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3 Unique Holiday Harvest Traditions

Each fall Americans look forward to Thanksgiving – a day of bountiful eating, family gatherings, and even football. Often this day winds down with a nap on the couch and leftovers being put away for a chance to re-live the great feast. For many, the leftover turkey is best put to use in a sandwich and the sweet potato casserole makes for a great late-night snack. This has become the tradition. But it all had a different beginning.

The History of Harvest

We celebrate Thanksgiving to commemorate the feast that pilgrims shared with some Wampanoag Indians after the first harvest in 1621. The festivities lasted 3 days and the fresh food eaten then was more likely venison, not turkey, and sweet potatoes were unknown to the settlers at that time.¹  The food has evolved and the holiday has since become a day of thanks for all that we have, including our family, community, and local food.

Going Global

In some countries, harvest celebrations are a bit different. Honoring the harvest of local food and sharing with the community happens in some interesting ways as ancient traditions are enacted. Let us take you on a tour around the world and get a glimpse of some global holiday harvest traditions.

Incwala – Swaziland

In Swaziland, Incwala lasts for many days leading up to the cutting of the sacred shrub, known as Iusekwane. .² The Incwala is also referred to as the first -fruits ceremony and includes communal harvesting of fields, weddings, and rituals of song and dance only performed for this festival. The celebration is meant for “renewing and strengthening the kingship and the nation.” ³

Dozynki – Poland

This Slavic harvest festival coincides with the end of the harvest season and was originally associated with an ancient pagan cult of agriculture. ¹* Still celebrated in Poland today, it marks the tradition of rewarding farm laborers for their work in the fields of the larger landowners and comes at the end of the harvest season.

The last of the harvest, usually wheat and rye, is formed into a dome-shaped wreath and presented to the head of the manor. Participants wear traditional costumes as a processional heads to the landowner’s estate. There is an offering of bread to the host, who then shares a vodka toast with the eldest male peasant. A feast follows where peasant-style food is served. ²*

Crop Over – Barbados

The island nation celebrates the end of sugar cane season with what can be considered one of the longest harvest events around. As much as two months time can be spent on feasting, eating, and Calypso music competitions. ³* The tradition dates back to the 1780’s and today it’s a party atmosphere complete with a parade and the ceremonial delivering of the last sugar canes to the king and queen of the festival. ¹ª

Honor the harvest

Across the globe people take time to observe the significance of the harvest and to celebrate the bounty.

While we decorate with gourds and bales of hay and eat ourselves to the point of being overstuffed, remember, it is a celebration of harvesting that provides us some of the best local food around. It is also a commemoration of the hard work the pilgrims endured and the friendship they shared with the indigenous people.

The Leftovers

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, and if you don’t have any leftover turkey you can always visit Atlanta Bread for our delicious Turkey Cranberry Sandwich!

Sources:

¹ https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/11/26/why-we-celebrate-thanksgiving-every-year-it-isnt-what-you-think/

² http://www.thekingdomofswaziland.com/pages/news/index.asp?NewsID=146

³https://www.britannica.com/place/Swaziland/Cultural-life#ref480823

¹*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do%C5%BCynki

²* http://www.polishtoledo.com/dozynki01.htm

³* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crop_Over

¹ª http://www.barbados.org/cropover.htm#.WAD6dGxSMaI

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Italian Inspiration For Tonight

On a trip to Tuscany many years ago I fell in love. But as a traveler to Italy it’s easy to fall in love with the country. The rolling hills, the soft evening light, and the Cyprus trees are some of the most relaxing scenery around. The warmth and happiness of the people is infectious, and the food, oh the local food is like no other!

Although I couldn’t bring the scenery home I can still enjoy the tastes of Italy here. It’s quite possible to recreate many of the dishes using our local food or to dine in restaurants that make some delicious versions of Italian cuisine. Let’s get familiar with this global favorite and see what grabs you.

Regional variety

Italian food runs a wide gamut depending on the region. In the southern part of Italy local food includes the use of tomatoes, fresh or as a rich sauce, and olive oil is used almost exclusively for cooking. Fresh ingredients like olives, garlic, anchovies, and capers adorn pastas which are served daily. Meats of choice include lamb, salami, and veal, with peppers and eggplants often present.

In Northern Italy there is less reliance on pasta (though it’s still served) as risotto and polenta, which is made of corn, takes center stage. Butter or lard is used rather than olive oil and anything that grows or is caught in the region can wind up on the table, including rabbit, quail, or shellfish.

Pasta

When you think if Italian food, it’s likely that the first thing that comes to mind is pasta. Pasta was rated by Oxfam* as the world’s number one favorite food and I can understand why. The versatility of the noodles means you can combine it with a wide variety of fresh ingredients to create a meal in a bowl. You also have a wide range of shapes and sizes of pasta that all work to provide varying degrees of bite and to hold sauces differently – what a great invention! Speaking of that – while Italy is often thought to be pasta’s country of origin, many believe it was first created in China and then brought to Italy by Marco Polo, or that Arabs brought the dish when they invaded the land, or that Greeks had a version of it first. Does it really matter, all we care about is that it exists!

Seasonings

Local food can be Italianized (I think I made up that word) by simply adding Italian seasonings.The most widely used are basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, and rosemary. I like to sprinkle rosemary on roasted potatoes, or chicken. Basil is delicious in pasta or on the traditional Caprese salad made with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and balsamic glaze. Lasagna and other pasta is also made glorious with oregano and thyme. All it takes is the use of these seasonings to give a hint of Italy to any dish you prepare.

Cheeses

OK cheese-lovers, what would a pizza be without fresh ingredients like mozzarella or parmigiano reggiano? Yes, cheese, which is known in Italy as “formaggio”, plays an important role in several dishes. Fresh mozzarella is made from cow’s milk and rolled into balls and stored in water or brine to preserve the bright white color and freshness. Parmesan cheese is aged anywhere from 3-36 months and is best when freshly shaved or shredded onto food. Gorgonzola is the Italian version of blue cheese and has a strong, tangy flavor that is fabulous on salads, atop Italian bread, sprinkled over pastas or made into a cream sauce.

Be inspired

Italian cuisine tends to be quite healthy food as fresh ingredients are used and there is no heavy frying going on. The focus is on fresh, locally-sourced, healthy food and reasonable portions. The diversity of ingredients allows for the home chef to create a variety of dishes with an Italian flair. Top your pastas and pizzas with what you love, serve meats and seafood with ample veggies and seasoning and you’re well on your way to an Italian taste sensation.

Make it local

To get the freshest ingredients and for an assortment of Italian staples visit a Whole Foods Market at Alpharetta Avalon, Buckhead, or Midtown. If you’re in Marietta visit Harry’s Farmers Market, or the Decatur Farmers Market for folks in that area. Or here’s a list of other farmer’s markets in the greater Atlanta area: http://edibleatlanta.com/farmers-market-directory/

Hopefully you’ll be inspired to create some new Italian inspired dishes and fall in love with one of the most popular cuisines around the world.

Don’t feel like cooking tonight? Atlanta Bread offers some Italian inspired dishes, including our new Heirloom Tomato Salad, Caesar Salad, Bella Chicken Sandwich, or Chicken Pesto Panini!

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Cocktails From the Garden – Discovering Fresh Drinks You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

Sometimes it’s nice just to have a good refreshing cocktail, especially in the dog days of summer. While it’s never a good idea to overindulge, sipping a lively concoction of your favorite spirit and mixers can be a great way to lead into an evening meal or to wind down after your day of work. But boy am I tired of the same old thing – I’d like to be enjoying new tastes and ideas. Good thing it’s the perfect time of year to enjoy a cocktail from the garden.

An idea that will grow on you

What? Yes, you read that correctly – from the garden! With a bountiful harvest of herbs, fruits, and vegetables at hand there is a world of unusual drinks that can be made in summer. Whether you have a garden of your own, visit your neighborhood farmer’s market, or simply shop the organic section of your local grocery, you can pick up the fresh items that will give your summer cocktail a healthy feel.

Consider what often winds up in a Bloody Mary- vegetable juice and garnishes like olives, celery, green beans, even shrimp, but now think about lighter and fresher ingredients that add pizazz to the body of a regular cocktail.

It’s time to start enjoying new recipes for summer cocktails that have a little bonus and are beautiful too. No doubt that the creators of some popular beverages were inspired by their gardens and the plentiful foods grown in their area.

A harvest of possibilities

Let’s start by looking at a twist on a classic. Horse racing fans are keenly aware of the Mint Julep famously served at the Kentucky Derby. It’s a southern favorite that has mass appeal. But as we said, some people are inspired by nature’s gifts and like to make use of fresh ingredients. The Blackberry Mint Julep does just that. For this you muddle and strain blackberries and mint leaves, add sugar and bourbon and pour over ice. Garnish it with a blackberry and mint leaf and you have a chiller that will certainly have you chomping at the bit for more. That little extra fruit provides a sweet bonus.

If you’re more of a tequila fan and really crave a taste of summer, consider Bobby Flay’s Watermelon Tequila Cocktail. Your day isn’t complete until you’ve combined the sweetness of fresh, strained watermelon juice mixed with silver tequila. Add sugar syrup and blueberries along with mint and fresh lime juice and you’ve created a cocktail that’s light and refreshing.

Looking for more in your garden cocktail? A couple of New York chefs and their friend really hit the jackpot when they concocted the Porch Crawler. Created with several items from a rooftop garden, they muddled pitted cherries, mint leaves, and chiles. Then they topped with ice, rum, lemon juice and simple syrup and strained it into a glass. Club soda was poured in and the glass garnished with cherries and mint. I’ll bet they had as much fun creating it as they did drinking it.

Expanding the ingredient list

Some specialty cocktails call not only for “harvesting” fresh, healthy fruits and herbs but also for discovering less widely used spirits. Amp up the flavor and wow your guests with these drinks that call for Pisco, a white Peruvian Brandy made with mescal grapes or Lillett, an aromatized wine that is 85% Bordeaux region wines and 15% macerated liqueurs (mostly citrus).

There’s The Tabernacle Crush with muddled fresh peaches, basil leaves, and lemon juice that is strained, then stirred with Gin, Lillett, and simple syrup. You add ice and garnish with basil.

Cholo Fresco was created by Hans Hilbirg of “El Pisquirito” in Peru. For this one you’d muddle fresh mint leaves with sugar and lime juice and then strain into an ice-filled shaker. Add Pisco, melon liqueur, and cucumber juice. Shake and stir into a chilled glass. Try adding your own garnish of a slice of cucumber and a piece of honeydew melon.

You’ll notice most “garden” inspired cocktails require muddling. If you’ve never done it, this very brief video demonstrates the proper technique: http://www.marthastewart.com/976907/how-muddle-herbs-and-fruit

Get creative

What ideas do you have for adding some produce to your adult beverage? Sweet wine with muddled strawberries, club soda, and fresh basil or perhaps Vodka with ginger liqueur and mint? Try being inspired by what you see in the market and experiment with your spirit of choice – who knows, you may wind up creating a summer sensation.

Summer fresh is easy

If you don’t have the time or inclination to mix up one of these delicious drinks, visit an Atlanta Bread location that has bar service and add a healthy salad, sandwich, or other dish from our menu and really sink your teeth into garden fresh tastes.

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Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes – A History of a Salad Favorite

The importance of Peru within global food culture cannot be overstated. Imagine Italian cuisine without tomatoes, or England without potatoes, or India without potatoes, or tomatoes; all are far less interesting places, and all owe a debt to Peru as the origin of these new World Fruits and vegetables. That’s not to say the tomato sprung fully formed from the Andes a plump, delicious red or; on the contrary the ‘original’ tomato was a small sour thing that required a couple stages of pureeing and boiling to really be edible.

The Origin

The primitive tomato was bred to be sweeter and bigger and made its way to Mexico where it got it’s name – the Nahuatal: tomatl (giving Nahuatal the two most delicious words in English Chocolate and Tomato). The Spanish showed up and took both the fruit, and its name tomate back to Europe. Here the tomato became variously the Italian Pomodoro “Golden Apple” which implies the early Italian varietals were yellow or gold, rather than red, and the German Paradiesapfel “paradise apple”, which does not imply much other than its deliciousness and rumored aphrodisiac qualities. A few other names were banded about involving werewolves and witches, the tomato is, after all, a relative of the deadly nightshade. After years of careful cultivation, genetic mixing, and breeding something like our current tomato selection must have been around in the 1690s, as that’s when the first cookbook with a tomato recipe can be found.

A New Level

Credit for the elevation of the tomato from an expensive delicacy to a staple of cuisine has to go mostly to the Spanish, who really modified their entire cuisine around this new giant berry, and then exported their methods. Italy, from the standpoint of the United States, is a much larger culinary influencer than Spain, but both Italy and Spain owes much to the tomato. From sauce to preserves to salads and stocks, the tomato is everywhere in Italian cooking.

The breeding of the tomato is interesting; since the tomato has been in the hands of people we have attempted to create a product that better suits our needs. From the creation of something that we actually want to eat raw to the ultimately discontinued but important Flavr Savr; the variety modified for a long shelf life was the first genetically modified food, tomatoes have been at the forefront of horticultural research for years, which is why such things as an heirloom salad can exist.

Developing Our Dish

Heirloom is not a breed of tomato, it is rather the description for tomatoes that are grown using saved seeds from non hybrid strains. These strains are not hybrids, and withstand cross pollination, unlike commercial tomato plants. The famous San Marzano tomato is an heirloom tomato, as is the award winning Aunt Ruby’s German Gold, but they have entirely different uses, tastes and looks. A common trait shared by heirloom tomatoes is the lack of the mutation gene that causes a uniform redness. This redness and predictability is something we liked, and selected for in hybrid commercial tomatoes, but it came at the cost of carotenoids and the ability to produce sugar within the fruit – leading to a less sweet tomato. That’s why heirloom breeds tend to have a sweeter more complex taste.
The yellow tomato that we selected for the salad is called a Brandywine, but they won’t be available everywhere. In fact, that is somewhat of the point; not every Heirloom Salad at every Atlanta Bread will taste the same. Some of our locations can source the Golden Brandywine, others can get the German Greens, Zebras, or Mortgage Lifters, whatever variety ends up in the salad, they are of a different breed than the regular 8 X 10 tomatoes that are regularly seen, and look and taste more interesting. Not better, not worse, but more interesting.

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Diamonds Can Be Anyone’s Best Friend – Why Attending A Community Ball Game Is a Pitch-Perfect Idea

It really is more interesting and full of strategy than you think. I’m referring to the traditional, great American pastime of baseball. I know some people find it slow – but do they really know the game? And honestly what’s so wrong with a slower-paced activity? In this world of quick edits, snapchats, and constant, multi-layered entertainment, an easy game of ball could be just what we all need.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Your town may not have a major league team, but there is likely a minor league team of some level, or even some college, high school, or kids recreational ball that would do the trick. It’s less about watching a marquis sporting event than it is about getting out in your community, enjoying the shared experience, and treasuring what your community has to offer. It’s the crack of the wooden bat (or the ping of metal bats used in younger levels) and the sound of cheers at a well-thrown strike or a well hit ball that will grab your attention. It really is a unique sporting event because a game on the diamond lends itself well to a fun, social time in the stands.

Take Me Out to the Crowd

Yes, this is a shared experience like no other. There may be tailgating before lots of sporting events, but where else can you actually have a conversation with your friends, families, and even the strangers sitting next to you as easily as you can during a baseball game? Yes, that’s where the slow part is a benefit. Chatting between plays, or while pitchers warm up on the mound means you still see every play.

If you’re a “newbie”, that stranger next to you may know a lot about the game or the players and can be a wealth of information. Just ask a baseball fan in your community about the game and they will educate you on the types of pitches thrown and why, the strategy behind certain base-running tactics, or even about why certain plays in the field are made. And you can learn it all while watching the game in progress – no loud arenas or endless action to prevent any conversation lest you miss something.

These events may not be filled with razzle-dazzle, but they are a wonderful reminder that where you live is about family, sportsmanship, positive experiences and good old-fashioned fun.

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jack

Then there’s the cuisine. Well, OK, that’s a stretch – a concession stand hot-dog doesn’t really warrant being called cuisine, but they somehow taste better at the park than just about anywhere. Not a fan of the stadium dog or burger? Pack a healthier alternative and enjoy eating and snacking as you like. While most other sporting arenas don’t allow outside food, at nearly any baseball park you can bring in your own chow. Stock up at a local sandwich shop and subsidize with popcorn or other treats at the park. Anything goes in the baseball community.

I Don’t Care If I Never Get Back

There have been times, when driving home from work, that my husband has stopped in at the community ball field near our house to watch a youth baseball game. It’s fun to watch the little guys learning the game and just plain having fun. It’s also a great transition, he says, from a stressful day at work. Enjoying a few innings of ball is relaxing and can take your mind off of the fast-paced or stressful work-a-day world you may be in. And it’s less likely to rile you up than other sports do.

Let Me Root, Root, Root For the Home Team

It’s really all about a shared experience, a real community feel, and an opportunity to spend time enjoying an event that isn’t frantic. It’s the perfect outing that allows you to spend time with friends, have a conversation, and witness a treasured all-American sport. Take a swing at it – you might realize you’ve hit a home-run.