If you’re an eater or a grower in Alabama who wants to revolutionize Alabama’s food system and join a community of other eaters and growers, you should check out Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN). Founded in 2001, grassroots nonprofit ASAN often provide scholarships for Alabama farmers to attend some really stellar statewide and regional conferences, but the majority of their work centers on providing farmer-led training and resources to local farmers as well as hosting forums on sustainable agriculture throughout the state. The next such event is a Food & Farm Forum coming up in December in Nauvoo, AL.
To raise money for these initiatives, their annual Graze farm-to-fork picnic event pairs local farmers with local chefs to make munchy magic! This year was the event’s fourth year but the first I had ever heard of it. It took place last month, so, yeah, I’m late, I know. But here’s the rundown anyway!
I had been nervous at first, because the weather wasn’t promising, and it’s rare that a local food festival offers more than one vegetarian option, but I was relieved and excited to find that there were food offerings galore for vegetarian and vegan foodies. In fact, there were way more booths that had a veg alternative than that didn’t, so we were able to get our graze on real good! Here are just some of my favourite munchibles from ASAN’s 4th Annual Graze:
Our first stop was to the Red Sea Ethiopian & Mediterranean Restaurant + Grateful Acres booth, which was laden with steaming eggplant wot and triangles of injera. The booth was managed, at least on our (first) visit, by a young but very professional girl who very matter-of-factly corrected my enthusiastic praise with “it’s just eggplant.” True…it was just DELICIOUS eggplant!
Pelham High School’s culinary arts students paired up with Caver’s Farm to create these splendid squash hush puppies with fresh lady pea salad medley, the mere thought of which is currently causing me to salivate like a Saint Bernard.
I like to think I’m healthy. I like to think I’m creative. But I can’t, for the life of me, say I’ve ever thought about adding any kind of vegetable to a hush puppy. Life changing.
Avondale Common House, whose farm-to-table menu we always enjoy, using produce from Hanceville, Alabama’s Hamm Farm, really set the bar high with their candied eggplant bacon with watermelon and arugula salad.
I think they win for cleverest use of eggplant (and definitely made our “must attempt to replicate at home” list)! And also, watermelon! What else is there to say?
City Club Birmingham + BDA Farm‘s concocted a cucumber gazpacho with fresh herbs (and pickled shrimp, which they added to each cup separately, allowing us to enjoy with out it!) that was both refreshing and packed with flavour.
You know, cold soups are really difficult to make delicious (remind me to tell you about our 21 days of raw food one day), so I found this one really impressive.
The lively Thyme Randle, Sous Chef of Fero and founder of The Underground Cooking Academy was paired with Heron Hollow Farm to present a deliciously lemon-hinted cheesy potato casserole along with two versions of a fresh milk white cake with walnuts, chocolate, and caramel sauce.
I tried both the vegan and the nonvegan, because I’m greedy and was curious. I was super surprised by how moist and rich he still managed to get the vegan version. I actually probably would have had a tough time identifying which was which on my own.
The Continental Bakery/Chez Lulu + Hepzibah Farms was another go-to spot for dessert. Their delicate lemon basil shortbread was definitely a favourite of mine. The flavours were perfectly balanced, and the shortbread was just the right amount of crumbly & sweet. They also win my prize for chicest booth. The decor really conveyed Chez Lulu’s iconic vibe. I actually have a post on Chez Lulu in the pipeline, so stay tuned to hear more of my feelings about that local treasure!
Right next door was Magic City Sweet Ice who, using ingredients from Walden FARMacy, offered a unique and punchy Mandarin Ginger Sorbet–a delightfully tingly and refreshing iced treat that caught me off-guard with a powerful ginger kick. Really good!
These weren’t even all of the vegetarian or vegan options–even many of the meaty dish booths had something that we could sample. For instance, Tropicaleo had fricase de pollo, but served the cilantro rice separately, and El Barrio‘s signature was shrimp ceviche, but they also had tortilla chips with fresh guac.
The event was jumping, even with the torrential downpour that interrupted the festivities later in the evening, and Avondale Brewery’s atmosphere was inviting. The live performers certainly helped with that, as did the really fantastic assortment of raffle prizes.
That last picture wasn’t a performance, but a welcome from ASAN’s rock-star Executive Director, Alice Evans. All-in-all, this was a great fundraiser, and I’m looking forward to next year’s. Maybe I’ll see you there (or at one of ASAN’s next forums).