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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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

 

 

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?

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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Market Monday

We had a great day at the farmers market in Pawtucket, RI today. Because we had an extra set of hands (thanks Aunt Sandy!) I was able to bring the big girl camera and document the trip.

Here are some shots:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meal plan

Saturday: we went to a friends house and brought a salad with Russian kale, roasted beets, harukei turnips and greens, and a great maple syrup vinaigrette that Eric whipped up.
Sunday: spaghetti and meatballs Eric made a few weeks ago and froze.
Monday: salad with smoked Gouda, roasted beets, radish greens, lettuce, and whatever else is in the fridge
Tuesday: lamb chops with sautéed pea greens (from Allen Farms Organics
Wednesday: Eric is out so I will probably have some leftovers
Thursday: Swiss chard lettuce wraps with some DIY fried rice and possibly some black beans.
Friday: Chorizo from Pats Pasturedand potatoes. I’m planning to do this on the stovetop but may turn it into a casserole.

I also bought some giant sweet potatoes and a butternut squash to make baby food for Isaac. I roasted the sweet potatoes yesterday and I plan to steam the squash tonight.

All in, we spent about $100 and got just about everything we needed to make the above meals. We splurged the grass fed lamp chops and a lamb shank from Hopkins Southdowns in North Scituate, RI. More to come on the shank- we threw it in the freezer and may make it next weekend.

Most of the farms at the market, as well as many other local farms offer CSAs for fresh organic produce, meats, and even seafood. Now is the time to sign up for a CSA for the summer – these local farmers count on their members to help keep sustainable agriculture going here in Southeastern MA.

As you can see, the eating is good up in New England, even as winter rages on!

Lard! Grandma’s secret ingredient

Baking biscuits makes me feel like a true homemaker (even if I do work.) It makes me want to pour a glass of sweet sun tea and say things like “hey y’all” and “bless your heart!” Which in my southeastern Massachusetts, combo-of-Boston-and-Rhode Island accent sounds truly ridiculous.

Recently, I learned how to make a really awesome biscuit. We rendered a few quarts of lard awhile ago (more on that someday) and I fully believe that lard is the secret to amazing baked goods, and to happiness in general.  I know the name lard is really gross sounding…maybe lard needs a rebranding campaign.  How about…pig butter? That actually sounds worse. Any thoughts on new names for lard?

I recently learned about the benefits of using lard from real food blog 100 Days of Real Food.  She has a ton of great info there about eating unprocessed foods.

These biscuits go wonderfully with just about anything. You can use them for breakfast, lunch or dinner…even dessert! (strawberry shortcake, anyone?)

Annemarie’s Awesome Biscuit Recipe

1 cup of whole wheat flour (what, haven’t you heard that white flour is the devil??)

1 cup bread flour (don’t forget you can order flour from Wood Prairie Farm in Maine)

1 cup milk, buttermilk is even better

1/2 cup lard, very cold

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

The secret to good biscuits is cold, cold ingredients. Very cold lard and milk will make for biscuits with lots of crumbly texture. If it’s hot in your kitchen, don’t even bother with this recipe.

Eating local as the days get longer…

There is no doubt that late winter is the hardest time to be a locavore. Nothing is growing right now, and the root vegetables that store well during the winter are probably getting a little tired. It’s easy to forget the bounty grown right in our own backyard. Mix it up with different seasonings. Try a little garam masala for an Indian feel, or buy some sesame oil to give your salads an Asian cuisine flair. If you dig out and visit a local farmers market, you can get creative with a recipe like the one below.

Apple and Gouda Salad

This is an easy weeknight meal that comes together quickly. You can adjust the cheese to what you have on hand- Cheddar, Asiago, or Gouda would all work well here. Check out Foxboro Cheese Company for an excellent selection.

Ingredients (serves four)

4 to 6 cups Winter lettuce mix (from Oakdale Farms in neighboring Rehoboth, MA)

2 Apples (from CN Smith Farm in East Bridgewater, MA)

Block of cheese, cubed

Croutons

Dress with a simple vinaigrette, or however you like.

Variations: Try a handful local dried cranberries, some Feta cheese, and some walnuts. Or, top your salad with some pan-seared local scallops.

Sorry for the somewhat crappy iPhone pics. Isaac was in need of lots of parental attention and I didn’t have the heart to deny him!

What’s your favorite wintery meal?

Sent from my iPad

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Sautéed pea greens with fried eggs

Sautéed pea greens with fried eggs This isn’t so much a recipe as a technique. Hardy winter greens and eggs are a great combination and a simple and fast weeknight dinner. I always pick up some greens at the farmers … Continue reading