Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fun "Reading" for the Winter Months

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season!  The seed catalogs are starting to arrive, but I've decided to begin my winter reading with the end result of edible gardening.

Santa was kind to me this year, getting me all the cookbooks off my wishlist: Jamie's Food Revolution, The Joy of Pickling, Nigella Kitchen and Vegetarian Planet.  I've spent some quality time with these books all curled up on the couch and marking which recipes I want to try first.

Jamie's Food Revolution is particularly awesome for the entire chapters on Indian curries and Asian stir-fries, in addition to amazing ideas for ground beef (ground beef Wellington anyone?!). The recipes are simple and rely on the freshness and quality of the ingredients so I think this cookbook will get more of a workout during the growing season.  However, there are some curries that can be adapted to winter vegetables that I'm looking forward to trying.

The Joy of Pickling just makes my mouth water as a lover of all things vinegary and salty.  Besides the usual suspects of cucumber pickles, pickled dilly beans and pickled okra, there are interesting surprises like pickled grapes (both sweet and sour recipes), pickles infused with Thai or Indian flavors and lots of chutneys.  I wish I would have bought this book in the summer so that I could be enjoying some of these pickles right now.  I've already got a long list of recipes to try out as soon as the produce becomes available from my garden or the farmer's market.

Nigella Kitchen, for me, is less about the vegetable recipes and more about the carnivorous ones...especially the quick meals. I'm planning to try out several of these as soon as I get some Korean chili paste.

And, finally, I've already posted a recipe from library-borrowed Vegetarian Planet, but now I have a copy of my very own.  Certainly, it will provide me lots of idea with what to do with produce in the spring and summer, but there are several recipes suitable for winter that I can't wait to try.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Putting Up: Pear Ginger Marmalade

I'm starting to think that what I should have done was freeze things like tomatoes, blueberries and such and save the canning for winter when the extra heat from the stove is welcome and I'm looking for things to do indoors.  Live and learn.

I spent Black Friday (um, yeah, this post is a little late) canning Pear Ginger Marmalade (from the *awesome* Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving) and Apple Cider Cardamom Butter with the help of my mom and grandmother.  We avoided the insanity of shopping, spent some quality time together and created some delicious spreads that make a simple toasted baguette a gourmet breakfast.  I've been hoarding jam since my first batch of Strawberry Balsamic Black Pepper Jam.  I'm thinking that the neighbors will be receiving a jar of jam and a bag of homemade granola sometime soon.

This recipe is not only seasonal, but versatile.  Sure, you can enjoy or bread or any other baked good, but it would also make a bowl of vanilla ice cream (just warm the jam up first) or a fat slice of brie a bit more special.  Enjoy.

Pear Ginger Marmalade (makes 4 half-pint jars)
3 limes or 2 lemons (Note: I doubled the recipe and used a mix of lemons & limes.  I found the lemons infinitely easier to peel and the peel seemed to soften up better when cooking)
8 c thinning sliced, cored and peeled ripe pears (I sliced them long-ways, but in future batches, I would make shorter slices as the longer ones can make eating awkward)
4 c granulated sugar (I've heard to not use off-brand sugar as it's often not real cane sugar and that can affect jell.  In recipes without pectin, I stay cautious and shell out for Domino or other real cane sugar)
3 tbsp chopped crystallized ginger
1.25 c water

1. Peel limes/lemons being careful not to get too much pith.  Cut peel into very thin strips and set aside.

2. In another container, juice into large non-reactive container, add in pears, sugar and ginger.  Toss to combine well.  Cover and set at room temperature for an hour.

3. Prepare jars & lids.

4. In small saucepan, add water and peel.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes.  The peel should be tender and most of the water should be reduced.

5. Bring pear mixtures to a full boil for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.  If desired, use immersion blender for a few pulses to puree some of the pears.  Add peel and boil until mixture reaches gel stage, about 5 minutes (Note: Mine did not reach gel stage after 5 minutes.  It took more like 20 and that was still iffy.  However, once it cooled, it was perfect).

6. Ladle into hot jars, remove air bubbles, wipe down rim and put on lids.  Process in boiling water for 10 minutes.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and test seal.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New Vegetable Garden!

There were a few problems with my raised beds.  First and foremost, being 3' wide and against a fence made it incredibly difficult to plant, harvest and weed.  A secondary issue was that the placement became awkward when we did a small addition last year.  And, finally, a tertiary issue was that they weren't maximizing the precious direct sunlight that side of the yard receives.

Hence, the new design:

The "arms" reaching out are to grab the sunlight that floods the center of the yard later in the day.  A wider bed just going down the center wouldn't work as there wouldn't be enough room to walk around it with a wheel barrel.  I learned my lesson last time: Don't neglect to plan for maintenance!  In total, this bed not only utilizes available light more, but also the shape of the yard...I've got 102 sqft to plant annual vegetables and fruits.

In addition to growing food, I wanted a space where we could spread out a blanket and enjoy the sun in private.  As this is the only side of our yard behind a fence that gets sun, the garden needed to be able to accommodate.  I also have formally divided the space into separate beds.  In the former design, I had a rough idea where one bed ended/began, but plants would always creep over.  Kind of defeats the point!  Each bed (represented by different colors above) is at least 24 square feet because that's what I need for my nightshade family vegetables.  The very top and bottom beds are for flowers and blueberries, respectively.  I still plan to tuck in marigolds and nasturtiums into the garden, but the flower bed will have some perennial flowers (to be determined!) to further attract pollinators and beneficials.  I think I'll also add Japanese parsley, parsley and maybe eventually perennial onions to the bed too.  We shall see.

Needless to say, I'm beyond excited at this new layout.  We're still in the construction stage as a baby tends to make tasks take a little longer, but the goal is to have the beds build (already done) and filled with the growing mix (still in progress) in the next week or so.  We'll still need to do things like some minor grading and covering the area in mulch, but that won't be too bad.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Have a Very Happy Thanksgiving!

This year is our most local Thanksgiving yet.  We have some ways to go before it's 100% local, but it's all about steps on a continuum, right?  Here's our menu:

Brined free-range turkey from Pennsylvania (Using Alton Brown's recipe)
Pan gravy
Homemade cornbread stuffing
Cranberry sauce (This is from a can.  I actually don't really like the homemade stuff!)
Maple roasted VA sweet potatoes (Basically using this recipe, but I'm considering topping it with the candied spiced AL pecans my parents are bringing up from here)
VA slow-braised collard greens (Using Tyler Florence' recipe.  Although, I used a few strips of local bacon instead of the ham hock)
Roasted cauliflower with pine nuts and raisins (Epicurious)
Green bean casserole (Made red-neck style with canned soup, froze beans & crunchy onions.  Oh, yeah!)
Gingerbread and local pumpkin mousse trifle (Epicurious)
Local apple crostata with cheddar crust (Martha Stewart's recipe)

And, to wash it all down, we're having unfiltered hard cider.  Not totally local, but closer than wine from France or South Africa!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

File This Under Things I Don't Understand: National Arboretum to Cut Down Azaleas

As reported by WashingtonGardener magazine:

If you've never been, take my word for it that the azalea collection is stunning in bloom.  Stunning.  And, honestly, seeing car loads of people flocking to the National Arboretum is a rare thing (I've been there almost every Saturday for a year taking classes.  The parking lots are rarely full.).  Plus, in this day & age how many people do you know that take precious weekend time to go out and look at plants?  I've seen kids there romping around, excitingly calling out the different colors as well as more elderly folks searching for their favorite.

Consider contacting the people listed at the bottom of the article to save the azaleas.  The collection really is a national treasure!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: Edible Landsaping

Wow.  Just wow.  I think Rosalind Creasy might just be my idol in the way that Taylor Swift is to 12-year olds.

By my estimation, Edible Landscaping might just be the perfect vegetable garden book.  Not only does it go into the basic mechanics of edible gardens-- light, soil, nutrients, required growing conditions for plants, etc.-- but it also goes into the complex (and fun!) world of garden design.  With case studies on how real home owners planned their gardens (one is from Arlington, too!), descriptions of basic design principles to keep in mind and lots of gorgeous pictures for inspiration, this book really takes you from A-to-Z. 

Now, you maybe thinking: "Um, I have a vegetable garden, not an edible landscape."  And, to that I say: "Why do vegetable gardens have to be ugly?" Incorporating flowers to attract pollinators and beneficial insects is not only pretty, but practical.  And, putting a little extra thought into the arrangement of your planting (like, maybe instead of rows of lettuce,  maybe a checkerboard pattern), you can get some lovely results.

Furthermore, why does food have to be limited to the *vegetable* garden?  In Arlington with our tiny lots, sometimes your front yard is what is blessed with sun.  I have been working to make my front yard more productive already, but Edible Landscapes has given that new energy.  I had been thinking about maybe a Wisteria frutescens to grow by my door, but now I'm leaning towards a grape vine.  How amazing would that be?!  We'd have grapes (either eating ones or ones to make juice/jam) and grape leaves!  In the winter, the gnarled bark of the grape vines is striking too and perfectly front yard appropriate.  I'm also going to tuck in some anise hyssop (an herb) into my cottage-garden style front plantings.  She's also got some lovely ideas on how to use groups of pots to grow food which I think I'm going to try to incorporate in our vegetable garden area (which is being finished today!). 

She's also written books specifically on edible flower gardening and edible herb gardening that go into more detail on those topics.  I can't wait to get my grubby little hands on those.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Herb Garden Defeats Lawn

Awhile ago I attended a lecture by the guy that wrote Edible Estates.  He gave a short lesson in landscape design history and this I found interesting: The Great American Lawn really comes from the Great English Estate.  Originally, if you had a sprawling lawn, then it was a show of wealth because clearly you were so rich you didn't need your land to be productive *and* clearly you employed someone to keep it trimmed.

 Now, strictly speaking I am not anti-lawn if they are maintained in a responsible way (e.g., not ODing on fertilizer, not heavily watered during drought, etc.). But, for my little barely tenth-of-an-acre lot, every square inch needs to have a purpose.  That purpose could be growing food, providing a nice place to sit, growing flowers that brighten my day or fostering wildlife.  When a portion of our front yard failed to do any of the above & actually refused to grow grass, something had to be done.  Thus, we turned one-third of our front yard into an herb garden and shade garden.

I foolishly forgot to take photos of the before, but just imagine a mowed mess of weeds.  The soil is heavy clay there and insanely compacted even before the construction we had done this spring.  To say growing grass there was an uphill battle is an understatement.  And, really, I didn't see the need to fight that uphill battle when the front half of the yard gets an amazing amount of sunlight...a rare commodity at my house.

Basically, I got a bunch of newspapers off Freecycle (free) and a truck load of mulch from my county ($50).  Just lay down a thick layer of newsprint and cover with a generous amount (at least 3 in) of mulch and Voila!  Instant lawn-be-gone.  For the herb garden, I got some pavers ($1.77 each) and some compost (about $8) and garden soil (another $8 or so).  To be honest, I may try to squeeze in another circle somewhere.  The beauty of this whole set up is that it's completely, and easily, changable.

Right now (which isn't shown in these pictures...) I have planted my sage in the center of the largest circle.  I'm probably going to plant garlic around half of it (if I get around to doing that this year...) and borage for the other half.  In the medium circle there is my woody herbs: Rosemary, thyme (2 kinds), marjoram and oregano.  And, finally, in the smallest circle that gets the most shade there is mint buried in containers.

I'm also going to add a lot of shade plants between the fence and the path to the side yard as well as a few between the fence and the herb circles...probably in spring or so.  I'm looking forward to spending the winter scheming about this!!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

So This Is Weird: A Garlic Mystery

Long time no type, eh?  A new term at school as started up and that coupled with some projects we're doing around the house and out-of-town guests meant no posting.

Thus, I come back after an almost 2 week hiatus with a mystery.  Hopefully someone on the internets can tell me what is up with this:
Obviously, this is garlic.  However, less obviously is that this garlic came from a place planted *last fall.*  Today I was doing the final clearing in the garden (that is another post, alas) and I noticed a square foot of leafy shoots come out of the ground where I harvested garlic in the spring.  I pull them up and it's garlic in various stages of maturation.  Some are starting to form heads (see bottom right corner of photo above) and others are just kind of starting out.

I'm pretty sure I harvested all the garlic out of that patch.  And, even if I didn't, it would have just been a clove or two and this was seriously an entire square full of growth.

Tell me oh wise readers: What is going on here?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hap-"pea" Halloween!

Sprout is very happy to be a pea.

He is less happy about the fate of most peas.*

*Note: No babies were harmed/cooked for this picture.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Local Eating Challenge: Last Few Days

I've learned a lot about myself, cooking and the bounty of local farms in just 4 short weeks of this edition of the Local Eating Challenge.  To recap, I limited my family's consumption of vegetables, fruit and meat to that produced within 200 miles (often less) of our home.  This wasn't meant to be an exercise in homesteading or living a life in isolation of coffee, cinnamon and olive oil-- none of which is produced to my knowledge in any part of Virginia...or ever was.  The purpose of this was to see if with a reasonable high-cost-of-living-area grocery budget and a reasonable amount of meal planning and prep, eating as local as possible could be done.  I have felt for a long time that local eating from small farms that are either "eco-ganic" or practice Integrated Pest Management is better for the environment and, quite possibly, my health (less exposure to pesticides, fresher produce may have more nutrients, etc).  However, it felt like this would be an expensive endeavor.  Thus, armed with our usual $100/wk grocery budget and a few cookbooks to keep things interesting, I embarked.

And, in the words of my I-Like-To-Have-Pasta-with-Red-Sauce-Every-Week-For-Lunch-No-Matter-the-Season "Ya know?  This isn't as hard as I was expecting."

What We Learned
I was always pretty good about saving chicken bones and parsley stems for stocks, but this challenge has really forced me to use every little bit of vegetables and meat...with delicious results.  Partly because of the original expense of them and partly because the "local eating rules" meant that I couldn't use some other flavoring.  This meant using the water from steaming the broccoli in the broccoli soup instead of plain water (I didn't have any stock using all local ingredients) or saving the green leaves of the turnip for another recipe.

In order to stay within budget, we ate less meat than we usual.  We were used to having a vegetarian meal a few nights a week, but this challenge had us having vegetarian lunches and less meat at our non-vegetarian meal.  While I haven't lost any weight during this month but I do feel more energetic and overall "better."  And, I must say, I think even devout carnivores could enjoy the Vegetarian Cassoulet, African Peanut Soup, or Butternut Squash and Greens Risotto.

Local meat tastes 10 times better than grocery store meat and well worth the price premium.  The pork was especially amazing.

The prep did take a bit longer, though.  Granted, this may be a function of the recipes I chose, but I felt like meals took longer to make.  I had to make my own stock, couldn't use pre-prepped frozen or canned vegetables, etc.  Additionally, meal planning took longer as my usual recipes didn't fit the local eating challenge.  However, it wasn't excessive and after a week or two I got more in the hang of it.  I have a feeling it will be easier going forward.

It wasn't expensive as I thought it would be.  Granted, as previously mentioned, we ate more vegetarian meals, but they were so good, it didn't matter that they were meat-free.  Plus, getting our protein from beans or whole grains, is probably better for us too.  I was expecting to be really pushing out $100 budget each week but for most weeks I was well under...more along the lines of our usual grocery budget.

In the Meantime...
The next month of Local Eating Challenge is May 2011.  Until then, I plan to visit the farmer's market as long as they are open.  And, with the exception of chicken, we'll continue to buy our meat from them.  However, I'm not going to lie...canned tomatoes and out-of-season celery will probably weasel their way back to our menus.  Especially in the winter when nothing fresh is coming out of the fields.

The Final Days
I did it; I went under budget again!  I spent $30 at the grocery store (this included getting some paper towels and toilet paper), not just food.  I did awesome at the farmer's market too; $50 got me: 2 bunches of kohlrabi, 2 big handfuls of green beans, 1 quart of onions, 1 bunch radishes, celery, 2lb carrots, 3lb pork shoulder, 1 tomato, cauliflower, 2 summer squash, 4 asian pears, tomatillos, and lettuce.  Grand total for the week was $80.  (I have no idea why the photo won't go horizontal.)

Thursday (tonight), lunch for weekend: Oven-Roasted Tofu with Apples  (apples leftover from U-Pick, carrots, onions, and mushrooms--local, but from grocery store)

Friday, Saturday, Sunday: Pork Tacos with Salsa Verde and Chili-Roasted Butternut Squash (pork shoulder, tomatillos, some of our hot peppers, onions, cilantro, lettuce, radishes & local butternut squash from the grocery store)

Monday (Nov. 1st!), Tuesday, Wednesday: Bolognese with Pasta (will use some of the carrots, celery, onions.  I have some beef in the freezer I need to use)

My lunch:  Fall Vegetable Curry (tomato, cauliflower, summer squash, butternut squash, onions & cilantro)

Husband's lunch: Pasta with Red Sauce (hehehehehe)

Plus, I got some green beans & 2 bunches of kohlrabi that I haven't allocated to a meal.  Maybe I'll make them as a side dish for the pasta or add them to my lunch.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Recipe: Vegetarian Cassoulet

I know, I know.  Vegetarian cassoulet is an oxymoron.  Cassoulet, after all, is famous for using duck confit & often an assortment of sausages.  My husband & I got a little cassoulet obsessed during our trip to Languedoc this year.  It gave us both heartburn, but it was fantastic.

But, to be honest, I'm not going to be making my own duck confit anytime soon nor am I even sure where to get it locally.  And, I don't have a few days to make one dish.  Thus, while this dish may not be authenic, it is delicious and replicates the flavors of the original.  It's a perfect fall or winter dish...you can serve by itself or with a salad and crusty bread.  And maybe some Blanquette wine if you can find it!

Ingredients (Serves 4)
Adapted from Epicurious.com

6 scallions (all) or 3 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
4 medium carrots, finely diced
3 celery ribs, finely diced (I didn't put this in as I couldn't find any locally, but it would be a delicious addition) 4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 roma tomatoes, finely diced
8 oz mushrooms, finely diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 thyme sprigs
1 sprig rosemary
3 leaves of sage
1 small bunch of  parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
4 c cooked cannellini or Great Northern beans (if using canned, rinse & drain)
3 c stock

1. Saute scallions/leeks, carrots, celery, tomatoes and garlic in oil with herb sprigs, bay leaf, sage, rosemary, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, about 15 minutes.  Next, add in mushrooms and cook until tender, another 7 or so minutes.

2. Add in beans, then water, and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

3. With a potato masher or back of wooden spoon, mash beans a bit to thicken cassoulet.  Remove sage and bay leaves as well as rosemary and thyme sprigs.  Stir in chopped parsley.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Harvest Update: Final Edition?

I left in a few pepper plants, our basil and the Sungold tomatoes and pulled everything else up a while back.  We've pretty much neglected the garden since then as I was preoccupied by other projects, the baby and schoolwork.  With the first frost looming, I decided to throw in the towel and harvest what was left.

Have you ever seen over a pound  of hot peppers (1 lb 3 oz to be exact)?

Well now you have!  I'm not entirely sure what we're going to do with them.  At the moment, I'm a bit overwhelmed with getting the herb garden ready and garlic planted.  Thus, we're just going to freeze them whole & decide what to do with them later.  I hope to try to make a hot sauce.

We also got 2.5oz of basil (most of that was Thai basil) and 6.25oz of green cherry tomatoes.  I'm going to just freeze the basil to use over the winter and try pickling the green cherry tomatoes.

Weeks & weeks ago I planted mustard greens but the squirrels set to work digging in my pots and now something is eating them.  Since the pots are close to the house, I'm hoping that they'll get some reflected heat and grow a bit more.  As it stands, there wouldn't be much there.  So, this might be my last harvest of the season.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Local Eating Challenge: Week 4

Sorry it took awhile for me to post this week.  It is finals week full of tests and final projects, but as of 12pm today, I was *done*.  Until next quarter, of course! I've got a backlog of things to show you...especially my new herb garden area!

Review of Week 3
Nothing really earth-shattering happened.  I made a meal plan, we mostly followed it.  It was delicious.  I felt like I was really in the hang of it.

Lessons Learned
I really miss chicken.  For the markets nearest to me, only the Annandale market has chicken...and it's only available in half-chickens.  No boneless thighs (which we eat a lot of), just half chickens that are like $10 each...so, expensive.

I'm also starting to miss canned tomatoes and celery which seem to be in all of my favorite fall comfort foods.  For the time I'm either avoiding those recipes or just leaving that ingredient out.  Needless to say, I've already penciled in a large batch of slow-cooked, local-meat-but-canned-tomatoes bolognese sauce on Nov. 1st.

Week 4
I did amazingly well with budget this week. From the grocery, I got $28 worth of products.  From the farmer's market, I only spend $45 and got: 1 bunch turnips, 1 bunch kale, 1 bunch lettuce, 3 onions, several potatoes, several very large handfuls of green beans, 5 roma tomatoes, 1 bunch scallions, parsley, 2 bunches carrots, 2 zucchini, 1.5 lb broccoli, about 1 lb of Italian sausage and 2 lb ground beef.  Total for the week is $73 which is well under budget.

See the baby feet in the picture?!?

Here's the meal plan for the week:

Friday: was leftovers

Saturday, Monday: Cream of Broccoli Soup with crostini (onion & broccoli and maybe some sage from my garden for the crostini)

Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday: Meatloaf with Root Potato Mash and Green beans (onions, carrots, pototoes, turnip roots, and green beans)

My lunch: An oxymoron- Vegetarian Cassoulet (carrots, scallions, parsley, tomatoes, zucchini)

Husband's lunch: Sausage and Kale Pasta (sausage, kale and onions)

Weekend lunch: Falafels (tomato, lettuce)

Breakfast: Steel cut oats topped with pomegranate kefir

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Recipe: Roasted Vegetables & Wheatberry Salad

I've been wanting to use the wheatberries I bought on a whim a while ago and this week was the week!

I used this recipe as the base.  I'm sure it's good as is, but I prefer roasted vegetables first coated in vinegar and had been meaning to make roasted, crispy kale.  When I can use non-local ingredients, I will add some plumped raisins or dried cranberries like the inspiration recipe.  The sweet hit would be nice.

However, the recipe below is addictive.  I never thought I would say that about root vegetables, let alone wheatberries, but there's something about it that is SO GOOD.  Maybe it's because the wheatberries are slightly chewy and nutty?  That the root vegetables roasted with thyme make you think of fall?  Whatever it is, this is good hot, cold and room temperature.  Perfect for lunch, a side to roasted chicken or potluck dish.

2 cup wheat berries
2 pounds assorted root vegetables; carrots, rutabagas, butternut squash, celery root, parsnips, etc, peeled and cut into thumbnail-sized cubes (I used carrots, parsnips & turnips)
1/2 large red onion, peeled and diced
1 bunch of kale, chopped
Olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
10 or so branches of fresh thyme
salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1.  Cook the wheatberries according to package instructions.  Preheat oven to 425*F
2.  Meanwhile, toss the chopped root vegetables in as much oil as you dare (I do just a Tbsp) and the vinegar.  Put on a roasting sheet topped with the thyme sprigs and sprinkled with salt & pepper.  Roast for 20-30 minutes, until done.
3.  Turn down the temperature of the oven to 300*F.  Toss the kale with a little oil (I just put a few drizzles) and then spread in a single layer on roasting sheet.  Bake for 20-25 minutes. (Alternatively, you could steam the kale, but I like the charred flavor the oven gives the tips)
4.  Toss cooked wheatberries with roasted root vegetables and kale.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Recipe: Sunday Pot Roast with Double Potato Mash

I believe it was Nigella Lawson that said "Why have one potato, when you can have two?"  My thoughts exactly.  And, perhaps as an added bonus, mixing sweet potatoes into white potatoes gives you more vitamins...which makes it healthier, right?!?

I used this as my base recipe for the pot roast except I added 3 finely chopped roma tomatoes after the onions were cooked and caramelized them.  I added several parsnips and turnips, peeled and cut itno sticks with 30 minutes to go and trimmed green beans with 10 minutes to go.

I've been striving to emulate the English Sunday Roast.  Nothing is lovelier, especially in this weather, than a comforting dish of something that has been cooked slow and low.  Add in a glass of wine and you've got a dinner to linger over...as long as the baby allows.  :P  Lucky for me, Sprout seems to enjoy the idea of a Sunday Roast as much as I do.

Double Potato Mash

4 small sweet potatoes, peeled & cubed
6 medium white potatoes, cubed (I like to leave the skins on my white potatoes. Cut these slightly larger than the sweet potatoes as they cook faster)
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 c 2% milk

1. Put both potatoes in a large sauce pan.  Cover with water and add a liberal pinch of salt.
2. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender (time depends on the size you cut the potatoes, but it took me 10 minutes)
3. Drain
4. In the sauce pan, add the pat of butter.  Add the drained potatoes and milk.  Mash with potato masher.
5. Top with gravy or pot roast of your choice!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Local Eating Challenge: Week 3

Review of Week 2
Overall, last week's meal plan went well.  My husband ended up making chicken caccitorie for his lunch using the frozen roasted tomatoes, the half chicken I bought, some garlic/onions and herbs from our garden.  The meals got shifted around a bit and I got lazy one night, so we didn't end up eating the Acorn Squash with Arugula Pizzas (which were fabulous, btw) until Wednesday and Thursday, which was lucky.

I don't know if I'm getting into a groove, but this is getting easier.  And each week I'm still excited about trying new recipes which is saying something as usually with this much cooking I'm burned out.

Lessions Learned
I'm finding that consistently going to the farmer's market makes it infinitely easier to meal plan.  I now have a pretty solid idea of what I can find week-to-week.  It's no longer an Iron Chef situation where I have to think of recipes on the fly or come up with a meal plan only to have it ruined by not being able to find a key ingredient. 

But perhaps the biggest lesson was the awesomeness of local pork.  The ham roast I got last week was indescribably good.  The pork you buy in the grocery store usually tastes like chicken, which is to say it doesn't take like much.  This pork tasted intensely like *pork.*  I only used salt & pepper on it, yet it was full of flavor.  It was also a bit tougher than commercial pork so next time I'll probably brine it first.

I love "2fer" vegetables like turnip and kohlrabi that comes with the root vegetable *and* the greens.  Sometimes I use them in the same recipe, but often I split them up.  It's such a great deal.

Week 3
This week we went to Costco and stocked up on pasta (we do this every month or two).  The husband also brought a block of cheddar.  The total of Costco was $20.  The grocery store was mostly basics & came to $26.  At the farmer's market I got 2 bunches of turnips, 1 bunch of kale, 6 potatoes, 4 sweet potatoes, 1 bunch of carrots, 2 crowns of broccoli, 3/4 lb green beans, 3 roma tomatoes, 2 large onions, 3 large parsnips, 2 heads of garlic, 1 half gallon of apple cider and 3 lb chuck roast...all for $58!  So, we're $4 over budget this week, but since I was waaaaaayyy under last week, it evens out.

Here's the meal plan for this week:

Friday: last of the Acorn Squash with Arugula Pizzas
Monday, Wednesday: Spanish-style lentils (tomatoes, turnip greens, onions), steamed broccoli

Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday: Pot roast (chuck roast, 2/3 of the turnips, 2 parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, onion, garlic)

My lunch: Roasted vegetable & wheatberry salad (1/3 of turnips, 1 parsnip, 3 carrots, onion & kale)

My husband's lunch
: Homemade mac & cheese (Have you sensed a theme yet?  He likes pasta.  A lot.)

Weekend lunch: I think we're going to go out to eat on Sunday for lunch, but on Saturday we'll made quesadillas from leftover cheese & roasted acorn squash

Breakfast: More steel cut oats.  God, I love these things.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day: The Key Ingredient in Your Garden

What does vegetables, meat, clothing and swimming pools have in common?

Water.  The water that feeds plants--whether you eat them, look at them or weave them into cloth-- and hydrates animals has to come from somewhere...and has to GO somewhere.

When the terms "sustainable food" and "eating local" are tossed around, normally people talk about the miles it took for their food to get to their plate. Rarely is the amount of water used to grow or raise that food discussed or what happens to the water that runs off the agricultural or pasture fields.  And rarely do people think about their water usage in terms of necessity versus luxury activities.

As much as possible, we tried to use our rain barrel to water the garden but even that would run dry with the drought we've been having.  We mulch everywhere we have plants (even in containers) to help the soil retain moisture.  If we use fertilizers, even organic ones, we only apply the recommended dosage and no more (usually a little more diluted than that) to limit run off which pollutes our rivers and streams.

We are all incredibly lucky to live in a place where you can just turn on a spigot & get clean water on demand.  I know I could be more efficient with my water usage.  Just because it's there, doesn't mean you have to use it.

Do you know your water footprint?  You can find out at Waterfootprint.org.

Here are some water-footprints of common foods:
It takes 140 liters of water to produce 1 cup of coffee.
It takes 16,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of beef.
It takes 1,350 liters of water to produce 1 kg of wheat.
It takes 1,000 liters of water to produce 1 liter of milk.
It takes 3,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of rice.

Change.org|Start Petition

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gah. Not again!

I didn't bother trying to go to the Annandale market today with the rain.  I'd just be pissed off if I lugged the baby and all the associated paraphernalia out there only to have it closed...again.  So, I'll be headed to the McLean market tomorrow.  This means no chicken next week (no chicken at McLean) which is too bad because I bought some dried udon noodles & had dreams of a lovely Asian chicken noodle soup for dinner next week.

Good thing I was too lazy Saturday night to make dinner so we got take out and the ham roast meal lasted a day longer than anticipated.  This meant tonight I could make the Acorn Squash & Arugula pizzas I originally planned to make Tuesday/Wednesday.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Recipe: Roasted Tomato Soup

Oh, the big box of tomato saga continues!  We seeded, roasted and froze the vast majority for later use.  And, guess what?!?  This is one of those later uses!

My inspiration recipe was Ina Garten's Roasted Tomato Basil Soup.  I'm sure it's perfectly delicious as-is but the local eating challenge means no canned plum tomatoes and I don't have any chicken or vegetable stock made yet.  Plus, she's using an alarming amount of oil in that recipe! Thus, I used fresh tomatoes and the juice of the roasted tomatoes instead of canned and water instead of stock.  Because I was using fresh tomatoes, I also mixed up the cooking steps.  And, in the end, it tasted so good with minimal basil, I decided to leave it as is.  Oh, and I don't have a food mill.  In short, at the end of the day, my version is probably nothing like Ina's. (Don't you hate it when the comments on online recipes are like "This recipe was fabulous!  I changed everything about it though.  It's a keeper!"  I do.)

Here's my version:

4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
3 lbs slicing/non-paste tomatoes, seeded, quartered. Reserve juice/seeds
2 large slicing tomatoes, chopped
1.5 onions, sliced thin
6 cloves of garlic
1/4 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/4 c basil
3 sprigs fresh thyme
4 c water
salt & pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400*F. Arrange the 3 lbs of seeded tomatoes on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with 1 Tbsp of olive oil, salt & pepper.  Roast for 45 minutes.  Meanwhile, put chopped tomatoes, basil, reserved juice & salt/pepper in a bowl. Set aside.  (You can do this step in advance.)

2. In a large saucepan, add 3 Tbsp of olive oil, onions, garlic and crushed red pepper.  Saute until onions are brown around the edges, about 10 minutes.
3. Add chopped tomatoes mixture to the onions and cook until the liquid reduces by half or until dragging a spoon across the bottom of the pan leaves a channel (like with risotto).  Taste for seasoning & adjust if necessary.

4. Add roasted tomatoes, any juices from roasting, thyme sprigs and water to pan.  Cook for 40 minutes.

5. Fish out the thyme sprigs.  Use immersion blender (or food processor or blender) to puree soup.  Taste for seasoning.  If you want something smoother, you can pour through a fine-mesh sieve.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Local Eating Challenge: Week 2

Recap From Week 1
We pretty much followed the meal plan I set out in the beginning of the week.  I had forgotten to include lunch on the weekend, but we just made a pasta dish with some of the tomatoes from the box my husband got.  Overall, we spent $57 at the farmer's market (McLean's $29 & $28 at Falls Church for a box of tomatoes, parsley & bacon) and $38 at the grocery store...for a total of $95.  That's less than our budgeted amount of $100/wk but more than what we usually spend ($70-80/wk)...and we didn't really buy any meat.

I do have some veggies leftover, though.  I ended up not using the kohlrabi bulbs and we have 2 acorn squash I didn't use. Plus, most of the box of tomatoes went to the freezer for later usage.

First Week Observations
I cheated a bit in my first week which I kind of feel horrible about.  I just didn't want veggies to go to waste!  And, I used fresh ginger.  I tried to console myself that non-local ginger was OK because it is really a spice, but now that I know that local ginger exists, I really shouldn't have used it.  Despite considering myself to be someone that is pretty knowledgeable about what grows in this region & when it's harvested, I find myself learning a lot.  This is a good thing!  I'll do better in the coming weeks!

One thing I am surprised at is that the McLean and Falls Church farmer's market don't have local chicken.  I'm hoping that Annandale does because we mostly eat chicken.

And, finally, I'm finding meal planning to be a bit more time consuming than usual.  Not being able to use a can of tomatoes or lime juice has started to limit my go-to recipes.  Many recipes also mix in- and out-of-season vegetables which is frustrating.  In some cases you can find an easy substitute or just leave it out, but in many cases it's important to the recipe.  In addition, The meals are taking a bit longer to prepare because I can't just dump in a bag of frozen veg or a box of stock...I have to prep the vegetables or make that stock myself.

Week 2
At the grocery store this week I only needed milk, coconut milk, steel cut oats, local mushrooms (no vender at the FFX county markets) and some assorted beans (to replenish our pantry) in the way of food.  Total cost was $25. 

The Annandale market was open & they did indeed have chicken!  I got a half of chicken, ham roast, green beans, onions, turnips, 2 bunches of kale, arugula, a bag full of collard greens, 2 peppers and butternut squash.  All for $53.  The onions were annoyingly expensive though; 4 of them were almost $4!  I did forget, however, to buy some apple cider so we'll do without juice for the week.  I'll make some flavored iced tea instead. 

Total for the week: $78!  This is more like what we usually spend each week.

Menu for the week:

Thursday, Friday & Saturday: Veggie Pot Pie (half the kohlrabi from last week, carrots from last week, green beans, turnips with their greens & onions)

Sunday, Monday: Roasted ham with greens (plus apples from U-pick)

Tuesday, Wednesday: Roasted acorn squash pizza topped with arugula

My lunch: Veggie Thai Red Curry (the other half of the kohlrabi, peppers, and butternut squash)

My husband's lunch: Pasta with roasted tomatoes (tomatoes from last week)

Weekend lunch: Roasted tomato & basil soup with grilled cheese

Breakfast: Steel cut oats with apples or plain yogurt with homemade jam, bacon pancakes on Sunday morning

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Recipe: African Peanut Soup

The name of this soup is a little deceiving.  While peanuts play a large role in flavor, it's sweet potatoes and tomatoes that are the bulk of the recipe.  Perfect for the rainy, cool weather we've had lately.  I served with some homemade bread and a salad, but this could also be a stew served over rice if you reduce the liquid a little, don't puree and leave the peanuts whole.

After I made this, I pondered if fresh ginger counted as a seasoning or a vegetable...meaning, is using non-local ginger a cheat in my local eating challenge?  I think of it more as a seasoning b/c I don't recall are recipe where you *just* eat ginger.  And it stores well.  Hmmmmmm...Does ginger even grow in the greater DC area?!?

Source: Vegetarian Planet by Didi Emmons

Ingredients (Serves 4-6)
1 tbsp oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1.5 tsp ground cumin
1.5 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch of ground cloves
3 ripe medium tomatoes, chopped
2 large (or about 1.5 lbs) sweet potatoes, peeled & chopped (I'd leave the peel on if you're doing a stew version of this for extra nutrients)
1 carrot, chopped
4.5 c water
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 c chopped, dry roasted, unsalted peanuts
3 tbsp creamy peanut butter (Ms. Emmon's recipe calls for 2 tbsp, but I think a little extra is needed)
1 tbsp chopped cilantro, optional

1. In soup pot, heat a bit of oil over medium heat and saute onion for about 10 minutes or until brown around the edges.
2. Add ginger, garlic and spices.  Cook for another 3 minutes.
3. Add tomatoes, sweet potatoes and carrot.  Cook for 5 minutes.
4. Add water and a good pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil and cook 30 min. or until sweet potatoes and carrots are tender.
5. Add peanut butter.
6. With immersion blender, puree until smooth.  (You can also use food processor or blender, but do not fill the containers all the way when you blend--warm liquid expands!  It might be safer to let it cool a bit too before you puree).
7. Add peanuts & top with cilantro (if using). Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Recipe: Butternut Squash & Greens Risotto

I would have never thought to put greens in risotto if it wasn't for the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cookbook. This was a delicious hearty meal best washed down with a lovely apple cider (Or hard cider if you wish!).

This is the first recipe of my Local Eating Challenge & I'll admit that I cheated a bit.  I know, first meal and you cheat?!?  Hear me out!  The purpose of this challenge is not only to get more acquainted with where my food comes from, but also lessen the environmental impact of our stomach.  Thus, just letting 3 carrots, some celery and half of a bag of onions that I had leftover from last week go bad seemed to the wrong choice to stay true to the spirit of the challenge.  So, I chopped all those up with additional carrots from the farmer's market today, garlic that I grew myself, salt, peppercorns and bay leaves, and turned it into a very flavorful vegetable stock for this recipe.  The rest of the vegetables in the recipe, along with the rest of the vegetables this month, will be from local sources.  Promise.

You could totally stop with just adding the greens; it's a delicious risotto without the squash.  I used kohlrabi greens because I bought kohlrabi, but the original recipe called for kale and said Swiss chard was an option too.

Ingredients (Serves 4)
5 c vegetable stock
1 c minced onions
2-3 tsp olive oil
1.5 c arborio rice
about 2 c peeled & cubed butternut squash, cooked (either roasted or steamed)
3 c stemmed and chopped greens (kale, Swiss chard, or kohlrabi greens)
salt & pepper
1/4 c Parmesan cheese

1. Bring stock to a boil in a saucepan.
2.  Meanwhile, saute onions in the oil for about 5 minutes...until softened but not brown.
3. Add rice to the pan and toast, stirring occasionally.  Add 1/2 of the stock.
4. Stir often until all of stock is absorbed.  Add greens.
5. Add an additional 1/2 c, stir and wait until absorbed by adding more liquid.  Keep adding liquid this way until the rice is done or all the liquid is used.
6. Add Parmesan, cooked butternut squash and serve!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Local Eating Challenge: Week 1

I was rained out of the Annandale market yesterday, so I decided to try out the McLean one today.  The McLean farmer's market is much smaller than Annandale (and much MUCH smaller than Falls Church) but there was one seller that literally had everything I needed.  And, everything looked GORGEOUS...several types of squash, eggplant, radishes (including a pink daikon!), greens, peppers, onions, beans...really anything you'd want.  I ended up getting everything, save 2 pie pumpkins that I'm going to bake, puree & freeze the contents for pies later, from him.

For $29 I got: 3 very yellow summer squash, 8 baby eggplants, 1 green pepper, 2 bunches of kohlrabi, 3 onions, 3 heads of garlic, 2.5 lbs of sweet potatos, a bunch of carrots, basil, 1 head of romaine and 2 pie pumpkins.  I bought a butternut squash from VA at Whole Foods yesterday when I went grocery shopping because I was panicked that we'd be rained out today & not have anything for dinner on the first night of the challenge!  Tomorrow my husband is headed for the Falls Church market to see if he can score another big box of tomatoes and pick up some bacon and maybe chicken.

The only thing that's got me sweating a bit is that I usually have several pantry meals on hand.  This challenge doesn't quite work with some of my old standbys: Indian simmer sauce/chickpeas/frozen cauliflower over rice, paprika chicken roasted with canned tomatoes & frozen spinach and pasta with red sauce.  So, I'm going to get some local bacon to keep in the fridge.  We always have Parmesan cheese and eggs (local if the vendors don't run out...which they usually do because it's hard for me to get there as soon as they open), so Pasta Carbonara is just minutes away on a night when either we don't have time to cook or ate through our meals faster than usual.

Here's our meal plan for the week, pending what my husband picks up at the farmer's market.  Generally, we cook big batches of things & eat leftovers to save time.

My lunch: Vegetable stir-fry with tofu (I'll use the summer squash, peppers, eggplant & the bulbs of the kohlrabi) over jasmine rice

Breakfast: Oatmeal with apples and cinnamon or toast with peanut butter & sliced apples

The husband's lunch: Pasta with raw tomato sauce (tomatoes we'll be getting, basil, garlic)

Friday, Saturday & Sunday: Butternut squash & greens risotto (using butternut squash, onion and the greens of the kohlrabi)/Romaine with marinated apples dressing (lettuce and apples that we picked last weekend)

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: Tomato & peanut soup (tomatoes we'll be getting, carrots & sweet potatoes) with bread (I may make America's Test Kitchen's quick Irish soda bread)

Snacks: apples (from U-pick last weekend) and asian pears (from last week's farmer's market)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Egads! Rain.

First hurdle in my local eating challenge: Rain.

I thought that the farmer's market was rain or shine. I devised a way to keep le bebe dry while we shopped and hauled all the gear into the car.  Then, I drove through the rain only to find the market area...empty.  I don't blame the farmers; I wouldn't stand out in the rain either.  But I hadn't figured the weather would hinder me in this challenge!

I'll try going to a market tomorrow and if weather prevents that, I'll see if my husband can go on Saturday (I have class all morning).

Although, my much neglected garden is probably appreciating the long drink.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

2010 Garden Roundup: What Was Awesome & What Wasn't

This year my garden was seriously struggling. Not only due to record temperatures, but also a drought and a pregnant gardener that couldn't weed properly or remember to water. Plus, the whole area was trampled through with construction workers for 2.5 months.

What I will plant again:
Sungold tomatoes- I didn't get the intense harvest like I did last year, but they were still quite reliable.  And, of course, they are delicious.

Stupice tomatoes- This gave me my first tomato of the season.  However, it's a colder region variety and wasn't too keen on the number of 90*F days this summer. I'll plant it again for early tomatoes and replace it when it gets hot.

Swiss chard- Most of my Swiss chard seedlings got taken by birds for nests.  However, what didn't get taken survive without water and care (the cucumber vines started to wrap around them).  That makes it a winner for me!  The downside is that they were shaded by the tomatoes and only 2 survived so I didn't really get much in the way of a harvest.

Arugula- This did super well in pots.

Edmonson pickling cucumbers- These were...prolific.  And that's putting it nicely. They climbed up our fence and into our neighbor's crepe myrtle. They climbed across the garden and into the netting of the blueberries. The vines were so dense that I missed several cucumbers resulting in inedible mammoths.  Thus, while I'll plant these again, I will definitely come up with a better trellis.

Kung pao peppers- This was a bumper year for these peppers. They are the perfect spiciness level for me.  I'll definitely grow these next year but just 1 plant as we are drying plenty for a 2 year supply.

Zucchini- Only one plant actually produced zucchinis but I like to think the other ones were instrumental in the pollination!  Plus, they did reasonably well in the shadiest part of the garden.

Ground cherries- I netted these this year and got probably 2-3 pints worth of them out of 2 plants.  I do need to do a better job of eating them up, though!

What is on probation (aka if it doesn't do well next year, it's banished from the garden!):
Carrots- The ones I put in pots did reasonably well (but didn't get very big at all), but the ones I put in the ground did not work at all.  Poor germination (even though I watered!).  I planted several kinds: Kaleidoscope, Nantes and a round one I forget the name...

Ping and Black Egg Eggplant- These were late bloomers in the garden.  First they were attacked by something and then they were just sloooooooowww to do anything.  With a small garden, I need vegetables to put out or go home!

Garlic- I really love the garlic scapes the hardneck garlic produced but overall the bulbs and cloves weren't very big.  I'm going to get some garlic from the farmer's market & plant that along with the biggest 2 heads my garlic produced.

Strawberries- This year construction blocked the strawberry bed, but overall the chipmunks get to the berries before I do.  With space at a premium, I'm giving these guys 1 more year to impress me.

Tequila sunrise peppers- I think I may have messed up on the germination of these so I'll give them another year.

What I won't plant again:
Mexican Sour Gherkins- These did well before the pickling cukes took over, but they just weren't useful enough for me to plant again. They taste good, but I could only think to use them in salads.

Thai dragon peppers- These also did OK in the garden, but the kung pao just did better in terms of yield and flavor.

Sheboygan tomatoes- I don't know what happened, but these just up & died.  Could have been a fungus or a pest, I guess.  Whatever it was, I don't want anything that needs coddling in my garden.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Local Eating Challenge

My family has made many efforts to eat more local and/or organic fruits, vegetable and meat over the last 2 years. We get most of our vegetables from the farmer's market (or garden) during the growing season, our meat is free range/hormone- & anti-biotic free/vegetarian fed and we've started getting some of our cheese and butter from the farmer's market too.  I suppose our Local Eating Challenge will just be the next step of this-- turning the "most of our vegetables" into "all of our vegetables" and really moving to locally raised, free-range meat.

The Motivation
I firmly believe that while industrialized food has made it cheaper for the US to fill our bellies, it has done so with a large environmental cost.  I'm not just talking about the monocultures that require large amounts of pesticides or fungicides that damage the soil, but also the emissions from the trucks and planes that it takes to get the food from California, Florida or South America to my plate.

Additionally, I love the ritual of the farmer's market.  I've got an adorable little market basket I bring with me and everything.  I love picking up something for breakfast (maybe a chocolate-almond crossiant, maybe a whoopie pie, maybe a peach) and just staring at the best that Virginia and Maryland soil as to offer.  Baskets of berries, tables of tomatoes and crates of apples are such beautiful things to see in the morning. I also love that I'm directly supporting the farmer's in my local economy.  Any gardener knows growing food is hard work!

I would be lying if I didn't say that this was inspired by reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  I'd also be lying if I said we were going to do exactly what they did: Eat only from food grown in her county all year around, save for a few non-local items (spices, coffee, sugar, and flour were a few of their exceptions).

The Rules
Barbara Kingslover had her "rules," and we will have ours.

Foods Covered
Namely, we're going to do this for one entire month each season the farmer's market is open (May - November) for a year.  Right now, I'm thinking about doing October 2010 (for sure), May 2011, August 2011 and October 2011. I'm also only talking about fruit, vegetables and meat here for meals we prepare at home.  Thus, coffee, tea, flour, sugar, bread, spices, dried herbs, condiments like ketchup or mustard, olive oil, rice, vinegar, dried beans, etc. are still going to come from the grocery store.  However, processed items of things we can make with fresh vegetables, like canned soups, are not allowed.

Storage crops, like onions, garlic, potatoes, and other root vegetables, can be eaten out of the season they are harvested but most be from a local source. However, local but non-storage crops cannot be eaten in the local eating challenge outside of the season when they were harvested.  This means we can't use the garlic scape pesto or the oven-dried tomatoes I froze if garlic scapes or tomatoes aren't in season.

We will also buy the dairy when it is available at the farmer's market, which is usually cheese and butter.

I'm also going to do a caveat on Sprout's food.  He'll be eating solid food in 2011. Ideally, I want him to eat mushy versions of what we are eating, but if allergies or unforseen issues restrict what fruits and vegetables he can eat, I'm going to do what is best for him.  This might mean applesauce in the summer, for example.

What "Local" Means
Barbara Kingslover only ate food from her county.  That's would be impossible for me as my county, Arlington, is farm-less and having an egg-laying hen is illegal.  Thus, I'm going to adopt a 200 miles radius for my fruit, vegetables and meat to travel.  The markets I go to have a 150 mile radius, but I want to leave a bit of extra room if we want to get a cow share.

Eating Out
Additionally, we can still eat out during out Local Eating Month, but it can't be for more often than we currently eat, which is about once a week as a family and once a week individually for lunch. Also, if we are invited to eat at someone else's house, we won't refuse non-local, non-seasonal food. (Because I just don't think that would be nice!)

The Goal
You might be thinking that this doesn't sound very "challenging" at all; we can still eat out, enjoy coffee and buy bread from the grocery store. Tell that to my husband that eats pasta with red sauce for lunch 2 weeks out of every month, year round!  It will be a challenge not to reach for celery for soups when it's not in season.  It will be a challenge to still be excited about squash when you've been eating it almost every day for 30 days.  It will be a challenge to cook/eat new vegetables. And, it will definitely be a challenge to stick to our existing grocery budget.

What I'm hoping to do is to, in incremental steps, force ourselves to eat seasonal and local all the time and to incorporate local meat into our diets.  I almost feel like our stomachs are on a kind of jet lag; they don't know what season it is when you can get apples in June at the grocery store. By doing an entire month for each season, I feel that we will get a better feel of the ebb and flow of the seasons as well as be pushed into trying new and creative ways to use each season's offerings. Also, I hope to make it to the farmer's market every week (let's face it, sometimes the grocery store is more convenient) more of a priority, as well as try growing new crops in our vegetable garden to supplement the market (actually, it would be nice if that market supplemented the garden!).

So, there you have it. I'm really looking forward to this. I'll post what I bought, how much I spent and our meal plan for the week to keep you all in the loop and me accountable.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Recipe: Eggplant & Tomato Gratin

I still can't pass by the tomatoes and eggplant at the farmer's market, which means I'm still looking for new and delicious ways to keep them interesting.

Now when I think of "gratin" I think of potatoes in cream topped with cheese or bread crumbs.  So I was suspicious when I came across recipes for "Tomato Gratin" (Did that mean tomatoes baked in cream & topped with breadcrumbs?!? That sounds like a soupy mess!) or "Eggplant Gratin" or, even worse, "Tomato and Eggplant Gratin."  However, it appears that "gratin" is a fancy-pants way of saying "casserole topped with cheese and/or breadcrumbs."

Casseroles I can do!

Below is a much healthier hybrid of all the recipes I found. This would be good with zucchini instead of the eggplant if you're one of those eggplant haters. If you are worried about the water content in the tomatoes, you can de-seed them but I used very meaty heirloom varieties that did not shed too much juice. You could serve this as a side dish or a vegetarian main course. However you eat it, you'll find yourself making it often when tomatoes and eggplants are at their peak.

Ingredients (Serves 4-6)
2 medium-large eggplant, sliced 1/4" thick
3 large tomatoes, sliced 1/4" thick
4 cipollini onions or 1 medium onion, sliced thin
olive oil
salt & pepper
1/2 c grated parm
1/2 c grated mozzarella
1.25 c panko breadcrumbs
1/4 c mixed fresh woody herbs, chopped (I used 2 sprigs of rosemary, 2 sprigs of oregano and the rest thyme)

1.  Preheat oven to 375*F.
2. Lightly oil the bottom of a 8x13in casserole. Put half of the eggplant in one layer & season it with salt and pepper. Top with half of the onions.  Next, place half of the tomatoes on top of onions and top with 1/3 of the chopped herbs and a bit of salt and pepper.
3. Repeat for the next layer.
4. Top final layer of tomatoes with the mozzarella.
5. Mix the remaining herbs with the parm, breadcrumbs and about 2 tsp of olive oil.  Spread the mixture evenly over the mozzarella cheese.
6. Bake for 55-65 minutes or until eggplant is tender and the topping is golden brown (cook longer if you sliced your eggplant thicker).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

All About Onions

With my summer garden winding down, I turn to thinking about next year. I'm very comfortable starting from seed and growing nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant by this point.  This year I added cucumbers, summer squash, greens, garlic and carrots to my garden. Next year, I want to try a few more new vegetables. And, I'm thinking about growing onions in the 2011 garden.  For some reason I feel like onions are kind of confusing: long day v short day v intermediate, bunching v green, sets v transplants v seeds, etc. Thus, I've turned to books and the internet to try to sort this all out.  This is what I've learned:

What's the difference?
As far as I can tell there are 3 "types" of onions: Bulb, bunching and multiplier/perennial onions. The bulb type are what we generally buy in the grocery store (they're are the option to choose if you want storage onions) and one seed/set/transplant will give you one onion.  Bunching onions are basically "green onions" as they don't form large bulbs. And, finally, multiplier (or perennial) onions are like the bulb onions but they--as their name implies--multiply and create their own sets. Shallots and potato onions do this by creating clusters that you separate & divide, while top-setting onions, like the Egyptian walking onion, create bulbets that form on the top of the stem which take roots

Sets, Transplants or Seeds?
Sets are tiny bulbs, about the size of a marble without any sprouting, that were started from seed the year before. These are the easiest way to plant onions, but transplants actually offer better success and store better. Sets can be planted before the last frost, but the soil needs to be rather dry and a bit warm otherwise they can rot.

Transplants are just like any other seedling/plantlet...they are baby plants. You can buy these (although I don't think I've ever seen these in the nurseries around here) or start your own from seeds.  These tend to result in bigger onions than sets and have few pest issues. When the danger of frost has passed, plant harden offed transplants in the ground, but don't bury too deep.

Seeds often allow the greatest variety of cultivars.  Start them indoors 8-12 weeks before transplant date, but if you're blessed with a long growing season, you can direct sow outside.

If you're doing bulb onions (by seed, transplant or set) you'll need to match to your summer daylight. If you're north of a line from North Carolina to San Francisco, plant long-day cultivars.  If you're south of it, plant short-day cultivars.

Growing Conditions
No matter what type of onion you choose, they all seem to need well-drained soil with at least half a day of direct sun.

My Verdict
I think, should I plant onions next year, I'm going to go with seeds of bulb-type, long-day cultivars  that I'll start indoors. The idea of perennial onions is tempting (I love stuff that you just plant once!) but I'm not sure where I would put them.

Monday, September 20, 2010

There's an App for That...

During a late night rocking-the-baby-to-sleep session, I found myself searching through the iPhone App Store to pass the time. 

The truth is that I don't really play games (besides Tetris) and I generally don't use my smart phone for anything other than making calls and checking Google maps. So, I wanted to search to see if there was an app for something I'd actually use: To see what produce is in-season.

Lo and behold!  There *is* an app for that!  Several, actually.  I ended up going with the one called Seasons. It lets you know what's in-season (both local & imported), what's out of season and what is having it season end.  If you search for produce, it shows you it's harvest period.  Granted, I have a pretty good handle on what is in season right now from my garden and shopping at farmer's market, but it's handy to look up, for example, what will be in season in March. 

What app I really want to see, though, is one where you input your last frost date and the fruit/vegetables you are starting from seed and it outputs the dates you should start each seed as well as putting that info in your iPhone calender with alerts.  That would be awesome.  Anyone want to build that for me?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Recipe: Squash & Corn in Coconut Milk with Thai Basil

Let me preface this by saying this is incredibly delicious.  Like, so good that I'm sad that summer squash season is winding down.  And, so good that I ate it and totally forgot to take a picture!  You'll just have to imagine shockingly yellow summer squash (I don't know the variety!) and pale yellow corn kernels in a pool of white coconut milk and flecked with green bits of cilantro and hot peppers.  Ahhhhhh..

Another plus is that the dish comes together crazy fast if you've got leftover cooked chicken or picked up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.

More to the point: This is the perfect recipe to bridge summer and fall. Not only are squash, corn, hot peppers, thai basil and cilantro all available at the farmer's market right now, but this dish is light, yet as comforting as a bowl of a more fall-ish stew. I suppose you could say this is "comfort food," summer style!

The recipe comes from Deborah Madison via The Washington PostThey took a picture, but my dish was prettier.


1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 medium squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 3 cups)
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
Kernels from 2 ears of fresh corn
2 to 4 jalapeƱo peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced (I used my kung pao peppers & didn't seed them)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2-inch piece peeled ginger root, minced (I grated this with a Microplane)
5 scallions, white and light-green parts only, cut crosswise into thin slices
15 ounces (1 can) low-fat coconut milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for optional garnish
1/4 cup chopped Thai basil, plus more for optional garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shredded cooked chicken (optional)
3 cups cooked basmati rice, warmed, for serving


1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the squash and onion; cook for about 6 minutes, until tender. If anything, under cook the squash slightly as it will have a few more minutes cooking in the coconut milk.
2. Add the corn, hot peppers, garlic, ginger and scallions to the pan, stirring to incorporate. Once incorporated (so, these aren't really sauteing), stir in the coconut milk and water, then add the cilantro and basil.
3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the corn is heated through. Add the chicken, if desired, and stir to incorporate.
5. Serve over rice.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Recipe: Stuffed Eggplant

This summer I've made a better effort to visit the farmer's markets and eat seasonally. Sometimes this means only produce from the farmer's market and sometimes it means buying tomatoes, eggplant, squash, corn, green beans or peppers from the grocery stores if I can't make it to the market this year.

In theory, this is glorious as it's far easier to make in-season fruits and vegetables taste good. Really, it's the lazy way to eat. However, the reality, as I discovered last year with my CSA, is that you run out of tried & true recipes and ultimately get sick of tomatoes, eggplant, squash, corn, green beans and peppers. It's safe to say that I'm currently at the end of my recipe rope at this point.

Staying home with the baby has allowed me to watch more cooking shows. After all, one can only rock a restless cherub for so long in silence. On one such occasion I stumbled upon this recipe by Michael Chiarello: Mom's Stuffed Eggplant. I'm sure his recipe is good as-is, but I made some changes reflected in the recipe below (I also doubled it so we'd have leftovers).

Ingredients (Serves 12 as a side dish; 6 as a main course)
6 small/personal-sized eggplant
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground beef
2 onions, small diced
3 Italian peppers, small diced (about 2 bell peppers would work too)
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 c basil leaves, chopped
2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 c unseasoned bread crumbs (I used panko)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
3 chopped tomatoes

1. Preheat oven to 350*F.
2. Scoop out insides of eggplant leaving enough flesh so that it will serve as a stable "cup" for the filling. Put the flesh in a pot of boiling water & cook for 10-12 minutes or until soft.
3. Meanwhile, in a skillet heat the oil with the crushed red peppers and saute the peppers, onions and garlic until softened. Add beef and cook until browned. Next, add tomatoes, Parm and basil. Remove from heat.
4. When eggplant is done, drain & add to skillet, breaking up pieces as necessary.
5. Taste filling for seasoning and add salt/pepper as necessary.
6. Add egg and bread crumbs to skillet.
7. Fill eggplant cups with the filling and top with Parm (if desired).
8. Bake for about 50 minutes. Rotate pan halfway through baking if your oven has hot/cold spots.
9. Enjoy as a one-pot meal or a side dish!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Gardens are a Sign of Commitment to a Place"

My favorite part of Hidcote Manor Garden from our trip to England a few years ago was this amazing beech "forest". A charming iron gate leads you to perfect rows of beech trees. It was just magical. I remember thinking that many of the grand gardens and grand houses we were seeing had plants that would take a more than lifetime to form a 15 foot tall hedge or a mature mock-forest. I also remember thinking that fast growing trees and shrubs (along with eye-catching annuals) was what I could mostly find in my neighborhood.

Today I attended a lecture by the author of Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, Fritz Haeg. He was describing his project on turning lawn-filled front yards into productive and beautiful landscapes and how that affected the garden owners and their relationship with the people around them.

He also described his excitement, and trepidation, with doing the project for a more transient apartment complex.

One of the audience members asked if he had ever considered more mobile gardens for these apartment residents to take with them when they move. Mr. Haeg responded that whatever garden that works on this street may not work on one street over. "Gardens," he said, "are a sign of commitment to a place. You're not going to tear up your front yard if you're planning to sell your house in a year."

Is the American dream of moving your way up the real estate ladder the reason why we don't see more daring front yards such as what Mr. Haeg has created? Or why we see vast stretches of lawn from coast-to-coast that historically said/says "I'm so rich, I don't need my land to be productive"? Is it why we see the likes of Bradford Pears and other fast growing, almost disposable trees? After all, why spend time & money on a plant you, your children or your grandchildren won't see to maturity?

Whatever the answer to those questions are, I do believe that he's got a point: Gardens ARE a sign of a commitment to a place. They require care and maintenance and work. You don't do that if you aren't emotionally involved with that place.

Needless to say, I'm not more excited than ever to turn half of my front yard into an herb garden this fall.

Friday, September 10, 2010

ISO The Perfect Pickle Recipe

And by "pickle," I'm referring to cucumber pickles here. I love pickles. Partly because I love all things vinegary, salty and crunchy. Like salt & vinegar chips. (Pickles are healthier, though!) Thus, I am on the quest for the perfect pickle recipe.

Last year I made a recipe from Putting Food By that was good, but wasn't my idea of the "perfect" pickle. Too sweet.

This year I used my Edmonson pickling cukes (they are white variety) and a recipe from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. They are also quite good and are getting closer to what I am after, but not quite. In fact, I'd probably make the recipe again (maybe adding a dried chili to the jar)

Next year I plan to do multiple recipes early in the season and do a taste test to pick my favorite. The Ball recipe below will probably be my basis for this.

Ingredients (Makes about 3 quarts)
3 Tbsp pickling spice
4 c vinegar (I used white, Ball recommends cider. Both are at least 5% acidity)
4 c water
3/4 c granulated sugar
1/2 c pickling or canning salt (I got this at a local hardware store)
3 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves
2.5 tsp mustard seeds
~3.5 lbs pickling cucumbers, trimmed and cut into spears (try to make sure all the spears are the same size)
Ball Pickle Crisp, optional

1. Sanitize jars and lids.
2. Put the pickling spice in cheesecloth (or a large tea ball) and place in a sauce pot with the vinegar, water, sugar and salt. Boil for about 15 minutes, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar.
3. In each jar, put 1 bay leaf, 1 garlic clove, and 1 tsp of mustard seed. Pack in cucumber spears, leaving 1/2-in on top of the jar. If using Pickle Crisp, add that according to package instructions.
4. Ladle hot pickling liquid in jars, keeping 1/2-in of headspace in the jar. Remove air bubbles and screw on lids.
5. Process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Wait to eat for a least a week for flavors to develop.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Last Summer Harvest

Almost. I kept 2 Sungold plants that still looked OK, a zucchini plant that's nursing a little baby zuke and our kung pao & thai peppers which are producing like crazy. But otherwise? The summer garden is out of production.

This represents 1.5 lb of cherry tomatoes, 10.5 oz of cucumbers and 10 oz of eggplant (my only ones all summer). There were more cucumbers, but they were hidden by the mass of vines and had turned all yellow. Not good eatin'!

Arugula and mustard greens have gone into pots on the south side of the house.

Monday, September 6, 2010

RIP 2010 Garden

I'm leaving the hot peppers and the zucchini, but the rest of this year's garden is headed for the compost pile or the trash bin (I never compost tomatoes or anything that looks like it might have disease/fungus). The tomatoes look terrible, the eggplant have struggled all season and the cucumbers are dying back.

Onward to next year! In the next month or so we're going to redo our garden beds. They are too wide* and, after our construction, they don't fit the shape of yard anymore. We're going to basically have 2 beds: one 2 ft x by 33 ft (it's against a fence) and one 3 ft by 21 ft (I can walk on both sides). We'll have 3 ft walkways which is what we have now & it seems to work out well.

I'll do a thorough recap post to detail what worked & didn't work for me this year. What has been the star (or dud!) of your 2010 garden?

*Note to others: If you're doing a Square Foot Garden, Mel knows what he's talking about when he says making beds only 2 feet wide if you can't walk on both sides. My rebellion to make them 3 ft deep was not a good idea.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Recipe: Nicoise-style Potato Salad

You hear it everywhere: Fresh. Local. Sustainable.

These three words are said so often together that it's almost a cliche. I mean, who wants to eat something described as rotten, shipped 5,000 miles and planet-killing? However, for this recipe "fresh. local. sustainable" actually is rather fitting.

Now, I've seen enough Masterchef to know that you don't call an interpretation of a classic dish by it's name, especially if you leave out ingredients. Hence the name: Nicoise-style Potato Salad. I don't like hardboiled eggs and we were out of capers and anchovies. Oh, and I replaced the tuna with a more sustainable Maine-caught smoked mackerel (which you should really try if you haven't already, by the way.). Because lettuce is not in season right now, that went too. And, finally, I mixed it all together instead of making it a composed salad. Whoops.

This isn't really a recipe as you can ultimately add or subtract whatever you have on hand or like/dislike, put more or less dressing, etc.

Ingredients (Serves 4 hungry adults for dinner)

5-7 new potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2-3/4 lb green beans
handful of olives (I used nicoise & kalamata)
1/2 lb black-eyed or other field peas (untraditional optional), cooked
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 c chopped mixed herbs (I did a 50/50 mix of french thyme and greek mountain oregano from my garden, but chives or parsley would also be nice)

For the vinaigrette:
1/4 c red wine vinegar (I think a 50/50 split of oil & vinegar is nice here to brighten up the potatoes)
1/4 c good quality olive oil (Like, nicer than the stuff you cook with. It's important here)
1/2-1 red onion, sliced thin
1 tsp dijon mustard
Salt & pepper

1. Toss all the ingredients together for the vinaigrette. Let sit for as long as possible, ideally at least 1 hour until the onions are softened.

2. Place cut potatoes in a large saucepan. Cover with water and add salt. Bring to a boil & cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife (mine took about 5 minutes).

3. Add green beans to the pot and cook until tender-crisp (mine took about 2-3 minutes)

4. Drain potatoes and beans. Quickly add tomatoes, herbs and peas and then toss with vinaigrette. Serve with smoked mackerel and crusty bread, if desired.