A Fine Food Weekend

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This
has been a fabulous weekend for eating around here. Woe is me that is has also been my first
weekend back on Weight Watchers after many years. I have counted every blessed point though, and
managed to use a full week’s of flex points in two days. So it goes.

Friday
night we had dinner at Restaurant Tallent, which unveiled its new spring menu
last week. It was all wonderful, but a
couple of things deserve shouting from the roof tops. There is a steak frites starter. I am crazy for Dave’s fries with béarnaise
sauce. Never had to count them up for WW before though (hideous experience, but worth
it.) There is also a fabulous cauliflower soup — very light and delicious,
with a curried relish of capers, olives and golden raisins that you stir in –
swirling golden curry and green chive oil into the pale creamy soup. Lovely! The combination of flavors and
textures really turned me on – it’s one of the best things I’ve had in a long
time. Another winner of a starter was the brandade – little crisp cakes of salt
cod puree with a sauce gribiche. Super good. Dessert was a pistachio trio:
pistachio frozen mousse, salted pistachio ice cream, a tiny pistachio tart that
is like pecan pie but with pistachios. Incredible.  No pictures, though.  Sorry!

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Saturday
I went to the market late and there wasn’t much to choose from, but I got a
bunch of terrific wild cress from Teresa at Heartland Family Farm. As I drove it home I kept thinking about
pesto, maybe because it looked like a big bunch of green basil even though it
tasted more arugulish – sharp, pungent, peppery. Probably it was a hangover from my dessert
the night before but I had pistachios on my mind, so I threw a handful of
roasted nuts into the processor with the cress and a clove of garlic. Pureed it with some pistachio oil and tossed
it all with hot penne. It was a little
sharp, but some creamy Capriole Farms goat cheese melted in made it just
right. Excellent market lunch!

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After
lunch my husband and I took off on a small food adventure – part of the
research for my book Homegrown Indiana. We were headed to Melon Acres in Oaktown, a
short 70 miles from Bloomington.  It was  a  sweet and sunny ragtop day so we put
the top down on the car and the foot down on the accelerator. An hour and a half and one speeding ticket
later, we were there.

Oaktown
is melon city – we must have passed five or six farm stands on Highway 41 (all
closed til midsummer) that sell all kinds of produce, but mostly melons. Melon Acres specializes in cantaloupes and
watermelons but to keep the migrant workers busy for a full season they have
expanded to asparagus, sweet corn and cucumbers. No melons yet, of course, but the asparagus
productions is in full swing.

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Our
tour guide was Autumn Horrall, a smart and charming college student who did the
honors for her family. She had prepared
folders for us jammed with fascinating asparagus lore, and she showed us the
whole works. Apart from seeing the acres
of asparagus that made our little patch look pretty puny, the best part was
watching the huge high-tech asparagus sorter. Human hands slot asparagus into individual compartments on a moving
line, and then the darn machine actually sizes them with the help of a digital
camera that measures their length and diameter. Then the machine shoots each spear into a compartment with others its
size, and when the bundles reach a pound in weight, human hands grab them out
and snap a lavender rubber band around them and put them in a box. These words do absolutely no justice to the
spectacle of fresh, wet asparagus spears jumping into their assigned spots as
if they had minds of their own. What a hoot.

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Autumn
and her mom gave us some asparagus to take with us (‘cause gosh, we sure don’t
have any at home!) – both green and some drop-dead gorgeous purple. We had dinner reservations near by at
McKinley Orchards, but that didn’t stop me from snacking on crisp purple
asparagus in the car. The best way to
eat the stuff may very well be fresh-picked and uncooked. This was beyond wonderful.

You
can order produce from the Melon Acres web site or, from July 4 through fall,
you can visit their retail market on Highway 41 just north of Oaktown. http://www.melonacres.com

McKinley
Orchards is right across the highway from Melon Acres. Run by Sandy and Hugh McKinley, with the able
assistance of their 10 year old grandson, Austin, McKinley Orchards is a much
smaller farm than Melon Acres, but it has the advantage of having not only a
summer farm market but a year ‘round restaurant. Only open Friday and Saturdays (starting at
4:30 Knox County time, which is 5:30 EST), the 130 seat place is run by family
and friends (with daughter Michelle in the kitchen) and it is the closest thing
to going to grandma’s for dinner that I done since I lost both my own.

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The
food is not, repeat not, fancy, but boy is it good. In the summer, up to three quarters of the
produce might be home grown, but last night, only the asparagus was (it came
from Melon Acres, naturally.) It’s all
arrayed on a small buffet that can get really crowded as people pack in. Last night there were various salads and
spiced apples (terrific!) on one side and hot foods on the other — fried
chicken and ham rolls (the two things the restaurant is famous for), as well as
sliced ham, pot roast, perfect mashed potatoes (made by Austin!), gravy, green
beans and asparagus, and fabulous sweet and yeasty rolls.) To wash it all down, bottomless pitchers of
iced tea (sweet or unsweetened) or lemonade. 

So
you can imagine how stuffed we were when the waitress stopped by to ask about
dessert. Whispering in one of my ears
was the little Weight Watchers angel, in the other was the grinning devil who
had heard all about the McKinley pies. I
ordered coconut cream. All I can tell
you is that it was one of the best pieces of pie I have ever had – the crust
was like puff pastry, flakey and scrumptious.

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You
pay at the cash register on the way out. The bill for two? A whopping 22
bucks.

Reservations
are essential given the fine food and limited hours of operation.
812-745-4175 

 

11 Comments Add yours

  1. I don’t know where to begin. So many great food experiences in such a short time. Dave’s cauliflower soup sounds unbelievably phenomenal. I want it now! And then pistachio heaven. I am jealous.
    McKinley Farms and Melon Acres; sounds like something out of the 50’s; next time I come to Indiana, I want to go there.

    Like

  2. Ed Bruske says:

    Shopping the farmer’s markets (or farms) does keep us in tune with the seasons, yes? Love the idea of a book about local Indiana food.

    Like

  3. Mary says:

    That coconut pie looks like the sweetest ending possible to a great weekend.

    Like

  4. Cynthia says:

    Thanks for a great weekend Christine. I enjoyed the food, the market, the drive, the pie. Loved it all. Where are we headed next weekend?

    Like

  5. matt says:

    Wow, all of this looks great! You really have a talent for photography. May I ask what camera you use?

    Like

  6. Hi Ronnie — Come out in melon season and we’ll go!
    I love the idea of an Indiana food book too, Ed, but right now I just wish it would write itself.
    It was, Mary. It was. I am still thinking about that crust.
    Next weekend we are having guests, so it’s in the kitchen to cook, Cynthia. Want to help? 🙂
    Thanks, Matt. I mostly use a Canon Digital Rebel and natural light, whenever I can. I have a smaller Nikon that is not an SLR that I use when I don’t want to lug all the kit around with me, like when I travel.

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  7. Looks like a very nice weekend, of the kind that gives you plenty of renewed energy.

    Like

  8. jared says:

    The McKinley Orchards food you described makes me think of Sunday suppers with the relatives when I was growing up – that menu was almost verbatim what we’d have. Your first picture drove us to have fried chicken and mashed potatoes the other night, too.

    Like

  9. Rebecca says:

    That watercress photo is just beautiful! What a great weekend of eating.

    Like

  10. Mmmm… I love your cress pesto. I never thought of using cress, though I’ve used just about every other green herb out there. Plus, you’ve got me eager for melon season now. 😉

    Like

  11. Trudy Bledsoe says:

    I only wanted to add that McKinley Orchard is on Eastern time. There are counties in that area on Central time, so it gets confusing. I’m not exactly sure the comment was correct. I would just suggest asking what time it is there when you call to make reservations, and compare that to whatever the time is where you called from.

    Like

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