Eating the Farmer’s Market #6 Plus Some Random Thoughts

IMG_20180127_084611066_HDRJanuary at the Chestertown Farmer’s Market is challenging for all, I think.  Perhaps more challenging for the vendors to find customers!  The crowds are gone, but there are still a surprising number of vendors out on the chilly brick – lettuce and mushrooms, baked goods and turnips, this is all we farmers can offer you.


Cedar Run has their premo spot for the winter months – and I wonder, when summer comes, do they have to relinquish this location and be banished to the other side of the street when Arnold and Anchor return?  Seems like if they are there during the harsh – and slow – months of January and February, they should have staked out some sort of claim for the rest of the year?  No?


Oksana produce is there, with bags of assorted greens, the aforementioned turnips and a nice selection of fermented condiments, which Kevin loves.  And, good news, it looks as though they will be participating in a CSA program, which is especially good news for the Colchester Farm contingent.


Certainly not the view from six months ago, eh?


Lockbrier, Lapp and King are steadfast in holding up their end of the Market, along with Chesapeake GreenHouse.  So, things aren’t too bad – you can get a variety of vegetables, mostly locally grown, and as long as you aren’t craving zucchini or tomatoes, all is well.  Many we speak to agree that even as the purveyors and their produce dwindle at the Local Farmer’s Market, it’s important to continue to support those who persevere, and to keep your diet as close to home as you can this time of year.  Mushroom risotto with a Caesar salad anyone?


It looks so bleak…even Carl was taking a (much deserved) break this weekend, and as you can see, no one stepped into his spot!

In other news:

  • The K-B Market – primarily Chef Kevin – is participating in a fund-raiser for the Kent Center in April.  This will be Kent Center’s second annual benefit dinner to help educate the community and raise funds during Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.  (DDAM is actually March, but they graciously postponed part of their celebration until April, when Kevin and I were available to contribute.)  Kevin will be the Guest Chef for the event, with the support of various members of the Kent Center Community and beyond.  The menu will feature as much locally sourced food as possible (see above…) as well as wine from Clovelly Vineyards in Chestertown and Crow Winery in Kennedyville. The Menu will be a collaborative effort between Chef Kevin and Kent Center’s Chef Merry Guben, starting with the hors d’oeuvres at the door and proceeding through desserts on the buffet.  Tickets will become available March 1st, and they will be limited, so don’t miss this opportunity to support an agency that does so much good for your community and get a delicious meal with your neighbors in the process!
  • Have you been to the Lidl grocery in Middletown?  I understand many of you might have a reluctance to head into that part of the world, seeing as Middletown is probably the epitome of development gone wild – I mean, when is the last time you went there when something new wasn’t under construction?  And all of those new buildings look just the same?  That being said, we are a 20 minute ride away (which in itself is a bit scary, because that means “they” are 20 minutes away from us, and getting closer all the time, with all the new road work underway.  But, still, a new grocery store???  Come on!)  Anyway, it is an interesting grocery concept, with that sort of warehouse style set-up that is reminiscent of a Sam’s Club or Shoppers Warehouse. Lidl’s main competition is Aldi, which is of course right across the street from their Middletown store.  Our personal take between the two: we did not get the charm of the Aldi store.  It seemed sort of cold and the layout was semi-confusing.  We’ve only been in there once, so maybe we should revisit, but the first time in the Lidl market was enough to entice us to return.  Produce was of fine quality and very competitively priced (and for those of us wishing we still had a wholesale outlet for produce besides Produce Junction, this was key.)  We really don’t have any interest in the non-food items, which stretch mostly down the middle two aisles in the store, but we’ve been very happy with produce, coffee, dairy.  Meat looks interesting, and the labels read well. Many of the the house brands hilariously mimic many of your favorite national brands, from Pepperidge Farms iconic Milano to the chocolate syrup that looks a lot like Hershey’s.  But isn’t.  The only thing we’ve tried in that arena is their Seltzer – 35 cents for a liter bottle!!! – but it was quite disappointing in that it had a “flavored” overtone, when what we purchased was supposed to be “plain”.  We wouldn’t risk that again.  Check-out is fun – you get to push the little button to move the conveyor belt along!  As you pack your own groceries back into the cart.  Unless you remembered to BYOB.  But at least you don’t need a quarter to unlock a shopping cart…
  • Note to dinersBarbara’s On The Bay has some very good oyster stew.  We were there for the first time in ages last week – and yes, we got some teasing about that – and accepted the oyster stew Challenge. Oyster stew is one of my favorite local seasonal treats, and as you may know, we are big fans of the version at Fisherman’s Inn. When we saw it on the specials at BotB, we knew we had to give it a try.  It was delicious – not in the same way that the Challenger’s is – but it definitely fits the glove, with the additional harmony of celery and onion to add some tasty texture.  The oysters were beautifully plumped and the soup itself was rich with oyster flavor.  Fist bump Barbara and Crew!
  • Today we were fortunate enough to attend the open house and dairy tour at Fair Hill Farm, celebrating their state of the art fifty-stall rotary milking parlor, built by Madero Dairy Systems.   It is an utterly (ha!) amazing set-up, milking over 500 cows twice a day in three hour shifts with three people at the controls.  Really?  It took my Dad and one or two helpers two hours to milk 60 cows twice a day 30 years ago.  He would have looked at this mass of stainless steel and computers with simple awe.  We could only stay briefly – missed the lunch! and the actual milking – but left with a feeling that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.  Not even in Kent County.
  • One final note – most of you know we have a little tri-pod dog named Ruby.  Well, Ruby, at 13 YO, has been very depressed this winter. It being too cold to spend the day outside, she has had little exercise the past few months and consequently has suffered in the appetite department. Nothing seemed to tease her into eating; she barely would eat a quarter of her normal fill and the weight loss has become frighteningly apparent, even under her fleece coat. Well, Chef Kevin to the rescue!  Yesterday he made her a big pot of bone broth, which we put on her morning chow and yes!  she gobbled it down like it was a plate of beef carpaccio.  Kevin is our hero, once again!

Here’s to Winter and all of it’s challenges!




Welcome to 2018

This new year has rung in cold and snowy, which is as it should be in January, although maybe not quite so cold as single digits?  We spent the first week of the New Year bearing up with the cold and snow in New York City, where the 40 mph wind gusts and the snow and the single digit temps threatened to put a damper on our usual diet plan while visiting Manhattan – eat and walk and walk some more and then eat again.  We managed to keep our traditions, although the Saturday of January 6 was a bit challenging…I think the windchill was at negative 5 when we walked home from dinner that night.

We usually plan this annual trek to NYC far in advance, researching restaurants and any other food related event that might be occurring, plus one or two other venues that are not necessarily food related, although that is optional.  This year the non-food aspect – aside from several movies on the big screen – was a trip to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.  I have always wanted to see the Holiday Train Show there, and the day we planned to go was actually the nicest of the whole week – sunny and in the upper 20’s, which seemed like summer.

It was very easy to get there – take  Metro North to the Botanical Gardens exit…duh!  Takes about 20 minutes, from Grand Central to the entrance to the Gardens, $9 round trip.  We were very surprised at how crowded the Train Show was, considering it was January 9; I can’t imagine the scene during the height of the Christmas season.  It was amazing though, and of course nice to still experience the holiday decorations and even music.


It was simply riveting, and I would recommend it to anyone who can stand crowds.  That being said, no one was out on the grounds, where the main paths were cleared of snow and the air was crisp and the sky blue.  It was remarkable; I can picture going for an entire day in the spring when the daffodils are out, it must be spectacular.  As it were, the conifer gardens and the leafless deciduous trees were a treat all to themselves this time of year, no regrets.


Our plan of attack regarding food was simple – no place with $16 glasses of wine or $30 entrees need apply.  We made only one mistake in that regard, and that was because I didn’t realize you could get the menu online with prices if you clicked on the PDF format…so I booked a dinner at a very expensive place for my birthday without realizing that it was a bit more than the typical Stephen Starr French bistro as found in Philadelphia…oops!  I fell for the hype and I regret it, what can I say?  This was one of the only reservations we made; otherwise we bar-hopped or walked in and never had any problem, mostly I’m sure because there were so few people out on the streets during that icy blast called January.  We even got window seats at Gaonnuri, with a crazy view of the skyline, where typically probably only Korean mucky-mucks get to sit.  Prices reflected the view, so it was a one-drink, one-app kind of place, but it was definitely worth the experience.


Korean dining spots were a common theme – from the heights of Gaonnuri to the casual Barn Joo 35 (where the spicy pork hand roll was a stand out) to a return visit to Atoboy – we tried to stay off the straight and narrow.  Also, it was quite nice that our hotel is very close to the area known as Korea-town!

Atoboy plates

We discovered a couple new bars within our neighborhood, particularly enjoying District Social, where the food was far from typical bar food, and The Trailer Park Lounge and Grill, where it was.  Beron Beron, a bustling Japanese joint in the East Village, had some of the best fried chicken ever, believe it or not.  Dim sum made it our way twice, once to our favorite Jing Fong (chicken feet!) and then to a spot new for us, Joy Luck Palace (and more chicken feet!).  We particularly enjoyed the latter, so it was good that it wasn’t until after the fact that we realized they had received a “C” rating from the NYC Health Department on their most recent inspection…OMG!  And it was super busy!

We stopped in to Bobby Flay’s Gato, where we had a sample appetizer which proved to be so delicious (imagine, if you will, the Eleven Layer Potato, for god’s sake) that even though the place was way out of our self-imposed price range, we might return.  We were heading that night to the destination restaurant La Loteria, where they make Mexican food like you’ve never had before.  I mean duck flautas??  Yes please, we will be back to this one for certain.

Sure we had some lame experiences – ask me about the Chelsea Bell, where the handicap restroom not only was out of toilet paper, it was even without a dispenser for toilet paper – but for the 95% part we got very lucky and had some amazing NYC experiences.  #One perhaps was a repeat of last year’s winner – the I’ile Flottante at Le Coq Rico.  This is simply the most wonderful dessert on the planet.  We went just for dessert, but maybe next year the lunch prix-fixe will be the way to go, with that dessert included.  Incroyable!


#Two – probably that would be the sweet breads at the aforementioned over-priced, over-hyped Stephen Starr spot known as Le CouCou (maybe that’s the name because you pretty much have to be coo-coo to go there, when there is so much more in NYC to chose from…)  It was a mighty fine plate of organ meat, with a singularly delicious sauce like no one but my husband has ever made for me before.

Sweetbreads at Le CouCou

New favorite coffee spot – just a tad too far from our hotel to enjoy every day – Little Collins.

Two flat whites from Little Collins

Two flat whites, Little Collins style.

Snowy street outside of Little Collins

The snowy street view from Little Collins.

Place we won’t have to go back to – Chelsea Market.  We’ve been there a dozen times, but this time it was a “been there, done that” sort of experience.  Replacing it would be UrbanSpace Vanderbilt – now that’s my idea of a food hall!  And of course a trip to NYC is not complete without a walk on the High Line, which gets better and better each time we visit.

Not enough food pictures, I know, but it was a good time had by all and we have the pounds to prove it, if not the photos.  We can’t wait to go back!

Eating the Farmer’s Market #5

The December Farmer’s Market is not the hotbed of social and economic interaction that it is in the more “regular” season, but there is still plenty of produce and many other specialty items that you won’t find anywhere else.


Produce tends to be of the root and leafy variety, but when you see freshly harvested celery root on the Anchor table, you grab it!

For some reason, WordPress is not showing me my preview as I write, so I have to go into the HTML to do that…challenges. I’m going to post the rest of my recent December farmer’s market pics as a slideshow; you will see that the snowy sidewalks did not detract from the vendors attendance…just the customers!

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We’ve got our upcoming Holiday menus planned, to a certain degree. We typically spend the night before Christmas eating fondue with the neighbors, a tradition that has been going on for maybe 10 years now? An even longer tradition is Christmas breakfast of Eggs Benedict, this year featuring Kevin’s own Canadian bacon! It’s Christmas dinner that gives us the most trouble. We start talking about it weeks before hand – after all, it’s a meal that only comes once a year, right? – and we waffle back and forth between options.  It’s an all afternoon and evening affair, with plenty of champagne to keep our strength up.

Our Holiday Toast to all of you, no matter what Holiday table you sit down to and what’s on it – let it be a peaceful, stress-free and love filled time, full of good food, good people and good memories.

Thank you for all of your support!


Maryland Beaten Biscuits with a “Secret” Technique

We had a “Beat Biscuit” class here at the K-B Kitchen on Wednesday.  We’ve been making this iconic bread for a couple three years now, when we realized that was the only way we were going to get any to eat at ThanksGiving and Christmas.  I thought it would be fun to do a blog post on the subject, and include a little history about them, since that was a question that came up on Wednesday.  So, first step, Google “maryland beaten biscuit”.  Dang!!  someone sure beat me to this!  First thing to come up is a BlogPost by an Annapolis food historian, named Joyce White, and she certainly has all the bases covered.  You can find her post here, complete with old, handwritten recipes and all the historic ephemera you could possibly want to add to your store of food trivia…

So, no need to repeat all of that.  Let’s move on to the K-B Market method of making beat biscuits.  Even though it has been a topic here before in years past, there is still room for some refreshing.


The first thing we did on Wednesday was to eat the biscuits that Kevin and I had made the day before.  I wanted to make sure that the students – three sisters – agreed that this was the biscuit they wanted to make.  All agreed, just exactly right.  I offered them a choice of making them with our own rendered lard – which is quite porky – commercial lard or shortening.  The porky lard that Kevin had rendered was the choice.  It is a little softer than the commercial product, but the flavor is unbeatable. (sorry…)

The recipe we use, from a website called “Recipe Source”, is attributed to local food maestro John Shields.  It is worth a look, if only for the hilarious commentary that accompanies it.  This recipe consists of four ingredients: flour, lard, salt and water, and we follow it precisely except to add a bit more salt (a quarter of a teaspoon more).  We also weigh the lard, which is so much easier than measuring it – and that amount would translate to 1.5 ounces.

I can’t improve upon the aforementioned “A Taste of History”   post or the pictures she provides of the process – and I’ve done all that before anyway (click here to go to the K-B Market archives) – but I can share with you a few hints you may want to employ when you attempt to make your own batch:

  1. Cut the lard into the flour and salt with a pastry cutter.
  2. A stand mixer with a dough hook and a meat grinder attachment is quite useful.  If this appliance is not in your kitchen, simply follow the recipe as described in the linked page and you will have fine success.  But if you do have one…
  3. Using the dough hook on your mixer, add the very cold water very slowly to the dry ingredients – you want to add enough water to make the dough come together but not so much that the dough is wet or sticky.  It might not need the entire amount called for, so pay attention.
  4. When the dough looks right, put it on your counter and knead it just enough to bring it to a uniform ball, no more than that.
  5. Now the life-saving (or rather arm-saving) trick.  Get out your meat grinder, or put the attachment onto your mixer.  Cut your ball of dough into three pieces and roll each into a long rope that will easily fit into the hopper of your grinder.  (we use the blade with the largest holes for this)
  6. Grind the dough, one rope of dough at a time.
  7. Send the dough through the grinder three times, re-shaping it into ropes before each grind.
  8. Wait!  you are not finished yet.  You do still have to beat the dough to get that texture you want, just not for so long.
  9. Shape the dough into a nice smooth ball and start to beat it with your mallet or whatever, until it it a flat piece of dough.  Fold it onto itself, one side over the over, and beat again.
  10. Beat at least four turns.  By the next to last you should see and hear the blisters forming on the dough, which is exactly what you are hoping for.
  11. Shape and bake as described in the article and the videos.  Don’t forget to poke the fork into the top!  One of the participants on Wednesday told me that she has heard of people poking their initials into the tops, as their own little brand.  I like that idea.

As you practice you will recognize how the dough should look and feel throughout the process.  As I was saying to the class on Wednesday, it is amazing to me that you can take these three basic ingredients and get them to turn into a soft, pillowy dough, without using yeast or any other leavening.  Sometime I’d like to try to make them with the recommended pastry or soft flour, to see if that makes any difference, but so far we have not objected to the all-purpose results.

My pictures from the Wednesday biscuit making session left a lot to be desired, but here are two:


Pat is pounding.


Tasting the results.

The class was a lot of fun! and I think the women got a lot of helpful tips out of it.  We made the first batch together, but they were pretty much on their own the second go-round and they had it nailed.

Anyone else out there who wants to learn this dying art, give us a shout and we’ll do it again!



ThanksGiving Prep

Photos from past TG feasts are a good indication of what to expect this year.  Our turkeys are ordered from Detwiler’s Farm Market, the guest list is finalized (mostly), the scrapple for the post-TG scrapple tasting is in the freezer and the wine is selected.  My brother Hugh’s birthday – October 4th – marks the start of the Holiday Season, with Kevin’s on March 24th marking the end.  And then it’s Spring!  So we enjoy this six month long celebration of food, and start planning the first major meal weeks ahead of time.  Winter will just fly by!

For the past several years our turkey has not been the traditional Norman Rockwell centerpiece, but rather a “ballotine”, which is basically a de-boned turkey stuffed with turkey sausage.  You can see how this is done on the Serious Eats website, found here.  It is quite a dramatic presentation, carving is a cinch and everyone gets white and dark meat.  (If you have, like we do, a lot of dark meat eaters at the table, just roast a couple extra thighs with the main event and we’ll they’ll be happy.)  You can also watch Jacques and Julia put one together here.  It is a terrific change from the whole turkey with the dried out breast and tendon-filed legs which is often the result of roasting a 20 pound turkey, no matter how  well it is brined and basted.

Another option is to spatch-cock your turkey.  The presentation is not as dramatic as that whole roasted bird at the head of the table, but it solves the dried out breast problem, speeds up the cooking time, and guarantees plenty of crisp skin.  Once again, Serious Eats has a comprehensive tutorial for this method, which makes it look pretty easy and pretty delicious.

At our house, the sides are pot luck, with some repeats from year to year that we cannot live without – corn pudding and scalloped oysters are the two most constants on the buffet – but there is also always something new.  This year we’re thinking about ditching the Brussels sprouts in favor of curried cauliflower, channeling Mark Bittman.  I’m in favor because #1 the idea of a curry dish on the ThanksGiving menu adds a little diversity to the table and #2 the cauliflower is chopped up, which I’m hoping will help it retain its heat better than the whole florets sitting on the sideboard.  Here’s how you do it:

Gobi Taktakin from Mark Bittman’s “The Best Recipes in the World”

Finely chop a small red onion and a medium head of cauliflower. Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick skillet – large enough for your cauliflower to fit into in one layer – to medium high.  Add 1/2 Tbs. (or more if you like it) cumin seeds to the oil and let them fry briefly, for 20 – 30 seconds, then add half the chopped onion and all of the cauliflower.  Add 1 Tbs. curry powder and season well with salt, pepper and cayenne.  Cook, stirring and tossing until the onion has caramelized and the florets have lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro to the pan, toss and transfer to a serving platter.  Sprinkle with the remaining red onion and serve hot or at room temperature, garnished with wedges of lime.

(I will add that we really like this cookbook of Bittman’s, so much so that after having it out of the library for several weeks, Kevin found a used copy for our own shelves!)

And then there is the “pumpkin” pie, made with roasted butternut squash in lieu of pumpkin, fresh or canned.  Butternut or some other yellow fleshed winter squash (Hubbard is another good choice here) makes superior pie, IMHO, because it is drier when it’s cooked, which offers a better texture when made into a pie.  My recipe comes from the “Wilson Farm Country Cookbook”.  This has been my go-to pumpkin pie recipe forever:

“Pumpkin” Pie a la Wilson Farm

Preheat the oven to 425.  Prepare one unbaked 10″ pie shell.  Beat together 3 whole eggs.  Add 1 1/2 cups of milk and 3/4 cups of cream to the eggs.  In a separate bowl, mix 3 cups of prepared squash or pumpkin with 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1 Tbs. of your favorite pumpkin pie spice. (to make your own, sift together  1 Tbs. cinnamon, 2 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, 1 1/2 tsp. ginger and 3/4 tsp. cloves, mix it together thoroughly and measure out the amount you need.)  Beat the egg/milk mixture carefully into the puree.  Pour into your pie shell (which you can first blind bake if you prefer, but I never do) and bake for 20 minutes at 425.  Rotate the pie, reduce the oven temperature to 350 and continue to bake, rotating a couple of times, for about 35-45 more minutes, or until set.

This year I swear I am not going to make cranberry sauce.  Last year I caved and made some, which I just threw out about a week ago.  No one at our table ever eats it!  I’m thinking cranberry jelly out of the can is going to be just as welcome and can be reconstituted as a cranberry glaze later on, after it sits untouched during the meal.  But there will be homemade pickles available, for that sharp flavor you need to cut through all the richness – cucumber and cherry for sure.  (When we were kids it was very important that the ThanksGiving table was laden with produce and products from our own garden and pantry, and that still holds true today, although the mantra for produce is more local than hyper-local.  The Chestertown Farmers Market opens on the Wednesday before TG, which is always a very festive time and also when we hope to pick up our cauliflower!)

The next two weeks are going to go very fast!  Get your pie dough made and put it in the freezer, make that damned cranberry sauce now too, if you want, because obviously it keeps for a year.  Shop for all the non-perishables before the crowds at the local groceries become unbearable – and they will – and get your wine now too, while choices are still plentiful.  This weekend would be good time to write a check-list, so as to catch your spouse/partner/helper off-guard at your preparedness and make it easier to enlist their help.  Division of labor needs to be discussed and agreed upon, after all, no surprises.  Of course, if you are lucky enough to be invited to someone else’s home, all of this is moot.  Pick up a very nice bottle of champagne, for then or later, figure out what you are going to say when it is your turn to express Thankfulness, and you are good to go.






Eating with the Farmer’s Market #4

The crossing from Summer into Fall at the Farmer’s Market is perhaps my favorite time – you can still get watermelon and corn, tomatoes and basil, but pumpkins and sweet potatoes are also popping onto the scene.  It’s a transitional time that sort of helps you navigate how you feel about summer ending and winter approaching.  Hey, you say to yourself, at least I can still have some cantaloupe with my acorn squash.  Things aren’t all turnips and rutabagas quite yet!

Last Saturday’s market was full of orange and purple, green and gold.

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Last Saturday night, at the Colchester OctoberFest, Kevin was in charge of the vegetables.  He roasted a ton of Colchester produce, from turnips to sweet potatoes, but he also made a sort of stew with pumpkin, peppers and ginger that he served out of the pumpkin shell:

And we have to include apples in the Fall Line-up.  As you know, we like to go up to Milburn’s Orchards outside of Elkton to get our apples every year, and we like to go early in September to get our HoneyCrisps, before they sell out, which they inevitably do.  We also get some baking apples so that Kevin can make his favorite apple dessert – Swedish Apple Cake.  Why Swedish?  because that is what the recipe that my sister gave us years ago is called!  This is an easy-to-make cake, chock full of apples and nuts, good for dessert or a sweet breakfast treat:

Swedish Apple Cake from the files of Marty Hankins

  • Cream together: 1 cup salad oil, 2 cups sugar, 2 large eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Sift and stir into the above: 2.5 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt
  • Add 3 cups chopped apples, peeled or not, and 1 cup nuts of your choice, toasted or not, and stir until mixed
  • Put into a buttered and floured 13X9 inch baking pan, or a 12 inch springform pan, and bake at 375 for about an hour
  • Let it cool a little bit before you dig in

And then there’s the promised world famous oyster fritter recipe:

Sylvia Sherry’s Oyster Fritter, as tweaked by Chef Kevin McKinney over the years:

  • For 4 to 5 large fritters
  • Whisk together 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1.5 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • Make a “well” in the dry ingredients and add 2 small eggs and 3 ounces of milk
  • Mix this until you have a thick batter
  • Clean 2 cups of oysters, strained, and gently fold them into the batter by threes (in other words, one third of the oysters at a time)
  • Have your frying pan very hot with a tablespoon of oil shimmering and ladle in about 6 ounces of your batter, making sure to include several oysters
  • Let it brown on one side, flip it over and finish cooking in a 375 degree oven until no  raw batter can be seen when you poke it with a knife – this should only take about 3 or 4 minutes, depending on how hot your oven is
  • Flip onto a serving plate, whip yourself up some lemon buerre blanc and have at it!

I guess Fall is okay.  I’m a summer weather person, but once the geese return and the oyster fritter is on the table, I can cope.  Plus, there’s eventually going to be pumpkin pie…





Far Back Friday

Ironstone Cafe, circa 1987

Does this look familiar? 236 Cannon Street in 1987…


…and again in 2017.

The news that Paul Hanley is shuttering the Blue Heron Cafe has rocked the world of restaurant devotees of Chestertown and beyond.  Not just because the BHC has been a staple of the Chestertown dining scene for 20 years, but because it is one less dining option in an area already lacking in that resource. The subject of the rapidly dwindling state of dining venues in our County Seat is being discussed all over town, and hopefully the idea that C’town could support a new eating place – or two! – will reach the ears of some young, energetic entrepreneur who is ready to make the move to the world of restaurant owner-operator.  The healthier the dining scene, the more they will come – diners and employees both.  Such a lack is not only hard on the hungry, it’s hard on the current crop of restaurateurs, since a lack of job opportunities does not necessarily bring in a lot of job seekers.  But that discussion is for another day.  Today we are going back in time.

Paul deserves a lot of credit for taking what was already a very vibrant restaurant and keeping it on that track for another two decades.  The picture at the top of the page was taken of that first restaurant we started, the Ironstone Cafe, in April of 1987, 9 months after our opening on Cannon Street in July of 1986.  We were young and naive, but we also recognized that we would be able to stand on the shoulders of giants of our industry, from whom we benefited much, and which would serve us in good stead in our new community.

Both of us had been working in the restaurant business for some 10 or 15 years already, in Baltimore, San Francisco, Annapolis, and we  translated much of what we had learned from others – both the good and the bad – into our own business model.  Our vision may have been a little grand for Chestertown in the late 80’s (creme caramel?  bread made in-house?  a small menu, sourcing local ingredients and changing with the seasons?  how curious!), but it worked.  We took off and for 10 years there was barely any looking back.

We had some good times there, and some good people were involved in our success.  For instance, Eugene Bethel, who Paul credits on his FaceBook page.  He has stayed on with Paul – as did much of our long-tenured staff, when Paul bought the business from us in 1997 – and remains one of the best people we have ever worked with.

We ran into Eugene recently at the Acme, and he looks just the same!

The kitchen at the Ironstone was teeny tiny teeny.  As mentioned in the caption above, the dish area was the prep area, the line was maybe 6 feet long, the pot sink backed up on the salad station and the dishwasher, and the place was hot.  (When we first opened we had no real wall dividing the kitchen door from the dining area – just a hand-made lattice screen! – which made for some really bad tables in the upper dining area!  It wasn’t until a year or so into it that the LandLord allowed us to build a real wall to separate the two spaces.) That miniature kitchen was not a threat to Kevin however; he did his thing with his professional and creative training on full throttle.

Besides serving lunch and dinner five days a week, we did two major events every year out of that little kitchen – a celebration of the restaurant’s birthday each July and a prix-fixe dinner (prix-fixe? how curious!) on New Year’s Eve.  Both were sell-outs.  The Anniversary parties were held as a fund-raiser for a different local non-profit each year, from the Humane Society to 4-H, but the New Year’s Eve dinners were definitely for profit, and it was definitely our biggest night of the year.  All of this took place long before the days of Instagram and FaceBook, not to mention phones that serve as cameras, so I have very few pictures of the food we served, but here are two shots of some plates as they were getting ready to go out to the diners on a couple of those Big Nights:

The things Kevin and his crew wrought out of that kitchen would be impressive even today!

We took the show on the road a couple of times, most notably to the annual “Taste of Maryland, held in Annapolis at the Governor’s mansion:

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This was in March of 1992, where Kevin’s table displays an Ironstone tee shirt, a copy of the menu as well as a couple of pieces of Ironstone china, from which the restaurant got its name.  That china – from a collection of my parents – decorated the sills at the Ironstone and continued to grow for many years.

Family was extremely important back in those early days and forever after.  My brother worked the line and the bar for several months, his wife worked the floor.  (Both have some stories to tell about those experiences!)  My parents were regulars, and Kevin’s brother John came to visit so often – whether to help as needed or just to hang out – that he knew all the staff as well as we did.

My father loved to tell the story on his sister Frances, who, for several years, refused to come into the new restaurant run by her niece, because said niece was not married to the man she not only ran a business with but also lived (in sin) with.  My father told her not to worry, “they don’t need your five dollars”.  Eventually however, we won her over.  The fact that everyone she knew was coming to the Ironstone probably had something to do with her conversion…

We had some great times and we worked with some great people, another of whom is owed a boatload of gratitude for bringing to us one of the most famous menu items of all time.


Sylvia Sherry came to work with Kevin relatively early on, and one day she brought in a recipe suggestion for the menu – an oyster fritter that she had made in her prior life.  She and Kevin tweaked it, it went on the menu and it never left.  It stayed behind with Paul and Eugene – after all, Eugene had the recipe! – and while we took it with us to our next two projects, we have always given credit to Sylvia for bringing that now iconic dish into our mouths lives.  Another example of standing on the shoulders of giants!  I will post the recipe in my next installment (once I figure out how to link to a PDF….).

(Don’t you love that peek in the old Ironstone Kitchen, with the sign on the door for “in” and “out”?  I wonder how many crashes occurred before we thought to put that up?)

Lots of other cooks passed through those doors, including these two:

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Standing with Kevin is Chuck Reeser, a reliable member of the local restaurant scene at the time, and a very young Jeff Carroll, now the owner-operator of the very successful Fish Whistle.  This picture was taken in late 1995, shortly after we opened the Kennedyville Inn.  Chuck was the newly minted Chef of the Ironstone and Jeff was his sous-chef.  Eventually Jeff moved to the KVI with Kevin, but for awhile he and Chuck were manning the stoves at the Ironstone while Kevin was up in Kennedyville starting a second business.

That second business is why the Ironstone became available to Paul.  We had tried to get out of our lease – I think we had only a few years left, but it was enough and the LandLord would not let us go – and so we went ahead and thought, why not?  We can run two places.  We just need to get a Chef for the IC.  Well, that was not so easy – we first hired a fellow from Washington DC, who lasted all of ten minutes in rural Kent County, then a local cook who quickly came to the realization that working for us was not his cup of tea.  Finally we were able to get someone who understood the game plan and for eighteen months we worked both jobs.  It was an absolute nightmare.  We had purposefully made the KVI a completely different type of restaurant from the IC – featuring BBQ, no reservations, no white tablecloths, no tipping – so as to not cannibalize the existing business.  We did not take any of our IC staff with us – although in hind-sight, we should have – because we knew that we needed our already experienced employees to stay with the Mothership to help her new captain keep her afloat.  But it proved to be too much.  We are too hands on.  We traveled back and forth from one to the other, primarily putting out fires.  After too many tumultuous events, about a year in, we fired the dining room manager at the IC , which then meant that I would work day time at KVI, making desserts, come work the dinner service at the Ironstone and then go back to Kennedyville to help with nightly closing there.  There were several months of 90 hour weeks for me during November and December of 1996, and so, in early 1997 we stopped serving lunch at the Ironstone.  We promoted one of our most senior servers to Manager and life became a little saner.  Finally in August of that year, Paul and Kevin had a conversation at one of the Martial Arts classes they both attended and the rest is history.  Paul saved our lives and we handed our fully-staffed, fully-equipped and fully-established restaurant over to him for something like $57 grand.  We couldn’t have been happier!

There are many, many more stories, many more people and pictures, many more things to be grateful for.  We had a lot of help getting started in our quest for success, from my mother the realtor who steered us to the property originally, to Kevin’s dad who loaned us the initial funds when the local banks refused to take a chance on the two newbies,  to our previous co-workers who offered advice and invaluable support. And a lot of people thought we’d never make it.  Not on Cannon Street, of all places.  Not with our menu ideas.  Not in Chestertown. Not ever.  But Cross Street was bringing change to Cannon Street and Kevin was changing Chestertown’s thoughts about food.   Before you knew it, weekends were booked up a week in advance and we were saving money so we could buy our own building and be our own landlords.

That is a whole other tale to tell!

It’s CowGirl Candy Time!

As you may recall, we are regular producers of that hot ‘n sweet condiment known as CowBoy Candy, which is basically jalapeno peppers sliced and cooked in a vinegar-sugar syrup.  We refer to ours as “CowGirl Candy”, because the Boy name is trademarked…but it’s one and the same.  Anyway, today was the day for production.  We had a nice mixture of red and green jalapenos, some hot cherries and some sweet yellow bananas, from both Redman’s and the neighbor’s gardens.

The recipe I use comes from the internet – of course – and there are several places to find one, they are pretty much all the same.  Here’s a link to the one that is most similar to the one we use, as far as ingredients and methods go.  That being said, of course we tweaked it.

For one thing, after years of making the rings, we realized that when we eat the stuff we often chop it up into more of a relish, partly because it spreads out better on your sandwich or sandwich filling but also because it’s a lot easier to grind up a couple of pounds of peppers in the meat grinder than it is to slice them in the food processor, where the fumes alone may cause health issues.  We do not put in the granulated garlic called for in many recipes – we add fresh garlic to the peppers when we grind them.  Also, we don’t add the cayenne pepper because, well, why would you??  Mustard seed might be nice however…


The chopped peppers and garlic cook for a few minutes in the vinegar syrup; then we strained them into another pot, taking care to shake out as much of the pepper syrup as we can.  The strained syrup is put back on the burner to cook down to a more syrupy level, while the peppers are put into the hot jars.  (One note to self – next year leave more room in the jar for more syrup.  One batch of peppers yielded only two pints because I filled the jars up in the traditional manner.  I should have left more like an inch before I added the reduced syrup.  We’ll see how it turns out, but I have a feeling that this will be the better way to go.)  After the syrup has cooked to an agreeable thickness, we ladled it over the peppers, put on the lids and processed them in a hot water bath. (I stuck a knife up and down within the jars before I put the lids on, to assure that the syrup and peppers were well incorporated with one another, another reason I realized maybe more syrup less pepper in each jar next time.)

It’s best to wait a week or so before you try it, so the flavors can meld and mature, but it will also be tempting on a burger as soon as it is out of the pot.


Yes, this is yummy stuff, good on all sorts of things, from sandwiches to cream cheese to guacamole.  Depending on the pepper mixture you use, it can be as hot or mild as you want. All it really takes, to add some spice is a couple of hot peppers, so I’m thinking, if you use three or four really hot habaneros with a bunch of sweet yellow bananas, it might become a very pretty yellow relish with just enough heat! And now’s the time to make it, as peppers are at their colorful peak at the Farmer’s Market.

Let’s eat!

Eating With the Farmer’s Market #3

A trip to the Chestertown Farmers’ Market last week was an exercise in denial for Kevin.  There is just such an enormous selection of produce in prime condition and freshness and variety, it is impossible to draw the line.  He just wants to get everything!   This is where we shop for the K-B Market on a weekly basis, for both the Market Menu and for Dining Events, where we can get all the produce we need, from the mundane (never!) onion to the exotic Chinese long beans.  It is a wonderful resource.  It is just that sometimes it is hard to say “no, we don’t need that this week”, when you know so much is so very fleeting.

Typically we start at Redman’s Stand.

We always stop at Colchester, if only to say hey to Theresa, although generally Kevin is going get something from her beautiful vegetables.  Here’s how things were looking in late July:

Arnold is right up there in our top five vendors, especially for their tomatoes and corn and peppers and…just about everything!  I always want a bunch of sunflowers too.

Mr Jim at Anchor has the fortune – or misfortune as it may be – to be in the stall next to Carl’s Bakehouse.  Often the line for bread obscures Anchor’s offerings, but last week the customers did the right thing and lined up perpendicular rather than horizontal, and saved Anchor’s view for those interested.  So what was on the table?

Unity is a relative newcomer to the Farmers Market stage, and Kevin has  been very pleased with their organic offerings, particularly their colorful selection of tomatoes, which have been very nicely paired with crab recently.

Our Kennedyville neighbors – the ones with those wonderful eggs – are also new to the C’town Market.  They sell their famous BackYard Eggs there, plus a wide variety of certified naturally grown produce.  Kevin particularly likes their cherry tomatoes, little flavor bombs that they are.

Of course you know it’s July when Mr. Harlan’s peaches come to town.  White March Orchards, near Centreville, is always worth a visit for pick-your-own, if you miss him at the market:


And this is just the tip of the VegiBurg,  there’s much more – you can find wine and beer, aronia berries and honey, Lapp pies and Carl’s bread, White House Farm figs and Chesapeake Greenhouse lettuce, soap and dog treats.  It’s all there on Saturday in the Park.  It’s only a matter of how much you can eat.  Or put up!  Sometimes painful decisions must be made…

And then there are all the other FarmStands around, if you can’t make the Market on Saturday.  Right about now, things do not get a whole lot better in the Farm-to-Table world of local produce.  It is peak.  And it is impossible to decide what to get, what to eat.  Yesterday we stopped at Redman’s FarmStand/Wagon and got some of the freshest, youngest, tastiest corn we have had this summer.  Tomatoes from Arnold Farm stand in Kingstown – their heirlooms in particular – cannot be eaten fast enough.  Peppers of all colors and levels of heat, new potatoes, summer squash in a myriad of shapes and hues, melons and cucumbers, onions and blackberries.  It’s all here now.  And it begs the question – what do we do with all of this bounty?

Here are two ideas:

For the zucchini boat on the left – take one of those super huge zucchinis that have gotten out of control in your garden.  Or one of the ones your neighbor will leave on your porch later this month.  Scoop out the inside, leaving a strong shell, which should be baked in a hot oven until it has softened.  Kevin seasoned the shell with some olive oil, salt and pepper.  Meanwhile,   saute some diced eggplant, then add a little onion and celery.  Dice up the zucchini you’ve reserved and add that, with seasoning of your choice.  Cook it all together, then add a little breadcrumb to absorb any excess liquid.  Take it off the heat and add some freshly chopped tomato and grated cheese of your choice.  When this mixture is cooled,  pack it into the cooled shell.  At this point you can simply top it with a cheese/breadcrumb mixture and bake in the oven until nice and hot – at 400 degrees this will take about 15 minutes, depending on the size of your squash.  To fancy it up a bit, do what Kevin did in the picture: top it with sliced scallops and a sauce of mayonnaise, sour cream and something zippy to spice it,  and bake the same way.  Put it on the center of the table and have at it!

For the tomato/crab, even easier!  Take a crabcake – you can make your own, of course, or purchase a couple from your friendly neighborhood market – and slice a tomato into fat slices.  Take a slice of tomato, season it with salt, pepper and maybe a little bit of balsamic vinegar.  Put the crabcake on top and bake it in the oven for 15 or 20 minutes, until the crabcake is done and hot.  Meanwhile, put an equal number of slices onto a baking sheet, top them with some seasoned breadcrumbs (or not) and bake them for 5 or 10 minutes or so.  Pull everything out of the oven, carefully lift the bottom with the crabcake onto your serving plate, top with the other slice of tomato and serve with tartar sauce, or, if you are very lucky, some lemon butter sauce.  This is quintessentially summer.

And of course, for the rest of this short but sweet season, you can always have an ear of Mexican inspired corn, tomatoes sliced with basil and fresh mozzarella, pickled beets, fire roasted onions and carrots, poblano peppers stuffed with cheese, sauteed patty-pan squash, a wedge of watermelon with a squeeze of lime, some steamed green beans drizzled with sesame oil, a bowl of succotash – there were limas at Redman’s Wagon yesterday! – and a few peaches, blackberries and slices of cantaloupe for good measure.  Meat is optional this time of year!

Crabs are not:


Thank goodness summer is only half over…

See you at the Market!

Ayden Can Cook and Other Stories

Ayden is in town again this summer, visiting the Grands.  They dropped him off to spend a little time in the kitchen with Kevin and the two fellows decided to make some pasta.  Here’s the proof:


Getting started


Ayden pays strict attention


Kevin is a great teacher


Rolling out the pasta


Sprinkling it with flour


I missed the making of the squid ink ravioli, but Ayden is getting ready to dig in to his work.


What a great kid!  He is so polite and poised, particularly for an 11 (12?) year old!  We look forward to his visit next year!

Next, a look at our pizza oven set-up on the patio:

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This is definitely one of my favorite Patio Meals.

We are having a busy week this week, with a LOT of Market orders going out plus three private events.  Today, among many other things, Kevin made three Peach Frangipane tarts and four quiches:


That’s a lot of pie shells to roll out!

Lastly, take a look at Kevin’s sponge generating energy:


We need to harness that gas!

Enjoy the heat of the summer, and just remember, if you get too hot, January is going to be here soon enough!