Thursday, September 29, was the last Farmer's Market of the year. The weather was beautiful. The crowds still came downtown. The vendors still lined the streets, and this late into the season, there seemed to be more craftsman and bakeries along the street than fresh growers. I hate to think that it will be gone until May of 2017.
For the last few weeks, we missed one of our favorite Vendors, Pickle Creek Herbs. We were fortunate enough to pay them a visit on the last night of the Farmer's Market, and we got the chance to learn more about them.
Pickle Creek Herbs is based out of Fairfield, Iowa. They bring a variety of infused oils and balsamic vinegars, homemade soaps, salves, and bath oils to the farmer's market every other week on their rotating schedule. They lay out small bowls filled with about an inch of the oils and vinegars they have concocted for sail, and small pieces of bread are available for you to sample each and every available oil if you so choose.
I am partial to their infused oils. They do a much better job than I could ever try to do in my own kitchen, and the flavor of the herbs that comes through is the perfect accident to a variety of dishes. My favorite is the Greek Basil and Garlic infused olive oil, which I use most often for an Italian Grilled cheese. Rather than butter, I brush the olive oil onto the bread. It's just enough to impart the flavor of the basil and garlic into the bread. I hated thinking that I might not get a chance to stock up.
Fortunately for me, they have a website where they sell their infused oils throughout the year for those of us who may not make it out to Fairfield to visit their physical location. Please visit their website if their product entices you!
This week, I decided to try something new for a quick meal. Pasta has always been a pantry staple for a fast weekday meal, and we had a few strips of bacon left to be used after weekend breakfasts. Thus, the bacon Broccoli Alfredo was born. I'm told it's one of the better meals I've cooked in the three years I've lived with my husband. It takes very little time, and it tastes delicious. You can get it finished in the amount of time it takes you to boil a pot of water and cook your pasta!
On Saturday, September 24, the Art Center of Burlington, Iowa hosted its third Annual Street Art and Home Brew. The 300 block of Jefferson was blocked off for budding artists to practice their craft under the tutelage of the Art Center's instructors. Skunk River Medicine Show played throughout the event, Orange Ember provided food for the event, and the Burlington Makers of Beer, M.O.B., donated home brewed beer for tasting.
This was the last event of the year for the Burlington food tent, Orange Ember, who will be returning to Burlington's downtown next year in a food truck rather than a tent. On the menu that evening was their herb crusted potato and a pork loin sandwich. Barbecue sauce was offered for both, and herb butter provided for the potato.
The Street Art and Home Brew event ran from 3 PM to 6 PM, a little early for me to eat a full meal. I ate only the herb crusted potato, and my husband had the pork loin sandwich with barbecue sauce.
The herb crusted potato has been a staple side dish for Orange Ember throughout the spring and summer seasons, and without a doubt, it is one of the draws to their stand at each Farmer's Market. The herb crusted skin of the potato provides a strong flavor, and I find the rosemary on the skin is the strongest note. I rarely eat the skin off of a baked potato, but whenever I get my food from Orange Ember, I eat least get through part of it. Eating it with the body of the potato itself helps to strengthen the flavors provided by the herb butter.
With a future food truck in the works, we can only hope to see more from Orange Ember, and we hope to see them at next years Street Art and Home Brew. You can visit Orange Ember at their facebook page, or check out the Art Center of Burlington for future events.
Sushi of any kind rarely appeared on the small town restaurant scene-- especially in the Midwest-- but we are no longer a people of just meat and potatoes. Raw fish was introduced to the diets of Rural Southern Illinois when Sakura first opened in late 2013. By their hand, eel and octopus grew into a known- and often feared- local nigiri.
I once feared the concept of eating raw and exotic fish. The most adventurous I ever got came from the grocery store refrigerator in a boxed California roll. My husband's sense of adventure dragged me unwillingly into Sakura's doors. Ever since, we try to find every reason to return.
Every meal begins with a bowl of miso soup. The tofu is cut into small pieces, and the seaweed is sliced equally to float in the broth. The taste is unlike anything the American pallette regularly experiences. It walks the line between sweet and savory.
At lunch hours, Sakura provides bento box themed dishes where each component is separated in a large square box. Both sushi and cooked dishes are available to be served in these lunches, often accompanied by fried rice, tempura veggies and a California roll. Entrees of noodle dishes and other cooked Japanese dishes are available at all hours, featuring larger portions of what is in the Bento boxes, sans the extra goodies.
The highlight of the menu, howver, is the variety of sushi. The negi hamachi, yellowtail roll, is the first I select upon every visit. Negi hamachi is rolled simply with a piece of yellow tail and green onion wrapped in sushi rice and nori. The green onion provides a layer of flavor to join with the smooth texture of the yellowtail, making it one of the easiest raw rolls to eat. I found it to be a useful introduction to sushi.
I have a deep love for all manner of tempura rolls, and Sakura's salmon tempura only strengthened that love. Unlike the tempura roll from Burlington, Iowa's Shokai Sushi, the salmon itself was tempura fried for Sakura's roll. It was joined by crab meat and Avocado within the roll of sushi rice and nori. The soft avocado paired with the crunchy strips of tempura fried salmon at the center acts as a sauce on the inside. The flavors pair well, and it is perhaps one of the few preparations of avocado I enjoy.
Sakura is a gem at the heart of a small interstate town, and I jump at the chance to visit it again. It is ran by a slim staff, and there are even signs warning that the service may be slow from time to time. It can be, but I always find that the qualifty of food makes up for the wait. Next time you go down interstate 57, make a stop at Salem, Illinois' Sakura.
You can take a look at their menu, or stop by their facebook page for more information.
September is the last month for the downtown Burlington Farmer's Market, situated on the third, fourth, and fifth blocks of Jefferson Street. Lining the streets, vendors of all kinds bear squash, berries, peppers, and Iowa sweet corn for the afternoon crowds. Food trucks and vendors dot the landscape of growers and bakers, adding a whole new atmosphere to the farmer's market experience.
To skip a Thursday evening farmer's market seems something of a crime. I look forward to it every week even though I rarely purchase produce out of the fear I just won't get to it before it spoils, but I frequent the local bakery stands as often as possible.
Stargazer Bakery usually sets up their tent on the fifth block of Jefferson Street, just in front of Uptown Ivy. No matter what week I stop by, she always has her sugar cookies with the pink icing. Something about them just makes them so much different than sugar cookies I can get anywhere else. If I knew what made them so good, that might ruin what makes them so special.
The owner, Becca Rhodes, is a sweetheart. She sells her cookies for a dollar each, but if you're lucky, she'll give you an extra so that her kids won't eat up her product! During my various visits, I've seen her pass off cakes to customers who come to the farmer's market to pick up their orders. Her products vary from week to week, but you can always count on those cookies to be there.
When the Farmer's Market closes down for the year, you can visit the Stargazer Bakery Facebook page to place special orders via the listed email, or give them a call.
I decided to purchase three ears of locally grown corn for my dad's visit to Burlington this weekend, and another vendor had bell peppers at a sale of five peppers for five dollars. Of the produce available, I am far more likely to get through peppers and corn before they spoil in my fridge. Even the peppers that the vendor stated had 'spots' of damage on them looked more delicious than what I could get at the grocery store. It must be something about knowing the produce is grown nearby.
The Jefferson Street Farmer's Market runs until the end of September. You can visit local growers, food trucks, crafters, and bakers every Thursday this month from five until seven p.m. Make use of the market while you can. I know I will.
An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird.
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