Sunday, 20 November 2011

Farmers Market, Cooking and Boxing: A Saturday in (Metro) Detroit

Following a rather strange work week and, most recently, on and off again electrical issues, I find myself now ready to blog about my food experiences in Metro Detroit last weekend. It seems like such a long time ago I was last at home, but already I'm now gearing up for the same drive this upcoming Tuesday for the Thanksgiving holiday. And so, before I get too bogged down with missing posts, following is a synopsis of last Saturday's foodie adventures.

The day began with a trip to one of my most nostalgic of food places and in retrospect has to have been some sort of inevitable foreshadowing: Detroit's Eastern Market, the largest historic public market in the United States. For many years, I remember when parish softball matches would be followed up by a trip to the Eastern Market, especially for flower day oftentimes marked by my mom's birthday. A distinct plastic wagon was always a part of that experience until my sister and I grew out of it, at which point it was solely reserved for the myriad plants that would decorate our home. With passing time came years without my physical presence at the market, though my appreciation and recent grounding in food and foodways has certainly revitalised my memories of Saturday barbecue fare, roasted peanuts and candy bins, the sounds of local musicians playing, and the copious amounts of food brought (as I learned last Saturday) from as far as two and a half hours away. The Eastern Market is truly an intercultural experience and is without question a physical embodiment of the diversity of Detroit. I have not quite ever thought of it in such a light as now, but on many levels--from being inspired to garden (my vegetable patch for many years included green beans, zucchini, and tomatoes) to sourcing local food (as exemplified on this blog as something I've paid attention to recently)--my pride in Detroit and being a part of it stems from not only my high school education in this city, but from the lived examples set by those at the market.

After a walk-through of much of the market, particularly to check out the upkeep renovations, we headed across the bridge heading to Gratiot Central Market, the walk of which garners a sense of the Detroit spirit as you look out toward the highway signs and catch glimpses of the Detroit skyline. On the bridge itself are vendors who remind me of those I'd met in South Africa, not only because of the entrepreneurial spirit but primarily because of the djembes, smells of incense, and awesome beadwork and carvings.

If I were to provide a general difference between the Eastern Market as a whole and the Gratiot Central Market of which it's a part, I would argue the big difference is produce versus protein. The Gratiot Central Market, in my eyes at least, is very much meat and seafood heavy (and rightly so due to the controlled temperatures), and of the many vendors within, the one that stands out most clearly are the folks of Hambone's of Detroit. Very straightforward cooking and with the taste of cooperation, the roast beef sandwich is the typical lunchtime choice; however, there wasn't any roast beef available when my family and I got there, so we went with the barbecue pulled pork and corned beef, both of which still brought back nostalgic tones.

Following our morning venture to Detroit, we went back home in preparation for a gathering of family friends, in celebration of my dad's birthday and to watch the Pacquiao-Marquez boxing match. To mark the occasion, my sister and I worked together in preparing a boxing gloves cake. Built from scratch (and not by box), Toni worked on a slightly adapted Hershey cake (recipe on the back of the regular cocoa container), using cake flour and twice as much baking powder (instead of using any baking soda). As she made the cake, I worked on a bread recipe (described further below) inspired by a loaf of bread I saw at the Eastern Market earlier in the day. In addition, I carved the cake into a pair gloves and with Toni's help pulled together some marshmallow fondant based off the recipe I used for my Harry Potter cake. As I continued to work on the bread, Toni practiced her knife skills in petite dicing some strawberries, and followed this by making chocolate buttercream from scratch based off my dark chocolate buttercream recipe. All of these components came together in a final chocolate cake layered with Nutella and strawberries, covered with chocolate buttercream, and finished with sweet fondant.

As for the bread I had baked (the recipe soon to be posted here), my aforementioned inspiration was in the form of a loaf of chocolate cherry bread. I had no idea what it was supposed to taste like and my foray into the world of yeast had not yet included bread.. until that evening. Warm and doughy, though light and flavoured by the tart cherries and semi-smooth chocolate chips (with additional crunch from a topping of walnuts), the bread turned out extremely well and certainly can be eaten on its own as we did. I imagine this would be great as part of a bread pudding recipe or included as part of a fondue tray.

In addition to our dishes, our parents and family friends pulled together quite a bit of Filipino home cooking. And by quite a bit, I mean a lot, including a combined pancit canton-sotanghon and seafood delight, both pictured above.

And so, as we move closer and closer to Thanksgiving, last weekend's meal was nothing short of a preview of not necessarily a meal fit for many, but rather a meal full of love and family. For the complete album, click here.

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