Day 104–A Locavore’s Lunch–The Little Hen

A recent girls night out had me wondering if sustainable, locally produced food can truly be accessible. A friend and I had dinner at a locally sourced restaurant in Holly Springs called The Little Hen. The restaurant is not new, but it has received a lot of press lately, so we were eager to try it. While I associate Holly Springs with gated communities and McMansions, it hasn’t exactly been a location for high-end dining, so I figured we were probably in for a nice and affordable dinner. I wasn’t quite on the mark for that one. It was nice, but the pricing made me wonder if it is possible to be local and affordable. Maybe it isn’t. Or, maybe local sourcing has become so trendy that families are now priced out of sustainable dining.

The Little Hen is located in a suburban shopping center and while the exterior is very “shopping center,”  the interior is very trendy and cool. We arrived at 5:30, were greeted and asked if we had reservations (we did not) and told that the restaurant was “very busy” (it was not) so our only option was to share one of two available tables with others. Weird, but ok. We settled in and were given menus and our utensils wrapped in little dish towels, which also served as our napkins (cute). The menu features three entrees, about a half-dozen appetizers (mostly salads or cheese plates) and two special group dinners (either $45 for two or $50 per person) that feature a large carving board with different kinds of food to sample. We weren’t hungry enough for the sampler, so we headed for the entrees. In hindsight, we probably would have done better with the “Big Board” sampler.

The three entrees available were a cheeseburger and fingerling potatoes ($14), a pork chop and vegetables ($22) and a farm egg with ramps and garlic spaetzle ($14). Salads and cheese plates ran between $7 and $14. Not wanting to have ramp and garlic breath, I ordered a salad and the hamburger. I asked the server where their beef sourced from and she didn’t know (not good). She offered to find out, but never did. That, in my book, is a big red flag. I do notice that they claim “we use only sustainable pasture raised proteins from local farmers almost exclusively”. Almost? Well, where did my $14 hamburger come from? With only three entrees on the menu, someone should have been able to tell me.

The burger was good, but overcooked. The potatoes were truly amazing–slightly smashed and fried, then topped with sea salt. The salad was good–baby spinach and arugula with shaved apple, raw beet and cucumber. I’ve decided that while I love beets roasted and pickled, I’m not a huge fan of them raw, but they were ok. We shared a dessert that was some kind of bread pudding, but was really like a big, huge muffin. My total bill was about $40–almost half our weekly grocery bill for a burger, salad, part of a muffin and wine.

In eating out at sustainable, local restaurants, this was my first “meh” experience. It was fine, but not great and well more than many of the downtown Raleigh restaurants serving locally produced food. At one point, a family with small children came in and I wondered if somehow the kitchen has a children’s dinner, because I can’t imagine spending $14 each for 3 hamburgers. As a mom myself, I think I would have run screaming for the door.

I really think that if these locally based restaurants are going to survive, they need to lose the pretension and just get down to offering people good, local food. I get it that locally produced food costs more–I know because I’ve been buying it for my family for the past four months. But the model that sustainable, ethically produced food is only for the upscale trendy will be the locavore movement’s biggest downfall.

We’ve proven that we can eat sustainably at home for a reasonable amount–and we have been eating very well on our budget. So part of me has no patience for businesses that can’t do the same for their customers. If local eating is really to become a bigger reality, then we need to engage a larger audience. That isn’t The Little Hen’s job, of course. They are one business and they have a vision for what they want to do and that’s fine. I’ll be surprised if they are still open in a year, but then, I never thought Build-A-Bear would take off either, so that shows you what an economic genius I am. As for my family, this restaurant is not affordable enough to become a regular place and not special enough to become a new “special occasion” restaurant.

Meh.

Day 25–Oprah and Coco Chanel In My Kitchen

Paula Deen (in any iteration) has never been in my kitchen, but I do have help this week from Oprah. That’s right–Oprah. And Coco Chanel, too. These two ladies are helping me make one stylin’, yummy vegetable quiche this week (see recipe below). In fact, they’re helping me get dinner on the table without hardly a feather ruffled. For reals.

You see, Oprah and Coco Chanel are hens who have the pleasure of residing with Eric and Lisa Forehand of Water Oaks Farm in Durham (www.wateroaksfarm.org). In addition to heritage breed chickens, Lisa and Eric also love their miniature donkeys and Eric makes a wicked variety of homebrew. I don’t think I have ever seen chickens get so much love and care (I’m pretty sure Eric puts that much love into his beer, as well). If you are a doubter (in which case, I don’t know why you’re reading this blog to begin with), go and see their Chick Cam. Go on! Watch! I’ll wait…

See? When the big ol’ reincarnation happens for me, I want to come back as a chicken or donkey at Water Oaks Farm. Except I want my name to be Angelina Jolie.

Happy chickens laying happy eggs. If you’re not all about “happy,” but you are all about health, consider buying locally produced cage free eggs because:

  • They taste better. WAAAAAAY better.
  • They have more protein than mass-produced eggs because the hen’s diet is richer.
  • You will support your local economy, not an agribusiness.
  • You may help perpetuate heritage breed fowl, which keeps our genetic population of chickens healthier and more diverse.

Here is my “go-to” recipe for quiche. It is by far and away the best quiche recipe I have ever made and is much more like a traditional French quiche (light and custardy) than most dense restaurant quiches. The trick is to use vegetables that are dry, so cook veggies ahead and squeeze the dickens out of them before adding to the quiche. Bon Appetite!

Spinach Quiche

  • Pastry dough or 1 frozen deep dish pie crust
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 8 oz. swiss and Gruyère cheese mix (check Trader Joes on this)
  • 1 bag spinach or other greens cooked and squeezed of all excess water
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  1. Prepare pastry and refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Heat olive oil in a pan and cook onions over medium heat until soft and slightly browned (about 5 min.). Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
  4. Add spinach to pan and cook until very wilted. Toss spinach frequently to keep from scorching. When greens have collapsed and are fully cooked, remove from pan and put onto a towel or paper towel. Roll the towel up and squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the greens (if you use frozen greens, you will need to do this as well once the greens are defrosted). Do NOT skip this step.
  5. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, cream and milk until blended. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add cheese and stir until combined.
  6. Take the pastry crust from the refrigerator and arrange the onions and spinach on the pastry.
  7. Pour the egg mixture into the pastry.
  8. Sprinkle nutmeg across the top of the quiche.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees about 30-40 minutes–until top is golden and puffy and the quiche does not “wobble” in the center when gently moved.
  10. Serve immediately. Bow and accept the culinary accolades from your family. Make sure to thank Oprah and Coco Chanel.