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Posts Tagged ‘local food’

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Baby Summer Squash

One of my favorite things about gardening is that you get to watch your food as it grows. First the unrecognizable cotyledons emerge from the soil, giving way to tiny but perfectly formed first leaves. The leaves grow and from the stem emerges more and more leaves, as if by magic. Out of nowhere, flowers appear. With many vegetables and fruit plants, this is where the real enchantment begins. We all know how babies are made, and even with food the process it is essentially the same. The only difference is, you actually get to see the new life form from the very beginning. The most observant will marvel at the miniature version of their anticipated food swelling almost imperceptibly behind the spent flower after fertilization. It’s difficult not to get excited at this point, even though you know that any number of factors may cause the demise of your infantile veggies.

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Baby Bean

At this point there is not much you can do except water your plants and keep close watch, to make sure they are not getting any unwanted attention from the more unsavory garden inhabitants. If you are lucky, your tender young fruits and veggies will continue the soak up the sun and rain and divide their cells in just the right way to become the final, grown-up version of themselves. And that’s when you think back and can hardly believe that they use to be just an inch long and so darned cute.

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Baby Zucchini

But even as they grow, it’s impossible to tell just how they will turn out in the end, which is another wonderful thing about gardening. Instead of the picture perfect produce stacked in pyramids at your local grocery store, the food that emerges from your garden is uniquely shaped by the land and the air and the sun from which it was made. They have a wholesomeness and, almost, a personality gained from the way they were raised and the conditions which were provided to them. (Which makes you wonder how the grocery stores manage to get all their vegetables to look exactly the same.) Real food isn’t perfect; real food is crooked, and knobby, and sometimes not quite the color you were expecting. Real food can’t be stacked perfectly, and isn’t bred for the purpose of surviving cross-country shipments. Real food comes out of the earth, covered in dirt and munched on by bugs. And it tastes damn good.

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Weird Tasty Carrot Mutants

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Autumn Update

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted, and it seems that an update is in order. Autumn is well under way, and while I’m more than ready for spring to arrive, the fall season has brought it’s fair share of pleasant surprises and enjoyable moments.

Cold weather marks the beginning of puzzle season.

Kitties dress up for the holidays.

We said a bittersweet goodbye to our last foster kitten of the year.

Getting the house pretty for Halloween.

Surprise wildflowers in the yard!

A cold weather crop harvest to make up for the summer’s disappointments.

Bee bikes with pumpkins on blue bridges..

A flamboyant visitor.

And of course, new soups to enjoy all winter long. 🙂

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. That’s the title of my latest read by Barbara Kingsolver, talented author of the widely popular novel The Poisonwood Bible.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is, in itself, a sort of bible. A food bible. It’s the true story of one family who moves from Tucson to the Appalachians, and vows to feed themselves for an entire year from what they could grow on their farm, and what they could get from other farmers within their county.

It’s important to take Animal, Vegetable, Miracle at face value. If you expect something more than it is, then you may be disappointed. It’s not a how-to manual, nor is it an exciting dramatization of events. It’s not particularly funny, and it doesn’t explain every aspect of farm life, though it does do quite a thorough job with some of those aspects.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is simply one woman’s explanation of why she and her family decided to become locavores, and her story of how they went about it.

The pros of this book:

It is very well written. Many reviews of this book complain that Kingsolver is “preachy,” and beats her food principles into your head mercilessly. I can understand this concern, but I don’t agree. Kingsolver reiterates her main point many times, but always in the context of the topic she is discussing at the time. Her main point being? Namely, eat local, because a lot of fossil fuels are burned in order to transport food unnecessarily; and because foods that are shipped are bred for shape and toughness, not for flavor; and because knowing, in the most direct way possible, where your food comes from, is the surest way to make good choices toward living a healthier lifestyle.

At least, that’s what I got out of it.

But Kingsolver delves into so much more. She investigates the concept of food culture, and the fact that America’s food culture seems to be based on fast food and anything processed. She explains why processed foods make people overweight, even while they are less nutritious—because they consist of empty calories, making us fat without providing enough of the nutrients we need.

And honestly, how many times a week does the average person you know eat vegetables? That leaf of iceberg on your cheeseburger doesn’t count; nor do those french fries. I can remember a time, really not more than a year ago, when I could go for several days straight without eating any fruits or veggies. I only realized this because I would get a weird craving for a cucumber or an apple, or something of that nutritional caliber. And I know I’m not the only one who can manage to feed myself for a week without stopping to make sure something I ate was fresh, or even something that used to be fresh, once upon a time. The thought of how I was feeding myself, and how millions of others feed themselves, is really scary.

Back to the book, though. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle offers a great deal to think about. Kingsolver formats the book by dividing it into chapters based on the consecutive months of a year, describing the foods that were available and in season throughout. This concept of “in season” foods was, sadly, a foreign one to me. Before picking up this book, I never in my wildest imagination would have been able to tell you when asparagus grows and can be harvested. But Kingsolver makes this one easy to remember by starting off her book with this very first vegetable of spring.

Kingsolver and her co-author and husband, Steven L. Hopp, explain some of the stickier issues concerning food. Why not eating locally is highly unsustainable; why GM foods are impractical, and even bad in the hands of producers like Monsanto. Why genetic diversity in food sources is important, and how shockingly streamlined our food variety has become. They work together to link the over-busy, detached, self-gratifying mindset of our modern lifestyle with our bad food choices as a culture. I can’t even begin to list all the interesting topics they have touched upon and explained at length.

Additionally, Kingsolver’s daughter, Camille, contributes her own anecdotal chapters to the story, offering a much more personal and down to earth view of the trials and joys of one family feeding themselves. But the best part is that she provides recipes of many of the dishes that are discussed in the main part of the text. I have tried a few of the recipes, and earmarked several for future reference. All I can say about that is: just wait till I get my hands on some pumpkins this fall.

The only real criticism I have of this book is Kingsolver’s stance on tobacco farmers. She acknowledges that cigarettes are bad for you, but goes on to say that, as U.S. tobacco crops are dying off due to lack of federal financial support, the poor tobacco farmers are going out of business. Apparently, the government has been helping tobacco farmers “stay on their family farms” as recently as 2005, when the price supports were ended. Kingsolver’s idea is that we, as produce consumers, should be willing to pay more for our produce in order for those tobacco farmers to figure out what else they can grow in order to remain farmers. Except, she puts it like this: “If people out in the world were irate enough about the human damage of tobacco, why wouldn’t they care enough—and pay enough—to cover the costs of growing vegetables?”

Um, yeah. Now I can understand that complaint about preachiness. Most of us are just trying to get by on ramen noodles and frozen veggies, and Kingsolver thinks we should help subsidize anyone who has been making their living off of growing tobacco until now. Not exactly the shining moment of the book, in my eyes. I understand that farming is a way of life that needs to be protected, but I also believe that there are millions of people who have had to adjust their professional lives to accommodate growing and diminishing demands from consumers—or, as Kingsolver puts it, “people out in the world.” I’m pretty sure the tobacco farmers will figure out what to do with their energy, much like the other millions of people who have lost their livelihood in recent times.

That part of the book, however, represents a mere two pages among 350 pages of otherwise wonderful and informative reading. I highly recommend this book to anyone. It will teach you things that you never knew you didn’t know about. It will open doors and will, hopefully, convince you to start thinking more about where your food comes from, and why it should come from places close by. I am sure to keep this book around as my wealth of food knowledge grows and I become more adept at feeding myself. There is so much crammed into this one book that I simply cannot absorb it all in one reading.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

“Heirloom vegetables are irresistible, not just for the poetry in their names but because these titles stand for real stories. Vegetables acquire histories when they are saved as seeds for many generations, carefully maintained and passed by hand from one gardener to another.” ~p.46

“In just a few decades the out-of-season vegetable moved from novelty status to such an ordinary item, most North Americans now don’t know what out-of-season means.” ~p.48

“Bizarre as it seems, we’ve accepted a tradeoff that amounts to: ‘give me every vegetable in every season, even if it tastes like a cardboard picture of its former self.;” ~p. 55

“Routines save time, and tempers.” ~p. 128

“Physicians will tell you, the great majority of lactose-intolerant Americans don’t even know it. They just keep drinking milk, and having stomachaches.” ~p. 138

“The Roman Empire grew fat on the fruits of huge, corporate, slave-driven agricultural operations, to the near exclusion of any small farms by the end of the era. But when Rome crashed and burned, its urbanized citizenry scurried out to every nook and cranny of Italy’s mountains and valleys, returning once again to the work of feeding themselves and their families. They’re still doing it, famously, to this day.” ~p. 178

“Eaters must understand, how we eat determines how the world is used.” ~p. 211

“Food is not a product but a process, and it never sleeps.” ~p. 270

“Value is not made of money, but a tender balance of expectation and longing.” ~p. 287

“Most of us agree to put away our sandals and bikinis when the leaves start to turn, even if they’re our favorite clothes. We can learn to apply similar practicality to our foods.” ~p. 311

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We’ve given away dozens of tomatoes in the past week. Still, our kitchen is piling up with these overripe fruits. We needed a tasty solution…

One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving is the dish my dad always prepares, which we have come to call Mexicali corn. It’s a fairly simple dish, and my dad has streamlined it to the point where it consists of a mere two ingredients, combined in a crock pot and easily transported to any family affair. With a jar of salsa and a large bag of (thawed) frozen corn kernels, you can make a delicious and healthy dish that is extremely cost effective. If you want to go for a meal that’s even more economical, try using a can of diced tomatoes in place of the salsa. It’s all delicious.

For the purpose of using up some of our garden goodies, I decided to attempt an all-fresh version from scratch.

First, I prepared my precious handful of black beans that I lovingly harvested from the garden. Fortunately, I had the good coincidence to come across a blog earlier today which proved to be an important part of my meal process. Apparently, legumes contain a toxin called phytohaemagglutinin. Kidney beans have the highest concentration; so high that eating only five improperly cooked kidney beans can cause poisoning! Eek! Black beans have a considerably less amount, but I didn’t want to take any chances. A crock pot does not get nearly hot enough to remove the toxins, and in the case of kidney beans can actually increase the potency of the toxin fivefold.

Who knew?

This is a pretty picture I found of the protein structure of one of the components of the toxin.

Anyway, it’s pretty simple to rid the beans of toxins. Just soak the beans for a few hours (at least five for kidneys), rinse, then boil them for ten minutes, and rinse again.

While my black beans were soaking, I also soaked six ears of fresh corn in cold water. I then used a knife to carefully cut the kernels from the cobs.

If you are skilled, you should be able to get about a cup of kernels from each ear. I got about five cups from my six ears.

I also chopped up a red onion from my cousin’s garden.

*tear*

I used almost 1/4 cup of the diced onion, plus 1 teaspoon each of garlic salt and chili powder, and mixed it all together in the crockpot.

Oops! Don’t forget some diced ‘maters.

Please, take some home with you!

If you are careful to save the juice from both the corn and the tomatoes, there will be plenty of liquid to stew in the pot, as you can see:

So,

5-6 cups corn kernels

1-2 cups black beans, boiled for ten minutes

1/4 cup diced onions

3-4 cups diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic salt

Mix in crockpot and heat on high for about 3 hours….

The result?

Deliciousness.

I can’t say my results are any better than my dad’s, though. 🙂

Yummmm.

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It’s 99 degrees here in the beautiful Midwest today, and we’re doing anything we can to keep cool. Our poor little Energy Star window unit is pumping away to keep our dining room below 80 degrees. We’re trying (somewhat successfully) to force the cats to stay indoors, and we’re keeping plenty of cold brewed ice tea on hand. Outside activities are limited, and even indoor activities just don’t seem appealing in this heat. The question of what to cook for dinner is not worth asking, considering that heating anything on the stove or in the oven is unthinkable.

Fortunately, we have plenty of fruits and veggies on hand, which is perfect for snacking on a day like this. Chilled blueberries, our little tomatoes quartered and salted, even diced raw potatoes and cabbage is refreshing and filling when the air is even hotter than your insides.

I wanted to get a pic of all our beautiful produce before it gets noshed away this evening.

The best part is that this is about $20 worth of produce you’re seeing, maybe even less considering that we’ve eaten about half of the fruit and potatoes already. And it’s worth almost that much just to make our kitchen look pretty.

And no, I have no idea what to do with that eggplant. It was an act of compulsive shopping that I have not yet come to regret. If anyone knows of some good and really easy eggplant ideas, send them my way!

Stay cool. And, eat your veggies.

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Have you ever eaten at Ted’s Montana Grill? If so, you were probably served a little appetizing dish of something that looked like cucumber slices, but tasted like awesome. The first time I had them, I was blown away.

I have since learned that those crisp little chunks were something called half-sour pickles, and I couldn’t find them for sale anywhere.

So, as with any great mystery, I got online and did a search. The more I read about half-sour pickles, the more intrigued I became. A half-sour pickle is made by placing small cucumbers into a relatively  low-salt/high-vinegar mixture with spices and left to ferment for a day or two at room temperature. They are supposedly quite popular with the Eastern European types. It shocks me a little to think that I hadn’t experienced one earlier, considering that I grew up eating pierogies and kielbasa just outside of Philadelphia. And that I consume pickles like nobody’s business.

Apparently, though, they were pretty simple to make, and as an avid pickle-lover that got my gears turning. Mind you, this was way back in the day when “cooking” consisted of warming up a bowl of soup in the microwave. I never got around to taking a closer look at those recipes. That’s right….until now.

Last Wednesday I went to the Broad Ripple Farmers’ Market yet again, and came home with a shopping bag bulging with produce. Among my treasures were five little things I had found called pickling cucumbers. Things started to come together.

I cleaned out one of the old Mason jars I had lying around and made a special trip to the store. The ingredients were easy enough to find: dill weed, vinegar, pickling spices, kosher salt, fresh garlic, and spring water. The process is pretty much as simple as measuring out the ingredients, mixing them, and pouring it all into a big enough jar.

At least, I think it’s that simple. I will have to wait a couple of days to know if my efforts were successful. I can only hope they end up tasting half as good as they look.

Pickle party, anyone?

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We did it.

Last Thursday we stopped by our nearest local food market to pick up some super fresh foods. We spent less than $20, and ended up with all this:

It may not look like a whole lot, but it went a long way. The first night I dove right into the asparagus, roasting it up in olive oil with one of the tomatoes. Completely unrelated to my cooking capabilities, it tasted absolutely amazing. Score one for the locals.

The next day, I bought a pound of kielbasa and some chicken broth, and cooked up a yummy little stew.

I know, baby carrots are anathema, but I’m still making progress in that department.

This stew only used up half our produce and lasted us two days.

On the fourth day, we ordered pizza.

Finally, tonight I pulled out the last of the cabbage, potatoes, and kielbasa, and fried it in olive oil for a different effect.

And so concluded our first venture into locovorianism (if it shows up in a google search, then it’s a word). It was fun, healthy, undoubtedly delicious, and inexpensive considering that $25 of groceries fed us for four nights. And perhaps best of all, it motivates me to pretend that I can cook.

I’m looking forward to what this week’s local food foray has in store…

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