Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Save Some for the Kids

Ten or twenty years ago, I often saw bumper stickers on the backs of huge motorhomes on the highway: "We're Spending our Children's Inheritance". This, I think, was supposed to be cute. Now the $90,000 motorhomes are sitting forlornly with For Sale signs, worth a small fraction of their purchase price. The former vacationers? Who knows? Some of them have run completely through their children's inheritance, and are wondering how they can make payments on their own house. The formerly-cute statement is somewhat chilling.

But in a larger sense, that is what we are doing as a community, as a nation, and even as a world. We were gifted with a finite but huge inheritance from Mother Earth in the form of petroleum. In a little over a hundred years, we have squandered about half of it. (That's what Peak Oil means: half of it is gone--the easier half.)
The other half of that petroleum we leave for not just our heirs, but all succeeding generations of humans. And we're not showing significant signs of slowing down our consumption for the purposes of saving some for future generations.

At the beginning of the 20th century, we had a world endowed with ice caps and glaciers, pure air, an Aral Sea. Nature had put a lot of the carbon away safely in the petroleum, in the coal, in the limestone, in the permafrost, in the frozen clathrates in the ocean, in the forests that covered a significant portion of the globe. In the process of claiming our inheritance and that of our descendants, we're cranking that carbon back into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide.

Two hundred years ago the oceans were packed full of beautiful lifeforms, in a highly complex web of life based on plankton. We found that many of these lifeforms were tasty or otherwise useful. The incredible bounty of the oceans made it seem that we could keep pulling out fish and shellfish forever, as much as we wanted, and not even have an effect. Unfortunately, the 20th century factory ships depleted most of the fish stocks, and pollution from land-based activities is causing major dead zones in most estuaries. Plankton is said to be down by 70% over levels earlier in the last century. Another inheritance taken from our kids, and their kids, for generations.

Bringing it closer to home, here in Larimer County we're busily engaged in paving over good farmland, putting up yet more retail space, or developing yet more subdivisions far from the city centers. The only thing that has slowed this process down is the real estate meltdown, not any consideration for preserving the land so that future generations can have food. Our priorities are cock-eyed. Do we need more McMansions, or do we need food? Your choice. As petroleum gets more expensive, importing food from every other country in the world becomes more expensive, and industrial-style farming becomes less cost-effective.

In the economy, we're rolling up a Mt Everest of debt for succeeding generations to cope with, or not, as the case may be. Greed doesn't look so "good" these days as it did in the 90s. The U.S. has been living so far beyond their means, drawing down the inflated equity of their homes, spending their way into their own mountains of debt, that the rest of the world which has been selling us all this stuff is sinking too, now that we're tapped out.

I don't have the answers to these enormous problems. This is too big for one person to have the answers. We all need to be thinking about ways to preserve the wealth and bounty of the natural world for our grandkids, their grandkids, and on into the future. One of the best compliments you can give for someone who died is that he or she made the world a better place than they found it. The generations now on the Earth (us) need to be thinking about how we can make the world a better place, individually and in communities.

We know that the future won't look like the 20th century, and we know that it certainly won't look like the breathless extrapolations common in 20th century science fiction: everybody with their own little copter to get around, colonies on Mars, endless supplies of everything, endless wealth for every inhabitant of the planet.

It's a shock to realize that the supply of everything on Earth is NOT infinite. As you spend some time thinking about it, you go down through layers and levels of thinking. Petroleum scarce? plastics scarce. Then you can think about how our lives are surrounded and supported by plastics. Petroleum scarce? we're not going to be buzzing off to Europe or Australia every year on vacation; maybe we won't be able to see far-flung family members very often, or ever. Natural gas scarce? How do we heat our homes? How do we generate electricity? That opens up another thousand questions. But putting our heads firmly in the sand won't solve the problems, and leaving it for "future generations", i.e. our grandkids, to solve shows a total lack of character and integrity on our part.

So I'm sending this question out into the community: What can we do to "save some for our kids"? What I'd like to save for my grandchildren's children:

* A HEALTHY OCEAN. Let's clean up the plastic waste now, and take steps to ensure that no new plastic waste goes into the ocean. Let's stop overfishing NOW, not in decades to come when the fish are gone. And I don't believe you can have a healthy ocean without the humans controlling their greenhouse gas emissions.
A FEW THINGS YOU CAN DO: Stop buying fish! Cut down on your plastic consumption. Work hard to prevent pollution from entering the rivers and the oceans.

* HEALTHY SMALL FARMS. This means healthy topsoil and lots of small working farms, and lots of farmers; farms in every locality growing food for their neighbors. We have overshot with the principle that "efficiency" means less human labor and more use of fossil energy, fossil water (aquifers) and agricultural poisons. The most productive farmland in the world is in the form of individual small plots, carefully tended. We have land to do that, in our own backyards, in our public areas, on our schoolgrounds. We just need the will to do it.
A FEW THINGS YOU CAN DO: Plant a Victory Garden. Support local farms by buying their produce. Work with government entities to protect and expand small farms, and get farms in the hands of young people who want to farm.

* AN INDUSTRIAL BASE in the U.S. This means jobs, where people actually make things and add value. Retail sales and services are the branches and leaves of the tree of the economy. We've cut our tree down at the roots (by outsourcing practically all real manufacturing), and it's just taking a little time for all those unsupported branches and leaves to fall, but fall they will. Have you tried to buy a kitchen brush lately? All from China. Not some but all; every one. Trying to buy American-made goods is an exercise in frustration.
A FEW THINGS YOU CAN DO: Look for American-made goods, and complain to your store if none are available. Support re-skilling, both personal and industrial; this means that you learn some skills such as knitting, sewing, cooking, gardening, home repair, etc., and support for vocational training for young people (and older, too, for that matter).

* A SOLVENT NATION, STATE, CITY, AND FAMILY. When I think about this subject, the Oxygen Mask analogy comes to mind: Put on your own mask before you help others with theirs. The first thing we all need to do is balance our own household budgets, and live within our means. The CEO of 3M Co., George Buckley, said recently: "...the first responsibility we have as the leaders of companies is to make sure that we ensure the health and survival of our own companies first, not necessarily other people's companies, or, for that matter, the whole U.S. economy." When households, and companies, live within their means, they have a chance of accumulating some assets which can be put to work building factories, making jobs, and improving the community. When our nation stops trying to be a world empire, and becomes a fiscally conservative and responsible world citizen, all the countries in the world will benefit, including ourselves. But the transition will be painful, and we have to expect that.
A FEW THINGS YOU CAN DO: Live within your means! Buy less, pay down debt, bring your material expectations back in line with reality. Choose frugality instead of excess. Choose sensible investments (which can be many things besides stocks or mutual funds) that pay back long-term in reduced energy use, and increased benefits to our communities. Help your local governmental entities in finding ways to balance their budgets too. Let your congressmen/women know how you feel.

I get discouraged sometimes, but I have not lost hope. I think our kids and grandkids can have a good life. It won't look like what we imagined, and it will be worse in some ways, but it can also be better in some ways. I can foresee them getting off the rat race that we're on at the beginning of the 21st century, figuring out what's important in their lives (besides material goods), and having the pleasure of making things that are real, useful, and beautiful.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Some Winter Recipes

I'm making a determined effort to use my stored foods. It's really not a problem with the tomato sauce, and the delicious nectarines in light honey syrup. We're also using the jars of lactofermented sauerkraut, green beans, and cucumbers I made last summer. I think I'll need to make more of them next year. The beans taste especially nice in winter salads, cut small.

Winter Salad

Make a bed of cut-up or torn winter greens. Escarole is particularly nice in the winter, with that little touch of bitterness. You can use a little slivered radicchio for color. Napa cabbage, sliced fine, is also good. And we get sugarhat chicory from our CSA, though you probably won't find it in a store, another lovely slightly-bitter winter green.

Decorate with some sliced carrots, and ripe olives. If you have them on hand, add chopped lactofermented green beans or cucumbers. Or some lactofermented beets. Regular pickles can be used too, as long as they are not too sweet.

To make a chef salad, cut up roast turkey breast and cooked local sausage into small pieces, and sprinkle across the top. A few small pieces of local cheese add a nice touch.

Make a simple salad dressing of olive or sunflower oil, and vinegar or lactofermented pickle juice. Shake and pour over. Ratio: about 2/3 oil to 1/3 vinegar for flavor.

Put Up Or Shut Up Stew
The following makes about 4 servings, and makes a quick hearty meal.
Feel free to substitute.

1 pound local grassfed ground beef
a little cooking oil or lard
one medium local onion, peeled and chopped
1 pint home-canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup home-dried green beans, or 1 cup home-frozen green beans
1/2 cup home-dried bell peppers, or 1 cup fresh chopped peppers
1 cup peeled winter squash such as butternut, in smallish pieces
1 tablespoon good-quality chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the ground beef in the oil with the onion. Then add the remaining ingredients, and bring to simmer. Cover and cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the squash cubes are tender.

Serving suggestions:
--Top with lactofermented salsa (or other salsa).
--For low-carb meal: serve as is in a bowl.
--Serve on a bed of something you have prepared: rice, millet, quinoa, pasta, ??
--Roll up in a wrap.
--Sprinkle with grated cheese if desired.

Risotto with Pumpkin and Radicchio
Something to do with pumpkin besides pie (not that there's anything wrong with pie....)

1 cup peeled pumpkin, seeds removed (and toasted separately) and cut small
1/2 cup chopped radicchio
1 cup short-grain white rice (arborio is best, but sushi rice will also do the job; I'm not a risotto snob)
1 smallish onion, peeled and diced fine
2 tbs olive oil
3 tbs butter
3 cups chicken broth, kept hot
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Head the olive oil and 2 tbs butter in a pan, add onion and saute until soft. Add pumpkin cubes and 1/2 cup broth, simmer 5 minutes. Add rice, salt and pepper, stir for a few minutes. As the rice absorbs the broth, keep stirring and adding another 1/4 cup of broth. After about 10 minutes, add the radicchio. Continue stirring and adding broth. When all the broth is added, stir in the remaining tbs of butter and the parmesan. Continue to stir for another 2 minutes or so.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Living Within Our Means

Slightly off-topic for local foods, but too important to let slide. This is a distressing time in this country. The problems we as a nation have gotten ourselves into, from decades of overspending, waste and greed, are not going to vanish quickly.

I get the sense that many Americans are finally waking up from a fantasy: that there would always be MORE MORE MORE. More spending, based on more borrowing. The piper would never have to be paid. The important thing was getting the McMansion, the new cars, closetsful of clothes to put in all those double walk-in closets, and all the latest consumer electronics. So many of us have been living far beyond our means, floating on a pink cloud of credit that is evaporating and raining down pink slips all over the country.

Well, the fact is that in the long run, you must live within your means. This is true for individuals, families, cities, states, and the nation. When you've loaded up on credit and owe a lot of money, living within your means becomes even more painful. Not only do you have to cut your "standard of living" (whatever that means), but you have to cut down even further to pay off the debt you loaded up on.

We can't expect the government to bail everybody out, and we can't expect the government to take the lead on bringing us back to fiscal good sense--what used to be called "conservative" fiscal management before "conservative" came to mean tax cuts and huge increases in debt and a pointless and expensive war. I'm holding out for the original meaning of conservative as someone who conserves, something we can be proud to count among our personal qualities. If we want the government to change, we need to model that change in our own lives. We need to lead, and they will follow.

This fall, we've already seen major changes indicating that people are waking up from the fantasy and watching their spending. Some people have stopped using credit cards, which make it just too easy to buy. You have to think about your spending when you fork over dollars or write a check.

Here are some other ideas for living within our means.

1. (and only too obvious) Just stop buying the frills; no more retail therapy. Spending more than you can afford is not really fun in the long run. Spending more than you can afford on your kids is not doing them a favor. They need a stable home, with electricity and heat, and food on the table. They need these things way more than they "need" the latest gadget or toy, or the latest style in clothes.

2. (Another obvious one) Pay off your credit card balances, especially the high-interest balances. You do have to balance this with your other needs, such as the mortgage.

3. Put something aside. This means money in an insured savings account, even if it is a small amount. If your credit is toast, your cards are full, and your house isn't functioning as an ATM any more, you have all the more need for emergency money. It's up to your individual circumstance whether you pay off credit or put money in savings or both, but I suggest both. It's also wise to start storing some food, foods that your family will eat, healthy foods. It's easier to face uncertain times with a full pantry and a full belly.

4. Stop watching commercial TV. You and your kids are exposed to dozens or hundreds of very skillfully crafted advertisements every day. People with advanced degrees in psychology and sociology are hard at work designing ads that are just too good to resist. It's all part of the process of separating you from your money. For TV addicts, this will not be easy. For harried parents tired of the endless nagging for junk food and the latest toys, it may be a relief.

5. Have a talk with your partner. You and your partner need to be on the same page with the budget. If you are in the habit of managing all the finances yourself, you need to share the information and power with your wife or husband. If you have kids, the kids need to know something about what's happening. Don't scare them to death, and don't expect them to follow advanced economic theories, but kids need to know the situation. You will probably be surprised at the support you will receive, once the initial screaming is over.

6. Make a budget, and keep track of your spending. (I'm sure some of you already do this--more power to you!) If you are doing your first budget, you won't necessarily get it right the first time. Keep track of how the spending lines up with your predictions, and learn how to make it work. Everything counts--the big expenses and the nickel-and-dimers.

7. Reasonable places to spend your money--if you have some, have some savings, and have paid off your credit card balances.
* Food storage, and well-chosen household items that will enhance your ability to store food and cook for your family.
* Home improvements that will save on your utility bills in the future. This includes such high-return items as better insulation, weatherstripping, and insulating shades; fireplace inserts, perhaps skylights that bring more light into your home and provide ventilation in hot weather.
* Good quality American-made goods. Just say no to useless plastic junk made overseas. Don't squander your money, but there are times you need to buy something. Buy something that will last. Buy something made locally if you can--support your neighbors and your community. Failing that, try to buy American. I realize only too well that is not always possible. Wherever it is made, be sure to buy something that will serve you well and last a while.

8. Patronize locally-owned stores and restaurants. Stay out of the big box stores as much as you can; their profit runs off to other states or countries, and doesn't stay around here helping our community.

9. Learn to do things for yourselves. This is called "Re-Skilling". Our grandparents and their grandparents knew how to do things: Cook. Bake bread. Make yogurt, cheese, butter. Preserve food. Brew beer. Make liqueurs, wines, jellies, jams, sauces. Sew. Mend clothes. Mend shoes. Tend a vegetable garden and orchard. Knit, crochet, embroider, weave. Make simple furniture. Make music: play piano or other instruments, sing. Make baskets, candles, lamps. Render lard. Raise chickens, rabbits, or other animals. Make herbal teas and medicines. Treat simple health problems at home.

The more skills you have in your family, the less you need to pay other people to do these simple things for you. You can become more resilient to hard times by being able to fend for yourselves.
This is especially true if one family member loses his or her job. He or she can make the most out of the situation by learning new skills, and spending time supporting the work of the home. Yes, men can cook and clean, and women can fix a wobbly chair or mow the lawn, so don't be too hung up on gender roles. In hard times, we need everybody to do what they can.

10. Build community. This means your neighbors, your next-door neighbors, your street, your neighborhood, your community. I have read many blogs and articles recently saying that times are going to be tough, and the American people are self-indulgent and helpless and will just roll in a heap if they can't get their big-screen TVs and lattes. I don't believe it.

We haven't stepped up to these challenges because.... We Haven't Been Asked. When our president told us that the most important thing we could do for the country was to keep spending, too many of us believed him. And here we are in 2008, a debtor nation, the biggest in the world.

When columnists say that 70% of the national economy is retail purchases, it makes me feel queasy. That's a sign of how long the road is ahead of us. What organization or family can keep going for long when 70% of their effort is spent just SPENDING? A nation's wealth is based on raw materials and on the things that its citizens make. What are these columnists thinking? If only we can continue to spend money we don't have and can't borrow, that we can avoid recession?

We have a lot of resources in this country, and I mean more than oil, gas, minerals, and good farmland. We have the diverse, resilient, industrious, generous American people. Some of us are a little rusty, some have lost their way, but I have faith that as a community, and a nation of communities, we can tackle these problems and come out of them stronger.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Costs of Local Foods

Last April I gave several talks on local eating. One person asked a question that I did not really answer at that time: how has local eating affected our food budget?

It's a complicated question, and to answer it you have to take a larger view than just what you spend at the store, farm, etc.

Organic vs Conventional
Organic food costs more, in dollar terms, at the grocery stores. It costs less, of course, if you were to take ALL costs into consideration, such as damage to the environment from genetically modified foods, herbicides, pesticides, and the loss of birds and beneficial insects. And as the long-term trend of petroleum prices is undeniably up (regardless of the little reprieve we have had), "conventional" will eventually cost more even in dollar terms.

Organic foods have more flavor and nutrition than conventional foods, and less (or no) pesticide residues. So for your extra dollars, you are giving your family better food, and helping to improve their health. Is it worth it? You have to answer.

Organic vs Local
Here is a good question: if you can't get organic AND local, which do you choose: Local, or Organic? There are points for either choice. For myself, if it is a choice between Local or imported Organic, I would choose Local every time. We don't have any way of knowing which foreign growers are truly organic; some may be, but certainly some are not, just co-opting the organic label to make a little more margin. If it is a choice between a local grower that I know or know about, I'd choose that over mega-organic from California. In addition to supporting the health of the environment, and our own personal health, we also need to support the economic health of our community by buying from local growers and ranchers.

Fresh vs Shipped/Stored
This particularly applies to fruits and vegetables. You get more nutrition and flavor from vegetables picked today or yesterday and put on your table tonight, than from "organic" vegetables picked days or weeks ago long before ripeness, coated with wax or other chemicals, and ripened by chemical means. So, what you grow in your yard is the best of all.

When I had a big garden (and the physical ability to keep it up), I would go out in the afternoon and collect a basketful of fresh vegetables and make dinner. My children grew up liking most vegetables, because they had eaten them at their best. So Fresh trumps Shipped/Stored every time. Fresh means your yard, your CSA, your farmer's market, your local growers. I'd pay more for Fresh, but often you don't have to. Your organic CSA vegetables, paid for at the beginning of the season, are almost certainly cheaper than organic vegetables bought at the grocery.

Seasonal vs Perpetual
Here is where you get some money back by buying local foods. Local foods are seasonal. What you can buy is what is harvested now. In summer, lettuce, cucumbers, green beans; in fall, tomatoes, and Colorado's second season of greens; in winter stored foods like winter squash and root veggies; in spring asparagus, peas, and tender greens. Foods in season are cheaper than foods out of season, whether hothouse-grown or shipped from another continent. Foods that ripen at particular times of year are just the kinds of foods we should be eating then. For the hot days of summer, juicy cooling raw foods and salads; for the cold days of winter, warming stews made from potatoes, onions, and other root vegetables. Eating large raw salads all year around is not good for your health, in my opinion.

We've come to have a bizarre notion: the Perpetual Summer supermarket. You can get strawberries in January (they're from Peru or somewhere). You can get apples all the year around (waxed and kept in a low-oxygen environment, tasteless and watery). You can get asparagus in the fall (from Argentina). As a nation, we've lost touch with the seasons. Food comes from the supermarket; it doesn't come from farmers; it isn't grown in the dirt somewhere; it comes in shrink-wrap film or coated with preservatives. Milk comes from a cardboard box. Meat comes shrink-wrapped from the meat department (don't even think about how it was raised or slaughtered, or how many million pounds of hamburger came in that batch).

Of course in our temperate climate, there are months that there IS no local harvest. We supplement our diet with home-preserved foods: frozen vegetables, lactofermented pickles, fruits dried or in jars. How is this different from buying cucumbers from Mexico in the winter? My cucumbers come from my CSA. One day or less from field into the brine means they're at the tip of freshness. I know exactly how my CSA grows those cucumbers; what chemicals they don't use, the compost they do use. They've traveled 15 miles to get to my house, not 2000 miles. They're a product of our local community.

Home-Cooked vs Prepared
Here is where you REALLY start to save money, and get better quality. By definition, junk food and fast food aren't local, they're anonymous. Many of them are made of the cheapest-possible ingredients, tricked out with high-fructose corn syrup and trans-fats, loaded with preservatives, artificial flavors, and MSG. Almost all are made with genetically-modified ingredients such as corn and soy, though you can find "organic" junk food too: organic toaster treats, chips, and cookies with dozens of ingredients in print too small to read.

Many commercial meats are shot full of a solution containing MSG and other salts, in order to weigh more at point of sale. When you cook them, that extra water evaporates out, but the salts and artificial flavorings that were in it stay in the meat. What sense does that make for you?

Restaurant food has to cost more for the same quality; they have overhead, salaries for cooks, waitstaff, management, etc., and advertising. They may buy in bulk, but that won't save that much money. So, if the quality is high, the costs are high. If the costs are low, the quality MUST be low. Restaurant personnel are not magicians; they're just running a business.

We do enjoy eating restaurant meals on occasion. We noticed that when we started eating local, fresh, freshly cooked foods, the food at some restaurants no longer sits well with us. It seems somewhat flavorless and indigestible. We have a small list of restaurants that are still a pleasure for us.

And when you eat at restaurants frequently, or get carryout or prepared foods at the store, you are almost certainly getting too much sodium, too much cheap fat, too much high-fructose corn syrup, too much MSG, and servings that are too large.

You don't have to spend a lot of time cooking. I put most dinners on the table in 15 minutes or less. They are generally simple meals: some kind of meat, two vegetables fresh or cooked, fruit for dessert. You don't have to have an elaborate production every time. Sometimes I'll cook up a pot of stew or soup, which takes a couple of hours of supervision though only a few minutes of work, and feeds us for several days. Not hard.

If you don't know how to cook, there are a raft of good beginner's cookbooks out there. You can start at the public library and browse for some that look good to you. Start by following recipes until you feel that you know what you are doing, then improvise. The more you cook, the more you'll learn.

Bulk Buying vs Small Packages
Here's another way to save money on foods that are staples for you: buy in bulk. You can get higher quality for less money, for instance organic in a large bag for less than conventional in a small package. See if you can find (or start) a local food buying cooperative. The power of numbers means that you can still get the good prices without buying a 50-lb bag or 30-lb box of whatever it is. That of course leads to techniques for storing food, and incorporating those foods into your daily menu. Well-stored staple foods keep a long time: whole grains for 10-30 years, dry beans and lentils for several years, nuts for a year in the freezer. Or you can buy boxes of tomatoes, green beans, peaches, etc., and put them up.

I was buying organic tomatoes last summer at the farmer's market for $13 for 18 pounds, and canning my own tomato sauce and stewed tomatoes for a fraction of the cost of store tomatoes. Now we're using them, and they taste really fresh and flavorful as I open the jars for pizza, spaghetti, or soups.

Bought vs Bartered/Gathered
Here's another way to save money on your food. Most CSAs have barter shares, where you trade your work at the farm for some or all the cost of your vegetables. That's what I do at my CSA, so I get 36 weeks worth of vegetables in return for work I do for the farm.

If you're looking for free local fruit, keep your eyes open in your neighborhood for neglected fruit trees. When the fruit is ripe and starts falling on the sidewalk, stop and politely ask the owners if you can harvest some of it. Give them some if they're interested, as a thank-you. Or make them a jar of plum jam, grape jelly, peach roll-ups, or whatever. With some appreciation, you can probably harvest that tree year after year.

If you can, keep chickens. They'll eat your scraps, weeds, and bugs, and some chicken feed, and provide you with eggs or meat. If you can, keep bees for honey. Learn to know the local weeds and wild plants, and collect greens, chokecherries, wild plums, wild grapes, or other foods. At least half of the weeds in your garden are edible; in fact, some are as good as the vegetables they are crowding out. Get a good book, or take a class, so that you know what you are doing.

More could be said about these subjects, and other subjects as well, but let's stop for now and get to the bottom line. Will you save money by eating local foods? Wrong question, actually. Can you eat local foods and stick to your budget? Probably yes, unless your budget is very strict. Are there ways to save money eating local foods? Absolutely.

What I found was that I'm paying a little more for local meats, with much higher quality. Most of my vegetables are bartered, so there is not much change there. I either get fruits from my yard, or in bulk buying, so I save money there. I save money by buying few or no prepared foods, junk food, or fast food. We're eating out less, thus saving money. My purchases of staples are much cheaper, and of much higher quality than I was getting previously.
And we find our meals to be more satisfying, so we're actually eating less and gradually losing excess weight.

I also find that my expenditures are more seasonal. I spent extra in August, September and October building up stores for the winter. Now that we're starting to use this food, our grocery bills are dropping significantly.

So yes, you can eat locally on a budget, and there are many ways to get high quality local fresh foods for less money than you're paying now.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Connecting the Path: The Food Storage Year

I'm engaged in rediscovering the skills that our foremothers knew: how to store food for the winter and spring until the next harvest, and using stored food to feed their families. Very interesting. When you don't think in terms of driving to the nearest grocery store and buying foods shipped from all over the world, it requires a little more advance planning.

I've been busy "puttin up" since last summer; snap peas, English peas, green beans frozen in June; July and August lactofermented vegetables: green beans, cucumbers, various kinds of coleslaw. Then in August started the fruit: apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, prunes; canned in light honey syrup, dried in pieces or as rollups. Our early apples, very small crop, went into jars as sauce or dried. Then in September, the tomatoes! Sauce, juice, chopped, stewed. Apples and herbs dried; broccoli frozen.

And I've been gradually putting staples into half-gallon Mason jars. California brown rice in the garage (to stay cool). Beans, lentils, split peas from western U.S. growers. Wheat flour in the freezer. Wonderful Colorado millet and quinoa, buckwheat and kasha and popcorn from western U.S. A box of apples in the garage, separated by a reasonable distance from paper bags of potatoes; a case of mixed winter squash in a cool room.

Now comes the second challenge: Eat what you store. That's the food storage year:
* Store what you eat
* Eat what you store

In some ways, it's easier for me to just store and store, pack-ratting away foods that we like, feeling a sense of accomplishment looking in the freezer and into the boxes of gleaming jars. But... it's food! Precious indeed, but perishable. Whole grains keep a good long time, but beans get tired after a few years of storage. Frozen food gets freezer-burned. Canned fruit loses some of its flavor. The apples and squash and potatoes are fresh foods, good keepers, yes, but not forever.

So, now's the time to stop stocking up, and start using what I have stored. I've already gotten into the frozen snap peas; they turned out well using the vacuum bags. And I've started using the tomato sauce for pasta and pizza; very nice flavor. Muir Glen canned organic tomatoes are fine, and I've certainly used cases of them through the years, but my home-preserved sauce from Colorado tomatoes is especially good.

We've been eating the millet (me), the buckwheat, the gluten-free oats, the whole-grain wheat flour (DH), steadily. I just finished eating my way through the 50 lbs of Colorado organic millet I bought last February. Now I'm starting on the 25 lbs I bought through the coop in April. I love it, and generally eat it once a day; could be breakfast, lunch, or supper.

One secret to the successful food storage year is good record-keeping. I'm making an inventory of what I've stored, along with the date of storage. I'll make it a point to use the oldest first. (Blush: I found seven jars of applesauce from 2007; they'll go first). As I use something, I'll check it off the list. If I run out, and have to buy something before the next harvest, I'll note it.

By next summer, I'll have a much better idea of how much, and what kinds of foods we need to get through the year.

I also need to get into my cookbooks and find recipes that fit the foods we have. Oftentimes we have simple meals: meat, two veg, fruit for dessert. Now that winter is nearly here, I need to start making more soups and stews: good winter warming foods. I need to start cooking more beans. I need to motivate myself for winter squash. It's not really my favorite food; I always think it sounds good, but then just don't follow through with actually cooking and eating it. Maybe I just need better recipes. Maybe we need to eat more Pumpkin Pie!

Putting the cart before the horse, I've been discussing the hows of food storage, but not the whys. Reason 1. If you're going to eat mostly local food, you need to store for half the year, so you have something to eat the other half. Reason 2. Stored food also gives you some security in very uncertain times. Even if a family member loses their job or gets their pay cut, with a good pantry of stored foods you know that everyone will eat. As Sharon Astyk says, two important questions in hard economic times are: "Is there dinner? Do I get any?"

Long-term storage for hard times has some different aspects from seasonal storage, since you don't want to be running out of food in the summer either. I'll write some posts on this subject in the near future. Meanwhile, check out Sharon's food storage group for loads of information and experiences from real people in every part of the country. You can even see my name there once in a while.

I'll keep you posted from time to time on our experiences with our stored food: what we wish we had more of, what we had too much of, and recipes using the foods.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

One Local Year: The Road Ahead

A year ago, I wrote a post about making the road by walking. We walked, and made a little footpath. When I started the local food buying cooperative, a few others joined us on this path. And of course there are others making similar paths in every part of the country, though other matters have come to the forefront of public consciousness now.

We plan to continue eating locally, but cutting ourselves a bit more slack. If we're going to keep this up the rest of our lives (which we plan to do), we need to pace ourselves a bit. I will buy a few little niceties, very small amounts: mustard, artichoke hearts for DH's weekly homemade pizza (about one heart per pizza), vinegar, lemon juice. I

I plan to keep narrowing the circle as possible. Can I find California artichoke hearts, instead of Peru? Can I get more Front Range fruit in place of the Western Slope fruit? Can I figure out how to put in a garden at our home that I can actually keep up? (With aging and physical problems, gardening is hard for me.) Can I keep chickens without losing them all to predators? The most-local food you can get is what you grow and raise, after all.

And that brings up another vitally important point. We, and several hundred others in Larimer and Weld counties, are eating a large percentage of local food. We buy local meats, patronize local dairies, belong to local CSAs. But there are about 287,000 people in Larimer County, and about 243,000 in Weld County. That's more than a half-million people. Although agriculture still has a significant presence, particularly in Weld County which is the highest-ranking agricultural county in the state, we're far from having enough growers and ranchers in the two counties to feed the population with diverse foods. Many of the farms are extremely large, growing government-subsidized commodity corn and soybeans which are mainly fed to cattle.

We need to think seriously about what we as a community can do to encourage more small farms, more vegetable growing, more bean growing, more pastured livestock. The soil is fertile, the climate fairly mild though dry, and much of the land is irrigated from mountain water. But farmers, especially small farmers, face tremendous challenges. The cost of their inputs keeps rising faster than the prices they can get for their produce. Loans are becoming more and more difficult to get. Some of the better land is being eaten up by country subdivisions and outlet malls at a tremendous rate.

Speaking as someone who wants to eat food in the future, I believe it is essential for us to do two things: encourage and protect small and diverse farms; and start planting our suburban lots to vegetables and fruits, with perhaps beehives and small animals where possible. This will take money and work, of course, but in particular it will take a strong commitment for us as a community to build a resilient and productive local foodshed. There is a place for everyone in this vitally important work, whatever your skills and interests. Give some thought to where you might want to help in this effort.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

One Local Year: Surprises

We had some real surprises during the 100-mile diet year (Nov 2007 through Oct 2008).

The first is that eating high-quality home-cooked local food really ruined our taste buds for fast food, junk food, and cheap restaurants. Ugggh! I used to eat That? This used to taste good, now it upsets my stomach. Home-cooked foods are made from ingredients, in other words, real foods. No fillers, no artificial colors or flavors, no hidden MSG; no high-fructose corn sweeteners, no transfats, no preservatives, no modified food starch. We also tried to buy organic as much as possible, which has better flavor and nutritional value.

The second surprise is that I lost interest in buying standard grocery-store produce, so pretty looking, so tasteless. The Western Slope fruits are so far superior to the fruits shipped in from California or Washington state. I'm sure fruits bought ripe locally IN California or Washington for local consumption are perfectly fine. It's the whole industrial food system, picking chemicalized and water-bloated produce way ahead of ripeness, shipping it across the country, then "ripening" it with chemicals. Have you wondered how you have U.S. apples year round? Or consider the long path for produce from China, Argentina, New Zealand? How far before ripening must they have been picked?

Now I am a bit of an enthusiast for Western Slope fruits, actually, since I think the best Colorado pear or peach, apple or nectarine, is better than the best California peach, or the best Washington apple, but my comparison is unfair, since I've never eaten a tree-ripe California peach.

The next surprise was how much I did not know about harvest times in Colorado. I realized that fresh produce would be pretty much unavailable in March and April, but it was still unavailable in May, and only in June did a significant harvest of fresh vegetables show up in the farmers' markets. We had the early season vegetables: peas, beans, spinach, early lettuce. Then everything took the month of July off, pretty much. The lettuce and spinach bolted, the peas burned up, and it was slim pickings until August. August through October is the cornucopia time in Colorado. We were up to our ears in a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. Inventorying my stocks, I was a very busy person during those three months, canning, drying, and freezing the produce. (I dated all the containers--always a good idea with home-preserved foods.)

The fourth surprise was that home fruit trees and home gardens, especially with season extenders, can provide a great many items that are practically unavailable commercially in the area. Commercial Colorado fruit is from the Western Slope (and wonderful stuff it is), but our yards are full of apples, pie cherries, plums, peaches, and even pears; also raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, elderberries, Nanking cherries, serviceberries, and chokecherries. Anyone with a small garden in Colorado can grow strawberries, but they are commercially unavailable from this state. If you have a yard, plant some fruit trees and shrubs, some strawberries.

I've grown celery at home, muskmelon and watermelon, and garlic. You can even grow okra and small sweet potatoes here. Some of the CSAs in the area grow melons very successfully, which are distributed to members and sold at farmers' markets. You never see Northern Colorado melons in the stores.

What's more, with a hoop house, small greenhouse, or even coldframes, you can keep hardy greens and carrots living and ready for harvest all winter long. Our winters are not as harsh as they were 50 years ago, so the rules of thumb we learned as children, or from older gardeners, are no longer entirely valid. Our plant hardiness zone has moved from 4 bordering on 5, to 5 bordering on 6. This makes season extenders even more practical. Eliot Coleman's book "Four Season Harvest" is a useful resource. Anyway, the upshot is that if you keep your own garden, you can extend that three months of Colorado bounty to at least nine months, and you can get a lot of fruits from your yard or your neighborhood.

Another surprise was that I lost weight slowly and effortlessly, just by not eating junk. And my diet was not that bad to start with. I did not go hungry, and did not feel deprived. Real foods, cooked at home, are just more satisfying. I wouldn't mind losing some more weight, and perhaps that will happen over the coming year. My husband has been on a moderately low-carb diet for the last six months, which we were able to work out with the local foods, and has lost a lot of weight.

A surprise for me was the things I did not miss. I have not had citrus fruits except for a small amount of lemon juice in a year, or a banana or mango or other tropical fruit, and I really don't miss them. I don't miss sweet potatoes. Tapioca, especially tapioca flour, was a little harder to give up, since it's very useful in gluten-free baking. I didn't miss out-of-season foods like strawberries in January, apples in March, asparagus in winter. I'm willing to wait for them to be in season.

It was interesting learning the things that we really didn't want to do without. When I planned the 100-mile diet, I planned in ten exceptions, five to be chosen by each of us. My first was salt. No way I'm doing without salt. The next three were beverages: coffee, black/green tea, and herbal teas. The herbal teas can mostly be grown here, with a little advance planning (maybe next year!). I was not prepared to cook without olives and olive oil, but I was able to find them from California. I made an exception for the tropical spices that really are impossible to find in a temperate climate: pepper, cinnamon, etc.

Our only seafood has been Alaskan wild-caught salmon, and very little of that. My sons each said, "Mom, you could get a fishing license..." and I could have, and added Colorado trout to my diet, but I didn't do it. For years I have been gradually reducing the seafood content of our diet, due to concerns about overfishing and environmental effects of farmed seafood. So it was not too much of a stretch to just stop everything except the sustainably harvested salmon.

It didn't take DH long to put raw nuts on his list, which we restricted to U.S.-grown. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, and pistachios are on the list.

Finally, we used two vegetable exceptions to make it through the winter limitations: California canned tomato products, and U.S.-grown peas, frozen, fresh or dried. When the crops came in, we dropped them.

Now, looking back on the year, there were a few other things we missed. Basically they fall into the category of "condiments"--mustard (DH Loves Mustard), vinegar, lemon juice, coconut milk, herbs and spices, all in small amounts (except for mustard). Also, I had lots of herbs and spices on hand, but when they're gone, I'll either grow or buy some more. Maybe some day I'll figure out how to make local mustard, but for now, mustard in a jar is the way to go.

In the next post, I will talk about the future: the second year of local eating. We will be continuing local eating; it's pretty hard to conceive of NOT doing so, but we will allow a few more little niceties in our diet.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

One Local Year: Learnings

We've been on our local eating plan for one year now, and it's time to look back on our successes, failures, learnings, ideas, and impressions.

Q. Is it possible to eat a 100-mile diet in Northern Colorado
Yes, allowing a few exceptions, but there are significant difficulties. You certainly won't starve. What helps: having a CSA, having your own garden, cooking, belonging to a food buying cooperative, preserving food yourself.

Difficulty 1: If you plan to buy all your food at the grocery stores, you will last just long enough to run out of the food you have on hand. Even at Whole Foods, states of origin are marked only on fresh produce. In other food stores, information is practically unavailable. How to cope: The secret is to find local sources and/or grow your own. There are a number of local dairies, local farmers producing meat, and CSAs.

Difficulty 2: Colorado fruits and vegetables are only available from roughly June through November. If you have a garden, you can stretch the season a little by using cold frames, hoop house or other season extender. Going to the farmers market in May looking for fresh produce just didn't work. How to cope: Go back to what our grandmothers and great-grandmothers did as a matter of course: put up food. During the summer and fall bounty, they canned and dried, pickled and fermented, made jellies, jams, and conserves. They stored food for the winter in unheated areas such as cellars. (We now have the option of freezing produce also.) They went into winter with shelves groaning with a rainbow collection of jars of fruits and vegetables.

Difficulty 3: Some of the small items that we enjoy in our daily life are just not available within 100 miles. This includes coffee and tea, spices and some herbs, olives and olive oil. For example: We just couldn't find mustard that was truly local. Some is made in Northern Colorado, but not from local ingredients. A friend made some vinegar and gave me some, but unless you want to start a project, vinegar is not local. Coping technique 1: call them exceptions and use them. Coping technique 2: Find local alternatives, change your tastes, grow your own in some cases.

Techniques on exceptions: Pick a few that are important to you and your family, and try to get them as close as possible. For example, olives and olive oil are available from California. Nuts are available from the west coast. Just say no to food items from China, except possibly green or black tea. Items like tea and spices don't weigh much for the amount of flavor and enjoyment they bring. Barbara Kingsolver just didn't sweat the small stuff: herbs and spices didn't count in her local eating plan.

Techniques on finding alternatives: Depending on the item, you may be able to grow it (like herbal tea), make your own (like vinegar), use pioneer techniques (coffee from roasted roots like chicory), or just substitute what you do have (local honey for non-local sugar). It's interesting to read through old cookbooks and pioneer diaries to see what they ate, what they made, the substitutions they used, and finally, what they bought, usually at high expense. You can also read about what the Indians living in this region ate, pretty much strictly local except that trade routes brought sea salt well into the interior of the country.

Q. Didn't you have a restricted diet?
No, not at all. Most of the things we couldn't get we didn't miss: tropical fruits for one example. We ate high-quality local beef, pork, buffalo, lamb, chicken, turkey, and eggs. We used high-quality local dairy products. Given a good effort at putting up fruits and vegetables, from year to year, there is no lack of excellent organic fruits and vegetables. You do need to get salt; the closest is RealSalt from Utah, but I didn't worry that much about it; it's a necessity of life, and we don't live near the ocean.

The staple foods were what turned our 100-mile diet in what's termed a bullseye diet. I was able to find 100-mile pinto and anasazi beans, whole wheat flour, and millet. That's pretty restrictive unless you are eating a paleo diet (no grains, no beans). So we stretched our limits, first to the rest of Colorado, picking up quinoa and the Western Slope fruits, and more beans from the San Luis Valley area. Then, as I started the food cooperative, we stretched the limit for grains, beans, and nuts to the western U.S. I'm relying mainly on millet and pintos, and wheat flour for my husband (I can't eat it), but I have a variety of staples now, all organic, all from the western U.S.

I mentioned the Bullseye diet in posts nearly a year ago. First, you get as much as you can from your own yard (the inner circle); next you move out to your neighborhood, such as community gardens, neglected fruit trees that can be gleaned. Next is the community and surrounding farms. This is where most of our food comes from: CSAs, farmers markets, local livestock producers and dairies, local eggs. There is no reason why grains and beans couldn't be grown that close to us, it just hasn't happened yet. Here is where we need to make the market, and suppliers will arise to fill it.

The things you can't get from your community, you reach out to your state and region. Colorado has a wonderful diversity of agricultural possibilities; as farms become smaller and more local (as petroleum becomes more expensive), we can expect to find nearly all our needs within the state. For now, and for some things in particular such as nuts and olives, we need to consider the western U.S., a breadbasket of lentils, split peas, grains of nearly every kind.

Finally there are a few things unavailable in the U.S., like some spices, pepper, black and green tea, and coffee. We try to buy organic and fair-trade as much as possible, and don't use a lot of these items. They are dry and light and easy to ship. Yes, if we really ran out of petroleum and they couldn't be shipped to us, we'd learn to live without them.

So, that was our journey. As we got to the scarce days of late winter and early spring, we expanded our horizons a little, and with due thought used some foods from outside the 100-mile circle. If you lived in Vancouver, San Francisco, or other areas with more year-round agriculture, it would be easier to confine yourself to 100 miles. Here, it is possible, with a lot of work and planning, but certainly not easy.

Next: the benefits we noticed.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Month 12: October--Opportunities Taken and Missed

An essential part of local eating in our climate is storing the bounty of summer and fall, so you have foods to get you through winter and spring. We were still swimming in the fall bounty in October, with apples and pears from the Western slope, winter squash coming in, the last of the tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, and hardy greens.

I carried home groaning bags from my CSA pickup. I ordered boxes of fruit through the food cooperative. I bought more boxes of canning jars, and ran loads of stuff through the fruit dryer. The trays on my rather ancient fruit dryer are beginning to develop some cracks, from overuse.

But I just couldn't get to everything. We couldn't eat it fast enough. I couldn't fill the dryer trays fast enough. I filled up more cases of jars, with the last of the nectarines, and some pears. The pears got away from me, and I had to throw a few away. The last of the green beans wilted; we ate them earlier in the summer until we were both tired of them. I should have frozen or canned them when they were fresh, but they sat in the produce drawer unnoticed.

Eating local fruits and vegetables is a big change from shopping at the supermarket every week. First, the quality of the local fresh produce is absolutely superlative; we are thoroughly spoiled now and don't even want the tasteless stuff shipped from all over the world and ripened artificially.

Second, when produce comes into season, we eat it and eat it, until we can get tired of it. Then you feel, oh no, more (fill in the blank). And DH says, not again. And the reality is, that we won't get any more green beans until next June. We'll get over being tired of them long before that.

Third, by eating locally you really get in touch with the seasons of harvest in our area. Plums show up--better move quickly or they're gone. We have good lettuce in June, and great lettuce in August and September after a hot July with no lettuce at all. So, eating seasonally is great, during the seasons. But nothing is really available from December through May, so local eaters need to put food up when it's available. Not so that we can eat the same year around, but so that we can have a variety of healthy foods through the winter.

In order to make use of the bounty and provide for the winter, I need new habits. I'm part of the way there. I put up tomatoes, lots of them, but maybe not enough. I put up apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, pears, apples. I froze snap peas, snow peas, English peas, and green beans. I pickled cabbage, green beans, cucumbers, and salsa. I dried apples, pears, plums, peppers, and zucchini. But I also threw some things away. It's got to become second nature to me; I need to learn to look at the week's incoming bounty, and decide what we might eat, and what I need to plan to freeze, dry, can, etc., while they are at the peak of their quality.

This is what our grandmothers and great-grandmothers did. They had gardens, they bought or bartered from their neighbors, they picked fruit wherever they could, and put it away for the long weeks of winter and spring when little else was available.

We've sampled the first of our stored foods: some tomato sauce (fabulous), some delicious fruit canned in light honey syrup. I heated some snap peas I froze in vacuum bags, and they were just great, flavorful and with a good texture. But it's a long way till June (when we can get some more).

I'm planning to take an inventory of what I have, and keep track week by week of what we use, what we want more of, and what we don't really like. This will help me next summer and fall as I make choices of what, and how, and how much to store away.

It's also time to switch from summer-fall foods--salads, raw veggies, veggies cooked as themselves--to fall-winter foods: soups, stews, cooked vegetable medleys of various kinds.

So, October went well, and we have finished out our year of eating locally. My next post or two will be a summation of what we learned, and how our diet changed to fit the local circumstances.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Keep On Keepin' On

The three-ring circus we're being treated to these days can be very upsetting and distracting. We're not sure that any amount of (deficit or imaginary) taxpayer money will be enough to save the big Wall Street firms that made big bets on leverage and sold them in every country in the world. Our IRAs and investments whipsaw up and down, but more down than up. It's a tough time, and nobody knows what it will be like next year. It's easy to get into a tight loop, waking up early in the morning and worrying about the future. If you have a reset ARM mortgage or your home is "under water", of course, you've got even more to worry about. And practically nobody's job is that secure.

I'm not the best example of someone who can just go on about doing the things that need to be done, and not waste my time and energy worrying about stuff that I can't do anything about. But really, friends, that's what we need to do.

Important Financial Moves
First: pay down your debt, as fast as you can. Especially credit card debt, or any high-interest loan. Paying ahead on your mortgage is good, but should be prioritized with the next two items, depending on your situation. Having a paid-off house IS very reassuring, however.

Second: do home improvements to make your home more energy efficient, and prepare for utility outages, etc. So many of us are totally dependent on electricity: to cook our food; run our lights, computers, and refrigeration; to run the fan and thermostat on the furnace; and if you have a well, to pump water out of the ground.

Having some non-electric ways to heat, cook, and cool is a wise thing to do, regardless of whether we get a financial meltdown. A winter blizzard could take out electricity, or if you live near the coast a hurricane, or here in Colorado a tornado. Having some extra blankets and sweaters and heavy socks is also good. Store some water, at least 1 gallon per day per family member for 2 weeks, just to be sure.

Make sure you have enough insulation; insulated blinds or other window coverings are good. If you are ready to replace a furnace or refrigerator or other appliance, get a high-efficiency one.

Third: start storing food. Again, you don't need to wait for a financial meltdown for this to make sense. If you lost your job, and couldn't find another for a while, or ended up in a low-wage job, having 6 to 12 months of food stored would be very handy. If money is tight, just buy a small amount of staple goods each week when you shop. You will build up your stock over time. If you can buy staple goods (like rice, beans, flour, etc.) in 25 lb bags, you'll find that they are much cheaper that way. (And learn how to cook with those stored foods, fixing foods your family will eat.)

The very best online resource I can give you is Sharon Astyk's blog: Depletion and Abundance. She talks about the hard issues (the problems coming), but mostly about the important issues: how to feed your family and keep them warm, what foods to store and how, and how to build the community around your family that will help us all weather the coming storms. It's worth it to look back through her posts for at least the last year, if not further. Goodies include lists of useful books and tools. It's nice to know we're not facing this alone. She keeps a can-do spirit, tackling the challenges that we could all face with grace and courage.

Anyway, the way to go forward is not to get paralyzed with worry, but to put one foot in front of the other, doing the daily ordinary activities to prepare for the unexpected; learning the mundane skills of cooking, sewing, fixing things, gardening, etc.; thinking about low-energy, low-cost alternatives to take care of ourselves and our families.

Month 11: September and the perfect Nectarine

I see I haven't posted since the Month 10 report. I've been distracted (perhaps one could say "driven to distraction") by the Wall Street bailout, and other financial and political stuff. I've also been busy putting up fruits and vegetables, and working (I have a job that shows up once or twice a year for 3-4 weeks).

The perfect Nectarine: picked on Colorado's western slope, just about three days short of ripe. As soon as the nectarines get a little soft to the touch (anything but hard), they are ready. Wow! I think I like them better than peaches. It's been so many years since I had a good nectarine. We've been eating a bunch and I've also canned several batches for the winter.

Canning Nectarines
Canning nectarines is like peaches but easier. I didn't bother to take the skins off, though I do with peaches. For the full story on canning, you should get the Ball Blue Book of canning (also has info on freezing, drying, etc.).

But here's the simple story, for waterbath canning. Put clean pint jars into your canning kettle, and rings, and cover with water. Bring to boil. Jars should boil 10 minutes, but more doesn't hurt. Meanwhile, for nectarines, wash and cut each into 8-10 slices. A pint jar holds about 3 med nectarines. Also, bring to a boil 4 cups water and 1 cup Colorado honey, and in another (small) saucepan, simmer the lids for your jars for 10 minutes and leave them in the hot water. This is 3 burners worth that you've got going.

Now, put a couple of handfuls of nectarine slices into the boiling syrup, bring back to boil, set timer for 2 minutes. Fish out with a slotted spoon and put into jars that you have taken out of the waterbath. Use a canning funnel to keep from spilling. They will settle a bit, so you will have to keep putting a couple more into each jar until they are pretty close to the rim. When all are cooked in syrup and put into jars, pour syrup into the jars right up to the rim (shoulder) (not up to the top). Should be about 1" of head space. Get the lids out of the hot water with tongs, then screw on the rings tight but not too tight. Place the jars back into the canning kettle (the water should still be boiling). You may have to scoop a little water out of the kettle, since you are putting full jars in, in place of the empty ones. Bring back to boil (don't be fooled by the air bubbling out of the lids), and set your timer for 20 minutes. Then pull jars out of the water, put on counter, and wait for the ping!

There is a gadget you must have to get jars in and out of the canner, special tongs that grasp the jar on each side and allow you to lift it without tipping. Another little set of tongs for the lids, and the canning funnel, are really all the equipment you need.
Always use fresh lids each time. You can save the used ones for use with jars of dried foods, beans, etc., just don't can with them again.

If you are doing peaches, it is somewhat more involved. Bring a saucepot of water to boil, put peaches in for 30 seconds to 1 minute (depends on ripeness), and then into a bowl of cold water. The skins just peel off. Now slice into a big bowl, and proceed as for nectarines. You can peel and slice all the peaches, then bring the syrup to boil and simmer them; otherwise you'll look like one of those Hindu goddesses with eight arms.

If you have syrup left after topping off the jars, lucky you! It makes a wonderful refreshing drink, diluted 4:1 or even 8:1 in cold water. The flavor is honey + fruit; delicious!

After your jars cool off all the way, check to be sure that each lid is down, by pressing gently in the middle. If a jar didn't seal, or if it pings when you touch it (which means it didn't seal properly), put it into the frig and use soon. Otherwise, they're good for a year or more.

Colorado's fall bounty
September brings us the last of the peach and nectarine harvest, with pears and apples coming soon. The fall Colorado lettuce is superior to the spring lettuce, in my opinion. The heads are bigger and the flavor is better; also they keep very well. We can also get fall spinach, again superior to spring, and arugula. The cooler days and nights are good for the quality. The braising greens keep improving: chard, kale, etc.

We're still getting sweet corn, tomatoes, and all kinds of peppers, until the first freeze. I'm still putting up tomatoes, and my last two jars of lactofermented cucumber pickles.

Next come the winter squashes and pumpkins, just starting to show up now. They'll keep at a cool room temperature, as themselves, through the winter to early spring. Keep them out of the sun, and at 50 to 60 degrees. Look through your stash every so often, to see if any are getting soft spots, and use them right away.

September is Wild
September brings a frantic activity to take care of the harvest and store it for winter. Even if you don't put up food, you will probably feel it, as a general angst that winter is coming, hard times are coming, and we need to be prepared if we're going to eat next winter. Eating as a Locavore brings this anxiety to the front, as you work to fill up those jars while the fruits and vegetables are available. You can't substitute peaches from Argentina in the winter (not that they're worth eating anyway).

I think of what kind of meals I can prepare next January, and what I need to have on hand. It seems there can never be enough tomatoes. I have put up tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, tomato juice, and chopped tomatoes. I will be making a lactofermented salsa today, with tomatoes, peppers and onions from Cresset Farm. That will keep under refrigeration for months. I've made jars and jars of pesto for the freezer, and dried many batches of fresh basil and other herbs.

I've been filling up my staples jars for the past 5 months, and I'm fairly well set there. The local meat, dairy and eggs are available year round (though eggs can be a little hard to find in the winter). We live in a beautiful and bountiful state, never more bountiful than in September. And it's hard to say which is more beautiful: the cool, bright days of September or the days of April when the trees are in blossom. Happy Autumn to you all!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Month 10--August--Nature's Bounty

August is an easy month to eat locally. We are picking grapes, and our own Siberian peaches and tiny greengage plums. The potatoes are ready, under the ground. Due to general neglect on my part, each hill has a fairly small number of potatoes, but they are delicious.

The fruit from the Colorado's Western slope is simply superlative.
The Colorado fruits are coming in: apricots, plums, early peaches. Now, in mid-September, peaches are still running strong. I was able to snag a box of Colorado organic nectarines this week. To look forward to: buttery Colorado bartlett pears, and a variety of apples. It has been years since I bought a supermarket nectarine. They have all come from California or even farther, tasteless and mealy. I have high hopes for the Colorado nectarines.

The CSAs are all in full swing, as are the farmers' markets. LoveLandLocal food cooperative is selling more produce than staples now. We buy only Colorado organic produce, and we've been feasting on corn, cucumbers, red spring onions, zucchini and yellow squash, green beans, and more. There was still some late spinach. The fall lettuce is just starting to come in. (Lettuce in Colorado does not do very well in the hot dry weather of July.)

Our meals often are very simple: some form of meat such as chicken, sausage, bison burger, pork chop, etc., and a selection of fresh cooked or raw vegetables. Examples are sweet corn, fresh tomato, green beans; green pepper slices, radishes, snap peas; sauteed green tomatoes, corn again. Then for dessert, whatever Colorado or homegrown fruit we have on hand.

I've also been very busy "puttin up". Today it was quarts of red plums, and greengage plum butter. Lessons learned: for red plums, leave a lot of headspace in the jar. As I took them out of the water bath, purple juice came up and out of the jar. I used the raw pack method, pricking the plums, packing them into hot quart jars, and covering with a light (Colorado) honey syrup.

The greengages have been sitting on the back table for a couple of weeks, starting to dry. They are small but sweet. I finally just dumped them into a saucepan and covered with water. After an hour or two, they were soft. I pressed the pulp through a colander, taking out the pits. Then I took the sieved pulp and simmered it in the saucepan until it was somewhat thicker. I seasoned it with ground cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. It had the perfect sweet/sour flavor without adding any sugar or honey. I packed it into hot half-pint jars and processed it in the waterbath.

I'm running the Siberian peaches through the fruit dryer, pitting, cutting into slices, but not bothering to peel. I dried a great load of green bell peppers last week, also some Anaheims and yellow gypsy peppers, for winter soups. Peppers keep beautifully when dried.

It's really a race when I get a box, or pick a bunch of something. When will they get ripe? When will they spoil? There's a window--wide for green peppers and tomatoes, narrow for apricots (every one ripens at the same instant).

Eating locally has really made me conscious of harvest times in our state. Cherries are done, apricots are done, plums are at the end, peaches only have a couple more weeks to run. Asparagus is a spring thing. Peas are a joy of early summer. We'll have fall lettuce until the first freeze, then the hardier greens. Enjoy it while you can! It won't be back until next year.

Some fruits and vegetables can be put up for the winter, and I've been doing it this year. I remember my mother putting up fruit and vegetables. She did green beans, peaches, sweet corn, bread-and-butter pickles, and watermelon pickles. Watermelon pickles were certainly not a favorite of mine, but the bread-and-butter pickles were great. We enjoyed them all winter. Nothing you can buy in the store beats them.

Bread-and-butter pickles
Makes 7 pint jars

4 pounds of small, very fresh organic pickling cucumbers
2 pounds of red spring onions, bulbs only
1/3 cup flaked sea salt
some ice
2 cups sugar
3 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1 teaspoon peppercorns

Slice the cucumbers 1/4" thick, and the onions similarly. If the onions are large, cut into quarters before slicing. In a very large bowl (or 2 large ones) mix with salt, cover with ice cubes. Let stand 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, put your jars and rings into the waterbath canning kettle and bring to a boil. Put the lids in a small pan covered with water, and bring to a simmer.

Pick ice off top of vegetables, drain them, rinse, and drain well.
Mix vinegar, sugar, and spices in a large kettle and bring to boiling. Dump the cucumbers and onions into the kettle, and bring all to a boil. Pack vegetables into hot jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Wipe off the rims, then place the lids and rings on.
Put jars back into water bath, bring back to boil, and process 10 minutes. Then lift out onto the counter and wait for the ping!

Their flavor is said to develop further in the first few weeks of storage, but the samples I ate that just wouldn't fit into that last pint jar were delicious.

They are very pretty with the red onions; white are usually used. You can do the same thing with small zucchini, adding 2 smallish sliced green peppers or sweet frying peppers. A friend was planning to make the zucchini pickles with the zucchini we got at the food cooperative. Surprise: the zucchini turned out to be a beautiful bright yellow. And the onions were red. But she decided to make them anyway. The yellow zucchini looked so sunny and bursting with health.

Don't bother to make pickles with wilted, tired cukes. They should be crisp and fresh. If you don't have fresh spring onions, regular onions will do. If you haven't seen spring onions, they are full-grown with green tops, pulled fresh out of the field in midsummer; they are NOT scallions. We've been getting them in the cooperative; they are really wonderful. If you refrigerate them, you can use the tops like scallions in the first few days; the bulbs last a long time.

Another summer's bounty recipe:

Quinoa tabbouleh

1 cup Colorado quinoa (if you can find it, or other source)
4 cups boiling salted water
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine
1 large red ripe tomato, chopped fine
chopped leaves from a large sprig of fresh mint
1/4 cup lemon juice, or to taste
1/4 cup olive oil, or to taste
salt and pepper as desired

Put quinoa in boiling water, boil 10 minutes, then drain. (This is quinoa cooked like pasta.) Put in a bowl, mix with parsley, tomato and mint. Add lemon juice and olive oil, then taste. Need more zing? add lemon juice. Need more salt? add some.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Summer Bounty recipes

Here are three summertime recipes we've been eating recently.

A cold soup; a Jewish specialty often made with sorrel. Makes 4 servings.

1 smallish potato, sliced thin, peeled if skin is heavy
3 cups water
3/4 tsp salt
1 pound finely chopped washed greens
2 beaten eggs
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 sliced scallions or equivalent in fresh onion tops or chives
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the potato in the water with salt until tender. Wash your greens. You can use all spinach, half spinach and half dandelion greens (I used the big farmed ones), half dandelion greens and half chard (not using the stems), or your choice, but they should be soft greens that cook quickly. If you have sorrel for part or all of the greens, you'll need less lemon juice. Since the eggs are only lightly cooked with the hot water, use the best quality fresh eggs you can.

Chop the greens finely. Put in skillet with just the water they still have on them, and stir over medium heat for about 5 minutes until the color brightens. Beat the eggs in a bowl with a whisk, then beat in the hot potato water. Add the potato bits, the hot cooked greens, and the scallions. Mix well. Finally add 1/4 cup lemon juice. Add salt to taste and freshly ground pepper. Chill the soup for several hours. It is served cold.

Summer's Bounty Stew
You COULD use
ingredients from somewhere else, especially if you live in another state. Quickly cooked summer meal. This amount serves 2 adults.

1 tbs sunflower or olive oil, or home-rendered lard
1 Colorado fresh spring onion, red or white, green part sliced, bulb chopped
1 Colorado garlic clove, peeled and sliced
1/2 lb Colorado ground bison
1 Colorado yellow crookneck squash
1 1/2 large or 2 medium Colorado tomatoes, stem end cut out and chopped but not peeled
1/2 cup chopped Colorado flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian herbs, or use your choice of fresh herbs
3/4 cup fresh or frozen peas, or chopped fresh Colorado snap peas
freshly ground pepper, salt to taste

Spring onions are fresh medium-sized onions with their tops; only available in midsummer, fresh and delicious. Must be stored in frig.

Saute garlic and chopped onion in the cooking oil, then add the ground bison and stir to brown. After it loses its red color, add the squash, parsley, and herbs, stir a few more minutes, then stir in the chopped tomatoes. Allow to simmer covered a few minutes, then add the peas (if you use fresh shelled peas, add WITH the tomatoes). Let simmer a few more minutes, covered, until the peas are done. Sprinkle with pepper and salt to taste. Serve. You could put it over pasta if you like, but we like it plain as a stew.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce
"Tastes like Italy", my husband said. The Italians insist upon fresh food, freshly cooked, letting the quality of the ingredients make the flavor of the dish.

3 large local tomatoes, stem end removed, chopped smallish
2 tbs olive oil
2 cloves peeled sliced garlic
fresh herbs to your taste: thyme, marjoram, oregano, flat-leaf parsley, rosemary, basil, etc.
salt and pepper to taste
Spaghetti, regular or gluten-free
Fresh mozzarella cheese (ours is from Windsor Dairy)

Start boiling water for pasta.
In 1 tbs olive oil, saute one of the chopped tomatoes for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Put into blender and quickly puree.

Start the pasta cooking.
Wipe out skillet, start again with another tbs olive oil, the other two tomatoes, and the fresh herbs. Saute over medium heat as the pasta cooks. The tomatoes should not lose their essential character. After they have sauteed for 5 minutes or so, stir in the puree. Check the seasoning.

Pour sauce over freshly cooked pasta, decorate with small thin slices of fresh mozzarella. Ciao!

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Chokecherry Adventure

This has not been a good fruit year for Northern Colorado, and for our yard in particular. Last year we were up to our ears in Siberian peaches, plums of several kinds, and apples. My fruit dryer was busy for weeks putting away all that harvest. We gave away over 1000 pounds of apples from our three trees.

But this year, we have just a few apples, just a few peaches, just a few plums. So my attention turned to... ta-da.... chokecherries. Since we live in the valley of the Big Thompson river, chokecherries grow wild here, along with wild plums. Chokecherries seem impervious to heat, cold, drought, downpours, insects, and hail, always producing a crop. And they make enough for the birds, the bears, the rodents, and the occasional jelly-making human.

Problem is, I just don't like jelly. DH doesn't either. Since I have gluten intolerance, we don't have much bread around, and wouldn't put jelly on it anyway. It's easy to make jelly from chokecherries, and it is excellent jelly. Just collect, simmer 15 minutes, and let drip in a muslin bag for the juice. Sugar and a little pectin, and you have it. (Obviously this is not a recipe, but recipes for chokecherry jelly are readily available.)

So, I think, what about chokecherry leather? I have trays with my fruit dryer that make leather, and I've made apple and pumpkin leather in the past. I picked about 2 quarts of berries, removed the stems and the bird-pecked ones, and put in a saucepan with a little water. Then I simmered them for about 15 minutes, until soft. (You need to cook chokecherries, as the pits are slightly poisonous.)

Next, I tried to put them through the food mill. Bad idea. The pits are large compared to the size of the berry, and the food mill really did not like the pits. In fact, some of the pits broke into little sharp pieces.

Food mill didn't work very well, so I tried rubbing them through a sieve. It was very difficult to remove the pulp from the pit by this means, so I gave it up as a lost cause.

The original food mill approach did give me about 6 cups of juice and pulp. So I decided to sweeten it just a little, using healthful local honey...... wrong. Honey is hygroscopic, meaning that it doesn't dry, and in fact can absorb moisture from the air. So after hours of drying, I had a thin and very sticky paste stuck to the trays. On the good side, it was absolutely delicious, although it had a few little sharp bits from the pits.

As I discovered, cooked chokecherry juice and pulp is plenty sweet enough for leather without adding any sweetener, but if you must sweeten it, be sure to use non-local non-healthy sugar :-(

My original inspiration was an American Indian recipe I came across. They would collect the berries, and pound them very thoroughly, breaking up the shell of the pit, and freeing the kernel inside. Then they would pat it into thin cakes and dry in the sun. This seems to be enough heat to remove any slightly poisonous problems with the pits. The little cakes were considered a treat, although you had to spit out the numerous small sharp fragments of the shell. The pits are highly nutritious with protein and oil, so the little cakes were good wintertime food.

After having made my attempts at doing something besides jelly and little dried cakes, I looked on the internet to see if I was just nuts, or if somebody else had some ideas. And this is what I found: Chokecherry.

The author is a real fan of the chokecherry and has a number of ideas for using them, in addition to information on growth habits and identification. Not only does he make chokecherry leather, he LOVES it.

As he mentions, you can also just make juice and can it (by boiling-water process), without adding the sugar and making jelly. I can imagine that the juice would be good with applesauce. Or you could make a light syrup (honey WOULD work for this) for pancakes, or for refreshing summer drinks or desserts. A little creativity, and chokecherries are a tasty and free addition to the food supply.

From previous years, I know that the wild plums, when allowed to get fully ripe, are absolutely delicious. They are small, and turn a pretty pink when ripe, though there is some color variation between one shrub and another. They should be soft, and nearly falling off the bush.

If you are a jelly lover, they make excellent jelly and jam (no pit worries on these; the pits are big enough to not cause problems). I like to eat them fresh. I have pitted and frozen them. I have also pitted and dried them; they don't take too long because they are small. In the winter, you can stew up the dried wild plums with some water and honey for an hour or so and make Compote (a delicious dish of stewed dried fruit, decorated with heavy cream). Or I can visualize the cooked pulp in ice cream or with other fruits in a cobbler or crisp.

You will know if they are not ripe enough; they are hard and unbelievably tart. I have wondered if one could make umeboshi plums by salting our wild plums, but I haven't tried it.

At any rate, it's fun to see what can be made of our prolific and hardy native fruits. They are the taste of the foothills of Northern Colorado, long before the settlers brought their fruit trees and vegetables. Happy gathering!

Month 9: July--A Bounty of Vegetables

I didn't realize it had been so long since I posted. I've been busy DOING, I guess--putting up food, and working on the LoveLandLocal food buying cooperative.

It's easy to eat locally in Colorado in July. All the farmers markets have vegetables and fruits on offer; the CSAs have all started delivering. If you have a garden, you are probably up to your ears in fresh produce. We're having fresh salads every day, fresh cooked and raw vegetables, and delicious fresh fruits.

This is a good time of year to start your own Locavore diet, because now is the time you need to start puting up that Colorado bounty for the winter. So far I have picked and eaten gooseberries, Nanking cherries, pie cherries, and black currants from our yard. I've also harvested radishes and wild arugula, and dug the first new potatoes from my small overgrown garden.

I've put up tomato sauce by waterbath canning, using a little vinegar in each jar as the experts recommend. And I plan to can lots and lots more tomatoes, as sauce, salsa, chopped tomatoes, maybe tomato juice.

I have made three half-gallon jars of lactofermented green beans, one of sauerkraut, and three of cucumber pickles. These pickles are very easy to make, and don't require vinegar or water-bath canning. You just need refrigerator space for the finished pickles until you eat them all. I have written a little paper on lactofermentation; you can find it under "Blogs and websites" to the right.

I bought a vacuum sealer and put up a boatload of Colorado snap peas for the freezer, as well as many packages of green beans and a few of snow peas.

My fruit dryer has been busy with drying fresh herbs, MORE green beans, some sweet corn, a box of apricots, and a box of peaches. These are safely stowed in glass jars. I prefer to dry fruit since you don't need sugar, and unlike freezing they can be stored without any further input of energy. See my next post for the chokecherry adventure...

The Colorado cherries and apricots are done for the season. We just ate the delicious fresh sweet cherries and I didn't put up any.
As the weeks pass, some foods come into harvest in Colorado, and others go out.

Plans for the coming month:

  • bread and butter pickles (whwnever I can find small pickling cukes)--these are water-bath canned. My mom used to make the best bread and butter pickles.

  • Canning lots and lots more tomatoes, as sauce and whole tomatoes, and maybe salsa.

  • Drying boxes of peaches and plums.

  • Might try drying melon slices; I'm finding delicious melons from Monroe Farms at the farmers market. I've heard they're great dried.

  • All kinds of summer squash can be dried, sliced thinly. They make nice crunchy snacks, and can be put into wintertime soups too.

  • Other foods that dry well: bell peppers, anaheim peppers, and mature onions. I plan to do them all. For chili peppers, just string them and hang them; no need for electricity.

The refrigerator is groaning, filled to the gills with lactofermented pickles and fresh veggies. And the freezer is packed with frozen vegetables, and a couple of bags of whole grain flour staying fresh.

My DH complimented me on the fresh tomato sauce I served on pasta recently. He said, "this tastes like Italy". When we vacationed in Italy in 2005, the foods were so fresh and flavorful. The tomatoes were grown right outside the city, and trucked in fresh in the morning. Most of the sauces were fresh, the vegetables were crisp; everything tasted like itself, like it should.

You don't have to go to Italy to get food this good though--just buy local organic Colorado produce, freshly picked and into your kitchen in a day or two. Warning: It does ruin your taste buds for stale, chemicalized, overprocessed food shipped from all over the world and kept in warehouses for weeks or months, or manufactured in a factory somewhere from ingredients you can't pronounce. No more strawberries tasting like sweet cardboard; no more flavorless melons; no more green beans already three weeks past their prime; no more peaches that go directly from hard to rotting without ever
stopping at ripe.

We've mainly been eating simple meals of meat, vegetables and fruits, but I have a few recipes to share with you in the next post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Month 8: Out of the Woods at Last

In June we finally started getting the fresh Colorado vegetables in quantity and variety. We have been enjoying daily large salads with lettuce, cukes, tomatoes, and fresh herbs. We've been eating Colorado snap peas and snow peas. Snow peas are great with Hazel Dell mushrooms in a quick stir-fry. Snap peas are wonderful however you eat them. I've also frozen about 15 pounds for later in the year, since they won't stay in season here for long. And I won't buy the ones imported from Argentina or elsewhere.

The Farmers Markets finally started getting some fresh vegetables in several booths, as well as the first of the Colorado fruit: bing cherries. I'd like to find pie cherries too, but they are more elusive. The Loveland area used to have many large cherry orchards; in fact our house was built on a former cherry orchard west of town.

We're both on a diet, and both losing weight. It's mainly meat (local organic, including chicken) and vegetables either cooked or raw, with a little fruit. And a couple of times a week, a high-carb meal with bread, potatoes, or grains. This diet would have been impossible in April, with no fresh vegetables available, without breaking our local food promise.

Looking back over the eight months since November 1st, the 100-mile diet has morphed into more of a Bullseye diet. Meats, eggs, dairy products are from a 25-30 mile circle. Now that our CSA is starting (Yippee!) our vegetables will be mostly within a 15-mile circle; this spring I allowed the entire state of Colorado because there just was NOTHING in the way of fresh vegetables locally.

I'm considering building a small hoop house in our back yard. There is no reason why we can't have season extenders here; it's just that nobody is doing it as a business now. A hoop house could give us homegrown fresh vegetables from March through December.

With staples, there was really very little that I could find within a 100-mile circle, especially organic. Whole wheat flour from Kersey helped make my husband's weekly pizza, but I am gluten-intolerant, so it's done nothing for me.

Staples are grown in Larimer and Weld counties, but generally not organic, and generally sold directly into the commodity food chain. I hope we can remedy that problem. If we can build a market for local grains, beans and flours, I'm sure our local farmers can grow them for us. A side benefit for them is that they would get a much better price, with fewer middlemen between the farm and the customer.

I have bought Colorado staples: millet, quinoa, pintos, anasazis; and some staples from neighboring states: Utah, Kansas, Nebraska.
It's nice to have some food put aside. I have glass jars filled with grains and beans, and flour in the freezer to last us for a while.

I plan to put up green beans (lactofermented and frozen, maybe canned, maybe dried), and tomatoes tomatoes tomatoes, as sauce, paste, chopped, and whole. I plan to dry more herbs, make more pesto, and dry Colorado peaches, pears, and plums. Some of that will be from our yard, though our fruit crop is way below last year. Must have been too dry in the spring to set a lot of fruit.
I plan to freeze English peas, dry zucchini (I hear they're very good that way), and dry onions. It would be easier to make it through spring with more preserved foods on hand. And it makes a person feel a little more secure, knowing that there is GOOD FOOD in the house.

A great site on preserving foods is Preserve. I especially like the
apron she is wearing: "Put Up or Shut Up". I'd like to have one
of those! And here's another site with loads of info on food storage: Food Storage FAQ. And there's a load of information of all kinds on Backwoods Home Magazine.

A quick May and early June recipe, that got us through the desert of fresh food. Honeyacre is located in Wiggins, CO, and grows hothouse vegetables for the Farmers markets (and stores too, I think). Very tasty for hothouse vegetables; so much better because they are local and fresh picked.

Honeyacre Salad

1/2 Honeyacre hothouse cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 large Honeyacre hothouse tomato, chopped
1 Honeyacre hothouse sweet pepper, your choice of color (or whatever she has), chopped

Mix all together. Drizzle on 1 tablespoon olive oil (California) and 1/2 tablespoon vinegar, pickle juice or lemon juice. Sprinkle with fresh or dried herbs. Voila! Serves two hungry people.

And something that is good either with the last of the stored potatoes, or the new potatoes which are available, with the new Colorado scallions; an Irish recipe.


Peel and cut up 2 pounds potatoes, preferably Russet. Cook in salted water until tender. Drain. In another pan, heat 1/2 cup milk, 3 tablespoons butter, and 2 bunches scallions, trimmed and chopped fine. Simmer for a few minutes until the onions are soft. Then mash the potato chunks into the milk and scallion mixture. I like it a bit chunky. Serve with a few pats of butter melting into it, just to make it beautiful. This should serve four people as a side dish.

If you want a smoother-textured dish, mash the potatoes separately until smooth, then stir into the milk and scallions.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Tragedy of the Tomato

The three-month long crisis with salmonella on tomatoes, or is it peppers? or is it scallions? or what is it anyway? sheds a very bright light on why local food is better.

Some people have gotten sick from salsa, and some never eat salsa so that couldn't be the source. Apparently the infected tomatoes are contagious enough that slicing one in a restaurant kitchen and then cutting some other food could contaminate the other food.

In a recent article I read, apparently the FDA was surprised to learn that tomatoes are commonly "repacked", together with tomatoes of the same size and appearance, from other areas. Sometimes U.S. grown tomatoes are mixed with tomatoes from Mexico or other countries, and sold as a product of the U.S. The FDA investigators have had an incredibly hard time tracing tomatoes to their farms of origin. Tomatoes are often held in warehouses for months before sale. They have become the perfect anonymous vegetable. Nobody can tell where they were grown, or when, or how. Therefore there can be no traceability, and no responsibility when something goes wrong.

One of the tragedies is that many large tomato growers have had to plow under their crop, worth sometimes $100,000 or more, because people are afraid to buy tomatoes. This is true even for growers whose tomatoes have tested perfectly clean with no trace of salmonella saintpaul. An entire industry is on the ropes right now.

Approximately 1,000 people have been sickened by the present time, though very few have died, and there's no end in sight. There is little or no progress in the investigation, except to widen it still further, due to the anonymity of the modern tomato. If warehouses are contaminated, many other vegetables could now be affected.

The E coli spinach of 2006 was much easier to trace, because bunches of spinach are held together with twist-tie labels from the company that produced them, which happened to be Earthbound. Painful at the time, but the cause was easy to find--overflow from the feedlot down the road--and easy to fix. With tomatoes there's no end in sight.

Yes, in case you wondered, your home garden tomatoes (once they get ripe) are perfectly safe. Our CSA tomatoes and locally-grown tomatoes, kept out of the commodity stream, are safe. One of the reasons to eat local food is the "face behind the food", farmers who know their product, and know that it is safe.