Sunday, October 30, 2011

Farm Weeks: Carter's Mountain Orchard

My family and I lived in Charlottesville when I was in high school and college.  I remember my mom once took me up to Carter’s Mountain Orchard to check out the view and buy some apples, but we just got the pre-picked ones and called it a day.  Around four years later, I was living with friends in Staunton who love to go to Carter’s Mountain to pick apples. 

Pick apples?  Who picks apples for fun?  Can picking apples be fun? 

The answer is yes. 

Ever since they took me to Carter’s Mountain to pick as many golden delicious apples as could fit in a large plastic bad, I’ve have looked forward to Fall even more because it is apple-picking season.  Since 2008 when I first discovered the joy of picking my own apples, Carter’s Mountain has expanded to more than apple picking in the Fall and peach picking in the Summer.  Now, there is often live music.  You can go home with produce: apples, pumpkins, and gourds.  Or, you can visit the gift shop and buy apple butter, apple sauce, peach cider bbq sauce, and lots of other apple or peach concoctions. 

Want to make an afternoon of it?  Then, tack on a hay ride.  Get lunch.  Enjoy a wine tasting of Carter Mountain, Prince Michel, or Rapidan wines. 

It is no wonder that if you try to go to Carter’s Mountain on a Saturday, it will probably take you about 10-15 minutes just to get parked.  Best advice, go on a weekday and spare the traffic. 

Because my weekends have been a little busy this semester, I just got to Carter’s mountain last weekend.  However, this was also slightly strategic planning.  The big reason is I wanted to get down before too many of the leaves had fallen and I missed the site of looking over Charlottesville and seeing a wash of color  The second more foodie driven reason, is that my favorite apple, the Pink Lady, had just opened up to picking. 

I love Pink Ladies.  They are easily the most complicated apple on the planet.  If you eat towards the bottom, there is one flavor: near the top, a different flavor composition.  Eat more towards the core, the flavor changes again.  It goes from sweet to tangy to tart to juicy  in mere bites and is the one apple I’d say is best eaten as is instead of cutting into slices.  Because of its turn-coat palate, people seem to either love Pink Ladies or hate them.  I love them.  And, I love them more when I get to pick them straight off the tree.  The equivalent of a kid in a candy store is me standing in front of a tree full of large, full, pink topped and green bottomed Pink Ladies. 

So, I got my bag of Pink Ladies, threw in two Winesaps for cooking, and then went and got the second best thing about Carter’s Mountain. . .  the apple cider donuts.  Donuts are a weakness of mine.  Yet, even though a weakness, one usually does it.  Not these apple cider donuts.  The only times I have ever eaten two donuts back to back is when Carter Mountain’s apple cider donuts were involved.  I don’t regret.  I’m not ashamed.  But, I have learned to just order one instead of a half dozen.  They give them to you warm, fresh, soft, crunchy, and sugar bedecked.  They take cake donuts to a new mountain level where cake donuts are lighter, airier.  If you have resolve, you can get the half-dozen.  But, I do defy you to not have eaten more than one by the time you make it back to I-64. 
In my visit, one failing I did have to you, dear reader, is that I didn’t do the wine tasting.  To beat the crowds, my friends and I went at 10:00 in the morning.  Given the early hour and the option of trying 16 wines (8 dry and 8 sweet) for $4, I didn’t want to be that tipsy five-foot girl swinging from the nearest Granny Smith tree.  I’d like to get back and try both flights; there are fruit wines, a chocolate wine, a port, and the usual Virginia wine suspects.    But, that is another day and another blog post. 

There is still time for you get to Carter’s Mountain.  Again, try to go on a weekday or either really early or really late on the weekends to beat the crowds and better your chances of procuring an apple picker to help you in your quest.  Even if you don’t want to brave the trees, then at least come up and see the view.  With an apple cider in one hand and a cup of cider (available hot or slushy), it is one of the most satisfying views in Charlottesville.  

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Farm Weeks: Mountainside Petting Farm

Today, my farm adventure is to a place not in which I procured things to eat, but in which I fed others.  

Four-legged others. 

After going to Hill Top Berry Farm, Ellie and I stopped at Mountainside Petting Farm.  Ellie had heard about this place over the summer.  Since it was right on Route 151, only $6 a person, and on the way back to Staunton from Hill Top, it seemed silly not to check it out.  

Mountainside is quite a find.  Most of the animals are rescue animals, and the owners have filled in with a just couple animals they purchased.  When you arrive, the owner greets you with a nice friendly smile and a warm feeling of welcome.  He explained the different pins, some do’s and do not’s, showed us where to make smores when we were done, and then got us a pale of feed for the animals.  

We got to feed horses, some regular some rather tiny, a cow, ducks, pigs, sheep, and goats with amazing horns.  The animals are smart; they have picked up on the dynamic of you feed and only then can you pet them.  As soon as the moment of feeding is done, they just might reject your advances.  But, you have a whole pale and they do like eating, so it all works out. 

My two favorite attractions are Cloe and Wally.   
Cloe, the camel, is the one animal you aren’t allowed to feed because she has sharing issues.  But, she will trot along the fence behind you and nuzzle your head when you aren’t looking.  She even gave the owner a kiss when he asked her.    
Wally, the albino wallaby, is worth the admission alone.  He lives with ducks and peacocks and was hanging around the fence with his eyes closed.  If he is close enough to the fence, he will let you scratch his head and Ellie found his favorite scratching spot near his forearms.  The owner told us that he and his wife got Wally when he was a Joey.  His wife had to carry him around in a sling and feed him from a bottle.  Now, Wally and the owner’s wife are so bonded that Wally drives around in the truck with her.  The owner also said that since wallabies keep their balance in their tail, when they need Wally to do something they just grab his tail and then steer him around. 

Although not big, the Petting Farm feels like a place you want to be at.  There are old rocking horses and a wooden train to play in.  The kids run around smiling and laughing.  You get to watch the older ones squeal at rough and excessively wet cows tongues on their hands.  Or, you can watch the littler ones struggle with how to keep the feed in their hands when instructed to flatten them to allow the animals to eat.  I giggled to myself as a very little girl, would fill her hand with feed.  Then, outstretch her hand at an angle to feed the animal, only for all the feed to roll off her fingers before the animal could get there.    

Talk about a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. 
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Farm Weeks: Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery

I hadn’t been back to Hill Top Farm and Winery since my first visit in April.  So, when I heard that they had their new seasonal wines and meads available for tasting, I made a return trip.  

Sadly, I missed the Cranberry Table Wine since it had already sold out.  I almost very nearly missed trying the “Hunter’s Moon,” which is the Pumpkin Mead.  Evidently, it is also flying off the shelves.  Given how few pumpkin meads are out there in the world and it is the season, it is no wonder. 
I had mixed feelings about the “Hunter’s Moon.”  In my head, I kind of imagined a thicker, orangish-brown concoction in which pumpkin pie was somehow fermented and made in to something drinkable.  "Hunter's Moon's" color, though, does look more like most white wines.  The nose is strong of pumpkin pie spice, particularly cloves.   

After the tasting, I went ahead and got a full glass to give it a better taste and see what happens when you have multiple sips.  What I found is that as a sipping mead, I wasn’t won over.  It was too much spice and not enough pumpkin.  As a pairing wine, though, I liked it a lot more.  By chance, my friend Ellie had packed pears and brie along with soup.  What I found is that the “Hunter’s Moon” was at its best when drunk in partnering with the pear and cheese.   That gave a better palate balance, allowing the pear to bring out the strengths of the mead and the mead brought out notes of the pear.  I think a glass with a slice of Pumpkin Pie or a baked brie in pastry would be the best way of enjoying the pumpkin mead. 

Other new wines I got to sample this time around was the Sweet Vixen and the Peach Wine.  The Sweet Vixen is a strawberry wine created to celebrates the owner’s daughter’s graduation from Sweet Briar College.  The nose and taste is a little jammie for my taste.  It makes a great cooking wine, though; Ellie used it to make strawberry ice-cream as well as in brownies and as a sauce reduction for them.  Both were superbly decadent.  I did really like the Peach Wine.  It fits the tasting notes description of “biting into a ripe juicy peach, without the pit and the fuzz.”  I actually got a stronger note that reminded me more of white peaches and that made my day. 

The visit to Hilltop was a much needed trip.  The semester has been so crazy that I was starting to feel like I was missing Fall.  Sitting in the rocking chairs, looking over the blackberry fields and turning leaves, and appreciating a glass of pumpkin mead, I got to have a perfect Fall moment.  

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Farm Weeks: White Oak Lavender Farm

By chance, my last couple of food adventures have taken me to several farms.  So, I lumped them together and will over this week and next, write to you all about adventures with produce, animals, and the scenic countrysides. 
White Oak Lavender Farm

Over the summer, my friend Ellie told me about a visit she had made to a lavender farm in Harrisonburg, VA.  In hearing about the visit, I conjured up an image of rows of purple flowers and the aromatic sweet scent of lavender wafting in the air.  Given that the farm is on the same exit as where I live, it is sad how long it took me to finally make the trip over.  But finally, a couple of weekends ago, I went to explore the serenity scented White Oak Lavender Farm. 

Although tours are offered on Saturdays, Ellie and I opted out.  She had already been on the tour and I was happy to let hear give me the background.  The farm is named after the abundance of White Oaks that were on the property before the Civil War.  The property itself was used as a Union Camp and is near were the Battle of Cross Keys was fought.  The trees were cut down and now the owners, Julie and Rick Haushalter, have replanted white oaks to help bring them back to the property. 

The farm not only houses fields of woody lavender in which you can pick-your-own during the summer, White Oak is home to several rescue animals.  Horses, goats, alpacas, ducks, and chickens have made a pleasant life for themselves.   There is even a “Rabitat” in which kids can enter and pet Beau and Nilla, the Giant Flemish rabbits, whose size, true to the name, are something to see.  I wonder what Alice would have said if she had come across them.   
White Oak is also trying to develop a serenity centered respite.  At one end of the field, is a calm reflection area with benches surrounding a vivid and colorful stain glass window of a dove.  Also, in other areas is a small pond with benches for you to sit in calm enjoyment.  White Oak also provides workshops designed to restore tranquility and healing to your life. 

Once you finish wondering the grounds, there is a shop where you can get lots of lavender products.  There are soaps, skin care, hair care, etc.  For the chefs, you can buy several lavender centered cooking products: lavender sugar, lavender honey, and culinary lavender.  If you are not sure what to cook with the lavender, there are bowls that come with recipes and there are also small recipe books.  The item that intrigued me the most was a grinder with pepper and lavender blossoms.   I’m not sure what you would do with that, but I’m intrigued none the less.    

So come, relax, inhale, pet animals, meditate, and take some lavender home with you.  A back seat with a lavender plant, various soaps, and dried buds for baking, might just be the most calming car trip of your life.  

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Food Photo Friday: Oct. 21

Last Friday, I asked for nominations for this week's Food Photo Friday.  One photo submitted came from the blog, Made in Melissa's Kitchen, which is written by Melissa.  Her blog has lots of very creative cakes, recipes, and baked goods. One of my favorite things about her blog is the story she tells about how her mixer inspired her love of cooking.  

I really enjoyed looking through Melissa's photos.  Her pictures tend to be vibrant and playful. The picture that was nominated is from a post on making a "Kit Kat Cake."  I really like this one because of the sheer visual appeal of glistening pieces of M&M's sitting atop a cake surrounded by Kit Kat bars.  The picture does a great job of conveying the joy of coming to a party and being presented with such a treat.   
Made in Melissa’s Kitchen

Thanks to the person who nominated Melissa's picture.  If you would like to nominate a picture for the next Food Photo Friday on Nov 4th, just leave a link in the comment section. 
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Weekend in Roanoke: Lunch at Blue Apron

As a belated birthday celebration for my Dad, we all went to Salem to have lunch at Blue Apron.  My parents have been there on a couple occasions and always with high praises, and I was very excited to finally get to try it for myself.    

Blue Apron has a pretty impressive menu selection, allowing you to choose between an entrée size or small plate size.  They have the gauntlet of proteins--duck, sea scallops, chicken, lamb, rib-eye--with intriguing accompaniments: sweet apple butter, black olive-garlic toasts, celeriac remoulade, shrimp and jalapeno glacage.  With so many options and such intriguing components, I was very nearly considering flipping a coin to help me decide. 
When the waitress came to take our orders, I went with my gut and ordered the “Butter Braised Maine Lobster” with leak and artichoke fondue and sauce chasseur.  I don’t often get lobster because it is usually outside my budget.  The small plate portion, though, was only $14, which makes it affordable to feel decadent. The dish is the tail and claw meat nestled in a creamy fondue and combine in a dish that is delightfully hedonistic, full of buttery and creamy self-indulgence.  The dish also has a little topping of green to help freshen the flavors, while the sauce chasseur gave further balance of tanginess and sweetness to provide palate polarity to the creaminess and richness. 
Picture of the Pomegranate-glazed Duck taken by my dad. 
Another entree worth noting was the Pomegranate-glazed Magret Duck Breast with wild mushrooms ragout, baby carrots, fig-almond romesco.  The dish had brightness from the carrots and pomegranate, warmth from fig and mushrooms, and texture contrasts between the coarse seeds and nuts with the creamy potatoes.  All of those components combine in a dish worth ordering.   
For dessert, my mom had the Warm Apple Tart Tatin with Vanilla Ice Cream, I had the Lemon-Lavender Shortbread Bar with Toasted Coconut Flakes, and we both had coffee.  The Apple Tart was warm and melty and spicy; every bite makes you think of Fall.  Although her's was great, I was partial to my shortcake.  I like the idea of lavender, but I hardly ever enjoy it in food.  Pairing the lavender with lemon, though, cut the floral pungency of the lavender.  Plus, the sprinkling of confectioner sugar and coconut atop buttery custardy deliciousness also has a marvelous effect. 

So, if you are in the Salem/Roanoke area and are thinking about "authentically modern cocktails and cuisine," then stop by.  You are in for a luscious treat.    

Blue Apron and Red Rooster Bar on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Weekend in Roanoke: Donuts at Uptown Joe's

Last May, I did a write-up of Blue Collar Joe’s, a donut place in Daleville, VA.  Ever since that first trip, I’ve been a huge fan, and I was very excited to hear that they have set up a second location, Uptown Joe’s, in the newly refurbished Patrick Henry Building in Roanoke. 

My parents and I stopped by for donuts and coffee after having lunch in Downtown Roanoke.   Both Blue Collar and Uptown Joe’s has coffee roasted for them by Lexington Coffee Roasting Company.  That extra little touch is one of the many things that makes Upscale Joe’s more than just the typical donut and coffee joint.  My mom and dad's favorite is the Butter Pecan coffee; but, alas, the Butter Pecan wasn't available on the day.  Instead, I had a nice blend of their daily coffee with a touch of Hazelnut.

Of course, we also got donuts.  Although only around 1:00, Upscale Joe’s was on their third delivery from the main store in Daleville and were close to going through those as well.  They had my all time favorite, the “Blueberry Pancake Donut,” but I went the seasonal route and got the “Pumpkin Cheesecake” and a “Caramel Apple Pie" for later. 
Although the "Pumpkin Cheesecake" looks like a filled donut, it is actually a standard “o” cake style donut topped with a fluffy cream cheese topping.  Because of this, the donut keeps a lot of crunchiness while also having a playful fluffy gooey topping.  Then, the tangy cream cheese counterbalances the hints of pumpkin and spices to just bring the donut flavor in an continuous donut circle of warm to sweet to spicy to creamy and back.  A little donut infinity.  If you need to reset your palate, a small swig of coffee gives you a restart.     
Although a sleek new name and decor to go with the upscale new location, it is still the same old Joe.  And, the donuts still do wrong, right.  

Uptown Joe's on Urbanspoon
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Morning Pancake Improv

First Published for Honest Cooking on September 13, 2011
I love to improvise with food. As I get more and more confident cooking, I use recipes less and less.  Because of food blogging, though, I had to return to recipe mode and get back in the habit of measuring, timing, etc., so that I can share food creations with others. 
But in my normal day to day life, I much prefer to just improvise.  I have a lot of fun going to the pantry, seeing what I have, throwing together without measuring, and seeing what happens.  So on Sunday, when I decided I wanted pancakes, I thought I would do an anti-recipe post and share with you the joy of cooking improve. 
The pancakes came about because I have a box of pancake mix that I got from a friend.  Since my foodie instincts won’t let me settle for pancake mix as is, I had to shake it up.  Since it is an “add water” style mix, that gives me a lot of options of flavoring by replacing water with other liquid ingredients. Plus, I am out of the usual pancake accoutrement–syrup, honey, jam–so I get to play around with adlibbing a topping. 
When I want to invent a recipe, two images come to my head.  If I am feeling very playful, I see a slot machine.  I pull the handle and see what ingredients lines up.  However, when I am trying to do more legitimate creating, I think about the ingredients I have in a matrix, then highlight compatible ingredients, and go from there.   
Here is everything I have at my disposal . . . 
I have several fruit options to brighten the pancakes.  Then, there are spices, cocoa powder, teas, and ginger ale to flavor the batter.  Lastly, confectioners sugar, peanut butter, yogurt, and brown sugar to make some kind of syrup.   

Here is one combination centered around kiwi . . .
For these, I make the pancakes with red tea instead of water and add ground ginger and crushed up raisin bran cereal.   For the syrup, I could melt some butter in a pan with brown sugar and a little bit of reserved tea to dissolve the sugar.  Reduce, briefly toss in kiwi, and serve pancakes with warm kiwi and a dollop of Greek yogurt.
Good, but this is a tangier, summery pancake breakfast, and I feel like something naughtier than yogurt and bran flakes. 
So, let’s go naughtier. . . .
I can add cocoa powder to the pancake batter as well as a pinch of salt and cinnamon.  Then, for syrup, I can melt butter and add brown sugar, cocoa powder, peanut butter, cinnamon, and some water and cook together.  Drizzle on pancakes and dust with confectioner sugar.
Better and naughtier, but I have to get lectures and readings together for Monday’s class.  Sleeping off a sugar rush isn’t really in the schedule. 
So, let’s try a happy medium between not too sweet and maybe more playful than naughty. . .
With my mandolin, I can make apple fries and in a bowl mix together ginger ale, pancake mix, ginger, and cinnamon.  Melt butter in a pan, cook the pancakes, put pancakes on some aluminum foil, and keep warm in the oven.  In the same pan, melt more butter and add brown sugar, peanut butter, ginger ale, and the apples.  Cook till syrupy.  Then, remove pancakes from the oven, put on a plate, drizzle with peanut butter and apple syrup.  Serve with cardamom black tea. 

If you want to know what that process looks like, it looks like this . . . 

What would you have done?
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Friday, October 14, 2011

Food Photo Friday: Oct. 14

Sadly, I have no picture for this week's Food Photo Friday.  I've been bogged down with one-on-one student conferences and so didn't get time to surf the blog world for food pictures. 

For this week, then, I'd like to take nominations for next week.  If there is food photo you have come across that you would like to recommend or a food blog that you want me to check out, then just leave a comment with the hyperlink. 

Looking forward to seeing what food photos you enjoy!!
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why Do You Cook?

My summer was a crazy time of upheaval: moving out of one apartment in Virginia, setting up an apartment in Nebraska, and then coming back to Virginia to set up a room in Harrisonburg while I finish up my job teaching. 
Through all the upheaval, I didn’t do much cooking for myself.  Lots of people cooked for me and I stole some kitchen time here and there.  For the most part, though, I did more eating out, relying on premade meals, or whipping small things together. 
Once I got settled in my Harrisonburg place, I was still having problems motivating myself to get back in the kitchen.  Even by early September, the most I’d done is sauté some shrimp to go with a jar of soup a friend made for me.  
But, one day, I went grocery shopping with a friend who was preparing for lots of cooking over the next week.  Watching her look at recipes and walking through the aisles of food filled with familiar tastes and new flavors, ingredients yet to be tried and foods tried too often, I felt for the first time in a long time like cooking. 
Not just cooking, though, creating.  While walking around the grocery store, thinking about a desire dormant and a desire rekindled, I asked myself, why do I cook?  Why do any of us foodies cook? 
Sometimes, cooking really isn’t about the food.  After a long day, I cook to forget about the day.  I get lost in methodical chopping, sizzling pots, and fresh aromas.  The murkiness of the day melts away like butter in a pan.  In those days, I cook to relax and the action is less about the destination and more about the journey.     
Then, there is the debate about whether do you cook for you or do you cook for others.  Although in January I’ll officially settle in Nebraska with my boyfriend and so start cooking as a twosome; currently and for the past 7+ years or so, I’ve just cooked for me.  At times, cooking for one can feel a little sad.  If it is great, now one can praise you.  Yet, it also has moments when the act is about me, like taking a bath to relax, buying flowers to decorate the kitchen, or take an evening stroll.  I do it to enjoy a great meal, made just for me. 
Mostly, I cook to create.  I get a big kick out of experimenting with ingredients.  A strang time for exciting cooking was when I was moving out of my Staunton apartment and had to finish out my cupboard.  I really couldn’t buy that many new ingredients because then, if I didn’t finish them, I would have to move all those things.  Plus, with all the expenses of moving, there wasn’t a lot of grocery money.  So, for a month, I got to figure out dinner based on odds and ends.   I could subsidize and fill-in here and there, but I had fun just playing with my food.  My best success was a tomato-based sauce that used out the rest of my red lentils.   I’d never known that could work unless faced with trying to pull dinner out of a hat. 
Why do you cook?  I’d like to know.  Is it for the ingredients, the creation, the “oohs” and “aahs,” the thrill of a success, or the validation of turning something bad into a something good?  What, dear reader, is the joy of cooking for you? 

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Pumpkin Porter Scones

A couple weeks ago, StumbleUpon directed me to a recipe for cheddar beer scones.  I thought that sounded great, but was more intrigued by this new idea of making scones with beer.  In my head, I started thinking about all the ways to make that work: Magic Hat scones with apricots and pecans or Double Chocolate Stout scones with cocoa powder, pecans, and white and dark chocolate chips. 

After debating, I decided to try a seasonal route of doing something with pumpkin beers.  Since one of my favorite pumpkin beers is Starr Hill's Boxcar Pumpkin Porter, I began to play around with some ingredients.  Here is the one I eventually landed on. 

  •  Preheat to 400º and, if you have parchment paper on hand, line a large cookie sheet.   
  • Place flour, oats, baking powder, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and orange zest in a large mixing bowl.  Stir to combine ingredients. 
  • Add the cubes of butter and mix into dry ingredients with hands until you get a course meal. 
  •  Create a well in the flour/butter mixture.  Add the egg and beer.  Stir to incorporate. 
  • When the liquids are incorporated and you have a loose mixture, add dried cranberries, golden raisins, and walnuts.  Then, with your hands, knead the mixture together in the bowl with about 10 passes (or about 15-20 seconds) until the mixture forms a ball.  
  •  With a spoon or ice-cream scoop, scoop out dough onto the cookie sheet.  Dough should produce about 18-20 scones.  Brush the tops with a little butter.  Then, place in oven.  Cook for about 15 minutes.  **If you want the more traditional scone texture of crunchier outside, then cook for 20 minutes total.  I like mine  a little softer and doughier so I cook them for 15. 
  • When done, take out the oven and let set.  These actually need a little time to rest before eating.  Although not as crunchy, the flavor is even a little better the next day. 

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Sunday in Charlottesville: Whole Food

The last of the Sunday visit to Charlottesville included visiting the new Whole Foods.  Originally, I had thought about talking about what the new building has to offer. But, since most foodies know what a Whole Foods is, doing a write-up of the visit seemed a little pointless.  So instead, I'm using Food Photo Friday to finish this series of posts with a collection of photographs of my visit to Whole Foods.  

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