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 130–Blueberry Jam

Blueberry

Blueberry jam always seems like such a luxury to me and I’m not even sure why. It’s not as though blueberries are rare, but somehow they seem a bit precious. They are not as treasured as blackberries, which will always be my favorite, but they’re still pretty special. North Carolina blueberries, when cooked, seem to have so much more flavor than they do when they are raw. I don’t think this is true of wild Maine blueberries, which are much smaller but packed with flavor. My Produce Box this week included a container of this year’s first blueberries and I added on 6 more to my order for good measure (!). What to do on an evening when Ellie has homework and Tom is playing softball? Make jam, of course! Just me and my boiling cauldrons of goodness bubbling away. Here is the recipe I used. Judging from the last bits that Ellie and I sampled from the bottom of the pot, this recipe is a keeper! It is from “Put ‘Em Up!” which is a terrific book on home food preservation.

Quick Blueberry Jam (this recipe made 6 half-pints)

  • 1-2 c. sugar (depending on your taste; I used 2)
  • 2 tsp. Pomona’s Universal Pectin
  • 8 c. blueberries, stemmed
  • 1/4 c. bottled lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. calcium water (included in the Pomona box)
  1. Combine the sugar and pectin in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Combine the berries with a splash of water in a medium nonreactive saucepan and slowly bring to a boil over low heat. Add the lemon juice and calcium water. Stir.
  3. Pour in the sugar/pectin mix and stir to dissolve.
  4. Return to a boil and them immediately remove from the heat and let the jam rest for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release air bubbles. Skim off any foam.
  5. From here, you can ladle the jam into jars or bowls, cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Or you can can the jam.
  6. To can, ladle the jam into hot, sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Release the trapped air.
  7. Wipe the rims clean, center the lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let the jars rest in the water for 5 minutes.
  8. Remove jars without tilting them and set aside for 24 hours. Check the seals and then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Day 124–Ten Tips for Locavore Food Shopping (on a budget)

Continuing the theme of how to shop efficiently and affordably while still eating local, I have 10 tips from our own experience since January 1. I told you I like a list ūüôā Share your tips and ideas¬†in the comments section!

Tip One–Know your farmers, know your farmers, know your farmers.

Before starting our locavore journey, my only experience with asking produce questions was asking the “produce manager” in our local grocery store, who usually knew almost nothing about produce or cooking. So, I¬†was pretty shy and hesitant about asking farmers information. I thought it might be rude. But you know what? ¬†Farmers LIKE answering questions and they LOVE talking about what they grow. And guess what else? Many of them cook this food themselves! Also, farmers, in my limited experience, are pretty practical folks. If you say you’re on a budget and you have xx to spend on vegetables, they can give you lots of ideas for how to stretch your dollars and feed your family. Try THAT at your local grocery store!

Tip Two–Use Social Media

You know those picture books with Farmer Brown plowing a field? Well, those books need a major update. Most farmers who sell to local markets are pretty media savvy (or at least they are getting there). They probably have a Facebook page, an email newsletter and/or Twitter account. Crazy, right? I get weekly postings on what is available from local farmers and farmer’s markets in my area. That saves me a LOT of time when planning menus because I’m not guessing at what I’ll find.

Tip Three–Pre-order the Important Stuff

Related to Tip Two, I’ve found that I can easily pre-order cuts of meat, types of cheese, seafood, eggs and large amounts of produce (like strawberries for jam) and pick them up at my local farmer’s market. Farmer’s like this because they know they are bringing items to market that will be sold. And I love it because I don’t have to get to the market only to find out that no one has any chicken breasts left.

Tip Four–Allow Flexibility for the Unexpected

From menu planning/shopping system, you might think I’m a control freak. Well, that would be partially true, but I also love getting to the market and finding out that something new is available. If I’ve planned my menu right (see below), I may be able to add something unexpected into our menu. Or maybe it becomes a lunch snack. I can also make a note of it and work it in next week. The point is, don’t make yourself so controlled that you miss the beauty of the market.

Tip Five–Incorporate Some “Go-To” Flexible Recipes

There are some recipes (roast chicken) that are pretty straightforward, simple and easy on the brain. I like to have some other, flexible, veggie-loving recipes that are always in rotation and can use almost anything in the refrigerator.¬†These recipes are a¬†good way to¬†use up what’s left at the end of the week and a great way to incorporate those unexpected purchases.¬†Here are some examples:

  • Stir-fry (one protein + chopped up veggies + onion + a whole grain)
  • Quiche/frittata¬†(basic quiche/frittata recipe + 1 c. vegetables)
  • Pizza (one whole wheat crust + 2 c. chopped veggies + sauce/olive oil + cheese)
  • Roasted vegetables and pasta (16 oz. pasta + 2-3 c. roasted veggies + sauce/olive oil + cheese)
  • Saladpalooza (bowl of washed greens + assortment of chopped veggies + 1 protein + dressing)
  • Soup (4 c. chicken stock + pasta/rice + 3 c. saut√©ed vegetables)
  • Quesadillas¬†(2 tortillas + fat-free¬†refried¬†beans + 1 c. saut√©ed vegetables + cheese + salsa)

Tip Six–Shop With a List

Now that I’ve addressed flexibility, once you have your list, stick to it unless you are POSITIVE you will use it. Back away from the impulse purchases that have no relationship to your menu. If you don’t have a menu that will work, say, rutabegas in, then do not buy them. I mean it…scoot, scoot!

Tip Seven–Make Use of What You Have

Americans throw away an obsene¬†amount of food each year. Sometimes it happens that I get a huge amount of one vegetable in our Produce Box and it’s more than we can eat right away. Or maybe we have a last-minute change of plans and we don’t end up eating all our meals. In this case, the freezer is your best friend. Rather than throw away chicken because we didn’t make a big dinner, I can roast or bake it while we’re finishing up homework, take it off the bone and freeze it for later. Or, like last week when I received WAY more spring onions that we needed, I chopped them up, bagged them in freezer bags in 1 cup servings and froze them for later. Greens, like collards, mustard greens, kale and turnip greens, can also be cooked and frozen to eat later.

Tip Eight–Stock Up and Put It Up

Eating locally does not mean surviving on nothing but sweet potatoes and collard greens all winter. You can enjoy local peaches in February, delicious local corn in December and turnips in July. You just have to plan ahead. We’re new at this, but it’s already become a very enjoyable part of our farmer’s market trips. Food preservation is one of the oldest culinary skills around and guess what? It’s fun! You have three options when preserving your precious bounty–canning, freezing and drying. When fruits and vegetables are at their peak, stock up (prices are also lowest at this time) and save those wonderful flavors for later. You will save money and get high quality, delicious food all year-long!

Tip Nine–Ask. And Then Ask Again!

The local food network in my area (and I’m willing to bet in yours, too) is a close-knit¬†community of farmers, chefs, bakers, cheese makers, etc. If you want something and can’t find it, ask around. I was amazed at what I learned once I started asking. Somehow in my mind, I thought that our local food producers would be highly secretive and competitive. While there may be some competition going on out there, the people I have found are pretty straight up. If I want something they don’t have, they don’t try to sell me something else. They tell me who has it. Sometimes they’ll actually walk me down to the other vendor and help me out. Crazy. And lovely.

Tip Ten–Realize That Sometimes You’ll Blow It

I’m human. And I love seafood. So when fresh seafood starts coming to our local market in the early spring, I go a little crazy. And going a little crazy usually means I blow my budget. Maybe even by a lot. I think this spring we had an entire week of nothing but seafood. At the end of the day, though, it’s like a fun celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of lighter foods on our menu. As long as it’s not a usual occurence, we’re ok. We make up for it over the next few weeks and we calm down our purchases. So stay on budget, but don’t let an occasional celebration ruin your joy.

What are your tips and strategies?? I’d love to hear them!

Day 123–Local Meal Planning On a Budget

An Italian shopping list for groceries.

I am a “list person”.

Not to label myself or anything, but I do love a good list. To do lists, errand lists, shopping lists and yes, menu lists. There is something very satisfying about crossing off something on a list. Also, I am slightly absent-minded (I prefer to think of this as “intensely focused”), so lists help me keep track of things that might otherwise get overlooked. I also keep a list of blog topics. And one that has risen to the top is how we plan our meals around local foods. A friend posted in wondering about this as well, so now seems a good time to dive in.

We don’t have a lot of parameters around our eating, but we do have some loose rules for our journey:

  1. At least 75% of our food should come from local sources.
  2. We should keep spending to $100 or under
  3. No processed foods, unless absolutely necessary (see “Girl Scout Cookies”)

In the second week of our journey, I had a major “uh-oh” moment. I had carefully crafted a list of recipes I wanted to try based on what I thought might be available at the farmer’s market. As it turns out, almost nothing I wanted was available, so I ended up buying all manner of random food and then trying to create a week of meals out of it. If you’re up for that challenge, go for it, but it was a stressful learning experience for me and I learned that I need more order than that. I’ve developed a system over the past four months and I’ll share it with you. It probably sounds more complicated than it really is. I’m not recommending anyone adopt my system, but it works for me. And if it works for me, I am probably more likely to be successful, so finding a system that works for YOU will do the same. Here goes:

Thursday–On Thursdays I read emails and Twitter posts from our local farmers markets and farmers so I know what will be available over the weekend. These posts help so much. I highly recommend getting on the e-mail lists of any farmers markets or farmers near you. I can find out what vendors will be available, what they will have, what’s coming up soon and (if I want) I can even order specific products or cuts of meat ahead of time. I start making my draft menu for the next week at this point.

A note about our weekly menu: I try to make sure we have a balance of vegetables and proteins throughout the week. This doesn’t always work out–some weeks have been heavy on seafood and others heavy on chicken or pork–but mostly it works out ok.

Friday–On Fridays, I get an email from The Produce Box letting me know what is in the various boxes for the next week. I usually go ahead and order my box on Friday and, based on what is going to be in my box, I tweak my menu and make a shopping list of the remaining items I will need. Since what I get in my Produce Box is similar to what is available in the market, there aren’t usually surprises here.

Saturday–On Saturday, I go to the farmer’s market (sometimes I do this on Friday, but whatever). Since I know pretty much in advance what will be available to me, I pick up what I need¬†as well as¬†any orders I have placed for meat, fish, etc. While I’m at the market, I make a list (!) of new items that are available or anything interesting that I might consider for next week. Then I go to Trader Joes and get whatever else I need.

Unless something happens and I forget something on the list, I go shopping once a week. Period. And I stick to my list. This has been hard for me, but I try to make myself do it.

So far, this system has worked out well. It does mean that I spend a LOT more time thinking about food. I don’t mind this, but if you don’t like to cook or if you don’t want to sit around and think through a weekly menu, this may not make you happy. To date, we have been pretty good about not wasting food and making good use of the produce and meat we buy. Some weeks are more successful than others, of course. That’s life.

So that is our system for making sure we have local foods and that we eat what we buy. If you are eating local, how do you plan your meals?

Tomorrow I will post 10 Tips for Successful Locavore Shopping. Yay–a list!!

Day 121–Salads and Salad Dressings

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Our Saladpalooza nights feature whatever ingredients are fresh and handy (and sometimes some leftovers, too!).

 

Our Produce Box last week and this week feature lots of salad greens, so salads are BIG on our menu. We’re trying things like our Saladpalooza night (basically an at-home salad bar), mixing up our salad toppings, and having theme salads (Mexican salad featuring black beans, corn and avocado, etc.). What really makes salads a happy thing in my house, though, is the salad dressing. After reading the ingredients in most grocery store dressings, I decided to try making my own so I can control the ingredients and eliminate unnecessary sugars and high fructose corn syrup. Here is what I have learned about making salad dressing:

  1. It is much easier than I thought.
  2. I have most of the ingredients in my pantry already.
  3. My stick blender (immersion blender) is my greatest ally.

With a few handy ingredients and my little, easy-to-clean stick blender, we have been able to create very delicious dressings in about 5 minutes. On the topic of dressings, I have to give a shout out to another blogger who has given me a lot of inspiration to seek fresh salad ideas. A fellow blogger at Creative Noshing has been a great inspiration to me as we explore making different dressings. She has wonderful, fresh, recipes for dressings that have become our staples. Our favorites are homemade ranch dressing and a spicy Asian peanut dressing (which is also amazing on stir fry vegetables).

Salads are a great way to get your vegetables in and this time of year, when lettuce is king, you can get impeccably fresh greens as well as sugar snap peas, carrots, radish and other yummy salad staples. After a winter of cooked greens (not that I mind collards), it’s nice to fill up on salad that does not come from a bag!

Visit Creative Noshing for some superb dressing recipes. Whether you like ranch, Russian dressing, poppy seed or spicy peanut, she probably has a recipe that will have your family happily eating their greens!

Day 120–Starting Week 17–Budget and Menu

I thought I had my menu for the week worked out and then the temperatures dropped back into the upper 50s. Yes, I could still grill outside, but I’m wimping out. Week 16 was supposed to end with grilled beef and vegetable kabobs, but in the end, I made beef stew. It seemed to fit the weather conditions better and (since it was made in the crock pot) it was easier as well. And it made good use of my carrots from the Produce Box last week. And, thanks to someone who signed up for The Produce Box and listed me as their referral, I got a nice $12.00 discount on this week’s box of veggies (THANK YOU whoever you are!!!). This week’s budget looks great at $84.54!!! Here is our budget for this week:

  • The Produce Box (all organic this week! double lettuce, peas, onions, swiss chard, kale, garlic, rutabega): $14
  • Fickle Creek Farms (Boston butt): $20
  • Coon Rock Farm (smoked bacon): $10
  • Farmer’s Market, misc. (cucumbers, tomatoes): $5.00
  • Trader Joes (red wine vinegar, gruyere cheese, mozzerella cheese, frozen fruit, yogurt, organic half and half): $32.54
  • Great Harvest Bread Co. (honey whole wheat sandwich bread): FREE!
  • La Farm Bakery (Italian bread): $3.00

What’s on the menu of eats this week? Here it is! I’m still trying to figure out what to do with rutabegas…

  • Sunday–Roasted beet salad, bread
  • Monday–Crock pot pulled pork barbeque, salad
  • Tuesday–Asparagus and gruyere quiche, salad
  • Wednesday–Swiss chard and mushrooms with eggs
  • Thursday–BLT sandwiches, salad, carrots
  • Friday–Leftover cleanup night
  • Saturday–Family pizza challenge, salad

Here’s hoping for warmer temperatures and some sunshine!! Have a terrific and healthy week!

Day 117–A Locavore’s Lunch–Sarah Cecilia Good Food Company

We love buying our fresh, locally produced vegetables, meats, cheeses, etc. and cooking at home, but sometimes the drive to cook just isn’t there. And sometimes dinner is so good that we don’t have leftovers for lunch the next day. I found myself hungry and bereft of lunch options yesterday while also visiting the newly reopened Downtown Farmer’s Market in Raleigh. I considered buying enough basic ingredients to make my own lunch, but then I came across the Sarah Cecilia Good Food Company Booth and decided to let someone make my lunch for me! I have seen the Sarah Cecilia booth at the Western Wake Farmer’s Market, but usually I’ve just finished breakfast and am not feeling up to buying prepared food. This day, however, was different. I was hungry!

The Sarah Cecilia Good Food Company is a small business run by Kim Hunter and Kelly Hatch. The name of their company comes from their two moms–Sarah and Cecilia. Sweet, no? Their dedication to preparing locally sourced, sustainably produced foods in healthy and nutritious ways drives their budding catering and food delivery business. They are present at many of the local farmer’s markets in the Triangle area and they also deliver meals to your home or office! I understand that Kim and Kelly are also interested in opening a cafe in Raleigh–I’m looking forward to that!

For lunch, I had the Asian noodles with greens, cilantro, chicken and onion. Wow, was it good. Flavorful and healthy and bursting with all kinds of fresh flavors. A nice portion for lunch, too and at $6, it didn’t break the piggy bank. The other option today was shrimp rolls, which sounded good also.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to find a healthy, local lunch while shopping for vegetables and that I could support a local, woman-owned business. And I felt virtuous enough with my super healthy lunch to have some strawberry cobbler later ūüôā

Day 114–Strawberry Cobbler

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Our experiment with strawberry cobbler was a great hit!

A ripe strawberry is a magnificent thing.

We could eat strawberries all day long–in smoothies, in jam, as a shortcake, as fruit leather and just plain straight up. And then, there is cobbler.

Cobblers are one of those regional dishes that spark great discussion and debate. Some are very cakey and light, some are juicy and topped with some crispy strudel topping and others are full of cinnamon and oats. I grew up with cobblers of sweetened fruit and cinnamon topped with a brown sugar/oat topping that was a bit crispy. I still love that, especially with apples. The cobbler I make these days, however–the one that produces an eager twinkle in my husband’s eye–is total creamy comfort food. Our cobbler is a simple, southern cobbler of fresh fruit and a custardy filling that is very easy, but also impossibly delicious. I’ve always made this with peaches, but this year I wondered if it could make the transition to strawberries. Could it? As it turns out, yes it can! This cobbler is wonderful warm from the oven and served with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream (butter pecan is good, too!). This also reheats well, so you can have dessert for several nights after just one night of baking.

Strawberry Cobbler

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup self rising flour
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 quart fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced into halves (you can substitute 1 quart of your favorite fruit here)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, mix together milk, sugar and flour. Set aside.
  3. Melt butter in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan. Add strawberries.
  4. Slowly pour the flour mixture on top of the berries and melted butter.
  5. Sprinkle additional sugar over the top (optional).
  6. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Serve with fresh whipped cream or good quality ice cream.

Day 113–Starting Week 16–Budget and Menu

This week, the farmer’s markets were just teeming with people and chock full of wonderful strawberries and spring vegetables. I didn’t buy as much at the market as last week because we now have our weekly Produce Box delivery. Still, it was great to be out seeing the farmers so busy after a quiet winter. Our total for the week was $101.65–just $1.65 over our weekly goal. Not too bad!!

  • The Produce Box (sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, strawberries, cucumbers): $22.00
  • Rainbow Farms (roasting chicken): $13.00
  • Farmhand Foods (kabob beef): $15.00
  • Farmer’s Market–various (onions, sugar snap peas, asparagus, cucumbers, tomatoes): $18.00
  • Trader Joes (organic soy milk, rice, frozen fruit, bananas, mushrooms, Ezekiel bread, cous¬†cous): $33.65

What are we having this week for $101.65? Here is our weekly menu:

  • Sunday–Roast fresh chicken, sweet potato wedges, roasted asparagus spears, buttermilk biscuits, strawberry cobbler
  • Monday–Curry chicken and spinach over whole wheat cous¬†cous
  • Tuesday–Pasta salad with roasted vegetables
  • Wednesday–Sandwiches with leftover pasta salad
  • Thursday–Veggie stir fry over rice
  • Friday–Leftover cleanup night
  • Saturday–Grilled beef and vegetable kabob¬†with whole wheat cous¬†cous

Have a terrific and delicious week!

Day 111–What’s Fresh At the Market?

Although I know that not everyone reading this blog is from North Carolina, I’ve had a couple of requests to share information about what is currently available at the farmer’s markets. Since I’m there anyway, I’m glad to do that!

I just returned from the farmer’s market on my lunch break and that place is hopping, I tell you! During the winter, I had no problem driving up and finding a prime parking spot. Today, I had to circle around to the back of the market to find any available spots. Lots of good eats today! Ready? Here goes:

  • Strawberries
  • Asparagus (green and purple)
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Fresh spring peas (shelled)
  • Onions
  • Lettuce–red leaf, green leaf, butter
  • Greens–mustard, kale, swiss chard, spinach
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes (hothouse)–mostly “Trust” variety
  • Cucumbers (hothouse)
  • Parsnips
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Honey
  • Herbs
  • Bedding plants
  • Garden plants (vegetable and herb plants)

In addition to some fresh asparagus, I scored a fresh roasting chicken from my friends at Rainbow Farm. Yay! Can’t wait for Sunday supper!

Our weather here is not supposed to be great this weekend (but we do need the rain badly). Still, I’m hoping to get out and do some strawberry picking with my family so we can make more jam! Have a great weekend at your farmer’s markets and get those fresh veggies!