Saturday, October 31, 2009

Farmer's Market: What You Get For the Money

Farmer's markets have the reputation for being more expensive than Whole Foods. Honestly, I don't see how it's possible for some place to be more expensive than Whole Foods! (Da-dum-tum. I'll be here all week!)

Awhile ago, Gradually Greener did a post on What $35 buys at the Dupont Circle Farmer's Market. I found it very interesting. As a spin-off, I'd like to demonstrate what $24 dollars ($30 sans breakfast, as it turns out) buys at the Falls Church Farmer's Market in early Fall. My rules for myself were: I had to, at the very least, buy the "dirty dozen" foods organic, and get enough vegetables for our needs for the week and not go over budget. Armed with my new, adorable harvesting basket (see above!) and cash, I set out for the market before the crowds got there. The husband hates navigating crowds.

I'm actually surprised by how well I did! Granted, I stayed focused and didn't buy any of the artisan breads, pastries, or cheeses. Or any meat products, for that matter. Here's the haul (with prices):

My market basket overflow-th!
Kohlrabi ($3. Organic), cooking celery ($3. Organic), 4 asian pears ($5. Organic), carrots ($2.50), green beans ($4.50. I think there's about 1.25 lbs), turnips ($3), broccoli ($3).

This is actually more vegetables than we probably need, given that we also have some mustard greens in the garden that need to be used, but I was determined to spend all of my allotted cash. Some sacrifices were made: We passed up some lovely seckel pairs because they were $7 for a basket full.

I'm really pleasantly surprised with the results. Almost everything that is pictured above is edible; I'll be using the greens of both the turnips and the kohlrabi along with the bulbs in an Indian-spiced stew. Apparently, carrot tops are also edible but I'm not sure I'll use them (as you can see, I've got a lot of greens to deal with already).

In full disclosure, we went to the grocery store after the farmer's market & picked up onions & ginger as well as some non-produce stuff: a rotisserie chicken, bread, tomato soup for lunch; kielbasa and italian sausage that was on sale; chickpeas; grits; a few boxes of mac & cheese (I know, I know. But sometimes you have a craving for crap mac & cheese. We will perhaps ironically pair it with the farmer's market broccoli); and some other misc things. That total, which includes more meat than we'll eat this week, was $42.

So, we spent $66 on groceries this week, which is actually on par with what we would have spent if we got our vegetables at the grocery story (Harris Teeter) rather than the farmer's market. And the farmer's market has the added bonus of supporting local farmers and being picked yesterday!

I'll think I'll do occasional updates on this post as the seasons change to see if some seasons are just more expensive at the farmer's market. Until then, I'll hone my shopping skills.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Recipe: Fall in a Bowl- Butternut Squash & Sage Risotto

Let me get this out of the way: Parmigiano Reggiano is my second favorite cheese (any kind of blue cheese is my first). Also, you should know I *love* cheese in a very unhealthy way. So, add these together and you get a person that really, really, really likes parm. A lot.

That said, I don't think this risotto needs Parmesan at all. Blasphemy, I know, risotto is supposed to have parm. Whatever. This dish is like a bowlful of fall and I think the pungentness of the parm would just get in the way. If you happen to be watching your waistline, this is a great seasonal recipe. It's creamy and the scant amount of bacon (works out to less than a slice per person & no other fat is used) gives it a deep, luxurious taste. And, the butternut squash almost doubles the volume of the recipe limiting the amount of carbs. Save the calories you would have spent on the cheese and indulge in a piece or two of Halloween candy. :P

This would serve 4 for lunch with side salad. Or 2 for dinner.

1 butternut squash, halved and seeds scooped out
3 slices of your favorite bacon, diced (cut off the large areas of fat if you like)
1 small onion, diced
1 c arborio rice (you can get it at Trader Joe's)
1/2 c light, crisp beer (I used Yuengling. You could also use white wine)
2 c chicken stock
20 sage leaves, chopped and divided
parm, if you must

1. Preheat oven to 400*F. Place butternut squash halves face down on a roasting pan. Add a bit of water and cover. Cook for 25 minutes or until squash is very tender.
2. Meanwhile...Put the bacon in a saucepan and brown. When half-way done, add onions and half of the sage.
3. Heat the stock in another pan on medium-low. You'll need to have a constant supply of warm stock so that you don't cool down the risotto when you add it.
4. When onions are translucent, add the rice and toss in the bacon drippings. Let "toast" for about a minute.
5. Add beer, stir and let evaporate. When the pan is almost dry, add a few ladle-fulls of the warm stock. Stir occasionally until absorbed. Once absorbed, repeat adding stock, stirring, etc. until rice is done. You may need to add a bit more liquid (in the form of water) if after 2 cups your rice isn't quite done.
6. Scoop out insides from cooked squash and add into risotto using a fork to mash the larger pieces. Add in remaining sage and season with salt & pepper. Oh, and add parm if you find it absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tune In Tonight: Botany of Desire on PBS at 8pm

Botany of Desire is a fascinating early book of Michael Pollan. He examines 4 crops (apples, tulips, marijuana and potatoes) and their relationship to human desires (for drinking, beauty, mind-bending and sustenance).

I'm almost done with the book. Overall, I found it extremely interesting. Indeed, throughout most of it I was left wondering: Are the plants controlling us? Or are we controlling the plants? I mean, our fascination with them has all but guaranteed the survival, and proliferation, of their species, which is all they really want. Are they playing us? Not to mention he knocks Johnny Appleseed off his folk-hero pedestal (Those apples were for hard cider. And he was, as an adult, engaged to a child.), points out that the favorites in the Tulip Craze were really diseased flowers (A fungus would cause crazy coloration. Propagating these flowers would just spread the evil fungus), notes that via selective breeding man has made marijuana perfectly suited to indoor growing ( crossing two plants) and....well...I haven't finished the potato chapter yet.

I would imagine the collaboration of Michael Pollan & PBS would lead to an extremely well-done documentary. In the DC area it's on MPT at 8pm tonight!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Unexpected Bouquet

One of my volunteer assignments last Saturday was to snap *all* of the flowers off 5,000+ pansies. Apparently, they aren't needed yet and if the petals drop while they are in the greenhouse, fungal issues can happen. When it was all over, a trash can was almost filled with pansy flowers.

I don't think I've ever seen a sadder sight.

Pansies are so cheerful. In the winter, they are the most cheery part of a landscape really: their happy little faces peep out through the snow. Flowers have meaning (thanks Victorians!) and, unsurprisingly, "pansies" are said to reflect merriment and "you occupy my thoughts." The name comes from the French pensée meaning "thought", and was so named because the flower resembles a human face. The modern pansy's parents were English weeds. Pretty weeds, but weeds nonetheless! Unfortunately, I cannot grow them as they are a favorite treat of the neighborhood bunnies. Hateful creatures.

I couldn't let those numerous pansies be cut down, in the prime of their lives, for no good reason. I save several handfuls to take home. My favorite, out of the half-dozen or so varieties in the greenhouse, was Delta Pure Primrose. It was a large white, billowing off-white flower with a warm yellow center and the scent of a rose. Yes! A fragrant pansy! At least, it smells good to my nose.....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

All About: Garlic

I bought garlic from Southern Exposure Seeds' mix that includes artichoke-type softneck, silverskin-type softneck, rocambole-type hardneck and purple-striped hardneck garlic varieties. The hardneck types will provide scapes (flower stalk) in the spring and the softneck types are best for braiding.

To plant:
Break the cloves off of the garlic head and plant in full-sun in well-drained soil. Plant the hard and softneck types 1-2 inches deep. Then, in the spring, side-dress with compost or blood meal.

To harvest:
When 75% of the leaves are brown, the garlic is ready to pick. Lay plants in airy, dark, dry spot for several weeks to cure. Save the largest, healthiest bulbs to for next year.

Additional Info:
Garlic is said to help repel aphids.

History (via Wikipedia):

Garlic has been used as both food and medicine in many cultures for thousands of years, dating at least as far back as the time that the Giza pyramids were built. Garlic is still grown in Egypt, but the Syrian variety is the kind most esteemed now.

Garlic is mentioned in the Bible and the Talmud. Hippocrates, Galen, Pliny the Elder, and Dioscorides all mention the use of garlic for many conditions, including parasites, respiratory problems, poor digestion, and low energy. Its use in China was first mentioned in A.D. 510.

Garlic was rare in traditional English cuisine (though it is said to have been grown in England before 1548) and has been a much more common ingredient in Mediterranean Europe. Garlic was placed by the ancient Greeks on the piles of stones at crossroads, as a supper for Hecate (Theophrastus, Characters, The Superstitious Man); and according to Pliny, garlic and onions were invoked as deities by the Egyptians at the taking of oaths. (Pliny also states that garlic demagnetizes lodestones, which is not factual.) The inhabitants of Pelusium, in lower Egypt (who worshiped the onion), are said to have had an aversion to both onions and garlic as food.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

2010 Garden Plan

Thanks to all the commenters helping me decide how many of each new-to-my-garden vegetable to plant! I think I've come up with a preliminary plan which will probably be tweaked over the winter. Here's what I've got so far:

So.many.colors. Anyways, here's what it amounts to-
Clematis- 1
Tomatoes- 6
Sweet peppers- 3
Cucumbers- 4 (2 specialty kind; 2 slicing or pickling kind)
Swiss chard- 24
Marigolds- 24
Summer squash- 2
Arugula- 3 square feet
Onions- 16
Radish- 16
Garlic- 24
Blueberries- 2 (thinking about buying a 3rd that is bearing fruit. Mine are still a few years off from that)
Dahlias- 4
Mustard- 12
Strawberry- lots

...and then herbs (most of which are already in place).

I'm trying to make my garden look more French potager than Virginia farm (if only I could afford boxwoods to surround it!). Next spring and summer will be the true test.

I looking forward to researching these vegetables further this winter (stay tuned to more All About posts...)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Please Help!

If this weekend isn't a total & complete wash-out, I'm hoping to plant my garlic. I'm going to use garlic as part of my pest management so I want to locate it near plants where aphids, Japanese beetle, and carrot fly would be a problem. Which means I need to figure where I'm going to plant those things!

So, kind gardeners, please leave me a comment if you've planted in the past:
-Swiss Chard
-Arugula, spinach or other lettuce
-Mustard or collard greens

I would *love* to know how many of each you planted (for things that can have multiple plantings, how much was your first planting), how many people are in your household, and whether this was too much/not enough/just right.

I feel like I've got a good handle on how many to plant of my other crops (tomatoes- 6, hot peppers- 3 or 4, and sweet peppers- 4). But the ones that will be new to me? Clueless!

Thank you so much in advance!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Update! Fall Garden So Far

Well, the rain has finally stopped so I was able to go out and get a good look at my Darwinian fall garden. Not only has the rain taken me away from the garden, but so has my day job as well as some classes I'm taking. This garden is really on its own. My take-aways?

1) My garden does not get much light in the fall. The plants are still quite small because of this. In the future, planting greens in the other side yard in my ginormous pots would be a better idea.

2) I've got a cabbage worm problem on my kale.

Awesome. On both accounts.

I think the cabbage worm is the proper pest for #2 given photos I've found of their damage as well as seeing lots of what I thought were quite pretty white butterflies around (um, those are adult cabbage worms.).

I suppose this is what gardening is all about: Learning from mistakes, working against the odds, etc. I'm just a bit disappointed since I was really, really looking forward to the kale! I'm down, but I'm not out, though! Here's my action plan:

- Do a better job at monitoring and handpick (::shudder::) worms off the plants when I see them.
- If that doesn't help, consider using Bacillus thuringiensis insecticide.
- If the kale is still a skeleton, throw hands up in the air & hope for better luck next year. :)

On the bright side, my mustard greens are doing quite well against the odds. The variety is Florida Broadleaf, so I think it's a kindred spirit (I'm from FL). I've found I really like to use the young mustard greens in salad. It's peppery like arugula (which, btw, didn't really germinate for me. Not sure if it was the seeds or the squirrels digging everywhere...)

So, there you have it. The fall garden is (mostly) surviving but hardly thriving. But that's OK, I think. There's always next year.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day: How Climate Change Affects Thanksgiving and Your Birthday

In honor of Blog Action Day on climate change, I want to talk about food.

Yes, food. For me, nothing brings back fonder memories than food. I can remember the smell of collard greens cooking for Thanksgiving, my all-time favorite holiday. Then there is the smell of kielbasa sausage on the grill that reminds me of the very first meal my mother & I enjoyed after she bought our first house or the smell of cinnamon which is what that house always smelled like. Sometimes, it’s more of a texture thing like the pleasant denseness of my paternal grandfather’s “brown bread” or the smooth, not chunky, filling of my maternal grandmother’s pecan pie or even the melt-in-your-mouth consistency of the bbq brisket at my wedding.

If you consider it, all celebrations include some sort of food. Birthdays have cake (or in the instance of my husband, pie), Thanksgiving has turkey, Passover has a whole host of traditional foods, Halloween has candy and, in my house, Easter has the Cadbury Egg. Food is not only what sustains us, but also how we show we care (via chicken noodle soup when someone’s not feeling well), we love (via a heart-shaped box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day) and we relate to each other (via happy hours with friends or dinner & a movie with dates).

Food also is an integral part of our cultural history. I come from a long line of stubborn Southern women that love to cook, eat and feed others. Part of my identity comes from the very distinctive foods I grew up with and I love sharing that with people. Whether it’s proving to them just how delicious cabbage can be or introducing them to greens, I love to share about where I come from. I similarly love learning about others from food. Whether it’s my coworker sharing the pupusa her grandmother made or my husband making pikliz, it’s all delicious and fascinating. Who said the shortest distance between 2 people was through their stomachs? I’ve always found that to be true. You probably can’t leave my house without some bit of herb, a few spare tomatoes or a handful of dahlias.

So, what is the point I am trying to make? Food is important. More important than we initially realize. It’s how we express ourselves, it’s how we celebrate, it’s part of our identity, and it’s how we stay alive. And this is why climate change’s impact on agriculture (or agriculture’s impact on climate change: it’s responsible for 7% of US greenhouse gas emissions…and we don’t even produce all our own food), indeed our entire food system, is so frightening:

Recent studies indicate that increased frequency of heat stress, droughts and floods negatively affect crop yields and livestock beyond the impacts of mean climate change, creating the possibility for surprises, with impacts that are larger, and occurring earlier, than predicted using changes in mean variables alone. This is especially the case for subsistence sectors at low latitudes. Climate variability and change also modify the risks of fires, pest and pathogen outbreak, negatively affecting food, fiber and forestry. Source: EPA

To be fair, increasing temperatures could lengthen the growing season for many areas of the country. Climate change does have that going for it. It could also make it too warm to grow “traditional” foods in some places, like wine-making grapes in Napa, shorten the growing season for places hampered by hot summers (like my native FL) or increase the chance of severe droughts through soil evaporation.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not up for “the possibility of surprises” when it comes to my food or its domestic production. Even if you firmly believe climate change is nothing more than just a climate cycle, wouldn’t local, organic sourcing of food and/or limiting consumption be a good thing in terms of your wallet, waistline, your local economy and the planet? I mean, it seems like a win-win situation, doesn’t it? And I won’t even get into the issues it would present to the developing world that already struggles with food production and does not have the technology, the money to buy the technology, nor, in many cases, the capacity to produce the technology that will ultimately be needed to cope with what scientists predict lies ahead.

Food is hard to grow. Any gardener can assure you that some years, despite best efforts, something is just going to fail to thrive. Add in a few floods, pathogen outbreaks, and severe droughts and even the most experienced farmer is going to have big issues...and those issues directly impact the food you put in your mouth and its costs. It's just not something I feel humans should leave to chance.

Thus, I encourage you, dear reader, to think about food: How it is apart of your life? What food legacy you want to leave to future generations? Every decision we make has an impact. Make sure your decisions today match your vision of the future.

For more blog action day entries, go to their homepage:

Monday, October 12, 2009

CSA Monday! Last Edition

This week was the final week for my CSA. I really enjoyed it, but am glad it's over. I prefer doing the meal planning/grocery shopping at the end of the week but with CSA pick-up on Monday, that became difficult if I wanted to use the vegetables soon after they were picked. I would recommend everyone to try a CSA for a season. See if it fits your lifestyle. You're bound to discover new & exciting vegetables as well as learn more about where your food comes from (Farms, IMO, are very different from gardens).

I am, however, committed now to eating as much local, organic produce as possible. However, from now on I will visit my local farmer's market. There you can find really cool local varieties. Plus, going to the farmer's market is just plain FUN and mine has chocolate almond crossiants.

Lucky for me, although my delivered CSA is over I've still got the gleaning of the fields this weekend. I'm pretty positive I will go. It sounds like there are lots of greens to be had and those put up so well in the freezer, as well as my belly. The husband will be doing a 6-hour mountain bike race and destined to be exhausted (and ravenous) afterwards so perhaps I will be a darling and make a big pot of bacony, freshly picked Southern greens with cornbread and black-eyed peas (and maybe a roasted chicken) to greet him.

Anywho, onto this week. I'll upload a photo when I get home (the camera was in the husband's car).

The Haul:

small pumpkin, lettuce, young mustard greens, sorrel (I didn't take any), honey!, corn, potatoes

The Plan:

Big Salad: Last night I used the young mustard greens and the lettuce again in a big salad with a homemade vingariette. I love the young mustard greens raw. Tastes like a more assertive arugula.

Potato Corn Chowder: It was 50*F this morning! Soups of all sorts just sound fabulous right now. And a creamy, dreamy potato corn chowder sounds heavenly...

Pumpkin Muffins: The pumpkin is not big enough to make more pumpkin soup (which turned out fabulous, btw) so I'm thinking about making muffins for breakfast.

Friday, October 9, 2009

How To Deal with Pests

Of the garden variety, of course. Dealing with the cubemate that smacks their gum or the dude down the hall that uses speaker phone is 100% something I cannot help you with. But you have my sympathies.

My garden this year, mercifully, has been almost pest-free. However, I know that in future years I may not be so lucky. I had been hearing about integrated pest management (IPM). You know, that it was a great, holistic approach to controlling the creepy crawlies in the garden. So, I looked into it.

To be clear, IPM is not organic gardening. Chemical pesticides can be used in IPM practices as a last resort. But using IPM practices can be compatible with organic gardening. Basically, IPM is a process by which you first decide on your threshold tolerance for damage. Then, you monitor your plants frequently. Next, when you see damage, you identify the pest. After identification you move onto cultural (meaning growing environment), biological or chemical controls. And finally, at the end of the season you evaluate the effectiveness of what you did during the year and decide on what you will do different for the next season. It's an iterative process.

What does this mean? Basically every few days, you stroll around your garden looking to see any signs of damage. Then, if you see the damage, you figure out the cause and employ first cultural, then biological, and, if it comes to it, chemical controls to selectively eliminate your pest. Next, you evaluate how things went and how you can improve for the future.

Sounds so intuitive doesn't it?!? It also sounds familiar! Of the many books I read this winter to gear up for having a more successful garden, all of the organic ones suggested monitoring, doing preventative cultural practices and selectively eliminating the problem pest. The large difference from what I read in organic gardening books/magazines and IPM, aside, of course, for the permitted use of chemicals, was the evaluation part at the end. It totally makes sense when you hear it, but it's totally not something that occurred to me. I mean, I certainly have reflected on what plants were successful and which weren't, but pest management? Nope. Perhaps because it's more enjoyable to think about plants than bugs?!?

Below is an action plan I designed for the 4 most common pests in the DC/NoVA area. This year I, unbeknownst to me, I largely followed the monitor and cultural controls with very good results. Next year, I will work more on beefing up the biological before jumping into chemical (reaching for insecticidal soap is much easier than attracting ladybugs!!).

Click image to enlarge and print.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

CSA Monday! Pumpkin Edition

CSA Monday is on Thursday this week! With just one week to go, I'm stoked about the pumpkins as shown here:

corn, pumpkin, sweet potato, eggplant, radish, and (not shown) lettuce & young mustard greens.

The Plan:

Big Salad: I mixed the lettuce & the young mustard greens and added radishes and cucumbers (from last week) and some leftover roasted chicken. Perfect, healthy workday dinner.

Pumpkin Soup: Um, it's fall. And 2 pumpkins just fell into my brainer.

As for the rest? No clue what will end up happening to it. I'm actually livin' la vida loca in New Orleans right now. Makes me wish I had a little okra to stew up some gumbo!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Apples! Apples! Apples!

Last weekend we went apple picking. It is only now that I can see out from under my mountain of apples. We picked just over 25 lbs worth and only paid $25! Total deal, especially considering that we had a great time doing it and you can't beat the freshness.

But, this also meant that we had 25 lbs of apples! We primarily picked Grimes Golden and Jonathan as they are semi-tart apples good for cooking which we knew was what we would be doing with most of the apples. We also picked some Golden Delicious for eating. Note: I think Golden Delicious from the grocery store are certainly "golden" but rarely "delicious." They always seem to have a mealy texture. But just-picked, local Golden Delicious are, in fact, crunchy and delicious!

My husband made his annual apple pie using exclusively the Grimes Golden. It was fabulous! The husband's pie is a bit of an inexact science; never the same pie twice. This time included 6-8 sliced & peeled apples, a splash of vanilla, 1 tsp-ish of cinnamon, a splash of rum, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, and 2 Tbsp of flour all mixed together and put, expertly, between 2 Pilsbury pie crusts. I think it was his best pie yet. Another idea? ModernDomestic's Apple Turnovers. Or Smitten Kitchen's Apple Tart.

Next up? Apple sauce. I know, groan, apple sauce. But, seriously, this is wicked good apple sauce. I used 26 apples, a 50-50 mix of the Grimes Golden and the Jonathan. This was key as the Jonathan break down pretty easily while the Grimes retain their shape better. Thus yielding a delighfully smooth sauce with chunks here & there (my favorite consistancy). To the apples, I added about 2 cups of water (to aid in the cooking down), 2 long cinnamon sticks (from the Asian grocery store. Way cheaper spices there), 1 tsp of ground cloves and 2 Tbsp of dark brown sugar. Really, the cloves are what made this sauce, aside from the consistancy. After I made this, I canned it. It yielded 2 quart jars, 1 pint, and a small container for immediate consumption. Another idea? Chutney. Like Simply Recipes' or my version.

And, finally, I was left with probably 15 lbs of apples even after a large batch of apple sauce, an apple pie and snacking on a few apples throughout the day. I learned last year that if I don't process all of the apples, save the ones destined for raw consumption, the weekend they are picked, I just won't get around to it. So, I decided to freeze them. Basically, wash, peel and quarter your apples. Put them in a water-lemon juice mixture so they won't oxidize and then place on cookie sheets (or layer on a cookie sheet putting parchment or plastic wrap between the layers) and freeze (see first photo). Once (individually) frozen, you can place these into larger freezer bags and use the apples for future pies, sauces, cakes, chutneys... you name it! They won't be very good for using raw, these frozen apples. They'll get a bit mushy in the freezer (think frozen strawberries vs. fresh)

My other favorite ways to use apples:
- Dipped in caramel sauce
- Put slices or chunks into pancake batter (if going the slice route, place slices on batter once poured in pan)
- In stuffing
- Muffins
- Cake

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Recipe: Sweet Potatoes and Ham

Ham! Sweet potatoes! What a fantastic combo.

Here's what you do for ham-y sweet potatoes. Take half of a pre-cooked ham. Score the outside. Slice the sweet potatoes. Line a baking dish with sweet potatoes. Place the cut-side of the ham on the sweet potatoes. If you wish, apply a glaze to the ham (I mix grainy mustard and brown sugar). Bake at 350*F until the internal temperature of the ham is 140*F.

By then, the potatoes are also done...and delicious....and taste smoky and salty and, well, kind of like ham.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Busy Bee

Work and some outside activities have cranked up the volume. Not to mention apple picking from last weekend and getting a dehydrator (!!!).

While I haven't been able to post much this week you can look forward to these upcoming topics:
- 3 ways to deal with an excess of apples
- How to make sweet potatoes taste like ham (sorry, vegetarians!)
- Winter herb storage
- Holistic approach to dealing with garden pests