food and adventure in my own backyard

This past weekend was a special one for us as we celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary.  And, boy, did we do it right, despite some less than ideal weather and last minute planning.  It’s no secret that we’re always looking for an excuse to travel and we had been vacillating back and forth about whether or not to take a trip in the weeks leading up to it.  Ultimately, we decided that on the heels of such an amazing jaunt in Argentina, international travel wasn’t really in our budget for this year’s anniversary.  And then came Google…

While tip-toeing through the worldwide web, we came across Sir Richard Branson’s relatively new farm-to-table restaurant and cooking school, Ninety Acres at Natirar.  Perhaps it was a little bit of luck, but we managed to slip onto this exceedingly booked hotspot’s list with a late reservation on Saturday night.  Because the restaurant is located well over an hour away and in the midst of some exquisite country, we decided to get a hotel nearby and go hiking the next day.

As we approached the restaurant, we looped through the winding path of green acres and trees in Natirar Park and came upon a rustic, yet contemporary stone house perched at the top of the hill – the former summer home of King Hassan II of Morocco and the location of tonight’s epicurean experience.  In spite of arriving well over two hours early for our reservation to tour these picturesque grounds, the weather was simply uncooperative as a steady rain and grey skies loomed over us.  That left nothing else to do, but sit at the bar, indulge in a few libations, and taste a sneak preview of the meal awaiting us.

Well, let me tell you, this place brings the nom.  While sitting at crowded bar, we sampled paprika rubbed grilled octopus with meyer lemon and garlic confit and some charcuterie that was, quite simply, off the chain: ribbons of chorizo with marcona almonds, Serrano ham with a pickled red onion relish, and a local bleu nestled aside marinated cherries.  As we noshed on the food, we gave each other knowing glances of deliciousness disbelief.  Our appetites were whet, and at that point we knew we were in for a real treat at dinner.  Oh, that’s right, people – we were still planning to eat dinner!

The remainder of the evening we grazed on steak tartare, hand cut pasta with ramps, morels, and goose egg, a perfectly tender Niman Ranch pork chop, and a juicy grass fed bone-in strip that knocked my socks off.  And, as if this place couldn’t get any better, we were able to indulge in all of this fare alongside a bottle of malbec from Andeluna, one of our favorite vineyards that we visited in Argentina and whose wine we have yet to come across since our return to the States.

Now, for the best part of all and truly the primary reason we chose this restaurant, Ninety Acres prides itself on the use of delicious local resources, sustainability, and the innovative preparation of seasonal ingredients.  Some might challenge this notion, but I absolutely believe that everything tasted that much better because of this.

The next day, we – and our well-fueled bodies – took a two-hour hike through Black River Park in Chester, New Jersey.  Again, the weather was below average, but the canopy offered some protection from the drizzle and the rain had subsided just enough.  We’re both your quintessential runners, so going for a hike was a refreshing change from the normal workout routine and also, much to our surprise, moderately challenging.  One of the most striking observations as we trekked along was the lush flora and serene quiet.  It was enough to make me feel far away from the everyday grind, but also that these surroundings could have been anywhere in the world.  The landscape was basically interchangeable with other jungles or forests I had been in… even reminiscent of Costa Rica.  And to think, this was all right in my own backyard.

The trail was loaded with stunning nature scenes and this forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and get acquainted with my camera’s prime lens.  I typically shoot with an 18-55 mm zoom, but it’s in the shop for repair at least another week or so, and I wasn’t about to pass up this scenery.  When all was said and done, I was actually glad this “inconvenience” happened – I challenged myself and learned to take photos in seemingly problematic circumstances without my crutch.  Perhaps most surprising, I ended up shooting the next feature recipe with the prime lens and think I might even like it better…

Immediately after the hike and on our way back down the shore, we stumbled upon Alstede Farms.  Alstede Farms is a family owned farm positioned on 500 acres of sprawling bucolic land.  From donkeys to goats to peacocks, there are plenty of animals to take in.  Plus, there is a wide variety of homegrown plants and fresh produce for sale on the premise.  The overall feeling is that this farm is extraordinarily visitor-friendly and wants the community to visit and understand their farming practices.   There are signs for kids parties, a small newsletter listing their monthly community events, and even feed machines in the style of gumball dispensers inviting patrons to feed the animals for a quarter and a twist.

When we popped inside the market, we were greeted with an abundance of fresher than fresh produce, a variety of specialty jarred items, and sincere smiles from their staff.  It’s easy for me to go overboard in situations like this when everything looks so darn good – I’ll end up buying way more than I need and one week later have a refrigerator drawer of rotting produce.  Fortunately, today was different and I actually exercised some self-control; maybe because my realistic husband was grocery shopping with me for a change.  Instead we took home a reasonable amount of goods, including one dozen eggs, asparagus, a bundle of spinach, and a quart of juicy ruby red strawberries…

There are plenty of farmer’s markets all over the country and – especially as we are on the verge of the spring and summer harvest- I encourage you to seek out yours.  Shopping locally benefits the neighborhood economy and the farmer, but I also go so far as to suppose the greatest benefactor of all is you.  Produce from your local farm market is picked at peak ripeness when the nutrient levels are at their highest, as opposed to that which you can readily purchase at your local supermarket any time of year.  Let’s take tomatoes, for example.  Your grocer or discount warehouse’s tomatoes were probably picked prematurely in Chile or some other distant country long before ripeness was achieved in order to survive shipping.  They are then boxed up and transported all the way to your country before further distribution.  This tomato never had its chance to reach maximum nutrition levels and, as a result, you will never attain the oft-touted benefits.  So, while it physically may look similar to that which your local farmer is selling, its nutritional content is considerably inferior.

Websites like Local Harvest connect you with farmers in your area, providing details such as locations, hours, types of produce available, and whether or not they participate in a CSA program.  Linking up with your local farmer provides your body with superior nutrition, decreases your carbon footprint, and promotes seasonal eating.  All in all, it’s a win-win…  What produce are you looking forward to picking up this summer?

New recipe post coming your way tomorrow!  For now, here’s some eye-candy…


8 Responses to “food and adventure in my own backyard”

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  1. Ted says:

    Oh happy 1yr anniversary! I … inadvertently drank a lot of margaritas for you both then!

    <3 the B+W reflection of Joe!

    • KarmaCucina says:

      Thanks, Ted!!!! Looks like Isla Mujeres was awesome – can’t wait to see the rest of the pics from your shoot.

  2. Laurie says:

    Happy Anniversary, Joe & Alyssa! Sounds like a fabulous weekend! I may copy-cat you all and surprise Neill with a similar get away. Where did you stay? I actually grew up right by Chester (Mendham). It is gorgeous out there!

  3. Dana says:

    Gorgeous pics! So glad you guys enjoyed your anniversary!

  4. Leslie Eaton says:

    Happy Anniversary!!!
    Wonderful post!
    Thanks for sharing your adventures: thru both words and pictures.

  5. Melissa says:

    Great Post! Thanks for sharing. I just checked out the menu and it looks amazing!!

  6. KarmaCucina says:

    Thanks, all! It was a really nice weekend : )


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