and challenging myself to find a tasty use for them.
Kohlrabi's rather alien shape has always intrigued me and after learning about its taste and texture, I thought it would make a perfect main ingredient for atchara (atsara), a pickled green papaya salad from the Philippines, often used to accompany fried or grilled foods. I've been wanting to make it but it has proven nearly impossible to find green (unripe) papaya in my area. Kohlrabi's mild, slightly sweet flavor and crunchy texture seemed the perfect substitute.
I settled on an atchara recipe from Marvin at Burnt Lumpia, which I followed closely except for a couple of substitutions (other than kohlrabi). My use of red onions, for instance, resulted in a pretty pink hue to the atchara. I also found that the longer it sets, the sweeter and less vinegary the flavor becomes; so, refrigerating it at least overnight is recommended before serving. This is a refrigerator pickling, therefore no sterilization or other canning methods are necessary. However, Marvin notes that the atchara will keep this way only for about a week.
4-5 small kohlrabi* (about 2 lbs), shredded or julienned
Carrots, shredded or julienned
Red onion*, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes
Black sesame seeds*
(*Substitutions for or additions to original ingredients)
Vinegar, sugar, salt, ginger and garlic are combined in a saucepan and brought to a boil. After a short simmer, the mixture is removed from heat and allowed to cool to room temperature. In the meantime, the kohlrabi is quickly blanched in boiling water, drained, and combined with the carrots and onions. The cooled vinegar mixture is then poured over the vegetables, seasoned to taste with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and mixed well. The atchara is refrigerated at least over night before serving.
Suggested serving: as a topping for wild rice bratwurst!