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.

Eating seasonally: winter

January 31, 2010

Eating seasonally has been less local this year, because of pregnancy.  Which foods are appealing has changed, and that at least somewhat correlates with my different nutritional needs.  The biggest change from past years is that I fully succumbed to the citrus fruit cravings that I get every winter.  The only local fruit available over the winter is homemade applesauce.  While I’ve been eating some of that almost every day, it’s no substitute for raw, whole fruit. 

Citrus is in season now, not locally, but in season.  Relative to California, Florida isn’t so far away.  I’ve been buying Florida grapefruits and minneolas, although I also bought long-distance clementines while they were fully in season in December.  As long as I’m buying fruit at the supermarket, I figure I may as well get things that I can only get at the supermarket, so we’ve been enjoying a variety of tropical fruits:  mangoes (while they’re 50 cents each), papaya, and bananas. 

We’ve been eating greens from our freezer, and roots from our fridge.  Tonight it was pasta with broccoli rabe, veggie sausage, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, and Italian spices.  Yesterday, chard went into soup that started with a can of tomato bisque, but also included canned tomatoes (the blight this summer meant we couldn’t freeze enough local tomatoes).  Earlier this week, turnip greens from the freezer joined turnips from the fridge in a tofu stir-fry.  Turnips and parsnips made a lovely pureed soup a couple of weeks ago, with caraway seeds, salt, and pepper, and served with a pat of butter in each bowl. 

The most exciting of our local foods this winter has been sprouts that my husband grows in a jar on our kitchen windowsill.  When nothing else green, fresh, and crunchy is local, we can have nutritious, delicious sprouts that have traveled no distance at all.  Commercially grown sprouts are more likely than other vegetables to harbor bacteria, and are therefore off-limits to pregnant women.  Homegrown sprouts, though, seem perfectly safe.   Now I just need to figure out where to get sprout seeds locally.

Bulk fun

December 14, 2009

We tried a new way to cut down on packaging and on trips to the grocery store, and ordered some bulk grains through Harvest Co-op.  I ordered 25 lbs (the smallest bag size) of organic brown rice, and 25 lbs of organic whole wheat couscous.  I don’t know if something got messed up in the order, or the retrieval, or in the information I was given when I placed the order, but the rice they brought out to us was brown organic basmati (which is not the same as regular brown rice) and the couscous bag was 25 kilograms (not 25 pounds).

These huge bags, which are sitting on the floor in a corner of our kitchen, don’t re-seal.  Our priority now is to get the grains out of the bags and into more useful containers.  A ball jar that I used to use as a sugar canister was pressed into service, as was another random very large glass jar.  We already had a couple of food service containers, wide-mouth plastic jars that used to each hold a gallon of salad dressing, and they now each hold a bit more than 6 pounds of couscous.  When we went out to brunch this weekend, we asked for empty containers and came home with two tubs that each used to hold five pounds of whipped butter.   Next week they’ll probably have more for us.  At least the volume in the bag is now low enough to roll the top down and hold it with a bag clip.

I have an appetite for vegetables again, which is a good thing when meal planning is all about what’s good atop couscous.  Last night’s meal plan was Tunisian vegetables, using green cabbage that has been sitting happily in our fridge since we bought it at the farmers market a month ago, carrots that have probably been in the fridge longer than that, and green bell peppers frozen some time last summer.   Adapted from a recipe in Moosewood Cooks at Home, the vegetables join chickpeas and currants (or raisins) and are generously seasoned with coriander, some cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, plenty of salt of course,  and at the very end a generous splash of lemon juice.  Because the flavors are so different from other things we cook, and because the recipe so flexibly works with many different combinations of vegetables, it has become one of our standbys.  It’s delicious over couscous.

In a different sort of adventure in bulk foods, my husband made 20 pounds of apples into sauce this weekend.  One batch was Spencer and the other was Roxbury Russet.  All of the apples were from Kimball Fruit Farm, a large local IPM farm that was selling 10 pound bags of apples for $5 by the end of the season!

Vegetables? Yuck!

December 1, 2009

I haven’t been blogging for a while because suddenly, unexpectedly (although maybe it shouldn’t have been unexpected) I lost pretty much all appetite for vegetables.  Greens, in particular, turned me off.  There was a particularly pungent bunch of celery from our CSA that kept me from opening my own refrigerator for a couple of weeks.  My husband tried to blanch and freeze our farm share while I was out of the house, so the smell wouldn’t bother me.  We took to referring to the fan over the stove as the “fume hood.”

Why?  Well, I knew exactly what was going on, but I wasn’t quite ready to tell all of cyberspace:  I’m pregnant!

Some local foods have been staples:  apples (including cider and sauce), potatoes, and yogurt.  Eggplant was good but the season was ending.  Little dumpling squash appeared at just the right time.  Baked with a stuffing of diced apples with maple syrup and butter they were delicious, and a vegetable I could eat.

We’ve been buying more vegetables at the grocery store, both fresh and frozen, as I’ve had an appetite for them.  Mostly we’ve been able to get organic.  They don’t have the flavor of farm fresh, but honestly, I don’t want vegetable flavor at the moment.

I trust that my taste for vegetables will return fully, and when it does, I have a freezer full of everything I didn’t want to eat this fall.

Autumn Fruit Muffins

November 21, 2009

I know I haven’t posted in almost forever.  WordPress knows it too, and had to re-activate access!  I hope to be posting more again soon.  I made these muffins this morning and had to share.

The flour, baking powder, and spices are not local.  Apples, cranberries, maple syrup, milk, and eggs are all local ingredients for me.

Cranberry Muffins with Apple and Spices

Makes 12 muffins.

Mix together dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom (I like cardamom with cranberry, but if you don’t have it or don’t like it use cinnamon, maybe with allspice or cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon ginger (unless you’re using fresh grated or jarred, in which case it goes into the wet ingredients)

Fold into the dry ingredients, to coat:

  • 1/2 bag cranberries (frozen are fine), about 6 ounces
  • 1 large apple, grated (I had to rip up skin bits by hand because they weren’t grating well), including its juice (or use 1 cup of apple sauce)

Mix together wet ingredients:

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (if you use brown sugar you’ll need to add more liquid, either milk, water, or apple cider)
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh grated ginger, if you have it (I used jarred)

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry-and-fruit mixture.  Distribute among tins for 12 muffins.  Bake at 400 F for about 20 minutes (yes, that’s a long baking time, but the fruit makes them very moist).  Enjoy!


Farming is Risky

September 22, 2009

This summer was our 8th season with the same CSA.  We knew going into it that part of why CSAs work well for farmers is that the risks are spread among the shareholders.   For 7 years, we’ve won at our gamble, and gotten an excellent value.  This year was different.  The weather didn’t cooperate.  Our farmer lost a lot of plants including all of his corn crop.  Many weeks, our share was smaller than we’ve been accustomed to.  Finally, he had to end drop-offs about a month earlier than usual.  It was a very bad summer for farming here in Massachusetts.  Next summer should be better, and as long as our farmer is doing a CSA, we’ll be back.  Until then, I’ll enjoy the flexibility of choosing my vegetables at the farmers markets.

I worry, though, about how some of the other shareholders might be responding to the situation.  People tend to forget that it’s natural to lose a gamble.  We gambled on the weather, and this yer we lost.  But in our age of supermarket produce, it’s easy to forget that farms, particularly small farms in New England, do not produce like factories.  I worry that other shareholders, losing sight of this, will blame the poor harvest on the farmer, harassing him now and choosing not to join his CSA next year.   Granted, he can do without the sorts of shareholders who harass him.  I hope most people share my perspective and stick by their local farmers, especially when the weather is bad.

Oven-Braised Cabbage

September 21, 2009

Sometimes it’s nice to cook things in the oven, so that the hour or so before eating is not the time you have to be in the kitchen cooking. Braising is usually a stovetop procedure, but the idea of cooking with very little liquid translates well to the oven. Here’s a recipe I made this week. It was fun to serve alongside roasted blue potatoes from the farmers market.

  • Quarter, core, and knife-shred one red cabbage.  (A green cabbage would probably taste just as good but not be as pretty.  They also tend to be larger, so increase all the seasonings accordingly.)
  • Quarter, core, and slice about 2 apples.  (I used only one but it was a hefty ten ounces!)  McIntosh have a wonderful flavor, although by the time the dish is cooked, they’ll have turned into applesauce.
  • Put half the cabbage into the bottom of a deep lidded casserole.  Layer half the apples over it.  Then the other half of the cabbage, and the other half of the apple.
  • Sprinkle the top with salt and pepper to taste, and a generous sprinkling of caraway seeds.
  • Pour about 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and about 2 tablespoons of water over the cabbage and apples.
  • Bake at 350 (or whatever temperature your other food needs, but adjust time accordingly) for about an hour.
  • About 10 minutes before serving, remove the lid.  Stir together the cabbage, apples, and spices.  Leave the lid off to evaporate some liquid and gain texture.

I’d made similar dishes before, but this was the first time I tried it with caraway seeds, and I was very pleased with the results.  If you don’t have cider vinegar, you could use red wine vinegar, but the cider vinegar really kicks up the apple flavor.

My husband also found this tasty, but said he’d have preferred his cabbage and seasonings as colcannon, so I’m offering a link to my recipe for that, too.

Traveling and Coming Home

September 10, 2009

I think I’ve been away more than usual this summer.  I like traveling, and I was away doing things that I enjoyed or at least valued.  The food from a week at a camp and a week at a conference center, however, left me feeling lousy.  Dairy and eggs left this vegetarian craving beans.  Processed starches left me wanting whole grains.  And I acutely missed the abundance of fresh, local, delicious vegetables and fruits that I would have had at home.

At the end of the summer, I had the opposite travel experience.  We visited friends in Seattle and enjoyed plums and blackberries that grow on their property.  Then we went to a farmers market that was about 5 times the size of the larger of my local markets.  The variety of produce, cheeses, baked goods, and meat was overwhelming, in a good way.  The prices of fruits were much lower than what I’m used to paying.  I’ll admit a bit of climate envy.

At home, food this week has been about combinations.  A ratatouille included tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, green pepper, and fresh garlic along with garbanzos, dried oregano, salt, and of course lots of  olive oil.  It would have included fresh basil, too,  if we’d had energy to pick some from out back.

A stir-fry included green beans, broccoli, turnips, turnip greens, radishes, radish greens, and some cilantro.  As has become usual, we firmed up the tofu by heating it without oil in a single layer on a nonstick skillet, flipping it when the first side browned.  To work with the cilantro’s sweetness, the sauce used a generous amount of jarred hoisin sauce along with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

We brought back a salad we particularly enjoyed last fall:  arugula with cheddar and apples, with a balsamic vinaigrette.  We’ve started to get apples from our CSA, and the rainy summer means this should be a particularly good apple season.  Flashback: last year I posted a catalogue of apples.  So far, we’ve gotten Ginger Gold.