Saturday, April 12, 2014

Good-bye to winter

What do brownies, garlic, and heart-shaped dog biscuits have in common?

They were all found at the last-of-the-season Bozeman Winter Farmers Market today.

Wrapped in the invigorating aroma of fresh-roasted coffee from Little Red Wagon and surrounded by live music from a solo guitarist, about 20 vendors displayed wares that included bright spring greens, goat cheese, jams and jellies, hand-knit socks, soap, and, well, a whole lot more.

I didn't go as an investigative reporter, I just wanted to meet everyone and see what the last market of winter looked like.

As usual, I found people excited about their products and already planning for summer markets.

Many of the vendors will be at the Gallatin Valley Farmers Market and/or the Bogert market. Others are going to Big Sky, Belgrade, Livingston, or Manhattan.

I was excited to learn about a new market open for the first time last year in Three Forks. Watch for a report this summer!

I am also making plans to improve this blog and my website at I will be introducing you to vendors and showing you around some of the farms and ranches. Every one of the vendors I meet has an amazing story to tell. Any of them who want to share that story will be heard here.

Check the list of Montana farmers markets as I update it and make plans to shop local this summer, or at least look for made-in-Montana products -- there are a lot of them!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Pancakes: two ingredients

This recipe has been making the rounds of the Internet, enjoyed by those who are gluten-free, paleo, and/or interested in trying unusual things.

It's one of the easiest things you'll ever make from scratch. All you need are 2 bananas and 4 eggs. If you feel you want to add a little poof to the final product, throw in 1/4 teaspoon baking powder.

I could stop right there, but I'll add a few tips to save you having to figure it out yourself.

First, it's best to have very ripe bananas, the brown ones that you might use for banana bread. I've used kinda green ones, but the riper they are the less lumps you'll have. Not that the lumps cause any problem at all -- indeed, they disappear during cooking -- but they can turn brown while waiting to be cooked.

Speaking of lumps, a hand-held mixer or even a blender is the best tool for these. The bananas are slimy, the eggs are slimy, and believe me, an electric appliance will easily blend these to perfection.

The batter will be thin, but don't worry. Magic happens in the pan.

I used a 1/4-cup scoop to measure each pancake, placing the batter in a nonstick skillet. I also used a bit of oil to crisp up the edges. I like crisp edges to my pancakes.

Don't wait for bubbles to appear as you do with regular pancakes. These will simply sit there looking frothy. I learned to wait for the edges to get not only crispy but dark brown before turning. The pancake in the photo is ready to turn.

These are very delicate pancakes, which is why I recommend a nonstick surface. Before turning, I carefully scoot the spatula around the edges to make sure the pancake is sliding on the surface and not sticking. Then I scoop it up and turn. This might take practise, but even the wrecks are tasty.

Now the difference between using baking powder and leaving it out is somewhat significant. Either way you'll get a very delicious treat.

Without baking powder, the pancakes are dense. If you've made Polish pancakes -- these go by several names, but are basically 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, and 1 egg -- you'll have a good idea of the texture. I'd call it eggy. In this case, the banana flavor comes through strongly, and they'll be quite sweet. No syrup needed.

With baking powder, the pancakes rise up (see top photo). They have the texture of regular pancakes and even taste like them. You can kind of distinguish the banana if you concentrate, but the chemical transformation is truly amazing. I call these fluffy.

One warning: since bananas do turn brown, after about 15 minutes the banana bits in the batter will start darkening. Of course this only looks bad before you cook the batter since the pancakes will be an appetizing color when they leave the pan.

This is truly a remarkable recipe, one that is good to know when it is -20 (as it was here in south-central Montana for a week recently) and you just don't want to go to the store for flour.

To sum up:

Two-ingredient Pancakes

2 ripe bananas
4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking powder (optional)

Mix all ingredients together until well blended. Pour into nonstick skillet (1/4-cup scoop recommended). Cook till brown on both sides.

Top with butter, honey, or syrup, or eat as is.

Makes about 10 4-inch pancakes.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Farewell, Johnny

Today was the last day of business for Johnny's, a small coffeehouse in Big Timber.

Businesses come and go, but in a small town (Big Timber's population is just over 1,700) losing any business can create a large gap, not necessarily in terms of real estate but rather in the heart.

People who pass through, if they notice at all, will think it is just another empty building. Locals will think about the good times they had there behind those blank windows where the OPEN sign will never be turned on again.

The hot cups of coffee and tea, breakfast burritos and tacos for lunch, the backgammon games, the chance to meet with friends and neighbors or chat with Johnny . . . these are now memories.

When Johnny's opened in April 2013, Scott Romsos (aka Johnny) had big dreams: create a community around fresh food, backgammon championships, maybe some evening music.

But dreams take hard work -- and enough money -- and although Johnny put in his fair share, it turned out to be too much for one person.

Even with the hardest work, a broad customer base is also necessary. "There just aren't enough people [in Big Timber]. You need a bigger group of people to come in and drink the coffee," Johnny said.

But in fact, food was the biggest draw for customers.

"You can't do it just with coffee. I really wanted to do food that was fresh and healthy and homemade, handmade, instead of just taking something and putting it in a microwave. The flip side of that, though, is with me being the only person in here, it was a lot of work. Long, long hours in here."

Yet Johnny wasn't quite alone. There was that community he was striving to build.

"I'm one hundred percent an elementary school teacher. I've never gone into a restaurant, never cooked, never done coffee before, never owned a business before. So this was all basically starting at square number zero. But I would say, one of the beautiful things about being in Big Timber is there were people who would come in, and as I built up a rapport with people, I would start asking questions about business, especially the food side of things. And people were just really, really open and helpful."

For example, "when you're making a burrito, you need to know what your cost is, for everything. Onions, potatoes, meat, eggs. Beforehand, just cooking for myself, I would just kind of grab. The way I like to cook is go into the refrigerator and see what's there and throw something together. So that was the biggest piece of advice I got."

Johnny's fresh tacos were a big hit.

Johnny is both philosophical and practical about the closure.

"I just really like talking to people. That was hands down the best part of this job. I feel like I really poured myself into this place. So [closing] wasn't something I really wanted to do. But I just couldn't go on anymore, with barely breaking even every month."

Despite the closure of his business, Johnny has no regrets about having given it a try. He's looking forward to the future: Maybe go back to teaching elementary school, perhaps overseas. Do a little fishing.

We'll miss you, Johnny, but we wish you the best of luck. May the fish be always near and hungry.