Friday, December 24, 2010

Local Holiday Feast

A beautiful bright sunny, but cold, Christmas Eve here in Maryland. It called for a walk at the State Park.

This Christmas our meal will be the most local we've ever had for a holiday, I think. It's pretty easy to get more local "than average" by buying your turkey from a Maryland farm. We've been doing that for a few years, all with great results. But it does get more challenging when you move the sides, it seems. Our CSA has provided us with local Fall vegetables for the first time, so suddenly mashed potatoes and other sides just "are" local. But cranberry sauce, that's a tricky one. I've decided to stew some of the sour cherries that we picked and froze this Summer. So, we'll have our turkey from Copper Penny Farm, mashed potatoes and squash from Everblossom Farm, maybe sweet potatoes stored from the Farmer's market, sour cherry sauce. For dessert, the plan is to make a pumpkin roulade (like a pumpkin jelly roll with creamy ginger filling). The recipe, from the Barefoot Contessa, calls for marscapone, which I could have made, but I found myself somewhat lazy this last week, so the cheese comes from France, I think. We have started to get our dairy products from South Mountain Creamery through their delivery service, so the whipped cream necessary for all good things is from Maryland. (We've only been using them for about a month, but our really happy with their products. Their butter is excellent European style, and they deliver a wide range of items beyond their dairy products, including outstanding goat cheese from Maryland Firefly farms.)

And the egg whites from the last of our farm eggs have made peppermint meringues! Not the most perfect shape, I'm afraid, but the taste is fabulous.

Merry Christmas !

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter CSA Pick Up 3

We received the third installment of our winter CSA on the 18th of December; this week it was a full share for me. Ever since the pie I'd made at Thanksgiving, I'd had visions of Blue Hubbard Squash dancing in my head. I'd been hoping one would find its way into my goodie bag this week. Sadly, no. There was winter squash, but not pumpkin-type squash: butternut. The full share got three butternut squash this time, which over a two week period is normally fine. But, as I had had hoarding issues during the early Fall months at the Farmer's Market, one thing I am plum full of is butternut squash. I've been working it, but as of Saturday, I had six. Luckily, I've been scrounging the recipe books for butternut recipes and it's quite amazing how much variety there is. I guess I mentioned that in a previous post, that I'd located soup recipes where butternut squash acted as a medium for sundried tomatoes or such. It really works quite well. Last night, though, I simply roasted a few of the squash and smashed them with fresh ginger and a little orange juice; a tasty simple side.

So, in the next few weeks, I have to work on potatoes, as we got two quarts of those, and I still have a little from, yes, the market. That shouldn't be too hard. I've already finished the two nice big heads of lettuce we got this week, using up more green peppers and a few of the carrots. We got a ton of carrots this pick up, but they last forever and are fabulous for stock, so no worries.

I also hoarded garlic over the summer and early Fall. I love garlic and cook most days with it. The garlic you get from the grocery store seems to turn rubbery and sprout within a few days of entering the front door. Isn't that funny how that is? It looks fine there, but then takes a nose dive in the comfort of your home. Like those herb plants??! They are all nice and perky, and you think, oh, much better to have the plant for $2.49 than to have just a small package for $2.29, but within a day of getting home, the bright and cheery plant is brown and failing. It's a conspiracy, I'm sure. So the garlic conspiracy led me to hoard enough garlic for the winter months from local farmers. I'm storing them in brown paper bags in the basement so they stay dry and a cooler. But now I'm also getting a few beautiful heads of garlic from the CSA each time, making it close to a steady-state equation. Lots of garlic. Maybe I'll have to find a garlic chicken recipe or something like that.

So, here's the haul list for the 3rd pickup:

Leeks - one very large bunch
Onions - two quarts
Garlic - two heads
Potatoes - two quarts
Carrots - a big ole bag
Winter squash - three butternut
Lettuce - two large heads
Kale - one very large bunch
Fresh herbs - sage and thyme

I have the least experience with kale. Last time, I waited too long and it had wilted quite a bit, so I didn't have much to use. I just threw it into a pasta sausage thing. I'll have to find something more creative this time, and before it dries up. Maybe potato and kale soup, but I was going to make corn chowder with corn from the summer and the potatoes.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eating Animals from Farmer Jane with Radical Homemakers

Three of the books I have read in recent weeks related to local living are Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes, and Farmer Jane by Temra Costa. They are all worth a read.

The latter of the three retells the story of a number of women farmers across the United States who are leading figures, in the authors estimation, in the local food movement. In many ways it is similar then to the largest thread of this blog, which carries the personal stories of people who are opting out of the conventional means to get or grow food. The stories in the book are remarkably similar to those I've encountered locally, including pursuing biodynamic farming in a locale you wouldn't expect it (Kansas, as I recall), humane animal husbandry, and farmers who have come to their profession through a wide range of paths. One of the youngest is a graduate from an elite university, who returned to rural Oregon following graduation to pursue farming with her sister and mother. The biographies include a number of innovative approaches beyond the more widely known Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), like school groups and farm-focused educational events. For those who like to learn about others experiences, it's a good read. Beyond the personal aspects, the book also gives you a sense that the momentum to provide an alternative food supply, one that is environmental, humane, and plentiful, is increasing. You might argue that the concepts do not scale and, in particular, locations like New York City that essentially ship in all of their consumables certainly could never be satisfied. That might be the case but there are also a growing number of publications supporting vertical farming for city environments, including a number of books. It's not something I know much about, including whether those proposals are chemical-full or chemical-free, but they certainly exist. Since I have no interest in living in NYC, I've really only concentrated on what I can influence, both personally and through spreading awareness. Farmer Jane is a light, feel-good read that is inspirational and motivating. I did grow a bit weary toward the latter part of the book, but overall thought it was great, and picked it back up a few weeks later with renewed interest.

Radical Homemakers, on the other hand, is an intense relatively heavy philosophical read. This is a new book by the author of the well-known (in certain circles) cookbook, The Grassfed Gourmet. It argues that in order to have a sustainable local economy, meaning one that is environmental and humane in all common meanings, someone needs to be at home. She too provides a number of biographies, all of people who have embraced the philosophies of radical homemakers by having one, or sometimes two, people at home, outside of the wage economy. Shannon Hayes argues that the Housewife Syndrome accurately described by Betty Friedan in the seminal Feminine Mystique is due not to the fact that homemaking itself is unrewarding, but that the adoption of a consumer economy over the twentieth century created a negative spiral in which the challenging parts of true homemaking are lost and the ability to have a happy and healthy home are forfeited. Agree or disagree, her coverage of the economic changes over the last 150 years in this country and hypotheses of their impacts are thought provoking. It largely countered what I had been raised to believe, it questioned my assumptions, and as such, gave me pause. But I found myself nodding my head in firm agreement with the supposition that traditional homemaking skills are themselves challenging, intellectually and otherwise, and rewarding. I personally take great satisfaction in being able to care for myself and my family, and to be able to grow food, make cheese, or service the water equipment are all enriching to me. And I'm able to do them without political infighting. All the better.  I recommend this book for the introspection opportunity, and her cookbooks in order to cook grassfed meat correctly (very important). The writing is heavy enough here that I fell off during the last third of the book, wishing in this case that there was maybe more detail to the biographies, but the philosophical perspective of the first half was worth it.

Thinking of cooking meat and introspection, Eating Animals is a lightly written look at the heavy material of animal husbandry. By lightly written, I mean that it is engaging and relatively easy to read, without substantial references to other literature, history, or philosophical works. But the material is heavy and the challenges to your conventional thinking great. In the Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan focuses on the health and environmental impacts of conventional meat, particularly beef, production. From an animal welfare perspective, he primarily considers the life of the animal, the way in which they are treated, the space they have to live, and the humanity that is afforded them. He follows the life of one cow and highlights for the reader the manure-filled paddocks where the animals wade in feces, with little room to move and forced to eat corn, a vegetable their body was not intended to consume. He leaves off at the slaughterhouse. Jonathan Safran Foer doesn't. He peers more deeply into the life of livestock and poultry, focusing not on human health as Pollan did, but on animal welfare, and he follows the path from birth to slaughter. The set up for the story is that he wants to answer for himself whether it is ethical to eat animals so that he can convey that decision in confidence to his son. Everyone wants to know, what does he decide?  I won't be coy; for himself, he decides to become a vegetarian, but in looking at farming practices, he also decides that small ethical farms are things he wants to support. He's not against eating animals in principle, but is instead convinced that if people understood truly how the animals were being treated and how they reacted to this treatment, they'd be horrified and would force change. Part of what he writes about is pretty gruesome, but if you do eat meat, this is probably important to know. He asks some good questions. And he provides some great history and biographical stories. At the end of the book, I felt even more resolved in my decision not to purchase conventional meat for our household; we haven't done so in over 18 months now. He's right: knowing how conventional animals are raised, even in the best environments without cruelty, I don't personally want to be a part of it. But, he also caught me cold on the issue of restaurants. He's not tolerant of the person who makes home purchases one way, but gives themselves a pass when they are out to eat. guilty. If you like to challenge your own way of thinking, or you want to know the skinny on the chicken you've got on your plate, this is worth the read and it will only take a few days.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winter CSA installment 1 - the aftermath

Well, I started this draft shortly after we got the first install of our winter CSA with the intent of telling what I did with our produce for that two week period. Now I lost the thread, and I'm halfway through the second batch of produce from the CSA. We'll pretend as if it was all planned. 

The way I've got this CSA arranged, I get a full share every other pick-up and a half share on the alternate pick-ups. So, the first load was quite a lot of food. It certainly makes you plan in advance to either consume it, "put it up" for later, or make expensive compost. While I'm quite the fan of composting, I'm not a fan of expensive compost. I hate things to go to waste, so I either wanted to eat it or freeze it before the food went bad. For the most part, I met that goal. 

Unfortunately, as I think I mentioned before, I had already been hoarding from the Fall farmer's market. This left me with a lot of butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and potatoes. On the flip side, it's caused me to experiment with butternut squash recipes, in particular, in a way I've never done before. I can now make some mean, and fiercely different tasting, squash soups. My favourites so far are a butternut-sundried tomato soup, in which the squash is a medium for sundried tomatoes, and a butternut-apple-ginger, in which the squash is a medium for ginger. Both are outstanding. 

So, here's the weirder things I used stuff for.. well, at least, weird to me because it was a first. i have little experience with beets. Like almost none. Mark Bittman suggests making a Swiss Roesti from them -- essentially a giant hashbrown of beets and parmesan. This was truly excellent, though burned in parts. Where it calls for a nonstick pan, I think they really mean that. But I don't have one, so it wasn't elegant, but it tasted great. I chalked the charred parts up to learning, and since they were the same colour as the beets, you couldn't pick them out (until you bit in). The other beet recipe was for beet greens and bacon, and it came from the farm. I just got fresh bacon from my 1/2 hog I ordered from Copper Penny Farm, so I had the perfect combo. I had no idea how well those flavours go together. I thought the beet greens would be a bit bitter, like chard or another green, but it wasn't. 

The celeriac was a trip. I mashed them as the farm suggested. It was like mild mashed celery, which is great if you like celery and weird if you don't. Luckily, I liked it and so did my son. My husband probably preferred it over the beets, which he wouldn't fein to try. 

I never really thought brussel sprouts were anything to write home about, and when I saw that there were aphids in the stalks, I almost went the compost route. It looked like a lot of work for not a lot of gain to me. But I decided that I'd cook the sprouts that i could relatively easily debug, and compost the rest. In the end, I think I cooked about 3/4 of the sprouts, but they were really small when I peeled off the buggy parts. I roasted them and used them in a pastas primavera. The flavour was sweet and subtle; I don't recall that being the case with any other sprouts I've eaten, so I'm not sure if it was because they were fresher, smaller, or a different variety. 

Now, the blue hubbard squash.. that's some good stuff... I cooked mine into two things: pie and soup. Both were  fabulous. The pie was rich and sweet, the soup very similar to German kerbis (pumpkin) soup. The only recipe I found for this squash was the pie on, but it was great. 

I'm trying my hand for the first time at lactose-fermenting with the carrots. I'm using a recipe for ginger carrots from Nourishing Traditions that combines shredded carrots, ginger, salt and whey. The mixture ferments at room temperature for several days and you end up with a sour, nutritious gingery carrot side - at least, that is the theory. 

I think the only thing so far to overwhelm me is the green peppers. I've received something like 10 of them, and I'm just not a fan. so, I blanched and froze most of them. I'm sure they'll come in handy somewhere, someday. 

The first install was: (the second was very similar)
potatoes - 2 qts.
sweet potatoes - 3 large, 5 small
onions - 1 qt - these are easy to use up
leeks - 1 bunch - I froze some, put some in soup
celery - 1 bunch - froze for stock making
parsley - one large bunch - still have some of this
sage - 1 bunch - dried some, used some in various recipes
parsnips - 3 large (these store a long time and are awesome) - I ended up freezing several of these, roasting others
carrots - 1 medium bunch (ditto as parsnips) 
squash - 2 acorn, 1 butternut, 1 large blue hubbard - used these all 
garlic - 2 heads
brussel sprouts - 2 stems, about 4 cups - pasta primavera with leeks and fromage blanc
celeriac - several,  about 3 cups - smashed celeriac and potatoes - interesting
chard - 1 large bunch (probably am going to blanch and freeze this soon)  - blanched two bunches now
beets, red - 1 large bunch with greens (will blanch and freeze the greens; roast and freeze the beets)
green peppers - 5 small