Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? 2009 Week 19

You know how you can tell it's the end of the CSA season? Three things:

--There's a frost advisory for the area.
--The Lady Bountiful is bundled up in warm clothes and has brighter roses on her cheeks than usual.
--The tables are loaded with the biggest, most colorful selection of produce we've seen all season.

With the threat of frost, the Lady had apparently kicked into high gear and picked much more than usual in order to avoid losing much still on the plants. This enormous selection of peppers proves it!

And while those of us there to collect our shares wandered around the tables, the Lady's children headed off into the fields to cover rows of delicate crops with lengths of thick plastic, hoping to ward off the cold for a little while longer.

That all means it's time to stock up on good food!

This week's share included:

--one watermelon (mine)
--two butternut squash (split)
--two sweet onions (split)
--two garlic bulbs (mine)
--one pint French Fingerling potatoes (mine)
--two small eggplant (for my folks)
--one and a half pounds green beans (mine)
--one bunch pac choi (mine)
--one pint tomatillos (mine)
--one bunch cilantro (mine)
--one bunch Swiss chard (mine)
--one bunch arugula (we left this on the table as none of us much care for it)
--one bunch beets (mine, for cold storage)
--one bunch leeks (ditto)
--two pounds Roma tomatoes (mine)
--two pounds peppers (I only took one pound)
--you-pick basil and parsley
--and my usual half-dozen eggs

Yes, I took nearly everything since My Wonderful Parents are about to head off on a trip. And not only did I score the bulk of the week's share, I had also ordered (in advance) another four butternut squash, two acorn squash, two spaghetti squash, and 20 bulbs of garlic! The squash I'll share with the Renaissance Man, and the garlic I gave to the Chef Mother for drying and grinding into garlic powder for me.

Only one more week of this year's CSA is left, and I already know (inside information, you know) that it will include cabbage, more squash and onions and garlic, loads of greens, and possibly even pears. That will indeed be a treat!

I've heard a rumor about season extension, so we'll see what happens with that. But even so, the harvest is winding down.

So we'll enjoy it while we can!

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Getting Picky

I've been meaning for months to get back out to help the Lady Bountiful on her farm, but my own projects and activities have kept me so busy that I couldn't find the time.

Finally, I decided just to plan a vacation day from work in order to head north and pitch in at one of my favorite farms.

After a stormy night, the clouds parted on my drive up to the farm, casting a golden light over the dampened fields along my drive. Good thing I had my mud boots for when I got to the farm!

When I arrived, the Lady greeted me with a warm smile and immediately led the way out to the high tunnel, where we started our work by shoving the plastic up the sides of the tunnel in preparation for tonight's high wind advisory. (She really didn't want to lose that!)

We followed that up with the washing of several flats of butternut squash for this week's CSA pickups. (I'm sure I washed at least 40, so here's another check in the Forty Seeds Project column!)

Then we headed up the road to the new field and harvested lima beans (most still aren't quite ready), summer squash and zucchini, the last tomatoes on a row that has just now succumbed to the late blight, and cilantro.

We checked on other crops in the field to see how much might be available for these last two weeks of CSA. While the turnips, beets, chard, kale, and arugula are prolific in their growth, the purple variety of cauliflower had only produced a few small heads, so the Lady insisted I take a couple of heads home with me.

After a simple but satisfying lunch, rounded out by the grape pie I had brought from the Amish bakery, we headed back out to face an ever-rising and colder wind, this time to check on the cabbage crop (a good mix of green and red for the end of the CSA season!), the apples (scarce but deliciously spicy-sweet), and the pears (abundant but strangely lacking in flavor).

By that time, the Lady's children had started to return home from school, so I headed home myself (with a few stops along the way to pick up necessary items before returning the vehicle to My Wonderful -- and ever so Patient -- Parents). I took home a bag loaded -- but not loaded enough, said the Lady! -- with summer squash, peppers, purple cauliflower, chickweed (yes, I harvested some of that), apples, and basil.

I'd certainly have liked to stay longer -- or return again tomorrow -- to keep helping, but I'll have to settle for this much this time around (as will she!).

And I'll be feeling especially picky -- in the nicest sense possible! -- about this week's CSA produce!

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Market Report: 9/26/09

We've shifted into fall officially now, with the days growing shorter, cooler, and a little greyer. It's the sort of weather that makes you want to sleep in, bundle up, and fill your home with the scents of cinnamon and apples and pumpkins and the like.

It's heaven, in fact, even if you can't quite make it out through the drizzle and the dwindling crowd at the farmers' market.

People are simultaneously hurrying up and slowing down, strolling through the market but frantically considering how to fill the larder before winter comes.

At least I am. We've one month left in the market season (the outdoor market season, I should add with delight), and while fewer vendors show up each week, there's still plenty to make me want to grab handfuls of potatoes and apples and squash, like a squirrel clutching an acorn to its chest with that unmistakably blank but panicked look.

I mean, what other explanation could there be for this?

--cucumbers, radishes, and a pie pumpkin from the Cheerful Lady
--potatoes from the Spelt Baker
--half a peck of Concord grapes (and a black raspberry fry pie) from the orchard
--zucchini from the Lady Bountiful
--Wolf River and Sweet Sixteen apples from the Orchardist
--broccoli and "sweet taters" from the Young Farmers
--two small striped eggplant from the Master Gardener

Some of that will be for eating this week, sure, but I'll also put up grape juice, add potatoes and sweets to my cold storage, and possibly dry some apples for winter snacks.

The Renaissance Man joined me for the stroll, but he played the carefree Grasshopper to my food-storing Ant: he bought more of the Sweet Sixteen apples for his own pleasure this week, a pint of honey, a peach fry pie, rhubarb coffeecake, and pecan sticky buns. (I hope he shares those with me!)

I even persuaded My Dear Papa to stop at the Orchard after I helped the Chef Mother set up computer files -- and I picked up more apples (Honeycrisp), a gallon of cider, and a small jar of apple butter.

And will all that be enough for me, to keep me well into winter?

Stop back next week to find out, if you don't already know the answer...

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Independence Days #20

And the merry-go-round goes on... another busy week!

I had scheduled a bit of fall planting into the week's schedule, but by the time that evening came around, I was too beat to do anything!

At least last weekend I managed to accomplish a few things...

1. Plant something: Nothing.

2. Harvest something: Black Cherry and big yellow tomatoes, pac choi, basil, calendula, and plantain at the Renaissance Man's garden.

3. Preserve something: Dried squash chips, parsley, plantain, celery; canned applesauce (2 pts), salsa (4 pts); made two small jars of parsley salt; started plantain oil; breaded and froze eggplant slices; roasted and froze red peppers.

4. Reduce waste (Waste not): Made stock from some leftover vegetable scraps from the freezer; cleaned out some older produce from the refrigerator and cooked with it (leek, zucchini, hot peppers).

5. Preparation and storage (Want not): Bought more honey and maple syrup for winter baking; cleaned and stored seeds for pac choi, calendula; winnowed and stored remaining buckwheat; accepted more clean, empty jars from My Wonderful Parents for added dried produce storage; stocked up on more tea for winter; rearranged shelves of home-canned goods so that the remaining jars from last year are on the top shelf, ready to use first.

6. Build local food systems: Talked with a farmer at the market about the Local Roots holiday market; ordered heritage turkey (Narragansett and Blue Slate cross) for my parents for Thanksgiving; tucked a few frozen fruits and vegetables into the Renaissance Man's freezer and shared some of my squash with him; met with Local Roots marketing volunteers and got a couple of willing workers started on writing assignments; made headway in planning the Local Roots film series; continued work on the newsletter.

7. Eat the food: Zucchini bread; granola with last year's dried apples; stew with potatoes, turnips, carrots, dried cabbage, dill, and sage; a small pan of eggplant parmigiana since not all of the slices fit into the freezer container (used spaghetti sauce from My Wonderful Parents); Bangkok noodles with fresh pac choi from the garden.

And as a bonus, I received word yesterday that an article about the planning progress of Local Roots that I had submitted to Farming Magazine was accepted. I'm very excited!

Next week looks utterly swamped as well, but I hope to get a few things done this weekend.

We'll see...

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? 2009 Week 18

Yes, this week's CSA adventure was a day late. Neither My Wonderful Parents nor I were able to head up to the farm on our usual pickup day this week, so the Lady Bountiful graciously allowed us to come today, her other CSA day, to pick up our goodies.

Even with the cooler weather settling in, the bounty that awaited us still had the capacity to dazzle:

--one Table Ace acorn squash (the green one; mine)
--one Taybelle acorn squash (the cream one; for my folks)
--two sweet onions (split)
--two bulbs garlic (mine)
--two pounds zucchini and summer squash (split)
--one pound green beans (for my folks)
--one bunch turnips (mostly for my folks)
--one bunch cilantro (mine)
--one stalk of fresh dill (mine)
--one bunch of arugula (which I "traded" for a bunch of chard I picked)
--one bunch of carrots (for my folks)
--a "bouquet" of edamame soybeans (mine! mine! mine!)
--two pounds tomatoes (Big Beef for my folks, Romas for me)
--one pint cherry tomatoes (mine)
--two pounds peppers (split; I got two bells, two cayennes, and one Hungarian wax)
--plus my half dozen eggs; or, rather, five eggs and a shiny quarter as I drew the "lucky" carton this week (her hens regularly produce one egg shy of what she needs to fill shares)

Once again, I missed the note at the bottom of the list saying "help yourself to cut fresh basil or parsley" -- but as I still have plenty of fresh basil in the garden, it's just as well.

I had been tempted to ask My Dear Papa to stop at a roadside market on the way home as I had seen a sign for Concord grapes (and I have yet to make juice this year), but with all of this food to deal with in the coming days, I decided I'd better not.

Because while the crops are winding down, there's still a LOT of good food to come!

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Squash and Dry

As much as I love zucchini and as much as I look forward to fall's butternut and acorn squashes, there's one kind of squash I just haven't appreciated a whole lot: yellow summer squash.

I'm not sure why. It doesn't taste all that different from zucchini, but it's enough to make it less appealing for me, so I don't go out of my way to buy it.

I'm not alone. The Lady Bountiful has lamented a few times this summer that when she sets out summer squash and yellow and green zucchini for CSA pickup and then allows people to pick what they want, inevitably the summer squash gets passed over in favor of its brethren.

But I've finally figured out a way even I can find this under-appreciated vegetable irresistible.

Last week I finally tried making zucchini chips in the dehydrator: medium-thick slices tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then spread across the dehydrator trays and dried for well over 12 hours to make a thin, crisp, tasty vegetable chip. I enjoyed them so much that I decided the recipe was worth trying on summer squash, so I picked a few from this week's CSA basket and bought more at the farmers' market yesterday.

These chips are ridiculously easy to throw together, and you can modify the seasonings to suit your taste. I added paprika to this batch, but another time I might try curry powder or chili powder. I lined the trays with parchment paper so that I didn't have to wash the mesh liners, arranged the slices, and set the dehydrator at 125 F yesterday afternoon, allowing the slices to dry overnight.

By mid-morning, I was ready to turn the machine off and test the chips. Perfection! So I slid them all into a clean glass jar, nibbling a few along the way, and screwed on the lid before setting them aside for snacks this week.

It's so easy and so satisfying, you'll want to make these over and over again.

At least I know I will!

Squash Chips

These work well with any kind of summer squash. I've been told that kale or other greens treated in the same way are also delicious, and I imagine that sliced cucumbers, sliced and blanched carrots, and other vegetables would make equally tasty chips. Experiment!

summer squash, sliced
other spices or herbs if desired
extra virgin olive oil

The recipe is so flexible, you can make any quantity you like. Toss the squash in a bowl with salt and pepper to taste, with any extra herbs or seasonings added for good measure. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and toss until all slices are coated.

Arrange slices on dehydrator trays, placing slices close together. Dry for 12-18 hours at 125 F, until chips are crisp. Store in airtight glass container.

Makes not nearly enough once you get hooked!

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

When You Wish Upon a Jar

As I've looked over my preservation worksheets lately, I've noticed that I'm definitely coming to the end of my active food preservation projects for the year.

Sure, I'll still buy squash and potatoes and sweet potatoes and onions and garlic and such for cold storage for the winter, and I'll probably try to keep cramming food into the freezer (and into the Renaissance Man's freezer, since he's so obliging).

But I'm almost done with canning. (Can I get an Amen? I thought I could!)

The big push for canning always comes right at the beginning of the school year, when the tomatoes overwhelm me with their ripe bounty, but I'm learning to parcel out the work as best I can.

Everything else seems to take a back seat to those darn tomatoes, as you can see from the colorful mess in my kitchen. So many other things will wait patiently to be cooked or processed, but not tomatoes.

So I sent the RM off with a cheerful wave this weekend, grateful for his trip to the Farm so that I could focus my energies on cleaning up the kitchen and getting a few things out of the way.

Upon my return from the farmers' market this morning, I cut up last week's Fall Russet apples and set them on to simmer down into applesauce. While those cooked down slowly, I chopped tomatoes and all the other vegetables for a pot of salsa.

Once I had filled two pint jars with applesauce and washed up the pan and utensils, I started simmering the salsa (with some tomatillos thrown in for a little zing). And once that was ready, I filled four jars with the savory mix and set both the applesauce and the salsa into the canner for their processing in the boiling water bath.

Strangely, though I like salsa, I don't seem to eat too much of the homemade variety, so four jars should set me up just right for the coming year.

That, Dear Readers, is what I hope will be the end of the tomato canning this year (though I expect I'll continue to dry cherry tomatoes).

Still to come on the canning front: grape juice and tomatillo mincemeat, if I find the need for either. Oh, and some sliced or chunked pears, too, once the Madcap Farmer fills my order.

And if that doesn't leave me jarry-eyed, nothing will!

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Market Report: 9/19/09

Mornings seem a little more nippy around here these days, making me reach for a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and a jacket before I head out the door.

I don't mind, though. I like feeling that cool edge in the air, that reminder that fall is on the way. I like layering up to face the elements, and I like wrapping my hands around a cup of something warm to start my day.

What I especially like, though, is all of that on a farmers' market morning, when I give myself the time to stroll downtown, visit with some of my favorite people, pop into the Hungarian pastry shop for a little something to warm me up, and then start filling my bags with all sorts of excellent produce.

And I certainly loaded up today:

--a pie pumpkin and a bag of spinach from the Fiddlin' Farmer's Wife
--onions, Yukon Gold potatoes, three small butternut squash and a butternut-looking acorn squash from the Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe
--celery from the Sheep Lady
--parsley, Purple Haze carrots (far out!), and Jimmy Nardello peppers from the Spelt Farmer
--two pints of honey from the Bee Man
--Roma tomatoes, summer squash, and a spaghetti squash from the Lady Bountiful's mother
--two pints of dark maple syrup from the Maple Folks
--two small eggplant from the Three-Garden Farmer
--three red peppers from the Newbies
--yams from a kind older lady
--two bars of goat milk soap from the Goat Herder

By the time I had made my rounds, I had one hefty load to take back up the hill, but I amused people as I passed, sporting my "farmers' market camoflauge" of a broad spray of celery leaves sticking out the top of my backpack and hiding my head. (Yes, I'm always good for a laugh.)

When I made it home, I settled down for a cup of tea before getting to work in the kitchen. (I have a LOT of work ahead of me.)

Who could ask for a better way to start the day?

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Independence Days #19

Well, so much for building on the Labor Day weekend momentum. I spent very little time in the kitchen this week, what with a trip to the Farm and a handful of meetings.

Ah well. Here's the report:

1. Plant something: Nope. Nothing yet...

2. Harvest something: Sweet potatoes and beans for the Farm Parents; foraged crabapples, hickory nuts, burdock, raspberry leaf, red clover at the Farm; picked radishes, Black Cherry and big yellow tomatoes at the Renaissance Man's garden.

3. Preserve something: Dried raspberry leaves, red clover, basil, cherry tomatoes, zucchini chips; started burdock tincture; froze raspberries.

4. Reduce waste (Waste not): Salvaged raspberries from a friend's surplus; otherwise, I'm afraid I pulled a lot of things out of the fridge for the compost.

5. Preparation and storage (Want not): Bought more olive oil for herbal preparations.

6. Build local food systems: Helped set up the Local Roots table at the county fair; with the fabulous Jen, talked to a college class about the business and marketing of local food; met with another college student who wants to help Local Roots develop a marketing plan; gratefully accepted three quarts of too-ripe raspberries from a fellow steering committee member.

7. Eat the food: Corn on the cob; potato and chard pancake; pasta with fresh tomatoes; all of the zucchini chips; local noodles and pie at the county fair (hey, it was better than fried food); Bangkok noodles.

This weekend I have plans to get more done, so we'll see what really happens...

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Under the Burdock

As I've learned more about foraging, I've come to appreciate the potential for harvesting food from the wild almost all year round.

I've mostly appreciated the spring foraging the most, with the fresh chickweed and nettle and lambs' quarters greens reviving my palate after a winter of preserved foods, but last year I started exploring fall foraging.

This year, thanks to the bounty at the Farm, I'm taking it a step further -- with a shovel.

I mentioned earlier that there's a weedy patch on the Farm where the old garden used to be, south of the Old House. A couple of decades ago, that garden space was filled with maple and oak seedlings that then grew tall and spindly.

In last year's cleaning up -- and earlier this year as well -- many of those trees were cut down since they had grown too close together. After that, well, Nature took over and filled in the gaps with first succession plants we usually think of as weeds.

Enter my friend burdock. Sure, burdock gets a bad rep for its second-year development of round burrs that latch onto your clothing (or your dog's fur) and won't let go. (Fun fact: the hooks that make burdock so persistently clingy inspired the development of Velcro. So why not think of the burrs as free Velcro?)

In its first year of growth, though, burdock stores a great deal of vitamins and minerals in its sturdy taproot: iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamins A and C. According to Herbal Rituals, a lovely little herbal book, burdock's properties increase immune system health and energy as well as provide balance of one's sugar levels.

Let's just say it has hidden depths, in more ways than one. Digging up burdock is an arduous task that requires concentration, strength, and persistence thanks to the firm grasp the root has on its little patch of dirt. For each root I unearthed, I had to dig down slowly, wiggling around the root before popping up only a small portion of it.

I brought home a bag full of slender roots, and instead of tending to them right away as I ought to have done, I had to wait until this evening to wash off the caked mud and get busy.

Since most of the roots were pencil-thin, I had to lay them on the cutting mat to run a vegetable peeler over them. Then I discovered that they quickly turned gray when exposed to the air, so I started throwing the peeled roots into a bowl of water before chopping them.

Once peeled, I cut them into chunks and tossed them into a small jar, covering them with vodka for a tincture. I had hoped to be able to dry some of the roots, but I hadn't dug enough for anything else.

I'll be eager to try this once it's done. Just one nibble of the root gave me a taste of something clean and refreshingly earthy, so I think it will have the positive effects I read about.

And then we'll be havin' some fun!

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? 2009 Week 17

Things picked up in a big way again this week.

First, after a relaxing weekend at the Farm, the Renaissance Man and I returned Sunday and headed straight to the fairgrounds for the county fair. We returned there Monday night for more wandering, so by Tuesday I needed a breather.

Tonight, not only did we have our usual Local Roots steering committee meeting, but the Marketing Nerds had a meeting before the meeting with a college student who has offered to develop a marketing plan for us and help keep us on track.

That meant that my after-work schedule was going to be tight, so I called My Wonderful Parents and asked them to head up for our CSA pickup without me this week.

They willingly agreed, and by the time I got home, they were waiting for me with this week's share:

--one bunch beets (for them)
--one bunch leeks (for them)
--two sweet onions (for them)
--two bulbs garlic (for me)
--two pounds summer squash (split)
--one bag green beans (for me)
--one pint tomatillos (mostly for me)
--one bunch cilantro (always for me)
--one bunch arugula (for them)
--one bunch turnips (split)
--two pounds tomatoes (split)
--one pint cherry tomatoes (for them)
--two pounds peppers, sweet or hot (split)
--and my half-dozen eggs

Yes, I definitely thought they should get the lion's share this week for their willingness to deliver produce to me!

I'm thinking I'll need to pick up extra tomatoes at the market this weekend since all the tomatillos, hot peppers, and cilantro I have laying around are just begging me to make salsa. I'd better do something!

I'm not going to get a rest yet...

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

It's a Farm Life!

I know I've expressed this sentiment before, but I really love going to the Farm.

The company is, of course, the primary reason, but I also appreciate the remote location and the sudden hush that seems to fall over the world once we get there.

Not that everything is silent: around the lake we might hear the muted honking of Canadian geese, the peeping and gulping of assorted frogs, or the plaintive cry of the killdeer nesting at the water's edge.

On top of that, the insect chorus offers a rhythmic, restful background for the gentle swish of leaves ruffled by a sudden breeze or for the lengthy sigh of the tree limbs and trunks as they dance in the wind.

It's a slice of heaven, and I always feel so much more relaxed there.

And then there's the food.

I'm not talking about the food from the kitchen -- though I've been known to whip up some decent meals there or enjoyed good dishes at the hands of others. I'm talking about the wild food I'm learning to find throughout the year as the Renaissance Man and I go on walkabout.

This weekend I took most of my foraging hikes alone, but I had a good hint from the RM as to where to start. He had discovered that the west fence row had a handful of trees he thought might be hickories, and he suggested I check for nuts.

Being a little nuts myself, I thought this was an excellent idea, and with tote bag slung over my shoulder, sturdy boots on my feet, and work gloves and walking stick at the ready, I headed out into the west field for a ramble.

Sure enough, after crawling under the electric fence, dusting myself off, and heading up the shaded valley of the fence row, I found hickory trees interspersed with the wild cherry trees. And while I spotted the many green orbs dangling from the branches, I found plenty of brown and cracked spheres on the ground, several with the pale tan nut shell peeking out.

I took my sweet time working my way up half the fence row, gathering hickory nuts wherever I could reach them, until my bag was half full and my back was well worn out.

With a good night's rest, I was able to head back out today with work gloves and shovel to do some work in the garden (or what's left of it). I had already pulled the remaining tomato plant as the late blight had struck the Farm and left this poor specimen suffering.

This morning, then, I dug up the sweet potato patch as per the Sister-in-Law's request, working from one edge of the bed to the other to catch whatever I could.

This pile shows only the first part of the harvest: I'm not sure of the total count, but I ended up finding about 10 large sweet potatoes and about a dozen much smaller ones (perhaps about 10 pounds total?). I cured them in the sun for a few hours before laying them on trays and taking them into the house for the Farm Mother to enjoy.

And since I had gotten into a rhythm with the shovel, I decided to head out to the old (read: overgrown) garden to harvest burdock root. Yes, I know burdock (find the big ruffly leaves in this photo) is mostly considered a cuss-inducing weed that spreads everywhere and produces persistent burrs that attach to you and won't let go, but it also has nutritional and medicinal value. So I dug up a bunch of first-year (pre-burr) roots to take home and use in tincture and in cooking.

While in this weedy patch, I also discovered several wild raspberry canes, so I harvested leaves for tea. And from there, I ventured out into the meadow to gather red clover blossoms (saving plenty for the honeybees I met along the way).

I'm sure there's more I could have done or found, but for a shortened weekend, it felt like a very rich bounty, indeed.

And the RM? He had fun, too. He mowed for hours, getting in touch with his inner (well, more like his outer) power-tool-loving self.

It's a hard life!

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Market Report: 9/12/09

I didn't really think I'd be here today.

It's not that I ever deliberately plan to skip the farmers' market -- heavens, no! But sometimes other plans take precedence, and a weekend trip to the Farm is one of those.

The Renaissance Man and I had planned to head out last night, but then again, other plans intervened: he needed to help set up the booth for the Wayne County Sustainable Energy Network at the county fair, so we delayed our departure until this morning.

And, as it turned out, he had to take more things to the fairgrounds, and that gave us the extra time this morning to swing through the farmers' market.

We're still seeing a colorful variety of produce from some farmers, though the crowd is beginning to dwindle. Most of my favorites were there, though, so I had a pleasant social visit with several of them while I did a very light round of shopping.

You'll be shocked, I know, to learn that I spent less than $10 at the market this week. Granted, my refrigerator is still full of good CSA produce, so I didn't need much more, but I ended up getting:

--a bag of Fall Russet apples from the Orchardist (to make more applesauce)
--a watermelon and two small zucchini, all for the Farm, from the Lady Bountiful
--sweet potatoes from the Young Farmers
--Jerusalem artichokes from the Herb Lady

The RM also bought broccoli and cauliflower from the Amish Farmers to get a head start on the grocery list the Farm Mother had given him. Good thing we stopped!

I spotted a few things I'll look for again next week when I have more time for preserving (grapes for juice, Roma tomatoes for more sauce).

But for this week, a little is better than none.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Independence Days #18

It's amazing what a long holiday weekend can do!

I headed into the Labor Day weekend feeling utterly worn out and wanting nothing more than to ignore my lengthy to-do list in favor of sleep.

I didn't, of course, and instead I managed to get back up to speed with my Independence Days activities:

1. Plant something: Again, nothing. (But I'm getting closer to doing something...)

2. Harvest something: Carrots, Chioggia beets, scallions, golden chard, pac choi, nettles, basil, nasturtium leaves and blossoms, one small zucchini, tomatoes at the Southern Belle's garden; more Black Cherry tomatoes at the Renaissance Man's garden.

3. Preserve something: Froze two bags of edamame, one of green beans; canned 14 pints tomatoes, 3 1/2 pints tomato sauce, 2 pints and 5 half-pints of watermelon pickles, 2 pints of applesauce; dried cherry tomatoes, celery, onion, nettles, pac choi, more cantaloupe candy; strained and bottled herbal tinctures (rosemary, thyme).

4. Reduce waste (Waste not): Used watermelon rinds to make pickles; finished up a few jars of preserves in the fridge to reuse the jars this season; more mending to keep some old clothes in use.

5. Preparation and storage (Want not): Started cleaning more buckwheat; combined my honey supplies in one place in the cabinet (8 pints to use this winter!); harvested seed for dill, pac choi;
stocked up on tea and fair trade coffee so I reduce my break-time spending at work; milled and sifted first of my own buckwheat for crepes.

6. Build local food systems: Talked with Local Roots volunteers at the farmers' market; shared jar of watermelon pickles with my kind neighbor; pulled together notes and handouts for an upcoming presentation on the business plan and marketing of Local Roots (for a college class); started on October newsletter; hosted marketing meeting at my place.

7. Eat the food: Leftover baingan bhartha; sautéed chard with garlic, walnuts, dried cherries; good ol' broccoli-walnut pasta; vegetable quiche; roasted beets; cucumbers, carrots, apples, ground cherries, cantaloupe candy to round out lunches; a fabulous marketing meeting feast (with local beer).

That's more like it!

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hangin' With the Locals

One thing you can definitely say about those of us on the Local Roots steering committee: we sure do love us some local food.

Yes, I know, that was the whole point of getting this whole venture rolling. And yes, like any crazy busy people, you can -- only on occasion! -- find us around town sneaking a bit of fast food of some sort. (Did I tell you about the time the president bumped into me at the grocery store as my hand reached for the corporate-packaged veggie burgers? Anyway...)

But when we come together to eat, potluck-style, then watch out, because we're gonna dazzle you -- and each other -- with our passion for the seasonal local bounty.

The Marketing Nerds (the Farmgirl Wannabe, the fabulous Jen, and me, with the Renaissance Man providing backup and entertainment) got together to talk business tonight, and as always, we made our meeting a potluck.

These potlucks tend to have two unspoken rules: First, food should provide as much local goodness, preferably from our own gardens, as possible. Second, it should be more than adequately accompanied by wine or beer, also local if possible.

You'd think that could be a recipe for getting no work done whatsoever, but no. For us, it's just the opposite: it's the fuel that generates some seriously brilliant ideas (as well as much merriment).

So this evening's meeting was no exception.

We started with bowls of Jen's gingery squash soup, made with squash from her in-laws' garden (and, I suspect, a touch of chile pepper; it had a wonderful bite to it). Along with that, we gobbled up some of the Farmgirl Wannabe's homemade bread and washed it down with round one of the Great Lake Brewing Company's Oktoberfest beer. (Great Lakes, I love you and your seasonal beers. Mwah!)

After that, the Farmgirl Wannabe dished up some risotto that made excellent use of her large delicata-type squash and onions, with a hint of nutmeg to make the flavor even richer. I made buckwheat crepes (with some of the fresh flour milled from the buckwheat I grew at the FW's homestead, local spelt flour, local eggs, and local milk) and filled them with a marinated and sauteed mix of Italian-style vegetables (eggplant, beans, garlic from CSA; zucchini, tomatoes, basil from my gardens) topped with locally-made fresh mozzarella.

That just about filled us up, though others started on round two of the beer (another Oktoberfest, different label). We got down to business and worked through our agenda (in a roundabout way, but it worked) to organize volunteers and next steps.

Finally, I pulled out dessert: brownies! I mean, who doesn't love brownies? And when those heavenly brownies (based on My Fabulous Aunt's recipe) contain local spelt flour, local honey, local eggs, local hazelnuts, and a local cream cheese-based frosting -- seriously, do you think anyone is going to turn them down?

We rounded out the meeting with some good brainstorming about upcoming events, so between all the good food, good beer, and good ideas, I'd say it was a very successful and productive meeting.

And you've gotta love that...

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? 2009 Week 16

Wait a minute... weren't we just here? Wasn't it just a couple days ago when we headed out to our CSA pickup the last time?

It sure feels that way, but maybe that's because my fridge has been perpetually full since then, and I've been busy eating and preserving all that food -- and still have some left over.

Still, as we head into the last quarter of the season (sniff!), I'm not turning down more good produce:

--half a dozen ears of corn (mine)
--one spaghetti squash (mine)
--one pint sweet onions (split)
--one bulb garlic (mine)
--one quart Red Pontiac potatoes (split)
--two pounds zucchini (split)
--one large kohlrabi (mine)
--one basket okra (for My Dear Papa, who hasn't had much this year)
--one pound green beans (mine)
--one bunch cilantro (mine)
--one bunch carrots (split)
--one pint tomatillos (split)

--four pounds tomatoes, selected from the big beef or heirloom varieties -- we split this as usual, and this time I decided to try an orange variety and a green striped one as well as the usual big beefs
--one pint cherry tomatoes (mine)

--two pounds peppers -- also split, with a handful of bell peppers and the occasional poblano, Hungarian wax, or chile pepper thrown in, too
--and my usual half dozen eggs

Yes, once again, I got the lion's share of the produce. But at least this time I think I'll be able to share some of it at the Farm this coming weekend as well as with the Renaissance Man over the week. Perhaps I'll even prep some to toss into his freezer (if he's good).

Good times, friends... good times!

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Candy Woman

I love a wide variety of fruits. But strangely, I don't seem to eat much of them or go through them very quickly when I have them at home.

For example, thanks to the Lady Bountiful, I ended up with two perfectly ripe (I mean dead ripe) cantaloupes in my refrigerator. And as much as I enjoy eating cantaloupe, there's no way I could get through all of that without it rotting.

But in my preservation reading earlier this year, I discovered a tempting recipe in Food Drying With an Attitude that called for tossing cantaloupe cubes with powdered sugar and ground ginger before dehydrating, resulting in a sweet, concentrated melon-flavored snack.

Okay, I thought, I'm game. I want to try that.

So late last week, I cut up one melon and followed the instructions (adding my eternal favorite, cardamom, to the mix), giving the cubes two nights in the dehydrator to get them to the appropriately leathery stage.

With my first bite, I knew I'd found a good use for BOTH melons -- this stuff is good!

I decided to take a small jar of the "candy" to the Lady Bountiful at the farmers' market on Saturday, and after she enjoyed a sample bite, Middle Son took one as well. His reaction was priceless: his sleepy, bored eyes brightened right up, a mischievous grin spread across his face, and he snatched the jar from his mother, nibbling more of the cubes.

That decided it. I definitely needed to make more!

Tonight I pulled out the other melon -- so fragrant and sweet and juicy -- and gave it the same treatment.

And I'm going to try really hard to keep some on hand for winter...

Cantaloupe Candy

Only a slight variation from the original recipe found in Food Drying With an Attitude. (By special request from Dear Reader Laura -- and the Lady Bountiful!)

1/2 c powdered sugar (I used organic cane sugar, run through the coffee mill until powdered)
1 tsp (or more, according to taste) ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 ripe cantaloupe, peeled, seeded, and cut into no larger than 1/2" cubes

Mix sugar and spices. Toss melon in the sugar mixture. Spread cubes on parchment-covered dehydrator trays and dry at 135 F for 24 hours or until leathery. (You could do these in the oven, too, but I don't know how long it would take. Stir often!) Store in airtight glass jar.

Makes 1 to 1 1/2 pints candy

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Honey, I'm Beet (But Quiche Me Anyway)

Well! The holiday weekend is almost over (sigh...), and I'm pleased to say that I managed to get through almost everything on my to-do list.

Hey, I even slept in this morning -- and enjoyed it.

So here's a peek at what I got done:

--14 pints of crushed tomatoes (Friday night)
--3 1/2 pints of tomato sauce (Saturday afternoon)
--2 pints and 5 half-pints of watermelon pickles (Sunday night)
--2 pints of applesauce (today)

Granted, I was disappointed by the meager results for the tomato sauce and the applesauce, but I think I managed to achieve quality, if not quantity. The applesauce is so thick I could almost stand a spoon up in it!

After all that -- and more, too -- I rested a bit in the afternoon and then caught a second wind to make dinner to share with the Renaissance Man after all his biking adventures over the three-day weekend.

I wanted to make a quiche using up some green and yellow zucchini, a sturdy carrot, and some of my rich golden CSA eggs. For a side dish, I decided to mix up all the beets in the refrigerator -- regular, Chioggia, and golden -- and toss them with a lemon-olive oil dressing before roasting them along with the baking quiche.

We both agreed that simple was what we both needed after an exhausting weekend, and though a fresh green salad would have rounded out the colors on the plate, we were pretty happy with this much.

But seriously -- I am beat!

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Garden Consent

The big garden -- over at the home of the Southern Belle and the Absent-Minded Professor -- has suffered from benign neglect for at least a month, due to mutual agreement.

Several factors contributed to this laissez-faire attitude: increased work for the Absent-Minded Professor, increased activity with Local Roots and food preservation for me, and the arrival of Adorable Nephew #3 in mid-August, thus keeping the Southern Belle more than busy. And as much as I've tried to teach Beaker and Scooter about how to take care of the garden, they're still too young to give it much attention.

So when I finally managed to return for a substantial visit today, I found -- not unexpectedly -- a tangle of vines and weeds waiting for me.

The zucchini, struggling with powdery mildew a few weeks ago, had nearly succumbed and needed some serious pulling. The volunteer tomatoes in the upper bed needed thinning, too, though I don't expect much production from them anyway.

The beans I had planted in hopes of a fall crop suffered from the limitless appetites of the local rabbit and/or groundhog population. (None of my beans did well there this year.)

And in the lower bed, the weeds and the volunteer amaranth managed to blanket the plot with their woven, stubborn stalks.

Clearly, a firm hand was needed. And all too clearly, that hand would have to be mine as it was the only one free.

After a walk around each bed, meditating on what was still growing and what needed to be harvested or pulled, I got down to work. The boys toted large armfuls of weeds and pulled plants to the compost pile for me before dashing off to their playset again, and then I began working my way into the crops.

By the time I had finished, I had gathered a large bunch of carrots, a couple of Chioggia beets, half a dozen scallions, a gallon bag overflowing with golden chard, another such bag full of pac choi, yet another full of nettles, a big bunch of basil, a handful of nasturtium leaves and blossoms, one lonely little zucchini (with blossom attached), three small tomatoes (and one green one), as well as many branches of seed pods for pac choi and several dill seed heads.

The garden work is by no means done for the fall: more cleaning awaits, and other crops continue to require harvesting. The favas I planted are now blossoming, and I have other beets, chard, and pac choi coming up as well as the remaining carrots and parsnips.

And I think you'll agree, that's worth the effort!

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Market Report: 9/5/09

On a long holiday weekend, I want nothing more than to sleep in as long as possible.

But when it's a farmers' market day, I still manage to get up at the crack of dawn in order to head down and visit my favorite people before the market really picks up!

I browsed one quadrant of the market first, talking to the Cheerful Lady and then to the Lady Bountiful as they were setting up their tables. Then, after a coffee at the Hungarian pastry shop -- and a chat with the Hungarian Baker -- I made the rounds for real.

I knew I had no reason to pick up very much at the market today, save for more canning tomatoes and some apples to sauce, but I still ended up with heavy bags:

--canning tomatoes, cucumbers, cipollini onions, and cookies from the Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe
--cherry tomatoes and a zucchini from the Lady Bountiful
--two pints of honey from the Bee Man
--a bag of Fall Russet apples from the Orchardist
--two small butternut squash from the Newbies
--pasta and Italian bread from the Herb Lady

I headed home to unload and put things away while waiting for My Dear Papa to drop off a few things and to pick up a few more.

After that, though, I needed to head back downtown on a couple more errands, so I swung through the market again to drop off some cantaloupe candy to the Lady Bountiful. (I don't think she got more than one piece, though, as Middle Son took one bite and grabbed the rest with a gleeful grin!)

I also bumped into one of our Local Roots volunteers, visited another (since she hadn't set up her table by the time I wandered through earlier), and found yet another new vendor who had sweet potatoes. Naturally, I had to buy a pound of little ones to start this year's storage stash!

Now that I've had my wanderings for the day, it's time to get to work, saucing and canning those tomatoes and getting who knows what else done!

After all, it's the Labor Day weekend... and I've got a lot of labor ahead...

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Independence Days #17

Wow. Another exhausting week! So I'll keep this short.

1. Plant something: Still nothing, despite good intentions.

2. Harvest something: Black Cherry tomatoes, Hutterite soup beans (for seed), lemon balm, peppermint, oregano, sage, basil from the Renaissance Man's garden; the rest of the buckwheat!

3. Preserve something: Breaded and froze eggplant slices; roasted and froze red peppers; strained and bottled herbal tinctures (borage, dandelion, hawthorn, motherwort, peppermint, plantain); made herbal honeys (peppermint, lemon balm); dried cherry tomatoes, elderberries, basil, oregano, peppermint, lemon balm, cantaloupe; started sage vinegar.

4. Reduce waste (Waste not): Saved leftover breadcrumbs from eggplant; asked My Wonderful Parents to save watermelon rind.

5. Preparation and storage (Want not): Harvested and stored seeds for Blue Coco pole beans, Hutterite soup beans, radishes; got a few more storage jars from the folks; made a Goodwill run with the Renaissance Man and found two pairs of jeans and a pair of lightweight cargo pants to get me through the next year or two (work pants!).

6. Build local food systems: Had a marketing brainstorm with Jen for upcoming Local Roots events; presented event possibilities at shoppers' meeting at LR; talked with meeting attendees about possible classes, workshops at the market.

7. Eat the food: Cucumber slices dipped in boursin cheese; pasta with zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, and rosemary; baingan bhartha; curried kale and potatoes; fresh apples and ground cherries to go with lunches.

At this point, I still have a very full refrigerator, so I'm not sure that I will buy too much at the farmers' market this weekend. I need to spend this holiday weekend using what I've got!

Yep, "Labor Day" will be appropriately named... again...

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? 2009 Week 15

This week I finally managed to persuade the Renaissance Man to join me again for the weekly outing to my CSA farm. He got to visit a job site along the way, and he had the promise of My Dear Papa's homemade chicken paprikash -- made with an organic chicken from the Fiddlin' Farmer -- for dinner.

How could he resist? Add in a beautiful sunny day and the prospect of some shared produce, and he was game for anything.

And that's what we got:

This week's share was so bountiful, it was almost overwhelming!:

--one cantaloupe (mine)
--one watermelon (for my folks)
--one sweet onion (mine)
--one garlic bulb (mine)
--one quart red potatoes (split)
--two pounds zucchini (split)
--two Japanese eggplant (mine)
--one pound green beans (mine)
--one bunch of beets (surprisingly, mine!)
--one bag lettuce (RM)
--one bunch cilantro (always mine)
--one bunch leeks (mine)
--four pounds big beef tomatoes (all mine)
--one pint cherry tomatoes (still mine)
--two pounds peppers (shared with RM)
PLUS my second honey share and the usual half-dozen eggs

On top of that, we picked up a bushel of canning tomatoes (prepaid) for My Wonderful Parents, a peck of same for me, and an added bottle of honey for the Renaissance Man. The Lady Bountiful truly lived up to her name today!

My Wonderful Parents have noted that between CSA and the farmers' market, they've had an overload of vegetables lately -- and, shockingly, they are tired of beets! -- which is why I ended up with the bulk of the share this week AND shared so much with my patient driver.

But boy! I'd better get busy using all this good food!

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Buckwheat Whacker

After the test harvest of my buckwheat, I had every intention of getting back relatively quickly to finish the job.

Yeah. Right. Didn't happen.

Fortunately, the weather cooperated, the Farmgirl Wannabe was patient, and we finally got together after work today to take care of the rest of that patch.

Even a sharp scythe might not have done much good by today as so many of the stalks were bent flat to the ground. So the Farmgirl gathered up bunches of stalks, pulled them easily from the ground, and held them tight so that I could whack through them cleanly with hedge trimmers.

OK, not a very sophisticated method, I agree, but it did make the job go a little more quickly. (Just a little.)

The Farmgirl had also pondered the possible methods for stripping the grains from the stems, and she hauled out a couple of large flat cardboard trays and a length of flexible screening that she used to chafe the grains off the stems.

It took us over two hours to cut and strip the buckwheat, but we did it. Now I still need to spread the grains out to finish drying and then winnow them before storage, but that's considerably easier than tonight's mission.

Perhaps this coming weekend I can hull and mill some of the grains into flour.

I can almost taste the pancakes now...

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