Thursday, April 30, 2009
I don't like many herbal teas, but mint is one I can tolerate, and it turns out the in fact, this was black tea with a sprig or two of fresh mint in it, pre-sweetened with honey.
Indian is obviously not the same as Moroccan cuisine, but I wanted something a little different to go with my second take of tandoori last night, and the mint is up in the garden, so I gave it a whirl. It was good iced tea weather, so I made it cold instead of hot. I even had local honey, so just the black tea came from far away.
Moroccan Mint Tea, Iced
1-1½ cups boiling water
5 tea bags black tea
3-4 Tablespoons fresh mint, torn up
2 Tablespoons honey
Steep the tea bags and mint in the water for at least 5 minutes; strain over ice into a two-quart pitcher. Stir in honey and enough cold water to fill. Enjoy!
This was really simple, but just added a little something special to the meal.
Sorry for the lull this week; my semester's winding up at school and I'm just trying to get everything in by the deadline - tomorrow. After that, more cooking and blogging galore, as I'll be on break for a couple of weeks before plunging into the summer semester. See you on the other side!
Not local today: black tea
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The Sheldon potatoes, despite their names, are in fact pink and purple, not red and blue. Which of course I couldn't not buy, given that I have a six-year-old girl in the house. Today for dinner, I'm making potato salad from them.
Pink-and-Purple Potato Salad
3 cups cubed Adirondack Red and Blue potatoes, boiled till tender
3 hard-boiled eggs
1 scallion, white part only, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon garlic mustard leaves, chopped into small slices
¼ cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon prepared mustard (I used Dijon)
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop up the whites of the eggs and throw them in with the potatoes, along with the scallion and garlic mustard. Smash up the egg yolks in a medium bowl and mix with the mayonnaise and prepared mustard, and mix into the potato mixture. Add salt and pepper as desired. Chill before serving.
Several hours later, after a birthday party for a friend of my boyfriend's (is there anything more intimidating than meeting the new boyfriend's old friends? Especially when one turns out to be a rail-thin and impeccably-groomed Manhattanite?), we made our first trip to the co-op together. I'd been many times - I used to live around the corner from it - but it was his first trip, although he'd heard about it a number of times.
They've rearranged a lot since my last trip. I don't make it out to Albany much, so it's been a while. All the bulk dry goods have been consolidated into one area now, though - one large area. After making the rounds through the produce and packaged food areas (I found local mushrooms, which I haven't seen at the farmer's market yet, and my boyfriend found some fair trade tea at a good price), we hit the cheese section (got some 4-year-old cheddar from Vermont - so good), compared the meat and dairy case prices to the farmer's market (actually cheaper at the farmer's market), and finally found the dry goods.
This is the section of the co-op that began my interest in the place, and my favorite part of the store even now, over a decade later. For me it all started with spices and teas. Any spice you can imagine, and a number you've never heard of, have a place on their shelves. There are also a number of herbs, barks, and so forth there for medicinal purposes. I didn't really need any of those that day, though.
There is also a refrigerator nearby with several vats of maple syrup and other bulk liquids that need refrigeration. I picked up what I'd guess to be about twelve to sixteen ounces of New York maple syrup for about $7.50. (You can buy a bottle for it right there, too.) A shelf next to the refrigerator holds all kinds of extracts and oils, although I didn't need these that day, either. My boyfriend wondered whether traditional or alcohol-free vanilla extract is better; I have no idea. We chose traditional on account of being able to recognize what all the ingredients were.
There are also all kinds of bulk nut butters, which I thought about (Emma would love them), but didn't get because I worried how much I was already spending. How much would she love almond butter, though?
Then I spent God knows how long going through the entire series of dry bins, bin by bin, reading each and every label. God forbid I should miss something! I got Basmati rice for my next tandoori night, whole wheat cous cous and New York State cannelinis for this incredibly tasty soup, and over five pounds of old-school, slow-cookin' grits.
The best part was that the bill only ran up to about $43, despite a $10 bottle of supplements, $7 in syrup, and a small-but-so-worth-it $6 hunk of cheese. This happens to me every time - being pleasantly surprised by the low bill - and yet I never learn to just pick up the nut butter and damn the consequences.
Tomorrow should be cooler, allowing me to do some actual, honest-to-goodness cooking. I can't wait. iGoogle says it's 90 degrees outside even now, at 4:30 in the afternoon. So, hot dogs and potato salad it is, today.
Not local today: condiments and spices. Not bad!
Monday, April 27, 2009
Take parsnips. The only way I know to eat them is to boil 'em and butter 'em. Delicious, but how many times can you do that? They're inexpensive to begin with, and then the Kilpatrick Farm had seconds of them this week besides, so of course I wound up with some. I love seconds - I hate that they so often go to waste in commercial agriculture, and I'm plenty comfortable with them from being raised around a farm.
I wondered what else you could do with a parsnip. I envisioned some kind of fritter, but more vegetable than breading. Something like a latke made from parsnips.
But to be open-minded, I just googled "parsnip recipes."
And lookie what I found!!! Behold: Carrot and Parsnip Latkes.
Feel free to post a hearty Mazel Tov!!!
Today was pretty darned hot, and I really didn't want to heat up the kitchen more than necessary. So I thawed a couple links, squished them out of their casings, and cooked them in spaghetti sauce. I also ripped up several handfuls of garlic mustard into it, just to use them up and add nutrition. I have to tell you, I didn't even notice a change of flavor as I ate the sauce. I was afraid it would be weird, but it was yums.
Tomorrow is supposed to be hot too, so I think I'll try microwaving some potatoes tonight for a potato salad tomorrow.
Not local today: jarred spaghetti sauce, spaghetti
The nasturtiums outside were still alive, more or less. Which is to say that they weren't killed by drying out over the unusually-hot weekend, but several of them were eaten. I'd had to come back late Saturday night to pick up my prescriptions, and as we drove down the street an opossum crossed in front of us. Now I don't know if I'm just not accustomed to opossums and this is the normal way they walk, but I have to tell you that that thing did not look to me as if it were moving the way God intended. He waddled. That doesn't quite capture the motion I saw, but I couldn't begin to describe it otherwise. I could be wrong, but what I believe we had here was a case of an obese possum. At any rate, obese or not, that opossum is my best guess as far as what's been happening to people's gardens along my street (a neighbor has hostas that are munched down to the ground).
There was no sign of the spinach, lettuce or carrots last night, but I did see some sprouts while watering this morning. And no more nasturtiums have gone the way of the possum, so that's good at least. None of the remaining nasturtium seeds seem to be sprouting, so I may have to spread the plants that I have around a little to make up for what got eaten.
When I did check my greenhouse, things were looking good! The basil - actually out of the greenhouse now - is growing well. The chamomile is too, and they had the chamomile plants outside at the greenhouse store this weekend, so I'm considering hardening them off and planting them. The parsley is growing well, although no more new sprouts have emerged, and the Greek oregano is starting to show its face.
We never did wind up trimming any blueberry bushes at all, but we did make it over to my other friend's to work on the garden plot. It's communal in nature; too much work for one person by herself (particularly with two young children), but a light bit of fun for a bunch of friends together. We raked and, though we tilled by hand, between three people, we managed to get half of the original plot softened up and preliminarily weeded.
By that time we stopped only because we had a jones on to get something in the ground. So my boyfriend and I ran to a greenhouse store not too far away - Brookside Nursery on Route 67 - on the basis that it appeared not to be a chain. It turned out we're too early for the tomatoes I envisioned popping into the soil, and in fact most of the herbs I bought too, but we bought them anyway since we'd only have to keep them inside for another two weeks or so.
My friend had told me that she was a "fresh herb freak," so I bought everything that struck my fancy without feeling too bad about it. Besides, the plants were three for $7. Why not? We bought rosemary, sage, thyme, tarragon, regular oregano, and something called "Greek columnar basil." We also picked up two grape tomato plants - we'll buy more varieties later - and seeds for carrots, broccoli, and bush zucchini.
Tuesday night I'll go to my friend's again to start planting. I can hardly wait!
I made a half-batch since I was the only one eating; it could still feed two people, though. The potato was the last Corolla from Sheldon; the spinach was a bag of seconds from Kilpatrick Family Farm. The original recipe, properly scaled, would call for a half-pound rather than a third, but I simply didn't have it. It was still good.
1 Tablespoon canola oil
¼ teaspoon minced garlic
3 ramps, excluding greens, sliced
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
Pepper to taste
¼ cup water
1/3 pound spinach
Peel and cut the potatoes and put them in some water. I actually microwaved them in the bowl, 3 minutes, stir, 3 minutes, to shorten cooking time.
Sauté the ramps and garlic in the oil for a few minutes; stir in water, spices, and potato. Cook until potatoes are tender.
Add in spinach and cook until done.
Not local today: all dry spices, oil, minced garlic. Not too bad!
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Some highlights of the weekend:
- the ubiquitous trip to the farmer's market
- a rare trip to the food co-op
- the beginning work on the garden in my friend's yard (the blueberry-bush thing never happened)
- a stupendous haul of garlic mustard from said friend' yard.
The garlic mustard is only stupendous in the context of eating it; in terms of eradicating it, it's sadly the tip of the iceberg, especially since I learned the hard way that the little boogers come apart in your hand so they can leave their roots in the ground. But from an eating perspective, quite a haul. I gave up taking off leaves for cleaning about two-thirds of the way through; now I have to figure out how to destroy the roots and the rest of the plants.
Till tomorrow, then!
Friday, April 24, 2009
Can't post much today; too busy getting ready for the weekend. But to go with my tandoori last night, I made some sort of spinach-and-potato deal called Saag Aloo. It was fantastic! Although I did have to make some changes to the recipe to reflect what I actually have in my spice cabinet (i.e., ground cardamom rather than pods), and of course the onion was taken out and replaced with the ubiquitous ramp. I'll post the recipe as I made it in another entry. But it tasted more or less like something you would actually get in an Indian restaurant, so yay for me!
The chicken itself, of course, turned out good but not particularly flavorful, no doubt because of the mistakes I made in following the recipe. Whoops! Both the tandoori and the saag aloo needed salt, by the way, and a good amount of it.
I also tried making naan bread, but that was such a complete not-remotely-following-the-recipe disaster that I won't even link to the recipe here. I couldn't possibly say whether the it's any good or not, since I made my naan freestyle.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
So I got my little patooty out front and planting right away. I've only got one patch in, and there's another spot I want to plant on the other side, but it's a start. It was so windy that even as close as I was to the ground - my fingers pinching out seeds a fraction of an inch from the surface - the wind would blow them off to the side from time to time. Good thing I don't care if I get some crooked rows! I'm pretty sure they'd be crooked, anyway.
This weekend we should be, hopefully, spending some time trimming some blueberry bushes for my friend with the small farm. I want to be eyeball-deep in blueberries this summer! After that's done, we'll be able to work on the large garden another friend is willing to share with us across the street. Really the only thing I really care about is shelling peas, which should be in the ground already - cross your fingers they'll still turn out!!!
There was a time when I wouldn't worry too much about these sorts of things - but I made a New Year's resolution to learn not to waste so much food. I used to live in perpetual anxiety over running out of food; time to shift my focus towards wasting it instead, I thought.
So here's the tandoori recipe I'm using, taken from my boyfriend's copy of Country Wisdom & Know-How, the same book I learned to make the yogurt from. (Incidentally, I left the powdered milk out of this batch of yogurt, and to tell the truth, I don't see very much difference at all. So, no more powdered milk from now on!)
The original recipe says to marinate the chicken for "24 hours, or as time permits." Since I made this decision this morning - just now, in fact - my time permits from now till about four o'clock. That's only six hours, but I think it'll still be tasty. It also calls for 2 cloves of garlic, but I had some minced in my fridge - the farmers have been out of local garlic for some time now. Instead of half a small onion, I chopped up some ramps, for obvious reasons of overabundance.
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 ramps, white parts and stems, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon canola oil
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
Salt and pepper to taste
½ a chicken
Combine everything but the chicken. You're supposed to cut up the chicken, but I left it halved. You're also supposed to skin it and cut slits into it, which I meant to do, but forgot because I was in a hurry. Whoops. Maybe I'll skin it before cooking and baste it a bit. At any rate, put it all in a bag or a baking dish to marinate, making sure all its sides are coated. Refrigerate it for 24 hours if you have the time.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the chicken for an hour and a half or so, or until tender.
The nasturtiums, I've learned, probably never needed to be started inside at all. They've sprawled out everywhere and had to be taken out of the mini-greenhouse. Whoops. Yesterday I put them outside for an hour to get them used to it; today I'll do a few hours. Tomorrow, those that are sprouted already will go in the ground.
Outside, I've managed to plant the lettuce and spinach. I'd moved part of the peppermint plant over to the main garden; no sign of leaves from it yet, but you never know. I still have the main on sprouting over in the side garden, much to my surprise. The chives have been moved to the main garden, too. I'm not sure how soon I can plant my carrots; I may place a call to my dad about that.
Everything is shaping up pretty nicely this year, I think. Hopefully everything keeps going more-or-less smoothly. Cross your fingers!
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I microwaved my potatoes beforehand to shorten cooking time, too. A minutes and a half, flip, a minute and a half.
Potato Soup with Ramps
3 slices bacon
2 cups chopped ramps (including green - about a dozen)
2 cups diced potatoes
3 tablespoons flour (I used whole wheat - and should have cut this in half! Whoops!)
2 cups chicken broth (I used 1 cup homemade, 1 cup canned - I only had a half-chicken to work with here!)
1/2 cup milk (I don't have heavy cream from Battenkill)
salt and pepper, to taste
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, fry bacon until crispy; set aside.
Add ramps and potatoes to the skillet; fry on medium-low heat until ramps are tender. (I added a good knob or two of butter here - probably 3 tablespoons, all told.) Sprinkle with flour; stir until flour is absorbed.
Stir in chicken broth; simmer until potatoes are tender.
Stir in the cream and heat thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
The recipe doesn't say so, but for obvious reasons I'm going to chop up the bacon and put it in there, too.
Yesterday I was planning on more yogurt-making, but it seems I'd left my thermometer behind from making ricotta at my boyfriend's. Sigh.
Nonetheless, I still had a nice local dinner up my sleeve: a chicken from Brookside Farm in Argyle, New York. They raise beef, veal, chicken, and turkey. Their turkeys are those broad-breasted whites that can’t reproduce on their own. Fans of Dirty Jobs might remember the episode of Mike Rowe watching someone prepare to artificially inseminate the buggers, sucking semen out through a tube in his mouth. He even gets to help inseminate some of the girls. Good times. At any rate, these bad boys fatten up quickly, have tons of breast meat, and are the most common breed to raise besides - this is the flavor most Americans are familiar with on their Thanksgiving table. The main reason I won't likely reserve my own is the daunting notion of trying to come up with an entire turkey's worth of cooking in such a small household.
At any rate, I had two different things I wanted to try out on this chicken, so I cut her in half. I have a recipe for Chicken Tandoori that I wanted to try with my own yogurt, and I also got some fresh sage and rosemary from Bowman Orchards. Since I wasn't able to make my yogurt, clearly the sage and rosemary were up last night. I also had some leftover leaves from some ramp that I'd chopped up for roasting with some Corolla potatoes from Sheldon Farms. They were yellow potatoes not entirely unlike the more-familiar Yukon Gold, apparently the number one in Germany (the Corollas, not the Yukons). They had a very firm flesh and were mighty tasty.
Roasted Local Chicken with Ramp Leaves
½ a chicken
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh sage
2 ramp leaves
Pour a half-cup or so of water in the bottom of a broiling pan to keep the drippings from burning (for gravy later!). Wet two sprigs each of the rosemary and sage and wad them up to go in the half-cavity of the half-chicken; lay the chicken on top of them. Salt the chicken and chop up the remaining rosemary, sage, and ramp leaves and throw them on top.
Roast at about 350 degrees for two hours or until done.
I made gravy by pouring a bit of broth into the bottom of the pan to scrape up the few drippings that were there; then I poured it into a skillet with the remainder of the can (didn't have home-made on hand). Added two tablespoons of corn starch and stirred it over medium heat till it got thick. No local mashed potatoes last night, though I would have liked them - the remaining Corollas are slated for a Potato Soup with Ramps this evening. We had some brown rice instead. Not too bad, if you cook it with enough butter and salt.
Monday, April 20, 2009
I, of course, have an overabundance of ramps at the moment. I also have some left over ham (CAFO meat, sadly - but I did get a local chicken for a project later in the week), left over ricotta, and the ubiquitous spinach (I can't wait till broccoli comes into season!). I based tonight's frittata on the one I made for Easter, with updated cheese/milk/egg proportions. It came out perfect, texture- and vegetable-wise, but next time I would add more ham - perhaps as much as twice the amount. I didn't add any salt because of the ham, and left out the pepper since I didn't care for that last time.
Spinach Frittata with Ramps
1 large carrot
3 ramps, sliced, white and green separated
3 scallion greens (I had them left over)
4 cups of torn fresh spinach, packed (used an entire 1/3-pound package from the market)
1 cup of milk
3/4 cup of ricotta (this was left over, too)
¼ cup of shredded mild cheddar
2 Tablespoons of Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup ham, cubed
Shred the carrot in the food processor; sauté in a good drizzle of oil until darker and somewhat tender, about four minutes. Add the white parts of the ramp and sauté another minute or two; add the greens from the ramp and the scallions and cook until darkened somewhat. Toss the spinach on top and let it heat till it just wilts. (Be sure to use a large skillet so there’s room!)
Put the chopping blade in the food processor and dump it all in. Pour the milk over the top and give it a pulse or two to cool it down; you don’t want to risk the eggs cooking on contact. Add in all the remaining ingredients. Pulse till blended. Scatter ham across the bottom of a greased casserole dish and pour vegetable/egg mixture over the top. Sprinkle with some extra cheddar for pretties.
Bake at about 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until firm.
It was tricky squeezing in the pie-making on Sunday. My boyfriend’s daughter was having her eighth birthday party that afternoon – but if I didn’t bake it Sunday he wouldn’t even get to try it. So, Sunday morning, we dove right into it.
Actually, technically, he dove right into it. He and Emma made the crust while I was in the shower. This is where problem number one struck – the dough was so crumbly it wouldn’t even stick together, let alone submit to a rolling-out. So we added a dribble of milk at a time until it would just barely stick.
It still wouldn’t really roll out properly, so I just sort of squished it into the bottom of the pie plate. I pressed it flat with the bottom of a measuring cup. I hoped the top half would sort-of-roll.
Then, the filling. The recipe didn’t specify how much orange and lemon zest you should use, or indeed whether you should use one or the other or both. So, I used a teaspoon of each. Why not?
Otherwise, the filling went together really easily – but then wouldn’t fit in the pie plate! And not by a small margin, either. We poured the extra into a bowl to bake it there.
The top dough half did roll out reasonably well. It sure was ugly, though. I can make food taste good, but I’m not always great at making it look pretty. This pie was no exception. I took a little square of dough and put it on top of the mini-pie, too.
Then it was time to put it into the oven. We couldn’t figure out what was happening at the time, but later realized that the lower heating element in his oven is broken. We could only get it to heat on “Preheat,” and only the top element would go on. “Bake” makes it turn off, and “Broil” works the same as “Preheat.” But this realization didn’t come to us till much later. At any rate, in essence what was happening was that his oven was perpetually set for “Broil” – and as I’m sure you all know, “Broil” is not the proper setting for a pie.
We had exactly the hour the recipe called for within which to bake this pie. I set it in with the foil on top as the directions said. When it got hot enough, I set it to bake. When I went to take the foil off for the last half hour, though, the oven wasn’t hot. In fact I could pull the rack out with my bare hands. There wasn’t anything for it but to put the thing in the refrigerator and hope for better luck after the party; no time to worry about it now.
After the party we came back ready for some baking. Except of course we still had the same problem. And of course I took the foil off the top and got a broiled pie. Thankfully, the smell of burning pastry brought me running and I put the foil back on before too much damage was done. But the pie was only half-baked when it was time for me to go home.
I left my boyfriend with the mini-pie and tried to finish off the baking in my own oven. Alas, by now I was quite paranoid about the whole thing, and I think I may have overbaked it; it was a bit dryer than I expected when I ate it. And, the crust rose so much that the proportion of crust to filling was kind of strange; almost two parts crust to one part filling. But, the flavor was fantastic, and it sure made for a great mid-morning snack today.
If I had it to do over, and odds are that I will, I would scale the recipe back about two-thirds. I would probably also only make a bottom crust; the filling has a nice, light flavor to it that I don’t think will be too overwhelming with only one crust. I’m putting the recipe down the way I made it, though, without any corrections (and with the alterations I made myself for my own reasons).
2 cups all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup or less milk
Combine the flour, baking powder, and sugar together. Cut in the butter and mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in the eggs and vanilla. If too dry, dribble in milk and mix until the dough holds together. Divide dough into two balls and chill (if needed – I didn’t).
Roll out one of the balls to fit into the pie pans. Do not make the crust too thick as it will expand during cooking and get too thick. (Mine got very thick anyway!) Do not flute the edges of the dough. Roll out the other ball of dough and cut into 8 narrow strips for the top of the crust. Alternately you can use cookie cutters and place the cutouts on the top of the pies.
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp orange zest
3 cups ricotta (1½ pounds)
Beat eggs, sugar, vanilla, and zests until well blended. Stir in (don't over beat) in the ricotta. Pour filling into unbaked pie crust; cover the edges of the pie with foil. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes. Then remove foil and bake another 30 minutes.
This is one of those books. It's full of a lot of valuable information, to be sure, but what really makes it interesting is the personal stories Barbara Kingsolver tells throughout, in the same deceptively-simple storytelling voice she uses in her novel, Poisonwood Bible. Every chapter is full of stories that inspire a flurry of thought, so on the re-read I'm forcing myself to slow down to a chapter a day instead of my normal pace; give myself time for more of it to sink in, and stretching out my enjoyment of it in the same way I slowly savor a good piece of chocolate. (If I get a particularly tasty one it can take me ten minutes to make my way through a single piece, one tiny bite at a time.)
The first three paragraphs of today's chapter reached out and grabbed me this morning. By a funny coincidence, it's the cheesemaking chapter I mentioned yesterday (a blog on the pie-making fiasco is coming, I promise).
When I was in college, living two states away from my family, I studied the map one weekend and found a different route home from the one we usually travelled. I drove back to Kentucky the new way, which did turn out to be faster. During my visit I made sure all my relatives heard about the navigational brilliance that saved me thirty-seven minutes.
"Thirty-seven," my grandfather mused. "And here you just used up fifteen of them telling all about it. What's your plan for the other twenty-two?"
Good question. I'm still stumped for an answer, whenever the religion of time-saving pushes me to zip through a meal or a chore, rushing everybody out the door to the next point on a schedule. All that hurry can blur the truth that life is a zero-sum equation. Every minute I save will get used on something else, possibly no more sublime than staring at the newel post trying to remember what I just ran upstairs for. On the other hand, attending to the task at hand - even a quotidian chore - might make it into part of a good day, rather than just a rock in the road to someplace else.
By the way, for anyone as lost on the word "quotidian" as I am, webster.com says it's "occurring every day" or "commonplace, ordinary."
And now I'm off to do my quotidian dishes. I'm pretty sure it's still not going to be a good part of my day, but at least it'll let the rest of the day run more smoothly.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
So you can imagine that I was pretty surprised to read how easily mozzarella could be made in your own kitchen. Now I may never graduate to, say, cheddar, but apparently a lot of softer cheeses are dead easy. A quick search on Google will yield all kinds of recipes to make riccotta, mascarpone, cottage cheese and lots of other soft cheeses I hadn't even heard of before (historically, I've had pretty tame tastes in certain food groups, and cheeses are one of my pickiest areas). What's more, there are tons of other dairy items you can easily make - sour cream, or cream cheese (who knew it was just strained yogurt?).
My boyfriend and I decided that, someday, we would make home made calzones - with our own mozzarella and ricotta. But in the meantime, until I get the cheese thermometer and the rennet I'll need for the mozzarella, ricotta is so easy that it seemed silly to wait.
The only problem was deciding what to do with it. Ziti seemed so mundane. I didn't want to bury delicious homemade cheese in sauce and pasta. So what then?
Luckily, a dear friend posted something online that I'd never heard of before: Ricotta Pie, or Pizza Dolce, as she titled it elsewhere. Now here is something I can get behind. The decadence of homemade ricotta deserves a fantastic dessert to be baked into. My friend made the choice easy for me.
And so we arrived at step one last night: make the ricotta. There are lots of methods for this, but I decided on the white vinegar recipe I found. (Other methods call for buttermilk or lemon juice.) When cooking, I tend to go one of two ways: the traditional method, or the method that allows me to use what's already in my cabinets. The traditional way of making ricotta involves the whey from making mozzarella, which I can rule out at this time. So vinegar it is!
Ricotta was even easier than yogurt to make, but it was just as time-consuming. And what's more, because you create curds and drain away the whey, it's startling how very much milk is used to make a small amount of cheese. One gallon makes about four cups, or two pounds. That means that three quarters of its volume goes straight down the drain.
That was pretty hard to accept at first, especially since a gallon of Battenkill milk is about five dollars at the farmer's market. Still in all, store-bought ricotta is more than five dollars for two pounds, and this should prove to be much better than that ricotta, so I decided to suck it up.
Homemade Ricotta (Vinegar Method)
1 gallon whole milk (I used non-homogenized)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon white vinegar
Rinse the inside of the pot with cold water; this is supposed to help keep the milk from scalding.
Dump in your milk and salt and slowly heat it (is there any other way to heat an entire gallon of ice-cold liquid?) to 180 degrees.
Remove the pot from heat, add the vinegar, and stir it for one minute. (Stirring too long, I read, makes a rubbery curd.) Cover it with a dish cloth and let it rest for two hours. The recipe says you can let it rest much longer if you need to for the sake of convenience.
Dampen a piece of cheesecloth and place it in a large colander; pour in the cheese mixture. Let it drain for two hours or so.
To test whether it's drained enough, lift it up in the cheesecloth and give it a squeeze. If the liquid runs clear, it needs more draining; milky liquid means that it's ready.
You can keep ricotta for up to seven days, obviously in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
I ended up with a cheese that's much drier than what you buy in the store, and it's delicious. My son was eating it plain off a spoon. So, on to the next adventure - the making of the pie.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
As I mentioned before, I'm re-reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and as it happens I finished the chapter that mentions ramps just the other day. They apparently grow wild in the Appalachians, and spring is full of ramp festivals around the region. They're sort of garlicky and oniony in flavor, and back in the day they were used in some sort of smelly spring tonic.
Naturally I was overcome with excitement at the idea. They were selling them in such big bundles that I'm unsure how I'll ever use them all, especially since they seem to be so strong that they made the entire car reek on the way back - from the trunk!
I can't wait to see what I can make 'em into. Thank God my boyfriend is in this locavore thing with me; there's a much better chance he'll be understanding of my reeking of ramps for the next couple of weeks that way.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Well, as mentioned in a previous blog, I found a little bit of garlic mustard when I was weeding yesterday. Since I don’t have any lettuce either in my fridge or my garden yet, I decided to cook it in some bean soup and see what I thought about it. I’ve never actually eaten it before except for the occasional leaf on the trail; I only learned about it last year on a wildflower walk with ECOS.
Incidentally, while scanning the internet for cooking instructions, I found out why their leaves have two different shapes: it seems the plant is biennial, and the rounder leaves appear in its first year. So it’s not necessarily a matter of it being “this time of year;” apparently the first-year plants don’t go into flower stalks at all. I also read somewhere along the line – I didn’t think to save the URL, drat the luck – that the things can re-establish themselves if you don’t destroy the roots – so don’t just harvest leaves and walk away! Yank that thing right out of the ground.
So, I had my worries about the ham soup, both because I’ve never cooked garlic mustard and because I remember from experience that I don’t like regular mustard greens (which is why I hid it in a bunch of soup ingredients). But it turned out to be pretty tasty!
Ham, Bean, and Garlic Mustard Soup
½ an onion, chopped
½ teaspoon minced garlic (or 1 clove, minced)
1 cup of dried beans (I had red and black beans from chili)
2 Tablespoons barley
½ pound fingerling potatoes
2 large carrots
Garlic mustard (I only had a ½ cup, but I think this soup could easily accommodate a full cup)
Soak the beans using your favorite method; I usually bring them to a boil and let them soak an hour or so, followed by a good rinse.
Boil the ham bone in plenty of water for a couple of hours. Remove the bone to cool and add the onion and garlic (I sauté in a bit of olive oil before adding) and beans. Put in a sprinkling of poultry seasoning and a bay leaf. Let boil till the beans are more or less done.
Add barley; let boil another ten minutes, and then add the potatoes and carrots. Boil another twenty minutes, then add the garlic mustard and stir until they leaves are just cooked – only a minute or two.
Apparently, you can cook garlic mustard greens just like regular mustard greens, so if you like those, you can substitute it in any recipe. Here are some recipe links:
Curried Mustard Greens with Kidney Beans
Mustard green recipes at Cooks.com
Mustard Greens from Simply Recipes
Braised Mustard Greens from Rachel Ray
Greens recipes Mustard Greens with Bacon
They also mean they outgrow the little greenhouse long before any of the other things you plant. Then they press their little leaves against the plastic top, which for some reason (Heat? Moisture?) begin to wilt.
So they're out of the wee greenhouse now. And I won't be trying THAT again.
But, last night Emma and I went out and planted ourselves a spinach patch and a lettuce patch. Plus, when I was pulling up the old, dead mint plants to make room for the hostas I'm putting there now, it turned out they weren't dead after all! Well, the peppermint isn't, anyway. Its little runner sprouts hadn't quite made it up past the top of the soil yet, is all. So I moved it over into the front garden to see whether it takes off.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I had thought that there were regulations against selling raw milk, but apparently that's not the case - it's just complicated here in New York. Nationwide, raw milk is legal for human consumption in only 28 states, and for animal consumption in 33. In New York, "raw milk sales are legal on the farm. The farmer must have a license from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. The farmer must post a sign at the point of sale that states, 'Notice:Raw milk sold here. Raw milk does not provide the protection of pasteurization.' Raw milk vendors can only sell to consumers." What a pain in the buttocks!
Meanwhile, I found this quote on one of their pages: "Powdered skim milk, a source of dangerous oxidized cholesterol and neurotoxic amino acids..." I remember reading this in one of Michael Pollan's books, but was unable to locate it for my yogurt post. But this is in fact why I want to try making yogurt without the powdered milk, besides the fact that it's not likely to be local.
This time of year their leaves are rounder and less pointy than later, and there are no flowers yet. But they’re good eatin’. And while normally you have to be careful not to over-harvest when foraging, garlic mustard is an invasive species, so the more you pull, the better. They taste a bit oniony and garlicky, as their name suggests, and you can eat them cooked or raw.
And remember, wild plants are loaded with phytochemicals, so eat up!
I’m going to be putting mine into some bean soup tomorrow.
Most people probably have all the required equipment right in their kitchens. You need a candy thermometer, pots of varying sizes, measuring spoons, a wire whisk, and lidded containers of glass or porcelain. I used canning jars.
The first step was to sterilize the containers we were going to make it in - you don't want any undesirable microbes getting in there. Just submerge them in boiling water for one minute (or, if you have a dishwasher, you can run them through the rinse cycle).
Then you're ready for the yogurtmakin'. This recipe is from my boyfriend's copy of Country Wisdom and Know-How.
1 quart whole milk
1/3 cup instant nonfat dried milk
1 rounded Tablespoon plain yogurt or recommended amount of powdered culture
Scald the milk; you want to heat it up till your candy thermometer reads 180 degrees. This kills off any undesirable wee beasties in your milk.
Remove it from heat, add the dry milk, and cool it to 90 to 120 degrees. I just let it cool on the stovetop, and it took about 45 minutes or so.
Add the starter - the plain yogurt or culture - and stir until smooth. Pour it into your jars and put the lids on for incubation.
There are lots of methods for incubating yogurt; I used the warm water method, which seemed the simplest to me. I heated a large pot of water to 110 degrees and put the sealed yogurt in. I put the lid on, stuck a towel on top, and left it over the pilot light on top of my stove.
Now I'm waiting for it to incubate for three hours, after which I'll check it. The book says to incubate for two to five, but three hours is a good time to test it.
Once the yogurt is made, you can thicken it for varying purposes by draining it through cheesecloth. You can substitute it for mayonaise by draining it for 10-15 minutes, for sour cream by draining it for 30. For Greek yogurt I've read that you drain it 2-3 hours, and you can make cream cheese by draining 6-8 hours.
This first round I'm following the recipe exactly; the next time, I'm going to try taking out the powdered milk. It's supposed to give you a thicker, nicer texture, but if I can eliminate it by a little bit of draining, I'd prefer that.
ETA: Three hours was just about the right amount of time for incubation. The water method worked fantastically, and it was nice and thick. I put it in the refrigerator and tried it out about three hours later. Best yogurt ever, hands down. Even better than Stoneyfield's whole milk yogurt, in fact, and all local. Plus, now I have a reason to buy some local jams and jellies the next time I hit the farmer's market!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
So no yogurt-making or gardening took place today as I'd been hoping. Cross your fingers for tomorrow!
Monday, April 13, 2009
Frugality is not just being cheap. It’s pinching pennies, to be sure, but it’s also learning to live better on less. Living on less leaves more to give, or calls for less income and thus offers you more freedom. Frugality gave me the ability to open my own business, the chance to stay at home with my children, and the opportunity to return to school, all in the same three-year span.
So it’s not something I turn away from lightly; but many areas of local eating simply cost more. How do I move forward with one without throwing away the other?
Well, given that I’ve been a frugalite for over a decade, you won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve already come up with a long list of ideas to live local on the cheap. Some of the items below go hand in hand to the point that they may seem to be saying the same thing; all I can say in my defense is that they mean something different to me.
Don’t be a purist
Sometimes there are things you won’t be able to find locally; don’t go nuts here. You’re not taking a vow at a monastery, and there’s no need to do without things you enjoy just because they’re not local. I for one am still likely to make the occasional pitcher of sangria, and I don’t know of any citrus groves here in New York. I’ll probably never give up California strawberries completely, either. I just don’t relish the idea of limiting myself to in-season strawberries that cost twice as much.
Choose your battles
This is similar to “don’t be a purist.” Some foods will be too expensive locally, and too hard to grow. Sometimes you use so little of something that going local isn’t likely to make a huge impact. Go with it. Go as local as you’re comfortable, as local as is practical for you. If it’s too difficult for you, you’ll go nuts and stop trying. Being a locavore should be about the love of food, not being obsessive-compulsive.
Grow a garden
For some people this may be tough or impossible. Here in Schenectady I only have a small front plot at my disposal. All the same, even in a small space you’d be surprised what you can squeeze in. I can plant all the herbs I’d ever want, and this year I’ll be growing lettuce, spinach, and carrots, too – all in a space that’s about nine feet by thirteen. It doesn’t take much room to make a big impact in your eating.
And the first two rules deserve restating here in the context of gardening. Choose your battles – grow what’s easy, or grow what’s expensive so you can squeeze the most savings out of it. And don’t be a perfectionist here. Maybe you don’t know much about gardening – just give it a whirl. Despite being raised around farming, I didn’t know very much when I started gardening last year, and I still got a lot of fresh salads and steaming pots of tea out of it. More things failed than succeeded, but what I remember is what went right – and I learned a lot for the next year.
This is something I haven’t done myself yet, but I’m hoping to start this year. A lot of experts make this sound complicated, but my friend Kittencaboodle tells you the simplest method ever right over here. (Be sure to check the comments for some clarifying details.)
I know, this goes without saying. But you’d be surprised how much you waste. Food from the grocery stores can be so cheap that it’s hardly worth the effort to plan and take care not to waste. Well, local food is usually either more expensive or harder to get, and you’ll be cooking a lot more and thus wasting more effort whenever you throw something out. Now that’s motivating!
Get a freezer, learn to can, learn to dehydrate
This is an old rule in frugality, and it’s no less true in local food. If anything, it’s more so. Freezing is especially good since it diminishes nutritional content the least. Learning to preserve your foods means you can pack them away when they’re in season, or buy in bulk. You’ll be able to eat local for more of the year, and cheaper.
When you’re cooking, write down what you do. Eating locally often means a lot of experimentation as you alter recipes to use fresh ingredients, or to use ingredients you can’t even find recipes for because they’re not exactly mainstream. Taking notes as you cook allows you to repeat an experiment that went right, and can help you adjust where it went wrong.
Failing to plan is planning to fail. Planning is trickier for the locavore, though, since you can’t necessarily predict what will be on sale at the farmer’s market before you go. But still, when you get home, it’s valuable to plan out the use of what you’ve purchased. Some foods spoil faster than others, and in order to make sure you use up the short-lived items, it’s helpful to plot it out.
This is another one that may not be possible for everyone – but it’s great for those who can. Of course you always want to be careful when foraging, because frankly, there are a lot of wild things out there that are dangerous! But often, a little knowledge goes a long way, and foraging can have a major impact. Wild plants have significantly more phytochemicals, which the plants produce in order to defend themselves – and they’re very good for you, too!
But you might even be able to forage some domestics. It’s surprising how often there are fruit trees on land that no one eats from. Last year my ex-husband found a plum tree planted as part of the green space in front of a Pizza Hut. Plums had fallen all over the ground; no one seemed to be picking them at all. That day I learned that you haven’t eaten a plum till you’ve gotten a juicy, ripe one straight off the tree. There’s also a black walnut tree just around the corner from me that I might ask the owner about next fall.
Look around for bargains
Sometimes you can find local products right in the grocery store, although you have to keep your eyes peeled (and it must be said, the farmer probably gets a smaller portion of the proceeds than selling at the market). There’s a Hannford in Wilton, for example, that carries Battenkill milk and a number of other local products. I’ve seen local produce in the Price Chopper near me during the summer, too. I noticed it because it was on special that week, and I always note what sales are on.
Another good place to scope out are co-ops. When I lived in Albany I was within walking distance to the Honest Weight Food Co-op. I started going there because it was closer than the grocery store, and after moving I continued going because it’s a great place to find better foods at lower prices. But it’s also a great place to find local food, and no doubt some of that’s at a low price, too, like so many of their other items.
The Niskayuna Co-op has plenty of local produce, too, as well as Battenkill milk. You can get the gallon-sized plastic jugs of their milk at either the Niskayuna Co-op or the Wilton Hannaford, which are significantly less expensive than the glass-bottled half-gallons.
Trade or Barter
This is another classic from frugality. It’s not always possible, but if you can do it, more power to you! Lots of people with gardens wind up with too many tomatoes, or more zucchini than they could ever use. Someone you know may own a pear tree but be unable to eat or preserve all the fruit that it grows. I have a friend who, it turns out, has a blueberry farm; I’m hoping that I’ll be able to trade labor for berries this summer.
Eat less meat
Local meat is definitely expensive. Eating less meat in general and taking care not to waste what you do eat will make a big difference in spending.
Learn to make from scratch
I have a long-standing habit of learning to make strange things from scratch, just to see how it works. Most people are content to buy instant pudding or a jar of alfredo sauce and call it a day; but me, I want to know what makes it taste that way, what gives it that texture, or what’s in it. And then, when I’ve figured that out, I want to know how I can make it in another flavor, with a different vegetable, or in pie form.
Making it yourself broadens your horizons for eating locally. A lot of pre-made items will be impossible to find locally; what’s more, processed foods have a number of ingredients, each traveling from long distances and adding up to more fossil fuel usage than single-ingredient foods.
There are a surprisingly large number of foods that are commonly bought ready-made, yet are very simple to make. I’ve heard that ricotta is dead easy, and mozzarella isn’t too hard, either. Yogurt is simple if you can sort out how to maintain the right temperature while it incubates – and if you can make yogurt, you can let it strain out a bit to make that trendy Greek yogurt, or longer to make your own cream cheese.
Do what you’re comfortable with
This goes along with not being a purist. An old rule in frugality is that you can’t pinch every penny – there will be some things that are worth spending the money on. There will be some things that, for you, will be worth burning the fossil fuels on; these differ for every person, but you’ll know it when you find one.
Read up! And keep reading.
The more you know, the easier it is to keep coming up with new ways to eat local, and new ways to fit it into your budget. Just don’t wait until you feel like you “know enough” to get started – every little bit makes a difference, especially if it makes a change in your view point. Small events can have an amazingly big effect that way.
The first is this frequently-updated list of articles on the topic of local business, hosted by the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). This is a network of organizations across the U.S. and Canada that foster local economies – there are four in New York alone, including one right here in the Capital District. Fellow Schenectadians take note – we have a Buy Local Day coming up on May 3rd!
But my favorite find is a fantastic paper by Debbie Barker, written for the International Forum on Globalization: The Rise and Predictable Fall of Globalized Industrial Agriculture. It gathers a lot of important information in one place, although I do think she might be a bit premature with her title.
Happy reading! And Schenectadians, I’ll see you on Buy Local Day.
So, Easter brunch went very well. The frittata came out very… vegetable-y. It was good, but there’s another recipe I use where the proportion of milk and cheese to egg is different, and it comes out lighter, which I prefer… I may try sticking closer to that in future. That recipe calls for five eggs to one cup each of cheese and milk, while this one calls for three eggs and a half cup each. But, the five-egg frittata needs to be made in a large casserole, rather than a pie plate – it’s too big for a pie plate.
The home fries came out great – just a pound and a half of fingerling potatoes, one large shallot, and the white parts of several scallions (scallions added toward the end to avoid burning, because they’re so small and tender) fried in olive oil for twenty minutes to a half an hour. Salt, pepper, that sort of thing.
The apple salad is a sort of invention of my own. Trying to develop a taste for walnuts – they’re good for your heart, you know – I used to pair them with slices of Golden Delicious apple. It was very good, so I started pairing them together in a salad that I could serve to guests. Usually you’d mix the apples with a little lemon juice to keep them from browning, but I don’t like the flavor. I’ve found that you can use basically any juice that has lots of vitamin C and they won’t brown; yesterday I used a splash of white grape juice. Here’s how I put it together yesterday:
2 large Golden Delicious apples
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Cinnamon to taste
Splash of juice
Dice the apples; toss with walnuts. Sprinkle over with cinnamon and juice, and stir until all the apples have been coated with juice. Serve.
Simple and very tasty. I call it Anti-Waldorf since it uses apples and walnuts like that salad, but leaves out that vile mayonnaise base. I’d prefer a nicer name that doesn’t remind me of a food that I hate, but it’ll do for now.
Now for the frittata. As I said, in the future I’m going to experiment with a different ratio of ingredients, but this was still very good. The only other change I would make is either reduce or remove the pepper; it was definitely too peppery for my taste.
Fresh Spinach Frittata
1 large carrot
2 scallions, sliced, white and green separated
4 cups of torn fresh spinach, packed (used an entire 1/3-pound package from the market)
½ cup of milk
½ cup of cheddar cheese (I ran out of mozzarella – the cheddar was good though)
2 Tablespoons of Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Shred the carrot in the food processor; sauté in a good drizzle of olive oil until darker and somewhat tender, about four minutes. Add the white parts of the scallion and sauté another minute or two; toss the spinach on top and let it heat till it just wilts. (Be sure to use a large skillet so there’s room!)
Put the chopping blade in the food processor and dump it all in. Pour the milk over the top and give it a pulse or two to cool it down; you don’t want to risk the eggs cooking on contact. Add in all the remaining ingredients except the green part of the scallion. Pulse till blended and pour into a grease pie plate. Sprinkle the green scallions on top.
Bake at about 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until firm.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
I'll be on writing up an Easter blog a bit later - possibly not even until tomorrow. Busy writing a paper at the moment, but I had to comment on my flowers comin' up.
I might just give in to the temptation to go back to the Seed Savers site and order some lettuces after all. There are just too many interesting-looking things there, and I'm told by my father (a farmer, back in the day) that it's not too early to plant lettuce right in the ground right now. I think I know what I'll be doing later this week!
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Still no sign of parsley or nasturtiums (the package on the latter said they'd take 12-14 days to show, if I remember correctly).
The chamomile leans toward the sun so rapidly that I have to rotate them several times daily. Hopefully they'll do it less as they get bigger, but regardless, they won't be leaning any particular way once they're actually planted outside, I'd imagine.
I managed to get almost everything I needed right there at the farmer’s market. Fingerling potatoes for home fries from Sheldon Farms in Salem; Golden Delicious apples for an apple salad from Bowman Orchards in Rexford; and for a frittata, spinach, scallions, eggs, and carrots from Kilpatrick Family Farm in Middle Granville. And of course, the usual 2 gallons of Battenkill milk. I thought about some ice cream – they had black raspberry, which in fruit form at least is one of my mother’s favorites – but I had to run other errands after the market, so I skipped it this time.
I can’t wait till the morning; I’ll be sure to note down amounts, etc. on the apples and the frittata so I can note the recipes here. I’ll be riffing off the frittata recipe I linked to in an earlier blog, which will require a lot of improvisation.
A note on each of the farms:
Bowman has been my source for apples all winter, and cider too. Their apples - all varieties - are a dollar a pound. Emma likes the Granny Smiths, and I'm a fan of the Golden Delicious (though I sometimes get some Empires or Cortlands if I'm making applesauce or pies).
Sheldon is a farm whose table I never visited before, though I don't have any particular reason for that. They specialize in lots of varieties of potatoes, and apparently sweet corn - which I'll look forward to this summer.
Kilpatrick is a table I visit pretty much every week. They weren't the first farm to have green stuff out this spring - another farm I haven't gotten the name of did (I'll get it next week). But, they had the biggest variety out the fastest, and this week had at least six different kind of leafy stuff out, including several I've never heard of (Christmas spinach???). They offer CSA shares, which I couldn't order until I was certain whether I'd be attending the Saratoga farmer's market all season. Seems that I will be, so if they have any shares left, I'll be looking into that very soon. It'll give me something else to blog about.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
When you eat locally, you tend to frequent the farmer’s markets, which are populated by smaller farmers that don’t depend on a monoculture like larger, agribusiness outfits. You also tend to try new foods that you haven’t before, since vegetables and fruits are generally sold when they’re in season, a few at a time - and narrowed options make you more adventurous.
This year, for example, after a long period of potatoes, turnips, and a few leeks, I found the spinach pretty much irresistible when it started coming in. I’ve never eaten very much spinach at all, but I quickly found a few uses for it. My two favorites are a frittata (I make a few changes to this recipe – more on that in a later blog) and this fantastic soup that managed to make both spinach and white beans palatable to me (no small feat!). I also tried out some Swiss chard, but didn’t care much for it so far. I’ll try it again sometime – but not any day soon.
Now we all know from health class that we should eat a variety of foods, but apart from making us healthy, we’re supporting biodiversity in agriculture when we do so. As a people we’re becoming more and more dependent on very few plant species, as agribusiness farms grow in size and raise large quantities of the small group of crops that store or travel well. Anyone that recalls the potato famine from history class can see the inherent risk in such a system. But a slower, more pervasive risk lies in nutrition: the compounds that make foods nutritious and flavorful are the very things that shorten their shelf life. By breeding in longevity, we’re breeding out nutrition.
I’d forgotten to give it much thought until today, but I’d wanted to make my own modest contribution to biodiversity in my tiny little garden. Unfortunately, I’ve already picked up nearly all the seeds I’ll have room for, and at Wal-Mart, no less: Burpee products. But given that Ms. Kingsolver was kind enough to remind me today of the Seed Savers Exchange, I thought I’d nip in and buy the two remaining things I failed to pick up.
Apparently, even when you order from the seemingly-ideal Johnny’s Selected Seeds, even heirloom breeds, you are for the most part buying products from companies like Monsanto. But Seed Savers is a non-profit seed bank that preserves heirloom breeds, and you can buy packets of their many varieties right on their site. (You can also find instructions for saving your own seeds, which is of course how heirlooms were preserved in the first place.) Today I got myself some Greek oregano and some heirloom carrots, but I wish I’d thought to look at the lettuce before sending in my order. There are over 30 different varieties, and I surely could have squeezed one or two more into my little garden!
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
I frequently complain about my mother, as many daughters do, but one thing she did and did right was this: feed us. When other kids were getting Captain Crunch and Fruit Loops, we were told to read the packages – if sugar came too soon in the ingredients list, it went back on the shelf. While other kids got Spaghettios and boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, we ate chili and honest-to-goodness macaroni and cheese made with several real cheeses.
In a lot of ways, eating locally is just taking these good eating habits and building on them. Where Mom made her chili with canned tomatoes, I’ve learned how to use fresh (and compensate for the change in taste) to avoid the HFCS and the miles of travel that the food undergoes, for example.
One of my favorites that my mother – and many other moms, too – used to make often was scalloped potatoes, which I made for dinner last night. (I like that eating well and eating locally doesn’t have to mean giving up my comfort foods.) I had some “blue” potatoes (actually purple, all the way through), red potatoes (just on the outside), and fingerlings in white and red. I based what I made on a very basic recipe, the sort that I worked from when I was learning to cook from the red Betty Crocker binder in the farm kitchen.
I didn’t have local version of every ingredient – I’d run out of local onions and don’t have a local source for butter or flour yet – but I did have lots of good, local milk. My boyfriend was kind enough to introduce me to the Battenkill Creamery through the farmer’s market in Saratoga. Not only is their milk delicious, but it’s local on several levels – it comes from a farm in Salem, New York, it’s bottled and processed right there, and even the feed for the cows is grown on premises. It’s fantastically fresh and Emma’s been obsessed with it ever since I brought home the first bottle of cream top (non-homogenized, so the cream floats up).
So now, as often as possible, I get all my milk from Battenkill, and sometimes some ice cream too (so good). There’s something about giving your kids milk from a glass bottle that appeals to a mom.
Here’s the recipe the way I made it last night:
Scalloped Local Potatoes
3 pounds of potatoes
½ cup of whole wheat flour
Salt and pepper to taste
6 Tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces
1quart of milk
Run the potatoes through the slicing blade of a food processor; cut the onion into chunks and do the same.
In a large bowl, mix the potatoes and onions with all other ingredients but the milk. (Alternatively, you can layer it and sprinkle everything on, but I find this way easier.)
Pour it into a greased 9 by 13 baking pan and pour the milk over the top. Bake at 425 degrees until the milk begins bubbling; then turn down to 375 and bake for another 45 minutes to an hour.
Of course, it also goes without saying that you can alter this in any number of ways; add garlic, or pieces of ham; sprinkle Parmesan or bread crumbs on top; add cheeses to the sauce to make Au Gratin. For my money, though, it doesn’t get any better than the classic Scalloped Potatoes with Ham – but I gave up meat for Lent.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Besides, you just can’t get more local – or fresher - than your own yard.
Emma and I are trying to expand on last year’s gardening successes, so while we’re still getting the occasional frost outside (it snowed on the way to school this very morning), we’re getting ready inside.
First, we’re planning our tiny plot. Last year we ate great salads and teas from our little garden, so we’ll do that again – but more so – this time. I’ll be cramming more stuff into every space we’ve got down there - lettuces and spinach for greens; mint and chamomile for tea; basil, chives, and parsley for herbs; small sunflowers to pretty it up, and nasturtiums to beautify both the garden and our salads. The chives are left over from last year, but the mint seems to’ve died; I’ll be picking it up in plant form again, since I can’t think of a use for the number of mint plants that would grow from an entire packet of seeds.
Second, we’re trying out those mini-greenhouses again. I’m not expecting great success this year anymore than my other attempts, but I’m not easily giving up, either. If I can master this, then the savings both this year and every year in the future could be huge. A packet of seeds cost a dollar; a single plant costs several.
Yesterday was a rainy, gloomy day, which seemed perfect for starting our greenhouse while dreaming of sunnier days. We filled twelve little pots each of parsley, basil, and chamomile seeds (the tiniest seeds I’ve ever seen; I hope I didn’t miss any spots!); two dozen with the nasturtiums, which have bigger seeds and may – I hope – turn out to be easier to grow as a result. In my experience, bigger seeds equal bigger, harder-to-kill sprouts.
Right now we’re on day two of watering and waiting, and the clear top is getting a tiny bit steamy. So far, so good; cross your fingers.
Monday, April 6, 2009
After she showed so much interest in this potted plant, I thought maybe a small garden was in order. We live in an apartment without much usable green space – neighbors with dogs, that’s all I’ll say about that – so the only space we could use is the tiny front garden and any containers we could get going.
The containers were a no go for Emma and I. I couldn’t remember to water them every day, and it was hard to find containers that were big enough, fit our budget ($0), and weren’t completely hideous. It’s so disheartening to grow a garden in a bunch of ugly plastic things. The front garden, though – the front garden took off.
I was raised, if not technically on the family farm, then heavily involved in it, and in an oversized garden of my parents’, too. At the time I resented it - the weeding, the work, the dirt. As an adult, I miss it, and every spring I get a little bit nutty when the seed catalogs come out. I am rarely able to resist buying at least one packet, and often buy those little greenhouses with the flats for sprouting young plants. I just tend to kill them all before anything comes of it.
This year I was determined to grow something, anything, and keep it alive. Given the criteria, I chose to skip the little greenhouses. I knew peas were easy, so I got those. I’d heard that lettuce was, too (and besides, you can grow it in window boxes), so that was in. I even got a mini-melon-thing I read about in Johnny’s seed catalog, a saucy French number called charantais, and hoped that I might be able to keep it in a big container.
Well, the melons failed. The peas may have put out a few dozen pods, but no more than that (although at least I got a taste!). But the lettuce went wild, and we ate salad after salad for ages until it got too bitter to eat (I somehow failed to learn about “bolting” until well after this).
I also got a few herbs, plants rather than seeds, to try out. Basil and parsley went into salads and spaghetti sauce; chives went into just salads – I had a hard time coming up with uses for it. Peppermint and spearmint went into iced tea, hot tea, and made the occasional pot of fresh herbal tea, too.
The thing that surprised me in all this was the difference it made. I had started out the season deeply disheartened by how limited we were because of space - and if it weren’t for Emma, I wouldn’t have bothered trying. Then, so many plants failed; here we had a tiny plot where all that really grew were some lettuce plants and a handful of herbs.
But the change in our quality of life was huge! Emma learned a great deal more about plants. We both got to do something entertaining and healthy, filling summer days with something so much better than Spongebob reruns. And we all got to eat some really good, can’t-get-any-fresher food.
And there really can’t be enough said about ending the day this way: the children are in bed. The mom is ready to relax. So she goes to her front steps barefoot, snips a few stems of mint, and makes herself an entire pot of relaxing tea. It doesn’t matter that it’s summer and the tea is hot; she’s totally happy to curl up with a cuppa and the contented feeling of growing things herself.