Saturday, November 14, 2009

Winter Keepers

I've been trying to follow my own advice, and use produce I have on hand before it gets away from me. This includes apples from our trees. We have several boxes in the garage. I need to go through them every week or 10 days, to pull out any that are starting to get soft spots or show bruises. So, what do you do with a box of "immediate" apples? I put up seven pints by waterbath canning, for future desserts, and made a big pan of Apple Pandowdy:

Apple Pandowdy

Amounts for a 12x8 baking pan

4 1/2 cups washed, cored, sliced apples (I don't bother to peel, and they're fine)
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4-1/3 cup sugar, succanat or brown sugar
5 Tbs butter
1/3 cup sugar, succanat or brown sugar
2 small or 1 large egg
3/4 cup brown rice flour plus 6 Tbs millet flour (or use 1 cup plus 2 Tbs unbleached or whole wheat flour)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange apples in bottom of pan, sprinkle with spices and sugar, bake 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cream butter and sugar together, stirring in egg(s), then add flours, salt, and baking powder and milk, stirring to mix. Remove apples from oven, spread batter over apples, sealing to sides as possible. Return to oven for another 30 minutes baking.

This will remind you of a baked pancake. Lots of fruit for the amount of cake. Very nice with ice cream; we just had it plain and it was yummy. A traditional American dish.

Wild West Beans

2 cups dry navy beans, picked over and soaked overnight
1/4 lb sliced bacon or rinsed salt pork, diced
1 Tbs cumin seed
1/2 cup chopped onion
6 juniper berries
1/2-1 tsp chipotle chile powder (to taste)
4 sliced cloves garlic
1 tsp dry oregano
1/4 cup tomato sauce
salt to taste

Drain beans and cook in fresh water until about tender. In another pan, cook bacon or salt pork until fat starts to flow, then add cumin and onion, saute 5 minutes. If there is still a lot of water on the beans, pour most of it off, leaving water to just cover; or if necessary, add water to just cover. Stir in bacon and seasonings including the fat, juniper, chipotle powder, garlic, and oregano. Simmer 1 1/2 hours, covered. Make sure it doesn't go dry. Then add tomato sauce and salt to taste, and cook another 15 minutes.

Finally, what do you do with those black radishes? ("I thought radishes were red?") If you aren't lucky enough to have black radish, you can use daikon in a similar way.

Black Radish Slaw
2-3 black radishes, or 1 lb daikon, peeled and grated
3 cups finely cut cabbage
1 cup coarsely grated carrots
1/2 cup sliced green onions, or slivered shallot or leek
2 tablespoons lemon juice or good cider vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar or honey
2 tablespoons fresh herbs, if available--could be parsley, mint, marjoram, cilantro, or you could use 2 tsp dried herbs of your choice
freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Put veggies in a big bowl. Put lemon juice, oil, and sugar in a little jar and shake well, then pour over veggies. Sprinkle on herbs and black pepper, toss well. Taste and add salt, more lemon juice, more pepper, or whatever you think you'd like.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Hierarchy of Food Waste

To do your part to reduce food waste, you need to do some planning. First, make plans of what you would do with extra food of various types rather than landfill it. This is particularly important for perishable food such as meat, dairy products, vegetables, and fruits.

Plan A: Do what you can to preserve the food for your family: freeze meat before it turns, or cook into soups, stews, casseroles, etc., and freeze them (be SURE to use wide-mouth freezer-safe jars or plastic tubs). Can soups with a pressure canner. Mildly freezer-burned meats can be cooked in stews or braised; you'll probably never know the difference.

Vegetables can be canned, lactofermented, frozen, or dried. BE SURE to do this while they're still fresh, before they get wilted, discolored, or slimey. Fruits can be cooked into desserts, dried in pieces or as rollups, frozen, made into jams and jellies... well, you get the picture. Milk can be made into fresh cheese; fresh cheese can be frozen successfully. (Look for a post on this subject soon.) Same for cream or half-n-half, if you ever have such things left over. Or you can use milk or cream in soups, casseroles, puddings, etc.

If your storage is full, your freezer is full, you know you'll never use the food if you stored it (frozen and canned foods don't keep forever), no one in your family likes the food (buying mistake), or you feel that you have enough, then go to...

Plan B: Give the food to other humans. This includes family members, friends, neighbors, the less fortunate, food banks, food drives, and other charities. The best use of human food is for humans. Food banks probably won't take fresh meat and dairy products, unless truly fresh and unopened, for obvious reasons. Check first. But in general they are happy to take surplus vegetables and fruits, including fruits from your yard that are in excess of your ability to use them. Be sure to do this while the produce is still attractive and useful.

Sometimes, however, food items just get away from us; we turn our backs and they wilt, go sour, turn brown, etc. Not fit for human consumption. Now you can go for...

Plan C: Give the food to animals. If you have chickens, they're perfect! I give my chickens anything except chicken; they're omnivores like us, and will happily eat meat that is starting to turn, old dairy products, mushy fruits, etc. (Actually, chickens would eat chicken perfectly happily, but it's evil to feed animals their own kind.)

Perhaps you have friends with chickens, or even pigs. Don't feed pigs raw meat of any kind, to break the cycle of disease. But the meat could be cooked. Meat slightly past its prime or freezer-burned could also be given to dogs or cats, in modest quantities. Tired old casseroles, freezer burned vegetables, it all looks good to a pig.

Perhaps you don't know anyone with chickens or pigs. And that food is definitely over the hill. Next step:

Plan D: Compost it! If you have land, or even a neighborhood garden spot, get a compost heap going. Non-meat food scraps, outside leaves of cabbage, rotting apples, you get the idea, mixed with fallen leaves, grass clippings, and similar stuff. You can find numerous books with information on composting. Put it in, then let it work. Next year, add it to your gardens or flower beds. It is suggested not to put meat-based foods into compost unless the bins are secure, to keep down problems with skunks, bears, raccoons, the neighborhood dog, etc.

Plan E: The last useful stop on the food waste bandwagon is biogas generation. I don't know of any around here, but in Britain they have loads of them, using all kinds of food waste from "post-consumer" to factory wastes. Methane (natural gas) is generated--very useful stuff. The residue is a good soil amendment. The challenge is getting the icky stuff to the biogas plant, but the British are figuring it out.

Plan F (for failure): The worst thing to do with your food waste is to send it to the landfill. There it rots underground along with the rest of the stuff, producing methane and other greenhouse gases which make their way to the surface and into the atmosphere. Many communities are having problems with overly-full dumps and landfills.

This is waste of the worst sort--human labor and fossil fuels used to grow the food, which is now not of any use to any living thing, and increases the greenhouse gas and waste disposal problems.

BTW have you thought about the term "fossil fuels"? Fossil fuels were laid down under the ground along with the fossils. The natural cycles which make these things take millions of years. But we're burning through it as if there is no tomorrow....

Oh, another thing, "tomorrow", as in the next few decades, is going to be different from the last 50 years. Hate to break the news to you. The excesses that we're accustomed to are going to disappear. Somewhere between a technological paradise on the one hand, and apocalypse on the other hand, is where we're headed. If you want to read some really well-reasoned articles on these and related subjects, try the Archdruid Report.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Food Waste--A Global Tragedy

I have recently finished reading Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, by British author Tristram Stuart. His analysis features the UK food distribution system, with significant contributions about the U.S. system and other European countries. The facts are scandalous, as he says. This book is well worth the reading. Here are a few highlights.

Food waste starts right at the farm, particularly with contract growers for supermarkets. Supermarket chains order x pounds of something, like carrots, to be delivered by y date, but they can reduce their order if by that time, demand is down, they already have too many, or for any other reason.

If the grower does NOT deliver x pounds of carrots at that time, he/she is liable to lose their contract for the next year. Weather or crop failure is not an excuse, so the grower who wants to keep their contract will plant more rows of carrots than needed.

If the supermarket chain reduces its order arbitrarily, the grower is left with excess carrots. Or if there is a bumper crop, probably the other growers have one too. The residual value of all those extra carrots is probably not worth the trouble of packaging, shipping and marketing, so they are often plowed under.

Next, a tremendous amount of food waste is caused by "aesthetic" considerations. Carrots must be perfectly straight, so they all fit neatly into those bags. Non-straight carrots are dumped or sold for animal feed, or in the U.S. are sent to be milled into "baby carrots". Potatoes that are too big: out they go. Apples that are too small: out they go. Any produce item with a little mark on it, a slightly funny color, etc., out they go. In some cases they go for animal food, in some cases particularly in Britain, they are used as feedstock for methane generation. But often they are just composted or plowed under.

It gets worse.

Sell-by dates are the culprit in much meat and dairy-related waste. These are very conservatively set; most foods are good for another several days or even a week or more. This factor combines with the desire of stores to be fully stocked with every possible item, even perishable, regardless of level of sales.

Between the overstocking and the pessimistic Sell-by dates, packaged entrees, sandwiches, salads, and similar foods are usually just dumped. Stuart says that in the U.K., the dumpsters are generally locked to prevent the poor from getting their hands on the food. If not that, the foods are emptied from their packaging and stirred all together with non-food waste to make them unusable. Due to landfill fees in the U.K., more of this waste is going to methane generation, generating pennies on the dollar of their worth as food for humans.

The loss to human food by dairy and meat waste is multiplied by the tremendous amount of human food (corn, soy, wheat, etc.) fed to conventional livestock.

Other sources of food waste include eating too much (waistline as waste), general dislike of organ meats (though some of this goes into pet food), the packaging of perishable food in amounts that are too large for singles or couples to use before they go bad, and the tendency of many children to take a bite of something and throw it away. And the waste of by-catch for seafood runs up to 90% for some items such as wild-caught shrimp. Waste of seafood is particularly tragic since many species are drastically overfished.

Another cause is poor household planning: buying what's on sale instead of what the family will eat; forgetting what you have in stock; getting busy or tired and eating out instead of eating what's on hand.

Stuart has done a great deal of research, and finds that counting waste sources from farm to garbage can, approximately 50% of food production is wasted in the sense that it is does not meet its destiny as human food. The U.S. has more than four times the amount of food required by the nutritional needs of the population (some is fed to livestock). The production of surplus food is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions; the planting of trees on land used for wasted food would offset half to all of man-made emissions.

The good news is that enough food is produced now to give everyone in the world enough to eat. The bad news, of course, is that we do not do that. U.S. households spend about 9% of their income on food, half of what was spent a few decades ago. Food is SO CHEAP for most people that they do not value it. Convenience trumps instrinsic value. It must be especially galling for the hungry, especially in our wealthy nation, to know that tons of perfectly edible food end up in landfills. And it is not showing respect to the animals, the farmers, the land, the Earth, when we treat these resources as unimportant.

So what can we as individuals do? I welcome you to join me in trying to reduce the food waste in your own household. And I welcome suggestions from readers for specific and general ideas.

After all, it isn't just food, it's lives. Lives of food animals, lives of farmers, lives of wild animals whose habitat has been taken away for more soybeans or oil palm or whatever. It's past time for us to consider the Earth and its dwellers as precious.

* Be a better manager. Be aware of your stocks. Use or preserve items before they go bad. Buy only what you will use. There are a multitude of ways to use or preserve food items, and I'll discuss a few in upcoming posts.

* Buy direct from farmers, through CSAs, or through farmers markets or cooperatives. This will eliminate much of the "aesthetic" waste from the supermarkets. The crooked carrot and knobbly potato are perfectly good food.

* Buy grass-fed or pastured meat, dairy and eggs when you can. This will free up more food for humans, and will reduce the need for intensive monocultures.

* Teach your children to respect food. One way is to let them have a garden. The carrot they grew is more precious than the carrot from the supermarket. Or take them to a small farm or CSA, so they can see the plants and animals. Model respect for food in your own behavior.

* If you have fruit trees or shrubs in your yard, work at putting that harvest to good use, not just letting it fall on the sidewalk or be swept into the garbage.

I'll talk about some of the ways to reduce food waste on the community level soon.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Starting our Third Year

Jim and I started our local eating journey with the 100-mile diet on Oct. 31, 2007. Oct 31 is the Celtic New Year, which starts at the beginning of winter. The Celtic day starts at night at the setting of the sun. That's one reason why Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and Halloween are so important in our calendar. The Celts believed that at the turn of the year, the veils that separate our world from the spirit world became very thin. They of course considered it to be a holy time.

Two years ago we started "making the road by walking" with local food. We're not quite as strict as when we started, but local eating is working better and better. During this year we started getting more foods from the "100-foot diet"--eggs from our chickens (and chicken from a few of them), vegetables from our front-yard garden, and our selection of fruits.

This year the apple trees bore heavily, but no crop from the peach trees. So we have boxes of apples in the garage and applesauce in jars. But we don't have dried peaches. The greengage plums had a modest showing. They are SO Sweet I don't like eating them fresh very much. I cooked them down to a plum butter, which didn't need any sugar, and is very tasty.

Our food circles: 100-foot circle (from our yard)--chicken, eggs, fruit, some vegetables; 15-mile circle--CSA, most meat, some other vegetables, some dairy products; State of Colorado circle (square)--some staples, Western Slope fruit, pastured poultry; Western U.S. circle (not exactly round)--the rest of the staples, nuts and dried fruits, olive oil and olives, a little Alaska wild-caught salmon; the World--tea black and green, a few cans of artichoke hearts, spices, a little coffee, a little chocolate.

Our seasons: When you eat local food, you pretty much eat seasonally. This year I put less food up for out-of-season eating. I'm feeling more comfortable each season with what the season brings.

I enjoy the lactofermented foods in winter and spring, but not in summer. We have tomato juice and sauce put up, and some nectarines and peaches, bread and butter pickles, tart cherries in the freezer, apples in the garage. Today I got a bag of pumpkins from our CSA: enough for pies, soups, and casseroles.

Local food is just what we eat. Some evenings I look at the plates of food I have fixed, with high-quality local meat, vegetables, beans, cheese and other dairy, and fruit for dessert. What a sheer delight of freshness and flavor! How fortunate we are.

I have spoken to other members of our food cooperative. They also feel that their food choices and meals have changed to be so much more supportive of good health and enjoyment. And we can feel glad to support local farmers and ranchers in hard times. They need help from all of us. They are dedicating their lives to bringing good food to the tables of their neighbors. We're happy to bridge the gap between the growers and the eaters.

Happy New Year to all of you! May the coming year bring happy times and good meals to you and your families.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Three for the Season

We're at the turn of the seasons now--the summer bounty is fading fast, the fall fruits and vegetables come into their own. If you haven't put up enough tomatoes to last the winter, it's probably too late. This was a tough year for tomatoes here; they grew slowly in the cool summer, and just didn't want to ripen. Boxes of field tomatoes for preserving showed up late, for just a few weeks.

We're ripening three trays of small tomatoes from the garden, yellow gooseberry and red pear. They're very tasty; as they turn their appropriate colors we snag them as snacks. The juicy cooling salads of summer are morphing into salads of sturdier greens, trimmed with carrot and daikon and the last few tomatoes.

Here are some turn-of-the-season recipes.

Last of Summer Pasta Dish

3 frying peppers (mild light green), seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped, or one leek sliced
2 stalks celery
oops too late for the zucchini--omit
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium head broccoli, cut into small flowerets
3 or 4 good-sized tomatoes with a few soft spots
4 oz tomato sauce (optional)
Fresh or dried herbs as available
salt and pepper to taste

Grated parmesan cheese
Freshly cooked pasta, regular or gluten-free

Heat the oil, add the chopped onion, garlic, peppers, and broccoli. Saute over medium heat for 5 minutes or more. Chop the tomatoes, cutting out the spots; don't bother to peel. Add tomatoes to skillet, and tomato sauce if using. Add herbs--maybe 2 tsp mixed fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano, marjoram, or 1 tsp dried, and if you have a little parsley, chop that and throw it in too. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer covered until the tomatoes start to disintegrate and the vegetables are done.

Have the hot pasta drained. Place in bowls, top with sauce, and sprinkle with cheese. Yum.


Beans and Greens Soup

I'm always careful to soak all beans very well before cooking, even these little guys. Be sure to pick over your beans well, removing bits of dirt or rock, and broken or discolored beans. Then rinse and soak. Don't use salt when cooking dried beans; it toughens them. You can salt them after they are tender.

1 cup navy beans
a little ham or small piece of ham shank, if desired
1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
1 lb hardy greens as available: kale, chard, tatsoi (a dark green spoon-shaped green), mustard greens, turnip greens, etc., washed and chopped
8 oz tomato juice or 4 oz tomato sauce
1 large tomato chopped
1 tsp Thai curry paste of your favorite type, or 1 tsp chili flakes
salt and pepper

This is where the time comes in:
Day before, pick over, rinse and soak the beans in water to cover. Next day, drain, add fresh water to cover by 1 inch, ham if you're using it, and chopped onion. NO SALT at this point. Simmer 2 hours or more until beans are tender. Add water as needed to keep it from going dry.

While preparing dinner, heat the beans, add the broth and the chopped greens of your choice, and the tomatoes. Stir in the curry paste, chili paste, or chili flakes to the hotness desired, and salt to taste. If you like, you can throw in some small pasta such as Orzo or alphabets (always fun). Simmer 10 minutes or more, until everything is suitably tender.


Rhubarb Crisp

We recently got some fall rhubarb, and I made this decadent dessert. It was totally wrong of us to eat the whole pan that night, but we did.

2 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb (frozen is OK too)
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste (you could use Succanat or honey)
1 1/4 cups brown rice flour
1 cup gluten-free oatmeal
8 tbs butter (1/4 lb stick)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar (or 1/2 c Succanat and 1 tbs molasses)
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Put the rhubarb in a small pan with water to just cover, and the sugar. Stew gently until it becomes soft.

Mix flour, oats, sugar and salt in bowl. Work in butter with your fingers, until like crumbs. Reserve half of the mixture. Spread the other half in a 8x12 baking dish. Then spread the rhubarb mixture over it as uniformly as possible. Mix the almonds into the reserved crumbs and sprinkle evenly on the top.

Bake at 375 degrees 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit a few minutes before dishing up. You don't need to top with cream or ice cream, but if you do, I won't tell.

Monday, October 5, 2009


An important part of local eating in a temperate-zone area is putting up food for the winter. We're doing our best to eat fruits and vegetables from Colorado, and when winter arrives, they will no longer be available. So it's up to me to put them into jars, dry them, or freeze them.

The guesswork comes in: how MANY jars? what kinds of food? Besides that, every harvest season is different. It's a lot of expense and work to put up things that nobody wants to eat. And you really would like to finish off 2008's jars or freezer items before you start putting 2009 crops away.

What you should NOT guess at is when you preserved something. Every every jar gets its own label: what it is, month and year. I was pretty much amazed in the winter, as we went through jar after jar marked 8/09, 9/09, 10/09.... I must have been in a food-preserving frenzy last fall.

I put the dried goods into jars too, labeled with item and date. I mark the freezer bags with dates too. Rotating stock is SO important.

--The green beans and snap peas I froze last year must have been blanched too long, because they came out kind of mushy. We weren't very interested in eating them, and they are mostly still in the freezer. Too bad.

--The nectarines and peaches in light honey syrup were WONDERFUL. I did a load of them, and then another load. Box after box. We enjoyed them all winter long, and I still have 16 pints left. Overshot just a little, but we'll eat the 2008s first. I did a few plums too, which were nice.

--The tomatoes were fabulous. I made stewed tomatoes, tomato juice, chopped tomatoes, and tomato sauce. We used them as pizza topping, in soups and casseroles, and tomato juice for drinking. I'm down to one quart juice, and 1 half-pint sauce. Turned out just about right, since the tomato crop is VERY late this year. I've got tomato sauce simmering on the stove right now. I'd like to find another box of tomatoes to put up, while they're still available.

--I still have some dried fruit left. I haven't dried any more this year, since we have so much. I'm drying more herbs this year: basil and dill from my CSA, mint from the garden, celery leaves from a head of celery I found at the Farmer's Market. This is not prime celery-growing territory, and I was happy to see it.

--We polished off all the lactofermented (pickled) cucumbers (6 half-gallons), in short order. They were followed by the (3 jars) lactofermented green beans, and we got through most of the (2 jars) of lactofermented salsa. I still have a few jars of mixed lactofermented veggies; I seem to lose interest in them in the summer. For this year, I've made three jars of wax beans, and one jar of cukes finished, with another three sitting on the counter now. And I've just put 2 jars of kim chee in to ferment.

I'd like to do a jar of salsa if I can get the tomatoes. And a jar of sauerkraut. Lactofermented pickles stay happily in your frig for months, sometimes even into the second year, if you don't eat them in time. Overshot just a bit on the lactofermented veggies. Or, perhaps we're not eating enough of them?

--I dried some green beans last year, forgot about them most of the winter, then discovered them in time to add to winter soups. They really come out well. I also have dried bell and banana peppers; I used some but not enough.

Some vegetables have gone to waste this year, because I have not gotten to them either in cooking or in putting up. You shouldn't try to put up old stale, wilting veggies, but plan ahead and put those veggies up when they're fresh.

--This year we have apples, loads of them. We haven't had a crop for the last two years. I'll be doing applesauce and apple rollups, so I don't think I need any more peaches and nectarines this year. We'll pick through the apples, choose the nicest ones and store them in boxes in the garage for the winter. These apples keep pretty well until March in a cold place. The rest will go into the kettle for applesauce.

--This winter I plan to do more sprouting. The fresh foods taste so good in the middle of winter. It's easy to do in a jar on your counter.

So, in general, my guesswork of last year worked out pretty well. I'm fine-tuning this year: what do we need more of, what less? What worked, what didn't? Where do I need to work harder at finding recipes and using the foods that we have?

To sum up, the rules of thumb for food storage are:
****Label Everything, with the date.
****Store what you eat, eat what you store.
****If you have a bounty of something, put it up while it is still fresh.

Year of the Garden: Update

The baby lettuces you see in my previous post grew up into an astonishing array of variety in colors and shapes, nice medium-sized heads. I picked them all before the freeze last week. The kale, chard and chicory breeze right through mild freezes near 30 degrees. This was my most successful garden bed. Planted in mid-July, the greens had time to get good sized before frost. We had many servings of delicious thinnings along the way too.

I picked a big bowl of little tomatoes before the frost. My varieties this year were Austin's Red Pear and Hartmann's Yellow Gooseberry. Both small and very flavorful. We picked only a dozen ripe ones, with hundreds on the bushes. I covered the plants, but the foliage got zapped anyway. However, the remaining green tomatoes survived, and I picked the rest of them the next day. I have 5 trays of the little guys waiting to ripen up (or give up).

The pumpkin vines did fine, making ten pumpkins. The watermelon and cantaloupe didn't ripen. The beans were a total disaster this year--I think my problem was rabbits or voles eating all the new shoots.

The flowers and herbs in their cement-block pots did wonderfully. They were easy to water. The mint stayed within bounds. And they were so pretty. Hopefully the perennial herbs will overwinter.

I'm now in apple harvest. We have three mature apple trees, variety Delicious, as Delicious used to be: sweet and flavorful. Great keeper in the garage over the winter. Sweet enough to not need any sugar to make applesauce and apple butter. They're also a good cider apple, mixed with bitter-sharp cider apples.

These are Delicious as they were before the plant breeders got to work trying to make them more red. The watery, pithy, flavorless Red Delicious in the stores, mostly from China, are so cheap that U.S. growers have been grubbing out their Red Delicious trees. There is no U.S. market any more.

Delicious need to be allowed to ripen on the tree to get their full flavor. Mine were finally ready to go this week. I've been sampling the last couple of weeks, to make sure they have come into their full flavor. We'll put aside the best into storage boxes, and I'll make applesauce out of the ones with worm damage.

A friend of mine offered to bring a troop of Girl Scouts to help pick. I figured maybe 5 or 6 girls, very much appreciated. Wow! Thirty girls showed up with at least 10 parents. They were scampering around, climbing up in the trees, filling up boxes. In less than an hour they had the trees pretty much picked, and they are big trees, full of apples. The energy of the young is astounding! And the power of community.

Picking apples has been close to an ordeal in previous years, when my DH and I did all the work. It is still fun to pack those beauties away in boxes and give them to friends and neighbors, but it's a lot of work. Now I have the boxes packed, and the girls had fun and took apples home with them. The chickens are enjoying the windfalls.

I didn't get to the wild plums the way I wanted to. I checked when they were not ripe (and VERY sour). Then time got away from me, and they ripened and mostly fell off before I got them picked. They are tasty when very ripe, a lovely dark pink color. Since we're not big jelly eaters, we just eat them fresh, or I freeze a few.

I picked the Greengage plums about a month ago, just as they were dead ripe. I made jam out of them; they are hard to dry, being so sweet. The jam was sweet, spicy and flavorful with just the plums--no sugar required. They're really almost too sweet to eat out of the hand.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Year of the Garden

Last year was the year of Eating Locally. There was so much buzz about it; I was asked to speak to a number of groups. Books were printed, blogs were started. This year even the supermarkets have "Buy Local" stickers on some things. This is good, of course, though the few marked produce items are more of a token than a movement.

For us, Local Food has just become the way we eat. I've loosened our restrictions, but we're still eating probably 85% to 90% local food, more than last year when we had non-local food on hand that I was using. We've become accustomed to beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables, non-feedlot beef, chicken and pork from animals that had a good life scratching and rooting in the open air. The prospect of going back to commodity-based industrial food would be unspeakably dreary.

Someone recently asked me why I supported local foods. I told him that my purposes had enlarged somewhat over the past year. At first, it was mainly the somewhat abstract (though still important) issues of climate change and peak oil. After having eaten this way for a while, I'd have to say the most important issues are:

  • Supporting local farmers and growers, and local small food processors, helping to create a robust local foodshed;

  • Enjoying the best quality food we have ever eaten, at no more cost than industrial commodity and imported food;

  • Eating a far healthier diet: cooking from ingredients rather than eating junk food and fast food; eating more fruits and vegetables and less grain; avoiding pesticides, herbicides, unpronounceable additives, MSG and high-fructose corn sweetener.

Back to my theme: if last year was the year of Eating Locally, this year is the Year of the Garden. People who haven't had a garden in years put one in this year (myself included). You see many more gardens in front yards than ever before. Seed companies are reporting phenomenal sales growth.

In our local food cooperative, produce sales are down somewhat, although we have more selection, and more direct-from-farm offerings this year. Our local CSAs are having more trouble selling their shares. Some is due to the economy, but much is due to people growing their own. When you have a couple of hills of zucchini (or even a couple of plants!) you've GOT zucchini.

It hasn't been an easy year for gardens in northern Colorado. June was unseasonably cold and wet; numerous hailstorms pounded young plants into the dirt, and pounded the replanted gardens two weeks later. On the other hand, we haven't had to water all that much. Tomatoes are slow to get ripe with cool days and cooler nights.

Let me tell you about My Garden. We live a few miles outside town, so the front yard/back yard what-will-the-neighbors-think problem does not bother us. With all the trees and shrubs on our acre, however, the only truly sunny spot was in the front yard. The front yard, nominally in grass lawn, is pretty well filled with clover and heavy pasture grasses, and our soil is clay that turns to brick in the summer sun. And I've got some physical problems that make it difficult for me to do heavy garden work. So I thought all last year about what I would do, and all this spring, and finally, a little late for this season, decided on a plan.

Rototilling the heavy grass (mostly Johnson grass) would make a new plant come up for every little fragment of cut root, so that was out. And I won't use herbicides. I tried raised beds a few years ago, with treated wood (uh-oh, arsenic). The other problem was that the dirt pulled away from the wood, and water just rolled off the soil, down the boards, and away. I'm sure expert gardeners out there are just rolling their eyes now.... But remember, if a solution requires a huge amount of physical labor, it's out for me, no matter how worthy it is.

Ingredients: Last year I made a compost pile using four straw bales for the sides, and filling the center with alternating grass clippings, kitchen scraps, leaves, etc. Then it stewed over the winter. This spring the straw was breaking down too, as it would.
We also had loads of cardboard and heavy paper bags from the food coop distributions. We had some wood chips left over from a previous landscaping effort. And I ordered a pile of mixed dirt and compost from a local landscape service. (I can detect eye-rolling again, but sometimes you have to work with what you can...)

We got cement blocks for the border. We laid out a double layer of cardboard and heavy paper bags, right on the grass (mowed short). The area was about 20 by 22 feet. Then we set the cement blocks, cavity side up, around on the edges of the cardboard (don't want the Johnson grass to come up in the cement blocks either). The north and south sides of the bed were blocks all the way, but on the east and west side I left matching openings (one block wide) to form three paths that you could run a wheelbarrow all the way through. The layout was to have four beds, four feet wide each, with wood-chipped paths between them running from east to west.

A kind friend came and helped us, and the three of us wheelbarrowed the compost and old straw and spread a four-inch layer over the cardboard. We sprinkled on some old dry chicken manure (saved from the chicks I raised last year). Next, we put two inches of soil, to keep the whole thing from blowing away, and I watered it all well. In further sessions, DH wheelbarrowed up loads of dirt, we built up the four beds another four inches, and I filled in all the little cavities in the cement blocks. Then we spread the wood chips into the paths.

We need to get some more chips, but what we have prevents muddy shoes at least. The beds themselves are nice and fluffy, because you don't need to step on them for any reason. The beds are just four feet wide and you can reach in from both sides.

I got bedding plants: flowers and herbs, some perennial, some annual, whatever I could find in mid-June. Loads of mint, marigold, zinnia, oregano, marjoram, snapdragons, nasturtium, sage, thyme, petunias, basil, carnations, nicotiana, and more. So late in the season, the flowers were on sale at $1/flat of four. I planted them into the cavities, alternating flowers and herbs.

I had started tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, by then somewhat potbound. The day before the garden was ready, our local packrats found the plants hardening off on the back patio and nipped off ALL the little peppers and all but one of the eggplants. Tomatoes don't taste good, so they were safe. I picked the best five tomato seedlings and the slightly chewed eggplant and planted them in one bed. What fun! It's been years since I had the joy of having a garden.

In the second bed I planted one hill each of early watermelon, pattypan squash, Lady Godiva pumpkin (grown for the plentiful soft-shelled seeds), and cucumber. They have plenty of room to ramble.

In the third bed, my failure. I planted green and wax beans, two rows down the entire 20-foot length. Once they got up, some little nibblers came every night and nibbled off all the new shoots (could be rabbits, could be packrats or voles). Finally the plants just gave up under the constant attack and died. Oh well. Next year, maybe some cages or other protective gear...

In mid-July I planted the fourth bed to fall greens: mixed lettuce, upland cress, rainbow chard, Russian kale, and mixed chicories. I covered it all with Reemay cloth (or similar), a non-woven light cloth that shades the worst of the sun, keeps the soil moist, and keeps out the four and six-footed eaters pretty much. You water right through it. By the end of the season it's shredded. I've been thinning the rows, and using the thinnings as mixed salad. We've had three meals off of it so far. The upland cress is very spicy; I've never grown it before.

My very-late-started tomatoes are setting fruit. The pattypan squash has several nice-looking fruits almost ready for harvest. The pumpkin is running uproariously along the bed, setting fruit. The lemon cucumber is setting its first fruit too.

I'm thinking that as the weather gets cold, I can cover the tomatoes (which are on the south end) including the cement blocks, which will help hold the heat through the night. The same for the greens bed, which is on the north end with its own row of blocks.

I water with the hose most days that we don't get a good rain, especially the block cavities which dry out quickly, but it takes only 5-10 minutes. Another five minutes daily to pull out the seedling weeds. I've never had such a trouble-free garden. The flowers and herbs around the bed make it particularly beautiful.

We only used up 2/3rds of the dirt I ordered, and we've got another half-load of cardboard built up, so I am planning to make another smaller bed, with more straw and leaves in it, this fall. Ideally a layered bed like this should be made in the fall, so it can create soil over the winter. I didn't want to wait; I Really wanted a garden this year, so I chose plants that don't need to root deeply.

Next year all that stuff in the middle will be well broken down, and I could even plant potatoes or carrots if I wanted. To keep this garden up, I need to be diligent about pulling weeds, never step on the beds, and be sure to build up the soil over the winter with more organic material. I should never need to rototill. The money invested in setting up the garden will pay back in future years of produce.

Compromises all the way around: money spent, dirt hauled in, cement blocks used (not eco-friendly). On the other hand, I used what I had: sunny area, cardboard and paper, compost, straw and old manure. I avoided problems: aggravating our fussy clay soil, encouraging the Johnson grass and clover, planting in tree-root or shaded areas. And I've got an informal setup for season extension, with the blocks next to the beds.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

We just got back from a trip to Utah, with the focal point the Shakespearean festival in Cedar City, Utah. Cedar City is in southwestern Utah, not far from Bryce and Zion. We have been there several times during the years. It's fun to hike around and see the red rocks in the daytime, and see an excellent play at night. One of our very favorite places.

It was HOT! July is not the best time of year to go, but that's when the plays are shown. The roads and national and state parks were filled with tourists, many from Europe. I heard German, French, Italian, Spanish (from Spain), Russian, and Japanese spoken. I visited with a very nice woman from Holland (Dutch sounds kinda like German but not quite, so I asked her where she was from), there with her family at Goblin Valley State Park in middle Utah.

In a Hanksville, Utah, restaurant, a waitress said more than 70% of their customers were from Europe. And at Ruby's Inn outside Bryce, where the line of customers for their excellent dining room was half a block long as we were leaving, the cashier said that their business was down this year. We were lucky at Ruby's Inn, by eating "unfashionably early" at 6:00 p.m.; she said the Europeans tend to eat later. Even American tourists often show up after the sun goes down and they have taken the last possible shot of the gorgeous rocks.

We finagled our brief stay at the Grand Canyon to avoid the worst of the crowds. We came in at Desert View in the early evening, and I turned into the first view point. Not too crowded at that time of day. There was a bagpiper on an overlook, in a kilt, playing a serenade to the canyon. He was not associated with the park, just some guy. I can just imagine him planning this tribute; he played excellently, and got a warm round of applause by the approximately 30 people listening. Then we sat on a little hill and watched the sun go down over the buttes with people from many nations.

We drove in the dark to our motel just south of the main entrance. We rousted ourselves out of bed before 7:00 a.m. and shot out to the rim and the overlooks. Hardly anybody there at all. The air was cool. The canyon was its phenomenally-gorgeous self. The ravens were having fun. We stopped at four overlooks and took pictures, including one of a 10-foot-tall bloom spike on a century plant, with a swallowtail butterfly getting its breakfast. We left the rim by 10:00 a.m. to see bumper-to-bumper traffic coming into the park. Whew! Just in time. We ate breakfast, checked out, and started driving north and east.

On the way back we took Road 12 from just south of Panguitch, across some of the most amazing scenery in the world. You come over the edge of a high plateau, into a wonderland of rocks and cliffs. There are excellent hiking trails along the road, but I'm not up to that now, so we drove on. Between Escalante and Boulder, Road 12 goes up and over the Hogsback, with 500 foot cliffs on one side (no guardrails), and at the narrowest point, on both sides. I'll talk more about Boulder later. Between Boulder and Capitol Reef National Park, we drove over the Aquarius Plateau, covered in aspen and conifers, with lovely grassy meadows. We saw a marmot by the road. It's the highest land around. From the top you get a 360 degree view of red rock areas, Bryce and Zion from the back, Arches, etc.

Then Capitol Reef for half a day, and Arches for half a day, and a miserable stop-and-go trip from Eisenhower Tunnel to Denver on I-70. Note to self: DO NOT plan a trip to come into Denver on I-70 on Sunday afternoon! What's more, our car was losing first gear by that time. But we got home, much later on Sunday than we expected, but safe and sound.

Now for the food part. At Cedar City we had kitchen facilities. I went to the store to try to buy sausage. Every package I picked up had high-fructose corn sweetener and MSG in it. Finally I found a brand that only had some sugar. Gasp! It was that way with everything. We have our local sources of excellent quality food here at home; on the road we were pretty much reduced to the Standard American Diet (also termed SAD). And sad it was. It was pretty shocking how out of touch we had become.

We ate at some decent restaurants, and some mediocre restaurants. Nothing really awful, but DH was gobbling Tums after each meal. We both put on some weight. I took some high-quality gluten-free wraps which lasted us for a while, and most of our lunches were cold cuts, cheese, lettuce, and these wraps. After they were gone, it was pretty slim pickings.

But in the midst of this desolation, we happened upon paradise at Boulder, Utah. A little town of about 180 population, with one truly fine lodge and restaurant. It was early evening, so we booked a room (lucky to do this without a reservation) at Boulder Mountain Lodge. Gorgeous large room, well appointed, in a peaceful and beautiful area. You could see the cliffs of the Hogsback road across the road. They had an 11-acre bird sanctuary next to our building. There were flower gardens everywhere.

If you're interested, look them up on the internet: Boulder Mountain Lodge. Associated with the lodge was a restaurant, the Hells Backbone Grill. Again, since we were eating early, we managed to slip in without a reservation. They seated us on the deck, next to the flower gardens, with hummingbirds coming to a feeder, and plied us with endless glasses of iced green tea.

I realized I had found a "local-food" restaurant. They got their meats from local ranchers, grass-fed. They got their vegetables mostly from their own gardens, and their herbs and edible flowers from the very beds we were sitting next to. Every dish was trimmed with fresh herbs and edible flowers. They change their menu every week as the available vegetables and fruits change.

The whole place just breathed love and caring. The food was fabulous. Not elaborate, just beautifully cooked from fresh ingredients, and immensely satisfying. Just to whet your appetite: Dessert was a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream, topped with warm fudge-pinon nut sauce, and then trimmed with plenty of freshly-whipped real cream.

One of the owners came around talking to the customers, and stopped at our table. I told her I really appreciated what she was doing here, and we had a very nice talk about local food--both what she was doing and what I was doing in Loveland. She mentioned the "Marco Polo" effect, in that she bought coffee, tea, and chocolate that weren't produced in Utah, and didn't feel bad about it.

The restaurant has done a great job of integrating itself into the community which is mainly Mormon ranch families, on the basis of mutual respect and caring. Local sons and daughters work in the restaurant. They have wine tastings for the non-Mormon staff, and wine sniffings for the Mormon staff. They were able to get a liquor license for wine and beer, selling Utah beer and wine from Oregon and Washington state to their customers, many from Europe, who consider a meal without wine or beer seriously lacking.

I learned more about the restaurant from reading their book: With a Measure of Grace, a truly lovely book, out of print but available used. In addition to profiles of the owners and staff, and their experiences, it includes many yummy reasonal recipes that they serve at the restaurant. It is very inspiring to a local-food enthusiast to find other people doing the same thing, in their localities, and with such a degree of success.

So I'm relaxed, recharged, finally caught up with the threads of my life at home, and newly inspired by Blake Spalding and her friends at Hells Backbone Grill. And we both have a greater appreciation for how far we've come from SAD, and for our home-cooked, fresh, locally grown foods.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Green Leaves of Summer

What a treat to be able to eat the fresh greens of summer. The field lettuce has come in, in a wide range of colors and shapes. It tastes so good after a winter and spring mostly on stored foods. And the "braising greens" are also ready to go.

We all know what to do with lettuce, but I had to hunt for a few new recipes for Greens. Braising greens are more robust than salad greens, and need some cooking to be at their best. Lettuce is not generally included; although you can cook lettuce, I've never had the heart to do so.

Braising greens can include endive, escarole, radicchio, bok choy, mizuna, chard in green, red, or rainbow colors, larger spinach, kale in their variety, collards, turnip greens, beet greens, and more. Even radish greens, if very fresh, can also be in the mix.

Kale is the most robust of them, and if your kale leaves are fairly good sized, slice them thin so that they cook along with the others. If you are using chard in a quick-cooking greens recipe, cut the ribs out and slice them thin, then chop the leaves. That'll give the ribs a chance to catch up on getting tender.

Chock-full of vitamins and minerals, greens are a great addition to your family table.

Braised Greens with Butter and Ginger

1 lb whatever braising greens you have on hand
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons tamari
1 finely sliced garlic scape (curly flowering top) or one
garlic clove minced
1 tablespoon peeled minced ginger root
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

Bring a kettle of water to boil, meanwhile cutting up your washed greens in 1" lengths. Drop greens into boiling water, cook for about three minutes. Meanwhile, in another large skillet, have the butter melted with tamari, garlic, and ginger. Don't let it cook down. Drain the greens, then put in the skillet with the seasonings. Cook and stir a few minutes until mixed. Stir in
the chopped cilantro and serve. Unless your kids are really allergic to greens, they should like this one.

Summer greens with tomato and spring onion

1 lb washed and chopped greens
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium sized spring onion (small bulb with its greens) sliced (or you may use about 4 scallions sliced)
3 slices dried lemon (optional)
3/4 cup stewed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon Thai-style curry paste, or more to taste
salt to taste

In a large skillet, heat oil and simmer onion till soft. Stir in the washed drained greens, and cook over medium heat until they start to soften and braise. Tear up and add the lemon slices if you have them. Stir in the stewed tomatoes and the curry paste. Reduce heat, put a lid on, and let simmer for 5-10 minutes until greens are tender.

Spiced White Beans

1 cup small white beans, such as navy or Great Northern, soaked overnight
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic granules or powder
1 teaspoon mild to medium chili powder (to your taste)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Drain the beans, then add fresh water and cook for 2 hours or until tender. (You should always soak and cook beans well to avoid digestive upsets.) When beans are done, drain and reserve most of the remaining liquid. Add the curry powder, the cumin and chili powder, salt and pepper to taste, and the olive oil. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes to get the flavors to meld. If they get dry, add a little of the reserved liquid.

This makes a nice side dish. For a double treat, serve with one of the above greens recipes. For a vegetarian, that's a meal. For meat-eaters, accompany with freshly-cooked sausage or on-hand cooked chicken pieces.

And enjoy the green leaves of summer!

PS: FINALLY I put labels on the Recipes posts, so you can find them more easily.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Just Say No

I haven't posted for quite a while, due to a number of issues that took some time to deal with. And we were pretty much finishing the Food Storage year. Now that the CSA has started, I plan to post more recipes to use that wonderful produce.

But today, I just want to discuss getting our power back.

1. I read recently that the airlines have reconfigured their planes to give you even LESS legroom than before. There are no meals, except that you can pay money for a little tray of junk food. You pay for checking luggage, which must be causing even more problems with oversize carry-ons. Many flights are being cancelled so that the remaining flights are even more crowded, if possible.

The answer: Just Say No. Don't fly, unless it is an absolute necessity. Don't play their game. Wait until they price their flights fairly to cover their costs and don't try to nickel-and-dime you to death. Wait until they treat you like honored customers instead of suckers.

2. I've stopped donating to many of the nationally-known nature and wildlife organizations. I've gotten terminally tired of getting unsolicited calendars, greeting cards, address labels, keychains, postcards, etc. etc. etc. The first calendar is OK. The 7th one is just a disposal problem. Just think of the forests that are cut down, and the petroleum wasted to get this unsolicited stuff mailed to you in order to pry some more money out of you.... Certainly at the costs of mailings, and the pounds of it I receive, they have spent five times my donation just asking me for more money.

The answer: Just Say No. I have stopped donating to these organizations. I save my donations for the few that don't continually dun me for more money. I donate to smaller groups, local groups, our food bank, Spikenard Farms to help save the honeybee, and similar organizations.

I wouldn't mind donating to the larger well-known organizations if they had a class of membership where they would ask you once a year for a donation, and tell you what they did with last year's donations, and leave you alone the rest of the time. I could feel good that my hard-earned donations are actually going to help the egret or the sea turtle or what-have-you, instead of wasting resources.

3. Credit cards. Congress can't seem to pass meaningful credit legislation that takes effect this year when people need it. The financial industry lobbyists are pretty powerful. Even the weak bill that did get passed, to take effect in 2010, caused tremendous threats and fulminations from credit card companies.

Now they're threatening to add yearly or monthly fees to every card, to punish those who pay their balances each month. Do you know what they call people who pay their balance every month? Deadbeats. I'm proud to be a deadbeat!

The answer: Just Say No. Put your credit card in your dresser drawer. Keep one or maybe two going by charging a few small items each month. Pay off the rest and let them go. You can get along with cash or checks for practically everything you buy. Vacations can be a problem booking airfares (Just Say No) or rental cars, I know, but for daily life you really don't need a credit card. I'd like to see the credit card throughput in the U.S. drop to about 1/4 or less of what it is now. Perhaps then we would be regarded as valued customers instead of suckers. We have the power; let's use it.

4. The statement: If you save and don't spend, you're contributing to the recession. I get highly annoyed at these claims that you encounter every day in the news. "We could get over the recession if only the consumers would open their pocketbook." This is worse than idiocy. It is self-serving commercialism plain and simple. Media needs to sell advertising. Advertisers need to sell products. So if they can guilt-trip you into buying more stuff you don't need and going further into debt, it'll help THEIR bottom line. Not yours, obviously.

The answer: Just Say No. I'm gratified to see that savings is way up in this country. It shows that we can take back our power. When unemployment is high and looks to get higher, saving is the only sensible thing to do. If you save enough, by not buying useless consumerist schlock, then you may be able to weather a spell of unemployment or, the latest, furloughs.

I'll tell you a secret. Money that you put into banks and safe investments (there are a few) actually goes to work in the system. Deposited money will eventually go out in loans to those that can use them. That's why banks were invented.

I recommend locally-owned and financially-stable credit unions. They tend to lend in your local community, benefiting your neighbors and your local merchants. Just Say No to those national bank conglomerates. They're too big already. They don't need your money, either as a depositor or a taxpayer. If a financial organization is too big to fail, it's too much of a danger to the country. So, help them get smaller by removing your money.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Burden Is On You?

I just read an online article about the safety of industrial frozen food: With frozen food, the burden of safety is on you.

The problem gained public awareness with contamination of frozen pot pies in 2007. Investigators never figured out which of the more than 25 ingredients was contaminated with salmonella. The company (ConAgra) more or less threw up their hands. They said if they cooked the vegetables enough for safety, they turned to mush. So they put directions on the label to cook until internal temperatures were 165 degrees, nearly impossible to do in a microwave. Oh well....

And the article went on to say that these problems would become more serious, due to aggressive cost control. This involves sourcing of ingredients such as dough from a multitude of smaller suppliers, and importing vegetables and other ingredients from other countries with no testing procedure for pathogens. Manufacturers say the costs of testing and tracebacks are too high. Too high for what? Profit? How much is too high for thousands of people who get sick, and dozens who could die?

Oh What to do? What to do? (this is a trick question)

Locals know: start cooking fresh food for yourself. Avoid anonymous-ingredient packaged processed food. Not even the manufacturers of these foods know where the ingredients are coming from, or how they have been treated along the way.

This means learning how to cook, for those who are weak on that skill. But just think of what you'll gain! Really fresh, tasty food, from ingredients that you are sure of, saving money, and enjoying the creativity of turning high-quality ingredients into tasty dishes. And think of what you'll lose: high-fructose corn sweetener (almost ubiquitous in processed foods), cheap fats, too much sodium, artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. And a little time.

The most surprising thing for DH and me when we started cooking and eating local food is how great the flavors are. Food that really tastes like something. Beans that cook quickly with lots of flavor. Really fresh vegetables. Fruits with a perfumed sweetness rather than a pithy cardboard consistency. Pizza that sits lightly on the stomach and the waistline, but is fully satisfying.

Don't consider that cooking is necessarily the job of the "wife" or "mother" of the family. The art of cookery is something for everyone in the family to know, including responsible children and teens. Teaching your kids to cook will have lifelong benefits to them in terms of improved health and decreased food budgets.

But the worriers will say: what if my ingredients are contaminated? To start with, if you source local foods as much as possible, it's much less likely. Wash your veggies well, and peel such foods as carrots. Spices won't be local, but you use such a small amount. Buy staples from a high-quality supplier. The food (such as a meat pie) doesn't sit around for months in warehouse freezers, possibly thawing and refreezing several times and allowing bacterial growth before you eat it. You prepare it, pop in the oven, and eat it. So pathogens from minute quantities of ingredients don't get a chance to grow.

I really see nothing on the horizon that will make industrial processed foods safer for us. The manufacturing chains are too long, and too inadequately policed. If they were adequately policed, the costs would be too high to make these low-end foods economical.

It is up to us to figure out how to source and fix good healthy food for our families. The burden IS on us, but we can also get the benefits of changing our food buying and preparation habits in terms of flavor, nutrition, and enjoyment.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Spring! Ahhhhh!

Spring again today, after yet another spell of cold, rainy weather. Everything is green, except for the daffodils (yellow) and apple trees (pink). And the wild plum is a mass of white blossoms.

I went to the first Farmer's Market of the season. As last year: bedding plants, gourmet dog biscuits, baked goods, pasta, kettle corn, more bedding plants. No greens yet. But the lovely Honeyacre hydroponic tomatoes and English cucumbers were there again. I bought some of each. We've been eating the tomatoes I put up last year, steadily through the winter, and enjoying them greatly. But fresh will be really wonderful.

Compared to last year, I don't have the "empty" feeling I did. We're still eating nectarines and peaches in light honey syrup I put up last fall. We're still eating green beans and snap peas from the freezer (though they are somewhat mushy). The last few Winesap apples have gotten totally mealy and are about to be compost, but they held out a good 6 months, which is a great track record for unwaxed home-stored fruit. We still have dried home peaches and prunes, apples, and fruit rollups, in case we run out of fruit before late summer.

The apple trees are covered with blooms. I'm glad we have a warm day today, since it's been too cold for the bees to fly. Sprinkling of blossoms on the cherry trees. No sign from the peach trees--it may have been too dry over the winter. Two front-yard euonymus shrubs look *really* bad--poor things. I should have winter-watered them. I'm just hoping they'll pull through. Everything else looks OK.

I've been buying the occasional head of celery or broccoli--not local, but U.S. grown. We're mostly through the lactofermented veggies: still some carrots, some sauerkraut, half a 1/2 gallon jar of salsa. Note to self: make more pickled green beans and more salsa next year.

We still have some onions from our CSA, but everything else is gone. I managed to cook up all the pumpkins before they got soft.

I tried to grow Lady Godiva pumpkins last year (they're grown for the seeds, which are "naked" without a hard shell). The ones I planted did very poorly; too shady. But I had a volunteer "something" which made a large orange and green striped fruit. I thought it was a hybrid of something, picked it before frost, and left it alone. Looking through a seed catalog, there was a picture of exactly my squash, and it was, ta-da, Lady Godiva. It has a hard shell compared to most pumpkins, which is why it kept so well. You don't eat the flesh, which is thin and stringy. It was filled with beautiful green seeds in a very light transparent coating. I saved and dried some for next season and roasted the rest. They were Delicious! I'll definitely try that one again. We do love home-roasted pumpkin seeds.

I've been getting sprouts in the store (hatched in Denver), and they taste SOOoo good in the spring. If I was better organized, I could sprout my own. I've still got a load of black oil sunflower seeds in the shell, which are what is used for sunflower sprouts.

If I can get a garden going, and a season extender (cold frame, hoop, or such like), we can have fresh greens probably from March on, and in the fall up through mid-December. Eliot Coleman's book "Four Seasons Gardening" is a good resource.

I went to a nice class at the Larimer County extension for pressure canning. In some ways it was encouraging. I got my pressure gauge tested and it is nearly correct. In other ways, not. The vegetables need to be cooked for a really long time, and then you're supposed to cook them some more before eating them. By that time, there wouldn't be much left. I may look into canning meat or poultry, to have quick meals that don't require electricity to store, carefully following the USDA rules. But for vegetables, I think I'd rather lactoferment them: beans, carrots, etc. They will keep 9 months to a year in the frig, and don't require cooking. You can put up a jar of them in 10-15 minutes, instead of the all-day siege of pressure canning.

I haven't been posting recipes lately. Our food choices are fairly simple these days, using stored food and a little fresh, so I haven't discovered anything particularly new and exciting. Once the CSA starts up in June, I'll be sharing some more ideas.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Worry and Hope: Two Sides of the Same Coin

I have been doing a lot of reading recently, trying to wrap my mind around the economic meltdown and its connection with exponential growth. A post to come soon on this subject. It's not "cooked" yet.

Meanwhile, I want to spend a little time on "worry" and "hope". In our mythologies, worry is supposed to be "bad", and hope is supposed to be "good". But aren't they the same thing?

I have recently seen worry described as "a way to avoid admitting powerlessness over something, since worry feels like we are doing something" (Gavin DeBecker, The Gift of Fear, quoted by Jill Fredston in Rowing to Latitude, a truly fine book).

And hope has been defined as the wish for an outcome that we cannot directly control. (If we could control it, we would do so, and not have to rely on hope to do it for us.)

The two meanings are not too much different, actually, except that in the former case we are focused on the glass half-empty, and in the latter case we are focused on the glass half-full. But it's the same glass, and the same water.

So I can say I "worry" about the future, for example regarding peak oil. I worry that the lights will go out, and we'll be cold, and it'll be dark, and we won't be able to get to town. (And I do worry about these things sometimes.) Or I can say that I "hope" that we'll quickly implement alternate and sustainable energy sources, or that we'll convince a meaningful percentage of our citizens to really take steps to conserve, postponing and moderating the inevitable downward slope. But in each case, I am putting my energy into wishful thinking rather than something practical.

And because these wishful feelings do nothing but cause a stress reaction in me, and perhaps wear out the patience of those who are obliged to listen to me, neither worry nor hope do any good for me, my family, my friends, my community, or the world.

What is the alternative to worry? There are at least two: practical action, and fearlessness. Fearlessness frees us for action. What is the alternative to hope? Again, practical action, and hopelessness. Hopelessness frees us for action.

Why is that?

Because hope shackles us to inaction. We feel that somebody else, some organization, or some governmental entity will solve it all for us, and keep us from having to make the hard decisions and do the hard work. We feel that we are owed security in our lives, and we give up our time and some of our freedom for it. But the unavoidable fact is that the our lives are insecure. No government, no promises, can change that.

Pema Chodron, in When Things Fall Apart, says, "Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty." She suggests that we put "Abandon Hope" on our refrigerator door. She says, "Abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning."

I have a long way to go before understanding and internalizing this wisdom. From a practical standpoint, I know that action is an antidote to useless worry. That is one reason why we started eating local food, started the LoveLandLocal food cooperative, got an energy audit, changed our lightbulbs, drive a high-effiency car. That is why I talk to groups about local food and our experiences, and post on this blog.

Making the internal changes to stop worrying, to stop my idle hopes that we can wriggle out of the problems that our generation and several before us have caused, is not as easy. To the extent that we rely on hope for the future, we are not facing the truth. And when we do not face the truth, see it clearly, and learn to deal with it, we set ourselves up for a lifetime of suffering. Facing the truth is painful and disconcerting, but not nearly as painful as trying in every way to evade the truth until it slaps us in the face so hard that we can no longer ignore it.

I'm seeing way too much wishful thinking ("hope") in the corridors of power these days. No matter how much money the Feds print, it cannot reinflate the bubble caused by criminally negligent speculation. We cannot "hope" that things will go back to how they were, because the truth is they never were that way; it was speculation, gambling, a delusion that we were running too fast to see, a vast Ponzi scheme. And it came to the same end as all Ponzi schemes; a few rich people get even richer, and the rest of the participants get poorer.

What I want to hear is the truth, and people courageous enough to tell us: this is the way it is. It's not the end of the world, it's the end of a dreamworld. Life will be different. It'll be worse if you define the quality of life by the quantity of goods you have and the amount of energy you can waste. It can be rich in the intangible ways, the ways that matter, in love, caring, community; in meaningful work; in responsibility and integrity.

Friday, March 13, 2009


The Sausage and Vegetables recipe in the Rutabaga post is rapidly turning into one of my favorites. It is actually a Stovie, a Scottish dish resembling a casserole, but cooked on the stovetop. Stovies come in all kinds of flavors, but usually involve leftover meat and potatoes. From there on, the sky's the limit!

Making a Stovie

Choose some form of meat. Possibilities include:

  • Leftover roast beef, pork or lamb, cut into smallish pieces
  • Leftover roast poultry
  • Thick-sliced or chunk bacon, cut into pieces
  • Uncooked mild-flavored link sausage
  • NOT hamburger or ground meat; that would change the dish totally

Some form of appropriate cooking fat, a tablespoon or two. Consider:

  • olive oil, always a favorite
  • bacon fat or drippings (traditional Scottish), especially those from the roast you are using for the meat
  • chicken fat (if it's roast chicken you are using)
  • home-rendered lard, if you have it (commercial lard is nasty)
  • butter, especially with chicken

Onion--a necessity. Peel and chop.

Root vegetables. Your choice of:

  • Potatoes--traditional. Almost all stovies have potatoes; some have only potatoes. If you're Irish, you want "floury" potatoes. I've been using fingerlings. Some people like baking types, some people like boiling types. Wash, then peel or not as you see fit. Cut into chunks. Don't use already-cooked potatoes for this dish.
  • Rutabagas. Peel and cut into chunks.
  • Carrots. Peel and cut into chunks. Use less carrot than the other roots, so its sweet flavor does not overpower the dish.
  • Turnips, celery root, parsnips (a light hand on the parsnips), if you have them. Don't use beets because it'll turn a strange color of pink.

Herbs and spices. You don't want strong flavors here, which would overwhelm the flavor of the meat and roots. Some ideas:

  • dried or fresh parsley, a good handful.
  • other dried or fresh herbs, with a light hand.
  • ground allspice
  • garlic cloves, peeled and sliced, with a light hand.
  • ground cumin or coriander
  • nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste.

A little broth or water.

Here you have a good deal of latitude. More meat? Less meat? Use about one onion per 1/2 lb of meat, and amounts of vegetables to suit yourself and what you have on hand.

Putting It Together
Peel and chop your onions. Wash, (peel), and chop your vegetables. Have the meat of your choice ready. Cut link sausages in half, cut bacon into chunks, cut leftover meats into pieces.

If you are using bacon, fry the bacon lightly to let it release some fat. Otherwise heat the oil or drippings. Stir in the onions and saute for about 5 minutes. If you are using sausage, add it now and stir for another 5 minutes. Then add the vegetables, stir a few minutes. Add the herbs, spices, salt and pepper and a little broth or water, appropriate to the amount of other ingredients. At least 1/2 cup liquid. You don't want to continue to fry the ingredients, but you aren't making stew either. After adding the water, stir in any leftover meats that you are using.

Cover the pan, let it simmer on the stove 20-30 minutes, until roots are tender. Voila!

My Favorite Stovie
This makes a generous one-dish serving for one, or enough for two people with some other dishes on the table.

1 tbs CA olive oil
1 medium CSA onion, peeled and diced
6 oz local pork sausage, raw, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 lb CO fingerling potatoes, cut in slices
1/4-1/2 lb CSA rutabaga, peeled and cut in chunks
1/4 lb CSA carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tbs dried CO parsley
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt, some grinds of pepper

Saute the onion in the oil for a few minutes, then brown the sausages lightly. Stir in the vegetables and spices, add 1/2 cup water, cover and simmer 25 minutes.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Late Winter Update

We're into March now, into the "hungry time" of the old days, when the winter stores are getting low and the new spring growth isn't out yet.

It's been very enjoyable to have a nice stock of fruits and vegetables put up from last summer and fall. So far we haven't run out of anything, but there are some things I just haven't used, or used fast enough. Here's a run-down of our stores:

1. Tomato sauce, juice, stewed tomatoes. We have really been enjoying the home-canned tomato sauce I made in large quantities last year. The flavor is superlative. I put a little tomato sauce into a pan, add a little olive oil and Italian herbs, and simmer it for 10 minutes to thicken up a bit, as pizza sauce. I also take a pint jar of tomato sauce, add bits of sausage or ground beef, herbs, and olive oil, and serve over pasta, GF pasta, or spaghetti squash. We may have enough to last until next summer's tomato season.

2. Nectarines. Still just to die for, the nectarines canned in a light honey syrup. This is a special treat for us, which we have about once a week for dessert. I put up over 40 jars, and the supply is holding out well. It might make it until the next harvest.

3. Frozen snap peas. I haven't served these much; they turned out a little mushy even when frozen in vacuum-sealed bags. But they're tasting better and better to me, as it's been many months since we had fresh.

4. Frozen green beans. Again, somewhat mushy. DH wants me to make more lactofermented green beans next year, and less frozen.

5. Fresh apples. Stored in our garage, the November Winesaps from the Western slope. I bought a whole case, which was packed in dimpled trays to keep the apples from touching each other. They are still holding out marvelously. One has rotted, out of a box of 40 lbs. We're still enjoying them tremendously. Fruit makes up our dessert for all but holiday meals. We have about 15 pounds left. The Winesaps are tremendous keepers. The Macintoshes that I had earlier, with their delicate skins, become wrinkled quickly.

6. Bread and butter pickles. I made 7 pints (water-bath canned), and have opened up and used one. They're OK, but just don't taste as good as my mother's bread and butter pickles did when I was a child.

7. Fresh pumpkins. Yes, I still have three pumpkins from my CSA awaiting me. It's amazing that they have kept this well. I need to get busy and not tempt fate. We have been enjoying the spicy pumpkin soup I posted in a previous article; we've had some pumpkin pies over the holidays; and I've used chunks in stews and chili. We've really enjoyed the toasted seeds too.

8. Frozen pesto. Somehow, I just haven't remembered to use the pesto. I have a number of small jars in the freezer; it's just a matter of getting them out. Pesto is good on pizza in place of tomato sauce, it's good on roasted or braised chicken, it's good on boiled potatoes, pasta, rice, etc.

9. Spaghetti squash. Finally got busy and cooked the spaghetti squash. The seeds are good toasted, like pumpkin seeds. You really can have it under pasta sauce, and hardly notice the difference. Spaghetti squash keeps amazingly well, often well into March, with their hard shells.

10. Onions and potatoes. Although I've been using them and enjoying them, I haven't been able to keep up with the supply of potatoes from our CSA. The potatoes have figured out spring is well on the way, and are all sprouting. BTW, you can use sprouted potatoes, as long as they are not green. Green potatoes should just be tossed, as they are somewhat poisonous. Our onions are holding out fine in the garage (which is cold but never freezes). I store onions and potatoes (separately) in paper bags on the ledge by the stairs into the garage, with the top of the bag folded over to prevent light from getting in. Onions and potatoes should not be kept in the same bag, as they do not get along and cause each other to spoil faster.

11. Lactofermented veggies. I outdid myself with lactofermentation last summer and fall. We've been through 5 jars of cucumber pickles (DH really loves them), 2 1/2 jars of green beans, one jar of tomato salsa, half a jar of sauerkraut, and half a jar of vegetable medley (tomatoes, onions, green pepper, ruby chard stems, cabbage, and dandelion greens). I haven't yet tried the bok choy kim chee or the collards, and we have one jar of cucumbers and one of salsa left. I also get lactofermented veggies from the CSA, including carrot and Napa, and delicious daikon and Napa kim chee, so we're not running out.

12. Dried vegetables: zucchini, green beans, green peppers. I've used the green peppers from time to time, though there are still some left. I don't seem to get into green beans and zucchini.

13. Dried herbs: parsley, thyme, marjoram, oregano. I've been using the parsley, though I still have plenty after making a miscalculation in ordering for the food coop which meant I bought and dried 15 bunches for home use. It doesn't really take that large a quantity of dried herbs to have enough for daily cooking.

14. Frozen broccoli: I froze extra from our CSA share, and we've used it all up. It turned out very nice.

15. Dried apples: not really using, since we still have fresh ones to eat. But when the fresh are gone, we'll enjoy them.

16. Canned plums and spiced peaches. These are both fine; I canned a smaller quantity of them than the nectarines, but I'm sure we'll use and enjoy them.

17. Carrots from our CSA. Carrots keep a really long time in the frig. Our CSA was bursting with carrots for the winter share. I put them into salads or soups, pureed with parsnips or turnips, or just peeled and cut for fresh eating. They're part of nearly every day's food. I have a multitude of carrot recipes waiting for some time and initiative on my part, too.

18. Dried plums, prunes, apricots and peaches. I bought Colorado plums (Santa Rosa variety), prune plums and apricots from the coop. We have Siberian peaches in the yard which had a nice crop last year. I dried all of these; the fruit dryer was busy seven days a week last August and September. I've been using them as snacks, but we still have plenty left. I dried them very carefully this year, picking through the partially dried trays to pull out the ones that were dry enough, continuing to dry the others. This means that the early ones were not OVERdried, hard and flavorless. It's a bit more work but the quality of the product is much better.

I put the dried fruit in quart jars this year, so if any got moldy I wouldn't lose a whole half-gallon jar of them (which is just TOO depressing). So far they have been holding out fine, and will probably make it through to the table.

If I made more desserts, we'd use more of the dried fruits. But both of us are watching our weight, and we don't need the carbohydrate-rich calories of sweet desserts. Dried fruit is sweet enough for me.

19. Staple legumes. I've started serving legumes with most dinners, cooking up black-eyed peas, baby dry limas, or other beans to have as a side dish. Another alternative is bean soups or split pea soup. They are particularly nice in winter and early spring. I'm planning to do more with the lentils that I have on hand. Lentils make good European-flavored dishes (like soups and stews), as well as Indian curry-style dishes, and spicy Mediterranean dishes.

20. EXCEPTIONS--This year I loosened the reins a bit for the winter season, and have been occasionally buying celery, escarole, and swiss chard. The cooked chard tastes really wonderful this time of year. I make salads from the escarole, a nice lightly-bitter winter green. (You can also make soup from it.) And celery is such a nice touch in salads, soups, etc., that I decided a modest quantity of California organic celery wouldn't be a bad thing to have.

This year the local eating is going much more easily than last year. This is my reward from the many hours of canning, lactofermenting, freezing and drying that I did last summer and fall. It's a pleasure to put together a meal from our stores. And my recipe research has turned up a number of favorite dishes that we enjoy, many of which I've shared with you.

Ruta... Ruta.... Ruta.... Swede!

Actually the name is rutabaga (baggy root in Swedish), formerly called Swedish turnip (though it's not a turnip), thus Swede.
Rutabagas look like a big rough turnip, with a yellowish cast. But they are in the Brassica napus family, with Siberian kale and rapeseed, rather than
Brassica rapa with turnips. The ins and outs of the multitudinous Brassica clan are still being worked out by the botanists.

Rutabaga's flavor is milder and sweeter than the bite-y turnip, and it lends itself to many of the uses of potatoes as well as those of turnips. Here are some. Enjoy!

  • Mashed rutabaga--like mashed potatoes. Peel and cut up, cook in boiling water until tender, drain and mash with milk and butter, seasoning with salt and pepper. Or you can use half potatoes and half rutabagas.

  • Oven-fried rutabaga--like oven french fries. Peel 3 lbs rutabaga and cut lengthwise into french-fry shaped pieces. Mix 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon paprika, and 1 teaspoon garlic salt. Toss rutabaga with 1 tbs olive oil, then sprinkle the seasonings over them as evenly as possible. Bake in oven at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, until tender inside and crisp outside.

  • Baked rutabaga--like baked potatoes. Don't choose the huge honker rutabagas for this, but more modest sized ones. Scrub very well and bake in oven until fork-tender. Cut open, add a dollop of butter or sour cream, and enjoy.

  • In vegetable soups--like turnips and/or potatoes. Peel and cut into suitable-sized pieces in mixed vegetable soups. It will cook right along with other roots.

  • In roasted root vegetables--alongside turnips, potatoes, carrots, parsnip, onion, and/or leeks. Whatever you have on hand. Peel and cut all vegetables into equal-sized chunks; cut leeks into 1" lengths. Toss with some olive oil, sprinkle with herbs such as rosemary or thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Bake at 350 to 400 degrees (very forgiving) when you are baking something else. Turn occasionally. They will take 45 to 60 minutes, depending on the temperature and how big your chunks are.

  • In pot roast--with carrots, other vegetables. Brown a roast of beef in a little oil, add one or two chopped onions, liquid to half-cover (liquid can include up to 1 cup tomato juice or wine), salt and pepper to taste. Simmer meat slowly for 3-4 hours till tender. Peel and cut up rutabaga, carrot, potato, celery root, etc., any roots that you have except for beet. Arrange around the roast in the kettle, put the lid on again, and simmer another 30 minutes until tender. Taste for seasoning; add salt and pepper if needed. You could also add a little oregano or marjoram at the beginning of the cooking process, or other herbs to your taste. You can thicken with roux if you like: work equal parts of butter and flour together, form into small balls and stir into liquid. Use about 1 tbs flour for each cup of liquid you want to thicken. This works just as well with rice flour for the gluten-intolerant.

  • Stovetop sausage and root vegetables--In kettle, heat 1 tbs oil, add 1 lb mild pork link sausages cut in half, and brown lightly. Add 2 large chopped onions, stir and brown another 5 minutes, then add 1 pound each of peeled cubed rutabaga and potato, and 1/2 pound peeled cut carrot. Add 2 tbs dried or 1/4 cup fresh parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add 1/3 cup stock or water, cover, and simmer about 30 minutes, until tender.

  • Cornish pasties. Rutabagas are traditional in Cornish pasties. Make your favorite double-crust pie crust recipe, chill while making filling. Mix together 3/4 lb round steak cut into 3/4" cubes; 2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and sliced; 1 medium onion chopped; 1 medium carrot peeled and sliced;
    1/2 lb of rutabaga peeled and chopped; salt and pepper to taste. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Divide dough into four parts and roll each out into a 6" circle. Place 1/4 of filling on one side of each circle, dot each with 1 tbs butter, fold over the other half and crimp closed. Gently place on baking sheet, and bake one hour.
    I would not advise a gluten-free crust for Cornish pasties; it just wouldn't hold together.

This should help you get through your winter stock of rutabagas, or allow you to be on speaking terms with a new vegetable friend. Happy eating!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Wisdom of the American People

Yesterday I read an article on five things missing from the stimulus plan. The Stimulus Plan: 5 Missing Pieces. No. 5 was: please tell us whether it is better for the country for us to save or to spend? (The rest of the "missing pieces" are well worth the read as well.)

Actually, the wisdom of the American people has answered this question. The household savings rate went from -2% sometime last year to +6% now. A nation full of households has decided that living well beyond our means is no longer a smart thing to do. The strange compulsion so many people had, to spend and spend and spend as if we were rich, as if the stock market would go up for ever, as if real estate price would climb into the stratosphere, is suddenly broken. Now we're suffering the hangover from years of excess. But who could ever believe double-digit growth for ever, in the sober light of morning....

The good we do by controlling our spending and paying off debt:
* With every payment we make, we reassure the banks and credit unions that they will not be left holding the bag.
* With every payment we make, we free up some capital for the banks and credit unions to lend to responsible people and businesses.
* With every payment we make, we reduce our household financial risk in case of unemployment, wage cuts, hourly cuts, health problems, and life's other unexpected financial challenges.

This is better for the country in the long run than for us to continue to run up debt supporting the "Retail Space Bubble" that has grown in the last few years. Based on truly unsustainable spending by the American "consumer" (a word I hate), chains opened up way too many new stores, and too many people started up new retail businesses.

It's sad when stores close and retail salespeople lost their McJobs. It's even sadder when someone has invested their life savings in starting a new business, well-thought-out or not, and has to close their doors. Running the gauntlet of the new frugality will mean that the best stores will survive--the ones that sell 1. quality items 2. we need at 3. reasonable prices. And the stores with a poor business model, or too much competition, will fail. This is the real world. The pie doesn't keep getting bigger forever.

Another example. A month or more ago, I was reading articles about what it would take to save the Big Three automakers. One class of article were interviews with leading economists and commentators. Most of them were not employees of the companies in question. They said, in general, that the Big Three need to push wages down, shed workers, and slip out of legacy commitments for health care and pensions, and that was all that would save them. The second class of article talked to individual people, the wise Americans. They said, "They need to start making cars that people want to buy." Bingo! You get the prize.

If the Big Three paid way less people way less money, cut out their pensions and medical insurance, and made cars people aren't interested in buying, they would still go belly-up. Joe Six-pack at the gas station knows that the price of gasoline will go back up. He is not very interested in buying a big gas-hog unless it is a necessity for his business or his large family. But the talking heads and the CEOs and CFOs still don't get it.

Now a little blast at the word "Consumer". A consumer is somebody that uses up resources. It is the opposite of producer, somebody who makes something, improves something, or saves something. If you start a bonfire and throw dollar bills onto it, or $200 athletic shoes, you are a consumer. Are we rightly called the Consumer Society? I hope not. At the end of World War II, with much of the world in shambles, the U.S. was the biggest producer of goods in the world. We could call ourselves a Producer Society then.

Let's just retire the word Consumer as applied to U.S. citizens. To a store you should be a Customer, not a Consumer. To an arts organization, you are a Patron (Matron?). We hope that more of us will have the chance to become Producers again; people need jobs, and the U.S. needs to produce things to restore balance to the world economy.

What can we do?
* Keep paying off debt.
* When you buy something, try to buy American-made. I keep harping on this. Let the stores you patronize know that you are interested in buying American-made goods and giving jobs to American workers.
* Buy local foods and support your local farmers and ranchers.
* Buy locally-made foods and suppport local small business (and encourage them to buy local ingredients).

The dollars we spend are small. But the dollars we all spend are a huge force in our country and the world, for good or ill. Put your dollars where your own best interests lie.

Recipes next time.....

Friday, February 6, 2009

Parsnips--A Winter Favorite

Here as promised is the amazing Parsnip Spice Cake recipe, and some other ideas. Parsnips are a great winter food. Their flavor improves after they are touched by frost. Then they last, if kept cool, until well into the spring. They have a flavor which contributes well to other winter foods.

Parsnip Spice Cake
You can fix this either wheat-based or gluten-free.

2 eggs
1/2 cup sunflower, canola, or olive oil
2/3 cup sugar or succanat, or 1/2 cup honey
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
2 cups grated parsnip
1/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts
1 cup Golden Buffalo wheat flour
OR 1 cup unbleached white flour
OR 1 cup brown rice flour

Grease a 9" springform pan. Mix eggs, oil, sugar, baking soda, salt, and spices. Stir in parsnips, raisins and nuts and mix well. Then stir in your choice of flour and mix. You're right, there is no milk or water added, but the recipe works.

Spread the thick batter evenly in the cake pan and smooth the top. Bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes, until done. Let cool 10 minutes, then remove the springform and put on a plate for serving.

You could bake this in a 9" cake pan, well greased, and invert it onto a rack for cooling, if you don't have a springform pan.

You could change the spicing to your own taste, or use dried cranberries or other dried fruit in place of the raisins. After it is baked, you could sprinkle it with powdered sugar, or frost with a cream cheese frosting, but I think that would be over the top. It makes a fine moist cake or coffee cake as is. It's fun to tell people it's parsnip cake and watch their looks of incredulity (even disgust), until they taste it. You don't have to apologize for this nutritious treat.

Irish Parsnip Puree
1 lb parsnips, peeled and sliced
1 largish carrot, peeled and sliced
1 large potato, peeled and sliced
1 apple, peeled and cut up (optional)
1 cup broth
1/2 tsp allspice
2 tbs butter

Put vegetables and apple in kettle, add broth. Simmer until tender. Drain, reserving liquid. Run through blender, using reserved liquid as necessary for consistency. Return to kettle, add allspice and butter, salt and pepper to taste.

Parsnip Go-With

* You can add peeled and cut-up parsnip to many kinds of soups. It is particularly good in black-eyed pea soup or split pea soup. Try it where you would add turnip, or use them both.

* Add to oven-roasted vegetable mixtures along with carrots, turnips, potatoes, onions, leeks, rutabagas, or what-have-you. They will cook perfectly well along with other roots cut up similarly. (Oven-roasted vegetables take 45 minutes to an hour in a 350-degree oven, or an hour at 325, or less time at 400. You can generally fit them alongside other things you are baking. Toss vegetables in a little olive oil, sprinkle on your choice of herbs and a little salt and pepper.)

* Saute peeled cut-up parsnips in butter in a skillet, then add a little liquid and herbs of your choice and braise until tender (maybe 20 minutes, more or less, depending on the size of the pieces). You may top with sour cream, yogurt, or sharp cheese, and/or finely chopped walnuts.

* In a little water or stock, cook equal amounts of cut-up carrot and parsnips (maybe 25-30 minutes). Puree in blender, adding a little cream or milk, and salt and pepper to taste. You can do the same with with parsnip and turnip. Decorate with chopped parsley and a pat of butter.

* You can use grated parsnip in place of carrot in any baked good such as cakes, cookies or quick loaves, or use half and half grated parsnip and carrot.

Have fun with them. If you get them in your CSA share, don't let them sit in the frig until they are really past it (which will take a while). Parsnips are a valuable addition to the cornucopia of winter foods.