Monday, April 28, 2008

Growing Your Own

I came across a really wonderful article this morning by Michael Pollan, the author of the "Omnivore's Dilemma" and loads of other excellent books.

Read it here: Why bother?

The “cheap-energy mind,” as Wendell Berry called it, is the mind that asks, “Why bother?” because it is helpless to imagine — much less attempt — a different sort of life, one less divided, less reliant.

His point is that instead of sitting helpless, watching the TV as food prices go up and up, in world markets over which we apparently have no control, we can actually get out there in the dirt and grow some for ourselves.

And here's an article from Sharon Astyk's blog on the same subject:

Victory Gardens

A book I'm going to have to get:
Food Not Lawns (not that you HAVE to get it at Amazon, but at least you can read about it there.)

There's no food so local as that you grow yourself. We've spent the last six months on a 100-foot diet for fruit. We're still eating applesauce and dried apples and peaches from our yard. The cherry, plum and peach trees are in full bloom. The Nanking cherry shrubs just finished. The apple blossoms are standing in the wings.

I've got seed potatoes in the house, ready to plant out when I get
a little time to make some holes in the ground. Potatoes.... now that's an EASY crop to grow. Make a hole, drop potato piece in, fill in. Water once in a while. As the potato bushes get growing they choke out the weeds. Dig up, wash, and eat. What could be simpler? Of course you can get better yields by taking a bit more care.

You can also get a old plastic garbage can, make a few holes in the bottom for drainage, half-fill with some dirt and mulch/straw/etc. Now the potato pieces. Fill in gradually as they grow. Water occasionally. When you harvest, tip the thing over, pull the potatoes out. Done!

Someone I know put potato pieces on the ground (she had softer ground than we do), covered them carefully with straw mulch, didn't have to water because she lives in upstate New York, and got a good crop.

It probably won't work to use those ghost potatoes you might have left in the pantry. The ones with the long pale sprouts. Although I'm always tempted by things that want to grow. You can get seed potatoes at all the nurseries, grown virus-free, ready to grow, which will do better for you. I like to order my seed potatoes from Ronnigers, who have dozens and dozens of different varieties.

Tomatoes are a big favorite. If you have nothing more than a sunny deck, you can grow tomatoes in 5-gallon tubs. You will have to water them a lot to keep them happy. Or you can get self-watering pots, or make them. The book: Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers.

If you think about it, we have spent the last hundred years in this country turning prime farmland into suburbs and shopping malls and roads. The land under the shopping malls is pretty much lost to us while the shopping malls are there, but we do have these lovely bits of land around our houses. Currently most of them are in chemicalized lawns, taking huge amounts of time, energy, and water, but they DON'T HAVE TO BE. Small plots are by far the most productive farms in the world, everywhere in the world including here. You don't need to leave wide lanes for the tractor. You are right there on the ground, paying attention, putting in a little outdoor exercise every day, bringing in baskets of fresh food to your kitchen. Even a 20x20 garden, well kept, will produce an amazing amount of food for you.

Some closing thoughts from Michael Pollan:
But the act I want to talk about is growing some — even just a little — of your own food. Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don’t — if you live in a high-rise, or have a yard shrouded in shade — look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The First Farmer's Market and Dandelions

I went to the Drake Road Farmer's Market on April 19, the first week. You could buy Colorado honey, Colorado-made pasta in a rainbow of varieties, bedding plants, Colorado-baked breads, and some crafts. One booth had a few vegetables: tomatoes and onions. I bought three onions. We've been out of onions for awhile. No fresh greens. Kind of a disappointment. Not speaking anything against the bakery people, the pasta maker, or anybody else there, but I'm hungry for spring greens.

Myrto tells me there is a boatload of fresh spring greens in Boulder, but my conscience (and my budget) won't let me drive that far to get a bag of salad mix. Whole Foods has lettuce from Osage Gardens, a Colorado hothouse grower who also has a large selection of fresh herbs. I bought that, and we have enjoyed it greatly.

The LoveLandLocal Food Buying Cooperative is getting a case of Osage Gardens butter lettuce coming in Thursday, and I've signed up for several heads. We're looking forward to that, as I'm sure our other members are.

The dandelions in my yard are at their peak of springtime goodness, so I think it's time to go CUT some fresh greens. Dandelions are a time-honored spring green. Get them young and early, before they get tough and bitter. (Of course, don't cut and eat them if you have sprayed them with noxious chemicals.)

Dandelions are a treasure of nature. Fresh nutrition-laden spring greens, medicinal roots (or you can roast them as a coffee substitute), important spring bee forage, work like a vegetable crowbar to break up hard soil and bring nutrients up for the grass. And pretty yellow flowers (as my grandmother once said).
You can even make dandelion wine from the flowers (though my one attempt failed).

I'm sure the British settlers who brought them from the old country had no idea that they would cover the country and inspire megatons of herbicide being applied to lawns. To them, it was a pantry and apothecary plant, essential for living.

Declare Peace with dandelions! Happy harbinger of spring.

Beautiful Soups Span the Seasons

I know I haven't posted recipes for a while. Our food choices have been somewhat limited at the end of winter and beginning of spring. But I have come across a couple of excellent soup recipes. Enjoy!

Gypsy Soup (inspired by Mollie Katzen)

3 tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (or 1/2 cup home-dried local onion)
3/4 cup chopped sweet peppers (or 1/4 cup home-dried local peppers)
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (local Colorado)
1 1/2 cups peeled chopped winter squash (local)
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes (home-canned local)
1 cup green peas (fresh, frozen or canned)
6 oz. sausage (local)
2 teaspoons mild chili powder (Native Seeds, NM)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon marjoram
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 tablespoon tamari
1 bay leaf (picked from your own house plant, if it can stand it)
salt to taste

Soak the chickpeas overnight, then cook till tender (takes a while). Put in kettle: olive oil, onion, peppers, tomatoes, peas, winter squash, drained chickpeas, crumbled sausage, spices except
tamari, salt, and 3-4 cups water. Simmer 25 minutes, until squash is done. (You really want to have your chickpeas tender before putting them in the soup, since they don't get much more cooking.)

Taste for seasonings. Add tamari to taste. Add more spices if you like. Add fresh-ground pepper if you like. This is a beautiful colorful and yummy soup, very satisfying.

Thursday Pea Soup
This is a traditional Swedish recipe.

1 to 1 1/2 lb ham shank or meaty ham bone (local, non-cured)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped fine (Colorado)
1 cup yellow split peas, picked over and rinsed
1 large turnip, peeled and diced (local)
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

Put ham shank into kettle, cover with water (maybe 6-8 cups). Add split peas, onion, turnip, seasonings and salt to taste. Simmer for a good long while, till meat is tender and coming off the bone.
(It was about 2 1/2 hours for me.) Fish out bone and meat. Cut meat into small pieces and return to soup. Check for seasonings.
If it is too thick, add a little water. If too thin, simmer uncovered for a little while to evaporate.

If you have a carrot on hand, you can peel and dice it, adding it with the turnip. If you have rutabaga instead of turnip, that works too, peeled and diced. If you have green split peas instead of yellow, feel free to use them. (Yellow IS traditional, however.)

Soon, soon, we'll be up to our ears in salad materials, but for now, soups are the ticket.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Out with the Old--In with the New

Well, out with the old, anyway. I just made applesauce out of the remaining apples from last fall, saving a few good apples for fresh eating. Amazing that they hold on that long, in our cool garage. We've just finished the applesauce I canned last year, and we're starting in on this year's supply.

The last of the potatoes are hopeless: wilted, with long sprouts heading off in all directions. Compost! I did see Colorado potatoes at Whole Foods lately, so maybe I can get some late season potatoes. It's really about time to plant potatoes here.
I'm relying more on the Colorado organic millet and quinoa that I have, and the terrific Colorado organic pinto beans.

I have one hard-shell Hubbard squash waiting for me. Squash is not really my favorite food, and it's hard for me to find a way I really like to eat it. Maybe I can make a soup with the garbanzos I have, squash, spices, and canned tomatoes that we have on hand.

In the frig: two daikon (a little pithy now), a little Napa which makes both salads and cooked dishes. And one and a half leeks. We're down to the bottom of the barrel on fresh vegetables.

But--hope is on the way. As Myrto pointed out (thanks!), in Boulder you can buy fresh spring greens already. And they're not far away here. Drake Road farmers market in Fort Collins is reputed to be opening April 19!

Our brand-new LoveLandLocal food buying cooperative is going to be buying a case of fresh Colorado-grown organic butter lettuce. I've signed up for six heads myself.

If I could get organized with a cold frame, I could be PICKING fresh greens for myself, right outside our back door. I hope to be putting that together this summer. Eliot Coleman has a great book: "Four Seasons Gardening", if you want to learn more about it. In our temperate climate we should be able to eat fresh greens from our yard at least 11 months out of each year.

For those that might be worrying about us, I am allowing Exceptions of canned organic U.S. tomato products, and (just for early spring) peas both frozen and fresh snap. These are just to tide us over until the summer crops are in. I'm being careful that we do not suffer malnutrition. This summer, I'm going to put up a lot of local tomatoes, and peas if I can find them, so we don't run so short next April.

Our apricot trees are blooming now; bees are visiting them. I have hopes for apricots this year, my first crop from these trees. Last year the little darlings bloomed mid-March! My nanking cherry shrubs are also in bloom. They make cute little cherries with cute little pits, ripe in June, the first fruits on our property. It would be a lot of work to make a pie, but they're great fresh eating.

Happy Spring!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Month 5: March-ing Toward Spring

We finished our fifth month on the 100-mile diet. I haven't been posting vegetable recipes, since our selections are getting pretty small--Daikon, a few roots, Napa Napa Napa (wonderful stuff), potatoes, lactofermented (pickled) vegetables, leeks, canned tomatoes (Exception until summer). We still have some local fruit: dried apples, applesauce, dried plums and peaches.

It's been harder in March, and April will be the same. I'm trying to put a balanced diet on the table, with the fewer selections, but it means we eat a lot of the same things week to week. That's one reason for adding the canned tomatoes to our selection. This summer I will be canning a lot of local tomatoes.

We sometimes have salads with slivered Napa, lactofermented carrots, canned tomatoes, olive oil (Exception) and pickle juice as dressing. They really taste pretty good, but I'm lusting after Lettuce! Going without lettuce for six months is one sure way to make you appreciate the stuff!

We've been eating Cincinnati chili, putting it on local pintos or the last of the On Hand pasta. It's good on boiled potatoes too.

I cooked a local Eastern Plains heritage turkey (from the freezer) for Easter Sunday; we've had delicious leftovers on that, and I made soup from the carcass. We have one more batch of broth and meat for soup.

End-of-Winter Turkey Soup

Break up a turkey carcass (the remains of a small bird) into a large pan or kettle, cover with water, add salt, and herbs or pepper as you like. Simmer 2-3 hours. Fish out the bones, pick the meat off them. Strain the broth and save it--you could have 2 to 4 quarts.
(Works best with an organic turkey, because the broth is so much more flavorful.)

Soup: Heat one quart broth in saucepan, add 1/2 to 1 cup chopped turkey meat, 1 cup or more sliced Hazel Dell portabellos, and 3/4 cup of wild rice or quinoa (whatever you have on hand; brown rice would work too). Simmer until the grain is tender. Check for salt, add fresh ground pepper if you like.

You could add some vegetables to this, if you have on hand: sliced carrots, sliced leeks, chopped celery, sliced scallions, or peas, or some combination. (We don't have any left.) The soup is good with some cole slaw on the side, for green and crunch. Applesauce for (our) dessert.

On another subject:
The LoveLandLocal bulk food buying cooperative is putting together our first order. We can get free delivery from the Denver distributors to Loveland for $300 worth of food, which we are sure to have from the orders we already have. If you live in the Northern Colorado area and want to be a part of it, let me know. All of the foods are organic, many from Colorado, and the rest from the western U.S.