Day 178–Peevish at the Market

I headed out today to the new-ish Downtown Cary Farmers Market, excited that I have a market I can ride my bike to. How cool is that??? Well, not so cool as it turns out. The market does have one meat/egg vendor, a honey producer and mushrooms–that is great, especially the mushrooms.

Otherwise, the vendor section is pretty limited compared to other farmers markets (about 12 vendors with roughly 1/2 farmers and 1/2 crafts). Still, it’s new so that’s ok! What is absolutely NOT Ok are all the dogs. I love dogs and have one in my family, but I know better than to take her to an open market. Even one of the farmers has a large doberman at his stall. This is not only against best practice for markets, it was also a bit intimidating to a couple of older ladies shopping.

So what’s the problem with dogs at the market?

I found a vendor with heirloom tomatoes and waited my turn behind a woman with a large dog. The dog proceeded to sniff and lick potatoes and tomatoes. Gross. Not only did the dog lady not curb her dog, she spoke to it in baby talk, “Does that smell goooood?” I moved on, picked up a few tomatoes at another stall and left. I’ll be sending a letter this week, since I couldn’t find a market manager.

Most farmers markets in our area ban dogs from the tented vendor areas where food is on display and sold. I thought this was a Health Dept issue, but maybe that is not correct. With food safety such an issue, what’s up with the Downtown Cary Farmers Market??? I’m glad I tried it, but I’ll stick to the markets who use healthier food protocol. Still skeeved out.

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Day 177–Mae Farm Bacon-Onion Marmalade

English: onion

Bacon.Onion.Marmalade. You’re welcome.

I first had bacon onion marmalade during my locavore’s lunch at Chuck’s. It was incredible. The idea of making it myself intrigued me–how hard could it really be? Turns out, not hard at all, although it is time-consuming. Although it’s not recommended to can this lovely concoction, you can refrigerate it for a couple of weeks and use it on LOTS of different dishes. Or share some with friends. You’ll have to work out for yourself who is “marmalade worthy” 🙂

We made this with locally produced onions and locally and humanely produced bacon from Mae Farm. I cannot possibly say enough good things about the pork we have purchased from Mae Farm. It is always incredible. Yes, bacon is not health food, I do realize that. But what you end up using is in such small quantities (unless you are Ellie who wanted to eat a bowl full) that any health effects of the bacon fat are negligible, especially if you know where your ingredients come from.

I have to say that this is really awesome deliciousness and, if you like bacon and carmelized onions, you will love this. We served it on pan seared, line-caught swordfish steaks and it was very, very good. I think it would also be pretty fabulous on burgers, grilled vegetable panninis or crostini with goat cheese. Or on a pizza. Or… Well, you get the point.

Bacon-Onion Marmalade

  • 4 strips thick cut bacon
  • 4 lbs. yellow onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 c. apple cider
  • 1/4 c. white or wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (less if you don’t like spicy heat)
  1. In a saute pan, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon and reserve, but keep the bacon drippings.
  2. Add sliced onions to the bacon drippings and cook on medium-high for about 10 minutes, until all onions are soft and translucent.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and add all remaining ingredients to the pan. Stir to combine. Simmer until mixture is almost out of fluids and is thick and jammy–about an hour.
  4. Reduce heat to low and cook another 10 minutes until mixture is very brown and sticky. You may need to add a bit of water if the mixture is too dry.
  5. Serve what you need and refrigerate the rest in a covered container for up to 2 weeks.

Day 176–Starting Week 27–Budget and Menu

Summer is most definitely here. This next week is expected to be very hot and humid, with temperatures over 100 just about every day. That is officially hot. I don’t know about you, when I hear about temperatures over 100, I think 2 things:

  1. Mama’s not cooking
  2. Find me at the pool

One of my favorite summer dinners is tomato sandwiches. Or ‘mater sandwiches. However you say it, I think they are summer perfection. I do make a tarted up version of the ‘mater sandwich, which is supposed to consist of soft white bread, tomato slices, mayonnaise and salt/pepper. We don’t eat white bread and I can’t handle the thought of a tomato sandwich on wheat (that is just wrong, people), so my compromise is fresh sourdough, regular (not low-fat) mayo, fresh, heirloom tomatoes, salt and pepper, some chopped rosemary from the garden and a slice of provolone cheese. I could eat these sandwiches every day. I LOVE them and consider them a staple of summer. As a matter of fact, I ate tomato sandwiches (yes, plural) just before going into labor with Ellie, so maybe they have a special place in my heart.

Heather at Sugar Dish Me did remind me that some people actually like their tomatoes as part of a “real sandwich”. Those people include the two other people in our  house. Tom and Ellie agree that tomatoes are a “food accessory” not the main event. Maybe Ellie came racing into the world to get AWAY from tomato sandwich because she clearly doesn’t share my passion for them. So, we’ll be having BLTs instead. I think my family will be happier with that change, and Heather thank you for sparing me from rolled eyes and “This is IT??” I owe you some peach salsa 🙂

I came in a little under budget this week at $96.42. I have to say honestly, we could probably eat for much less than that, but I cannot control myself when I see all the good stuff at the farmer’s market. I want to eat it all, which is impossible, especially if it’s too hot to cook. This week I’m making a new refrigerated savory jam called Bacon Onion Marmalade. Sounds amazing, no? I’ll be posting the recipe at some point this week. I’m also making some spicy peach salsa and canning that so we can enjoy our peaches later. So, here is how we spent $96:

Budget

  • Trader Joes (soy milk, oatmeal, frozen fruit, Ezekiel bread, sandwich bread, lemonade): $21.92
  • Produce Box (watermelon, peaches, grape tomatoes, pepper mix, sweet corn, raspberries, cucumbers, garlic, plums): $23.00
  • Locals Seafood (fresh swordfish steaks): $28.00
  • Mae Farm (bacon, pork tenderloin): $13.00
  • Melina’s Pasta (black pepper fettucine): $6.00
  • Other market vendors (green beans, onions, heirloom tomatoes): $4.50

What are we eating for that amount? Well, in typical fashion, we are NOT starving. Not by a long shot! Here’s the menu:

Menu

  • Wednesday–Melina’s peppercorn fettucine with checca sauce (not so much basil this time!)
  • Thursday–Grilled swordfish steaks with bacon-onion jam, roasted okra, cucumber salad
  • Friday–Egg salad sandwiches, homemade pickles
  • Saturday–Ellie cooks; BLT sandwiches with leftover bacon-onion jam, homemade pickles, roasted beets (cold)
  • Sunday–Grilled pork tenderloin with spicy peach chutney, green beans, corn on the cob
  • Monday–Flounder, buttermilk cornbread, leftover vegetables
  • Tuesday–Leftover buffet

Have a healthy and happy week!

Day 175–What’s Fresh at the Market

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My favorite tomato–German Johnson!

We are at zero hour here in NC. Two days of blissfully wonderful, spring-like weather and starting tomorrow temperatures are predicted to be over 100 degrees for the remainder of the week and weekend. If you have lived in the South, you know what that means–you can’t walk, talk or move without coating yourself in a sheen of humidity and sweat. Makeup? No way, Jose. Those cute little “summer sweaters”? Put ’em up or pack them in a suitcase and head to Maine. Like manic people before a snowstorm, everyone is scrambling around to get their “outdoor errands” done before tomorrow.

And for me, that means grocery shopping. Taking advantage of the lovely weather, I headed out to the Downtown Raleigh Farmer’s Market to finish my shopping for the week. I managed to get everything done on my lunch hour while the temperature was still in the low 80s. I’m planning to make some peach chutney, so I was especially interested in peaches and some jalapeno peppers (since the voles so kindly ate the roots of my plants). I also stocked up on raspberries because their season is just about over. Will make more jam tonight!

What’s fresh in central NC? Here’s a list of what I found!

  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries (stock up–season is almost over!)
  • Peaches
  • Summer squash
  • Patty pan squash
  • Zucchini
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Lettuce
  • Beets
  • Okra
  • Tomatoes (heirloom tomatoes are ready!!!)
  • Cucumbers (all kinds)
  • Green beans
  • Wax beans
  • Butter beans
  • Purple hull beans
  • Black eyed peas
  • Eggplant
  • Herbs (all kinds–can’t keep up)
  • Potatoes (red, white and blue!)
  • Celery
  • Green peppers

Day 174–GMO Grass and Cyanide

Hereford Steer

Many years ago, before I was a mom, I decided one summer that I would read all the classic nineteenth century gothic horror novels. Some were good, some were terrible, but the one that stuck with me was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The novel (unlike the movies) was not focused on violence and gore, but on the implications of man playing God with science and the awful responsibility we take on when we create things that perhaps should not have been created. Yes, Monsanto, I’m talking to you.

There are some days when I think I just really don’t want to know anymore information about food. The whole subject can be so daunting and often very, very frustrating. I thought I had the beef thing figured out–reduce beef consumption and rely on only grass-fed, pasture raised beef. Enter, the Modern Prometheus.

Yesterday I read an article and watched a news report about cattle in Texas dying from eating Tifton 85 Bermuda grass. Tifton 85 has been described as both a GMO and a hybrid of Tifton 65 and an African Bermuda grass that is known to produce cyanide under certain situations. Apparently the grass has started producing cyanide and the cows eating the grass died fairly quickly. Here is the link to the article. While only cows from one farm have died, grass on other nearby Texas farms has also tested positive for cyanide gas. Now, there is some debate about how and why this happened, whether drought in the area affected the grass and/or fertilizer, and whether Tifton 85 is a standard hybrid or GMO. Regardless, it is a powerful lesson in how modifying our food structure, even with the best intentions, can have lasting effects. And sometimes we don’t know what those effects are until years later.

I have to say, at first I thought this was an urban myth because how weird is it that grass would produce a neurotoxin. So now I guess I should be asking our local farmers what kind of grass their cows eat? Could cows eating the grass have meat contaminated with cyanide? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it is a bit worrisome.

And, more importantly, what if this grass is in my neighborhood or school? Could mowing the grass kill you or make you sick? Blech. The whole genetic modification of crops and domestic plants is so insidious and pervasive in American farming that I have to say, I am a bit alarmed. Will keep watching for more information and share it as I find it. In this day of self promotion by big agriculture companies, though, it is hard to know what the truth actually is!

Day 173–The Dirty Dozen Plus

I’ve posted before about the wonderful list of high and low pesticide foods called the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. GREAT shopping resource. Most of us can’t afford to buy everything organic, so it helps to know which foods are higher in residual pesticides (after washing and standard prep for eating) and which are the lowest. This list is compiled by the Environmental Working Group, an organization that doesn’t get nearly enough press.

The 2012 Dirty Dozen list is out and this year it is called the Dirty Dozen Plus. What is the “plus”? This year, the EWG added a new category to the Dirty Dozen list for crops that don’t meet the standard criteria used to identify a “dirty” crop, but contained enough neurotoxic chemicals to be of concern. Ok, all you kale lovers (I am definitely included in this category), take notice! Kale and green beans are on this new “plus” list!

My only complaint with the new list is that they have not yet updated the phone app, which is very helpful when I’m at the farmer’s market. I have enough to remember–the app is a great help! Maybe soon?

http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/

Day 172–Sharing the Kitchen and Spaghetti Tacos

I am, in general, a sharing person. There are lots of things I do share freely–laughing, bad puns, jam, pickles, and herbs from my garden. I find it difficult, though, to share my kitchen. First, my kitchen is small, which means that multiple people cannot be cooking at the same time without getting on each other’s nerves. Second, cooking is something I enjoy doing, but I can’t do it well and entertain people at the same time. So I like my alone time in the kitchen. But I also have an 11-year-old daughter who loves food and is very interested in cooking. And many of you who read this blog know that I despise the food industry’s focus on making cooking seem like drudgery to sell highly processed convenience foods. Cooking is a life skill. And, it is a wonderful creative outlet. So sharing my kitchen means giving my daughter a boost and letting her experiment with cooking dinner on weekends when she is with me. This weekend was her first dinner. Her choice? Spaghetti tacos.

To say I was reluctant about this meal is an understatement. For those of you who are uninitiated, the spaghetti taco phenomenon began with an episode of a tv show called iCarly. To say I hate this show would be an understatement. Overacting, highly dramatic teens who have no adult supervision and very few consequences is not my idea of entertainment. This show was banned from my house, but like a true video junkie, I know Ellie is still getting her fix elsewhere. Regardless, on one episode, the brother apparently created a dish called spaghetti tacos. From my Google search on the subject, this was actually intended to be a joke, but it has developed quite a following in the under 14 audience. So, this was Ellie’s suggestion. I only wish their joke dish had included quinoa and eggplant. THAT might redeem the horrible writing and acting for me.

So how are spaghetti tacos? Actually, they were pretty good! Ellie did a great job making the dish herself. I gave her suggestions and some input, but she did all the work. To try to eek some healthy benefits out of the dish, we added some fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market and we have some additional ideas (adding chicken Italian sausage) that could make it even better. Here is the recipe we used. Now, where is that cable channel blocker…

Here is Ellie’s recipe for the sauce (in her own words):

  • 1 teaspoon  of Hungarian paprika
  • 1 bell pepper(chop it up into squares)
  • 1/2 of an onion(chop into squares)
  • a pinch of Perfect Pinch Salt-Free Seasoning
  • a tablespoon of chile powder
  • a tablespoon of chopped dried Italian seasoning mix
  • a pinch of minced garlic
  • 1 fresh diced tomato
  • .all of a jar of tomato sauce

and boom the perfect sauce ever and I made this all listening to Pink Floyd (now she is a girl after my own heart!).

Spaghetti Tacos

  • Prepared taco shells (we used the corn shells from Trader Joes); 2-3 per person
  • Ellie’s sauce (above)
  • 8 oz. organic spaghetti, broken into thirds
  1. In a large pot, heat water for pasta.
  2. While water is heating, heat olive oil in a large saucepan. When oil is hot, add onion, green pepper and seasoning.
  3. When vegetables are soft, add the marinara sauce and heat through.
  4. Cook pasta according to package directions and heat taco shells according to directions.
  5. When pasta is done, drain (parents help here) and add pasta to sauce to coat.
  6. Assemble by filling taco shells with spaghetti. Eat up!

Day 171–Bread and Butter Pickles

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What to do with a bumper crop of cucumbers? Why, make pickles, of course! I’ve been reading a lot about how to make cucumber pickles and the science of the fermenting process and I have to say, it scares me a little. The whole bacteria management of true pickle making is really not made for my seemingly random and inconsistent personality. I have a limited attention span, people, and I need recipes that embrace that (because at this point in my life, I will probably not become focused like a laser beam). Enter the Bread and Butter Pickle. Simple. Fresh. Easy. A pickle recipe made for a mom who often forgets why she walked downstairs, only to remember once she goes back upstairs. You know. That kind of thing. I don’t do sourdough starter for that reason either.

I made these pickles using locally grown, Kirby pickling cucumbers, which are in absolute abundance here right now. In fact, I may plant some next year because they are taste good all by themselves and they are nice and small. I like this recipe because it is pretty quick and doesn’t call for a commercial pickling mix. It also doesn’t require weeks on tending while the cucumbers slowly ferment on my counter top. This recipe is from my favorite canning book, Put ‘Em Up!

We haven’t opened up a jar of these pickles yet, but we did have some leftover brined cucumber slices that didn’t have a home and they were very good. So good we ate them all. The onion really amps up the flavor. These are a little sweet and a little tart–not too much of either. In about a week, we’ll try some and see how they are. I’m hoping they are really tasty because we now have 5 pints of them 🙂

Bread and Butter Pickles

  • 5 lb. cucumbers (we used Kirby), ends removed and cut into 1/4″ coins
  • 1 lb. onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 c. + 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 4 c. distilled white vinegar
  • 2 c. water
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. mustard seed
  • 1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp. celery seeds
  • 1 Tbsp. turmeric
  1. Layer the cut cucumber and onion with 1/2 c. salt in a large bowl. Cover with a layer of ice cubes and let sit for 2 hours. Drain and rinse.
  2. Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, mustard, peppercorn, celery seed, turmeric and remaining salt in a large, nonreactive pot and bring to a boil.
  3. Add the drained vegetables and return to a boil, stirring to ensure all vegetables are heated through. Remove from heat.
  4. Store pickles by either ladling into bowls and jars and storing in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or can.
  5. If canning, ladle the vegetables into clean, hot pint canning jars. Add the brine to the jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Release any trapped air. Clean the rims, add lids and collars. Process for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit with lid off of the canning pot for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals and store jars for up to 1 year.

 

Day 170–A Locavore’s Lunch–Chuck’s

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It’s been a while since I’ve eaten out at lunch–I have been pretty good about bringing my lunch to work (usually leftovers) and lately I’ve had quite a few no-time-for-lunch days. So I was glad to head out with some fun ladies to Chuck’s, a local restaurant featuring hamburgers made from house ground, locally sourced, pasture-raised beef. Yep. All burgers, all the time. Well, and veggie burgers, too. I haven’t had a hamburger in a LONG time and let me tell you, it was GOOD.

Chuck’s is owned by local celebrity chef Ashley Christenson. Her restaurants and bars always have a hip vibe, creative food and mostly locally sourced ingredients. Trendy? Yes. Good? Yes. I don’t mind paying a bit for a burger if it is amazing (you’ve already heard my rants about paying a whole lot for nothing–that irks me).

I had a burger called The High and The Valley–a half pound (yes!) of ground beef with crushed avocado, bacon-onion jam and roasted red peppers. Along with a pile o’ fries. Oh. My. Goodness. My friends had the veggie burger with mozzarella/tomato/basil (high ratings), and The Dirty South–a burger topped with pulled pork chili, crispy onions, roasted tomato slaw, Ashe County cheddar and mustard. The beef at Chuck’s comes from North Carolina and is ground in-house. At $9 for the burger and $2.50 for the fries, it isn’t a cheap lunch, but it is very, very good and immensely satisfying if you need a burger fix and you are REALLY hungry. I was so full that I easily skipped dinner and that is highly unusual for me.

After waddling our way back to work, we decided that sometimes, you just gotta. At least we got our meat fix with local beef, local produce and a locally owned restaurant! Chuck’s goes on my “highly recommend” list for sure. Yum-a-licious.

Day 169–Starting Week 26–Budget and Menu

We are almost halfway through the year already! Where did the time go? I feel like I will blink and it will be Christmas again (I think I just depressed myself). If time flies when you’re having a good time, I must be having the mother of all good times (and I think maybe I am!). The markets are just loaded with goodness this week–I’ve really had to curb my food hoarding tendencies. We came in under budget this week at $95.69. Our menu includes one night of Ellie cooking (hence the spaghetti taco menu, which she assures us is amazing).

Here is how our budget breaks down this week:

  • Produce Box (peaches, blueberries, green pepper, eggplant, onion, tomatoes): $23
  • Homestead Farm (1/2 chicken): $9.00
  • Calico Farm (fresh mozzarella): $4.00
  • Locals Seafood (skin on flounder fillets): $18.00
  • Hilltop Farm Organics (squash, zucchini, potatoes): $6.50
  • DJ’s Produce (okra): $2.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen mango, yogurt, soy milk, taco shells): $30.19
  • The Mitchells (paying ourselves back for 1 jar of jam): $3

What are we having for $95? Here is our menu for the week!

Menu

  • Wednesday–Farm fresh salad with cukes, tomatoes, green peppers and blue cheese
  • Thursday–Cornmeal dusted flounder, corn, sautéed okra and tomatoes
  • Friday–Panini alla Margherita, cucumber spears, peach cobbler
  • Saturday–Spaghetti tacos
  • Sunday–Balsamic marinated chicken, grilled eggplant and squash
  • Monday–Quiche, sliced tomatoes
  • Tuesday–Leftover buffet