Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jam Artist

"I still haven't done anything with those strawberries," the Renaissance Man lamented earlier this week. "Maybe I should have you teach me how to make jam."

Say no more, dear friend -- I always stand ready to initiate others into the joys (and labors) of food preservation.

So I gathered up a handful of small canning jars, the rest of my own strawberries (a cup at best), and headed to his place to show him the ropes.

Though I washed and sliced my contributions to the pot, I made him do the work on the rest (and told him to consider it physical therapy for his healed arm). Once all the berries had been thrown into the pot, I mashed them until juicy and still a little chunky.

Meanwhile, he decided that the remaining foraged mulberries might be a good addition to the jam, so he added those as well as the necessary sugar.

I set him to stirring the pot as the jam heated up, while I set up his Dutch oven with jars and rings to be sterilized and let it start bubbling away.

I'll not bore you with the tedious details (stir, stir, stir; use tongs and strong language to remove boiling-hot glass jars from the makeshift canner; ladle hot jam cautiously into jars). We opened the back door for a good breeze, kept ourselves hydrated, and did the necessary.

But at the end of it all, he had one pint jar, one half-pint, and three half-cup jars of darkly glistening and not-too-sweet berry jam awaiting his pleasure.

Well, we didn't really have to wait too long: one small jar was opened in time for dessert so that we could top vanilla ice cream with this new berry "sauce." (An excellent decision!)

"That's all there is to it?" he asked as we stood back to admire his handiwork. And when I confirmed it, he started pondering other similar projects for later this summer.

Maybe this year, he'll make all the jam for me!

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Market Report: 6/27/09

I haven't done much with my abundance of fresh produce over the past few days, so I knew I shouldn't let myself get too carried away in buying produce at this morning's farmers' market.

But it's so easy to be tempted:

--two quarts of shelling peas, a long cucumber, and cookies from the Cheerful Lady
--broccoli and purple kohlrabi from the Fiddlin' Farmer, and a bunch of colorful zinnias from his son
--tiny new potatoes from the Amish Farmer
--whole wheat bread and pasta from the Herb Lady
--carrots from the Spelt Baker
--a jar of honey from the Bee Man
--basil and thyme pots from the Lady Bountiful
--a dozen gingersnaps from the Gluten-Free Baker

Yes, compared to my usual farmers' market shopping spree, that was restraint on my part!

I lingered downtown to enjoy an outdoor Local Roots marketing meeting over iced coffee, and then I ran a few errands before heading home and tackling the first preservation projects of the day: blanching and drying one bundle of carrots and all of the shelling peas.

Maybe I'll actually be able to take it easy this weekend?


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Friday, June 26, 2009

Independence Days #7

Another busy week! I'm glad I got a lot of this done last weekend as this week has really gotten away from me...

1. Plant something: Added bush beans, Soldier dry beans, and carrots to the Southern Belle's garden.

2. Harvest something: From the Renaissance Man's garden, radishes, lettuce, sage, borage, plantain; lettuce, spinach, pac choi, chard, beets, radishes, snap peas, garlic scapes, and dill from the Southern Belle's garden.

3. Preserve something: Vinegars and tinctures with herbs (comfrey, sage, basil, comfrey and plantain); started kim chi; borage honey; radishes "pickled" in vinegar; dried carrots, spinach, savory, sweet cherries, fennel fronds; froze pac choi; started strawberry and mulberry shrubs.

4. Reduce waste: Used kohlrabi and radish leaves in kim chi (instead of cabbage); saving more prep scraps for stock.

5. Preparation and storage: stocked up on olive oil and vodka for herbal preparations; made a list of herbal tinctures, syrups, and oils I'd like to try to make.

6. Build local food systems: Talked to more new vendors at the farmers' market and handed out brochures about Local Roots; gave a handful of brochures to the Chef Mother to spread around (since she's become one of our "ambassadors"); started reading A Nation of Farmers; finished articles for the July Local Roots newsletter; talked with friends about a potential connection between Local Roots and the local Grange.

7. Eat the food: Salads; linguine with stir-fry asparagus, snow peas, pac choi; a confetti-colored roasted mix of vegetables (asparagus, Chioggia and golden beets, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, onion, garlic, and fennel); broccoli and greens egg puff; broccoli walnut pasta.

I still have a good deal of food in the refrigerator, so I think I'd better go easy at the farmers' market tomorrow and then get some work done!

The season's picking up!

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Growing Grains

Courtesy of the Farmgirl Wannabe, here are the latest photos from the grain patch:

The buckwheat in the background looks neat and lush, while the soil-building PVO patch in front looks a little shaggy (with three different plants and three different growing heights, I guess it would). So green!

Her dog enjoyed rambling around the buckwheat patch, possibly chasing a rabbit or some interesting smell, so the patch now has a sort of maze worn through it. But this at least gives you an idea how thick and high the plants are: the dog is a smallish one but still disappears here!

One of these days I'm sure I'll get back out to take a look at things, but extra thanks to the Farmgirl Wannabe for keeping an eye on everything!

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? 2009 Week 5

At last! We had sunshine on our CSA pickup day! And what a difference that makes!

My Dear Papa and I headed out after I left work, and by the time we arrived at the Lady Bountiful's farm, the Renaissance Man had already shown up and was busy inspecting (or "petting," as he puts it) the new barn. Wouldn't you know it, on a hot sunny day, where else would he be but inside the walk-in cooler?

I left him to his investigations while Papa and I sorted out our week's produce:

--one quart strawberries (for my folks)
--one bunch Swiss chard (for my folks)
--one bag lettuce (for me)
--one pint sugar snap peas (for my folks)
--1 1/2 lb zucchini (yes, zucchini! all mine!)
--four small tomatoes (can you believe it? also all mine!)
--one bag garlic scapes (mine again)
--one bunch beets (for my folks; Papa loves the greens, the Chef Mother loves the roots; the reason behind their long-lasting marriage, I'm sure)
--two sweet onions (split)
--one bag broccoli (mine)
--my half-dozen eggs

Things are starting to pick up, and their plans for succession crops seem to be working out amazingly well this year. I mean, tomatoes in June! Wow!

While My Dear Papa headed back home and the Renaissance Man continue to wander around, I looked at one lettuce bed and decided to start weeding it, pulling all the (you guessed it) lambs' quarters and harvesting just a few for myself. As usual, the Lady Bountiful chuckled when she saw what I had done.

So much good food! Guess I'd better start eating!

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

By the Book

I don't normally step away from the kitchen (figuratively speaking) on this blog, unless it's to review some food-related books that caught my eye. But a colleague of mine (Mr. Clean) brought this to my attention, and it's too important to skip:

Save Ohio Libraries

Times are tough -- we all know that. But when the economy slides downward, governments look for ways to cut budgets, often cutting into vital public services.

Libraries fall into that nebulous category of "not absolutely essential" because people don't associate librarians with acts of heroism (like they do with the police and the fire departments). But libraries do provide essential services, especially in difficult economic times:

--free entertainment (books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, newspapers) to keep your mind off your woes

--free Internet, so you can search for job postings, file for unemployment benefits, keep up with the news

--free classes on writing resumes, writing grants, food preservation, and so much more

--free help in answering a wide assortment of reference questions

I'm not telling you this just because I work in a library. My work with the public is limited, but I have tremendous respect for those librarians and library staff who meet, greet, and assist citizens every hour, every day. They get a lot of crazy questions, difficult situations, and constant bureaucratic turmoil thrown at them, but through it all, they provide superb service in educating our communities, and they do it because they believe in helping and educating others.

That's heroism to me.

So while I might point you to two of my latest book reviews over at the Ethicurean (one on Fresh: A Perishable History and one on my favorite food preservation books), I also want to point you in the direction of your nearest public library. They have so much to offer -- and they're hurting.

What are you waiting for? Book it!

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Monday, June 22, 2009

What's All the Shrub-Bub?

Since I had lots of herbs on hand this past weekend -- and had just finished reading the excellent book Growing 101 Herbs That Heal -- I spent a good bit of food preservation time working with vinegar.

First there were the herbal vinegars, steeping sage and basil in cider vinegar (in separate jars) and packing comfrey and plantain leaves into another jar, topped off with the same, for a calcium-rich brew.

Then I pulled out my copy of Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning and hit upon a recipe for radishes preserved in vinegar. I scrubbed and trimmed several small French breakfast radishes and layered them in a jar with lime slices, onion slices, and some peppercorns.

I filled the jar with vinegar, closed it, and set it aside to age (three months!).

Tonight, however, I wanted to try something completely new. Back in my early days at the Ethicurean, I wrote an article about the fabulous local cider vinegar I'd found at the farmers' market, and one of the comments on the post alluded to berry-flavored vinegar-based drinks called shrubs.

I was intrigued, and the more I read about them as old-fashioned ways of preserving fruit and creating thirst-quenching drinks, the more I wanted to try them.

Happily, the inspiring book Wild Fermentation mentions a very simple recipe for shrub: steep fresh fruit in cider vinegar for up to two weeks, strain, sweeten with honey (or sugar), and bottle. When you want to use it for drinks, simply mix the shrub with filtered or sparkling water, and enjoy.

Well, shoot. I can do that.

So I did. (At least, I got them started.) I had plenty of strawberries left from last week's CSA pickup, so I filled a pint jar loosely with cut berries and topped it with vinegar. In the smaller jar, I added not quite a cup of foraged mulberries and followed the same procedure.

By next weekend, they should be ready for the final steps, and maybe I'll even get a chance to sample one or the other.

Let's hope they're worth making a fuss about!

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Have Garden, Will Travel

Some months back, the Family set today as the date for a mini-reunion -- a precursor for the usual August reunion, scheduled early to accommodate the visit of my dear elderly cousins from Idaho. Since I especially enjoy these cousins (he taught music for many years and was a big fan of mine when I was more involved in it myself), and though I knew I'd been running myself ragged lately, I had hoped that with a little rest I'd be able to make the trip to see them.

Sure enough, extra sleep worked its magic, and I managed to persuade My Wonderful Parents to pick me up a little early so that we could swing by the garden for a harvest.

With the heavy rains we've had lately, it was no surprise to find everything starting to get that mid-summer overgrown look.

Greens have started to bolt, herbs are already going to seed, and it's time to pull a couple of early crops (mainly radishes) to make way for new plantings (beans and carrots).

I worked for about 45 minutes to harvest a good crop of greens (lettuce, spinach, chard, and pac choi) as well as more of those deliciously sweet snap peas, the remaining garlic scapes, and the first beets of the season. I loaded everything into a big cooler I'd brought along, and away we went.

Of course, it took a while for the family (the older generation, aside from me) to gather, but within an hour we were ready to line up for the usual potluck lunch. And since the cousins all come from a hard-working farm family (some still do farm), it didn't surprise me that the lunch selections tilted heavily in favor of meats, creamy salads, and even salads garnished with meat.

Good thing I had that cooler in the car!

While it wasn't quite the same as grazing in the garden like any happy little rabbit, it was the next best thing: I washed and tore up lettuce and dill for a salad, rinsed and trimmed a handful of snap peas, grabbed a roll and some chips, and feasted on the vegetables of my labor.

After a good visit with the cousins and a drowsy drive back home (don't worry, I was in the back seat), I still had all those bags of produce to cram into the refrigerator. What to do?

Well, I used some of the snap peas in a stir-fry for dinner and then blanched, chopped, and froze all the pac choi (minus the two slugs that had come along for the ride). Tomorrow evening, I'll deal with more of it.

But it was a good thing I'd hauled my harvest with me today!

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Kim Chi Whiz!

In trying to plan this year's food preservation, I marked on the June calendar -- for this weekend, in fact -- "kim chi?" in the hopes that I would find all the ingredients and get started on something I discovered I really liked last year.

As luck would have it, I could not find cabbage at the market, but I had plenty of kohlrabi leaves left in the refrigerator. I'd had some sauteed over pasta a few days ago, so I knew I could enjoy the taste, and since kohlrabi and cabbage are related, it didn't seem too farfetched to give this kim chi variation a try.

I shredded the last of last week's kohlrabi leaves along with a couple CSA carrots and a giant dark red radish from the garden, and I soaked them in a strong brine, pressed under a pile of heavy dishes. They stayed there most of the day, softening and getting pleasantly salty.

By late afternoon, I was ready to pour off the brine (reserving it) and to add a mixture of minced onion, garlic scapes, grated ginger, and dried red pepper flakes. (Only the ginger was not local.)

After mixing it all up, I packed it into a wide-mouthed pint jar, pressing down each addition so that it compacted snugly in the jar and produced some of its own brine. I added another couple spoonfuls of brine, then set a plastic bag full of brine on top of it before adding the lid.

The recipe is a little different from last year's success, since I decided to try the basic recipe from Wild Fermentation, but so far it smells and tastes pretty good. I'll keep an eye on it over the next week, and then I'll set it in the refrigerator and start eating from it.

And maybe in the meantime, I'll start another jar!

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Market Report: 6/20/09

We had storms roll through yesterday, and just enough drizzle lingered this morning to keep the early crowd down at the farmers' market. I didn't even see as many vendors there as usual.

Still, what people were there and what produce was to be had were, as they say, choice.

Despite heading down the market with a list of what not to get as well as what I might want, I ended up buying more produce than expected because it looked so good!:

--Chioggia beets from the Spelt Baker, who also gave me a little bundle of flowering summer savory
--kohlrabi from the same old friend who had it last week
--cauliflower and fennel from the new organic farmer (shall I call her the Cauliflower Queen?)
--strawberries (for the Renaissance Man, who was hard at work early this morning) and comfrey from an herb grower
--broccoli from a very nice young man
--a quart of sweet cherries from the local orchard
--onions (and rhubarb starts for the Farm) from the Cheerful Lady
--more broccoli and snap peas from the Fiddlin' Farmer

I also decided to splurge on baked goods this week since I know I won't get any baking done any time soon (and I'll want to have something good for breaks at work):

--gluten-free gingersnaps and iced orange cookies from a former neighbor
--peanut butter cookies and a mini rhubarb coffeecake from the Cheerful Lady
--walnut torte and Swedish almond torte from the new German Baker

I'll get some food preservation done today, but I think there are a few things from this week's market that I'll want to enjoy fresh for dinners this coming week. (The Cauliflower Queen specifically mentioned roasting the fennel, so I may have to try that along with some asparagus, and I fancy roasting those beets, too.)

And after a little break for iced tea and that little rhubarb coffeecake, I'll get started.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Independence Days #6

So much good produce, so little time this week... good thing I get plenty of work done on the weekends!

1. Plant something: Planted white sage, Calypso dried beans, tatsoi, and sacred basil in pots on my front porch.

2. Harvest something: At the Renaissance Man's garden, I pulled radishes and picked more mint and lavender; foraged for mulberries and plantain.

3. Preserve something: Dried nettles, strawberries, carrots, spinach, cauliflower, lavender; made two microbatches (not quite 2 full pints) of strawberry jam (one with lavender); made lavender honey (above); blanched and froze snow peas.

4. Reduce waste: Used boiling water from canner to soak labels off beer bottles (to be used in another project), then when cool, used to water garden; added carrot tops and tips, asparagus stems, water from steaming potatoes and asparagus in vegetable stock; started stock "bucket" in freezer for other such reusable food scraps.

5. Preparation and storage: Cleaned some of my spare plant pots with water and a bit of bleach; made and froze vegetable soup stock; stocked up on maple syrup at the farmers' market since they had a small harvest this year.

6. Build local food systems: Talked to new farmers' market vendors about Local Roots and spread the word with other folks (including at the hair salon and a gathering at a nearby farm!); posted my article on the permaculture workshop at the Jones Farm over at The Ethicurean; continued work on the Local Roots newsletter.

7. Eat the food: Nettle fritters; bread with strawberry jam "scum"; fresh, crisp vegetables for snacking; more salads; pasta with asparagus, carrots, bok choy, and cilantro pesto; crepes with yogurt and mulberries.

I'm hoping that once I can get some more rest, I'll be ready to exercise more such Independence this coming weekend and week.

Until then, I've got a date -- with my pillow!

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? 2009, Week 4

Would you believe we've had rain four weeks in a row on our CSA pickup day? Today's showers were particularly potent, if intermittent, but they still failed to dampen our enthusiasm for the journey and the food.

Though there's still plenty of early produce coming on, each week we're finding new things to enjoy. This week's selection included:

--one bag mixed lettuce (for me)
--one bundle of kale (for my folks)
--one bundle of baby bok choy (for me)
--one bag of garlic scapes (for me)
--a dozen carrots (split)
--one bundle of radishes (for my folks)
--two quarts strawberries (split)
--one small bag of snap peas (for my folks)
--my half-dozen egg share

The Lady Bountiful indicated that the greens are starting to bolt, so I expect we'll see a little less of those as more vegetables are harvested. And this may well be the last week of strawberries, so I will enjoy them while I can!

And next week, maybe it won't rain?

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Picky Eater

I've really enjoyed learning how to forage and have found a number of tasty "weeds" around the Farm, the gardens, and other safe, unsprayed places.

As I wander around town, I often spot some of my wild edible friends, though I tend not to pick what I spot since (A) they are on other people's property and (B) I can't be certain they haven't been exposed to pesticides or herbicides.

This week, though, a friend of the Renaissance Man with a gift for finding free food introduced us to some urban foraging right in our neighborhood.

As it turns out, the nearby park (public property) has a number of opportunities for foraging in areas that clearly have not been sprayed (as attested to by the flourishing crops of poison ivy and garlic mustard).

One, just down the street, is a large mulberry tree on the edge of the park, and right now the berries are ripening fast. (If you can't spot a mulberry tree from its leaves, you can look for the crushed berries on the ground below it.)

We wandered down to the tree and stood under it, reaching up to pluck a berry at a time and enjoying our al fresco dessert. Not all the berries were perfectly ripe, but they were perfectly delicious!

I picked more later, adding them to the dish of berries the friend had left to share, and I'm sure I'll find a good use for them. Or, I'll just snack on them and then wonder where they've gone...

In another section of the park, along the edge of the woods, clusters of black raspberry canes provide a thorny border between field and forest. And soon they'll provide flavorful foraging, too, by the looks of the berry clusters!

Back in the marginally more civilized realm of the Renaissance Man's backyard, I discovered another new friend to forage: plantain. Well, it's not really new to me, but I've never harvested it before. The leaves are mainly useful in a medicinal sense (good as a poultice, especially on rashes).

The seeds, however, are packed with fiber (a European version has been used in Metamucil, according to "Wildman" Steve Brill), and one foraging book recommends sprinkling the seeds on your morning oatmeal. I'll have to give that a try!

I think what I enjoy most about foraging is finding surprising sources of food -- with even more surprising nutritional benefits -- all around me, just waiting to be noticed.

And that's food I can definitely pick!

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

What I Put Up With

Busy day! But then, after buying all that good produce at the farmers' market this morning, I had to do something with it!

I came home from the market and started on a batch of strawberry jam. Since I wanted to make microbatches in small pots, I used only a quart of berries at a time. The morning's batch was plain-Jane strawberry, while the evening batch had a little lavender added to it.

And while the morning batch ran through the hot water bath, I baked off a loaf of homemade white bread to go with it. There's just nothing so wonderful as warm bread topped with warm jam "scum" (the foam off the top). Summer's here!

I ran out after lunch for a haircut and a trip to the grocery store, and then I came back to work on more produce.

First up, my favorite potato salad. I've been craving this for several days, and when I spotted the little red potatoes at the Amish farm stand, I grabbed them. Add asparagus, dill, walnuts, dill salt, feta cheese, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and olive oil, and you have one amazing dish. Mmmm!

As I prepped vegetables for that, I started prepping other vegetables for a pot of stock. Since I'm trying to find ways to reduce waste in the kitchen, I tossed the carrot tops and tips into the pot along with the carrots themselves, and I also added the bottom parts of the asparagus stalks and the water used to steam the asparagus and potatoes for the salad. (I knew I had something good going when my neighbor popped her head out the door and commented on how fantastic it all smelled!)

I made a batch of spelt pasta -- one way to use my abundance of CSA eggs! -- and left it to dry on cooling racks overnight.

I dried most of the nettles I had found at the market, and when those were done, I quartered the remaining strawberries and laid them on the dehydrator trays to dry.

After all that, I made nettle fritters for dinner and relaxed.

Yes, that was a lot of work, and I've only begun to work my way through this week's produce. Tomorrow I plan to dry carrots and spinach, and I may get through a couple more projects as well.

It's amazing what I'll put up with in the summer -- in order to put up food for winter.

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Market Report: 6/13/09

Having missed last week's opening farmers' market -- even for a very good reason -- left me eager to get to this morning's market. So I headed down to the square by 7:30, well before the crowds, and spent time wandering and talking with some of my favorite farmers.

It didn't take long for me to start bumping in to other customers, like My Wonderful Parents, and the visit quickly grew to a social hour. And then two.

Of course, with two quadrants of the square now filled with tents and tables and terribly tempting food, it does take longer for me to scout out the culinary prospects of the day. And I did add in a side trip to the bank to replenish my cash flow.

But it was so worth it.

I filled up my backpack -- and another bag -- with plenty of good food:

--asparagus, spinach, and two cookies from the Cheerful Lady, with a side helping of good-natured harassment from Handyman Joe (don't worry, I dish it back)
--carrots, snow peas, strawberries, sacred basil plants, and a bonus German thyme pot from the Spelt Baker
--a small bag of nettles from the Herb Lady (since my crop has been thin this year)
--two quarts of maple syrup from the Maple Folks
--two pints of honey from the Bee Man
--two quarts of strawberries from a new lady (the Bee Man's neighbor?)
--a giant kohlrabi from an old friend
--asparagus and red-veined sorrel from a fellow Local Roots board member's farm

--cauliflower (!) from another new organic farmer
--peanut butter goat milk fudge from that friendly face
--little red potatoes from the Amish folks

And in the midst of all that, I bumped into my fabulous graphic designing friend Jen, and we popped into the Hungarian pastry shop for coffee and a friendly chat. Such a treat!

Once I'd filled up my stomach and my bags, though, it was time to head home and get busy.

And I'll tell you more about that later!

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Independence Days #5

It's been a very, very busy week, so I'm ready to relax this evening with a simple meal, a local brew, and a book. But before I do, here's the Independence Days wrap-up for the week:

1. Plant something: Planted carrots, Soldier dry beans, calendula, and basil with the Southern Belle.

2. Harvest something: At the Southern Belle's on Sunday, I harvested lots of lettuce, spinach, chard, pac choi, radishes, amaranth, nettles, dill, cilantro, garlic curls, snap peas, and lavender; at the Renaissance Man's garden, I pulled radishes and picked more lemon balm.

3. Preserve something: Dried two batches of pac choi, lemon balm, nettles, lavender, spinach.

4. Reduce waste: Saved flour from rolling out pie crust; saved bags from CSA pickup to use at farmers' market.

5. Preparation and storage: Bought a big bottle of white grape juice for low-sugar fruit canning later this summer; bought a dozen little jam jars for microbatches.

6. Build local food systems: Took a permaculture class last weekend and made a few new connections there; taught My Adorable Nephews a little more about gardening; worked with the Local Roots marketing subcommittee to move ahead on the next newsletter, a film series, and other events; and started the Forty Seeds Project.

7. Eat the food: That lovely spring braise from last weekend; plenty of salads; broccoli pizza; a delicious lavender-blueberry coffee cake; and a fresh herb and greens kuku (Persian egg dish) to share with my marketing cohorts (along with local brews).

I'd like to say it's now time to rest for the weekend, but tonight is the only chance I'll get as tomorrow I'm off to the farmers' market.

And who knows what next week will bring?

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Seed the Way

In just over five tightly-packed months, this year has begun unlike any other I've known: with a constant whirlwind of intellectual activity and civic engagement, intermingled with major crises involving loved ones -- so much intensity in such a short time.

Through it all, I've come to realize that my theoretically-declared priorities in life have been tested and justified and made all the more precious and worth fighting for. I've taken a good bit of both paid vacation and unpaid time from work in order to be with My Wonderful Parents or the Renaissance Man during their times of need, and there was never a question in my mind that I could be doing something more important.

Exhausting as this time has been, I've been grateful for the time spent with these beloved people and grateful for the realization of what truly is important in life: not money, not ambition or fame, but being with people in the now, in the moment, and appreciating what life has been given to us and what life surrounds us.

Since I'm headed for a milestone birthday this summer (the big 4-0, and excited about it as all get out, thank you very much!), it's reassuring to know that I'm really on the right path, living the life I am meant to lead and finally putting some action behind my words and beliefs.

I read recently about another woman facing her 40th birthday and deciding to ask her family and friends not to give her gifts but rather to give gifts to others –- 40 gifts, to be exact. I thought it was a great idea, and I wondered how I might encourage others to do the same.

My friends and family -– and you, Dear and Faithful Readers -– have come to an amused but often mouth-watering appreciation of my passion for good food and my belief in the need for a better food system than we currently have in this country. So I'm going to give this challenge a food-related twist.

Hence, the Forty Seeds Project. We all need to be nourished by good food, and we can all help each other in ways that might be as tiny as a seed, even when we ourselves need help. Times are tough and getting tougher for so many of us, but there is still much we can do. So this summer, I'd like to ask you all to plant forty seeds -– literally or metaphorically -– of hope for other people.

How? Well, here are just a few ideas to get you started thinking and "planting":

--Plant forty actual seeds in your garden and dedicate that row or patch to charity, giving the produce to a local food bank or to a neighbor in need. (The "Plant a Row for the Hungry" project has encouraged gardeners to participate for several years.)
--Plant forty actual seeds with friends in a community garden or school garden, teaching others how to grow more of their own food.
--Buy forty dollars' worth of canned goods for a local canned food drive. (You don't have to buy it all at once –- add small amounts into your weekly grocery shopping.)
--Give forty dollars to a local food bank or soup kitchen or other organization that provides groceries or meals to those in need.
--Spend forty minutes working in a neighbor's garden to help them when they're busy or unable to do the work.
--Give forty hours of your time serving food in a soup kitchen or helping another local food organization.
--Spend forty minutes –- or hours! –- teaching someone the basics of cooking or food preservation.

How else can you help? There are so many possibilities! (And if you want to share this project on your own blog, let me know.)

I'm a firm believer in taking back some control from the big agribusinesses and food processing corporations over the food that goes into our bodies. That can mean growing your own food, buying local foods and supporting local farms, cooking from scratch, and preserving the harvest for winter. And if it's good enough for us, it should be good enough for everyone.

Seeds are remarkably resilient little things –- almost miraculous. You can store them for years, keep them closed up in the dark, but once you plant them and add a little water and air and sunshine, amazing things can grow and produce even more seeds to begin the cycle again! And we do this every day in our own lives, consciously and un-, sowing seeds in the paths of other people's lives. So why not put your gifts to good use and watch as the seeds you sow bear sweet fruit for others?

Make this your gift this year: seed the way for someone in need.

And may we all have a bountiful harvest with plenty to share!

Many, many thanks to the fabulously talented Jen Hugon for the beautiful logo!

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? 2009, Week 3

The Lady Bountiful's weekly CSA newsletter arrived in my emailbox early this morning -- always a good start to the day! She listed the produce we'd be picking up today and added news about the farm and little tidbits of useful information.

For example, in letting us know that we'd be getting garlic scapes today, she noted that the garlic scapes must be removed from the garlic stalk in order for the bulb to develop fully. I hadn't realized that, so I'll have to make sure I collect all the curls from the tops of the garlic in my garden.

When we arrived to pick up produce this afternoon, I had the chance to say hello to Tara (hello, Tara!) and enjoy a little chat with her before she headed out -- always a highlight! And My Dear Papa gathered our produce as he waited patiently for me.

We had a richly colored assortment of produce to enjoy:

--two quarts of strawberries (one for each of us)
--a bunch of Swiss chard (for my folks)
--a bag of lettuce (also for my folks; I have plenty from the garden)
--a bag of spinach (mine)
--a bag of arugula (mine)
--a bag of garlic scapes (all mine!)

That's still a lot of greens for me, since I'm still working through lettuce and chard from the garden. But the Lady included a recipe for arugula pesto that might be worth a try as well as the suggestion to add the greens to roasted potatoes or steamed vegetables. (Now, if only I had some potatoes!)

But hey, I am not complaining about good food, especially since I also got some delicious strawberries out of the deal!

Now, I just have to eat (or preserve) it all.

And we'll CSA you again next week!

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

I've Got a Chip On My Shoulder

That's right. I've got an attitude today. It's my blog, and I'll kvetch if I want to.

I gotta tell ya, it ain't easy being the Local Foods Fairy (as some people like to think of me). Sure, I love my fresh produce from the garden or the farmers' market or my CSA, and yeah, I'll go the extra mile to get something produced locally by people I know and trust.

But I'm human, and I sometimes get my cravings for food products that are definitely not from around here. I know how Michael Pollan feels, getting busted at the Whole Foods in Berkeley for picking up cereal for his son: I got caught at the grocery store the other day grabbing a box of veggie burgers from the freezer -- and by the president of our Local Roots steering committee, no less.

Sometimes, I even like -- yes, you read that right -- junk food. Salty or sweet, loaded with bad fats, out and out junk food.

Take today, for instance. I started having a fierce chip craving halfway through the afternoon at work, and I knew I didn't have anything to satisfy the craving at home. Should I run out on break and get a small bag of potato chips? Should I swing by the grocery on the way home and pick up a bag of tortilla chips? How could I live with myself?

Then I remembered the power of the Internet -- and I searched for a recipe.

Yes, I found a simple recipe for corn chips, so I thought I'd give them a try as a guilt-free substitute for store-bought. The ingredient list was simple -- four items, well within Pollan's edict from In Defense of Food -- and the batter took all of a minute to whisk together. I spooned it onto a heavily greased cookie sheet and spread the batter out as thinly as I could, then slid the tray in to bake.

Well, I discovered that I had just a little too much water in the recipe as the chips ended up a little too soft, but in general, they turned out to be a pretty easy, wholesome, and tasty substitute for the bagged chips from the store. It took about 20 minutes to make them, and they were even warm when I wanted to eat them.

I arranged some on a plate and added fresh chopped lettuce (from the garden), some of my home-canned salsa, and local Cheddar cheese -- with just a sprinkling of fresh cilantro on top -- for an easy and refreshing taco salad that was all local and all healthy.

Yeah, I sometimes want something other than the usual local foods. And yeah, sometimes I'm just enough of a kitchen nerd to try something new in order to replace those non-local foods that I crave.

Wanna make something of it?

Homemade Corn Chips

The basic recipe comes from Kaboose, found on a Google search. I tweaked it a little (of course) and replaced about 2 T of cornmeal with ground golden flax seed. I think I would also cut back on the water next time. But overall, this seems to be a good base recipe that could be modify with added flavors at some point.

1 c cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1 T canola oil
3/4 c water

Mix ingredients together. Spoon onto a thoroughly greased cookie sheet and spread out with the back of a spoon. Bake at 400 F for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool on baking rack.

Makes about 2 dozen

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Pretty Peas?

This afternoon, the Renaissance Man and I decided to head out on some errands, so we stopped first at the garden and paid a visit to the Southern Belle, the Absent-Minded Professor, and My Adorable Nephews.

As much as it amazes me to see how quickly my little guys are growing these days, it amazes them even more to see how quickly the garden grows under their care. The zucchini is growing much bigger and starting to sprawl, while beans and peas jump up and the lettuce and other greens form lush little hedges.

The potatoes, already growing far above their mounds (a design problem I intend to correct
next year), have begun to blossom -- how exciting! While I doubt we'll get a very big crop of spuds this year, it's encouraging to see how well they seem to be doing despite my lack of skill in growing them.

The other delight in this week's garden visit was that the first planting of sugar snap peas has
moved beyond the blossom stage and has developed plenty of crisp pods for picking. Though I've never been a fan of peas, I plucked one pod, zipped it open, and sampled a single pea that ended up so sweet and delectable I had to pass the pod around to the others. Young Beaker interrupted his backyard baseball practice to run up and try some, and he liked the peas so much I handed him another pod for snacking.

I had hoped for a brief visit, but given the temptation to pull weeds, the amount of produce that needed to be harvested, and the company, we ended up lingering for an hour or so in the bright sunshine.

I ended up carrying home a large tote full of big bags of lettuce, spinach, golden chard, pac choi, and radishes; smaller bags with dill, cilantro, snap peas, amaranth, and a few nettles; a bundle of fresh lavender blossoms; and a few garlic curls snapped off the top of the plants. In short, it was nearly a full farmers'-market-visit bag full of fresh food, and there was still plenty left in the garden for my friends!

For dinner, then, I pulled together peas, radishes, garlic scapes, and dill to make a fresh-tasting spring vegetable braise to share with the Renaissance Man.

He prepared the brown rice in his cooker, then headed to the sofa for a well-deserved rest while I blanched the radishes, sautéed the garlic and herbs, and braised everything together for a satisfying meal. What a deal!

There'll be no going hungry this week, that's for sure!

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Jonesin' for Good Food

This morning marked the return of the farmers' market downtown. And I wasn't there.

You're shocked, I know. So am I. But the Renaissance Man and I had signed up for a permaculture workshop at the George Jones Memorial Farm in Oberlin, and we had to leave before the start of the market in order to get to the farm on time.

We took some time to wander around the greenhouses and gardens and fields before the start of the class, noting how things were being grown and where at this time of the year. I was happy to notice some companion planting being used in the fields, as shown here, as well as in some of the greenhouse beds.

Our class was held in this strawbale building that houses the New Agrarian Center, and NAC director Brad Masi was our instructor for the morning's introduction to the principles of permaculture. I've been trying to dig into a very comprehensive book on permaculture for some time now, knowing that it would provide useful ideas for approaching my garden plans or ideas for the Farm, but I just haven't been able to make much progress.

What Brad taught us is that permaculture is a design system that involves using what you have available (such as the cardboard used in sheet mulching a keyhole garden at his house), following natural systems, incorporating adaptive uses and multiple purposes, and encouraging resilience. (There's more to it than that, but I don't have my notes handy.) Above all, it's a system or an approach that applies to more than just agriculture: it applies to the structures we build, both on the personal and the community level, and the principles can apply to all aspects of our living.

In short, permaculture can provide a way of thinking about how environmental ideals of conservation and recycling and appropriate technology can dovetail with economic goals, community involvement, and personal living. And as cool as that sounds, I'm sure I'm only barely scratching the surface.

It was an enlightening and fun day -- even with the work Brad eked from us in starting this little garden at his house as a way of applying permaculture principles -- and it gave us plenty to discuss for the rest of the weekend.

Another workshop at the farm involved a group of people working on building a cob oven, something I'd like to try sometime. We merely watched their progress throughout the day, but we came away with ideas.

I'm sure I'll write up more for the Ethicurean one of these days, but I thought it would be worth explaining to you, Dear Readers, why I skipped out on the farmers' market.

Good local food is good no matter where you grow it!

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