Asparagus

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First order of business- sorry for the lack of posts- two weeks of work travel & a short vacation kept me away from my local market & the blog.  Last week Isaac turned 9 months.  Hard to believe that little nugget is talking, getting ready to walk, and eating all kinds of foods (local, of course :))

I am sad to report that I have no photos of this momentous occasion, but I did, for the very first time, eat fresh spring asparagus this week.  It was divine.  The Easton Wintertime Farmer’s Market posted on their Facebook that there was a vendor there with the first cutting of asparagus.  Being a huge asparagus fan, and a huge fan of he book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (where asparagus merits a whole chapter!) this was a big day for me.  I’m not ashamed to admit I ate some raw, right out the refrigerator.  We sauteed the rest, briefly, with olive oil and garlic.  Served with a grass-fed pot roast from our freezer, and some blue potatoes., it was a lovely Saturday meal. 

All I have to say is that those who doesn’t eat locally & seasonally are really missing out.

The garden is ready for planting & I have a very healthy little patch of lettuce steadily growing in this beautiful weather.  I’m getting very excited for planting!  

In other news, I bought some bok choy from Oakdale Farms in Rehoboth, and I’m very unclear on how to cook/eat it.  Any suggestions?  

 

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Grow Your Own: Weeds

This is the third post in a series about gardening. Today I’m going to give you a few ways to avoid weeds. Because they suck. No one likes weeds.

Although, according to A A Milne and his beloved character Eeyore, “Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.” Way to be positive Eeyore.

So the best way that we have avoided weeds is by putting down landscape, or weed block fabric. It’s about $5 a roll and is probably not awesome for the environment…but I work full time and have lots of other commitments to family and friends that are more important than weeds. So weed block fabric works for me. It will run you about $20 for the whole garden.

Another option I haven’t used but I have heard about:

Cardboard and newspaper. Lay down your paper flat (if you are using newspaper, lay down a bunch of layers.) Cut holes in it and plant your seedlings. Cover the remaining bare newspaper/cardboard with grass clippings or leaves. Eventually the paper will disintegrate and decompose.

Also, you can get fancy and plant low crops around ones that are taller- plant lettuce seedlings around your pepper plants, for example. The pepper plants take awhile to produce so you can harvest lots of lettuce before the peppers take off and need the space.

Overall, you will have weeds in your garden. I still have to go through and weed every week or so. But if you use preventative measures, you shouldn’t find it to be a huge problem. Just think of it as garden cardio!

Meal Planning Monday & Whole Wheat Biscuits

We did not make it to the farmers market this week.  We were both busy Saturday morning and I ended up just hitting our local grocery store (Trucchi’s for the Tauntonians!)  Since I had a good amount of things stashed away in the freezer, I was able to make up a reasonably healthy meal plan though.  I mostly bought fresh produce at the market & spent about $45.

Sunday: Ham & Bean stew & whole what biscuits (Recipe below)

Monday: Family dinner elsewhere

Tuesday:  Clean-out-the-fridge salad- we have leftover vegetables in the fridge including some mushrooms, cucumbers & tomatoes that are not organic & are from many miles away- but I did buy some local kale & pea greens!

Wednesday: Spinach and goat cheese ravioli (bought at the farmers market ages ago)

Thursday:  Fried egg sandwiches on WW biscuits with cheese & hopefully some greens if they last that long!

Friday:  Homemade mushroom pizza (we froze a WW crust this weekend from http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-homemade-frozen-pizza-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-186527)

Then Saturday we can return to our normal locally grown fare!

Whole Wheat Biscuits (adapted from www.100daysofrealfood.com)

2 c whole wheat flour (we use King Arthur)

1 c milk (approximate- I usually need a little more, especially if the weather is dry)

1/4 c lard (you want leaf lard, not Crisco! You can substitute butter or olive oil here)

1 tsp salt

4 tsp baking soda

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl

Cut in the lard or butter.  I do this by taking two forks and mashing the lard into the dry ingredients until there are only small pieces (smaller than a pea.)  You can also put this in your food processor on pulse for similar results.

Add in the milk & mix until everything is just combined (don’t over mix!!)

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap & place in fridge for at least 10 minutes.

Bake 8-10 minutes at 450 degrees & then on broil for 1 minute

Food Choices: Making Educated Decisions for Your Family

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Hi, folks. Annemarie has asked me to write a post on what I think is important in our food purchases and how I came to and continue to come to those decisions.

First, I’ll explain a little bit about myself. I’m a scientist by nature (and profession,) but what’s probably more pertinent to this post is that I’m a total skeptic. I tend to look at things through an analytical filter which shapes the way I view the whole world, especially what I eat.

Annemarie and I have always thought a lot about food. It used to just be about what would be the best tasting and it slowly evolved to be a more conscientious thought process. We really got serious when we started thinking about having a baby. It’s completely cliché to say this but when you find out you’re going to become a parent, everything changes. For me, that meant that I scrutinized our “food philosophy” even further.

I think anyone’s first impulse is to think “organic is better.” I know mine was. Then I started to think. Wait a minute! I took two semesters of organic chemistry where we learned about all kinds of nasty chemicals. All the word “organic” means to me is anything that is mostly carbon. I started to think more and more about all these words that are nothing more than marketing claims-

What does “green” mean?

What does “natural” mean?

What does “organic” mean?

When Annemarie started coming to me with these studies about things like how bad pesticides were, or that artificial sweeteners were causing cancer, I couldn’t help but be skeptical. She really wanted to know what is worth worrying about and what’s just hype. So I made a list of some red flags that we both use now to help us weed out the nonsense.

Here are some key words that grab my attention:

1.     Natural – You’ll see the word “natural” all over the place when you’re looking for good food. Lightning is natural, a rattlesnake is natural but I sure don’t want either of them in my dining room. If you’re buying food directly from the producer, they should be able to elaborate. If they can’t it’s probably not worth doing business with them.

2.     Green – My favorite example of what’s called “green washing” in my in industry is the production of surfactants (chemicals that are used in soap products.) Petroleum-based products are in the hot seat right now so when a chemical manufacturer is making “green” marketing claims, petroleum is an obvious target. The problem with removing petroleum-based materials is that they have to be replaced with something. In this case, this is usually done with palm oil. What they fail to mention is that they had to clear thousands of acres of rainforest to grow enough palm oil to replace the petroleum-based materials.

The point I’m trying to make is if there’s a feasible way to lessen the environmental impact of something, it’s in the financial interest of the manufacturer to go with that, but when people start to demand something without understanding the consequences, bad things can happen. What’s the next target? Palm oil plantations?

3.     Chemicals – This one kills me! Everything is a chemical. By that I mean every thing is made of chemicals. If you can touch it (or eat it,) it’s a chemical. The word chemical can sound scary until you understand  that everything is composed of chemical compounds. Air is a mixture of chemicals. Water is a chemical.

When something is described as “chemical free,” watch out. You’re going to buy a whole lot of nothing or you’re being subjected to a bogus marketing claim.

This is just the beginning. Over the next few posts I have planned, I want to teach you to become a critically-thinking consumer.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

– Eric

 

 

Lamb Shank, easy & delish!

This one is 100% Eric’s doing…enjoy! ImageImage

2 lamb foreshanks

Coarse salt and pepper, to taste

Enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your dutch oven twice

2 ribs of celery, roughly chopped

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 onion, roughly chopped

1/3 cup tomato paste (diced tomatoes are fine too, just strain them well)

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 sprigs of rosemary

1 bay leaf

4-8 cloves of garlic, smashed or minced

1 cups red wine

2 cups beef, lamb or vegetable broth

Preheat oven to 300°F

Over med-high heat add enough oil to coat the bottom of a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed (and oven-safe, with a tight fitting lid) pan and just as the oil begins to smoke, add the shanks, browning them on as much as their surface as you can.

When you’ve completely browned the outside of the shanks, remove and put aside

Add another splash of oil and add the garlic celery, onion and carrot. Cook until these are softened. (About 10 minutes)

Add tomato paste and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add wine and broth then bring to a simmer while scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to remove all the great stuff on the bottom

Add the shanks back to the pan and cover.

Place the whole thing in the oven for at least three to four hours but as long as six (especially if your 8 month-old baby is about to go to bed and you want to be able to enjoy this great meal.)

Grow Your Own: What to Buy

When you are planning your garden, budget is likely to be a factor.  You will want to have some money put aside but you can easily keep the expenses budget friendly by sticking to my list:

First, consider the size of the garden.  Your costs will go up incrementally with every square foot you add.  I would recommend starting out with 1 4×4 raised bed and between 6 to 8 containers for your first year.  This is a manageable size & will give you a lot of fresh herbs and vegetables.

Raised Bed:

The first consideration with building a raised bed is what materials you are going to use to build it.  There are lot of options, but here are a few:

Kit: Since at home gardening has experienced such a resurgence, there are many kits out there that you can set up in just about an hour.  This one will run you about $40 and is actually the one my mom bought last year.  It has held up well over the winter so I have no issue recommending it.  If you are not handy and/or do not have the time or space to build your own bed, this is the way to go.

Pressure treated lumber (cost = $2.75/sq ft🙂 is what we used on our garden.  Eric built ours four years ago and we have had no issue with it at all (we used railroad ties to attach the pieces together.)  There is some controversy about whether pressure treated lumber should be used for edible gardening, but we read the research and weren’t concerned.  Total cost would be about $50 and it’s definitely going to last.   

Non-traditional materials:  I’ve seen raised beds grown in old tires, barrels, and straw bales.  I actually really like the straw bale idea because the straw itself will decompose and add to the soil.  Here’s a great example of this.  

When starting a raised bed, you will need to fill it with soil.  Assuming you are building a 4×4 bed that will be 1 foot off the ground (we’ve found a one foot height is perfect for keeping out rabbits and small pests,)  you will need  about 12 cubic feet of soil.  There’s a great calculator here: Soil Calculator

You can buy soil at any garden center or home improvement store.  If you buy bagged, it will be more expensive,but it is also more convenient.  Budget between $2-$3 per cubic foot for soil.  

Container Gardening

Lets say you really want to garden but don’t have a yard available.  Maybe you live in an apartment or condo, or dorm room, or on the sidewalk.  Regardless, you can still garden.  Just hit up your local garden store or hardware store and pick up the following:

 

4-6 window boxes

4 large round patio containers (12” diameter)

3 medium round patio containers (8” diameter)

These can be terra cotta or plastic.  You can also repurpose  what you have- old milk jugs, soda bottles and juice boxes cut in half are all great planters. I’ve also seen raised beds grown in old kiddie pools.   Be creative- all you need is a place to put dirt that’s about 6-12 inches deep.  

You will need soil- see above for that info.  You’ll probably need about 10 bags of soil to fill the containers.  

Other Equipment:

This is just the basics- you can go crazy but don’t think you need everything they are selling at the garden store!

Watering can or hose (buy the sprayer nozzle for $3 if you can)

Clippers

Trowel or small hand shovel

Tomato cages and twine

Okay, on to the fun stuff!

Plants

If you are growing your first garden, you will want to buy seedlings or small plants.  Seed starting is a challenge & is best left to the professionals.  The best time in zone 6a to buy and plant seedlings is Memorial Day weekend.  Clear your calendar Saturday morning & head out to your local nursery, plant sale (lots of school and church groups do these as fundraisers & their prices are great!) or home improvement store.  

Yes, you will pay more for seedlings.  You will also save yourself a world of aggravation.  You can start seeds next year, after the tip of your thumb is a greenish hue.  

You should only grow what you like.  For a small garden, you won’t have enough room for corn or plants that require a lot of space, like melons.  For the first year, I recommend keeping it very simple.

If you are going the 4×4 bed route, then I recommend you start with:

Two cherry tomato plants

Two regular tomato plants (like Roma, paste, or the larger sandwich type)

Two more tomato plants that are suited to patio containers (your nursery can advise you.) These will go in the largest of the containers you purchased.

Two summer squash plants

Two zucchini plants

Two pepper plants (hot or bell, depending on your preference)

One Eggplant…plant

I would also recommend that you buy some potted herbs while you are buying plants. Our first year, I grew:

Two basil plants (but you can really never have enough basil…)

One dill plant

One cilantro plant

One parsley plant

One rosemary plant

One pot of chives

These you will pot in containers.  We keep them on the back steps, where they get about a half days worth of sun and this works perfectly. Plus they are close to the kitchen!

In the next post I will go over the planting placement and initial watering plan.

If you are sitting here in March or April and feeling impatient for vegetables, you can prepare the bed or containers and plant some cooler weather crops in early April, like lettuce.  These you can direct sow, which means you plant seeds directly into the ground outside.

I hope this is helpful and you are getting excited about your first vegetable garden!  

Market Monday/Meal Planning

One day late- forgot to post! 🙂 

This week Eric and I went to the Easton Wintertime Farmers Market at Simpson Springs.  We brought $100 and got plenty to eat for the week.  We spent $30 on wine from Running Brook Vineyards and the rest of the $70 went to groceries.  Here’s what I can recall for items and prices:

–          Apples ($2.99/lb)

–          Dill pickles ($8)

–          Lettuce $2/head (we bought four since we were having some family over for dinner Saturday evening)

–          Garlic

–          Cheddar cheese from Foxboro Cheese Company

–          Kale ($4 a bag, probably about 5 cups)

We also went to the grocery store for the first time in awhile.  We buy all of our paper and household goods through Amazon.com’s  Subscribe and Save, and I have a pretty good stockpile of rice, beans and other pantry staples, so there hasn’t been a need to hit the grocery store.  Since we were having a dinner party, and wanted to make chicken Parmesan  we needed some supplies, most notably chicken. I hope to be in a position someday to be able to throw a dinner party from our own backyard, but I’m not there yet! 

The rest of the week is all planned out:

Sunday- lamb shank and maple syrup-glazed Brussels sprouts (recipe coming up later in the week- absolutely delicious!)

Monday- Caesar salad with leftover fried chicken

Tuesday- leftover chicken Parm w/ sautéed kale

Wednesday- Salad with Cheddar cheese and apples

Thursday- Crockpot lentil soup w/ homemade whole-wheat biscuits

Friday- homemade pizza or calzones w/ mozzarella & roasted red peppers (frozen from last year’s garden)

For breakfast I am making enough Overnight Oats (of Pinterest fame) to last the rest of the week. Lunches are leftovers or frozen, homemade soups.

On another note, I checked our cold frame and some lettuce seeds germinated!! Here’s hoping they make it through the remaining cold days!

That’s what we’ve got cooking this week.  How about you?

Grow Your Own: Finding room to grow

Hi there!

I wanted to start off this series by saying that I am no expert in gardening, or anything else (except Harry Potter and 311.) I just love growing food for myself and my family and I am hoping this might help some people like me that are true beginners discover the pleasure of doing that, too!

Step one
Finding space for your garden

The basic things a vegetable garden will need are:

Sun
Water
Soil

This may seem like a pretty easy list but it can get a bit complicated depending on your situation.

First, if you are in a condo or apartment with no yard, you can still garden in containers. I will do another post on that someday soon

Okay, so assuming you have a little yard, the first thing you want to look for is the path of the sun. Wait for a nice early spring day and sit outside. Watch the sun at 10 AM, 2 PM and 4 PM. Take note of areas of your yard that stay mostly sunny. You can’t have a garden in an area that is shaded for any large position of the day. You can grow shade tolerant plants but that is more like Gardening 201.

So once you’ve found that sunny spot, you’ll want to consider a few logistics. First, what’s currently there? Is it a patio or deck, is it a paved area, or is it part of your lawn?

If it is a patio, deck, or otherwise covered area (no soil) then you will have to work with container. Fear not! Containers are an excellent way to grow food and they offer many advantages for a beginner.

Second logistical item is, do you have access to water? Ideally the garden should be very close to your kitchen. You’ll be more likely to use it, I promise. You will want access to water if you are growing more than a few containers of vegetables. Buy a longer hose if you have to. You will not want to drag the watering can over 1,110 times in the hot summer.

Now that you have chosen your location, you will need to prep the soil. In containers, this means buying potting soil. For a more traditional garden, I recommend borrowing or renting a rotatiller to pull up the grass that is there now. You can do this in mid to late April.

One last thing to consider is the pest issues you have. If you have a lot of rabbits, deer, etc, you may want to consider a raised bed and/or a fence. Your local hardware store can guide you on what to buy.

Next time, I will be discussing what to put on your shopping list, and what’s a waste of money.

Happy gardening!
AM

Parenting Lessons.

Feeding Isaac has begun consuming a large portion of my brain space lately.

Here’s the situation:

My daycare provides free baby food for the first year. Do you know how hard it is to turn down free food?? Hard. I love free things. (Yes I have the best daycare ever. They also give us free diapers.)

This food is traditional baby food. Nothing out of the ordinary. But I am trying to give Isaac a good start as a healthy eater and I don’t want to have him eat foods that have sugar added and potentially have been exposed to pesticides and other nasty ingredients.

I also believe that eating locally grown produce is just better for our bodies, our planet, and our local communities. I like having farms and open spaces where I live, and I want Isaac to grow up with that, too. So making my own baby food makes sense. It fits in with my food ethic and the values I want to instill in my child.

So what’s the problem?

One, I am not awesome at going against the norm. I wonder if the awesome teachers think differently of me, or make fun of me as a hippie granola mom. I wonder if they think I’m a snob. Why do I care? I shouldn’t, really. And they have been nothing but accommodating with all of my requests (breast milk, nursing at lunchtime, no juice, etc.)

Two, I don’t have a lot of time for anything. As any working mom or dad will tell you, time becomes a precious commodity when you only get a few short hours with your child daily. So I have to balance whether my desire to DIY baby food outweighs other priorities like time with my family, exercising, showering, etc. For a few weeks, this won out. I bought organic baby food (crazy expensive) and then I just let Isaac have what the other kids ate.

But in a rare moment of lucidity and clarity, I realized that this internal battle is just the beginning. We as parents will have to make decisions for our son daily that might go against the grain (if we are any good, they will.) Next year it might be what he brings for snack, and the year after it might be the types of games we let him play. Then whether we let him drink underage, or go to R rated movies. Who knows. The point is, this is basic training for bigger decisions coming down the road.

And most importantly, more important than the food he eats or games he plays, or what daycare thinks of me, is that we are raising a young man who won’t be afraid to make the difficult decision, even when it isn’t easy. (Yup, paraphrased Dumbledore. Boom.)

That’s my parenting ramble for the day. I’d love to hear thoughts on this. How do other parents feel? Am I just crazy? Do you love free things? How about Dumbledore?

Also, any good baby food recipes??

🙂

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Grow Your Own: Gardening for Beginners

When I started gardening, I was so ignorant that it wasn’t even funny. I literally did not know how or why you would repot a house plant, didn’t even know what potting soil was. The many, many websites out there are really geared more toward experienced gardeners. Lots of amazing tutorials, but simple questions were left unanswered. So I thought it would be fun to do a Gardening Basics series for beginners. I will post on this topic periodically through the spring and summer as we start our garden.

Topics I will cover include:

Finding your garden space
What to grow & a shopping list for your beginner garden
Weeding and ways around it
Watering- how often?
How to know when things are ripe (a big issue for me at first)
Basic food preservation techniques
Compost and fertilizer- why and how?

Are there any other beginner gardeners out there? Any other topics I can help with? I am hoping this can be a place where us newbies/reformed black thumbs can feel comfortable asking questions and learning together!

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