Day 318–Locavore Holiday Shopping

So we are on the brink of the holiday shopping season and I’m working on a plan. I don’t know that everyone will enjoy my plan, but we’ll try it and see. As I look around to my family members, it is good to see that none of us really “needs” anything. Thankfully, all the adults are employed and all the children have warm clothing, school supplies and whatever electronics they feel they must have (this, however, is a moving target). So with all the obvious suburban “needs” taken care of, what to do about holiday gift giving? I’d like to focus on the local–local products, local businesses and local experiences. This means very limited mall shopping (I’m making an exception for teen clothing) and finding matches between the people I love and the resources I have locally. Can I do it? Will Christmas morning be a big bust? Who knows, but as I find ideas and resources, I’ll share them with you. You do the same!

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Day 317–Ding, Dong, Is the Twinkie Dead?

Soap box ready? Mic on?

Hostess Brands, Inc., maker of the Twinkie snack cake, Ding Dong cakes and super processed Wonder Bread has filed for bankruptcy as of this morning, and they say they will be closing shop. Right after they sell off the rights to the name “Twinkie” and “Ding Dong”. The news media are mourning the loss of Americana. Say what?

The closing of all the bakery plants (including at least one here in North Carolina) comes after a national strike of bakery workers who objected to an 8% pay cut, elimination of their pension and cuts to their insurance benefits. According to Hostess Brands, the strike killed the company and the strikers were “greedy”. Um, hello??? Senior Executives??? When you make $12.00 per hour, an 8% cut may not be acceptable, especially when that means workers are losing many of their benefits while making…wait for it…$11.04 an hour. Try living on that. Annually, at about $21,000, that is below the U.S. poverty line. Not sure how that counts as “greed.”

So what in the world does this story have to do with healthier living and locavore eating? A lot, actually. When we talk about sustainable food production, that means that the process is sustainable for the environment, the production system and the workers.

It means that you don’t fill people up with questionable fats and heavily refined and bleached sugar/flour because they are cheaper than real ingredients. It means that you don’t sell your products to Wal-Mart for almost nothing and then screw over your work force to make up for it. It means that when you rely on trucking your cheaply made food across the country, maybe you need to either plan for gas prices rising or find another model.

It means that you, Hostess, are not sustainable. You rely on government subsidies for cheap ingredients, can’t get your product to market without subsidized fuel, and refuse to pay your employees a living wage. Your employees depend on taxpayer-funded food and health care subsidies to survive while you give executives large bonuses. It means, in short, that your product cannot possibly get any cheaper in quality and yet you still can’t make your business model work.

I don’t want to sound like a complete Twinkie hater (although, apparently, I am). I ate my fair share back in the day. But Twinkies, Ho-Ho’s, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread (who names these things???) are not only unhealthy for the population, they are representative of a food system that doesn’t work. A food system that relies on cheap ingredients, cheap energy and cheap labor while contributing to a national obesity and diabetes crises.

In truth, Twinkies will probably not disappear. Hostess will likely sell off the name to another company and some people at the top will congratulate themselves with nice, fat raises. Someone will move Twinkie production overseas where poor labor practices and sub-par food products are acceptable. Probably no one in the food industry will take this moment to reexamine their business model, but they should. And we Americans should not mourn the passing of the Twinkie, but realize that this is an opportunity to do better. For all of us.

Looking to make your own Twinkies? My friend and fellow blogger Heather at Sugar Dish Me shares this recipe. She is an amazing baker, so I’m guessing this recipe is pretty awesome!

http://www.simplemathbakery.com/blog/2010/02/05/homemade-twinkies

Day 316–Finding a Local Farm Near You

 

One of the greatest joys we’ve had on our journey this year is developing relationships with local farmers and farmer’s markets. But we are very fortunate to live an a quasi-urban area that has close proximity to lots of farmland and a great deal of support for small farmer’s markets. We also have several produce delivery services that source from farms statewide. Those resources make locavore living a great deal easier. But how do you find local farms if you don’t have farmer’s markets? Here is a great resource!

 

Local Harvest is a web-based tool that searches by zip code and/or farm type to help you find local food sources in your area! Most farms have a little description of the kind of farming they do, what they grow and roughly what their growing/production season is. I did a search in my area and found several sources that were new to me, including local honey producers!

 

Depending on where you live, you may be able to find the resources you need to buy local produce, meat, eggs and honey all winter long!

 

Day 315–Starting Week 46–Budget and Menu

Well, here we are in the big lead up week to Thanksgiving! I can’t wait! I love Thanksgiving–love having my family together, love my house smelling like roasted turkey, love cooking up a storm. I have ordered a local turkey from Homestead Harvest Farm and will pick that up next week. Otherwise, I’m still planning! Until then, though, I have a great week of recipes that will lead us up to the big day!

Sadly, this is our last week of Produce Box delivery, so I’ll be back at the farmers markets pretty regularly after this. I like the markets, though, so it’s worth the effort and time it takes to get down there! Since it is our last week, I ordered extra, so our Produce Box bill is a bit larger than usual. Still, our weekly food bill is $92.17–under our projected budget for the week. Mostly, this is because I cooked so much last week that we are still eating leftovers! We are determined not to waste the food we purchase and are committed to getting the refrigerator cleaned out before we pick up the Bird!

Here is how our budget worked this week:

  • Produce Box (apples, double broccoli, cauliflower, beets, lettuce, rutabegas, butternut squash, double purple Irish potatoes, apple cider): $36.75
  • Mae Farm (pork loin roast, ground beef, fresh eggs): $29.00
  • Farmers Market (carrots, onion): $4.00
  • Trader Joes (pumpkin ale, frozen fruit, oatmeal, canned pumpkin) $22.42

Our menu this week looks like this:

  • Wednesday–Scout night; leftover sweet potato quesadillas
  • Thursday–Tom’s birthday leftovers
  • Friday–Spaghetti squash with homemade tomato sauce, salad
  • Saturday–Drunken pumpkin chili, homemade cornbread
  • Sunday–Pork loin roast, purple mashed potatoes, roasted cauliflower
  • Monday–Purple potato pancakes and leftover pork roast
  • Tuesday–Leftover chili

Day 311–Pork Roast with Apples, Cider and Thyme

Onions, apples and cranberry make a nice base for this slow cooker roast!

Last week my friend Sarah commented on a dish she made involving pork roast and apple cider. Hmmmmm, sounded pretty good to me, so I decided to take a try myself and use the leftovers for our football tailgating lunch. This slow cooker roast takes advantage of our fresh, local apples and apple cider. I also added some dried cranberries, which were tasty. We served it with our delish purple potatoes!

Pork Roast with Apples, Cider and Thyme

  • 1 pork roast or Boston Butt
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 2 granny smith or fuji apples
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup organic, dried cranberries
  • 3 cups fresh apple cider
  • Olive oil
  1. Peel onions and slice thin. Put in bowl of a slow cooker.
  2. Peel and core apples. Slice thin and add to bowl of the slow cooker.
  3. Sprinkle dried cranberries and thyme over onions and apples.
  4. In a heavy skillet, heat olive oil on medium high heat. Brown pork on all sides.
  5. Place pork roast on top of onion/apple mixture. Pour cider over all, cover and cook on low for 7 hours or on hi for 4.
  6. Serve pork sliced or pulled with apples on top!

 

Day 310–Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

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Practicing with my food photography!

I know, right? Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal. This is the breakfast that should be eaten in flannel pajamas in front of a cozy fire. Those kinds of mornings are limited for me these days, but I feel cozy just eating it, even if I am on the run.

I love pumpkin in all kinds of recipes, but I agree with fellow blogger In Her Chucks that pumpkin has a statute of limitations ending on November 30. December belongs to gingerbread and peppermint. And chocolate. So, I’m getting as much pumpkin in as I can because in 3 weeks my pantry will give way to winter holiday flavors.

This recipe is adapted from In Her Chuck’s version and you can see her original recipe, which features rolled oats instead of steel-cut oats HERE. I adapted the recipe to use my crock pot for overnight oatmeal and it worked very well. I make this overnight, so this morning I had nice, hot oatmeal all ready for me and a supply for future mornings put up in the refrigerator. I did up the spices a bit because I was making a larger quantity, and added some brown sugar, but you can alter to your tastes. So check this out and get your pumpkin on because there are only 3 more weeks before gingerbread season begins!

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

  • 1 15 oz. can of organic pumpkin puree (unseasoned)
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 cup organic dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1/4 c. toasted pecans, chopped
  • Maple syrup, for serving
  1. In a bowl of a slow cooker, whisk together pumpkin, sugar, water and seasoning.
  2. Add steel-cut oats to the cooker and stir to combine.
  3. Adjust the heat on your crock pot to its lowest setting (I use the “keep warm” setting on mine), cover and leave for 7-8 hours. Before serving, stir well as the pumpkin separates to the top.
  4. Alternately, you can cook your oatmeal on the stove–this takes about 30 minutes.
  5. To serve, spoon oatmeal into bowls and top with pecans and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Day 309–Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Quesadillas

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Farm fresh sweet potatoes from our NC farmers!

Our Produce Box local veggie delivery service is ending next week (just for the winter), so I ordered a stock up box of sweet potatoes to take me through the holidays. Now I’m realizing this is a LOT of sweet potatoes! Thankfully, I keep finding new and inventive recipes for incorporating more of these healthy sweeties into our diet. This recipe is adapted from a vegan recipe you can find HERE at Ohmyveggies. I’m sure the vegan version is great, but I had chorizo from Mae Farm and I love cheese, so we tossed vegan out the window this time. We also subbed Swiss chard for the kale in the recipe because that is what we have this week.

Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Quesadillas (makes 4)

  • 4 whole wheat tortillas
  • 2 small sweet potatoes, scrubbed and pierced with a fork
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 c. Swiss chard (about 1 bunch), trimmed and chopped
  • 1 lb. chorizo sausage
  • 1/2 c. black beans (cooked or canned–not dried)
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Shredded cheese
  • Salsa for serving
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roast sweet potatoes in oven for about 45 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and let cool slightly (you can do this the night before).
  2. Remove potato skins, transfer potato flesh to a small bowl and mash until smooth.
  3. While potato is cooking, crumble the chorizo into a large skillet and cook over medium heat until brown. Use the back of a wooden fork to break up any large pieces. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.
  4. Reserve 3 tbsp. of drippings and discard the rest. Heat reserved drippings over medium low heat and add onion. Saute onion until caramelized, about 30 minutes.
  5. Stir in Swiss chard and sausage and continue to cook until greens are wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Combine black beans and paprika in a small bowl.
  7. Divide sweet potato, sausage mixture and beans evenly onto 1/2 of each tortilla. Sprinkle with cheese. Fold empty half over the filled half.
  8. Put quesadillas on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet and brush tops with olive oil.
  9. Bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes.
  10. Serve with salsa and a green salad!

Day 308–Starting Week 45–Budget and Menu

What a fun week we have ahead of us! It’s making for some challenging meal planning, but we are going to enjoy it! Our farmer’s market is chock full of squash, sweet potatoes, kale, collards (which are better after a frost, so we’re leaving them for now), Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. Apples are in supply, but pricier than usual. In preparation for Thanksgiving, I have ordered our heritage breed turkey from Homestead Harvest Farm and have a small, boneless ham from Mae Farm as well. But in the weeks before Thanksgiving, we are still managing to eat well and make the most of our fall crops!

Our budget this week is $94.82, but we are eating out one night (Tom’s Birthday!!!), so that’s one dinner that is not on our menu (and I can guarantee it will cost more than $5.28), so we’re not really ahead food-wise, but we will have fun celebrating. Also, Tom #besthusbandever surprised me with tickets to my first ever NFL football game to see my beloved Broncos play in Charlotte (awwwww!). Since food at the stadium costs a small fortune, we are planning to save money by emptying our fridge tailgating with our pork roast leftovers and some other yummy homemade foods! I figure we are probably saving about $1,000 $50 not buying food at the stadium, so we are technically ahead this week, right? Right? I think this is why I am not an accountant.

Regardless of how you count your pennies, have a healthy and happy week!

Budget

  • The Produce Box (chestnuts, carrots, broccoli, apples, purple potatoes, grape tomatoes, cilantro, spinach, cauliflower, Swiss chard, apple cider, sweet potatoes): $29.00
  • Mae Farm (pork roast, Italian sausage, chorizo): $26.00
  • Rainbow Farm (chicken thighs): $7.00
  • Trader Joes (rice, rolls, cheese, tortillas, frozen fruit, soy milk, dried cranberries)$26.82
  • The Mitchell Pantry (canned marinara sauce, peach salsa): $6.00

Menu–Here is what we’re having this week!

  • Wednesday–Sweet potato/Swiss chard quesadillas w/homemade peach salsa, quinoa
  • Thursday–Chicken-veggie stir fry with rice
  • Friday–Slow cooker pork roast w/apples, cider and thyme; roasted potatoes, squash
  • Saturday–Out for Tom’s Birthday Celebration!!!
  • Sunday–NFL Tailgating Special–Pulled pork w/cider slaw on rolls, broccoli salad, apples, and sweet potato pound cake
  • Monday–Baked pasta with homemade marinara sauce and Mae Farm Italian sausage
  • Tuesday–Leftover pasta

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Day 307–Six Questions to Ask About Sustainable Meat

If you’ve been following the blog, you know how I feel about factory farmed meat. Not everyone has access to fresh, sustainable meat, but if you do, give it a try. Here is a nice article by the Sierra Club about questions to ask your local farmer about their meat products. Since we’re heading into turkey season, this seemed like a timely piece!

Sustainable Meat: 6 Questions to Ask a Farmer

6 Questions to Ask a FarmerLet’s face it, there’s nothing eco-friendly about factory farms. When servings of eggs, dairy, and meat come packaged with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, groundwater contamination, animal cruelty, and hormones, we wouldn’t blame you for losing your appetite. But there are still ways to eat meat without unduly burdening the earth. This week, we’ll offer hints for finding a “greener” pork roast or Thanksgiving turkey.

6 Questions to Ask a Farmer

One big advantage of getting your meat, eggs, and dairy from a local farm as opposed to a giant, faceless corporation, is that you can actually talk to the farmer. Visit your local farmers’ market or check out Eat Wild’s farm directory to find free-range livestock farmers in your state, many of whom sell shares in meat CSAs. You can ask them questions to find a farm that matches your own standards for land and livestock stewardship.

Here are six good questions to get the conversation started:

     1.) Are your animals fed with organic feed?

     2.) Are your animals raised on pasture?

All livestock will eat grass, and not only are they healthier for it, but their meat, milk, and eggs have been found to contain more omega-3s than animals that eat no grass. Pastured animals will also spread their manure out on fields, where it can decompose naturally.

     3.)  Are your cows and lambs “grass finished”?

“Finishing” is also known as “fattening up,” and grain is a healthy part of the diet of poultry and pigs, but wreaks havoc on the digestive systems of cows and sheep. “Corn-finished” or “grain-finished” meat comes from livestock that ate little but grain and other processed supplements for the last six months of their lives, while “grass-finished” animals were fattened up on the pasture. Even pastured dairy cows usually eat some grain for extra nutrients, but should still eat mostly grass.

     4.) How do you handle your animals’ manure?

Manure is a huge pollutant in feedlots, where it seeps into groundwater and rivers. If your farmer tells you that the manure is left in “lagoons,” then it means they’re leaving it untreated, where it can pollute local water systems.

     5.) Do you give antibiotics to healthy animals?

Often, antibiotics are used to keep farm animals healthy when they’re too overcrowded and stressed to fight off disease. This has caused a widespread rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If farmers only use antibiotics on animals that are actually sick, you know that they’ll have been raised in a healthier environment.

     6.) Do you use heritage breeds?

Many “modern” livestock breeds can’t even survive outside of climate-controlled cages, but ‘heritage” livestock are bred to live outside, and are healthier, heartier animals overall.

Feel free to ask about whatever other concerns you might have. The more we demand answers from our food providers, the better choices we’ll be able to make.

–Image credit iStockphoto/jabiru.

Rachael Monosson is an editorial intern for Sierra and a recent graduate of Stanford University, where she studied Earth Systems. She lives in San Mateo.

Day 306–Poached Salmon in Apple Cider

English: Flesh of an Atlantic Salmon.

Typically, we buy our seafood only from North Carolina fisherman through a local vendor Locals Seafood. The fish, scallops and shrimp we have had are so fresh and delicious that we haven’t looked elsewhere. A recent Tweet from Whole Foods, however, encouraged me to veer off course and pick up some sustainable, Scottish salmon that was on sale. I hadn’t had salmon this year except for occasional restaurant meals, and it is sooooooo good for you that I just couldn’t resist. Salmon is low in bad fats, but high in Omega 3 fatty acids, protein and vitamin D.  I’m so glad I listened to my inner foodie, because that salmon was some of the best I’ve had in a very long time.

Buying a 2 lb. fillet of salmon required some quick thinking on my part. I hadn’t planned it into our meals for the week and needed a quick and healthy preparation that would allow the true flavor of the salmon to come through. I’m also on a budget, so I needed to keep extra expenses to a minimum. So necessity being the mother of invention, I decided to poach my salmon fillet using what I had on hand, which was fresh, local apple cider. I’ve only poached with white wine before, so I wasn’t sure how this would work. In the end, it was simply delicious. The salmon was moist with just a hint of apple sweetness. Now I’m wishing I had really splurged and bought two fillets!

Poached Salmon in Apple Cider

  • 1 large salmon fillet
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 c. fresh apple cider
  • Aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil that is large enough to wrap completely around your fillet without any additional seams. Lay the foil on a rimmed baking sheet.

Lay your fillet on the foil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Make a foil packet for your fillet by folding the two long sides of foil over your fish, creating a little “tent”  and crimping the edges (this will keep the steam in your foil tent).

Seal the short ends by folding them over several times. Before you seal the final short edge, pour the cider into your packet, then seal the last edge.

Pop the baking sheet into your prepared oven and bake/steam for about 25 minutes (a larger fillet like the one we had, took 40 minutes). When the fish is just opaque, it is done.

We served our salmon with local kale and local potatoes!