About this Blog

As I go into my second year blogging about cooking and eating locally, I am thinking more and more about my own heritage. Why is cooking and eating locally sourced food important to me? What values am I honoring by doing this and how were these values instilled in me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Thanksgiving is the holiday that epitomizes what this blog is about...a celebration of the harvest and the abundance brought forth from the earth by a community.  Other than my mother's very delicious stuffing, all of the food you see pictured came from our CSA and was prepared by me and my mother. The meal that resulted was very simple, bountiful, highly nourishing and tasted delicious.

Our turkey was raised on the farm that grows our vegetables.  Included with our turkey at pick-up was a note providing some details about the turkey's breed, a Broad Breasted Bronze, which is believed to be the same breed the pilgrims ate for their first meal.  The  note also went on to tell us about the life the turkey had lived which had been rich in fresh air, sunshine with access to fresh water, bugs and other snacks (i.e. blueberries, strawberries, apples, greens, corn, etc.)  The result was a very flavorful, tender turkey which, according to my mother who cooked it, required no other intervention (i.e. brining, infusions of broth or basting of butter) to keep it moist.  After our Thanksgiving meal, my mom cooked the carcas down for broth.  I came home with nearly two gallons of broth (we had a 20 lb turkey) which I have since used for light soups.  A very simple one that PJ likes is with pearled barley and carrots. 

Brussel sprouts graced our plates for the first time. this holiday.  After the first time I found brussel sprouts in our CSA share, I told our farmer that I gave them a try after nearly 37 years and was pleased to say that they were sweeter and much more tender than I had remembered.  I cooked the brussel sprouts for our Thanksgiving feast using a recipe inspired by an article in Eating Well Magazine.  They were braised with vegetable broth and shallots. 

I pureed our butternut squash with maple syrup, cinnamona and some of the chili peppers we received in our CSA share. 
Pictured above is the pumpkin pie I made using the sugar pumpkin we received in our CSA box.  I consulted pickyourown.org  and  theheartofnewengland.com  for advice on how to get the pumpkin puree out of the pumpkin.  Basically, you carve the pumpkin and remove the seeds the same way you would to prepare a jack-o-lantern then I cut the pumpkin into quarters, placed them on a baking sheet, added water to the bottom of the sheet and baked at 400 degrees for about an hour.  Once the pumpkin is tender, you can remove the meat from the skin.  I then added the meat and some liquid to the food processor and pureed it.  Pickyourown.org  provided a  pumpkin pie recipe using a whole sugar pumpkin rather than canned pumpkin puree and I found a recipe for walnut pie crust.  Using walnuts adds some texture and flavor to the pie crust which I prefer over regular bland pastry.  I used fresh ginger in the pie filling instead of ground and have included both recipes with my modifications below. 

Pumpkin Pie with Walnut Pie Crust

Pie Crust

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup sugar (I used tourbinado sugar)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup walnut pieces

6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. You will need one buttered, nine-inch deep-dish pie pan either a light-colored or glass pan.

Place the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl and stir to combine.

Place the nuts in a food processor or blender and pulse just long enough to chop the nuts finely, not into a paste. Scrape the nuts into the flour mixture and stir to combine.

Add the melted butter and combine well.

Press the mixture into the buttered pie pan making certain that the crust is evenly thick.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until it just starts to brown on the edges. Do not over bake. A light-colored or glass pan will absorb less heat than a dark one and help ensure against over baking.

Pie Filling

1   8" pie pumpkin (yielding about 3 cups of pureed pumpkin)

1 cup brown sugar

1.5 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground allspice

2 Tbsp fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

1 12 oz can of evaporated milk

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Mix well using a hand blender or mixer.  Bake at 425 F for the first 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350 F and bake another 45 to 60 minutes, until a clean knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fresh Fish

Yesterday evening we had friends over for an impromptu dinner. I was making haddock which I had picked up a day earlier as our weekly share from Cape Ann Fresh Catch (CAFC). CAFC is a community supported fishery (CFS) organization along the same idea as a CSA (community supported agriculture). Through CAFC, we receive one whole fish per week delivered at a specific time and location. Members can also opt to receive only fish fillets, or alternating fillets and whole fish. We tried the alternating option during our first run since cooking fish, particularly whole fish, is new to me. I grew up in the Midwest, in a different type of food culture, so I've had to come up a learning curve. Despite this, I've really learned to love and appreciate the rewards of whole fish.

I was fortunate to have an hour to myself in the kitchen to begin dinner preparation before the other five people arrived to enjoy it. As I stood in the solitude of my kitchen rinsing the fish under cold water, I stopped to admire the beauty of the fish in my hands. The skin glistened underneath the water. The body felt smooth and firm and as I turned it over and around running my hands across the smooth skin, I could find no sign of blemish. The gills were bright red and the eyes were clear and black. This fish looked as if I had just picked it up out of the water.

As I admired the fish, I was reminded of one of the most important principles in Ayurveda, India's system for health and healing, which is to eat fresh food which is freshly prepared. Behind this principle is the belief that we get Parana, or life force, from our food. So it stands to reason that eating a fresh, healthy animal would provide more health and vitality than eating an animal that had been sitting on ice for several days. The only way I could have done better by this fish was to have cooked and eaten it yesterday right after I picked it up.

After I was done rinsing off and admiring the fish, I stuffed it with fennel fronds, lemon wedges, parsley and leeks and then rubbed the outer flesh with olive oil and put it in the oven at 375 degrees.

Over a glass of wine, I prepared the sauce I would use for the fish. This recipe comes from another blogger, Heather Atwood, who writes The Food for Thought Blog for the Gloucester Times. In her post on October 10th, she wrote about Pollock, another round fish like Haddock, and provided the following sauce recipe:

Fresh Red Chili and Parsley Sauce:

6 fresh chilies, seeded and finely chopped

1 cup chopped parsley

1 garlic clove peeled and finely chopped

course sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

juice of two lemons

Combine the chili, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover with olive oil, and then lemon juice. Let sit for ten minutes, stir and serve over fish.

The parsley in this recipe combined with the lemon juice gives this sauce a fresh, bright flavor. The chili pepper and garlic give it a spicy kick which is tempered by the olive oil. As a whole the sauce is crisp and lively, which I think brightens the subtle flavor of the haddock. My neighbor's and family really enjoyed it.

The first time I served the sauce with pollack, I combined with extra sauce to the fish cakes I generally make using the leftover fish.

Like cooking a whole chicken, you can get several other meals out of a whole fish. While I am cleaning up after our fish meal, I toss the bones, head and tail from the fish into a stock pot with white wine and fresh herbs. I use the stock for Asian noodle soups. In our house, one whole round fish generally provides an entree for our family of four (I include my Mom), a leftover meal of fish cakes and stock for at least two to three soups.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thoughts on canning and preserving

It is my favorite kind of autumn day here in New England -- clear blue sky and refreshingly crisp air. This morning I have the windows open to air out the house. I am dressed in a sweater and warm socks and have curled up on the couch with my laptop. It is a treat to be a little chilly after so many weeks of late summer heat.

Cooler days make me think of warming foods --spicy chilies, rich stews and savory soups. Prior to logging into my blog, I was looking up chutney recipes. My favorite is cranberry-apple chutney. The flavor of this chutney reminds me of warm fires and cozy conversations with close friends. I like to enjoy this chutney with goat cheese spread on crackers, paired with a glass of red wine. My husband enjoys the Indian inspired chutneys, so I will be making both a pumpkin chutney and an onion chutney for him.

The chutneys will be the last of my preserving for the year. So, now that the bulk of my work is done, I feel it is a good time to look back and reflect on what I accomplished and learned.

The idea to can and preserve came to me back in late March. The April issues of the magazines I was reading were running articles to celebrate Earth Day. I think it was Whole Living - Body and Soul in Balance Magazine that challenged readers to be conscious consumers and to think about purchases and the life the object one was purchasing would have after one was finished using it. This made me think of our recycling bin. Next to junk mail, the items we seem to recycle most are cans and jars. I already buy milk in containers for which I pay a deposit and return when it is time to purchase more. We don't drink juice, so cans and jars for soups, tomatoes, salsas, jellies and other condiments are items which fill our recycling bin on a regular basis.

I use a lot of tomatoes in recipes for soups, stews and other dishes throughout the winter months, so I thought one way I could reduce the amount of waste I create is to preserve tomatoes in glass jars I could reuse. I set this as a goal for mid-summer when fresh tomatoes are plentiful. My husband also likes to put salsa on his eggs and we eat it for snacks and with other dishes, so I thought salsa would be another thing I could make that would reduce the size of our recycling bin.

In fact, the more I thought about the things we use, the more I got excited about the things I could preserve. When the spinach, peas and asparagus began to appear at the farm stand, I purchased a couple of books about preserving food so that I could prepare for the appearance of tomatoes. Then, I thought, well why not preserve the spinach and peas? I use both throughout the year, so I went out and purchased a vacuum sealer.

My mother canned pickles, green beans, corn and lots of tomatoes in the summer months from her vegetable garden and I remember spending many summer hours in the kitchen helping her. So, I began the growing season feeling overly confident about what I could accomplish. Other than helping my mother as an adolescent and teenager, I knew very little about preserving food. I had made a couple of attempts at preserving strawberry jam -- both times my jam failed to set. However, I had been freezing corn for years. This was very easy as I would simply make more corn on the cob than we could eat at a meal, cut the kernels from the cob and put them in freezer containers to enjoy in a chili or side dish over the winter months. Based on my experience with the corn, I thought the freezing vegetables would be my easiest bet. However, what I do know from being a consumer is that some vegetables freeze better than others. Peas and corn seem to hold up the best, followed by carrots and spinach if you are going to cook these vegetables into a soup or casserole. After that, I don't find many vegetables are good out of the freezer.

The first thing I learned about preserving is that you need to work with really fresh food. This takes planning. What I discovered first with spinach was that I needed to get the freshest possible spinach...still wet from the field, bring it home, blanch it, squeeze out the extra water and then lay it flat on cookie sheets to freeze before placing in the vacuum sealer bags. I could not buy the spinach, bring it home, put it in the crisper for a few days and then hope to freeze it. I only managed to pull this (buying the spinach and getting it processed all in one day) off once; and, I only have two small freezer bags to show for this.

I tried freezing sugar snap peas. I blanched them, put them on cookie sheets, froze them and then sealed them in the vacuum bags; however, when I pulled some out of the freezer in August for use in a salad, instead of being crunchy like they were when I first blanched them, the thawed snap peas came out slimy and limp. I decided then, that I would simply enjoy snap peas when they were fresh and in season. For this same reason, I never considered freezing asparagus. It is a springtime treat best enjoyed very, very fresh!

I was never quick enough with the shell peas, but I plan on being better at this next summer. Peas are PJ's favorite vegetable and I keep them in the freezer throughout the year, so I hope to be able to do a better job of putting those away next season.

My next attempt was strawberry jam which I felt more confident about this time around. My jam set up and tasted wonderful made with honey; however, the last time I went down to the basement to retrieve a jar of jam, I noticed that 4 of my jars spoiled. It seems the seals were not good. My question going into next season is whether I should attempt the water bath method again next summer or simply put my jam away in the freezer.

My constant companion and resource this summer has been a book called Preserve It! I hope to be able to sit down and read through it more carefully through the winter months, but it has worked very well as a reference guide. Not only did I use it to find recipes and canning techniques, it also provided guidance for storing vegetables. I learned that the best way to keep peppers and tomatoes is out on the counter vs. putting them in the crisper. I also learned how to dry and store the cranberry beans we received in our CSA share one week this summer.

I made lots and lots of tomato sauce this year (shown above) as well as salsa, but I made these and then froze them instead of using the water bath. I am overly careful about food safety, so after reading about the need for getting the acidity level just right, I was not about to try something that might spoil and make me or my family sick. With this in mind, I've decided to invest in a pressure caner for next season and plan to spend the next few months studying and planning for the next growing season. My hope is to have rows and rows of canned sauces, vegetables and other goodies lining the shelves of my basement by this time next year!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Roasted Chicken and Roasted Vegetable Sauce

This entry is dedicated to my sister-in-law, Sue. She may have surpased my mother in being my biggest fan. I can always count on her to read and comment on anything I write. She's always encouraging and doesn't hesistate to share her perspective for which I am truly grateful and deeply respect.
Sue and her youngest son, Matthew, were here to visit the first week of August. During their visit, Sue and I got some much needed girl time while my husband took the boys on a couple of day trips. Sue had volunteered to be a guinea pig while she was here, so I did some cooking. One of the things I made while she was here was roasted chicken with roasted vegetables. I then pureed the roasted vegetables into a sauce. The sauce I later used for eggplant parmesean for the adults and meatballs and pasta for the boys.
The idea for the sauce came as I was trying to use up the abundance of vegetables that were coming through in our farm share as well as a result of a little bit of overbuying on my part at Verrill Farm. (I am like a kid in a candy store when it comes to summer vegetables and fruits. The colors are so bright and vibrant and there are so many varieties that I can't help filling up my basket.) I had ordered chickens late in the spring from Springdell Farm so when I roasted the first one shortly after picking it up from the farm, I threw in several of the veggies that were waiting for a purpose and then pureed them up into a sauce which I served over pasta. My family and I really liked the flavor, so I decided to try it again while Sue was here for her visit.
Since both Matthew and PJ gobbled up the sauce with their meatballs and pasta, Sue asked me for the recipe. I told Sue I would post what I did on my blog.
The whole thing starts with a roasted chicken. Roasted chicken is one of my favorite meals to make...especially on a cold weekend afternoon. I love the smell of the herbs, vegetables and chicken filling the house. I serve roasted chicken with roasted vegetables and a side of mashed potatoes and savory gravy...the ultimate comfort food.
The way I roast chicken is inspired by an Italian student named Stefano who I knew back in my mid-twenties. He was here working on his MBA and was the friend of the guy I was dating at the time. One rainy Sunday afternoon, on a visit to his apartment, he roasted a chicken for four of us which made the best pan drippings I'd ever tasted. I watched Stefano prepare the bird in his very sparse, kitchen. He had just moved into a new apartment that afternoon, so we were all sitting around on yet unpacked boxes chatting and sipping wine while he prepared the bird. First, he took the chicken and stuffed it with lemons and garlic, then he sliced open the skin on the breast and placed pieces of cold butter underneath the skin to moisten the breast meat as it cooked. While the chicken was roasting Stefano added diced potatoes. As we sat and talked, the aroma of chicken, lemons and garlic filled the tiny apartment and the heat from the oven and the red wine took away the chill left by the rain outside. When Stefano finally pulled the bird out of the oven, the skin was golden brown. We eyed the bird as it rested; our mouths watering. When Stefano finally carved the chicken, it was bursting with juices. He served us slices directly from the knife because no one wanted to wait long enough to gather plates and utensils, so we sat and ate the chicken right out of the roasting pan and fought over the dripping soaked potatoes. At the end of the meal we licked our greasy fingers and lips and let out sighs of gratitude and satisfaction. After enjoying that meal in Stefano's kitchen, I decided I that this was the way I would prefer to prepare chicken from now.
Over the years, I have varied the process. Up until the last two times I roasted chicken, I stillstuffed the cavity with lemons. I like the way the lemons make for tangy pan drippings. I find these dripping make for a much richer, citrusy gravy. However, about a week ago, I was out of lemons and decided to use apples instead. The change resulted in a depth and an earthiness that wasn't there with the lemons and yet there was still the tangyness that I liked. So, now I've decided I will use apples from now on which fits in nicely with my goal of using locally sourced foods in my cooking.
For many years I continued to place the butter underneath the skin on the breast meat as well. I varied the stuffing a bit adding onions and fresh herbs to help flavor the drippings. I admit that I like crispy chicken skin. Putting butter underneath the skin did moisten the breast, but it didn't do much to flavor the skin, so I decided to try rubbing the chicken with olive oil and herbs. That definitely made the difference and now I use a combination of olive oil, sea salt and herbs de Provence to rub the chicken for roasting.
So, here is how I roast chicken and the process for making the roasted vegetable sauce:
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
Place chicken in roasting pan with lid.
Stuff cavity of chicken with apples, garlic cloves and onions
Rub chicken with olive oil, sea salt and herbes de provence
Place half cup water in bottom of roasting pan
Place lid on pan and cook for 30 minutes
While chicken is cooking cube vegetables [the types I've been using are a variety of summer squashes, carrots, tomatoes, onions, green and red peppers]
Toss vegetables with olive oil, sea salt and pepper
When chicken has roasted for 30 minutes, add prepared vegetables to roasting pan and continue to roast both the vegetables and chicken for another hour or until chicken achieves an internal temp of 165 degrees. (Check out the Food Safety and Inspection Web site for more information about cooking meats safely.)
Remove chicken from roasting pan and place of carving surface to rest. Place roasting pan on burner and continue to simmer. Depending on your taste and the amount of tomatoes you added to the roasting pan, you may want to add a little bit of tomato paste at this point.
If you like to make gravy from your pan drippings, you can reserve some of the drippings from the roasting pan before adding the additional tomatoe paste. You can also reserve drippings from the roasted chicken as you are carving it.
When vegetables are tender puree them in a food processor.
I make several different meals using this one roasted chicken and vegetables. The first round is usually carved chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy and roasted vegetables. I simply take out some of the vegetables before pureeing the rest. I will use the pureed sauce with meatballs or eggplant. The rest of the roasted chicken often becomes a chicken salad or I will use some of the meat in a soup. After roasting, I put the chicken in a stockpot with vegetables and herbs and cook it down to use as a base for soups later on.
As you can see, one roasting chicken and some vegetables can go a long way!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Yes, PJ we eat real chickens

Yesterday afternoon, PJ asked me when I taught him how to breathe. He is six, so in my fumbling, motherly way, I tried to explain that breathing is an automatic physical response and that basically we all "come out knowing how to breathe." I went on to tell him that we often breathe without thinking about it or noticing it. As the other parents reading this blog can certainly appreciate, questions like "when did I learn how to breathe" come up daily. Yesterday seemed to be full of those moments and then some.

As I was thinking about sharing some of my teachable moments with PJ on the topic of food and cooking with my blog readers, it occurred to me that like breathing, we often eat without thinking much about it. And yet, our children are always watching and learning from what we do and say about food.

This was never more clear to me than yesterday when PJ came over as I was snapping green beans and asked if he could try one. Up until yesterday, PJ had not been a fan of green beans. I have had to pick them out of soups and stews as well as endure his complaints and expressions of disgust and disappointment if they land on his plate at dinner time. So when I handed PJ one of the beans I was snapping, I was fully prepared for him to screw up his face and then run to spit it out in the trash. To my surprise, he liked the raw green bean and took a few from the bowl and ate them. This moment nicely illustrates the advice our pediatrician gave to my mother when my brother was little and proving to be a very picky eater: "just make healthy food available and eventually they will eat what they need." So, I will be keeping fresh, tender green beans at eye level for PJ while they are in season.

I was snapping the beans to go with a chicken I was roasting for dinner. As I stood in the kitchen slicing meat off the bone and putting the bones in the stockpot for soup, I was still high on the fact that I had finally discovered how PJ likes to eat green beans. While I was doing this, PJ hoisted himself up onto one of the bar stools at the counter so that he could watch me. I was blindsided when he suddenly burst out with, "What, we eat real chickens!" Now I thought PJ knew this as it has been a topic of much discussion since we moved into our house four summers ago. Our next door neighbors are vegetarian and PJ plays with their youngest daughter. The kids have discussed their individual eating habits and cultural identities at some length and sometimes in some very funny ways. In fact, while eating lunch yesterday, PJ asked me what he was called since he eats both meat and vegetables. I struggled with the answer the same way I did when he asked, since Devanshi is Indian, what am I? It's not that simple since at this point our family is not as ethnically homogeneous as our neighbors, so I landed on English since he couldn't seem to grasp the idea that he is Slovak, but only speaks English. He has a little English from my side, so it's not a lie, but he sounded a little Amish as he walked around telling people that he's "an English."

Finally, I answered PJ's question about what he is if he eats both meat and vegetables by saying that he is an omnivore, though I realize that that would make our neighbors herbivores not vegetarians which isn't really true. I tried to get into this a little with PJ because of course his next question was what is his friend Liam is called since he only eats meat. I told PJ that if Liam only eats meat that he would be a carnivore, but that technically Liam is an omnivore (as is our next door neighbor) because Liam can eat both meat and vegetables. However, when PJ insisted that, in fact, Liam could only eat meat, I gave up and moved on to another subject. It is important to appreciate that the six year old mind is very rigid as the ego develops and learns to differentiate between themselves and others, so I will tackle this topic again when we PJ is ready.
What yesterday taught me is that PJ is starting to become more aware of his food and his eating habits and that he starting to make some meaning out of them.

Being conscious about what we eat and where it comes from is important to me and as I've mentioned before, this has grown out of struggling with my own health issues as well as a growing awareness of the preciousness of our environment and not wanting to see animals mistreated. At the time of this writing, there is a big egg recall underway and I have to say I am more than a little relieved that I get my eggs from a farmer I know and trust. In fact, when I go to pick up my vegetables at the farm, many of the chickens are there to greet me, clucking and pecking on the ground underneath the tables of fresh vegetables.
It is important to me that PJ recognizes the connection between the chicken on his plate and those hens. If an animal's life is going to be sacrificed to nourish our bodies, I want him to know that the chicken had once been living and breathing just like him, not some inanimate object wrapped in plastic to be plucked out of the meat cooler at the grocery store. My hope is that knowing this will make him a better steward of his own body, our earth and the other animals that inhabit this earth with us.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Epicurean delights

I just finished breakfast. This morning I sliced up a peach from our farm share, toasted a slice of 7 grain bread from Nashoba Brook Bakery and spread it with Organic Valley cream cheese and ate this with a cup of fairtrade coffee from Whole Foods which I doctored up with cream from the Shaw Farm dairy and a couple of brown sugar cubes. Green tea would have been a healthier choice and some mornings I will go with that, but today I wanted to enjoy one of my two vices (I save my wine for Friday and Saturday nights!)

Despite my love affair with creamy, sugary coffee, the peach was really the best part of this morning's meal. It was nice and firm. The skin slipped right off when I peeled it and it was sweet and juicy. I don't bother eating peaches at any other time of year...like strawberries, they are best eaten very close to the time they are picked. I've been debating about putting a few bags in the freezer for a cobbler in the winter or to throw into a smoothy; however, I don't find they hold up as nicely when frozen, so I may pass and wait to enjoy them again next season.

I have been enjoying my summer fruits and veggies. Two Saturdays ago, I treated myself to an early morning visit to Verrill Farm. As I was browsing through the rows of baskets of heirloom tomatoes, one of the folks filling the baskets came by and asked me to try a cherry tomatoe. If nothing else, I am polite to a fault, so despite my squeamishness about raw tomatoes, I popped it into my mouth, chewed it up and swallowed it like a good girl. To my surprise, it was as sweet as a piece of candy. This particular variety, though I don't know the name, is bright orange and is sweet more like a pepper than a tomatoe. I wish my father had been alive to share that moment with me. I can't tell you how many sliced tomatoes I gaged my way through as a child at our supper table to my father's great frutration.

In addition to tomatoes, that morning there were baskets of peppers. Pablanos, jalepenos, hungarian wax and several varieties of red, orange and green sweet peppers. We have also been enjoying freshly dug potatoes, a variety called red gold is our favorite this summer. It holds up well in chowders and potatoe salad. Red, yellow and white onions, carrots and lots and lots of fresh corn, summer squashes and eggplant have been gracing our dinner plates as well.

At the moment, my kitchen counter is littered with tomatoes, tomatillos, peaches, plums and a couple of kolhrabi. Later today, I will be making up a lamb stew with green beans and tomatoes. If I can get my hands on some local cilantro, I will make both tomato salsa and salsa verde. It turns out that cilantro is scarce right now due to the lack of rain.

The kolhrabi has been sitting on my counter because I am still trying to figure out what to do with it. Like the garlic scapes from earlier in the season, kolhrabi is a new discovery and I need to do a little research about how best to eat it and cook it. One of our friends said that he used to slice it and it with a little salt when it came out of his grandfather's garden. Maybe I should try that and see how it tastes.

I wish I had more time to write down all that I have been learning and thinking about as I go through my day; however, I have discovered that this part of the growing season is labor intensive as I have been trying to preserve part of what I've been collecting. My freezer is full of vegetable sauces, corn, corn chowder, a couple of different stews and a couple of fresh chickens I pre-ordered from Springdell Farm back in May. We roasted and ate two of the four I ordered. I made stock and then used it again in other recipes.

I hope that as I am enjoying the fruits...and vegetables...of my labor this winter that I will have more time to reflect on this process as well as plan and prepare a little better for the next growing season. I also hope to be able to learn the art of breadmaking this winter as well.

Tomorrow will find me learning to fillet a whole fish as we just joined a community supported fishery called Cape Ann Fresh Catch. I will try to make time to let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Shopping

This is why I love to shop at farmer's markets and farm stands in the late spring, summer and fall. With the exception of the lemons and limes in the background, all of the items in this picture were sourced from within 10 to 20 miles of my house.

Just look at all of that color! I had to take a picture while I was putting items away from our CSA farm share pick-up today because it started to looked like a piece of art there on my counter.

Pictured from the left are purple and green basil which came in our farm share this week. Hoop house tomatoes, some were in the share, some I purchased so that I could make a sauce. Behind the light purple Beatrice eggplant are fresh eggs. They come in a variety of colors ranging from light green to light brown. PJ likes to choose the color of his egg shell for scrambled eggs. These eggs are from Springdell Farm where we belong to their CSA. The cut flowers are a summer treat to myself, I picked these up on Wednesday along with the Beatrice eggplant from Verrill Farm in Concord, Ma. The peaches, blueberries, green beans and carrots were all a part of our share for this week among a variety of other goodies including summer squashes, cucumbers and corn! I will be doing some freezing of vegetables this weekend in addition to sharing some things with my neighbors. I suspect we will enjoy some peach and blueberry cobbler this weekend and if everything works out I will top it off with homemade vanilla bean ice cream.

The little yellow blob you see between the carrots and the basil is a fresh loaf of three cheese bread from the bakery at Whole Foods...one of my few supermarket purchases this week. On Monday after my meditation class, I slipped into Whole Foods to buy some fish and a few other staples. They were sampling this bread in the bakery that day. The little piece I had was moist and cheesy. I nearly bought a loaf that day, but was glad I waited because it will compliment the London Broil and Swiss Chard I am making for dinner tonight.

As I have been writing this blog, I realize how fortunate I am to live where I live. We are surrounded by farms and farmland and Massachusetts has made a commitment to preserving and supporting agriculture in our state. In his article entitled, "Agriculture in Massachusetts: Green and Growing," Commissioner Scott J. Soares reports that there

"are nearly 7, 700 farms providing locally grown food and other agricultural products to Massachusetts residents from more than half a million acres of working landscapes that provide aesthetic enjoyment and positive economic impact to the tune of nearly $500 million in farm revenue alone annually (Edible Boston, p. 61)."
He goes on to report that the loss of farmland acres or conversion to non-farm use has been leveling off since 2002 and that 64,000 acres of farmland has been preserved through the Agricultural Preservation Restriction program.

For me, these facts mean that I'm not the only one who cares about where her food comes from which means that support for locally grown food is a priority making it more widely available.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Easy Mom's Night

This past Friday, my son and I had dinner with my neighbor and her daughter. We've done this several times over the course of living across the courtyard from each other as our kids are the same age and her husband works nights and mine is often traveling. Our guideline for the evening is to keep it simple so that we can each relax a little while the kids are playing together. With this in mind, we ordered pizza for the kids and I threw together a salad with the veggies that were left in my crisper from the past week's farm share.

On Friday evenings I treat myself to a glass or two of wine. Any other time of the year, I drink red wine; however, I find red too warming in summer, so I cool it off a bit by making a sangria. The July/August issue of Everyday Food (p. 57) featured a recipe for Summer Fruit Sangria. So, since my neighbor prefers white wines like Pinot Grigio, I thought we'd both enjoy sampling this recipe.

Summer Fruit Sangria
In a large bowl or pitcher, combine 6 cups assorted fruit (such as mango, pineapple, cantalope, and appricot), sliced or cut into chunks, 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh ginger. 1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh basil or mint leaves, and a half cup orange liqueur, such as Cointreau. Mash gently with the back of a wooden spoon until basil is bruised and fruit releases juices. Add one bottle crisp white wine such as Savignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, and three tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from one lemon) and stir to combine. Refrigerate one hour (or up to one day).

I used locally grown cherries in our sangria as I had picked some up to snack on earlier in the week. I also had some watermelon left over from a dinner with my mother earlier in the week, so I threw that in as well. My next door neighbor has mint in her herb garden, so I picked some of that and used mint instead of the basil. I also reduced the amont of Cointreau to 1/4 c. I would have added blueberries to this mix; however, I wanted to save them for the tart I was making for dessert. I really enjoyed this combination, especially the mint. For me, the reduction of the Cointreau was a good idea, in fact, I think I could have even gone with a couple of tablespoons and it would still have provided a punch to the drink. The cherries added to the Pinot Grigio the depth and body that I enjoy in red wine while the watermelon and mint enhanced the crispness of the wine making it perfect for a warm summer evening.

Martha Stewart's Whole Living ~ Body and Soul in Balance magazine highlighted blueberries in this month's issue and I had been looking for an excuse and the time to make the Blueberry Ricotta Tart (p. 64).

Blueberry-Ricotta Tart

1. In a food processor pulse together 1 Cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup finely ground blanched almonds, 2 Tbsps light brown sugar, 1/2 tsp toasted wheat germ, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp baking powder. Add 4 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces, and process until largest pieces are the size of small peas. With machine running, add 1/4 to 1/3 cup low fat buttermilk until dough just holds together. Pat into a disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour (or overnight).

2. Preheat over to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough 1/8 inch thick. Fit into a 9 1/2 inch tart pan with removable bottom. Trim edges flush with pan and prick holes in dough with fork. Freeze for 15 mintues. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove parchment and weights and bake until golden brown and dry. 15 to 20 minutes more. Let cool.

3. Puree 1 1/4 cups part skim ricotta with 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, and 1 Tbsp honey. Spread into cooled shell. Stir 2 Tbsp honey gently into 2 cups blueberries and arrange on top of tart. Chill for 2 hours.

Other than using whole milk ricotta and being a little more heavy handed with the cinnamon, I didn't change a thing about this recipe. The crust was nutty and just the right texture to support the filling which was lightly sweet and creamy. The fresh blueberries were enhanced by the addition of the honey. Both the honey and the blueberries came from Springdell Farm and have been part of our farm share.

The only difficulty with the tart was the amount of time the crust takes to prepare. I'm sure you could easily make it a day ahead if necessary. The tart holds up well to refrigeration. I served some to another neighbor the following day with coffee and it was still as firm as when I cut the first piece the night before.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Cooking with Kids

I have my parents to thank for my interest in food and my deep appreciation for and commitment to the time, labor and sacrifice it takes to bring food to our tables. I think I was probably about 5 or 6 when my Mom started allowing me to stand on a stool next to her at the stove to turn the bacon frying on the gas grill in our kitchen. As I grew older, taller and more capable, she allowed me to try cooking new things and as I moved into adolescents, helping with dinner became a nightly routine. When I was 10 years old, my parents bought 15 acres of land in Northeastern Oklahoma and populated it with beef cattle, laying hens, a couple of feeder hogs, bottle calves, in addition to horses, dogs, cats, a goat, a sheep and rabbits.

Although I was never a true convert to farm life while I lived on our farm, now, in middle age, I recognize the value of the time I spent there and how much that experience shaped my values and my attitude toward the food we eat.

Since my son has been old enough to stand with me at the kitchen counter, I have been finding ways to allow him to cook with me. One of the earliest tasks I gave him to do was to tear up bread for Thanksgiving day stuffing. Standing with him there at the counter brought back memories of working with my own mother and grandmothers on Thanksgiving and other holidays. Two years ago, I taught PJ how to crack eggs into a bowl, scramble them and then cook them up. At Christmas time, PJ helps me to make peanut butter cookies with Hersey kisses as well as gingerbread cookie cutouts.

My goal for now is to come up with ideas and recipes that are fun and are easy for PJ to participate in creating. Earlier this year, I found a recipe box filled with fun to make recipes for children. PJ enjoys searching through the recipe cards to find fun things to eat.

My new favorite cooking activity for the summer has been to create homemade popcicles. The July/August issue of Everyday Food (http://www.everydayfoodmag.com/) contains a recipe for Firecracker Ice Pops which I made with PJ and two of his friends.

Firecracker Ice Pops
Makes 10
Active time: 10 Minutes
Total time: 10 Minutes + Freezing

  • 1/2 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 pound blueberries (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/4 cups lowfat plain yogurt

In a food processor, puree strawberries with one tablespoon sugar. Transfor to a small bowl. In processor, puree blueberries with one tablespoon sugar. In another small bowl whisk together yogurt and two tablespoons of sugar. Pour the three mixtures, alternating, into ten 3-oz ice-pop molds, making 3to 5 layers in each. With a skewer or thin bladed knife, swirl mixtures together in an up and down motion. Insert ice-pop sticks and fre(oreze until solid 2 1/2 to 3 hours (or up to 1 week).

I made a few modifications to the recipe above. Instead of using sugar, I used honey to sweeten the fruit. For the most part I exchanged honey tablespoon for tablespoon with the sugar; however, with the yogurt, I added a ripe banana, approximately 1 teaspoon of vanilla and about a half teaspoon of honey. As the recipe suggests I put the fruit and yogurt into three separate bowls with a small condiment ladle in each one. This is where the kids some into the picture. PJ had two friends over, so they took turns filling three different popcicle molds using whatever combination of ingredients they wanted. For the tenth, they took turns adding ingredients base on my preferences.

The kids really had fun making the popcicles. They also enjoyed eating up the leftover berry puree and flavored yogurt. However, eating their final product wasn't as popular as I'd hoped. While the kids are very willing to polish off a commercially produced popcicle that is heavily sweetened, they lost interest in the homemade popcicles midway through eating them. I will continue to experiment with ingredients and hope that overtime they become a favorite summer treat.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Garlic Scapes

The thing I love about belonging to a CSA is that it provides me with an opportunity to learn about new veggies. In our share for this week we received garlic scapes. I had no idea what a garlic scape was or that something like this even existed until last week when I picked up my weekly farm share. There was a recipe for soup using scapes attached to our weekly CSA newsletter and I thought of trying it; however, I wanted to learn more so I went onto the internet for information and recipes.

The first site I found is called the Amateur Gourmet (http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2009/06/garlic_scapes.html) where I found a photo of garlic scapes as well as photos and commentary about garlic scape pesto. There was also a link to a recipe in the New York Times for White Bean Dip made with scapes. Both the pesto and the white bean dip intrigued me as I had just recently begun making my own pesto and had been mixing and matching various greens with other types of nuts. I am also a big fan of hummus and other bean dips, so I was interested in trying white bean dip with scapes...maybe my son would like it for an after school snack. I also liked this blog called a Mighty Appetite (http://blog.washingtonpost.com/mighty-appetite/2006/06/my_friend_the_garlic_scape_1.html) which featured another photo of garlic scapes as well as a recipe for pesto. Mother Earth News (http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2005-10-01/Garlic-Scapes.aspx?page=3) offered up a recipe for sauted scapes. Another useful site was from eHow ( http://www.ehow.com/how_2325835_use-garlic-scapes-shoots-recipes.html). My favorite was a newsletter article found on the Moscow Food Coop Website entitled: The Garlic Scape: Eat it or Wear it? (http://www.moscowfood.coop/archive/scape.html). This article had recipes for white bean dip, fried scapes and a spinach and scape frittata.

I made the Frittata following the recipe from the Moscow Food Coop. I added one leek which I needed to find a use for before it went bad. This was my first time making a frittata and I am a convert. Like the omlette you can mix and match veggies and meats based on what you have on hand, but making the frittata is almost easier than scrambled eggs. I cut the frittata I made into 8 wedges. I used two the first day with a mixed green salad and ate it for lunch. I tried it on my son, but he wasn't a fan. Although he likes both eggs and spinach, he's still at the stage where he likes his food separated. I found that the frittata also stored well, so that I could make one and put the wedges in a pyrex container and keep in the refrigerator for a few days. My husband used leftover wedges on toasted bagles for a breakfast sandwhich on the go.

I also made the white bean dip which my husband and I both enjoyed as a Sunday afternoon appetizer. In addition, I made two different batches of pesto using scapes...one was a more traditional pesto using spinch leaves and basil and in the other, I used carrot greens. As I read in several of the articles about scapes, the flavor of the scape is milder than the garlic itself. The scape is easy enough to store and prep although I have not tried to keep it for any length of time. For now, like strawberries, I will look forward to it's appearance again in late spring and early summer.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Strawberry Jam

For the past week, I have been eating strawberry jam on toast or a biscuit for breakfast. I made the jam using berries and honey we received through our first pick-up at our CSA farm share. What has been most enjoyable about the jam is how close it comes to eating a fresh strawberry. I feel like I have truly preserved the flavor, color and texture of a strawberry picked in northeastern Massachusetts in mid-June.

I am not patting myself on the back. This will be my forth summer attempting to preserve strawberry jam. The first two years, my jam did not set. Recently, I discovered that my first attempts failed to set because I was attempting to use less sugar than the recipe called for. The first year, my lids sealed, but the contents were basically a syrupy mess which at best could be used for an ice cream topping. I didn't use it for ice cream topping either because, despite the decrease in sugar, I wasn't happy with the flavor. The strawberries had lost their bright red color, the flesh of the berries was limp and soggy and the syrup tasted more like strawberry flavored syrup instead of like mashed, fresh strawberries. Not being much of a food scientist, I thought my first batch of jam didn't set due to the additional heat required to seal the lids. So, the next summer, I tried using parafin as a seal. I ended up with a similar result.

Last summer was marked by copious amounts of rain. The season was short making fresh berries scarce. I didn't want to waste the few quarts I was able to get my hands on by experimenting with jam.

This year, I found a pectin at Whole Foods that is specially formulated to use in jams and jellies that use less sugar or other forms of sweetener. For my test batch, I used the quart of berries that were included with our first CSA pick-up. Also included in our share for that first week was a bottle of honey that had just been bottled and came from the bees that pollinated the strawberries earlier in the spring. For me, there is a kind of poetry in this. And is what makes eating from a local farm so satisfying.

My quart of berries yielded two cups of mashed berries (my son had eaten about a handful of berries on the way from the farmstand to our house). I used two tablespoons of honey in this recipe. I don't taste the honey in this recipe. Instead, I taste the strawberries as I remember them tasting the day I picked them up. Other than being mashed, the flesh of the berry has stayed in tact and the color is still bright red.

With this success, I decided to order a case of strawberries from our farmer and will pick them up on Tuesday. Hopefully, I will end up with about a dozen jars of bright red jam to give away at Christmas time with plenty leftover for ice cream and snacks.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The cost of what we eat

Back in April, I was accosted in the Whole Foods parking lot by a guy who had been standing behind me in the check out line. I was carrying two large reusable shopping bags filled with produce and a little bit of meat and maybe a can or two of beans. We had parked next to each other and as I was putting my shopping bags into my car he called to me, "$130 is a lot of money for just two bags of groceries." I nodded agreeably, smiled and said something like, "There's a lot packed into these two bags." I was being pleasant and playful. Yes, I did spend a lot of money, but I had a lot of good nutrition in those two bags and I knew it. I didn't expect his back handed reply of, "You keep telling yourself that. You know when I was a kid my mom used to rate herself on how many bags she brought home from the grocery store based on the money she'd spent." I got into my car without further reply and let him drive off with whatever sense of self-satisfaction he may have derived from criticizing my grocery shopping on that particular day.

Despite that fact that I didn't respond to this man's comment, I was none-the-less angry. When had it become offensive to spend good money on healthy, nutritious food?

As I drove home and thought about our exchange, I asked myself who the hell this guy thought he was? Although I didn't pay enough attention to tell you the make and model of the vehicle this guy drove, I did notice that it was black and shiny, it was a sports sized car, not a family sedan like I was driving. I know his car was newer than the 2001 Hyundai Sonata I was sporting that day. I also noticed that he was wearing a ball cap with a major league emblem on it and a windbreaker with either the Red Sox or a Patriots stitched onto the front. I had a hard time getting over the nerve this guy had running me down in the parking lot in order to criticize how I spent my money. Obviously our values are different. I'm not into fancy cars. I'm not a clothes horse. I don't understand why we pay celebrities and athletes so much more than we pay our school teachers. However, we live in a free country and I honor that we are all entitled to value things differently.

I try not to tell other people (except for my husband and our son) how to eat. I wouldn't have many friends if I did. However, I am open and honest about how I shop and the role I feel that food plays in our health. I remember a poster that hung in our school cafeteria when I started grade school. The poster depicting a ring master at a circus juggling a group of animals with the caption, You Are What You Eat. As a first grader, I puzzled over the connection between circus animals and my lunch. However, now as an adult who has struggled with infertility and hypothyroidism who has corrected these two issues through dietary changes, I now understand the correlation. It's a juggling act of options and choices.

 I try to make my food choices consciously. I do believe there is a cost to our health and the health of our earth if we continue to base our diet on a lot of processed food...or in the words of Michael Pollan, edible foodlike substances. These costs eventually become all of our problem in the form of higher costs for health care which gets distributed to all of us through our insurance premiums and taxes.

Even though most people in this country get their food at a large chain grocery store, it doesn't originate there. At this point, it comes from very few factory farms. At a time when the headlines range from Wall Street and big business corruption to unemployment and the growing cost of health care in this country, I can't figure out why more people aren't concerned about our food and where it comes from and how sustainable our growing practices might be. However, I'm not here to tell anyone what to do. I simply want the opportunity to share my experience.