Thursday, September 29, 2011

25 Pounds in One Week

Over the last week I picked a whopping 25 pounds of tomatoes from my small garden. Italian heirlooms, snacking tomatoes, tomatillos, sweet garden peach tomatoes and a few paste varieties. My mom helped me make an army-sized batch of tomato soup to bottle for the future. 12 quarts in all, plus lunch for the two of us.
My biggest success was winning the green salsa category at my employer's annual Salsa Fest.
I also tried drying tomatoes in my oven. I went a little too far and ended up with brittle, burgundy nuggets. I had no idea that 170 degrees could do that to a tomato. Next time, I'll stick to one night of low heat and room temperature for the rest.
Any pointers on tomato preservation from my more domestic friends?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Omnivores Have Options

I have now read this book twice. It is the most complete story of food that I have ever read and it has left a deep impression on me. In The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals Michael Pollan tells the entire story of four meals. These stories are not simply where the ingredients came from geographically, but evolutionarily. It is simultaneously about food nutrition, culture, ethics and environmental impact.
The four meals begin at the McDonald's drive-thru, taking the reader through the history of corn to explain the animal-for-food industry and the fossil fuel costs of the calories we consume.
My favorite meal was the local and ethical Polyface Farms. Reading about the natural food systems working in harmony under the supervision of a grass farmer was incredibly inspiring. Nature has so much to teach us!
Michael Pollan also has a great TED talk discussing some of the themes from his books.
I highly recommend that you become familiar with his work if you consider yourself a foodie.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Garden Has Planted

This overgrown jungle is my garden from last year. I still can't believe how much food came from one little plot.

This year I nurtured my seeds and watched them grow into little starts for two months. They were long past due to grow into a new home, but the weather made me hesitant. I planted them in my community garden at the end of May and have been watching them grow for over a month. It is fascinating to observe what light, soil and water can do to a tiny seed! Now that the heat of summer is finally here, all of my tomato plants are exploding in size. I've been dreaming about gazpacho, caprese salad, fresh marinara, BLTs and thick, salted slabs of juicy heirlooms.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cows and Our Environment

I've spent a lot of time trying to be more vegetarian. I think at best I had my meat consumption down to about 2 servings per week. I can't believe how hard it is, even when mentally I'm convinced of the health, environmental, ethical and fiscal benefits. Maybe this will help you, as it did me, to get back on the train (or off, as the case may be).

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Favorite Smoothies

I make a lot of breakfast smoothies at my house for my husband and myself. They're relatively inexpensive, quick to make, and easy to eat on the go if you're in a hurry. They are a great way to get liquid nutrition into your body since part of the digestive process is already started in the blender. Plus, because you use whole fruits, nuts and seeds, you get the complete nutritional profile, fiber and all. A few basic rules of thumb are to pay attention to the color palette of what you're blending (color is a major factor in how appetizing smoothies are, especially for kids) and to manage the consistency and sweetness. Soaked nuts can add a great, creamy texture without depending on dairy, or you can use yogurt and honey to help bind ingredients together. Sweetness is an important part of the taste and can be achieved with natural, unrefined sweeteners such as agave nectar, real maple syrup, dates or simply ripe fruit. Here are three of my favorite smoothie recipes.

Strawberry Cashew
1/3 Cup raw cashews, soaked in water overnight
18 to 20 large strawberries, hulled and frozen
2 Tablespoons flax seed
4 Dates, pitted and roughly chopped
3 to 4 Cups apple juice

Rinse the cashews well and add everything to your blender. If your dates are not very soft, you can soak them in hot water for about 15 minutes to give your blender a break. Blend well, usually 1 to 2 minutes to make sure everything gets smooth. Adjust the amount of apple juice depending on how thick you like it and how powerful your blender is. This recipe makes about 6 cups.

Green Apple Kiwi
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and sliced
3 or 4 kiwis, peeled and sliced
1/2 Cup plain or vanilla yogurt
2 Tablespoons flax seed
1 large handful of spinach or kale
3 to 4 Cups apple juice
Alternative sweetener, to taste

Wash your greens, if necessary, and add everything to your blender. You might want to hold off on the sweetener until you taste it. I usually add a couple tablespoons of agave nectar or honey to this one because it can be a little tart, depending on the ripeness of your fruit. This is a nutritional powerhouse and is more palatable than most green smoothies. And since all of the major ingredients are green, the color is far more appetizing than mixing ingredients from across the color wheel. This recipe makes about 6 cups.

Banana Berry
2 Bananas, peeled and broken in pieces
1 to 2 Cups frozen mixed berries
1/2 Cup plain or vanilla yogurt
2 Tablespoons flax seed
1 Cup orange juice
2 to 3 Cups apple juice

Add all ingredients to your blender and blend well for 1 to 2 minutes, adding more juice if needed. I love the orange juice in this one because it really adds a lot of brightness and flavor. This recipe makes about 6 cups.

Any other smoothie addicts with favorites to share?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Garden Planning 2011

This past week I ordered my seeds from Tomato Growers Supply Company for the community garden. I had a great experience last year learning about seeds, plants, soil and sunlight. Barbara Kingsolver's book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," has been on my bedside table serving as inspiration to grow some of my own food again this year. Kingsolver and her family went local for an entire year eating only what they could grow themselves or buy from their neighborhood farmers. While I know I'm not up for that kind of a challenge I love reading about where food comes from, what it's biological history is and how to be more creative in the kitchen. She has influenced me to focus on heirloom varieties instead of all of the hybrids I grew last year. I'll still be using some of the leftover seeds from last year to grow another tomatillo plant, red bell pepper and an assortment of herbs, but the new seeds are all heirloom tomatoes.

The garden peach is my most unique heirloom tomato seed. It's advertised as being yellow-orange, slightly fuzzy and very sweet and fruit-like. I can't wait to try it out in salads and to juice it. Other seeds range from the beautiful, ribbed costoluto genovese to the practical, full-flavored sioux tomato. For homemade marinara I picked the Polish opalka which boasts a flavor so sweet and rich you won't need to add anything, and finally, an Australian cherry tomato for snacking called tommy toe. Heirloom seeds have been passed down for many generations and were pollinated in nature, not a controlled environment. This means that their offspring will usually be the same as the parent. With hybrid seeds you never know what you're going to get in the second generation. That's why seed catalogs love them — you have to buy new seeds every year. Of course, I loved the hybrids I grew last year, I just want to support the biological diversity that has existed for most of human history. I'll be planting my seeds indoors the first week of March to get a head start on the season.

Any other excited gardeners out there?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hunger and Obesity

A few years ago while I was in Kenya, I came across an unusual challenge: how do I explain the word "diet" to deaf children in a third world country? I had picked up enough Kenyan sign language to get around, but this challenge was a cultural one. The small lunch room had just released it's guests and the kids at the school had noticed that some of the American girls didn't eat much of their lunch. I did my best to explain that in my country there is so much food that we have to be careful about what and how much we eat. I could tell from the expression on their faces that they weren't getting it. It was a very expansive moment for me.

Ellen Gustafson has also noticed this global inequality. She's done some great work to further understanding about the link between hunger, obesity and the global food issues that we face. Her story is worth listening to.