Day 116–Controversial Pickled Asparagus

20120424-194613.jpg

Fresh, local asparagus was the start of our pickled asparagus with mustard seed!

I’m adding asparagus to my list of controversial subjects. So far, they include politics, religion, college basketball and cobbler. And now asparagus.

If you’ve been reading along with us for a while, you know that Ellie and I took a canning class so we can continue to eat some of our favorite local foods all year. Actually, we now have a three-pronged approach to food preservation–canning, freezing and drying. We’re looking at what is available at the market each week and considering whether or not we enjoy it enough to try preserving it for the bleak winter months. It’s fun to seek out new recipes to try–dried fruit leather was a big hit. One of the recipes that piqued our interest is pickled asparagus with mustard seed. We love asparagus. We love pickles. So, what’s not to love about pickled asparagus? And our local grocery sells pickled asparagus for $7 a jar, so I’m all about trying the DIY version.

I couldn’t decide whether this sounded really good or just really odd, so I posted an inquiry to my Facebook page asking the question: “Pickled asparagus. Good? Gross?” The overwhelming judgement was “gross.” Or at least “why?” as in “why would do that to a perfectly good asparagus?” A few people commented on texture issues with asparagus–would they be mushy? Ellie The Brave was all about it though, so we forged ahead. I picked up asparagus at the farmer’s market and apple cider vinegar at the grocery store and we got started. This recipe uses quite a bit of garlic, which made the kitchen smell great. I managed to get over my fear of canning garlic, which seems to be strongly connected to botulism if not done properly.

The end result was some semi-attractive jars, although not as perfect looking as the grocery store variety. I was concerned about stuffing too much asparagus in the pint jars, but in hindsight, the hot water bath cooked them slightly and they shrunk up a bit, so next time I will pack the jars pretty full.

How do they taste? Actually, very good! The asparagus are tender and not crisp like a true pickle, but also not mushy like asparagus from a can. The brine is good–tart, but with good seasoning from the mustard, garlic and pepper. They will be good with salad or even with deviled eggs. The garlic¬† helps to balance the vinegar and give the pickles a nice savory flavor. If you like asparagus and want to keep it around past asparagus season, this might be something to try (you can also blanch them and freeze them). This recipe is from “Put ‘Em Up” by Sherri Brooks Vinton.

Pickled Asparagus with Mustard Seed (makes about 3 pints)

  • 4 lbs. asparagus, washed and dried
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorn
  1. Trim the asparagus to lengths 1 inch shorter than your pint jars and pack vertically into the clean, hot jars.
  2. Combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Bring the brine to a low boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar, and then remove from the heat. Divide the garlic, celery seed, mustard seed, and peppercorns among the jars. Pour the hot brine over the asparagus to cover by 1/2 inch. Leave 1/2 inch of head space between the top of the liquid and the lid.
  3. Use the boiling water method. Release the trapped air from the jars. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process for 15 minutes. Turn off the 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 place for up to 1 year.
Advertisements

Day 112–A Strawberry Workday and Strawberry Fruit Leather

Saturday was all about strawberries at our house. We managed to get up and out of the house early and meet some of our fellow scouts at a local strawberry patch. The morning was beautiful and the berries were plentiful. It’s fun to watch everyone’s strawberry picking strategies. I pick the closest spot and start picking. Tom checks out the field and picks the spot where he thinks most people won’t have picked and Ellie gets as far away from us with her friends as she can. I’m thinking this mirrors our personalities fairly well ūüôā

There is something about an entire field of ripe strawberries that makes me tend toward hoarding. I want to pick them all! In the end, we had four large buckets of beautiful, ripe berries and two pints of locally produced Maple View Farm ice cream. Two excellent treats! Once we got home with our bounty, the work began. We rinsed and checked our berries and immediately started hulling them for jam.

We made eight half pints of strawberry jam in all. The jam started out as old fashioned, slow cook jam with no pectin. After 90 minutes of cooking the berries, lemon juice and sugar, I couldn’t really tell if the jam had jelled, but I canned it using a hot water bath thinking that surely 90 minutes was enough time. The next morning, I re-cooked it and canned it a second time because it was too soupy. A lot of extra work, but I think I’ll be happier with the results this winter. And in the future, I may just use pectin with strawberries. They seem to have a lot of juice in them and it doesn’t cook down very well. Maybe blueberries are better?

After making the jam, we made strawberry fruit leather, based on a recipe in Sherri Brooks Vinton’s Put ‘Em Up cookbook. I was interested in this because fruit leather is a nice snack, but we don’t buy fruit rollups–they’re pretty full of junk and very low on actual fruit. The fruit leather drying process took longer than the recipe called for (about 4 hours instead of 2), but the end result was totally worth it. Our strawberry leather is chewy, tart and bursting with strawberry flavor. Soooooo good. Apparently, the fruit leather will keep in an air tight container for up to one month, but it will not last that long in our house! The recipe is below.

While we were canning and drying, I also froze 6 quarts of berries. I rinsed them, hulled them, then put them on parchment lined baking sheets, which I popped into the freezer for about an hour. When the berries were frozen, I put them in quart sized freezer bags. This way, they don’t get mushed and frozen in a big block.

After all that, you would think I’d collapse, but no, I decided to make a strawberry cobbler (recipe to come). Inspired by a similar recipe from Creative Noshing, I took our peach cobbler recipe and substituted strawberries as a test. It was amazing–especially when served hot with our Maple View Farm ice cream. Wow!

So our final total was 8 half pints of jam, 6 quarts of frozen berries, one batch of fruit leather and one strawberry cobbler. For good measure, I pickled 4 pints of asparagus spears (more on that this week). Needless to say, my house smelled great all day and at the end of the day, I slept very well. It was nice to take a day to devote just to cooking, canning and enjoying the literal fruits of our labor!

Berry Fruit Leather

  • 4 cups of berries (any will do!)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  1. Wash and dry the berries. Combine them with water in a large skillet and bring to a boil. Simmer until the berries begin to break down, about 5 minutes. Puree the fruit by mashing it with a potato masher or using a stick blender (my personal choice).
  2. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Line a rimmed backing sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Return the berry puree to the pan and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently until it thickens to the consistency of baby food. Add the sugar and still to dissolve.
  4. Spread the sweetened puree onto the baking sheet, tilting the pan or using an offset spatula to create an even layer about 1/8″ thick.
  5. Dry in the oven until tacky to the touch, about 2 hours (for me this was 4 hours).
  6. Cool to room temperature. Side the parchment onto a cutting board and roll the leather into a tube. Slice the fruit into 2″ strips and store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Day 107–Balsamic Strawberry Jam

Garden Strawberry

Success!! Having learned some lessons from my first round of jam making, I purchased more beautiful berries from the farmers market and gave it another go. Much better! I made two rounds of quick jam using pectin (this time Pomona’s¬†Universal Pectin) and my results were more “jammy” with no fruit float. Also, Pomona Pectin allows you to make low sugar jam, which is terrific.

I also put up 3 quarts of frozen berries, which will last about 15 minutes in my house, so I better get moving! This Saturday (depending on the weather) is berry picking day for us, so we should have more berries on the way!

Deciding to do something a little fancier, I made 3 half pints of regular strawberry jam and 3 of a balsamic strawberry jam. I had just enough 17 year balsamic vinegar (a gift from my mom) to make it work. The taste is richer and more complex than the regular jam. Not for pb&j, but would be great on roast pork, pound cake or ice cream!

Here is the recipe I used from “Put ‘Em Up” by Sherri Brooks Vinton. I added 1/2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter to the mix. This wasn’t in the recipe, but was recommended as a way to reduce the amount of foam produced during cooking. It worked very well.

Quick Strawberry Jam (for Strawberry Balsamic, sub 4 Tbsp. lemon juice with 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice)

1c. Sugar
1 tsp. Pomona’s Universal Pectin
4 c. Strawberries, hulled
1tsp. Calcium water (included in the Pomona’s box)
4 Tbsp. Bottled lemon juice (or 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice)

1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (optional)

  1. First, get out all your ingredients and make the calcium water (mix powder w/water and set aside).
  2. Combine the sugar and pectin in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Put the berries in a non-reactive pot and mash well with a potato masher. Slowly bring berries to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Add butter, if using.
  4. Stir in the calcium water and lemon juice or vinegar/lemon juice.
  5. Slowly add the sugar/pectin mix and stir to dissolve.
  6. Return the mixture to a boil, stirring to ensure that the mixture is heated thoroughly.
  7. Remove from heat and let it rest for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release air bubbles. Skim off any foam.
  8. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or can by using the following instructions.
  9. Ladle mixture into clean, hot half-pint canning jars, leaving¬†1/4″ of headspace. Release any trapped air. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process for 10 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 place for up to 1 year.

Day 106–Starting Week 15–Budget and Menu

I absolutely love this time of year. Our farmers markets are full of fresh, spring produce, strawberries are ripe and we don’t have scorching temperatures yet. In some ways, shopping at the markets was easier in the winter–now I find myself completely smitten by all kinds of beautiful produce NOT on my shopping list. A good excercise¬†in self-control. And–TA DA!–this is the first week for our Produce Box deliveries! My box of lettuce, greens, strawberries and hothouse cucumbers should be delivered Wednesday afternoon. We’ve planned a Saladpalooza night to celebrate!

This week’s budget is pretty good! I spent $94.40on our groceries¬†for this week.¬†I spent an additional $18.00 on strawberries that have become jam and frozen berries for later (recipes to come this week). Since we are getting more in our Produce Box, I went ahead and put almost all of the strawberries up for later. So, technically, I went over budget at $112.40, but the¬†six half pints of jam and quarts of frozen berries will be used throughout the year. That should save us over the course of the year.¬†We have a busy week ahead, so no super involved dinners. Hopefully we will get some rain this week–we sure do need it.

  • Water Oaks Farm (eggs): $4.00
  • Produce Box (lettuce, greens, strawberries, cucumbers and more): $23.00
  • Farmer’s Market, various vendors (bok choi, potatoes, onion): $13.00
  • Farmhand¬†Foods (skirt steak from Meatbox): $15.00
  • Trader Joes (broccoli, chicken thighs, frozen fruit, soy milk, Ezekiel bread): $39.40

What’s on the menu for this week? Well, here it is–pretty simple, but good!

  • Sunday–grilled skirt steak, sugar snap peas, potatoes, salad;¬†carryover frozen lemon blueberry pound cake and¬†strawberries for dessert
  • Monday–chicken and veggie stir fry with spicy peanut sauce
  • Tuesday–grilled cheese with leftover Hillsborough Cheese Co cheese and frozen chicken soup [What’s On Your Plate? screening]
  • Wednesday–egg salad sandwiches, carrots and strawberries for dessert
  • Thursday–saladpalooza!
  • Friday–leftover cleanup night
  • Saturday–family pizza night, salad

A great moment for me this week was completing my first 5K road race in a long time. I have never been able to finish a race running the entire distance (I usually have to do a run/walk thing toward the end). But I ran the entire way and felt absolutely great! I am owing a good part of this to our better eating and more conscious exercising. We’re looking for the next race to run!

Have a wonderful week and enjoy the beautiful spring weather wherever you are!

Day 103–What’s On Your Plate?

I heart Advocates for Health in Action (AHA). I think I’ve learned more from this local non-profit than I have from any other single source. Their acronym, when pronounced (Aha!) is a sound I make frequently when learning from them–how convenient! We enjoyed the Dig In! conference on community gardening last month and I picked many healthy fundraising ideas from a recent workshop. Now, we have another opportunity for family learning through a public screening of a documentary called “What’s On Your Plate?”.

“What’s On Your Plate?” is a 75 minute documentary produced by two 11-year-old¬†girls. That’s right–11 year olds. Inspired by a really great local tomato they had while on vacation, the girls decided to explore why their fresh farm tomato tasted better than what they found in their local market. This led to a fuller exploration of where food comes from, how it is processed and how it gets to your table. Really, any documentary that investigates funyuns is ok in my book–I still can’t figure those things out.

The screening is free (reservations required, click HERE) on Tuesday, April 17th at the Cary Arts Center. Doors open at 6:00 and community booths, including Great Harvest Bread Co., the Cary Pocket Garden and others will be on hand with goodies. The film starts at 6:30 and is followed by a panel discussion and Q&A with a pediatrician, nutritionist and others. If you complete a challenge following the film, you can enter to win all kinds of healthy prizes. I saw a preview of the film and it looks wonderful–funny, smart and engaging–just like the young ladies who produced it. We will post a review of the film after seeing the full production, but if this is showing in your area, you might want to take advantage of it!

Day 100–Reflections on 100 Days

20120409-152641.jpg

When Ellie was in kindergarten, there was great pomp and ceremony around the first 100 days of school. She made a 100 days hat, brought in 100 cheerios and the class celebrated learning to count to 100. So here we are at our 100th post and I am making this post from our campsite at Jordan Lake. Our own 100 days celebration.

In the past 100 days, I have learned that eating locally and mostly organic is not as hard as I originally thought, although staying within our budget is still a challenge. I’ve cooked many more meals than I think I ever have, but I have enjoyed the process more than I thought I would.

My biggest surprise (and delight) is in the relationships I’ve cultivated with people in my community. Farmers, bakers, cheesemakers, dairies, livestock farmers, beekeepers and pasta makers all in my backyard! I enjoy seeing them at the market, asking how the crops or animals are doing and hearing about what is new this week. Shopping at the grocery store seems pretty lonely and institutional in comparison.

Wish you could be here to celebrate our 100 days with our locavore sandwiches of Great Harvest bread, Coon Rock Farm sliced ham and Hillsborough Cheese Co cheese + fresh strawberries on the side. Come on down to the lake–we have a spot at the table for you!

Day 99–Starting Week 14–Budget and Menu

What a week this has been! And the week to come looks just as slam packed as last week. My local ham is almost ready and we can’t wait to try it along with our fresh, local asparagus! In the coming week, we are veering slightly from our 70-80% local foods. Mainly because I am camping with my girl Ellie and her BFF¬†for an all girls campout. We’ll be gone two days and two nights and should have great weather. So, our menu reflects more prepared foods than usual–I have yet to find a local source for s’more ingredients ūüôā We came in just under budget at $97.92!

Here is how our budget worked out for this week:

  • Mae Farm (ham): $15.00
  • Coon Rock Farm (sausage): $6.00
  • Ball Produce (strawberries and asparagus): $10.00
  • Trader Joes (ground turkey, turkey dogs, rolls, pineapple, blackberries, mango, bananas,oatmeal): 45.60
  • Lowes Foods (chocolate bars, graham crackers, marshmallows, pectin, lemon juice, etc): $21.32

What are we having this week? Here is our menu:

  • Sunday–Easter supper–honey mustard glazed ham, roasted asparagus, broccoli salad, biscuits, pie
  • Sunday–Campout¬†dinner–turkey dogs w/vegetarian chili, fruit salad
  • Monday–breakfast at camp–Dutch oven breakfast–eggs, hashbrowns, sausage, cheese
  • Monday–lunch–sandwiches and fruit salad
  • Monday–dinner–turkey tacos, vegetables, fruit salad
  • Tuesday–breakfast–pancakes and bacon
  • ¬†Tuesday–lunch–sandwiches and whatever is left!
  • ¬†Tuesday–dinner–ham omelets (back home again)
  • Wednesday–oatmeal
  • Thursday–out with my BFF
  • Friday–tuna salad sandwiches

Now, off to pack the car, the girls and the dog for a couple of days at the lake! Have a wonderful week!

Day 92–Starting Week 14–Budget and Menu

After last week’s budget buster, we are back on track with plenty of fresh vegetables and good things to eat. We were glad to find fresh spinach fettucine by Melina’s Pasta at the Western Wake Farmer’s Market. We can’t wait to try it! This weekend was spent at the market and getting our own garden ready for action. We’ve planted a salad garden of tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers and some Japanese eggplant. I love eggplant, but a large, full-sized eggplant is a lot for us to eat. The Japanese variety are the perfect size for us (and they ripen quickly!).

Here is how our budget played out this week, with a total of $95.62:

  • Local’s Seafood (summer flounder): $18.00
  • Hillsborough Cheese Company (fresh mozzarella): $6.00
  • Coon Rock Farm (chicken and fresh eggs): $21.00
  • Farmers Market–misc (asparagus, swiss chard, broccoli): $10.00
  • Melina’s Pasta (spinach fettucine): $6.00
  • Trader Joes (organic garlic, ground turkey, tortillas, frozen fruit, soy milk, cous cous, onions): $34.62

And here’s the scoop on this week’s menu!

  • Sunday–cornmeal dusted flounder, saut√©ed kale (the end of our garden kale), homemade cornbread w/NC cornmeal
  • Monday–Chicken curry cous cous w/chopped veggies, salad
  • Tuesday–Turkey taco night w/quinoa
  • Wednesday–Eggs nested in swiss chard and mushrooms
  • Thursday–Pasta w/ham and spring asparagus, salad
  • Friday–Leftover pasta, salad
  • Saturday–BLT sandwiches with carryover Mae Farm bacon

Not bad for $95! Looks like we are back on track again! Thanks to everyone who read Ellie’s guest blog post and commented. It was a real boost to her (and a boost to her chicken advocacy efforts!).

Day 89–Industrial Products in Food–Ok or Troublesome?

Orthophosphoric acid H 3 PO 4

In an effort to be more efficient, I often look for “two fers”–that is, one solution that will address more than one issue. Sometimes this works wonderfully and other times, if I try to force a solution where it doesn’t quite fit, I have (as Ellie says) an “epic fail.” In the food industry, these “two fers” often use industrial products and ingredients to address issues with processed food stability or to lower the cost of food production. This isn’t illegal and in many cases may not be harmful, but maybe you want a higher standard than “not necessarily harmful” in your food supply. If you are trying to eat more whole foods and limit your intake of highly processed ingredients, it is interesting to see how these ingredients are used elsewhere. Thanks to Experience Life magazine for this information.

Olestra–This chemical is used to make fat-free potato chips and snack foods. It has no flavor or nutritive value. Olestra¬†works by bonding to fat and¬†preventing it from being absorbed in your body. But that method¬†can have drawbacks, including diarrhea and abdominal cramping, especially for people with sensitive digestive systems, with irritable bowel¬†syndrome or for small children. Interestingly, olestra is also used in paints and lubricants.¬†

Calcium Chloride–Calcium chloride is a chemical blend of salt and chlorine that has been deemed safe for food use by the FDA. It has no nutritive value and is not used for flavor. It is used as a stabilizer for some canned foods, an electrolyte in sports drinks and is an agent in some pickling. It can cause upset stomach, and irritation of the digestive tract, especially in people with digestive issues. Calcium chloride¬†is also the key ingredient in road salt and ice melt.

Phosphoric Acid–This chemical is used to make¬†foods–specifically sodas–more acidic. It has no nutritive value. Because it is so cheap, it has become the standard acid in sodas, replacing natural sources like lemon and lime. Phosphoric acid has been linked to decreased bone density and kidney stones, the former is especially a problem for women over 40 who have a history of osteoporosis in their family. Oh, yes, phosphoric acid’s industrial use is as a rust remover known for its ability to rapidly eat rust on metal. Your dentist may also use small amounts to etch/scar your teeth before putting in a filling.

Calcium sulfate–Calcium sulfate is a desiccant¬†(drying agent) and¬†a coagulant.¬†It has no flavor or nutritive value. It is often used in foods, including tofu, to bond¬†molecules together. It is also the key ingredient in plaster of paris. The use of calcium sulfate can cause abdominal swelling and abdominal pain in some people. Industrially, it is used to make plaster and drywall.

Cornstarch–Cornstarch is a thickener that, unlike the above ingredients, is typically found in most households. Cornstarch is made from the endosperm of the corn grain and is a cheaper industrial substitute for the more¬†simply processed¬†arrowroot. It is used in puddings, chewing gum,¬†gravy, ice cream, sauces¬†and some canned foods. Because cornstarch is used so heavily in processed foods, it may pose a hidden sugary carb risk for those trying to eliminate processed carbohydrates or sugars from their diets. Cornstarch is also used to make rubber tires, plywood and some insecticides.

Corn syrup–Corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup is probably the most insidious and highly contested ingredient on this list. It is made from processing corn starch to release all the glucose in the starch, then processing it some more to shift most of the glucose to fructose. Because it is very cheap to produce, it has replaced most beet and cane sugar as well as honey in sweetened, processed foods. It is present in many processed food products, including ketchup and other condiments, cheese spreads, marshmallows, dehydrated soups, cake mixes, snack foods and frozen foods. Both the chemical nature and high level of use of corn syrup have linked the chemical to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and non-alcohol fatty liver disease. Corn syrup is also used to make shoe polish, metal plating and explosives.¬†

Maybe these all seem ok to you, maybe not. Regardless of what we choose to purchase at the grocery, it is¬†important to make informed choices. In some cases, the “two fer” works in our favor and in others,¬†it isn’t a win-win situation for our bodies.

Day 87–Making Room For a Freezer

“I feel the need…to freeze!” Apologies to Tom Cruise.

In preparation for the spring and summer garden bonanza of fresh fruits and vegetables, I’m reading a lot about food preservation strategies. Thanks to Tom, Ellie and I have a nice setup of canning supplies just waiting for this year’s¬†strawberries and blueberries, and I’m¬†studying how to put them up without killing anyone. Really, that is a fear I have, but I’m working through it. In reading about food preservation, I am understanding that I need to reframe my way of thinking. When I think of “preserving,” I typically think of canning foods. But drying, freezing, and refrigerating are other options for food preservation that are even more accessible than canning.

Using a freezer to preserve foods¬†isn’t a huge revelation, I know, but I haven’t really thought about using my freezer as a way to¬†put up¬†fruits and vegetables for winter. I typically think of my freezer as a holding area for ice cubes and our week’s worth of frozen fruit for our smoothies, not as a place to store our jackpot of string beans from our CSA.

The only issue with this is space. We have a nice sized freezer drawer on our refrigerator and I love it, but it doesn’t have a huge amount of room for long-term storage. Which brings us to the issue of the deep freezer. I’ve never had one, but I’ve thought about it in the past. The issue comes back to space again, because where in the world can you put a deep freezer without causing an issue?

It may be that our laundry room will provide us with the space needed, but that will involve some cleaning out of all the “treasures” currently stored there. If we can make it work, our family will have some delicious projects ahead of us!

All of this makes me realize that the world of possibilities and options is almost always larger than what I am currently thinking. Hell bent on canning, I neglected to think of the larger opportunities of freezing and drying. Tree, meet the forest. This, to me, is the wonderful part of our journey–re-framing things in my own mind, learning, growing and becoming more aware and mindful.

Now, excuse me, because I have some serious re-organizing to do ūüôā