Sunday, May 27, 2007

On Your Market, Get Set...

Six more days. That's how much longer I have to wait for the start of this year's farmers' market. Six more days.

And oh! am I ready!

A number of my favorite culinary sites have recently talked up the joys of farmers' markets and buying local, and they're definitely whetting my appetite for good local produce. Over at Culinate, they've run an article about farmers' markets and another about CSAs, as well as reminded those of us weary of grocery produce and the staples in the cupboard that eating in season is going to get easier soon.

A number of food bloggers have already been visiting their local farmers' markets, open in May or even year-round, and have been reporting their finds. Eating Liberally has showcased some unusual vegetables, while Sam at Becks and Posh compared her farmers' market purchases to equivalents at the local supermarket (and hey, the farmers' market is cheaper in many ways). And closer to home, new blogger Alyssa makes me insanely jealous with her visit to the farmers' market in Columbus.

The news isn't all happy: a recent article in the Columbus Dispatch indicates that Ohio's farmland is shrinking, despite a state conservation program. On the other hand, my new senator in the U.S. Congress, Sherrod Brown, has co-sponsored a new bill called the "FOOD for a Healthy America Act," legislation that aims to increase availability of and access to healthy food for lower-income families as well as to support regional food networks and farmers' markets. And another Ohio congressman, Tim Ryan, participated in the Food Stamp Challenge, living on the ridiculously low allotment of funding and eating as best he could to raise awareness of the problems of providing healthy, nutritious, inexpensive meals to low-income familes.

In short, it's been a busy news month where food is concerned, and it has all made me really eager for the return of my local farmers and all their good food. But I have something to do first, before I start stocking up on this year's produce. That's right, it's time to clean out the pantry.

I've been noticing for a while that my pantry-closet had become a mess, with empty jars jostling the full ones, and I finally mustered my courage yesterday morning to take everything out, clean the storage units, take stock, and rearrange things.

Don't expect an exact count of everything I found, but here's a short list: half a dozen jars of canned tomatoes, two pints of homemade salsa (yippee! I thought I was out!), two pints of applesauce, half a dozen jars of various jams, three pints of honey, pickled carrots, zucchini relish, the last of the shallots and garlic, a two-pound bag of rolled oats, and a one-pound bag of grits. And that's not counting all the dried fruits and vegetables I have left in another cupboard, nor the remaining bags of frozen vegetables (which are slowly dwindling).

To put it mildly, I actually put away enough produce last year to get me through the winter with only the need to buy more perishable items (like the potatoes and broccoli I can't live without). I am thrilled! That means, Dear Readers, that it is possible to eat locally year-round with a little hard work and foresight up front.

To celebrate this discovery, I decided to do two things. First, I shoved the library books off the top of my reading pile in order to latch onto Plenty, the book by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, the journalists who launched the 100-Mile Diet series in The Tyee two years ago. As local eating has hit the mainstream, their book hit the bookshelves a few weeks ago to much fanfare and good press. Just a few chapters in, and I can tell you that it not only does not repeat to any great length what they wrote in the series, it adds more details about what discoveries they made. As MacKinnon so aptly put it, "A farmers' market is an act of reconnection" (p. 50), and over the year, they connected with a number of people, regions, and foods.

Then, when I needed a breather from my reading, I planned an unusual salad offering for a cookout with friends tomorrow, drawing upon my stores of local food tucked away last fall. I started by making polenta with local cornmeal, baking it and cutting it into small squares before baking it again to make "croutons." After that, I sauteed minced garlic with edamame and corn for a sort of succotash to layer over the polenta, and I topped it all with homemade salsa and shredded local and organic Cheddar cheese.

I sampled it for dinner tonight, and if my salad plate doesn't get scraped clean by hungry friends at tomorrow's cookout, I'll be surprised. It really is as good as it looks, and hey, aside from the olive oil, it's entirely local, which I know will go over well with this crowd.

Honestly, the more I incorporate local foods into my eating routine, the better everything tastes, the better I feel about myself and my community, and the more fun I have.

So start that farmers' market countdown if you're not among the fortunate ones who are already making their weekly pilgrimages. For me, it's six more days and counting, and I am ready to go!

Inn the Mood for a Holiday

Isn't it lovely to have a whole three-day weekend to begin the summer? Wouldn't you love to get away, even for a little while, to some hidden place where you can relax and enjoy the beauty of nature and good food?

I have just the place for you! I'm headed to join the Innkeeper for a cooking spree, and you're welcome to join us.

I have to head straight into the kitchen, but you're welcome to sit out here on the front porch, surrounded by the lush colors of bougainvillea, impatiens, and wisteria. We'll even bring your coffee or tea out to you so that you can enjoy the morning breezes while we create even more enticing fragrances inside.

When everything's ready, we'll call you into the dining room, laid out in elegant perfection for you and the other guests (and there's a full house this weekend, thanks to the big craft show in town).

As always, the Innkeeper has a well-balanced menu planned for the guests' enjoyment, starting with fresh fruit: grapefruit sprinkled with brown sugar and broiled.

After that, you can have your choice of currant-studded scones (not my recipe, but still homemade and delicious) or moist pound cake:

Along with that, you can select sausage or bacon, if you're so inclined, along with rich French toast made with a hearty pain de campagne from a local bakery. (I regret that I don't have a photo of that, but as I was "promoted" to making the main course this week, I was too busy dredging the bread and keeping two skillets full of toast to grab the camera.)

Sit back and enjoy that second cup of coffee or tea. Take the time to talk to the other guests -- they're an interesting lot and very personable! Sniff those lusciously fragrant peonies on the mantelpiece -- yes, they were just picked yesterday from the gardens here. Go ahead and snag that last scone or piece of French toast -- we just want you to be happy and well fed before you head out and start the rest of your day.

Despite the fact that helping the Innkeeper like this means about 3 to 4 hours of work for me on a day off -- and without pay -- it's rather like a holiday for me as I get to do something I love, spend time with a good friend, meet interesting people, and just generally do something new and different. And when the Innkeeper tells me that if she were able, she'd hire me (for real money), I feel like I'm doing something not only fun but useful, supporting a local business as well as a friend.

And I am always in the mood for that.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Muffin To Do

Though it's still warming up outside, the weekend has begun, and that means it's time for me to head into the kitchen and bake.

As I'm trying to clean out the freezer in time to reload it this summer, I decided to pull out the next-to-the-last bag of frozen blueberries along with one of my perennial favorite muffin recipes: lavender-blueberry streusel muffins.

I usually make these muffins at least once a spring since I found it years ago in Morning Glories, a book on using herbs in baking and other cooking, and it's a big favorite among my friends. And with a couple of new friends in my circle this year, I decided it was time to initiate them into the joy of this recipe.

Once again, I'm pleased to report the number of local foods found in these muffins -- blueberries, lavender, milk, eggs -- though I regret that I'm still out of local whole wheat flour and butter. And after filling a dozen muffin cups with batter, I had enough left to make a mini loaf to share with the Innkeeper when I help her make breakfast for her guests tomorrow morning.

I've raved before about how much I love the fragrance of fresh baking, especially with these buttery morsels and juicy berries and aromatic lavender. It's hard to resist the delicacy of the flavor and texture of these muffins.

And since I can't bake an enormous batch and share them with all my Dear Readers who have been so supportive and encouraging lately, I hope you will accept the recipe instead, and try it on your own sometime!

Lavender-Blueberry Streusel Muffins

You may hesitate to cook with lavender, but if you gather up your courage to try this recipe from Morning Glories (with my slight adaptations), I think you'll enjoy it. The lavender adds a fresh, delicate taste to the sweet/tart berries, and it adds a little extra perkiness to the buttery streusel. It's simple, but the flavor has depth and tends to sway people pretty quickly to the joy of using lavender in baking. If you like, you can make small loaves with the batter and serve them as a light dessert cake.

1 c unbleached flour
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp dried lavender blossoms
1 c fresh blueberries (or frozen, thawed)
1/2 c milk
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 c sugar (I like cane juice crystals)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp dried lavender blossoms
3 T sugar
1/4 c unbleached flour
2 T unsalted butter, softened.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease muffin cups and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together flours, salt, baking powder and lavender; set aside.

In another bowl, cover blueberries with milk. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add half the flour mixture, stirring to combine. Add the milk mixture, stirring, and then the remaining flour mixture, stirring until barely blended. Divide batter among muffin cups.

To make streusel, in small bowl, combine lavender, sugar, and flour. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle streusel on top of each muffin cup and press gently into batter.

Bake muffins 30-35 minutes, until tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5-10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 12-16 muffins

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Simplify, Simplify

As the years pass, I find more and more that late spring here in northern Ohio reminds me very much of early spring in Atlanta. Though the morning begins at a pleasantly cool temperature, a languid humidity drapes itself in the lush foliage overhanging the streets, and by the time I get to work, I'm feeling a bit damp and more than ready to guzzle something cold and refreshing.

Then, by the time I'm ready to head home at the end of the workday, the sun is blazing, and I choose the shady route home, hoping for a cool breeze to cut the edge of those 80-degree rays. And after climbing the stairs to my shaded but still too-warm apartment, I sure don't want to cook.

That's why this week I've decided to simplify meals. Though I'm still working through the Indian food from the weekend, along with those cashew cookies, I can barely bring myself to boil a pot of pasta and have instead opted for some fresh and, yes, non-local salad and vegetables from the grocery store. (The farmers' market starts in a week and a half... I can't wait that long for fresh greens!)

With such supplies laid into the refrigerator, I can have a simple salad of mixed organic greens with a bit of feta cheese, some sunflower seeds, and a light vinaigrette for dinner. Or, I can make a variation on fattoush, with fresh cucumber and tomato in a lemon and olive oil dressing.

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to face the start of summer without some thick, creamy, cooling haydari and nutty flatbread for a snack that verges on dinner:

And for breakfast, since I haven't even got the energy in the morning to whip up a batch of pancakes, I dug a recipe out of my memory, reminiscent of my early vegetarian days: peanut butter applesauce. Made with one banana, three heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter, and about 3/4 c homemade applesauce, then pureed in the food processor, this simple dish tastes like dessert but wakes me up nicely in the wee hours of the morning.

Simple, wholesome, satisfying. What more do I need during this heat wave, aside from plenty of cold water? And all of this should last me into the holiday weekend, though not quite to the opening day of the farmers' market.

Sometimes it's good to get back to basics.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cashew Later

It's been a while since I've baked.

At least I think so. You'll forgive me if it's been a bit of a blur around here the past month or more, what with everything going on. And I have to admit that I haven't been overly keen on having a lot of sweet foods around.

So this evening I decided to compromise. I wanted to have some cookies on hand to satisfy that after-dinner snack craving, but I didn't want them to be too sweet. Astonishingly, that meant I was in no mood for chocolate.

(I know, I know... someone check that lady's pulse!)

What I did find, though, was a recipe in King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking for a Salted Cashew Cookie that sounded just right. And believe it or not, for once I had all the ingredients and didn't have to tweak the whole recipe from the beginning!

Well, I didn't have to, but I did. But only a little!

Astonishingly, the recipe didn't call for any flour at all... just ground oats and cashews, making for a nice, nubbly sort of dough with a lot of fragrance. And I admit that I added to that wonderful cookie dough aroma by throwing in a bit of ground cardamom, one of my favorite spices, to play up the cashew and vanilla flavors already in the mix.

It was easy enough to mix up the dough and scoop out the first batch of cookies while my homemade pizza baked for dinner, and once the pizza came out, in went the cookies.

Less than fifteen minutes later, out they came, smelling to high heaven of toasted cashews and oats, sweet cardamom, and buttery goodness. Irresistible, in fact!

These cookies were just what I was looking for -- something not too sweet, seriously nutty (like me), and utterly satisfying.

If you'll excuse me, I think I hear them calling my name.

And if you'll pardon the expression, I'll cashew later!

Salted Cashew-Crunch Cookies

This recipe (with my slight addition of ground cardamom) comes directly from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook. All goodness should be attributed to the authors, not to me.

1/2 c unsalted butter
3/4 c sugar (I used 1/2 c cane juice crystals and 1 T or so Sucanat)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 c old-fashioned rolled oats, ground for 30 seconds in a food processor
2 c salted cashew pieces (I used the remaining 1 c cashews in my pantry, ground with the oats)
extrafine salt for topping (I omitted)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the butter, sugar, salt, baking powder, cardamom, vanilla, and egg in a medium bowl. Beat in the ground oats, then the cashews.

Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle them with a very light coating of salt. Use fingers to press the cookies to about 3/8" thick.

Bake cookies until light golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove cookies from the oven and allow them to cool right on the pan.

Makes up to 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Where There's Whey, I Will!

After glaring at that half-gallon jug of local whole milk all week, watching the level drop only slightly with each cup of coffee, it finally occurred to me what I should make with it.


Well, why not? It's easy to make, and I've been getting a craving for Indian food yet again.

Of course, between a hectic schedule through the week and a couple of days' indisposition at the end of it, I didn't get around to making paneer until late this afternoon. Still, I had it all worked out so that I could pace myself (still being tired from said indisposition, of course):

Make paneer.
Take a breather.
Prep vegetables and spices for dinner.
Take a breather.
Start dinner and let things simmer.
Take a breather.

That works! I made a half-batch of paneer, saving the whey as I drained the curds in muslin, and when I was ready to cook again, I could use the whey to thicken the spinach puree in my palak paneer.

As I started cooking everything, I thought, perhaps I should add some of the leftover whey to the spiced potatoes, too. After all, why not? I knew I'd be adding plenty of water to allow the potatoes to simmer and soften -- why not use half water, half whey?

Ahhh, I do amaze myself sometimes when I actually think. Because as it turned out, adding whey made the potatoes -- cooked with sauteed shallots, garlic, mustard seed, turmeric, cumin, coriander, amchur, and salt -- turned those golden cubes in velvety morsels of potato perfection. I'm not kidding. With the first bite, I just sort of sank back into my chair and melted into the upholstery.

Oh, and that palak paneer on the left? Also pretty darn good.

I've still got about a pint of whey left in the refrigerator, so I'll have to give some thought as to what I'll cook this coming week that could use a little extra rich texture and flavor.

Well, whey not?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pudding It Into Perspective

Usually I try to prepare healthy dishes and meals, using lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and trying to make them reasonably light as well as nutritious. I'm not obsessed by all things low-fat, mind you, and I don't mind using things like butter and cream where warranted since the low-fat alternatives aren't always beneficial, but I do try to practice moderation.

Sometimes, though, moderation isn't good enough.

For some inexplicable reason, when I picked up groceries this weekend, I found myself reaching for the local dairy's whole milk instead of 2%. Maybe it was the bag of steel-cut oats on the counter, begging for a chance to be a rich indulgence instead of a penance. Maybe it was the thought of a clump of cream landing in my morning coffee. And maybe it was due to recent readings that emphasize the healthy benefits to drinking whole milk or raw milk. (Surprising, but true!)

No matter. Home I trekked, with the half-gallon jar of whole milk in my backpack, humming contentedly to itself and occasionally whispering to me.

Trouble is, I don't usually go through milk very quickly. I don't drink it straight, and I don't add that much to my coffee. So that meant I needed to find ways to use this whole milk this week, possibly in baking.

But after a fast-paced morning in the kitchen with my friend the Innkeeper, feeding her dozen guests, I had no strength to bake this afternoon. (In fact, I took a nap. What bliss!) By evening, baking was far from my mind, and a new thought had taken up residence, plumping the pillows and settling in with a mere two words:

Chocolate pudding.

Who can resist that? It's been a long time since I had homemade pudding, served warm by a dear lady who occasionally invited me out to her country homestead and plied me with all sorts of good fresh foods, including dessert. The puddings I had growing up all came from boxes (one wonders what the Chef Mother was thinking), and so this dear lady's homemade pudding came as a revelation.

Surely at this point in developing my cooking skills I should be able to make a reasonably good pudding, I thought. Surely it can't be that hard, and I would have plenty of rich, creamy pudding to enjoy this week.


So after dinner, I whisked together cornstarch, cocoa powder, and some of my rose geranium sugar with two cups of rich whole milk and a splash of vanilla, stirring constantly until it started to boil. After a short simmer, I ladled the pudding into my favorite little pottery bowls.

I set them in the fridge to cool, and a while later, I took one out for dessert. And, well, it vanished rather quickly.

Did I care how many calories might possibly be concealed in that dish? Not likely. I only cared that it was creamy, chocolatey with a hint of rose, and utterly satisfying.

I'm sure I'll come up with other "decadent" treats this week with the rest of the whole milk, but I'd like to think they're still wholesome. It's not something I expect to repeat often, but I think it's worthwhile to enjoy it now and again.

And that's pudding it mildly.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Pureed and Simple

I've been counting down to the opening of the local farmers' market (three or four weeks, I believe!), and in doing so, I've also been working my way through the produce I put away last year... slowly.

(Actually, I really need to clean out the pantry and find what's left... and start using it. But that's for another day and another post.)

One of the items I thawed from the freezer over the weekend was a small container of roasted eggplant pulp. I really wasn't sure how it would hold up after being frozen, but it turned out just fine for the purpose I had in mind. And while the idea of making a small batch of baingan bhartha tempted me, I decided that the warm, almost summery weather called for a much simpler dish: a pureed eggplant dish into which I could dip some of those still-soft and tender homemade pita breads.

When I first got hold of Deborah Madison's Local Flavors, one of the recipes that had jumped out at me was for an eggplant and pine nut puree, an easy dish I've come to love since it offers a refreshing twist on baba ganoush. But when I looked over the recipe this afternoon, I found I wouldn't be able to make it as written, not having pine nuts, fresh parsley, and a couple of other items.

So... time to improvise!

The eggplant pulp served as the first layer in my little food processor, while I sliced and sauteed local garlic in safflower oil, adding ground cumin, coriander, and a hint of garam masala. I tossed in some walnuts and a bit of salt, then added the sauteed mixture to the pulp. I drizzled the ingredients with some tangy pomegranate molasses, popped the lid onto the processor, and let the magic button do its thing.

After just a few minutes' work (overall, not just pureeing the mix), I had a little dish full of flavorful spicy eggplant puree, just begging for pita:

While chopped fresh cilantro would have been the ideal topping for the dip, I decided to use what I actually had on hand: fresh mustard greens from a pot by the window. Nice contrast!

Despite not having much oil in the mix, this dip ended up tasting very rich, so I only worked my way through half of that small bowl (it's only about 4" in diameter and not quite as deep, in case you wondered). I guess I'll have the rest for dinner tomorrow night!

It's just that simple.

Eggplant-Walnut Puree

Though the original idea came from Local Flavors and the tradition of baba ganoush, I really just threw together what I had. Feel free to improvise based on your own pantry contents!

2 tsp safflower oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced or minced
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c walnuts
1 c roasted eggplant puree (fresh or frozen, thawed)
1 tsp pomegranate molasses
chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, or tender young greens for garnish

In small skillet, heat oil over low heat. Add garlic and saute until golden. Add spices and walnuts and saute for another minute.

In small food processor, combine spice and walnut mixture with eggplant puree. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses. Puree.

Spoon into serving dish and top with chopped herbs or greens. Serve with pita or crackers.

Makes 1 1/2 c dip

Sunday, May 06, 2007

My Heart Goes Pita Pat

Once I get started with baking, it's sometimes hard to stop.

Take this weekend, for example. After making blue-berry biscuits in the morning and some yummy trail mix-type granola in the afternoon, I decided today to make a more neutral kind of bread: pita.

Again, browsing in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook gave me plenty of good ideas to try, but the one that jumped out at me today was for the Spelt Pita. I haven't tried to make pita bread in years, but since I've learned to make and enjoy naan and lavash, how hard could another flatbread be?

And the answer, Dear Readers, is: not hard. Not hard at all, in fact.

Each step went quickly. First, I made the sponge with whole wheat flour, yeast, and water, and I set it aside to rise while I enjoyed breakfast. Then I finished mixing the dough by adding good local spelt flour, salt, and olive oil. After a little kneading -- which went very quickly since the ball of dough was small enough for me to work one-handed -- I set the dough aside, worked on my sewing for an hour, and came back to heat the baking stone and shape the rounds.

Once I had all the rounds rolled out, I started a quick production line of baking, turning, and removing four baby pita rounds at a time, whipping through all the dough in less than half an hour. And what did I get for my labor?

That's right, stacks of little (3"-4") whole grain pitas, nicely puffed and airy, begging to be nibbled.

What can I say? I love bread, so I couldn't resist the lure. I noshed on half of one and realized I was already hungry for lunch, and wouldn't a pita sandwich hit the spot?

I quickly mixed up some steamed broccoli, walnuts, the last of the feta cheese, and a light balsamic vinaigrette before spooning the mixture into two halves of a still-warm homemade pita:

In fact, I'll probably enjoy more pita with dinner tonight if I get around to making some kind of curry.

After all, you can't beat a pita!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Blue Skies

It feels like it's been a few weeks -- and it probably has, because where did April go? -- since I baked something breakfasty, sweet, and tasty for my morning breaks.

But since my own copy of King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking arrived earlier this week, I've been itching to dive back in and try some other recipes. And what better way to start the weekend than by firing up the oven on a cloudy morning?

Torn between making scones and muffins, I finally decided on biscuits. (Yes, that's how my mind works on the weekends.) As I thumbed through the volume, I found a recipe for Parmesan-Pine Nut biscuits that sounded worthwhile. The only problem was, I had neither Parmesan nor pine nuts in the refrigerator.

Not to worry, though, as once again I decided to improvise wildly: I did still have a good-sized chunk of smoky blue cheese hanging around, and I always have walnuts, which go so well with blue cheese.

But that wasn't good enough. Remembering the combination of dried cranberries and blue cheese that I used to enjoy tossing into a loaf of white bread, I rummaged through the cupboards and pulled out the last of my dried blueberries (a gift from Michigan-based Mr. Nice Guy and his parents). And finally, I decided to pull it all together with a hint of orange, both in peel and juice.

Sound like overkill? I thought it might be, too, but I can assure you that all the flavors -- tart, tangy, sweet, deep -- worked well together in a mostly whole wheat biscuit that perked my morning right up.

Steaming hot, slathered with fresh country butter, and served with a cup of coffee, these biscuits certainly brightened my day, just as the sun started peeking through the clouds.

And you know, I think the forecast is calling for blue skies all week!

True Blue Biscuits

Years ago, a colleague introduced me to the idea of combining dried fruit with tangy blue cheese in my homemade bread, a melding of flavors that I still find very appealing, though I don't make that bread much any more. Still, the memory came in handy as I modified the Parmesan-Pine Nut Biscuit recipe from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking to accommodate the contents of my cupboard. You could revert to the original recipe's suggestion of all milk for the dough, but I do like the hint of orange that the peel and juice bring to the berries and cheese. Serve warm... every time!

2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 c unbleached flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried grated orange peel
1/2 c cold unsalted butter
1/4 c crumbled blue cheese
1/4 c chopped walnuts
1/4 c dried blueberries (cranberries would also work well)
1 large egg
1/4 c orange juice
1/2 to 3/4 c milk

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, whisking to keep the mixture light and airy. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the blue cheese, walnuts, and blueberries.

Beat egg with the orange juice and 1/2 c milk. Add to the flour mixture, stirring until evenly moistened. (If mixture doesn't hold together well, dribble in a little more milk.)

Turn dough out onto floured board or countertop, kneading gently a few times until dough holds together. Pat out dough until 3/4" thick, then cut into squares. Transfer biscuits to baking sheet.

Bake until tops are golden brown, 20 to 22 minutes. Remove from oven and serve warm. Allow remaining biscuits to cool, then store in airtight container.

Makes a dozen biscuits

Where There's a Bill, There's a Way

This year, the 110th Congress has pored over the massive Farm Bill and looked for ways to make changes. Laden with legislative pork fattened by corn and soy subsidies, the Farm Bill has in years past generally favored the big agribusinesses using monoculture and heavy applications of pesticides, leaving the small farmers of "specialty crops" -- those being the rest of the fruits and vegetables that we're all supposed to eat in a balanced diet -- without much help at all.

That might be about to change.

As reported by Tom Philpott over on Gristmill and the lovely people at the Ethicurean, Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Wayne Gilchrest have come together to create a bipartisan Farm Bill that cuts the subsidies to Big Ag and supports small farms, specialty crops, and the states' individual abilities to judge what agriculture might be best for their regions. Sweet Reason!

A more detailed article at Living the Country Life outlines some of the benefits:

--Improve the food stamp program by stopping the erosion of food stamp benefits and streamlining the application process;
--Expand programs that facilitate consumer access to healthy foods and promote specialty crops at the local and regional levels;
--Expand fruit and vegetable programs to schools nationwide and allows for geographic preferences in food purchasing programs;
--Provide states with a significant sources of funding for programs and projects that reflect the diversity and needs of each state's agricultural sector-programs;
--Improve the operation of working lands conservation programs and increase access for producers by recognizing the unique characteristics of their farming operations in formula allocations and funding priorities;
--Expand a state's ability to access and develop many different sources of renewable energy produced by agricultural operations and improves on-farm energy efficiency;
--Ensure that dairy programs reflect the unique needs of various regions; and
--Create a new national organic certification and transition program, and promotes research into invasive species.

Granted, that's a simplification of the bill's features, but those all sound pretty good to me, and if the president of the American Farmland Trust approves, it's most likely worth supporting.

It's probably not likely that this bill will pass as it stands now, because Congress has a tendency to pick apart good ideas and witter about how much good ideas cost (while, of course, turning an apparent blind idea to funding bad ideas). But if Congress hears from the American people as to what they want from a Farm Bill -- and I'm sure they don't hear from many people on a colossal piece of legislation like this -- maybe they'll do the right thing for once. After the recent food safety scares, we all need to realize that what Congress legislates for our food supply affects each and every one of us every day.

So get involved. Take a look at the bill (PDF) if you're into heavy-duty legislative reading. Contact your Representative and/or Senators (and remember that while signing an email petition is good, an individual letter is better). Write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. Support your local farmers' market and other local growers. Tell all of them, you eat and you have a voice in deciding how we produce food in this country.

Because eating local depends on support at the federal level, too.