Friday, October 15, 2010

Apple Picking. Sort of: Savory Kale with Apples and My 1st Trip to an Orchard

One of the perks of living in Baltimore is you have access to the fall time harvest activities. Which I generally avoid like the plague. It's not that I have anything against vegetable patches or orchards, I just never had the overwhelming urge to visit them. I'm allergic to hay and corn mazes kind of freak me out. Plus, the idea of an entire famly fun outing centered on picking fruit seems a tad too Walton-esque.

But I found myself heading out to the Catoctin Mountain Orchard on Saturday anyway. Organized by my buddies Matt and Meredith (of Ex-Boyfriend fame. Friend 'em, people! You'll be happy you did.), I was assured that apple picking would be fun-fun and not church-"fun", as I intially feared. After a lengthy ride through Frederick, MD which included, among other things, a zebra siting (I kid you not), we finally arrived at the orchard...

...where we were soon informed that visitors were NOT allowed to pick their own produce. Nope! While you are welcome to walk amongst the apple trees, you are not to touch the bounty therein. Produce could instead be purchased at the store.

WTF, indeed, fine reader! If I wanted to go somewhere where we weren't allowed to touch anything, we could have gone to a museum. Any thoughts of freshly picked produce and hot cider went up like a dry leaf on fire. It was just as well, really: At 80 degrees and sunny, the day wasn't really apple-picking appropriate. Plus, I made a rookie picker mistake and wore flip flops to the orchard. M & M were in thick jeans.

Rather than mourn missed opportunities, we decided to take a quick walk through the orchard. Two other friends had joined us by this point, so we had a nice group as we walked amongst the trees, which were friggin LITTERED with apples. I had a rebel moment and left the trail to touch one just to see what would happen. (Answer: a whole lotta nothing.)

After some shopping at the orchard store (which was actually pretty nice) and gorging on cookies and such, we decided to explore the area a little further. We headed to Catoctin Mountain Park and went on a quick trail walk to check out the Blue Blazes Still, left over from the days of Prohibition. And totally haunted. Nah, just kidding!

Then it was off to find lunch. We settled on Cafe Nola in Frederick. Charming, good drinks (I recommend the Peach Palmer)- waaaaay to long on service, unfortunately. Still, the food was tasty. And, I was able to catch a glimpse of the local art scene available:

That night Tony and I got together with M & M for some apple-based goodness. Meredith whipped up an apple crisp that is still making my mouty water, along with some 10-minute apple sauce. Oh, and beer. Delicious, seasonal beer. Grab the Dogfish Head Punkin Ale if you can. Hand to god, it's like drinking pumpkin pie.

Later in the week I decided to have a go at drumming up my own recipe using the apples and kale I purchased at the orchard. The results were actually pretty satisfying - Tony even had seconds (and he can be hard pressed to eat greens). Add some vegan mac n' cheese on the side and we had one of our first full on vegan-friendly menus. Hoo-rah!

Tonight I will be doing the carb-loading thing at Sushi Hana here in the city, because tomorrow yours truly is taking part in the 2010 Baltimore Running Festival!

Yup! I'm back on the wagon. Or running behind it anyway. This year I'll be the anchor leg of the marathon relay, running as part of Team Kiwi, which I didn't name but can totally get behind. Following the run, I'm going to have another go at the fruit picking thing at the Summers Farm in Frederick (again) with some DC-based peeps. Apparently there's a Redskins-shaped corn maze....

See you post-race!

Savory Kale with Apples and Caramelized Shallots

1 large bunch kale, stemmed with ribs removed
3 medium sized apples (such as Empire or Fuji), cored, peeled and diced
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp apple cider or apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 tbsp olive oil or butter**
pinch of salt & pepper

(**Note: If you're going to use butter, cut it with the olive oil so it doesn't burn. I'd also suggest waiting to add it with the apples.)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the kale. Blanch it for 10 - 15 seconds and then immediately remove the leaves and transfer to a bowl of ice water. Strain the kale and roughly chop the leaves. Put to the side.

2. Heat a large skillet or sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, go ahead and add the onion slices. Stir to make sure they are covered with oil and then add a pinch of salt. Continue to stir for 10 -15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium as the onions begin to take own a caramel-brown color. (Add a little bit of water if the onions start to stick to the pan.)

3. Add the apples, sugar, vinegar/cider to the pan. (Add butter here if you're using it.) Continue to stir the mix over medium heat for approximately 8 - 10 minutes, until the apples are fully sautéed.

4. Add the chopped kale. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and plate to serve.

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