My second article in the “Celebrate!” supplement of the March 20 Detroit Jewish News.
Stacy Gittleman | Special to the Jewish News
There are people who eat to live. Then, there are those seeking unique, exotic tastes created with the most superior ingredients chefs can get their hands on. These are the foodies — the people who live to eat. In cities like New York and Los Angeles, it is no longer about the restaurant that just opened, but the foodies who are following the hottest chefs sweating it out in the kitchen of a particular restaurant, which is making it impossible to get that Saturday night reservation.
Local kosher caterers agree; the foodie craze has also caught up to their business as well. The kosher-catered affair is no longer about the stuffed derma and kasha served at your grandmother’s wedding. Unless, of course, for nostalgia’s sake, you know your guests will want an “Old World Eastern European” station with old standbys like knishes and chopped liver spread. Then it will be there. Guests should also be prepared to make room on their cocktail-hour plate for cuisine from India, Ethiopia and Japan.
Daniel Kohn, manager of Quality Kosher Catering in Southfield, was witness to the global gourmet trend as he worked in the hospitality business in New York and Colorado. Now back in Detroit, he keeps the legacy of the business his grandmother started in 1968 going strong for the next generation.
He knows that not all in this generation who seek a kosher caterer keep strictly kosher. In fact, statistics from the industry show that 55 percent of consumers buy kosher products for health reasons, 38 percent are vegetarians, and 16 percent eat only halal. Only 8 percent surveyed said they buy kosher products because they adhere to kashrut.
“There used to be a time not long ago when the food was just one more element at a big occasion, like the flowers or the band,” Kohn said. “Today, as people have developed sophisticated tastes and have become involved themselves with new cooking techniques, the food takes front and center stage.”
It is this sophistication of the foodie’s eclectic palate that is driving chefs to create anything but the standard chicken or beef offerings at catered affairs. At a typical wedding catered by Quality Kosher, food selections may cover “at least” four different ethnic tastes, from sushi and noodles at an Asian station to Moroccan meat cigars and tagines, or Indian curries.
Casual, But High End
Another trend in eating is that party guests still love their casual food, even if they are in sequined gowns and tuxedos.
“You can take burgers and fries and other casual American food to another level and make them high end,” Kohn said.
A fine menu starts with advanced planning.
When Franci Goodstein Shanbom, 38, and Sam Shanbom, 45, of West Bloomfield planned their Nov. 27 wedding — the night before Thanksgiving and the first night of Chanukah — they knew that the food would have to meld these two holidays. Because they married later in life, the Shanboms said they did not want to subject friends and family to just another “sit down chicken and baked potato dinner.”
What Quality Kosher planned was something completely “off the board,” said Franci Shanbom. The evening included four buffet stations with varied types of potato latkes and pareve sour cream, mini turkey potpies in cups made of phyllo dough, a Pan Asian station featuring Asian noodle slaw and orange chicken, a Tex Mex station with steak fajitas and a burger station including sliders made from salmon and portabella mushrooms. “We wanted a fun affair with a cocktail party feel, with lots of casual good food. Daniel is very youthful, and he had great ideas of how to make the party fun and hip,” Shanbom said.
Chef Cari Herskovitz also wants to treat her kosher-observant clients to a meal and a catered affair with international flavors they may not ordinarily have a chance to sample. Herskovitz graduated from the Natural Gourmet Cookery Institute for Food and Healing in New York City in 2000 and worked in the food industry there for many years preparing gastronomical delights for Lenny Kravitz, Ralph Lauren and Elie Wiesel.
She moved back to Detroit in 2003 and founded Chef Cari Kosher Catering, a Glatt kosher company housed at Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield. As vegetarian and vegan kosher venues open up in Detroit — such as Gold ‘n Greens at Wayne State University and Herskovitz’s summer pop-up falafel stand at Campus Martius Park — she loves to hear how they surprise the average restaurant goer. They realize that you don’t have to keep kosher, or even be Jewish, she says, to enjoy kosher food. What they are enjoying, simply, is good food.
“I want people to come to me to cater an affair, first and foremost, because they are coming to me for well-prepared food,” Herskovitz said. “I want them to know if they want that vegan wedding that will keep even their nonvegan guests happy, they can come to me. They can also come to me if they keep on the more traditional side and want a meal with beef or chicken as the centerpiece.” Herskovitz said she enjoys offering clients the healthiest food choices, creating vegetarian and vegan dishes as well as more traditional meat or dairy menus for affairs.
For the adventurous vegetarians, she will create entire menus using greens like the ever-popular kale or taking a cue from the trend in using ancient grains like farro, amaranth and quinoa. Herskovitz said that vegan and vegetarian entrees could go beyond pasta and tofu. She likes to experiment with proteins like tempeh and seitan and introduce different grains, all enhanced with fresh herbs and greens.
For one recent wedding, she created an entire vegetarian Indian feast consisting of eight to 10 dishes complete with yogurt raita and naan bread. As health trends evolve, so have the offerings of kosher caterers. Kohn and Herskovitz can attest that they have catered vegetarian and vegan weddings where courses included meatless entrees, such as stuffed manicotti or textured vegetable protein layered with roasted portabella mushrooms and asparagus.
“When we sit down with the clients, we explain to them: ‘You are inviting 350 guests; you want them to come and then leave happy,’” Kohn said. “We round out the vegetarian and vegan offerings with interesting salads, a great sushi bar and velvety vegan soups.”
And what about those pareve desserts?
Back at his kitchen in Southfield, Kohn said David Carris, his pastry chef of 15 years, is constantly working on the ultimate dairy-free dessert.
“Our pastry chef has a way of working with desserts, starting with the finest quality ingredients that you would never expect were dairyfree or even egg-free. How good are they? I tell clients they must try the pareve creme brulee. If you don’t have a dairy creme brulee sitting there right next to it, you could swear you are eating the real thing. It’s that good.”
Almost six months into my family’s little “adventure” of living in the Detroit area, I finally brushed off my suburbia doldrums and became a tiny part of Detroit’s urban farming revolution.
Before my move, as I mourned my departure from the perennial garden I coaxed into existence for 13 years, and my rented plot in my town’s community garden, I really imagined myself venturing to help out in one of Detroit’s urban farms just as soon as I unpacked. I’ve been reading up on Detroit’s emergence into the urban farming scene ever since we made the decision to move. In recent news, Hantz Farms got the approval from the Detroit emergency council to grow a 140 acre forest in the middle of Detroit. That is 140 acres of land that is being put back into taxable use.
Before I got on my gardening gloves, though, I underestimated just how far my suburban home was from Detroit city lines. And I have to admit I had a biased fear for my own safety. I’d be a newbie with a New York State license plate and a GPS device clamped to my windshield driving into a blighted neighborhood. Can you think of a better target for a carjacking? Besides, I hadn’t a clue as who to contact to help out.
Getting stern warnings from neighbors and friends not to go downtown wasn’t helping matters either. Since moving here, I was told that I would love living in my suburban surroundings with its great schools, bike paths, lakes and shopping centers. I just wouldn’t go into Detroit.
Because no one goes into Detroit.
Too much crime.
So, for a while, I succumbed to these fears as an excuse for not getting my hands dirty digging in some Detroit dirt.
But wait a minute.
Didn’t I grow up in New York City? Where outsiders were afraid to ride the subway or walk in Central Park for fear of being mugged?
Haven’t I visited Israel numerous times in my life? And I made these visits during a war with Lebanon or at a time when the intifada raged in the West Bank?
From the urban energy and culture of New York City to my summer picking mangoes and tending the banana fields on a kibbutz In Israel, (a kibbutz that was on the border with Syria and Lebanon). Both these places have enriched my soul. and have made me the person I am today. Walking safely around my cul-de-sac suburban development with manicured landscaping is nice, but hardly anyone here actually has a real garden. Hey, my neighborhood association won’t even allow for the smallest of a garden shed.
Suburbia is nice but here, I don’t really feel like I’m part of the solution. Part of the farming revolution.
This weekend, I finally found the opportunity to volunteer. And who would give me that opportunity but an organization as comfortable and familiar to me as an old pair of sneakers: United Synagogue Youth.
Ahhh, my USY days. Best times of my life. It’s a good thing I now have teenagers of my own so I can relive these days again.
A big part of USY is social action, repairing the world, a Jewish value called Tikkun Olam. So when I found out that Motor City USY would be helping out downtown at Beaverland Farms in the Brightmoor neighborhood in Detroit, I jumped at the chance. Even though I’m no longer 16 but 45 and my knees don’t take too well to jumping that hard.
With my 16-year-old daughter, 10-year-old son and husband, we started off to the farm from suburbia to Detroit. The landscape became more urban, and then gritty and then plain ol’ rundown.
Nice, big homes and posh shopping plazas in my side of town gave way to smaller homes and then dilapidated structures with boarded windows and roofs halfway covered with blue tarp that were once someone’s home or still occupied with people just hanging on.
By the time we got to Five Mile and Telegraph, there weren’t too many open stores and those that were in business had big signs like LIQUOR or CHECK CASHING. Boarded up storefronts scrawled with writing like DUGGAN FOR MAYOR or WE STILL LOVE YOU, DETROIT. It was becoming more evident of the existence of what’s called the “nutritional desert here.” For the people who lived around here, where do they go to buy food, and food that is healthful? There are very few choices.
That is where the urban farms come in.
We rounded the corner of Five Mile and Beaverland Road in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit. On 11 city lots once occupied by small houses that were so prevalent in this area to house blue-collar manufacturer workers and their families there is now a fruit orchard, rows of vegetables, and tilled, cleaned out land. Scott, the owner, grows the food here and sells the produce at neighborhood farmers markets, runs a CSA , and provides community and social outreach and educational programs for his neighbors and local schoolchildren.
My family got out of the car and we quickly got to work. As I promised, I made myself scarce to my teen daughter. She and my son got busy with some other teens and helped build and paint bee hives and tend to the chickens.
My husband and I worked across the street planting rows of perennial flowers that would (hopefully) survive the winter and bloom again in the spring.
All the while, neighborhood folk walked up and down the street. Some said hello. Others didn’t. I wondered, as I cleared away composted grass to plant another flower, how is this helping them? How do they feel about us strangers coming into their ‘hood and making a farm? Do they like it? What business do we have being here, in their neighborhood?
I posed these questions to Scott. He works and lives right here. With a mezzuzah posted on his front door. He said the farm is a way for people to connect. Everyone around here respects the farm. And compared to burned out buildings that invite drug dealers and prostitution, a farm is a welcome change in Brightmoor. I told him how much I’ve been wanting to help out at a farm like this. I told him I could grow seedlings of vegetables for the farm over the winter. I told him I had loads of tomato cages that are looking for a good home but will have no use in suburbia.
“Stop looking. You’ve come to the right place,” he said.
My husband and I worked side by side in the afternoon October sun. I can’t remember the last time we did any volunteer work together for a place that needed so much help and nurturing. I looked across at him, a man I met when we were 16, whom I met through United Synagogue Youth.
And now, we are married almost 20 years. Now, we planted flowers and are kids were across the street playing with chickens in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Detroit.
We loved every minute of it and I can’t wait to come back.
Ain’t life funny? Ain’t life grand?
You know that piece of furniture in your kitchen, the one with the round or sometimes square flat surface? How many times do you eat at it with all family members present and accounted for?
I’ll fess up: Now that my family is in transition, it’s boiled down to the weekends.
In American culture, the days where families gather at the table to eat dinner on a nightly basis are going the way of Saturday mail delivery.
Eating on the fly, wherever and whenever, has become the norm, right? We eat walking, driving, or even standing up at elevated tables because we didn’t get a table with seats at the mall food court.
We can go on and on in school about nutrition, but often our kids are rushed through their meals at their lunch period, that’s if they HAVE a lunch period. My high school daughter eats lunch in class nearly every day. She can’t fit in lunch because of her electives.
The proof in the pudding (a food substance I would highly implore be eaten at a table) is a conversation I had with a bunch of my 7th Grade Hebrew school students as we prepared to study the Birkat Hamazon. This is a long Hebrew blessing known as Grace after meals, but it actually translates to: the blessing of nourishment.
I think that hundreds of years ago, those wise rabbis who constructed this prayer were onto something: eating together and then SINGING together at a table gives us nourishment that goes way beyond the physical.
Before we got into the nitty-gritty of the Hebrew vocabulary of the prayer, I asked a general question that can be asked to any kid regardless of their faith:
How often do you eat together as a family?
The general response was, “not much.”
“Everyone has sports so people eat at different times whenever.”
“My mom doesn’t make dinner so i just grab something from the fridge and eat it in my room.”
“My dad works late so we eat without him lots of the time.”
I listened to these honest yet sad confessions just one week after hearing a recent report on National Public Radio of the demise of family time around the table.
On a positive side, because of Jewish camping, some of my students were quite familiar with the Birkat Hamazon. And in the summer, they do sit and eat meals with others and then sing this prayer together, complete with all the campy hand motions. Thank you camp!
And even if we ARE around the table, we often bring some kind of electronic device with us to further distract ourselves from the people in our lives who really count.
As Passover and Easter approach, who will be around your table?
Nu, from Chutzpah in the Kitchen! This very tempting cake made with ricotta cheese. i think I”m making it for a holiday/ hanukkah party this weekend. Thank you to Chutzpah in the kitchen! \
This is possibly the easiest cheese cake recipe ever!
This is what you will need:
12 oz butter softened ( 1 1/2 sticks)
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups part skim ricotta
1 cup sour cream
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
In a mixer blend the butter and sugar on medium speed until it becomes pale and smooth. Add the eggs one by one until blended. Add the vanilla and the ricotta cheese. Scrape the bowl to make sure it is well blended.
Add the flour and sour cream mix for only 1 minute you done want to over mix!
add the cranberries and chocolate chips mix those in by hand with a spatula!
Pour into a well sprayed bundt cake pan and bake at 350…
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Sue Gardner Smith, manager of the Brighton and South Wedge farmers markets, stands with a old abandoned barn along Westfall Road in Brighton. The barn is part of a site proposed as the Brighton Farm and Farmers Market expansion and renovation project. / SHAWN DOWD//staff photographer
Perhaps it is no coincidence that a woman with a surname derived from an old French word meaning “gardener” would become a grass-roots champion of the sustainable and organic food movement in Brighton.
With humble determination, Sue Gardner Smith turned her activism into a career in managing farmers markets — first in the South Wedge neighborhood of the city and now in Brighton.
Gardner Smith was the oldest of seven children growing up on a 70-acre farm in Wayne County that had been in her family for a century. She remembers walking through its cherry orchards with her father and tending to the family garden with her mother and siblings.
Being the oldest in a large family, Gardner Smith developed the nurturing traits of a “mother hen” by cooking meals and caring for her younger siblings. In her early culinary experimentation, some dishes were tastier than others. Even into adulthood, she still gets teased by her siblings at her first attempts in the kitchen.
“When I was nine, I came up with a dish called chipped beef on toast. It was wretched. … I have to say that my cooking and tastes have improved vastly since then,” said Gardner Smith, who now prefers making dishes like ricotta cheese and onions stuffed into Swiss chard leaves she grows at her 10-foot by 10-foot plot in the Brighton community garden, a project also under her charge.
In her experiences of living in cities abroad and in the United States, nothing unites people more than food. She has shopped for fresh produce in the open-air markets and dined in the cafes in the plazas of Brussels. In London, there was the tavern and pub culture, “neutral” places where local neighbors could gather for a meal and a drink at the end of the day.
During her 15 years living in the San Francisco Bay area, she visited restaurants like Chez Panisse and markets such as the Berkeley Bowl, where the air buzzed with a sense of what she called “food energy.”
“It’s not just about eating. It’s how people gather at markets to socialize and catch up with neighbors as they shop. It’s the sounds of local musicians playing among the produce stands. I have long felt that Brighton should have this kind of gathering place, and I’m glad to watch its success,” she said.
Since 2008, the market held each Sunday in the Brighton High School parking lot from May through October is a testament of Brighton’s desire for high-quality and locally grown food. One thing Gardner Smith admits is that from a short-term perspective, eating organic and local is a bit costlier. Also, a recent Stanford University study recently concluded that organic food is no more nutritional than conventionally grown food.
However, she believes these factors will not curb the organic, locavore trend. This is because people are starting to put values on reducing their carbon footprint and the use of harmful pesticides, and developing a direct and trusting relationship between the grower and the producer at local markets.
“The study missed the point and had too narrow a focus. When you buy local and organic, you develop a sense of trust with the farmer, and you are also helping to support the local economy,” she said.
In addition to buying locally produced food, Brighton residents also expressed a desire to get their own hands dirty in avegetable garden of their own. In 2009, the creation of a community garden in Brighton seemed like the next step.
“It seemed like an obvious sister project to the market,” said Gardner Smith, who with a committee helped build a fence and a gate system around 100 10-foot by 10-foot plots on Westfall Road by the historic Groos house. Outside of a few stubborn groundhogs that managed to breach the fence, Brighton residents have enjoyed the bounty of their harvests.
Now that the shorter days and cooler nights of autumn are here, it is time for Gardner Smith and the other Brighton gardeners to put their plots to rest for the winter. But that doesn’t mean that plans for coming years will be put into hibernation.
Her ambitions for future years include using funds from a $250,000 state grant awarded to the town to preserve a farmhouse, a barn and some of the farmland on Westfall Road. The proposed project aims to create a permanent location for the farmers market and an expansion to the community garden with educational opportunities for schoolchildren to learn more about agriculture.
“Not only is my job rewarding, it’s also a lot of fun. I’ve met so many wonderful people in Brighton who are committed to this meaningful work that really has made a difference.”
Indeed, Sue Gardner Smith’s name suits her well.
she’s a busy woman, she is counting the weeks until she’s a bride, so when this Wegman’s chef blogs, we all better listen. This is my friend’s take on the Rosh Hashana menu… i’m going to try and make the geen beans with shallots and the spiced rice – how nice!
It is your turn to host the holiday. Sigh. What to make this year? You look at old recipes and nothing seems all that exciting. Brisket? Been there, Done that. Roasted chicken? Boring. Turkey? We are gonna have enough of that in November. If you feel like you are in a rut, and you are looking for some new ways to spice up your new year, try these recipes!
MIDDLE EASTERN CHOPPED SALAD WITH SEARED AHI TUNA AND TAHINI DRESSING:
Middle Eastern chopped salad:
3 small cucumbers- small diced (or one large- seeded)
3 roma tomatoes- small diced
1 yellow pepper- small diced
½ a bag of shredded radishes
3 scallions (green onion)- chopped
1 red pepper – small diced
¼ cup fresh parsley- chopped finely
Combine it all together and let it sit together at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. (Can be made up to 6 hours…
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Like any venture in farming or gardening, my garden this year had its successes and failures.
My eggplant plants never made it past seedlings, their leaves turned into lace work by pests.
My cucumbers suffered the same fate, not before offering a few vegetables to pick.
But, there are some vegetables that made it through.
Many people think of October as time for picking pumpkins, but don’t tell that to these two fine specimens:
As I picked them out of my garden, a fellow gardener in a neighboring plot said: Wow, look at that pumpkin! Isn’t it EARLY for pumpkins?
Maybe. Maybe these orange orbs are a bit early to the party, but don’t tell them that, you’ll hurt their feelings.
Then, there are the tomatoes:
Now, I have some mozzarella in my working refrigerator, and some basil in my garden. I’m off to get another loaf of bread so I can make another sandwich.
What are your favorite recipes this time of year? Send them my way and you can guest post on my blog.
While gardeners and farmers feel the drought first, it won’t be long until we all feel it. No one, not even your neighbors who keep watering their lawns despite the news that more than 50 percent of the country is facing a drought not seen since the 1950’s is immune.
This summer has been brutal on our water supply. Newspapers and media reports are full of the plight of the farmer as they watch crops wither because most are at the mercy of rainfall for water.
But perhaps this drought is waking us up to appreciate the most precious resource we all take for granted. And it may be time to rethink and apply some extreme agricultural practices as the earth heats up.
In times like these, we can take a lesson from Israel.
Israel is one of the driest countries on the planet. On average, it receives only 19.4 inches of rain annually. Yet, thanks to cutting edge technology, and even more, the stubborn willingness of a people who know that in order to practically live in Israel, you have to believe in miracles, Israel blooms.
This tiny country has learned to efficiently use every drop of water that falls from the sky in the summer or coats the mountains in the north in winter to grow some of the most beautiful produce in the world. Check out this photo of huge greenhouses growing vegetables like eggplants, tomatoes and peppers in the Negev Desert. Check out this photo courtesy of Daniel Lawrence’s blog:
Israel not only makes the desert bloom, but it has developed technology and methods that the rest of the world can use to reverse and prevent desertification, as noted in this post from israel21c.org. Israel21c.org is an online magazine that offers topical and timely reports on how Israelis from all walks of life and religion, innovate, improve and add value to the world.
So here are a few tips we can learn from Israel to conserve our water resources not only during times of drought, but for the long haul:
- Stop Watering Your Lawn. Right Now. – You! Yes, you, the suburbanite! Fuggetabout your lawn. (okay, fuggetabout it is technically a Brooklyn/New Jersey and not an Israeli term, but let’s get back on topic) Israelis don’t have silly things like lawns. Lawns are nothing but vanity. I’ll say it again: STOP WATERING YOUR LAWN NOW. Your brown lawn has gone into dormancy and watering your lawn artificially just puts more of a strain on its root system. It will come back soft and green when the rains return.
- Use drip irrigation – Did you know that agriculturalists in Israel invented drip irrigation technology? Instead of wastefully watering your garden through a sprinkler, where most water evaporates into the air, use drip irrigation to deliver the water right to where the plants need it – the roots.
- Save that H2O from your A/C – As shown in the photo above, Israel has developed technologies that draw humidity out of the air for irrigating crops. On a smaller scale, you can do the same by catching water runoff from your central air conditioner (my hose empties into the slop sink) to water plants and vegetables
- Less Wasting Water at Restaurants – When you sit down at a restaurant in Israel, don’t assume that the waitress will automatically fill your glass with endless glasses of water. No way are they just giving water away if it’s not asked for. You have to ask for the water, sometimes twice – in two different languages, until the waitress gives you a glass of water. So, next time you dine out, if you are not going to drink the water, tell your server not to pour, or refill your glass.
- Selective Flushing – Here is a picture of just one type of toilet flush in Israel: The flush mechanism is divided into a big section and a small section. If you are reading my blog, you are indeed a very intelligent person, so I’ll let you figure out what purpose each section serves.
- Shower Shorter, or Shower with a Friend – a drought is a great excuse to share your shower.
- Rejoice in the rain: Finally, instead of getting all bummed out when your ball game or picnic gets rained just be thankful. Think of the farmers who need the rain for their crops and livestock (a.k.a. your food, right down to that box of Cheerios and glass of milk at the breakfast table). Any event, even a wedding, can have a postponement, a change of venue or a rain date. But there is no substitute for the blessing of rain.
It’s post-July 4th – time for corn.
No self-respecting Northeasterner eats corn before the July 4th holiday and even then, some Western New Yorkers won’t partake in those yellow ears until at least August when they can be assured that their corn comes from a farm no more than 60 miles away.
My sister-in-law Maureen worked on a Francavilla Farm in Fairfield, NJ starting when she was 13 until she became a mother at age 30. She was in charge of dumping corn on the farm stand and selecting corn for special orders.
This makes her the family authority on corn. We were shucking corn for our July 4th BBQ when she noticed that two ears my mother purchased had been partially peeled.
This is a cardinal no-no and the inspiration for this blog post.
So, here are Maureen’s tips for properly selecting and preparing corn:
- Only buy corn when it is local and fresh – that means the summer and the summer only. No January corn!
- Look at the corns husk and make sure it is green and the bottoms are not dry.
- The silks should be a hue of pale yellow (we just used the word Hue in a Bananagrams game. It’s a good word game word.)
- Inspect the husks for possible worm holes and other imperfections. This usually happens at the end of the season.
- Fondle your corn. Check it all around to make sure it is fully formed and not missing kernels.
- DO NOT open the corn at the farm stand or store. It will immediately lose its freshness. This means NO SHUCKING corn at the store, unless you will immediately cook it. I’ve been known to give many corn shuckers at Wegmans dirty looks. Do they not know that they are murdering their corn?
- If an ear of corn is particularly good, you can eat it raw and it will be full of sweet flavor.
- Steaming not boiling is the best way to eat corn.
- It only needs five minutes in the steamer to completely cook.
- Maureen loves butter and salt. You don’t have to butter and salt your corn if it’s good, but she still does.
All welcome the season of corn!