Day 365–A New Blog Is Born!

Happy New Year’s Eve! Thanks to all of you who have commented, emailed or texted me information about what you like in this blog! I’ve used your comments and some goals of our own to create a NEW blog SOLE Food Kitchen, http://www.solefoodkitchen.com (since the link is not apparently working) that focuses on eating Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethically-sourced food. Please check it out!

This is very much a work in progress, but I’ve posted my first entry and hope you’ll take a look! I still have a LOT to do. A GINORMOUS thank you to Heather at Sugar Dish Me, who provided a lot of information. Heather, I still have lots of questions (like why are my links not working!), but I’m starting to figure things out–thank you!

Year of Healthier Living will still be up–no worries. Eventually, I will transition some of the better recipes to the new blog and add some additional yumminess!

Happy New Year, happy new beginnings and happy eating!

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Day 12–The Produce Box

A single week's fruits and vegetables from com...

I love the idea of a traditional CSA, where you arrive at a meeting place, wait with other earnest, veggie loving people, and leave feeling virtuous with a box of farm fresh produce. The trouble is, I am a terrible CSA participant. Terrible. Pickup day arrives and I invariably have a late meeting scheduled or I get stuck in the carpool line (it’s not a social gathering, Mrs. Volvo Station Wagon!) or…I forget. Most often, it’s the latter. I’m half way to the gym and realize…*@&!$%…veggies! And “resentful” isn’t the way we should pick up our fresh veggies. That just seems so wrong.

So, a friend and neighbor introduced me to The Produce Box. I love those people, I tell you. Rather than waiting with a tapping foot for me to come screeching around the corner, they patiently pack up my order and deliver the veggies to ME! I didn’t realize anyone did that anymore. According to their website, they are “a network of families, farmers, neighborhood moms, and others who all share a common vision–growing and eating food that’s good for you and the planet, from people you know.” I think of them as the “veggie fairies,” but whatevs.

Here is how it works:

  • You pay an annual membership fee of $18. (This fee covers boxes and containers and provides funds for small, board-sponsored grants to local farmers to buy seed, equipment, and make their farms more sustainable.)
  • Each week on Friday, you receive an email detailing the standard (default) box of veggies as well as several alternatives, including an organic box, a fruit box and so on. Each box is about $23.00 and you pick whatever you want or bypass that week altogether and pay nothing.
  • By Sunday night, you go into your account, pick your box for the week, plus any additional add-ons. If you’re like me and you forget, you automatically get the standard box (it’s like they know me). This fall, add-ons included local bread, honey, preserves, apple butter and cheese. Your account is charged when your order is filled.
  • Wed or Thursday, a box of your beautiful, locally grown vegetables and other items arrives on your doorstep.

Voila! No forgetting! No speeding down the highway after a long meeting to get to a pickup location!

I say, “voila!” like this is an easy feat. Really, the entire production depends on a LOT of very dedicated farmers, volunteers and part time employees. I don’t know them, but I love every single one of them. The vegetables we have received have been unbelievably wonderful, very fresh and of excellent quality. The board surveys members in the fall and works with local farmers to plant crops that members have interest in. Pretty cool!

The Produce Box is not operating now, but they will be starting up again in April. Here is a sampling of what they hope to offer in April:

  • asparagus (yes!)
  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • green beans
  • onions
  • berries
  • cherries

Interested? The website is www.theproducebox.com

It may be cold and rainy outside, but I’m thinking spring!

Day 6–The Winter Farmer’s Market, Part 1

The winter farmer's market still has plenty to offer!

Assumptions. I know better than to make them, yet I still do. In my mind, the winter farmer’s market was a place of leftover collard greens, cabbage and sweet potatoes. Sad. Lonely. Bereft of good eats. I should just give up and head to the grocery store, right? Wrong!

I decided to check my assumptions at the door and visit the State Farmer’s Market on my lunch hour yesterday. I am so glad I did!

Not only was the State Farmer’s Market busy, but I was really amazed at the variety of fresh vegetables and fruit (apples) that were still available. Thanks to a very mild winter (at least in NC), farmers are still growing and harvesting white potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes (mostly locally grown hothouse), salad greens, turnips, kale, spinach, green peppers, apples, fresh beans, broccoli, collard greens, beets and more. And the prices were definitely lower than the grocery stores on just about everything.

Wilmington-based Scott Smith of Heaven On Earth Organics

I was glad to find Scott Smith of Heaven On Earth organic farm at the market. He was awesome! He and his wife have a farm outside of Wilmington and they love organic farming. Farmer Scott let me taste test my way though his vegetable stand so I could discover the difference between dino kale and curly kale (dino kale is thicker and spicier), how turnip greens with a little bit of yellow (from frost) are sweeter than the bright green leaves (the frost brings the sugar to the tips of the leaves) and more.

In the end, I did buy vegetables, including the dino kale (the name alone makes it interesting). Scott suggested that the dino kale makes terrific kale chips, something I had heard of, but hadn’t tried before. OH. MY. GOODNESS. They were devoured by my family and my pre-teen daughter (who eats vegetables grudgingly) decided they were amazing. Light, crispy and salty, these are the perfect antitode to potato chips. The recipe is below.

Kale Chips! Crunchy little antioxidant chips--howgreatisthat?

  • 1 bunch fresh kale (we used dino kale, but any kind would work)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. vinegar (we used balsamic)
  • Kosher salt to taste (we used about 1 Tbsp.)
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Wash and dry the kale.
  3. Cut off the lower woody stems and compost.
  4. Cut the kale into pieces about the size of potato chips (2-4″ or so).
  5. In a bowl (or a plastic bag, if you don’t want your hands oily) put the chopped kale and add 1 Tbsp of the olive oil.
  6. Toss the greens with the oil until leaves are covered. (If you use the bag, massage the bag until the leaves are covered).
  7. Add the vinegar and toss again to coat.
  8. If needed, add the remaining Tbsp. olive oil (depending on the thickness of the leaves, you might not need this).
  9. Carefull place leaves on an oven safe baking rack or on a cookie sheet (I used a rack). Don’t overlap leaves.
  10. Sprinkle leaves with salt.
  11. Put rack/baking sheet in the oven and roast leaves for 20-30 minutes (this will depend on how thick your leaves are, so check on them after 20 min.)
  12. Remove from oven and enjoy immediately!

Next post, local meat producers at the farmer’s market!

 

Day 5–No Local Veggies at the Local Grocery

Example of an American grocery store aisle.

Although the area of North Carolina where we live is primarily high-tech and business/government oriented, most of our state remains agricultural. It makes me happy that I can drive 20 minutes outside of Cary and find family run farms that still produce vegetables and livestock. In fact, North Carolina is a primary regional producer of sweet potatoes, strawberries, peaches, corn and tomatoes. North Carolina is also home to two regional grocery store chains–Lowe’s Foods and Harris Teeter. It’s not a huge leap to think that our NC grocery stores would carry NC products, right?  

With our new dietary challenges in mind, I recently visited our local Lowe’s Foods grocery store to see if in fact I could find locally produced vegetables, meat and agricultural products. I was hoping to find that I could purchase at least some local food products at my local grocery.

As I wandered through the produce section I wondered why Lowes sells collard greens from South Carolina when we produce them here? Same for sweet potatoes. In the produce aisle, I did not find one item produced in our state, but I found several produced in Mexico or Peru. I gave up on the meat section, which has no source information at all. I did find some agricultural products (grits, corn meal) and processed food products (barbecue sauce, hot sauce), but other than that, I came up empty-handed.

So, I asked a Lowes employee who looked official (wearing a tie and carrying a clipboard), why that is. He explained that the company as a whole has contracts with specific producers that ensure they have a “good selection at an affordable price.” So where do all the products we produce go? He also mentioned that some stores, including one in a nearby town, have displays of locally produced products, but that the manager of my particular Lowes had not chosen to do that. Then, very interestingly, he also mentioned that his family doesn’t buy their vegetables at Lowes or any other grocery store. They use a produce co-op hybrid called The Produce Box, which sources only from NC farms that use sustainable and/or organic farming practices. Hmmmm. Curious.

My plan this week is to write to Lowes and ask them to consider contracting with local, sustainable farms or to at least put a state symbol or some other marking so consumers can find what local products there are more easily. For a grocery chain that plays up its home town roots in advertising, this shouldn’t be a huge stretch. We’ll see…