Day 257–A Fall Garden

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So this weekend was Garden Weekend. Not quite as thrilling as Shark Week, our garden weekend involved pulling up our tomatoes and eggplants, refreshing our raised beds with certified compost, and planting fall and winter vegetables. Also, we spread compost over our front yard, which has been a clay pit, and planted grass seed. Crazy weekend. But 10 cubic yards of compost later, we are ready for some fall growing action! And, we have had some good workouts!

What do you plant in the fall? We have collards, Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage, book choi, and two kinds of kale. Are we missing something good?

Enjoy this late summer/early fall weather and plant a fall garden for yourself and your family! If you have room for just one thing, I’d plant kale. You can cut it and it will continue to grow so you can harvest all winter! Also, it is an amazing super food.

Happy fall gardening!

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Day 255–Roasted Red Pepper Ketchup

I am, overall, not a fan of standard tomato ketchup. Tomatoes, I love. Ketchup? Not so much. It’s too sweet for me and tastes nothing like the juicy summer tomatoes I adore. I found this recipe for a roasted red pepper ketchup that is so far superior to store bought ketchup that it almost needs a new name. It is full of tomato flavor, but also spicy. I canned a bunch of it and we have used it on pork chops, beef, hamburgers and potatoes. It is awesome. Is it obsessive to make my own ketchup? Maybe. Will you become obessive after you try it? Most likely. Yes, it’s that good.

This recipe is derived from Put ‘Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton.

Roasted Pepper Ketchup (about 4 cups)

  • 2 pounds tomatoes
  • 2 pounds red bell peppers
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  1. Prepare an ice-water bath in a large bowl or clean sink.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the tomatoes into the water, no more than 1 pound at a time, and return to a boil. Blanch for 1 minute.
  3. Scoop the tomatoes out of the water with a spider or slotted spoon and plunge them into the ice-water bath. Continue blanching the tomatoes in batches. Remove from the ice bath and drain. Peel, core, and crush the tomatoes.
  4. Heat a grill. Coat the red peppers lightly in olive oil and put on the grill on medium heat. Let peppers char and turn every few minutes so all the sides of the peppers are charred and blistered.
  5. Remove peppers from the grill and put in a large paper bag (a grocery bag works well). Close the top of the bag and let peppers sit for about 10 minutes.
  6. Remove peppers from the bag and let cool. Slip the skins off the peppers, remove the stems and seeds. Roughly chop the peppers.
  7. Combine the tomato pulp, peppers, onion, vinegar, brown sugar, salt, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, and cloves in a large nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Remove from the heat and puree with a stick blender.
  8. Return the puree to the heat and simmer over low heat until thickened, about 2 hours.
  9. Remove from the heat.
  10. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or can using a boiling water bath.
  11. To can, ladle into clean, hot 4-ounce or half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Release trapped air. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, remove canner lid, and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dark plance for up to 1 year.

Day 254–Reducing Food Waste

How much food do you think your family throws away each year?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Americans threw away more than 34 million tons of food in 2010. That is absolutely appalling. Food waste is the largest component of municipal solid waste. FOOD! Not paper (that was second) or plastic, but food. You know, the stuff we pay to eat and then complain about how expensive it is. Yikes! Is it me or is it horrifying that people around the world are starving and we are throwing food away at a staggering rate? And can I tell you how weird it is to realize I’m starting to sound like my grandmother?

I have been completely and totally guilty of this myself. Leftovers that go uneaten, grocery store produce that goes bad before you can cook it and trash bags full of peelings and odd veggie pieces. Our change of eating habits has helped that a great deal, but we can do better.

Want to know how you can reduce the amount of food you toss? Here are some helpful suggestions:

  1. Buy less. This is hard for me, especially at the farmer’s market, but I’m getting a lot better. I’ve found that I really didn’t understand how many carrots or tomatoes or heads of lettuce we REALLY needed in a week. Putting our family on a budget along with buying more organic produce makes me very conscious of how much we really eat. And it’s nowhere near what I was thinking. I’m still very tempted during our peak seasons to buy, buy, buy, so I haven’t mastered this yet.
  2. Compost your kitchen scraps. We have two compost systems in our back yard and we probably need another rotating bin. If you have just a bit of space, you can turn your produce scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, corn husks and even some paper into rich garden compost. We have been amazed at how empty our garbage bin is when we take it to the curb each week.
  3. Eat your leftovers. I know, I know. Leftovers can be boring. The old me used to throw most leftovers away because I knew no one would eat them. The new me plans our menu a week ahead and PLANS to eat leftovers at least once a week (you’ve seen this on my menus). Some weeks this is a buffet with a little of this and a little of that. Some weeks we are just trying to finish up a huge pot of chili or soup. Regardless, that is what we eat because that is what is on the menu. Also, to save money, I bring leftovers for lunch. This isn’t a hardship because I rather like my cooking, and it tends to be a lot healthier than eating out.
  4. Freeze extra produce. Did you know you can freeze most produce whole? If you freeze tomatoes and peaches whole, they are easy-peasy to peel once they thaw. Beats blanching any day in my book. Some of our summer produce boxes were so huge that we couldn’t possibly eat everything. Enter–the freezer! We have corn, green beans, field peas, tomatoes, fruit, pasta sauce, pesto, chopped onions and more stashed away for use at a later time.
  5. Donate. Have a bunch of extra tomatoes or squash or cucumbers? Share with your neighbors! Not only will you make them extremely happy, but you’ll reduce the amount of food you’re wasting.

Ok, so with this knowledge I am re-committing our family to reduce our food waste. What about you? Do you have suggestions to help us? Share!

 

Day 253–Starting Week 37–Budget and Menu

We’ve had a wonderful turn of events in the last week–fall has arrived!!! Saturday was in the 90s and very, very humid. One tremendous rainstorm later and our temperatures are in the 70s, with beautiful, blue skies. It’s as though even nature couldn’t stand one more hazy, humid day!

Our budget this week is $99.46, just a tad under our $100 budget!

Budget

  • The Produce Box (okra, apples, tomatoes, potatoes, butternut squash): $23.00
  • Locals Seafood (shrimp, grouper): $18.00
  • Farmhand Foods (pork osso bucco): $10.00
  • Mae Farm (Italian sausage): $8.00
  • Mitchell’s pantry (homemade strawberry jam): $3.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk, half and half, lemon, mozzarella, frozen leeks, red wine, garlic): $32.46
  • Farmer’s market (onions, peppers): $5.00

Menu

Wednesday–leftover pork and cabbage from Monday

Thursday–Italian sausage and peppers pizza

Friday–shrimp and lemon pasta

Saturday–flounder, stewed okra and tomatoes, roasted potatoes

Sunday–Tuscan ragu over parmesan risotto

Monday–leek and goat cheese tart, tomatoes (Meatless Monday)

Tuesday–leftover ragu sauce over Melina’s pasta

Day 252–A Figgy Pizza

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Our figgy pizza before baking! Yum!

I’ve already written of my love of figs, so I was understandably excited to hear about a pizza with figs. Yum! And who in the world doesn’t like caramelized onions??? We are fortunate that at this time of year, we can find fresh figs, artisanal goat cheese and onions at the farmer’s market! This is really a lovely pizza and very tasty, too. Great for a Meatless Monday! Ellie picked the figs off, but she liked the goat cheese and onions together. And I was happy to eat her figs!

Fig, Onion and Goat Cheese Pizza

  • 1 pizza crust (my whole wheat recipe is HERE)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 yellow onions, sliced thin
  • 1 quart fresh figs
  • 2 oz. chevre goat cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Make the pizza dough and let rise.
  3. While pizza dough is rising, heat 4 Tbsp. of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add onions. Cook until translucent.
  4. Lower heat to medium low, sprinkle onions with salt and pepper to taste and continue cooking about 15 minutes until onions are browned (not burned) and caramelized. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil during cooking if you need it.
  5. Add balsamic vinegar to the onions, stir and keep warm.
  6. When dough is ready, punch down and shape into a pizza round (for the record, mine are never round–more of a free form organic shape).
  7. Brush olive oil on the pizza round. Spread onions all over dough, leaving 1″ on the edge for the crust.
  8. Arrange fig quarters on top of the onions. Sprinkle the goat cheese on top.
  9. Bake pizza for about 12 minutes or until crust is golden and cheese is soft and melty.

Day 250–Update on a Volunteer Pumpkin

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Volunteers are pretty wonderful. They don’t usually eat your entire front yard though. This spring, we had a garden volunteer that ate my yard, walkway and my front flower bed. The volunteer in this case was the result of some lazy housekeeping on my part. Last fall, after our jack-o-lantern sat through several rainstorms, I looked at the mushy, squash-faced pumpkin and thought “I am NOT touching that mess.” Instead I took a shovel and tossed the goo into my flower bed. This was followed by some leaf compost and mulch from our oak trees. Then our pseudo winter came and I moved on to watching copious amounts of football. And basketball. At some point around the Final Four, we noticed a large and healthy-looking plant that resembled a squash plant in our front flower bed. We had no idea what it was, so we decided to let it go as an experiment.

And go it did. It spread it’s huge, green leaves throughout the garden bed. And the sidewalk. And the front yard. Once we saw the large, yellow blossoms, we knew we had a squash of some kind. Then, we remembered the ill-fated jack-o-lantern. Since the pumpkin looked far better than anything we planted intentionally, we let it continue to grow. All summer, the bees delighted in the huge blossoms and neighbors made Little Shop of Horror references as the vines continued to swallow the yard. But no pumpkins.

In early August, we noticed a small fruit that might be a pumpkin. Could it be??? We had long since resigned ourselves to the idea that we had some kind of Monsanto pumpkin plant that wouldn’t generate fruit until you paid a fee and signed your farm away, so the sight of a possible pumpkin was exciting. We watched it grow over the next few weeks. Gradually, it turned a nice shade of orange. We named it Gourdy.

So now it is September and our experiment has come to an end. Here is Gourdy, sitting pretty on my cake stand–a place of honor in our house. The vines have been cleaned up and composted. We can once again walk from the front door to the garage without taking a field trip through the yard. Summer is pretty much over. We’re trying to decide what to do with Gourdy. Not sure he’ll make it to Halloween, but we’ll give it a try. Regardless of whether he becomes a pie or a jack-o-lantern, we’ll save the seeds and try again next year. It’s funny how one little volunteer could give us so much mystery, delight and joy.

Thanks for the summer memories, Gourdy!

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Day 248–The Apple Situation

English: An apple tree with apples.

Eating locally means eating big when you have a surplus (can I tell you how many peaches we ate this summer?) and paying attention to shortages when crops fail or the weather doesn’t cooperate. Take apples, for example. A few months ago, I was talking with a farmer at the market and he mentioned that apples would be in short supply this year. Although we had a wonderfully mild winter, we also had a hard freeze very late in the season. So late that the apple trees had already started to flower. That is bad. Very bad. North Carolina lost 80% of its apple crop in 24 hours.

I’ve talked with several apple vendors at the State Farmer’s Market and those who have apples are from areas a little east of the mountains or high up in the mountains. Apparently, the coldest air sank into the valleys, destroying those crops, but leaving some other orchards at higher elevations untouched.

I saw this blog from one of our favorite restaurants, Lucky 32 and thought I would share it with you. It really shows how a committment to eating locally (or cooking locally) can translate into revising your entire fall menu. Sure they could go to Super Walmart and get apples from Mexico, but that’s not what they’re all about. And that’s why we love them! Enjoy the read!

http://lucky32southernkitchen.com/2012/09/06/the-locavores-guide-to-this-seasons-apple-shortage/

Day 247–Why Eat Organic?

National Public Radio featured a story this week about a study done on research regarding organic foods and nutrition that left me a little irritated. The story missed some large points and implied that buying organic was more feel-good than health-based. The survey in question looked at pre-existing articles published in academic journals. It found that studies of organic produce do not show that organic fruits and vegetables have more vitamins and minerals than chemically treated produce. Well, duh. The use of chemicals on crops does not add or diminish nutrients in food and organic produce does not inherently have more vitamins just because it is organic. And, to be judgemental for a moment, a “survey of articles” sounds like an intern sitting in the library all summer. I kind of expect better of NPR.

What does diminish the nutrients in food? That would be picking it before it is ripe and trucking it across the country (or two), storing it in a warehouse and then shipping it to a grocery store where it sits for several days before being purchased, after which it sits in someone’s refrigerator for another several days. From the moment produce is picked, it begins to decompose, albeit slowly at first. That’s what nature does. That’s how those seeds inside are supposed to become a plant. Or compost. Eating local produce, whether it is organic or not, is still the best way to boost the nutritional value of your produce. If you can find local, organic produce, then win-win for you, but the organic part of that equation isn’t what makes your apple more nutritious–it’s the quick trip from the farmer directly to you.

If more vitamins in your produce isn’t the point (and it isn’t), what IS the point of paying $4.00 for a head of organic cauliflower?

1.  Organic Produce Reduces Your Exposure to Pesticides and Other Environmental Toxins

Chemically treated produce and meat from animals who receive antibiotics and growth hormones exposes you to synthetic hormones and toxic chemicals. Period. The FDA will make the claim that these levels are acceptable and do not pose harm. These are the same people who brought us finely textured beef (pink slime) and a slaughterhouse process so devoid of oversight that ground beef contaminated with fecal matter literally kills people. And there has still been no conclusive study about the effects of even small amounts of residual pesticides on small children or pregnant women and their babies. Nor has there been conclusive, long-term studies on the effects of growth hormones in meat on growing teens, whose own hormones cause enough trouble 🙂 So the easiest way to reduce your exposure to chemicals and toxins is still to eliminate them as much as possible from your diet, especially if you are pregnant or a growing young person.

How can you reduce your pesticide and toxin exposure without breaking the bank? The Environmental Working Group makes this easy with their Dirty Dozen + list of the produce with highest and lowest residual pesticide levels, giving you a great way to prioritize your organic shopping.

2.  Organic Farming Reduces Our Overall Environmental Toxin Levels

The act of organic farming itself is a process of detoxing the land and adding natural nutrients back to the soil for crop growing. There are many methods for doing this and I’m not a farmer so I can’t detail them all here, but organic farming includes integrated pest management, the use of beneficial organisms and insects to control pests, the use of natural fertilizers including cover crops and compost, a reduction in animal waste levels through small-scale farming and a significant reduction in antibiotics/growth hormones in our soil and drinking water. Organic farming benefits the complete environment–soil, water and air. And, if you needed an additional benefit, organic farming is better for the health of those who live on farms and who pick the produce.

3.  Pasture Raised, “Organic” Farm Animals Have More Nutritious Meat

While the NPR piece focused more on produce, one aspect of organic farming that was not fully addressed is the issue of pasture-raised, antibiotic free meat and eggs. Granted, not everyone eats meat, but for those of us who do, locally produced, organic meat does have health benefits. You will not find anyone in our house who believes that factory raised, grain fed beef, chicken or pork is anywhere near the equivalent of the locally produced, organic meat we purchase from our local farmers (that is purely anecdotal and not scientific). Beef, especially, seems to benefit. Grass-fed beef is lower in calories, lower in cholesterol and the digestive systems of pasture-raised, grass-fed cattle have 80% less ecoli than their grain-fed, factory-raised cousins. The flavor is better, the texture is better and it is far healthier.

So what is a shopper to do? Everyone has the right to buy what makes them comfortable, but having accurate information is a good start. If you’re looking for taste and high nutrition, buy local. If you want to improve the overall environment and reduce your toxin exposure, buy organic. If you want the best of all worlds, buy local organic!

The issues surrounding food are numerous and there is a lot of room for scientific study about the local and global impacts of organic and sustainable farming. So all you budding food scientists and environmentalists, get working! Imagine how much media time you could have if you actually proved something conclusive!

Day 246–Starting Week 36–Budget and Menu

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Pumpkins in the front, watermelon in the back. Seems so wrong!

After all my whining about not wanting summer to leave, I am in that special limbo you feel when you see pumpkins at the farmer’s market and it is still in the mid-90s outside. Our menu this week slowly makes the transition from summer to fall and hopefully the temperatures will follow!

On a lovely, positive note, the beginning of school has meant that our tomatoes are now growing without pilfering and we have, for the first time all summer, actually been able to harvest about a dozen RED tomatoes. We still find the occasion tomato with racoon gnaw marks on them, but we have been thrilled to find we can actually harvest food from our yard now that the child poachers in my neighborhood are in juvenile detention school.

Remember that monster pumpkin plant that volunteered to grow in our front yard? I have an update for you later this week!

Our budget is just over our goal of $100.00 at $103.24. I’ve added organic breakfast burritos to our shopping list because they are a super easy, high protein breakfast and Ellie adores them, even if they are on the pricey side. Not sure we can keep that in our budget every week, so I may be looking for a homemade alternative that is less expensive. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Budget

  • The Produce Box (apples, cabbage, grapes, corn, green peppers, field tomatoes): $23.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, yogurt, taco seasoning, soy milk, shampoo, lemon): $34.04
  • Mae Farm (bone-in pork chops, ground beef): $20.00
  • Lowes Foods (Amy’s organic breakfast burritos): $16.20
  • Farmer’s market (figs, goat cheese): $10.00

Menu

  • Wednesday–Melina’s pasta with fresh tomato basil sauce
  • Thursday–Taco stuffed bell peppers with quinoa
  • Friday–Leftover buffet
  • Saturday–Field peas and homemade cornbread
  • Sunday–Mae Farm pan seared pork chops, sautéed cabbage and apples, field peas
  • Monday–Fig, goat cheese and caramelized onion pizza
  • Tuesday–Melina’s pasta with leftover vegetables or roasted tomato sauce

Have a delicious and healthy week! And go Broncos 🙂

Day 245–End of Summer Baked Corn Casserole

In preparation for the winter, I’ve been blanching and freezing corn. A LOT of corn. I do believe we have enough frozen corn to last us clear to next June! It’s so good in soups, stews and casseroles that I am confident we will be able to use it all up. But last night I found myself with some extra ears of corn, but lacking the will power to blanch them. So, I made a casserole to welcome fall instead. This is a bit hilarious since “fall” in North Carolina is still about 8 weeks away and all week our temperatures are in the 90s. But still, we made it work!

This recipe is a weird but wonderful combination of creamed corn and corn pudding. It is very rich and creamy and definitely a repeat in our house. In the future, I will probably add some chopped chili peppers. You could also use a milder cheese like Gruyère and sprinkle the top with nutmeg and I think that would also be pretty super. 

Baked Corn Casserole

  • Corn kernels from 6-8 ears of corn (about 6 cups)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/4 c. whole milk or half and half
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (we used leftover pepper jack)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a small casserole dish or 8 x 8 baking dish.
  2. Over medium heat, melt putter and cream cheese in a saucepan.
  3. Mix in the corn, cream, salt and pepper.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.
  5. Pour mixture into prepared dish and smooth the top.
  6. Sprinkle with bread crumbs.
  7. Cook for about 30 minutes, until top is lightly browned.
  8. Let cool slightly and serve.