Food & Drink

Dawn Minty: Georgia cookbook author Rebecca Lang shares tips

Cookbook author Rebecca Lang is passionate about eating food that’s grown locally. She supports farmers near her home in Athens, and she’s working with the Georgia Blueberry Commission to introduce Georgians to state-grown berries.

Most Georgia farmers are wrapping up blueberry growing season, which is from April to July, making now the perfect time to buy fresh berries and freeze them for the winter.

Lang has some advice for freezing blueberries. She places fresh berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet and then puts the whole sheet in the freezer for a few hours until each blueberry is frozen solid. Then she pours the frozen berries into a zip-top bag. Freezing each berry makes thawing easy because the berries aren’t clumped together.

Lang says it’s better to use frozen berries in bread and muffin recipes because frozen berries won’t sink to the bottom as fresh berries often do.

For snacking, though, nothing beats fresh berries. To keep berries fresh as long as possible, Lang recommends storing berries in their original packaging in the fridge.

“Don’t wash a berry until right before you eat it. They’re like little, bitty sponges,” she says.

Berries that are washed and then placed in the fridge tend to get soggy.

Lang uses fresh berries for her Baby Spinach Salad with Blueberry and Lime Vinaigrette (below) and to make a kid-friendly lunch.

Instead of a typical peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Lang’s 6-year-old son gets a sandwich with almond butter and blueberry preserves.

It’s this type of innovative thinking that’s helped her become a successful author. Her “Quick-Fix Southern” cookbook features easy-to-make recipes that busy families can prepare in less than 30-minutes.

Lang loves to have her kids involved in meal preparation. Her 20-month-old daughter is already a more adventurous eater than her son, she confesses. And she doesn’t believe in forcing children to eat things they don’t like.

“Eating to me is fun,” Lang says. “I think the more fun you can make it, the better it is. It needs to be a pleasure to eat.”

She’s confident that getting her kids in the kitchen will help them share her love of food. She encourages her kids to eat fresh fruits and vegetables by keeping them easily reachable on low shelves in the fridge. Her kids won’t indulge in high-fat prepackaged food because Lang doesn’t allow herself to buy it. How does she ignore displays of cookies and doughnuts?

“In the store, have willpower. Go to the produce section first,” she says.

She fills her buggy with fresh food so when she gets to the frozen food and snack aisles, her cart is too full for any impulse purchases. She also finds it helpful to have a plan and a shopping list before she leaves home.

“I try to really think ahead,” she says.

Having a plan helps her get in and out of the store without becoming frustrated, even when she’s shopping with her kids.

She’s discovered that early morning hours are ideal for shopping, and she avoids 5 p.m. Monday. That’s when people are headed home from work and frustration levels tend to be high.

Her main shopping advice is “don’t go when you’re hungry.”

Each Sunday, Lang plans her menu for the week. She likes to do her shopping at one time, and she keeps a running grocery list so she doesn’t run out of an ingredient while she’s cooking. “Nobody wants to go to the store in the middle of cooking something.”

Food for thought

Lang appreciates organic food but she’s more interested in where the food is from than whether or not it’s organic.

“I’d rather a nonorganic apple from Washington State than an organic apple from Chile. I pay more attention to how long and how far that piece of food has traveled,” she says.

When available, she’ll buy organic grapes because nonorganic grapes can absorb pesticides She doesn’t bother buying organic bananas because the fruit is protected by its peel.

“A lot of fresh produce from local farmers is being grown organically, but there’s so much paperwork, time and money into getting it labeled that some people just aren’t doing it,” she says.

Lang eats a lot of healthy food but she believes a balanced diet can include splurges.

“I love, love a really good Cheeseburger,” she says. She also lists pimento cheese as one of her favorite foods, and she enjoys an occasional glass of wine with dinner.

She enjoys pairing wine with food and encourages wine novices to ask people working in wine shops for recommendations. She often serves sparkling wine with food because it cleanses the palate.

She has just one wine rule. “Don’t have a wine that overpowers your food,” she says.

She encourages visitors to Athens to eat at The National. Chef Peter Dale shares Lang’s passion for locally grown produce and makes “wonderful things.”

Baby Spinach Salad with Blueberry and Lime Vinaigrette

Serves 6

1 (6-ounce) package baby spinach

1 cup sliced strawberries

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 cup fresh blueberries

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar

Zest of 1 lime

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon honey

2/3 cup olive oil

Arrange the spinach on a serving platter. Top with the strawberries and feta cheese.

For the dressing, place the blueberries, vinegar, lime zest and juice, and honey in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until the blueberries are pureed, about 1 minute. With the food processor running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve.

Source: Rebecca Lang

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