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.

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.