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Three Ways Recipes Make you a Better Locavore

24 Sep

Can you follow a recipe and still be a locavore? My (blog editor, Rachel’s) answer? Yes.  An even better answer? The right recipe can make your locavore experience better!  Here are three ways I think recipes and locavorism go together.

A recipe is a guide, always, to creating an edible, flavorful food.  Some of us follow that guide more strictly than others, for any number of reasons.  Normally I take the approach of reading recipes and then totally doing whatever I want based on the ingredients I have at hand.  This works really well for me because I have a pantry stocked to the hilt with local staples, plus keep a supply of specialties and exotics.  I’ve been cooking for myself, family and friends for well over a decade, and shopping for ingredients is fun for me.  If I happen upon something that I’ve read about being really great for a particular cuisine or style of dish, or a local version of something I don’t often see (such as apple cider molasses, a recent happy acquisition) I’ll usually bring some of that home with me.  So, I’m already at an advantage (or several) because I make food into a hobby and a lifestyle.  I can’t make that a tip for anyone, but I admit that it helps.

Tip/Technique 1:  Start in the back of the cookbook/at the search function on the food blog.  Search for the ingredient you know you’re about to get from your CSA, or that caught your attention at the farmers’ market, or that you over-bought at the roadside stand.  The fresh foods I have on hand absolutely dictate what I make.  Sometimes I use a recipe all the way through, sometimes not.  If a recipe seems to rely too heavily on something out of season, I won’t make it, but I might see a cooking technique I like for the ingredient I do have.  Over the years, I’ve gotten a sense for which foods swap in and out well.  I’ve also found out what flavor combinations tend to show up together in certain cuisines, or even over all foods (cooking fat+onion+garlic seems to be part of human DNA).  In other words, I’m not going to the grocery store to buy lots of out-of-season components just to make a recipe, but I’ve honed my ability, just by simple reading and research, to have a running list of options of cooking techniques and flavor combinations (so THAT’S what to do with all that oregano…add it to the zucchini!)

TIp/Technique 2:  Baking recipes and fruit desserts can generally be done with local ingredients.  Again, if you have been shopping with a local-foods radar, you may have started making local grain, flour, honey, maple, eggs, dairy and butter part of your pantry.  If you have local cornmeal, you’ve expanded your options, and any seasonal local fruit means you can make a locavore dessert.  I want to share a very local cornbread recipe (pictured a few weeks back).  This is a recipe that’s not seasonal, just reliant on local pantry ingredients.  I need a recipe to make it…the chemistry of baking isn’t improvised; the local ingredients may or may not enhance the flavor, but it’s important to me to use local ingredients because of the positive impact it has on my community and economy.

Evolved cornbread, based off a recipe in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics.

1/4 c/ 2oz/1/2 stick butter
1/4 c. honey
2 eggs
1c/245g plain yogurt or buttermilk
1 c/125g flour
1 c/145g cornmeal
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda

1. Set the oven to 400 degrees, use a dab of butter (not from the amount above) to grease a 9×9″ or 7×11″ baking dish (or I’ve used my 10-inch cast iron numerous times, with a bottom layer of sauteed onions and peppers).

2. Beat together the butter and honey until uniform and lightly colored.  Add in eggs and beat until uniform.  Add in the yogurt and make it uniform again.  If you’re so inclined, this would be the point to add in up to 3/4 cup of finely chopped or shredded vegetables (try shredded, salted and drained and dried zucchini or cooked onions and peppers or a little amount of finely minced jalapeno peppers).

3. Combine the dry ingredients together, whisk so they’re evenly mixed.

4. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones (the butter-honey-egg-yogurt mixture) and mix up until well combined (again, it should look uniform in texture, no flour streaks).  Pour or scrape out into your baking dish and bake 25-35 minutes until golden brown.  Cool a bit before cutting and serving.

Tip/Technique 3: The right recipe should be followed, when it focuses on a local and seasonal ingredient.  The conditions of “the right recipe” are laid out above.  Following a great recipe will make you a better cook, even if you only make the recipe exactly that way one time.  Even though you might know how to combine the ingredients in the dish, even if you don’t think bringing out the measuring devices for such a simple list of ingredients would be necessary, this is your chance to really learn from someone, right off the pages of a cookbook.  And this is how you will learn how to maximize in-season foods to their real, great potential.  That particular ratio of ingredient x to spice y, cooked in that particular order, will make a flavor different.  It’s the physics, chemistry and alchemy of recipes that naturally came into existence–these great recipes were born from co-availability of the best of ingredients, not some random combination of foods from far away places.  A few enhancements make it in, a result of trade and awareness, but a really great recipe highlights that locally-available food in a special way.

This became clear to me a few weeks ago over something called salsa de dedo.  I’d picked up some tomatillos.  I had just a pint, and I knew I wanted to make a sauce.  It just seemed right for the end of summer, and I recalled making a green sauce with pepitas and orange juice from a favorite cookbook.  I really was hoping for something new to try out from my gigantic Latin America cookbook, and maybe not relying on those out-of-location ingredients.  Since a lot of Latin cuisines (but not all, not by a long shot) were born out of a tropical climate, I was thinking I’d be following tip #1 above: just look for the technique to feature the tomatillos.  Then I saw a curious listing under tomatillo, “salsa de dedo,” which translates to “finger sauce.”  Knowing that more than one cuisine has a condiment or snack that is named because you have to lick your fingers after eating it, I thought this could be very interesting to read about.  My curiosity was beyond rewarded when I realized salsa de dedo could be so very locavore.  Tomatillos, dried chiles (I did substitute the type I had dried from last summer for what was called for in the recipe), white onion, garlic, vinegar, cilantro, dried oregano, and tomatoes. Just cumin and salt were non-local at this time of year.  Going back to my previous point, I wouldn’t look at this recipe in february and think I should run to the grocery to buy all the produce (though it is that good).  I’d hope I’d frozen or canned some, but that’s another story.  I really really love this sauce.  This is what tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and cilantro were supposed to do with each other.  With all credit to cookbook author and chef Maricel E. Presilla (her tome Gran Cocina Latina is worth it, even to this vegetarian who must pick up techniques between pork and chicken recipes), here is the gist of her recipe for Salsa de Dedo:

Roast a little over a pound of plum tomatoes (like Romas or sauce-making tomatoes) in a hot, dry skillet, turning occasionally.  I used my broiler because I needed the stovetop space.  Roast until the skin is blistered and the tomatoes are cooked-about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring a pound of tomatillos in water to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.  Also simmer a few dried hot peppers (she calls for up to 7 dried chile de arbol, but I used 1 dried serrano I knew to be fairly hot in a half recipe) for 10-12 minutes until softened.  Drain the boiled veggies, cool everything while chopping a white onion and 3 cloves of garlic.  Blend/process first until smooth and paste-like: the chiles, the white onion and garlic cloves; then add the roasted tomatoes and tomatillos, 1/4 cup vinegar (local cider vinegar works for me), 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (or about 1 teaspoon roughly chopped fresh oregano leaves, which you’re likely to find in your garden, at market, or from a friend), 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  Blend/process until the veggies are broken down but still chunky (this is why you did the onions and garlic separately, first).  Taste, then lick your fingers.  It’s great on cornbread.


In the moment

13 Sep

Do you not drink the local milk in your fridge because “that’s for yogurt”?

Do you look at a beautiful basket of CSA tomatoes and sigh because “canning gets so stressful”?

Essentially, do you forget to enjoy the now-ness of seasonal, local eating because you’ve been at it so long that you’ve formed (admittedly well-intentioned) food preservation habits that override the spirit of Locavorism?

If so, you might be me.

That’s why I love being on NOFA-NY staff during the Locavore Challenge.  It’s a lot of work, on our end, to be present at events, publish daily e-mails, remember to post sponsor information on the website, mail out calendars and materials to our generous (and patient) regional partners and helpers.  But it’s so fun to get to see all the new people discovering delicious local foods.  It’s like they’ve been let into a secret club (though obviously our goal is to make it a very un-secret club).  It’s a club I’ve been in a long time, and the newbies remind me about my first bite of a fresh farm tomato.

Have I ever told that story?  If you follow this blog, you’d assume I was always queen of the tomato-eaters.  I was only crowned such about 5 years ago.  I was working on my friend’s farm and I thought I didn’t like tomatoes.  I was 22.  My dad had grown tomatoes (his thing was the yellow pear tomatoes) in our garden, as I’m sure my grandfather had as well.  Yet I never liked them fresh (cooked, sure).  But something about that first-adult-tomato-still-warm-from-the-sun combined with a heck of a lot of not-wanting-to-offend-my-friend-and-employer had me hooked.  I LOVE tomatoes.  Even after picking them in hot plastic high tunnels til I turned yellow-green with sap…I loved them since that summer.

So why am I lately more stressed than happy over an abundance of tomatoes (no offense to my CSA farmers, who are totally rocking it this year)?  It’s because I have, on occasion, forgotten to actually just eat them.  Not eat whatever’s left over from canning.  Not eat because they’ll go bad (they will).  Just eat because I now love tomatoes.  A lot of this is my personality–I tend to want to postpone my enjoyment or finishing something until just the right time.  I don’t want the season, happiness, etc. to end.  Generally, I like this policy.  I eat divine local food year-round (though less during certain months).  But that survival mentality can be problematic if I don’t keep it in check.  I ought not worry so much if I have one less jar of preserved tomatoes this winter, or if I don’t buy extra greens to freeze.  I’m still an okay person doing my best to eat local!  It’s not as if I’ve abandoned eating local by putting a little less food away…I doubt I’ll be relying on fast food or anything like THAT this winter.


My furry friend says, “No canning tonight, Rachel! Stay out of this pantry and go enjoy life!”

Some people might say “carpe diem.”  We locavores might say “carpe solanum lycopersicum.”  A favorite poet of mine would say “you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”  In any case, this is my thank you for giving new-to-you local, seasonal foods a try and showing your enthusiasm for the Locavore Challenge.  This afternoon I barely bought anything at the farmer’s market–I just went to say hi and get a few salad-bound items.  I love the market because it’s full of newbies and old hands with local eating.  We all come there and form this funky community through a common desire to know our farmers and eat the freshest food we can (and that wasn’t intended to be clever, but I guess I do mean eating the freshest food possible, tonight; but also, preserving the fresh food through canning and eating it later).  I tasted some heirloom tomatoes from a friend/farmer’s table and grinned at the guy tasting next to me, who was trying very hard to remember which sample corresponded to which tomato, testing them all multiple times to decide which he’d buy.  My guess is he’d only buy one or two tomatoes, but take them home and truly savor them.  He might try to get a spouse or child to taste one, and he might be successful.  But in that moment, he was enjoying what seemed a new thing for him, all those colors of glittery goodness on the end of toothpicks. He inspired me.  Instead of feeling like a loser for not buying a bulk quantity of something to put away for winter, I made a different play: I indulged in locally-made ice cream with my food dollars, and saved the rest of that for another day’s canning, pickling or drying adventures.  Today was about today.  I enjoyed every luscious lick of that ice cream, it was truly the perfect mid-fall hot afternoon treat. Tonight I’m canning nothing, but I’ll be drinking an ice-cold glass of tomato juice from what I have here at home–not enough to make sauce or salsa, but just right for juice.  Or I might make gazpacho.  It doesn’t matter, it’s going to be simple, it’s going to rock my world and there won’t be anything but a memory come January!

Tips from a Low-Income Organic Year-Round Locavore

4 Sep

Tips from a Low-Income Organic Year-Round Locavore

By Elizabeth Henderson

When I moved to a farm back in 1980, I became a year-round locavore.  My plan was to stay out of supermarkets.  If I could not grow it myself, trade for it with neighbors, or buy it in the food coop, we did not have it.   On our 49-acre old Boyle Farm on Boyle Road, Gill, MA, we dug raised beds, planted vegetables and raspberries, raised chickens and rabbits, and foraged fruit from old apple trees, wild elderberries, blackberries and grapes.  I traded baby chestnut trees for two Jacob ewes to start our own flock, and for two years fed piglets that grew into hogs that I slaughtered and butchered using Putting Food By as a guide.  An old farmer up the road put out a sign – “bee hives for sale.”  I offered to buy them if he would teach me how to do bee keeping.  He was not sure a woman was suitable as a bee keeper, but reluctantly agreed and turned out to be one of the best teachers I have ever had in any subject. From friends, I learned how to bake bread and make jams, jellies and pickles, and how to can fruit and vegetables. I traded raspberries for fresh milk and made my own yogurt. For winter storage, we constructed an underground root cellar recycling the ruins of the old barn.  I purchased a chest freezer and filled it annually with a bushel of broccoli, a bushel of green beans, and many cuts of meat.

If you are living in the city, there is still a lot you can learn from us country homesteaders.  At this time of year (September), local organic produce farms are overloaded with crops.  The farmers sell the most perfect vegetables or fruit, but there is always crop that is blemished in some way yet still perfectly good to eat.  At Peacework Farm, we call this our “factory rejects,” and most of what I eat is of this quality.  You can buy these seconds directly from a farm or arrange to pick up a bushel or two at the farmers market.  You can put up tomato sauce, salsa, ketchup, etc. at way below the price of buying organic processed products in the store during the winter.  If you do not know how to can safely, the Cornell Cooperative Extension offers courses.  The best way to learn is to do it alongside someone who knows how.  Volunteer to help, and I am sure you will find mentors.

Freezing is a better alternative for greens like broccoli, beans or spinach.  If you want to can them, to make sure these vegetables do not harbor botulism, you have to cook them so long that they turn to mush. Before freezing, you must blanch greens for a few minutes and remove all water. There are guides that tell you the correct timing.  On the other hand, you can freeze berries and peppers without any cooking.  Those red peppers that sell for $3.99 a pound in the winter, go for $10 a bushel at this time of year.

Even in an apartment, you can create a cool space that you can use as a “root cellar” to store potatoes, beets, and other root crops for the winter.  You can convert a small bedroom, a closet or a space in your entrance hall or garage where you can wall off a section and keep the temperature at around 50 degrees. A metal garbage can works well as a storage container that keeps out rodents. If you leave the roots on leeks, you can keep them for months in a cool place. Winter squash and onions also store well in a cool, but dryer space.  Garlic will keep for a month or two, though it is safer to peel it, chop it and freeze it in small containers, enough for a week’s cooking.  In the frig, chopped garlic in oil may become infected with botulism unless you soak the garlic in vinegar for 24 hours first and that changes the flavor.

The prices for organic produce are higher than conventional but remember that organic premium helps keep local farmers in business. Family-scale conventional farms in NY have dropped like flies over the past 50 years because the farm gate price does not cover the costs of production. But timing your purchases well and learning some homesteading skills, you can economize while eating food of the highest quality.  And you can transform canning and freezing from a chore into a DIY party by inviting friends.  The less cash we all require, the freer we become from the pressures of the mainstream economy.  One day, we will pool our resources and invest in a cooperative storage space with a processing kitchen – maybe one for every neighborhood.  Locavore eating is good for us and good for our planet!



Locavore Challenges // Leda’s Urban Homestead

1 Sep

Vegetarians may want to skim past this first bit and pick up again near the tomatoes.

Today was Day One of Northeast Organic Farming Association – New York’s (NOFA-NY) month-long local eating challenge. Each day has a featured ingredient or challenge that they email out, and today’s was…drum roll, please…bacon.

I found the choice of bacon for day one amusing and wondered if NOFA-NY would take any flak from disgruntled herbivores. I also wondered, why bacon?

Well, it turns out that the Royal Bacon Society dubbed September 1, 2012 International Bacon Day. I swear I’m not making this up. In honor of the occasion, I’m reposting my recipe for homemade bacon.

But seriously folks, DIY is one way to keep costs down while you’re keeping it local. Pork belly from a local farmer is way cheaper per pound than already cured bacon at the farmers’ market.

continue reading at Locavore Challenges | Leda’s Urban Homestead.

A “Live with the Parents” Locavore Musing

29 Sep

A guest blog post by our intern Kim:

I’m not extraordinarily proud of it, but like many college graduates these days (or so I tell myself), I have moved back home with my parents. Moving home certainly wasn’t my first choice, but after obtaining an unpaid internship at the NOFA-NY headquarters near my Rochester-suburb hometown of Honeoye Falls, moving home seemed like a good option. And, come to think of it, the only real downfall has been the reentrance of sister-clothes-sharing-related problems into my life.

The upsides to living at home are many. Most notably, free food. And, since the beginning of this month, a definite upside has been sharing the Locavore experience with my family. I’d say we’ve always been about middle of the road when it comes to family meals- we eat together several nights a week, but certainly don’t stick around for a family game night. However, the combination of locavore month and my guilt about living parasitically off of my family without pitching in financially has led me to help out by taking the reins when it comes to cooking dinner.

I never cooked much before college, or even thought about food much for that matter. But when I began to learn about the food system in various courses, anything relating to food, organics, health, and agriculture really began to catch my attention. And, I met some great people in college who could really cook. Like most people, I could always make a few simple things, but I never really got to experiment with cooking until I moved back home this summer.

Having more local ingredients in the house and ingredients from our garden has basically led to a large increase in the number of fresh vegetables we have laying around at any time. This has changed the way I cook because it has allowed me to tryout dishes that I would never have thought of cooking from scratch before. For example, one of my favorite comfort foods is grilled cheese and tomato soup. I’ve always used the typical canned Campbell’s tomato soup for this. However, when I was craving it last week, we were basically drowning in tomatoes from our garden, so I decided to make home-made tomato soup- which I really had no idea how to make, but it ended up being delicious!! I added ingredients that I liked, and some things from our garden- like green peppers and chives- and a lot more onion than the recipe called for. The difference from a can of Campbell’s soup was extraordinary. I liked my soup because it was unique!

I have four sisters, and it is definitely nice to be known now as ‘the one who can cook.’ And, I love the feeling of cooking for my family- especially when they enjoy it, which they most often do!

A Taste of NY Wines

28 Sep

A guest blog post by Erin Brind’Amour, Tasting Room Manager-New YorkWine & Culinary Center

Four days ago New York’s newest winery, A Gust of Sun Winery & Vineyard, opened their doors to the public with a grand opening celebration. This marks winery number 309 (and counting) for New York State and there is only more to come. In recent years, the wine industry has seen tremendous growth and a surge of new wineries, putting New York State on the map as a World Class Wine Region. Just like the famous European regions of Germany, Champagne and Burgundy, New York is considered a cool climate wine area producing award winning wines with high acid and lots of complexity, making them extremely food-friendly. There are five official wine regions (also know as American Viticulture Areas) that grow more than 35 varieties of grapes and produce wines that range from bone dry to lusciously sweet. In fact, New York makes more varieties of wines than almost any other wine region in the world, so there is a wine for every taste out there.

Riesling is one of the most award-winning wines for New York State and is the ‘signature’ grape of the Finger Lakes Region. With extreme versatility in styles, Riesling is typically crisp and refreshing with lively acidity and flavors and aromas of peaches, honey and flowers. One of the best wines to pair with food, Riesling is wonderful with chicken, pork, seafood, dessert, and spicy foods. You won’t go wrong with a Riesling from Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Paumanok Vineyards, Mazza Chautauqua Cellars, Red Newt Cellars or Anthony Road Wine Company. Of course, these are just a few examples and with the majority of wineries producing at least one style of Riesling, you are bound to find something you will enjoy. Another grape varietal that has gained recent recognition and popularity in New York is Cabernet Franc. A traditional grape grown in the Bordeaux region of France, Cabernet Franc thrives in a cooler climate and displays red fruit, spice and pepper aromas and flavors. A great compliment to food such as strong cheeses, pasta dishes (red sauce), and heavier meats, like beef and lamb. Swedish Hill Winery, Atwater Estate Vineyard and Palaia Vineyards all produce a phenomenal Cabernet Franc.

In addition to Riesling and Cabernet Franc, New York State produces other European varieties such as Chardonnay and Merlot, Sparkling wine, Ice Wine, Fruit Wine, and various Hybrids and Natives, as well. There is truly something out there for every taste and budget. When it comes to pairing wine with food, you just need to remember two things, local food pairs with local wine (they are a match made in heaven), and drink what you like! Don’t worry about following any rules or making a wrong pairing, all that matters is you like what you (and your guests) have in your glass. Even more important, drinking locally not only supports the wineries, but the grape growers and farmers, local store owners, local organizations and boosts your local economy. Next time you are in your local wine shop, think twice about the cheap imported wine you may be interested in purchasing. With a few more dollars spent, you will not only find something much higher quality, but be supporting your neighbor, as well.

My Menagerie

24 Sep

[From Rachel]

This morning, as I was sipping coffee (yes, I’m back to coffee, but just locally-roasted good stuff) with the ice-cream-freezer-bowl scrapings of a sweet potato-maple ice cream stirred in, it occurred to me how I live a very luxurious life.  It’s not the sort of luxury that might appeal to everyone, but I am able to eat gourmet foods with locally-sourced organic ingredients because I’ve taught myself how to make them in a way that it doesn’t cause too much stress on my life.  At first, some of these things were very time-consuming and challenging to learn, but the rewards kept me going.  So I thought I’d give a little inventory of the things that could cost me a lot of money that now are locally made in my Rochester, NY kitchen.  These “basic luxuries” allow me to up the amount of locally-made products to add to the arsenal of ingredients and meals you all may be getting accustomed to having in your diet: produce, dairy, jams, grains and beans.

Sourdough:  No, my sourdough is not as good as other bakers’ sourdoughs.  And you should totally absolutely support your local artisan bakers (I do too! I’m a huge fan of the Small World Bakery to the point that I’ve considered apprenticing with them, if I had the hours in the day).  However, I’m extremely proud of my sourdough.  Last summer, when living in Vermont, I decided I wanted to make my own sourdough.  Like most things I do, the whim turned into part of my very long list of things I now can’t live without (running, eating local, making the following list of foods. ) I heard it wasn’t too hard to do something basic.  Once I did it, I did not look back.  It’s not the only bread I make, but it’s the one that always raises eyebrows.  To catch wild yeast, which is the basis of any sourdough, you just put out a bowl of water and flour in a bowl and cover it with a damp clean cloth.  That’s IT!  No joke!  Unless you live in an unnaturally sterilized environment, you will find that in a few days something has passed through the cloth’s pores and started to digest your flour, making a beautiful bubbly and malty-smelling mixture.  This is a sourdough “mother” (aka starter) at its most basic.  Professional bakers, and home bakers with more motivation than yours truly, throw in fruit peels and other organic items with natural fermenting powers to add distinctive complex flavors to their sourdough.

Yeast cells of the mother culture bubbling away in appreciation.

No sourdough starter is ever the same, because it’s totally local to where the yeast was trapped!  That’s why San Francisco is famous for their sourdough, which has distinctive qualities and flavors.  I personally adore my Pownal-Rochester sourdough mother.  When I make a pita or other simple bread, I feel she gets jealous.  I have to take care of her by removing some of the starter every week (ok or every few weeks…) and adding some new flour and warm water.  Without fail, she bubbles up in appreciation.  I really should say that “they” bubble up in appreciation, since it’s many many many microscopic cells digesting the flour and creating gases that would provide leavening in a baked good.  I don’t use any dry yeast or baking powder/soda when I make my basic bread.

I’ve also found that they make killer bagels, english muffins and dairy-free chocolate cake.  Sure, it’s a little work to make your own bread, especially a several-step process with sourdough.  But you get used to it.  Why not trap your own yeast and give this a shot?  It’s so local, so luxurious.  For a wealth of information, check out King Arthur Flour’s Sourdough Primer.  Just make sure you take it easy on yourself when working with the starter and dough, it DOES get more simple when you do it a few times.  You’ll soon turn into an addict like me, always trying to give away the mother you have to remove to refresh the starter (pouring it down the sink seems like murder!).  Oh yeah, people WILL comment when they see that jar of mother in your fridge.

Even Lea is afraid of my fridge. That chocolate sauce calls my name, but I've only given in to its siren sounds once this month. The sourdough mother is on the top shelf to the right of the Red Jacket Orchards Cider. Also pictured: grapes from my CSA, bag of locally-grown and -milled flour, local veggies, dairy, oats, and the normal assortment of packed-up leftovers.

Soy Milk:  For locavore month, I started making my own soy milk.  I know this might cause some uproar, but soy is for me a very important part of my diet.  I don’t need to get into why, but doctors have recommended it, and I eat many forms of it.  I’m happy that there are a few local tofu/soy products companies, but none make soy milk.  I’ve made it before, back in Bolivia when I actually made my own tofu–no easy task when you consider that all water used (and the process uses plenty of water) must be sterilized by boiling (chlorinating water will destroy the milk or tofu).  So I knew I could do it here too.  The process starts with New York soybeans, obviously.  Fantastic that I can find different colors too–I ended up with black soybeans which give me a funny purple milk.  Maybe they have extra anthocyanins (also found in blue and dark red fruits) which are really good for you?  It just happened to be what was available when I stocked up for the month.  You soak the beans, then grind them up in boiling water, then boil that mixture for a few minutes, then strain and squeeze out the milk from the soybean grounds.

Purple soy milk hangs out with other (mostly local) friends for breakfast.

You can eat the leftover grounds, known as okara, by cooking them up with strongly-flavored veggies and sauces (they’re pretty bland on their own, and they MUST be cooked).  Then you boil the soy milk to deactivate some of the things that make raw soy not so good (there’s science, I’m abbreviating).  Inevitably, I pay really good attention until this last step, and soy milk is a sneaky beast…always boils over at the point when I step away from the stove to tend to whatever else is going on (sourdough, dinner, cat, etc.).  I’ll probably continue to make my own soy milk after this month, it’s way more cost-effective (enough beans to make at least 4 3.5-cup batches of milk cost about $4.50 at the co-op; 1 4-cup carton of organic plain soy milk containing some stabilizers and salt and made from far-away beans costs around $2 at my co-op.  That’s about half price and free of additives, made with local ingredients!).  But I’ll probably buy some too…I don’t always have the time.  You can buy fancy machines to make the stuff, but I am appliance-averse beyond my trusty stand mixer, kitchen scale, dehydrator and immersion blender.  I use a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey in this book.

Herbs:  I have my herbs from the garden that I’m saving from impending doom.  I’m actually mid-process potting them up to write this blog entry.  I think they call this procrastination.  By the time I post, they’ll be potted up.  Last winter I also had some squash and cucumber plants that I started indoors that grew a little too fast.  I realized I take much better care of food houseplants than ornamentals, and they are really pretty!  I’ll be doing this again too.  What’s more of a luxury ingredient than squash blossoms or fresh herbs in the middle of the winter?  I’m glad I have a big window and light, but that darn cat of mine is a serious indoor-garden pest!  I spend some time each morning moving the plants from their nighttime home of the bathroom (warm, cat-free) to the windowsill in my bedroom (can be cat-free, great south-facing window).  They do okay, and I get to tend a garden all year this way.  I know this was a featured mini-challenge this past week, so this is me encouraging you to find some starts for herbs (in your own or a neighbor’s garden, or even at a local farmer’s market) and bring them home.  Fresh rosemary goes really nicely on those stored potatoes come February, and have you ever tried thyme-roasted carrots and beets?  Luxury on a shoestring, and local to boot!

Garden pest acts like an angel for this picture. Rosemary, oregano, parsley and thyme will be transplanted into that window box.

Sprouts:  One of those often-mocked foods that “hippies” eat, sprouts add some serious body and gourmet feel to salads.  Depending on your taste, there are a range of seeds to sprout up and try.  For me, there’s also that joy in watching them grow.  Just like my potted herbs and plants, it adds that feeling of life to my indoor environment.  You can grow them all year round, if you just have a jar, or a bag, and a porous material.  Check out multiple options and instructions here.  Make absolutely sure your seeds are for sprouting (check out those natural foods stores) or that they are NOT treated with any pesticide.  Unfortunately, many seeds destined for the garden are coated with a pesticide, though the package should be well-marked and the pesticide coating has been dyed as a warning.

Kombucha:  Okay, this is the one that really freaks people out.  If you are a fan of Kombucha, you’re not freaked out.  Most people aren’t really aware of this stuff, though it’s gaining popularity.  If you’re interested in making your own, check out (or don’t…it’s kind of a silly-looking site that might turn you off) Kombucha Kamp.  I realized I was developing an expensive habit buying $3.50 (and recently saw prices up to $5 in Brooklyn, NY) bottles of this fermented tea.  Yet I was swayed by the taste and supposed health benefits of this stuff.  I can’t speak for whether my already healthy self got healthier from drinking this, but I like the flavor and the effervescence of it, and it makes me feel better just by making me happy.  I obtained a culture from Kristina last winter, and immediately fell in love with another living thing in my kitchen.

Cue music from black-and-white mad scientist Kombucha working away in the cabinet.

It definitely looks freaky, but I love to make it, and find it takes even less care (besides making sure it’s free of contaminants and that it has some liquid) than sprouts, herbs or sourdough.  People say this Kombucha is more mild than the store-bought, but “in a good way.”  One more creature in my menagerie, making it myself is fun,  not so challenging, and allows me a luxury that’s locally made (it’s made with tea and cane sugar, so it’s not really a local food, but at least it’s not being shipped to my stores from afar).  I like to mix it with all-natural fruit juices (such as Red Jacket Orchards Lemon-Apple juice).

I know I’m not the only one out there that has a zoo in their apartment or house.  Don’t be scared or grossed out having a little pet culture of some sort–there is definitely a lot to be gained from a hobby like this.  And if it comes from your own kitchen, it’s pretty local, right?

I’ll sit down when…

20 Sep

[From Rachel]

I had it all planned out.  The quiet, not standing-at-the-counter-all-evening Monday night.  I had (last week) pre-cooked some wheat-berry stuffed peppers that just needed to be put in the oven, topped with local cheddar and roasted.  I would put something else in the oven to roast alongside, and I would  All day Monday I was excited to just veg out while dinner cooked itself.  It’s not that I’m burned out from all the food preservation and fun late-summer activities (mostly surrounding eating, honestly), but given that I stood up all day yesterday while making some preserved food, and that I have a road trip coming up, it seemed like my body wanted me to slow down today.  However, brain over body.  I also have loads of produce that didn’t make it into jars, the dehydrator or the freezer this weekend (though 5 quarts of applesauce, 8 pints of pickles took over my Sunday afternoon).  I know I will stress over this.  I AM stressing over this.  And come winter, when I will regardless wish I had much more fresh, bright organic produce to eat, I would remember today, and kick myself for not having made the most of Monday, September 12th.  So…I keep standing.  I stand and chop green tomatoes.  I don’t even have a plan, I just have to execute something by bedtime.  Green tomatoes, green tomatoes, I think…what to do.

This whole shelf needs to be full! Pictured: Various pickles to the left, applesauce in the back, jams and preserves to the right.

RELISH!  I haven’t had access to an abundance of cucumbers to jar up regular pickles (so far my pickles are made of zucchini and green tomatoes) or a relish, but I love sandwiches with lots of condiments.  So instead of starting a fairly long process of heat-sealing more green tomato pickles, I decide to cook down the green tomatoes.  I add a small onion and vinegar, but know this is not yet a relish.  It needs sweetness…but even in this instance I’m still trying to not rely on processed sugar.  Thinking this is not the place for honey or maple syrup, i remember the two ears of sweet corn waiting in my fridge.  They won’t get eaten before Wednesday, and they’re SO sweet.  Yeah, corn, the stuff they make corn syrup out of, that will work!  In it goes.  Some dill seeds from the bunch of dill my friend pulled out of his lawn (he’s fighting a losing battle against a naturalized dill crop, and I’m winning the spoils).  One red tomato for good luck.  A splash of water. I’ll cook it slow until it reduces by about half.  I will have to find room in the freezer, but that’s less scary than the thought of putting all that harvest in the compost.

I’m not done.

I got a dozen heirloom tomatoes in my CSA share on Friday.  Yesterday I harvested more tomatoes in my garden.  And I don’t feel like chopping any more tonight.  Seriously, it’s all I’ve been doing recently.  But I would need to chop to dehydrate, even to make a sauce I’d have to be standing.  Then I realize I can ROAST these babies.  Then I can freeze them in roasted form…and plan to eat them on a special occasion (first over-6-inches snowfall?).  Perfect, they just need a wash, some oil, salt, and (hooray) the last of that bunch of basil that I didn’t yet have a use for.  Oh and some leeks chopped up fine.  Swoosh it all around on the baking dish to coat with the seasonings.

Roasted tomatoes ready for the freezer and a winter supper plate.

These can cook while I eat the peppers and beets that are coming out of the oven, while I crunch on some beautiful chilled melon and yogurt for dessert, while I finally, finally sit.  It will be a brief rest, as I won’t really settle down from all the food preservation until the weather stops the tender crops.  I’ll sit when it snows, I guess.

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