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Archive | Winter 2012



strawberry illustration


Florida Strawberry Festival


For most of my life I haven’t been much of a festival or fair guy. I get sick on rides that spin me and shake me and throw me around. To quote a favorite writer, it seems to me like paying to be in a car crash. I love fried food, but in huge quantities, being consumed by huge crowds of future diabetics, it all gets quite depressing. At most fairs and festivals I’ve been to, whether local, county or state, I’ve come far too close to vomit, and been confronted with the harsh reality that all walks of life are capable of procreation and parenting. I become, briefly, agoraphobic.

But in recent years, I’ve come around, and that is largely to be attributed to the Florida Strawberry Festival. Let me explain.

The FSF has been an annual event in Plant City since 1930, held in honor of the state’s most delicious fruit’s high season. I love strawberries. Who doesn’t? And for 11 glorious days, more than 500,000 festival-goers revel in the glory that is strawberries, those precious little red orbs made sweet by the Florida sun.

There’s a flea market-type craft fair deal where you can peruse everything from jewelry to farming accessories, tons of strange confectionery, the most delicious strawberry lemonade I’ve ever tasted, an art gallery curated from local artists (comprised largely of strawberrythemed art), even a beauty pageant where the Strawberry Queen, as well as the Florida Strawberry Festival’s Royal and Junior Royal Court, is crowned (an event which was written about beautifully by Anne Hull in the New Yorker a few years back). Last year a Duchess on the Junior Royal Court’s was named—and I’m not kidding here—Daisy Duke. As in that’s her real name. They also name Plant City’s “Person of the Year” and hold a parade in his or her honor.

The festival also features hog races as well as other livestock competitions. You’ll see a lot of men dressed in their country best—bolo ties and pearl-buttoned shirts, Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots. Women with very big hair. It is decidedly an Irony-Free Zone.

You can also see some pretty big-deal headliner musicians, most, if not all, of whom belong to the world of country music, about which I know next to nothing—though I know they get people very excited. I recognize the names, but couldn’t tell you what they sound like. This year, on top of acts like Gretchen Wilson, the JaneDear Girls, Air Supply, Demi Lovato, The Oak Ridge Boys, Vince Gill, Josh Turner, TobyMac, The Band Perry, the Charlie Daniels Band, Reba McEntire, etc. Mr. Hank Williams Jr. himself will be rocking the main stage. The concerts are spread out across the 11 nights, and range in price from free to $50.

One of the most entertaining of all the, well, entertainment is the birling competition. Birling, or logrolling, is a sport originally popularized by lumberjacks who rode their freshly cut timber down rivers to sawmills, and basically involves two lumberjacks (or lumberjills, if the contestants are women) standing on opposite sides of a floating log, trying to make the other one fall by spinning the log really, really quickly. Sound boring? It’s ridiculous fun, and for some salt-of-theearth types it is serious business.

There is also a staggering amount of strawberry shortcake. I’m talking tons. Like, literally thousands of pounds of the stuff. Mountains of angel food, buckets of whipped cream, barrels of fresh strawberries in sauce. I can’t begin to convey how delicious strawberry shortcake smells in such large quantities. It’s the stuff of fairytales.

The Strawberry Festival is, beneath it all, an homage to what is probably the most American of all fruits (Americans on average consume more than five pounds of strawberries each a year), a fruit we lucky Floridians can find locally grown, off-the-vine red, ripe, and juicy. (Strawberry farms make up roughly 14 percent of the state’s farmland; we provide more than 10 percent of the national strawberry supply.) When you get past the sugar and craziness, it’s a really lovely community event. It brings people from all over Florida together to celebrate the end of our winter—however mild it may be—with a sun-soaked party. And who doesn’t love a party?



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This salsa is great with tortilla chips, but for a unique flavor treat, try it with cinnamon pita chips, or pour it over a block of cheese and serve with your favorite crackers. Try mixing it with fresh spinach for a unique salad.

2 pints ripe strawberries, washed and destemmed
6 ripe Roma/plum tomatoes, washed and quartered
½ small bunch cilantro, washed and chopped
½ large Spanish onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 habañero pepper, stem end removed (Make sure your habanero is firm and the seeds are white.)

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until mixed. Try one of the serving ideas above and enjoy!

Serves 12 Ounces

Courtesy of Barbie-Lu’s Salsa

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chocolate seafoam


Sirard’s Chocolate


All day people stick their heads in the door asking about Sarasota Seafoam—not something you dip your toes in at the beach, but a local take on a nostalgic bit of sweetness that’s popular in the North and Midwest. This crunchy confection coated in light/dark chocolate with a golden, sponge-like center serves up the mouth feel of toffee with undertones of a really well-roasted, charred marshmallow. It’s one of the specialties that Carol Sirard can’t keep in stock in her eponymous shop in Coral Cove Mall on U.S. 41 south of Stickney Point.

The holidays totally wiped out Sirard’s Seafoam supply, and other hand-dipped chocolaty treats, including a colorful array of Oreos, pretzel rods, marshmallows, graham crackers, handmade peanut butter cups, chocolate bark, cashew caramels, and freshly popped popcorn, each kernel painstakingly streaked with cocoa goodness. Giant dipped strawberries scooted out the door so fast at year-end that the chocolatier—who learned her trade in Belgium—is thinking of expanding her workshop, assembly area and retail space yet again, something she’s already done three times since Sirard’s Chocolate began in 2005.

After 25 years in the restaurant biz in Michigan and Sarasota, doing everything from bartending to owning a BBQ joint, Carol Sirard has landed in a pot of sugary gold that takes her back to her first job selling candy molds and supplies in the 1970s. She may be 48, but the lanky blonde looks 30, something she’s quick to attribute to the health benefits of—you guessed it—chocolate. In fact, there will soon be a line of Sirard Skin Care products in the store and online, because why should you only put your favorite guilty pleasure inside your body when she has developed body soufflés, massage oils, shower gels, and sugar scrubs with tantalizing aromas and natural ingredients to make you beautiful on the outside, too?

The appetite for house-made sweet treats, bridal shower and wedding delicacies, and catering has allowed Sirard to realize her dream to “open my very own store and brand my name,” she says, but is not easy work. “You have to love what you do because the work is like twenty hours a day. From September to Christmas Eve I didn’t have one day off,” the shopkeeper admits. With wholesalers such as Morton’s Market helping to expand her product reach, and a blooming business in gift baskets for lawyers, doctors and other professionals, Valentine’s Day promises to be another love match.

The heart-shaped sampler gift boxes, wine bottle hangs, lollipops, and novelty items sprinkled with red hearts have come out, individually packaged for amorous gifts. While chocolate connoisseurs elsewhere may be searching for spicy and savory flavor pairings, single-origin and highly concentrated cocoa bean content with maximum intensity, Sirard says her signature truffles sell best with more conventional fillings, including “flavors that go with love,” such as blueberry cheesecake. “Chocolate is love,” she affirms. “It makes you feel good. And of all the businesses I’ve run and had, this one is the best place to work because everyone who comes in is wearing a smile.”

Carol Sirard

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Ahhh, beets. I know there are a lot of you who are ardent beet haters. Maybe it’s because of their color, or because you ate soggy, vinegary pickled ones from out of a jar, or they were old and never cooked up. All three parts of the beet are usable: the greens, stalks and the root. They are available most of the year, and they’re long storing. Serve beets hot or at room temperature as in a salad, cooked or even raw. Try one of these beet recipes rediscover this earthy root.

How to Cook Beets

Beets can be boiled or steamed, baked, or roasted for a deeper, earthier flavor.

Prepping a Beet

Cut the tops of the beets off about 2–3 inches from the beet. Wash off any mud or soil under cool running water using your hands. Leaving the top on and avoid damage to the skin helps keep the beets from bleeding out too much and makes them easier to hold and peel.


Put the beets in a saucepan and cover with cold water (optional: add a little salt and sugar) and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat to low and simmer until tender, 20–30 minutes depending on the beet size. Drain. When cool, cut off the roots and peel with your fingers.


Use a steamer basket, fill saucepan with 1 inch of water, cover, bring to a boil, and steam the beets until easily pierced with a thin knife, 30–45 minutes. Be careful not to let the pan run out of water. High heat melts the beets’ natural sugars and makes them taste sweeter and more flavorful.


Heat the oven to 400°F. Place washed, unpeeled beets in a small baking pan with an inch of hot water, cover the whole dish tightly with foil, and bake until tender, 45 minutes to an hour. The steam speeds the cooking. If you don’t like using foil, brush the beets with olive oil and roast them, omitting the water. Roast until tender, about 1–2 hours depending on their size. Cool slightly and remove skins

Oven Roast

Heat oven to 350–400°F. Put beets into a roasting dish lined with a large piece of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Fold foil around the beets and seal completely shut. Roast for 25–30 minutes. Cooking times depend on freshness and size of the root.

Storage Tips

After harvest, beets retain their integrity for three months if stored in optimum conditions. Cut off leaves and stems 1–2 inches above the root crown. Store in a plastic bag and refrigerate in the hydrator drawer.

About Beet Greens

Baby beet greens are best used fresh or stored for couple of days in a damp cloth in a plastic bag. Use them only if they are fresh from your garden or the farmers’ market. When old and wilted, they are just not worth the effort. Wilted greens are an indication of the freshness of the beets. Rinse and cut the leaves and stalks in 1 inch pieces, cook them in a little boiling salted water, drain, and slather them with butter or extra virgin olive oil. Add some chili powder and some freshly chopped parsley and you are in for a whole lot of flavor.






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beet salad

We like to make this salad colorful by using a 70/30 mix of red to gold beets. Roasting them individually wrapped in foil will keep the red from bleeding onto the gold.

1 ½ pounds beets
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
6 cups arugula
1 cup candied walnuts, chopped or whole, depending on preference
6 tablespoons raspberry vinaigrette

Wash the beets well. Do not peel, but slice off the very top and bottom of each. Coat each beet with a small about of olive oil and wrap them individually in aluminum foil. EVOO .

Preheat oven to 425°. Place beets on a sheet pan and roast in oven for about an hour, depending on size of beets. To test for doneness, unwrap a beet and see if a fork or knife can easily move through the entire beet. If it does go through the beet easily, place back in the oven for another 20 minutes. (The smaller beets will be done sooner.) As each beet is done, remove from oven and allow to cool while still wrapped in the foil. Once they are cool, you can unwrap and peel away the skin. This is easily done with a large fork and spoon. Stick the fork into the top of the beet and skin the beet with the spoon from the top down.

Slice the beets into bite-size pieces, either in rounds, in cubes, or in strips. Place in a large bowl along with the crumbled goat cheese and refrigerate.

When the walnuts and vinaigrette are ready and it’s time to serve the salad, place a bed of arugula on each plate, top with a large spoonful of the beet/cheese mixture, a sprinkle of candied walnuts, and raspberry vinaigrette to taste.

Serves 4

Courtesy of Bond Restaurant

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beet chips

This is a delicious, quick way to prepare beets. Enjoy them just out of the oven, in a salad, or as a side dish. Heat oven to 350°F. Slice beets thin using a mandolin or any other hand slicer. In a small bowl whisk olive oil with a pinch of cayenne. Spread beets slices on a baking sheet over parchment paper and brush with the olive oil-cayenne mixture. Sprinkle with salt.

Bake for about 15 minutes on each side until crisp

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Walt’s Fish Market


Wiry-haired, energetic, and often seen fresh off his boat in orange waders and white rubber boots, Brett Wallin is a respected local fisherman, fishmonger extraordinaire, and part owner of Walt’s Fish Market and Restaurant, a long-time Sarasota fixture. He represents the fourth generation of a family steeped rich in Sarasota seafood history, begun by his great-grandfather Claus, who arrived in Sarasota in 1918 as a roustabout with the Ringling Circus. Claus Wallin quickly developed a love of fishing, a passion inherited by Brett’s grandfather Walt, who passed it down to Brett’s father Tom. The passion lives on in Brett.

Spend time on the water with Wallin and you might think of him as something of a pied piper of the fish world. He has deep appreciation for life within the waters around Sarasota. He should; he has been fishing these waters since he was a young boy. Wallin’s memory of life in the market starts at age five, when he accompanied his father to the Siesta docks on Saturday mornings to pick up the day’s fresh fish. His love of fishing came soon thereafter, out on the boats with the salty men his father had fished alongside for years. “I learned so much, but they would never tell you everything,” Wallin quips with a chuckle.

By age seven, Wallin had taken up after-school residence on the family’s Midnight Pass seawall, rod and reel in hand. Recognizing his tenacity, Tom Wallin outfitted his son with a scale from the market to weigh his catch. And when he was old enough to safely handle a knife, his dad taught him how to fillet his bounty. Brett would sell his catch to the neighbors, a clear sign he was already learning the ropes of the family business.

Wallin obtained his first commercial fishing license before he owned his first car. During high school, it was straight to the market every day after Cardinal Mooney football practice; most weekends were spent slinging fish. Buckets of oysters were Wallin’s contribution at high-school parties, and the hours he devoted to the market, along with the seafood-stained clothes of his late teens, earned him the nickname “Fish.” Wallin’s attachment to the market was respected by his childhood friends, many of whom at one time or another were employed at Walt’s.

In 1997, college lured Wallin to North Carolina, far from the fish and the water he knew so well. But in May of 2001 he returned to his roots, business degree in hand, ready to resume market duties beside his father. In 2006, the Walt’s torch was passed to the next generation as Tom Wallin lost a courageous five-year battle with cancer. Wallin grieves, never having had the chance to give his father a proper retirement party, as Tom had done for so many faithful Walt’s team members in years past. But according to Bob Howe, a 33-year Walt’s employee who watched the younger Wallin grow up and eventually take over the market, Tom would be proud of all his son has accomplished in his absence.

In 2009 Wallin joined forces with Chip White, a Fort Myers native with extensive experience in the hospitality industry. White says Wallin’s offer was the “perfect storm” opportunity. White was ready to be a part of a successful business, and was drawn to the family history of Walt’s. Wallin had been looking for a partner with the skills and drive to manage the day-to-day business tasks so he could get back on the water to fish. White and Wallin are young, but with the encouragement of Wallin’s mother Linda, the last three years have brought big-time updates to the market and restaurant, further strengthening its mainstay status. Ultimately White and Wallin envision Walt’s as a Sarasota landmark that connects locals and tourists; a truly sustainable eatery and fish market in an everchanging environment.

The Wallins have no intention of leaving their US 41 location, a building purchased by Linda and Tom in 1977. The nautical relics, historical photos, and trophy fish decorating the walls and rafters illustrate the Walt’s Legacy described on the restaurant’s placemats. Wallin is happy with the spot; it is exactly seven minutes from where he keeps his boat and where he started fishing with his father all those years ago. A recent renovation to the space presented huge upgrades in aesthetics and efficiency. According to Wallin, it will enable them to stick around for at least another 50 years.

Many of the regulars pay little attention to the renovations; they are here for the food and loyal staff, many of whom greet them with hugs, making it feel more like a family kitchen than a restaurant.

“I sold a pompano sandwich today made with a fillet of fish that had been living 13 minutes earlier,” Wallin relates. The customer was a 70-year-old man who insisted on personally thanking Brett for the “best sandwich he had ever had”—no doubt a tribute to the quality and freshness of the product Walt’s serves and sells. The hundred-item menu has seen slight variations and additions over the years, but continues to abide by the motto “the fresher the product, the fewer the ingredients.”

Local knowledge, a strong presence on the water, and good relations with fellow local fishermen allow Wallin to keep close tabs not only on what is in season, but on what is abundant and available. He spends a minimum of four days on the water during season—sometimes market duties do not allow for more. But when time does permit, he is on the water at every opportunity. “You get to bring a variety of species to your own market,” he says proudly. Just yesterday, he caught flounder, pompano, sand perch, mullet, blue crab, and stone crab.

Beyond the market and the restaurant, Walt’s makes an appearance at the Siesta Key Farmer’s Market every Sunday, and offers a catering service to clients eager for Walt’s famous raw bars and fish fries, but Wallin is quick to note that he has no intention of competing with the traditional catering circuit. He claims he is not a ‘bow tie and tuxedo’ kind of guy.

These days, Wallin is concerned that tough regulations and a down economy are deterring the next generation of fishermen. He’d love to give a dying breed reason to keep fishing for another hundred years. With plans to expand into the wholesale market, Wallin wants to educate restaurants on the importance of featuring local fish on their menus, even if it comes at a slightly higher cost. “In dealing with local fishermen, you know exactly when it was caught, who caught it, how they iced it, and how they took care of it,” he explains.

Wallin’s daily activities make for long hours, and sometimes strenuous, often dirty work. Despite that, he says he still gets goose bumps every time he unties his boat from the dock. He starts at six most mornings, and sometimes does not wrap up until nine at night. Wallin has yet to tire of providing fresh seafood to the community. He says he doesn’t see it as work, adding, … Read More

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4 eight-ounce fillets fresh Pompano (can substitute with Hogfish)
Sea salt to taste
Fresh cracked pepper, to taste
1–2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can of coconut milk
½ cup heavy cream
Juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons minced lemongrass or lemongrass paste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted (for garnish)

Season fish with sea salt and pepper to taste, then set aside.

Add the 1–2 teaspoons olive oil to a sauté pan and heat. Add ginger and garlic and sauté until fragrant but not brown. Stir in the coconut milk, bring to boil, and then reduce to a simmer, allowing it to cook for 2 to 4 minutes.

In separate bowl combine heavy cream, lime juice, salt, and sugar. Whisk this into the coconut milk mixture along with the lemongrass. Reduce on low heat (about 5 minutes) while preparing fish.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet on medium high heat, then add the fish, browning it for 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Drain the oil from the pan and pour coconut lime sauce over top of fish and bring to a good serving temperature while plating the sides.

Right before serving, place the generously sauced fish on plate. Garnish with toasted coconut flakes, if desired. Enjoy.

*Best accompanied with sautéed market fresh vegetables and seasoned brown and jasmine rice mix.

Serves 4

Courtesy of Walt’s Fish Market and Restaurant

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Spilling the Beans on Our Local Baristas


For the post-modern small city, a good coffee shop is a community hub. The Creative Class, as they’ve come to call themselves over the last decade, demands good coffee, a proper shot of espresso, a skilled barista. For many of us, the local coffeehouses are where we work, where we think, where we meet friends, lovers, business associates. And our tastes have evolved from the Pacific Northwest grunge era of the early ’90s that spawned Starbucks. We want our morning joe to have a story, a soul. We believe in craft and subtlety, in crema and americanos. Here’s a half-dozen local haunts that hold their own, with recommendations for each, from Milano-style macchiatos to sturdy house blends.


This downtown hipster hub is the place to see and be seen. A stylish, surly crowd huddles around the tables outside, sipping lattes and smoking American Spirits, while inside, downtown suits and creatives alike take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. Pastry Art is known for its specialty drip blends—exotic South and Central American beans, mostly— though a few of it’s baristas are talented when it comes to espresso drinks.

1512 Main St, Sarasota; 941-955-7545;


Local Coffee + Tea flaunts a wide selection of loose-leaf teas, but their variety of locally roasted coffees, all done by Latitude 23.5, is just as impressive. They brew and sell a good amount of both organic and fair trade coffees from all over the world—Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil—which you can grab from either their Siesta Village location or at the Sarasota Farmers Market on Saturdays.

5138 Ocean Boulevard, Siesta Key; 941-870-2671;


Java Dawg began as a coffee stand in an old double-decker bus at the Downtown Sarasota Farmers Market. Their repurposed gas station in central Sarasota is now a must-stop, brick-and-mortar area favorite. (Though you can still catch them downtown on Saturday.) Their drip blends are interesting, varying greatly roast to roast. They do espresso in both the bus as well as the brick-and-mortar, though I would recommend the latter, as espresso is a delicate thing, and any machine that can fit in a coffee bus is surely inferior to the industrial classic they have at the station.

4615 S Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-921-3294;


Though most know Hukilau Hut for its massive green monstrosity of a van, which sells shaved Hawaiian ice all over Sarasota, this little Bee Ridge gem has some of the best espresso in town. Owners Juan and Renee are total coffee geeks, the type that go on vacations to Central American coffee plantations. They roast their own beans in the back, and Juan is as skilled a barista as any in the area. A spoonful of sugar is all his espresso shots could ever need.

2253 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota; 941-350-2029;


Sarasota’s quirkiest downtown neighborhood finally has a proper café. A self-proclaimed “Parisian café,” Burns Court Café might have the area’s most consistently delicious traditional Italian espresso. When you order a macchiato–meaning, literally, “marked” or “stained”—you get the real thing, a shot of espresso with a tiny dollop of foamed milk. You can probably talk them into some sort of pumpkin-chocolate-peppermint-dreamsicle coffee, but, well, just don’t. Let them show you what real espresso tastes like. The space inside is precious and quaint, a nice spot for an afternoon date or a quiet morning spent with your nose in a book.

401 S Pineapple Ave, Sarasota; 941-312-6633;


Sarasota Coffee and Tea has been roasting some of the finest coffees in the Southern states for over a decade. Their blends are available by the pound, for the freshest in home brewing. Lots of Central and South American varietals—all from the top 10 percent of quality Arabica beans—show up in roaster Glenn Kroneberger’s blends.

1937 Barber Road, Sarasota; 941-342-6700;


LeLu is the Siesta Village’s go-to coffee haunt, a surfy little lounge perfect for pre-beach java. They do a variety of flavored specialty espresso drinks, with a number of talented baristas manning the machines. They also offer free Wi-Fi, a mellow vibe, and delicious drip blends, and sandy feet are encouraged. What sets LeLu apart from the rest, though, is the presence of liquor. They do killer adult coffees—Mexican (tequila and Kahlúa), Spanish (Tía Maria and rum), Irish (a personal favorite, Bailey’s, and, if requested, Jameson)—for those looking to get a night in the Village started off right.

5251 Ocean Boulevard, Siesta Key; 941-346-5358;

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Rotisserie cooked breast of duck
Photo by Jenny Acheson

2 duck breasts, 6 ounces each
2 tablespoon butter
1 Belgian endive
8 spears asparagus
2 ounces fresh fava beans
3 ounces fresh broccoli florets
¼ ounce pine nuts
2 ounces port
Vegetable bouillon as needed

Slow cook duck breast on rotisserie. It should take around 18 minutes, and will allow time to prepare the other parts of the dish.

Toast the pine nuts lightly in a dry sauté pan and set aside.

Place 1 tablespoon butter in a sauté pan and heat slowly. Cut the endive in half and sauté slowly in the butter along with the asparagus spears, fava beans, and broccoli. When the vegetables become soft on the outside but are still crunchy inside, remove from the pan and set aside.

Deglaze the pan with the port wine, adding a small amount of vegetable bouillon and another tablespoon butter. Return vegetables to the pan along with the pine nuts and toss to coat.

Slice duck breast diagonally and place it on the plate arranging the vegetables alongside it. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and drizzle any leftover sauce from the sauté pan over the dish.

Serves 2

Courtesy of Cafe Americano

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Rotisserie Cooked Breast of Duck with Endive
Photo by Jenny Acheson



Bok Choy
Brussels Sprouts
Celeriac (Celery Root)
Chinese Cabbage
English Peas
Green Onions
Snap Or Snow Peas
Swiss Chard
Sweet Onions



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Kale makes a nutritious, delicious green salad. The leaves become tender after a light marinating “massage.” This salad keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

1 bunch kale
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
4–8 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tangerine, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
1 fennel bulb, sliced
¼ cup chopped pecans

Wash kale and remove stems. Chiffonade the leaves by stacking them, then rolling them lengthwise and slicing them into thin strips. Place sliced leaves into a large bowl with 4 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt. Use your hands to gently massage the kale with the marinade, for about 1 minute. Add more olive oil as needed to lightly coat and soften the kale.

Add fennel, tangerines, and pecans and serve cold or at room temperature.

Serves 6

Courtesy of Eva Worden

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The Farm that Family Built


Like most people in the area, I was first introduced to Worden Farms on a sunny Saturday afternoon in early winter. I had just moved back from a half-decade in New York City, and had made a personal resolution to eat healthier—I bought a juicer, reread Diet for a New America, promised myself to buy organic and local as much as possible. Worden Farms quickly became my main source for organic produce.

A few months later I was asked by a local magazine to write something short about the farm to accompany a photo spread of owners Chris and Eva with their beautiful young children, Asa and Grant. I got Eva on the phone, intending to have a quick chat about the farm, get a quote, and finish up my day at the office. Two hours later I hung up the phone, reeling. It was one of those nutritive, sustaining conversations. I spent the rest of the evening trying to figure out how to pare our conversation down to 400 words.

Eva and Chris are not your traditional small-town farmers. Or, well, they are and they aren’t. They met in Maryland, while in graduate school—Eva holds a doctorate in ecosystem management from Yale; Chris’s PhD is in crop science from the University of Connecticut. They are founding members of Slow Food Southwest Florida, which promotes sustainable agriculture and biodiversity through the consumption of seasonal, locally grown foods. They’ve been named Organic Farm Experts by the Organic Trade Association, and have received numerous awards, including the Florida Innovative Farmer Award. They are leaders of a very quiet, deceptively subversive revolution.

Before they owned the farm, Eva was a tenure-track professor at the University of Florida, where she was the state specialist in urban landscape horticulture. When she and Chris set out to purchase the farm, friends asked her if she was sure about the decision. A tenuretrack job is tough to walk away from. But the farm was where her heart was; it was to be their “life’s work.” They bought 80 acres of defunct orange groves and horse pastures in 2003. The land was largely raw and unadulterated; they were able to attain their organic certification very quickly and were on their way.

During our first conversation, Eva and I delved into the social and political issues surrounding Florida agriculture—subjects with which Eva is passionately well-versed. We discussed how Florida has struggled since the frontier days to create and maintain any semblance of local, sustainable, community agriculture. “Florida was settled after the automobile,” she said. I sat in my chair, thinking about what that meant.

She went on, “Most towns in the Northeast, they’re spaced basically a day’s carriage ride away from one another. And there are small dairy and vegetable farms that were homesteaded early on. [Florida] wasn’t settled like that. You could truck it in. So the farms were all in remote areas. They were commodity-, not community-based: juice oranges, wholesale tomatoes, or cattle ranches. It’s a different physical and cultural landscape from the northeast.”

In recent years, though, that’s begun to change. Since 2003, Chris and Eva’s 45-acre farm has supplied thousands of people with a weekly supply of the absolute freshest organic produce found anywhere. On Saturdays they are up at 0300 hours, loading trucks headed for the Naples, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota farmers’ markets. “It’s really a turning of the tide,” Eva told me. “There’s been an increase, I think, in simply eating healthy, as well as an interest in our farm.” Their CSA (community-supported agriculture) has swollen to more than 500 members. “We’ve grown at an organic pace, if you will,” she said. “Our production and acreage has increased only when needed to meet the demand. It was a significant amount of time and resources and work,

but we took a leap.” They now employ 15 field hands, a number of apprentices, and a weekly group of part-time market employees. The Wordens hold workshops at least once a month, on everything from the basics of organic gardening to introductions to vegan cooking, and consult with other farmers wanting to convert to more sustainable, responsible, organic practices. “We’ve had real estate agents, accountants, all types of people come to the farm for tours or workshops wanting to make a change—wanting to become farmers,” Eva said. “On one hand you have increased childhood obesity and a lot of sad stories about how poor our diets are. But on the other, you have these wonderful stories about people converting their farms over to organic practices; we have people coming from all over the state to learn about organic farming. There are community gardens popping up. We’ve always tried to be positive. As they say, better to light a match than to curse the dark.”

Of all the things Eva and Chris can be proud of, one gets the sense that there’s nothing bigger in their lives than their boys. Asa was very young when they purchased the farm, and both he and Grant have been raised on it. “As they’ve gotten older,” Eva told me, “they’ve realized [the farm] is a special place. They’ve got the biggest ant pile in town, and these goats and animals running around, and they have all the strawberries they could ever want to eat. They’re getting the big picture.”



For more information about the Wordens’ CSA, their farm, and regular workshops and tours, visit


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