Archive for the ‘Eat Local Challenge’ Category

Last Frost Date

April 10, 2011

It’s important for locavores to be aware of the agricultural cycle in their vicinity.  First and last frost dates are important to that cycle.  For the record, I am recording her my own “last frost” date:  on April 5, 2011 we moved the last items out of our chest freezer and into our refrigerator’s attached freezer, and unplugged and defrosted the chest freezer for the season.

There was some chard, corn, broccoli, carrots, tomato puree, and applesauce.  They joined mashed butternut, pumpkin puree, raspberry conserve, more applesauce, and vegetable stock already in our attached freezer.  (Our freezer is not a place of locavore purity.  It also contains commercial packages of veggie burgers, tortellini, etc.)  We still have 2 very large butternut squashes and 1 blue hubbard squash.  Were it not for the new winter farmer’s market, we would have finished our freezer stash long ago and resorted to buying grocery store produce.

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Soup and Salad

February 2, 2011

The winter farmer’s market has made it possible to have salad!  One of the farms, and now I’m forgetting its name, is growing salad mix in unheated greenhouses.  The leaves are tiny and delicate, and packed with flavor and nutrients.  It’s a real treat, and it has become a weekly treat, too.  Here it is in a salad with beets stored from our summer CSA and local eggs from a nearby store.  The bread slice is also from the winter farmer’s market.

plate of salad

At $4 for a 5 ounce clamshell, the salad mix is an affordable luxury.  If we hadn’t been eating the seasons for so long, it would be easy to take such a thing for granted.   I do wish there were an alternative to the plastic clamshell, though.  If there’s one guiding principle to my food choices lately, it’s been minimizing packaging.

Today was another snow day, so I made minestrone soup.  I simmered a pound of dried garbanzos, then scooped most of them into a storage container to make other meals.  The remaining beans and all of their cooking water was the beginning of my soup.  I added a large grocery store can of diced tomatoes in juice, and spices (basil, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper).  The fun was throwing in a mix of vegetables from our freezer:  bell peppers, zucchini, corn, and beet greens, along with carrots from the winter farmer’s market.  It was a beautiful rainbow of soup.  I wish I had taken a photo!

Inaugural Winter Market

January 9, 2011

We were very excited this week to go to the inaugural day of the local winter farmer’s market.  The only market within the reach of the subway (a mile by bus or walking from Davis Square), it’s in the Somerville Armory.  It runs from yesterday through the end of March, on Saturdays, from 10 to 2.

We went about 10:30, half an hour after it opened, and it was already crowded and getting more so.  There was lots of congestion as people mingled socially and browsed the wares.  We were among the many pushing strollers, which added to the navigational challenge.   Soon the preschoolers and their parents took over the mezzanine for running around.  It seemed a perfect arrangement.

The mix of vendors was good.  There was one orchard (Apex) selling apples and two farms (Winter Moon and Enterprise)  selling vegetables.  We bought a half peck of braeburn apples, on the recommendation of the sellers that they are among the last picked.  They’re excellent in both flavor and texture.  Next week, I plan to try their empire apples.

Winter Moon was selling only their own produce, all storage crops of roots, squashes, and dried popping corn.  I was very pleased with my $3 bag of a bit more than 3 cups of ruby red popping corn.  The kernels are red, but the popped corn is white like any other popcorn.  Enterprise Farm was selling the same mix of items that they include in their winter CSA:  some stuff from their greenhouses and storage, some stuff from other New England farms’ greenhouses and storage, and lots of fresh items from the Carolinas and Florida.  All of it was clearly labeled as to origin.  They had the longest shopping line of any stand I saw.

I expect and hope that demand this year will be high enough that the same and other farms will invest in storage, and more local vegetables and fruits will be available next winter.

As a vegetarian, I didn’t pay much attention to the meat stands, but I did notice that there were 3:  one with fish, one with red meat, and one that might have been poultry.  Reseska Apiaries was there selling honey and beeswax candles.  Apex Orchards also had some honey.  Cook’s Farm, who was mostly there as a bakery, had some maple syrup and applesauce, too.  I saw a total of 3 bakery stands.  I guess it’s nice to have them there, if I’m shopping for an entire meal, but it still feels weird to me that bakeries masquerade as farms.  In other sweets, Taza Chocolates, based nearby in Somerville, had a table.

It was the first modern farmer’s market in Massachusetts history to have wine vendors doing tastings and sales, because a new law finally allows them to.  There were 3 wineries at the market.

Other vendors are on the publicized list.  Maybe I just didn’t see everyone, or maybe more will be there in future weeks.

For more information:
Somerville Winter Market Vendors List
Massachusetts Winter Farmer’s Markets List

Two Recipes

August 29, 2010

Cooking from a CSA is deceptively difficult.  After all, you get a beautiful bounty every week of the sort of high-quality ingredients you can’t go wrong with.  But they rarely come in familiar combinations.  We now have a stable of stand-bys (and you can find most of them in old blog posts).  Sometimes we make things up.  But when we’re stumped or making something new, we often look on-line or in cookbooks, find something close to what we want, and improvise from there.  Here are two such recipes from this summer:

July Scafata

We needed to use fava beans.  We get them one or two weeks each summer from our CSA.  We didn’t want to let them go moldy in our refrigerator again, but we couldn’t remember what we’d done with them before, nor whether we’d liked it.  Looking on line, we found that scafata was the best match for our ingredients.  It was definitely tasty enough to repeat.  Aside from shelling the fava beans, which would have to happen no matter what cooked with them, it’s easy enough to repeat, too.  I couldn’t tell you whose website the original came from, it shows up in multiple places, but if they give a source, it’s La Cucina Delle Regioni D’Italia: Umbria, by Antonella Santolini.  Here’s our version, which modified both ingredients and cooking times:

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook 10 minutes:

  • 3 T olive oil
  • 2 T minced garlic (would have been 1/2 C onion if I could eat onion, because that was in the original recipe and we got onions from our CSA, we just didn’t take them home)
  • 2 lbs fava beans, shelled and peeled (you could easily substitute a 10 oz box of frozen lima beans)

Add and cook about 5 minutes more:

  • 5 medium carrots, sliced

Add and cook about 10 minutes more:

  • 2 small or 1 large bulb fennel, chopped
  • Salt to taste

Add and cook about 5 minutes more:

  • 1 large can (28 0z) diced tomatoes (canned because we made this in July when we had fava beans and had run out of frozen tomatoes from last year, rather than waiting until August when we get more tomatoes)
  • Water as needed to make stew (I don’t remember whether we needed any)

Add and cook until wilted:

  • 1 bunch beet greens (because that was what we had, although we often have chard, which is what the original recipe called for)

Serve with some sort of starch.  Enjoy!

Refrigerator Sour Pickles

Because we needed something to do with lots of cucumbers, when we weren’t getting any other salad ingredients.  This is very loosely based on the recipe for 48-hour Sour Pickles in Putting Food By (see my References and Resources page for the full listing).

Mix together for brine:

  • 1 C white vinegar
  • 3 C water
  • 1/4 C salt
  • 1/4 C sugar

Pour enough brine to cover (but it won’t because the cucumbers will float) over:

  • 3 large cucumbers, sliced
  • garlic: 1 heaping tablespoon of jarred, or a few cloves pressed or chopped

Cover and refrigerate.  Best about 2 days later.

Fresh Milk, Very Locally Produced

June 11, 2010

I have new appreciation for cows.  That’s all I have to say about milk; I just couldn’t resist the title.

When I saw our CSA farmer at a market a couple of weeks ago, I asked about possibly picking up from a different location the week that I finally gave birth.  He drops off at different locations on different nights.  He has a general policy against changing dropoffs on a week-by-week basis, but when I asked, he said he makes exceptions for births and deaths, so it was fine.  Sure enough, we were in the hospital on pick-up day, so we sent an email the night before, and arranged to go to a different pickup later in the week.  On the new veggie day, all of us piled into the car.  Our baby enjoyed the ride to the pickup and our farmer stopped distributing veggies for a minute or so to come over to the car and meet the newest consumer of his food (processed through me, of course).

When we got home and unpacked our veggies, we found that we had received: 2 bunches each of kohlrabi, turnips, beets, broccoli, cilantro, chard, red leaf lettuce, bib lettuce, and romaine lettuce – a total of 18 items!  With a new baby, we’re barely able to cook.  We’re hoping that one of our friends who offered us some post-baby help can be convinced that blanching and freezing kohlrabi greens, turnip greens, beet greens, and chard is a good way to help.  (Despite frozen broccoli being so common in the supermarket, it’s one of the worse-freezing of our CSA vegetables.)  Lettuce doesn’t freeze.  Even if we didn’t have a new baby, I’m not sure how we could go through 6 heads of lettuce in a week.  In fact, we still had a head from last week, and don’t even have a full week before our next drop-off.  We had a brainstorm, a way to “save two birds with one bird-saving apparatus” as my brother puts it, for the benefit of the vegetarians.  We loaded up a bag with lettuce, and my husband went around to the neighbors we know.  At each house, he rang the bell, and if the door was answered he said “I came by to let you know we have a new baby girl and far too much lettuce, would you like some?”  Meanwhile, I watched from the bay window of our living room, holding our baby.  Over and over, I saw my husband receive congratulations and our neighbors receive lettuce.

First CSA Drop-Off

June 2, 2010

Our first CSA drop-off of the year was yesterday (a week earlier than normal), and it’s a bumper year for greens.  Our farmer tells prospective members to expect 5-7 items a week in a small share and 8-11 items a week in a large share.   We get a large share, and this week we got 16 items!  We’re feeling a bit inundated.

We got a small share for many years before upgrading to a large share 3 years ago.  What made us change was the combination of learning how to freeze vegetables for winter use, and really wanting our local eating to be year-round.  That was when I started this blog, to track how it went and share what we’d learned.  I explained more in my first post.

Over the 7 years we’ve belonged to a CSA, we’ve learned how to prepare various obscure vegetables.  We’ve found some new favorites, and found that favorites change depending on the year (growing conditions?) and the preparations we use.  We’ve learned how to freeze vegetables (detailed in an earlier post), what freezes well (or what cooks well after being frozen), and how to predict how much of our bounty we should freeze (because we won’t get around to eating it fresh).

Which takes me to this week.  There’s no way we can eat 16 bunches of greens in one week, at least not in any way that leaves us happy to repeat the process next week.  And why should we?  We very much enjoy our home-frozen greens when we eat them in January.

This week we got 2 bunches each of red leaf lettuce, bibb lettuce, and pea tendrils – none of which freeze.  I’ve heard good things about romaine lettuce in stir-fries, but not bibb or red leaf.  We’ll eat a lot of salad this week, but we’ll also revert to one of the best tricks for surplus: giving away at least 1 of our 5 heads of lettuce.  Pea tendril leaves can be enjoyed raw in salads, or get cooked into stir-fries or any dish that uses peas, because the flavors are so similar.  To do so, just pull the leaves off their vines.  The flavor is so nice and de-leafing so time-consuming that we usually eat them as finger food, grabbing a stem and munching leaves, flowers, and the edible parts of the stem, until all that’s left are un-chewable parts for compost.

We also got 2 bunches each of bok choy, mizuna, chicory, kale, and spinach.  If we didn’t have so much lettuce, we’d enjoy some of the spinach raw in salads.  Mizuna and chicory can go into raw salads, adding interest with their strong flavors – mizuna is spicy and chicory is bitter – but only in small amounts. 

Bok choy is generally a stir-fry green around here, but sometimes goes raw into cold peanut noodles.  My peanut noodle sauce involves throwing stuff into a blender until I’m happy with the texture and flavor:  peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger paste, and chili oil.  That gets tossed with the noodles while they’re still hot, and sometimes sesame seeds also.  Sometimes I add the vegetables at the same time, so they get coated with sauce, but sometimes I add them later, so they don’t get wilty the hot noodles.  Scallions, carrots, bok choy, napa cabbage, and romaine lettuce are all good peanut noodle vegetables.

Bok choy does not freeze, and mizuna (also a stir-fry green around here) does not freeze well, so I predict a few stir-fries in our future this week.  They probably won’t go into stir-fries together, as they have affinities for different sauces. The bok choy will probably be joined by some of the turnips we still have in our refrigerator from last fall.  Both mizuna and bok choy/turnips will be stir-fried with tofu cooked firm, something I should have learned to do much sooner than I did.  The trick is to not use oil until after the tofu is browned!  Cut the tofu into large bite-sized pieces, and arrange them on the bottom of a large non-stick skillet.  Give them fairly high heat, and flip them over when the first side is browned.  After the second side is browned, add whatever oil, sauces, and seasonings you like, and of course vegetables.

Because we got so much this week, and so many things that just don’t freeze, we then have to freeze whatever we can.  This morning, I froze both bunches of kale and both bunches of chicory.  Having now been through two winters of home-frozen vegetables, I have a much better sense of what’s worth freezing.  Kale cooks almost as well from frozen as it does fresh.  Chicory loses some of its texture – particularly its nice, crunch stems – but retains enough flavor and texture to be worth freezing.  Now or next winter, you can cook it up with oil, garlic, lemon juice, and garbanzo or cannelini beans, to serve over couscous.

I have ambitious plans to turn the spinach into spanikopita filling, sort of a fritata, and freeze that (after baking).  I’ve been good about following my doctor’s recommendation to not eat feta during pregnancy, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy spanikopita all the more after the birth.

Boil Water Orders

May 3, 2010

All of a sudden, everyone in my vicinity is thinking a lot about where our water comes from.  I wonder if this thought about water sources and water security will also make people think about food sources and food security.

It’s making me recall a conversation with a Haitian colleague back in January, shortly after the Haitian earthquake.  He was telling me about the difficulty his still-in-Haiti relatives and friends in the city were having in getting food from the countryside.  It made him think about our food supply here.  He pointed out that a lot of the U.S. is closer to Haiti than California is to Massachusetts.  How would California produce, or any other food, get to us if we had a catastrophe?

This weekend, we did in fact have a catastrophe:  there was a rupture in a joint of the tunnel that brings water from reservoirs in Western Massachusetts to those of us in Greater Boston.   We’re now cut off from our regular water source, the Quabbin Reservoir, and its treatment plants.

Instead, we’re  getting water from a few ponds in the region that serve as backup reservoirs.  It’s good for firefighting and flushing toilets.  Washing hands in it doesn’t leave them clean enough for handling food, so hand washing has to be followed by antibacterial hand sanitizer.  Showering in it is a lot better than being sweaty, as Murphy’s Law kicked in and we got weather in the muggy 80s right when we stopped having potable water.    No, it’s not potable, because it’s not going through the right sort of treatment.  Water from one of the sources is untreated, while water from other sources is going through heavy chlorination.

Lots of people in the area are getting their drinking water by buying it in bottles, with all the environmental costs of shipping and plastic.  We’re not, but it’s not easy.  First we have to kill the bacteria by boiling the water – a rolling boil for at least a minute – then let it cool enough that we can run it through a Brita filter to take out most of that chlorine.

For all the hassle, it’s good to be reminded to appreciate the safety and convenience we tend to take for granted.

New Spring Ritual

April 7, 2010

When we bought our chest freezer in November 2008, we expected to fill it every fall, then empty it over the winter, and unplug it every spring.  It was a functional and environmentally responsible plan.  Not as environmentally responsible as canning, I know, but it works better for vegetables and is a whole lot easier to do, and do safely.

The first year didn’t go as planned.  We didn’t think we had enough vegetables stored, so we jumped at the chance to join a winter CSA.  It was the first year they were running, and over the season, they realized the could go year-round, not just the 3 or 4 months we thought we were committing to.  So the winter CSA didn’t end, and with all the fresh produce coming in, our home-frozen foods continued to rest in the freezer.  We finally quit the year-round CSA just about this time last year.  That gave us a month and a half to eat stored vegetables before the first nearby farmers markets opened for the season.

Today I removed the last four bags of frozen vegetables from our chest freezer, moving them to the freezer attached to our refrigerator.  (For the curious, they were chicory, mizuna, corn, and carrots.)  Then I unplugged the chest freezer and set it up to drain.  That felt good.  The energy savings will help to balance out what our sump pump used during all the long, heavy rains last month.

There were more than a dozen yogurt tubs full of ice still in the freezer, helping it to run more efficiently with less food, so I moved as many as I could into our sink.  Many had cracked from being deep-frozen.  I learned the hard way that freezing needs to begin in the gentler refrigerator-freezer, and then frozen items can be moved to the deeper freeze of the chest freezer.  Cracked yogurt tubs still recycle just fine, and we’ve been eating more than enough yogurt to replenish our supply.

In addition to the carrots, corn, and greens that I moved from our chest freezer, our refrigerator-freezer contains mashed butternut squash, bell peppers, applesauce, and probably some other home-frozen vegetables.  We’ll plan meals around finishing them before this summer’s harvest begins.  We didn’t have enough vegetables frozen to get us through the whole winter.  We’ve bought both raw (I know better than to say fresh) and frozen a few times.  We’ve also bought lots of fruit.  Being pregnant, it was nice to have the flexibility to get what I wanted to eat, as my interests and needs changed.  Still, our goal is to get a full year’s worth of vegetables from local sources.  We’ll be loading up both freezers again this summer and fall.

Local and Not Frozen

March 20, 2010

The weather today was sunny and around 70, which made me want to go almost anywhere just for the walk to get there.  Conveniently, there was an indoor farmers’ market in reasonable walking distance.  Unfortunately, it was a one-time event, connected to a “Health and Wellness Fair” held at Somerville High School.  We bought a couple of pounds of blue potatoes from Dracut, MA; lettuce, bok choy, kale, and cabbage from smaller-than-industrial organic farms in the “region” meaning southern Atlantic states;  and a pound each of barley flour and wheat berries from Northampton, MA.  I hadn’t known that it was possible to get Massachusetts grains.  I wasn’t ready to try their wheat flour at $5/pound, though.

That exercise in locavore-ism inspired me to finally sort through our refrigerator vegetable drawers.  They’ve been full of root vegetables since November.  That was back when I still had pregnancy-related nausea, so they mostly just sat.  They sat long enough that they looked scary, particularly because leeks and fennel bulbs don’t hold up as well as roots do.  Once the drawers got scary, the stuff in them sat even longer.  Vicious cycle.  But today we finally sorted through them.  About a third of the contents had to go straight into compost due to our poor management.

Once we determined that there were still edible vegetables in there, I started in on using them up.  Cubed beets and parsnips, tossed with a  bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, are roasting in my oven as I type.  A half dozen smaller beets got boiled to be sliced and used in salad, along with the lettuce from the farmers market, lentil sprouts that my husband grew in a jar on our window sill, and hard-boiled eggs from southern New Hampshire.  I cubed a few of the turnips to get stir-fried with tofu and some of the bok choy we bought today, becoming tonight’s dinner.  Much as I’ve appreciated the supply of vegetables we froze last year, I’m very excited to be eating vegetables that are neither from the freezer nor the supermarket!

Counting Down

March 11, 2010

This is the season that I usually start counting down to CSA drop-offs and farmers’ markets.  This year, I’m more focused on counting down to my due date.  At the same time, I’m counting down the bags and tubs of vegetables we froze last summer.  Most of the greens we have left are Italian: chicory, escarole, broccoli rabi.  This year, I think we’ll achieve our goal of emptying our chest freezer by early summer, and having it unplugged (and not using electricity) for the 4 hottest months.

I was pleased to receive a comment recently from Morag Prunty, author of the novel Recipes for a Perfect Marriage.  She saw that I had written about trying one of her recipes in a post just about a year ago: March 11-18, Signs of Spring.  Her comment has a link to her blog, where she mostly writes long, intriguing essays on whatever topic is on her mind.  I particularly enjoyed the one about women’s changing feelings about working for pay.

Looking back a year also made me think about the weather.  Winter here never really settled in.  Snowfall was always quickly followed by melting.  The past week has felt like a false spring, but maybe it’s just an early spring.  Crocus shoots have been up in my yard for over a week, and they’re now joined by some shoots that I think are tulips, although daffodils would be more timely.  As for maple syrup, it is indeed that time of year again.  The boil-off of the Somerville Maple Syrup Project is this weekend, with the public encouraged to stop by Saturday, March 13, from 10 – 4 at the Community Growing Center on Vinal Ave, Somerville, Massachusetts. If you go, dress for rain. If you don’t go, look at my post with photos from 2009.