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Breaking down a Local, Organic Chicken

26 Sep

Stephanie Backer-Bertsch, NOFA-NY Registration Coordinator, gives us a very real look at her way of celebrating local, organic poultry.  She learned how to butcher a chicken to be able to take full advantage of this well-raised and high-value food.  Note: pictures of raw chicken and meat are part of this post.  They are not bloody or particularly graphic, and show the animal being used in the most celebratory and respectful way possible.  However, we understand not everyone eats meat, and some may choose not to read on.  For those who do eat meat, learning to work with direct-from-farmer meats couldn’t be more in line with the Locavore Challenge.  Thus we present Stephanie’s adventure with the images.

Hello Locavores! In celebration of Locavore month, I decided to document breaking down a whole chicken for you all. I recently took a knife skills class at the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua, NY and thought this would be a great opportunity to showcase what I had learned—and see whether or not I was paying attention.

It started with a bird. Not just any bird, mind you, but a gorgeous 4lb local AND organic chicken from Lakestone Family Farm located in Shortsville, NY. My plan was to break the chicken down into 8 pieces. I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to do with the bird but the goal was to put the entire chicken to use. Since this was my first stint at this I thought it best to find an environment free of feline distraction—my parents’ house! I also secretly hoped my dad would act as a poultry advisor of some sort. The man has handled a chicken or two and is a culinary wizard in my book. Everything was coming together nicely.

Dad and me, blurry but appropriately fashioned for our chicken party.

Dad and me, blurry but appropriately fashioned for our chicken party. 

[Editor’s two cents: remember how the right tools and a special outfit make your locavore cooking adventures a bit more fun? Looks like Stephanie and her dad are on to that technique, too].

It’s important to have a good, sharp knife.  A chef’s knife is all you need, in fact.

Celebrating a beautiful bird!

Pausing in celebration of a beautiful bird!

First, I eyed the gams. I pulled the right drumstick away from the body to stretch the skin taught. There was a line of fat and I followed my knife along that keeping the incision shallow and only cutting through the skin.




Next, I twisted the leg in a downward motion away from the body to pop the ball joint out of the socket. I cut through the exposed joint with my sharp chef’s knife and, voila! I had the leg consisting of the drumstick and thigh! I repeated this on the other side.


Next, I removed the backside of the bird, or the spine, by positioning the chicken vertically with the butt up. I ran the knife through the skin and cartilage between the breasts and the backside of the chicken. Cutting through the ribs proved to be a bit tricky but if you have a good sharp knife and brute strength (which it seems I do), it’s no biggie. In the spirit of not wasting, and thus capitalizing on each way the bird could feed me, I saved the backbone and made a nice stock for some homemade chicken soup down the road.  If I weren’t butchering the bird myself, think of what deliciousness I’d be missing out on!


Splitting the breast was up next. I separated the breasts by cutting through the center and cracking the sternum with my knife. Now I had 4 very handsome cuts before me.  Amid the chicken mess (albeit an organic and local chicken mess) that was now taking over the kitchen and my electronics, I was really enjoying myself!


To separate the chicken and thigh, I found the ball joint and cut through it for two pieces of bird yielding dark meat (my favorite!)


I separated the wings from the breast next. Again, cutting through a joint was involved but I was so in the zone at this point I’m not sure I remember the details! The process became very intuitive as I became more intimate with the chicken’s anatomy.


While I fixated on my butchering process my dad whisked away the chicken’s heart and liver for his breakfast the following day. He also decided we would make Chicken Fricassee featuring all the broken down parts—a favorite of my childhood. Yum! [Try this very locavore-adaptable version of a Chicken Fricassee, if you’re game.]

My dad browning the meat that had been seasoned and lightly dusted with flour!

My dad browning the meat that had been seasoned and lightly dusted with flour!

The final result:


Holy deliciousness!

Holy deliciousness!

In the end, I felt very accomplished to have tackled my chicken butchering goal and very grateful my Locavore challenge resulted in a fantastic meal with my family.


I did it all on my own!

I did it all on my own!

Thanks so much for sharing, Stephanie!  For a few more meat-prep how-to’s, we recommend the following books:

Good Meat by Deborah Krasner

Long Way on a Little and Grassfed Gourmet by Shannon Hayes


The “C” and the “S” in CSA

12 Sep

As we work our locavore muscles to strengthen our community, it only made sense to have a reflection from Nicky Dennis, Community Program Coordinator at NOFA-NY.  Here, she shares her reasons for committing to Commmunity Supported Agriculture, and what that has meant during the 2013 season.

One of my favorite things about the Locavore Challenge is the invitation to grow closer to the community of locavores, to get to know your farmers and food producers, and to inspire others to join in on the fun.  When my boyfriend Nick and I were shopping for a CSA, community was a critical element in our choice.  We were looking for the opportunity to get to know the other shareholders and spend time on the farm, getting to know the farmers and their operation.  When we met Jolene from Morse Family Farm at the Canandaigua CSA Fair, we were enamored by the way she spoke so lovingly of her crops and the excitement she had for every step of their growing process, from selecting heirloom seed to the thickness of the plastic they use for their greenhouses.  She also realized we’d be eating the food, so when she talked about making a stock from mizuna and how they select varieties for taste and nutrition, my chef boyfriend was sold.  We had so much hope, on that snowy February day, for all the goodness that was to come in spring, summer and fall.  Farmers that passionate and involved in their growing process couldn’t fail, it seemed.  Who could have known what intense weather was coming up for 2013’s growing season, affecting so many farmers in the northeast?

First share

Our first week’s food from Morse Family Farm

We received several gorgeous shares of from Morse Family Farm in the spring.  Then Jolene told us that the farm would have to take a break from distributions for about a month.  She explained how the incessant rain had compacted soil on top of their newly planted seeds (they might not germinate, and weren’t guaranteed to produce enough food in the coming months) and had made it impossible to bring tractors on the muddy fields to transplant crops (again, adding uncertainty to the land’s ability to produce even after the rains were hopefully going to let the fields dry out enough).  So many farms were experiencing similar struggles that it immediately brought to mind the community role in Community Supported Agriculture.  Nick and I reminded each other, that CSA is about sharing the risk when situations like this, which are beyond anyone’s control and happen despite careful planning, result in drastic loss.

Jolene was amazing with communication through all of the farm’s tribulations.  That really helped us keep up a positive relationship through the time period we weren’t receiving shares.  We felt that they were including us in the farm, which was, after all, why we wanted to join a CSA.  So the “S” in CSA didn’t just come from us to the farm; it came from the farm back to us as they wanted to tell us what was happening.  We felt supported by their understanding that we weren’t receiving what we and they had hoped for.

I sympathized with their frustrations and loss and hoped that spending a day on the farm, putting in some sweat equity, would reinforce that they had our support through thick and thin.  For me, being a locavore means that I will weather the storm alongside the farmers and delight in delayed gratification.

high tunnel cukes

Cucumbers protected by much of the troublesome weather inside a high tunnel structure at Morse Family Farm.

I headed out to the farm for a day of work in August.  Jolene and I spent the morning weeding the onion plot and chatting about brewing beer, our families, and how we both came to love farming.  Jolene grew up in Alaska where her dad was an organic farmer, supplying to local restaurants.  She met her partner Joe while they were both working (and training to be farmers) at Fellenz Family Farm, an organic CSA and pick-your-own farm in the area.  There is nothing that makes me swoon more than farmers who fall in love on a farm.  It’s easy to see how such passionate people bond when you see how much of themselves they put into their work.   The day I worked at the farm, their five kids were milling about the farm, totally embodying the farm-family lifestyle.  After a family lunch, we got to work reconstructing a high tunnel that was destroyed last winter (see photo below).  I went home covered in dirt and sweat and in an exhausted heap.  I felt proud that my body was up for the challenge.  I was grateful for the opportunity to see the farm, get my hands dirty, and for time spent getting to know the people who devotedly grow my food.

MFF apple orchard

The apple orchards on the farm.

Besides their wonderful family and dedication to producing quality food in the best way, I also respect Morse Family Farm’s dedication to natural resource conservation, low-impact materials use and whole-farm sustainability.  A lot of the implements and infrastructure (the non-plant elements of the land and farm) are repurposed, reused, or “hacked” to fit the needs of the farm.  A really cool thing I learned is that they have set up rain barrels underground, which are fed by farm drain tiles.  Normally, farm drain tiles are used to keep water from drowning the fields, though unfortunately this year’s rains were too much for even that normally functional system of crop protection.  Instead of the rainwater draining into a stream, the barrels collect the excess rainwater, which is then pumped into the farm’s irrigation system.

farm drain tile undrained and drained

To me, Morse Family Farm exemplifies principles of our Farmer’s Pledge program, from serving the health of the land and people to using ethical business practices.  To see three generations working together on the farm reminds me that I’m in it for the long haul.  I’m weathering the storm with them through this season because I know there will be bounty of food and community in the future.  The hope that I have now, as part of my farm’s and CSA’s community, is so much stronger than the excitement I had about receiving good food.  Now it’s about the people behind the food–I know they’re responsible farmers and real people I’ll know and engage in CSA with for years.

MFF family

Joe (dad, farmer, beekeeper), Jacob (son, farm worker), Jolene (mom, farmer), and Gary (grandpa, farmer, business partner, tool and equipment hacking specialist)

On Finding Balance: 5 Strategies for Happy Locavore Times

3 Sep

Lea Kone, a Rochester local who’s worked in the organic farming advocacy world since 2008, writes in today.  Read on for an in-depth look at how she works Locavore principles into her life year round.

Five years ago, I went on a relaxing Caribbean vacation with two books packed for beach reading–Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I am not entirely sure what inspired the local-foods themed picks, but I do know this: After that vacation, my life was never the same. I flew through Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s prized non-fiction account of her family’s year-long attempt to eat only food that they grew themselves or could obtain locally. Everything about the book – from Kingsolver’s exquisite writing, to the recipes, and even the facts and figures in the footers– drew me in and made me want to do what they were doing.  I was hungry and ready to become a local foods “disciple” and to spread the word about how eating local and organic could save the world.  And that was when I became a believer. I quit my job, moved back to New York and began a career in the organic farming and advocacy field. You’re thinking “she did all that just from reading two books?” – the answer is yes.

I was terrified for my first day of work in the organic farming advocacy sector, not because it was a new job, or because it was a new “field” to me.  I had no idea what to anticipate for those things, but my actual panic was about what to pack for lunch.  I was in the process of moving into a new apartment, I hadn’t unpacked a single kitchen utensil and had zero idea how I was I going to whip up some amazing local, organic, and seasonally appropriate dish to bring for lunch.  Would my coworkers ask where the grain from my bread was grown? Was my cheese local, organic or both? Was it better to bring a vegetarian meal or show my commitment to pastured protein sources? I thought that being committed to “the good food revolution,” and working within the field meant that I must become the ULTIMATE LOCAVORE immediately.  I did not encounter sideways looks or a shunning based on my lunch choices.  I have since learned that the community of locavores is encouraging, but most of the pressure to perform comes from within.  During the Locavore Challenge, we have a chance to put more focus on our habits and what more we can do, and this is a good thing.  In those first few days of wanting to be the best possible locavore, I had some lessons to learn about what really mattered to me in that department.

wheattasting 077

Eating locally and organically can be (but doesn’t have to be) over-thought and stressful. The truth is that this change to local and organic is supposed to be a good, healthy and happy change in your life, but forcing yourself to become The Ultimate Locavore is too much.  It’s too much change, too fast, and too absolute.  Now that I think about it, that’s a good life lesson in general, but it’s an imperative lesson when becoming a Locavore, and more importantly, a Locavore who still sees their friends. [Editor’s note: don’t forget that you can engage your friends and find new ones through the locavore challenge, though Lea certainly has a point here about not creating Locavore-colored walls around yourself].

When I participated in the very first Locavore Challenge in 2010, I tried to approach it like an Iron Man Challenge. I stripped my cabinets bare of any imported pastas, oils, sugars, and regionally un-identifiable canned beans and vegetables. I trained like I was a future Olympian as well, pre-preparing tomato sauces, chicken broths, crackers, breads and soups.  I made local, organic ice creams and plum upside down cakes for desserts, became a connoisseur of fine sustainable New York State Rieslings and turned my nose up at people with bananas or peanut butter.

locavore pig

So, “Fine,” you might grumble, “You’re great at being a Locavore.  What’s the problem?” Well, attempting the Locavore Challenge with too much force, as an obsession and with an all-or-nothing approach rather than a passionate pursuit with some self-forgiveness and flexibility built in, will probably wear you out.  Going “cold (organic) turkey” is a tough approach for anything.  You’ll know if you’ve taken it too far, because the next thing you know you’re 20 days (or 2 days) into the challenge and hiding in a dark corner of your local bar on a Wednesday night inhaling a piece of pizza made with ingredients from who-knows-where, contemplating a non-organic, not-lovingly-prepared, not-local chicken wing, and rationalizing it all because you are drinking a Peak Organic NY Local Series Beer and muttering incoherently under your breath “at least I know where my hops come from.”   For the record, Peak Organic is brewed in Maine, but that particular brew is produced with all NY state ingredients.  Take it a little easier than the perfection approach, find the areas in which you can sanely and reasonably challenge yourself to do more, and you’ll find yourself increasing your Locavore lifestyle without that binge effect.

Top 5 List for Becoming a Locavore Living and still LIVING

5. Identify your breakfast options right away. It is the most important meal of the day, and if you start your day as a grumpy, hungry, unprepared Locavore, you are going to be sitting in Dunkin’ Donuts sulking and ashamed by Day 3.

My Breakfast Go-To: Fritttata (that’s EASY EGG DISH in Italian)

A frittata is as good, if not better, cold than hot and great for lunch or dinner too. Start by sauteeing local veggies, bacon (if desired) and potatoes. Add beaten eggs, cheese, and seasoning. Heat until set and then finish under the broiler.

4. Discover local grains. Wheat berries, freekeh, rolled oats, cornmeal and local wheat flours are going to change your world. Open your arms to them.
Grains (photo: John-Paul Sliva)

My Local Grain Go-To: Polenta (that’s CORN MUSH in Italian)

It is easy to make, super versatile, and is good for any meal of the day. Try it with a poached egg and salsa in the morning, or with cheese, sausage and roasted veggies for lunch of dinner.


3. Commit to one afternoon or evening in the kitchen. It’s no surprise that a little advance planning and preparation
can make a world of difference. Pick one day, either the same day or shortly after a market or CSA day and go nuts in the kitchen.

My Day: Sunday

My market of choice is Sunday morning, and for me, it just makes sense to shop, come home and wash and prep all of my market bounty [Lea’s not the only one hip to this plan]. I like to start by roasting a whole chicken, and then turn that into a soup that I can enjoy well into the week.

My Chicken Soup: Shredded chicken with homemade broth, and chock full of the extra roasted veggies from the roasted chicken. My favorites: carrots, onions, fennel, parsnips and potatoes. This becomes a hearty stew like soup that embraces all of the flavors of late summer and early fall.

John-Paul Sliva 021

Cut up and roast a big pan of root vegetables on your in-the-kitchen day. You’ll have food for now and the start of hearty salads and sides later in the week.

2. Set realistic goals. Will you choose a few non-local items that you must have: coffee, tea, peanut butter and eat 100% local otherwise? Will you just eat local at home? Or will you try and replace certain items in your cupboards or refrigerators with local alternatives?

My Goal: To eat 90% local and organic.

This is really my goal all year, and its really my aim for it to be as close to 100% as possible, but I believe that setting reasonable and achievable goals is always better than setting oneself up for failure. This season is bountiful with local products, so I start by stocking my fridge exclusively with local and organic fruits and vegetables. I choose local grains, beans, meats and dairy products as well, and allow myself to add small amounts of non-local oils, seasonings and accents (like the occasional lemon or Parmesan cheese). That sets me up for being nearly 100% at home, and allows me to be open for what options I may have before me while eating with friends or family.

Locavore home cooking: sauteed okra, herbs and corn fritters.

Locavore home cooking: sauteed okra, herbs and corn fritters.

1. Be real. Let yourself be human, and don’t aim for perfection. Even the most committed local and organic food experts have occasions when they eat chocolate and bananas and drink coffee and tea. Of course, they prefer Equal Exchange, Fair Trade and Organic to Dole, Nestle and Folgers, but you get the gist. This isn’t the Organic Olympics or the Sustainability Seminary. Give yourself a break and just focus on enjoying the delicious food.

A Month of Locavore-Positive Action!

1 Sep

Today is day one of this year’s NOFA-NY Locavore Challenge!  It seemed appropriate to write our first long read on the topic of the choice to have a whole (long) month, again, to focus on supporting local and organic farms through our food, activity, and advocacy choices.  We at NOFA-NY are not expecting that everyone comes to the Locavore idea from the same experience, or even with as much enthusiasm as we do.  On the other hand, we don’t use the word “challenge” to make you worried that each decision will be hard.  “Locavore Focus Month” or “Locavore Encouragement Month” just don’t have that same ring and excitement to them as “Locavore Challenge.”


Really, “challenge” is a verb here.  We’re challenging you to meet September’s potential by seeing your decisions from a Locavore perspective.  You can choose your own adventure, which is made up of many moments and decisions.    How many of them can you make into Locavore-positive moments?  When you add up your Locavore-positive decisions at the end of the month, you may even realize that it would have seemed a monumental task to take on if you’d made a to-do list at the outset.  It’s good to have your own rules, guidelines, and a to-try list.  That’s definitely what this month is for… motivating yourself  to support local, organic and farmer’s-pledge farms, your local economy, and perhaps your health (assuming you don’t use the Locavore prerogative to subsist on local cheeses, ice cream and wine for all of September).

grain on sieveLet’s talk about the opportunities a month-long challenge presents in terms of the small decisions we each make regularly.  Eating breakfast (and yes you should, especially with so many local goodies for this mealtime), think about what goes into it.  Each component presents a decision.  What do you normally eat, and what could you trade up for a locally-produced food?  No, don’t over-think it.  But think about it a little bit.  You can put brown sugar (not local) or maple syrup (the local stuff) on your (maybe local) bowl of oats or cooked-grain cereal.  And while you’re considering breakfast cereals, have you ever tried cooked and cooled wheat berries as a healthy breakfast cereal? They’ll never get soggy like dry cereals, and you can keep plenty of cooked grain on hand for a fast morning breakfast.  Look for locally-grown wheat, spelt, rye grains (called berries) or Freekeh (which is a roasted green spelt grain with a nutty and smoky flavor–great for bacon lovers).  Your choice, but we recommend you try it as part of the challenge.  You could eat yogurt produced by a local food artisan or a farmer themselves, or you could eat local HOMEMADE yogurt, and you could add in ONLY locally-grown fruits, put some local honey on top, and chew it all slowly while thinking appreciative thoughts about the farmers who moved fencing every 12 hours to keep the cows on fresh grass, and then who milked the cows, kept the milk clean and sanitary through its journey from cow to yogurt making to market to your breakfast bowl (wait, is that breakfast bowl made by a local potter? Okay, just kidding).

Spotted at NOFA-NY HQ: wheat berries, homemade yogurt and local fruit for an on-the-go breakfast.

Spotted at NOFA-NY HQ: wheat berries, homemade yogurt and local fruit for an on-the-go breakfast.

What other decision points are there?  Too many to name!  You probably don’t eat in the house every day.  What food do you take with you to your sit-down job?  That’s a decision and you can challenge yourself to remember to pack a local-foods-focused meal each day.  Maybe your decision is to cook extra of that recipe that uses local chicken, and you bring that for part of your lunch one or two days.  Maybe that local organic chicken is a bit out of your price range for a double recipe, so you decide that those local organic potatoes and carrots, so flavorful at the end of September, would bulk up that dish and give you enough for leftovers.  And maybe your hand hovers around your go-to-makes-everything-taste-better bottled spice blend, and then you remember you impulse-bought a blend of dried herbs from that sweet hippie at the farmers market two weeks ago.  In September, go for the local decision.

Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, NY

Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, NY

You just packed a whole lot of Locavore-positive decisions into one meal, one moment, and you build some great habits.  You can do that, and you can do more!  You have a whole month!  What do you normally take with you when you’ve overslept and feel a time crunch getting where you need to go?  Make a local-positive choice in September.  Locally-grown apples (maybe you picked them yourself) are just as portable as a banana.  Bananas don’t grow in New York; apples definitely do.  Why only grab one apple from your stockpile?  Take several, and keep them at work, and then that one decision will have a multiplier effect.  No need to scrounge up a granola bar or a bag of chips when you have an apple at arm’s length!  You’ll slowly train yourself to take the small steps that allow you to make the good decisions, and it really starts with simply examining some of your actions and eating decisions.

Some of our decisions fall into that presence-of-mind category and aren’t entirely visible.  These are decisions that make the food you’re eating matter a bit more, as you actually pay attention to it.  What’s the point of a great locally-sourced meal that you kind of ignore while you watch TV?  You can decide to turn off the technology that generally accompanies your morning, just try it on Tuesdays to start (turn-off Tuesdays, as a way to remember), and focus in on how thankful you are for those who crouched over the melon vines, and then found the energy to keep each melon from bursting (they’re very fragile when they’re picked ripe) in the back of a truck on the way to your farmers market.  You can even let yourself feel a little smug for passing over that plastic clamshell package of nonlocal berries in favor of that melon, even though you really wanted to make the delicious-looking strawberry shortcake recipe trending on Pinterest (don’t those pinners know what’s in season?).

A lot else, besides eating, happens in any given month, of course!  It’s easy to get Locavore-foodie fatigue, or feel like all you’re talking about is food.  When that happens, maybe you shift focus to a Locavore experience, to researching ways you can conserve farmland in New York, or to calling up a friend you haven’t seen in a while to go apple picking (the movies and coffee dates are for non-September months; picking fruit or strolling a local-focused event are September outings).  You’ve decided to do something Locavore-positive with that time, so nice work!  Soon enough (maybe not that same day), you’ll be excited to tackle that recipe substitution project to convert Aunt Sally’s famous chicken pot pie recipe into a local-foods-heavy family favorite, because your earlier activities remind you how food choices are facilitated by ALL the ways you support local food and farming.  And that connection lets you appreciate that you (okay, begrudgingly, because you wanted to watch TV) spent a drizzly, humid morning with your kids, trying to keep their hands from sneaking those berries at the farm stand (scolding them but silently grateful they’re developing a taste for fruit and not artificial flavors) while you loaded up on sweet corn that you’d eventually teach your berry-stained-fingered kids to shuck in the front yard.  If you’re making Locavore-positive decisions, and creating experiences around them, you’re doing the Locavore Challenge!


Don’t forget to share with us–each Sunday we plan to highlight interesting comments, tweets, Facebook posts and photos from the previous week.  Yes, you also make decisions about what you share, and we challenge you to spread the Locavore love whenever you can!

Liking Salad

5 Sep

No, the Locavore Challenge isn’t a conspiracy to force you or your loved ones to eat vegetables or become a plant-based eater (formerly known as vegetarian or vegan).  However, vegetables and fruits are some of the most dynamic and dramatic local foods, with such obvious peak seasons and a “height of readiness” that is hard to stall (hence we can, dry, freeze and over-consume these when they are abundant and cheap, as Leda Meredith has helpfully reminded us).  And you can get REALLY into these foods and make great salads.  Or you can make terrible salads.  As NOFA-NY’s resident salad addict (um, I have a Tumblr on the topic) I decided I’d quickly run down some of my favorite “corrections” for common salad-averse individuals and the resources that taught me to improve my game with salad.  Tomorrow’s “food of the day” is greens, so of course I wanted to post this a day in advance to get you really craving some vitamin-packed leafy greatness.  HAVE FUN AND EAT YUMMY! –Rachel

My top two authority reference materials for building a salad: The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen (see page 36–I’m probably accidentally copying her, word for word, since I used this book so much when learning to cook) and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (pp. 134 and up).  I hate to reneg on my earlier point about accidental or subliminal vegetarian indoctrination, but the vegetarians do have the salad-making instructions down pat.  Many vegetarian cookbooks take time to explain these tips in the beginning of their salad chapter.  Or maybe it’s that I just own a whole mess of vegetarian cookbooks and don’t much bother with full-spectrum ones, being a lifelong vegetarian.  In any case, look at the beginning of a salad chapter in any big cookbook, and there are bound to be pointers.

Common issue  #1: “It’s just not fun to eat a salad.”

  • Translation: you’ve got a texture issue and you’re chewing something that makes you feel a little too much like a cow or a rabbit.  Learn the art of the massaged salad.  With tough greens and leaves like kale and cabbage, sprinkle some salt over your shredded/finely chopped leaves and massage it in for a few minutes.  Then leave those leaves (yikes) in a colander or strainer for 20 minutes (chop the rest of your salad), rinse them and drain them and dry them and then add to your marvelous creation.  Update for 2013: kale salad got big this year.  We’ve all learned that you can make this the star of your salad, and I’ll stand by the technique, despite whatever else is out there, that you should finely chop the leaves, massage in salt, pepper, oil and acid components, and let it sit for a while, unless you like a jaw workout. Then continue.
  • For tender greens, lettuce and baby mixes, dress them separately before you add anything else.  Add a tiny amount of oil (sunflower and squash seed are both great dressing options) and salt and pepper and gently mix with your hands, two wooden spoons or salad tongs.  Then splash on some of your finished dressing (this is the ideal extra-fussy step…at least oil and salt separately)
  • With hard vegetables, it’s important to get them broken down a bit by changing their physical structure.  Adding too-large chunks of carrot or cucumber to a nice bowl of lettuce would be like trying to lie on a bed with incorrect sized sheets and odd pillows.  Right elements, wrong sizes and shapes to be effective.  Use a vegetable peeler to make fine ribbons of almost anything: carrots, zucchini (yep, eat it raw when it’s a young one), kohlrabi; invest in a nice shredder (mine cost just $20 and I rarely waste food by creating a mass of raw slaw about once a week and eating through that for my lunches), it makes quick work of cabbage (use the flat blade, not the grater), beets, radishes, anything!
  • Combine the greens and prepared veggies in a ratio that doesn’t weigh down the greens so much.  You might have leftovers (use them in tomorrow’s salad!).
  • Only toss in watery vegetables like tomatoes at the last second, after you’ve dressed and mixed the rest of your salad.  Salt, pepper and dress your tomato wedges or slices separately and then lay them on top your salad.  Whole cherry tomatoes are fine to toss.
  • Cook some of those veggies!  If you+raw____ does not = love, don’t sweat it.  I love to add odds and ends of cooked sweet potatoes, leftover stir-fry and steamed vegetables to my mixtures.  It’s all salad if you ask me.
  • Mix in some non-vegetable matter, plant-based or otherwise for a creamy or crunchy texture.  Tip #3 will give some ideas.

Common issue #2: Strong mustard/earthy/bitter flavor from the raw veggies

  • Beets are a common bitterness culprit here, as are over-ripe cucumbers.  On the earthy/mustardy complaint: that’s your brassica family, namely raw broccoli, cauliflower, full-grown kale and cabbage.  Chopping small, pre-cooking, salting all help out with the strong flavors.
  • Add in something sweet and fresh like thinly-sliced sweet apple, melon or even berries and grapes.  Also, learn the balance of a good salad dressing.
  • My frequent mistakes/corrections: forgetting to add sweet (have you ever added honey to a dressing over bitter vegetables? such a game-changer), needing to brighten up with fresh herbs or citrus juice (but that’s not local! try tomato juice for some acid).
  • Here’s a favorite not-too-simple salad dressing recipe, but if you have a cookbook, you likely have a recipe.  Focus on ingredient ratios and substitute what you have in terms of local oils, acids and herbs/spices.  Nut butter and yogurt can really correct all manner of evils in salad dressing, as would a dab of mustard or a drop of soy sauce.  Don’t forget to add salt and pepper, no matter what you do!

Common issue #3: A salad just doesn’t “do it.”

Ok, add some protein and/or grains.  Here are some awesome favorites you may or may not have in your Locavore pantry:

  • Cooked grains (wheat berries, farro)
  • Corn cut from the cob (and if you’ve never tried extra-fresh corn raw, DO)
  • Cooked beans
  • Leftover meats
  • Tofu–cooked or raw (teach yourself to make baked tofu and never have a boring salad again!)
  • Hard-boiled egg, or leftover omelette or scrambled eggs
  • Shaved hard cheese, shredded or cubed softer cheeses, smears of very soft (like goat) cheese
  • Sprouts
  • Any leftovers, actually.  Next time you roast or grill veggies, try your hardest to keep some to the side for tomorrow’s salad.  A good idea is to further chop these down once cooled.
  • Dried fruit
  • Granola (or home-made granola from local grains)
  • Chopped pickles or other brined/fermented food

Is your salad boring still?  Add chopped herbs: parsley, chives, cilantro, basil, lovage, tarragon, thyme.  Go easy at first, but if you’re blessed to have a bunch of herbs lying around, they can be really fantastic additions.

Yes, salads of this sort take longer to put together, but undressed (i.e. chopped but not salted or oiled/vinegared) vegetables will keep several days, so you can prep once and keep trying different combinations and dressing throughout the week.  Kale salad, minus tender greens, gets better overnight.

Chopped red pepper, raw broccoli, arugula, massaged slaw of cabbage, carrot and beets. Drizzled some squash seed oil and spicy cider vinegar on top, and to complete the meal ate some homemade bread with nut butter and jam.

More salad/raw foods eye candy (no Locavore promises here…but it will get you hungry):

NY Times Health: Summer Salads

Food 52 salad category

101Cookbooks salad category

Splendid Table Salads

Olympic Principles as Applied to Canning Food for Winter

1 Sep

Happy Locavore Month!  Here’s a post to inspire you a week in advance of our “Try Food Preservation” challenge of the day (that’s Sept 9th if you’re following along on the calendar).  First off, don’t think that this is a first-time canner telling you how awesome and easy canning is. It CAN be easy and fun, but that might not be your first experience. I have some practice, and I’m learning what it takes for me to enjoy it (I know I like the end results, but this year I’ve been working on not feeling burdened by a hobby I generally enjoy). I’m not trying to scare you from trying canning, but encouraging you to do so while taking comfort that it does take practice to get the knack of it. In the spirit of this summer’s Olympic games, I’ve tried to get cute with some Olympics analogies. Please forgive me for that!  If you prefer information via podcast, From Scratch Club just put out their Food Preservation edition of their podcast, and they really boil down (ha!) a lot of what I’ve said here.  If you’re short on time to read, perhaps you’ll get the most new information from the last section of this post–my personal tricks to guarantee a fun experience.  Plus, a rare photo of me in my canning uniform.

A Few Common Challenges:

  • Inadequate training facilities (less-than-ideal kitchen spaces). I have drawn my dream preserving space, and it’s nothing like the 5 feet of counter and 4×4 table top and miniature (but thankfully 4-burner) stove in my apartment. My state-of-the-art canning kitchen involves a separate low power burner atop which I could place a big heavy water-bath canner. Lifting jars in and out would then not be atop tip-toes, with a limited field of vision. But hey, some of the best athletes in the world come from such humble training arenas, that it’s obvious there’s more than fancy stuff involved.
  • Unfavorable training/performing conditions.  It’s usually hot or humid when you’re handling hot glass, molten sugar-fruit mixtures and acidic pickles and tomato sauces. And of course there’s the hot water.
  • You need a chunk of time. You’re likely to sleep lessor relinquish a few weekends if you’re going to put a whole lot of produce away this way. Of course, you can can once and feel happy about that single batch, but it seems to be habit-forming.

    Tomato paste–one of the most time-consuming of the home canned foods. But man, am I psyched to crack these open in late winter and inhale the fresh-as-August flavor.

  • Team and individual competition don’t always coincide. Sometimes winning at canning is easier with others, but the produce won’t wait til your friends are available for the relay or the team all-around competition.
  • You’d need to preserve a LOT of produce (not a quantity most people can afford in a concentrated few months without a really keen sense of budgeting) to actually survive on it all winter.  This probably is a case of adjusting your expectations.
  • Starting up can feel like you just keep buying more equipment. There are ways to combat this.

(My Personal) Motivation:

  • I am able. As I watched the Olympics this summer (while canning, at times) and I realized that there are some things I can do (preserve pickles) and some things I won’t ever do (high jump)…so why not exercise my abilities!?
  • It brings me so much joy to eat something, occasionally (see above), in the winter that tastes so fresh and delicious. I think most of those athletes are actually having fun, or once did while performing their sport.
  • I feel pretty dang empowered. My personal life hasn’t been 100% easy (gee, has anybody’s?) this summer, but knowing that I accomplished some canning makes me feel better. I have found it impossible to mope and can at once. If I’m stressed over hot liquids and acid-to-tomato ratios, I’m not thinking about those other things.  It’s a form of meditation: Late at night, I’m all ready for bed and waiting on those jars of pickles to boil for 15 minutes.  I’m in the zone as I’m extracting them, steaming, onto a towel-lined baking tray (so I can move them from counter to table and back again without truly disturbing them during their sealing process).  I like going straight to bed after my closing ceremonies (see below). It’s the good feeling of exhaustion that has nothing to do with negative emotions or stress from work. The colorful foods in their glass houses have a muted twinkle in their dark cabinet…like an army of protectors from feeling sad or lazy.
  • Some people are just suited for what they do–athletes and canners alike. If you’re like me and enjoy scientific research, math, creativity and anticipation of yumminess…canning would appeal to you for the research for just the right recipe given what’s available to me, there’s the math in making the batch fit my quantities, there’s the extra creative touch like throwing basil in the blueberry-plum jam, there’s the excitement of watching jars go in and out of the canner, there’s the hands-wiping-on-the-apron feeling of accomplishment when finished, labeled food goes on the shelf.
  • You make it your own thing.  This year I’ve gotten really into drawing with colored pencils.  You’re wrong if that doesn’t have anything to do with canning…check out how I’ve been gluing hand-written labels on all my jars.  It’s absolutely unnecessary (marker on the lid works fine), but I don’t care.  Maybe you’ll write a poem or a song or your kids will invent some silly dance that is all about the canning process.  Arts and the kitchen, memory-making and the kitchen, it’s all one.

    Handwritten labels allow me to feel even more artsy-craftsy when cooking.

  • It is a seasonal experience. And we don’t even have to wait for our turn every 4 years (assuming we make it through brutal qualifying rounds). Some people look forward to getting freezing cold and whipping down a mountain on waxed metal slabs (it’s called skiing I think), I look forward to swollen feet and tomato steam. If I don’t do it now, I miss out for the year. Actually, I get nervous with anticipation as soon as the strawberries hit market tables. I relax as time goes on, because I’ve understood, as a not-first-time-canner, that I won’t preserve enough, but everything I do preserve will bring so much happiness.

    This is what 8 pounds of tomatoes looked like a few weeks ago.

Performance Enhancement:

  • Don’t worry, it’s not like those running shoes that last for one race. I started slowly, especially with what I purchased. You are investing, one 12-pack of jars at a time. Canning is all about frugality and re-use, but it’s a slower return on your investment than you’d like, most likely.  You’re likely to find used equipment or a community of canners to share the time and equipment. I know people who have convinced their churches to start kitchen gardens, to buy equipment in the name of community outreach and food pantries! A few knowledgeable and dedicated individuals can run with this sort of idea with your congregation, community center or other established group.
  • The research and knowing the difference between recipe and formula. There are SO many blogs, tutorials, podcasts, photo collections, online forums and resources available. But the thing that gets me from ooh/aah on a blog post to actually canning myself is knowing what I must not change. For that I go to the USDA and trusted books for formulas regarding safe ratios of ingredients (namely acidity for home canning without a pressure canner) and processing time. The rest is fluid and fun, but only because I know I have the confidence that I’ve cross-checked my stuff. If you like to just go with a recipe, then you can do that too!
  • You can take classes.  I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without exhorting you to find your local equivalent of The From Scratch Club academy.  Try your Cooperative Extension office for starters.
  • A kitchen scale. This goes with research and the tiny kitchen issues. I usually measure what I have before I look up recipes. Then I figure out what I can chop and fit in my vessels. I know I can’t fit 25 pounds of chopped tomatoes in any pot I own. So that recipe for ketchup gets divided in 3, and I can weigh my produce again according to that. Fewer surprises really helps when you’re canning.  For reference, this is what I have: Salter digital scale.
  • Not canning everything (is this like not competing in every Olympic event in your sport?). I don’t convert everything that arrives, abundant and seasonal, into a vinegary or fermented pickle, water-packed and acidulated whole veggie or sweet spread of some sort. I only can what I know I’ll want to eat. I do leave myself wishing I’d done more of x (cucumber pickles…always) and less of y (seriously…more jam?), but I think it feels better than facing another jar of something in vinegar that I wish I could better repurpose. I guess I’m saying that for all I love about pickles, I also like to keep my options open, play the field a bit. So, though this is a posting about canning, the advice to do OTHER food preservation does go into it. I chop and freeze lots of items and dehydrate others. Those methods, especially dehydration, always result in a moment of surprise and delight…many moments, perhaps…when I realize how well-preserved those summer flavors are when reconstituted in a soup or casserole. To bring this point back around, I do my best to choose what I put in jars, vs. letting the jars boss me around, and that keeps the activity fun. (Side Note: I absolutely respect and admire and get a little jealous about the committed folks who manage to can such a variety of fruits and vegetables–I’m really just speaking from personal decisions, hoping it rings true with some readers. Those canning community members have some absolutely genius ideas for what to do with all.those.jamsjelliespicklesandpreserves).
  • The little genius inventions and moments. I hated running back to my book or computer, doing the calculations in my head, an
    Ketchup Recipe

    Binder clip, attached to my cabinet with a thumbtack = perfect recipe placement

    then going back to the counter. So I wrote what I needed to know on a piece of paper and put it right where I needed it, above my counter. I still have that little binder-clip set up and use it for much more than canning.

  • Clear as much out of your way as possible. Put all the dishes away, clear out the sink of that one last mug you didn’t wash, move anything that’s going to tumble or be in the way to a different place (just remember that your condiments are on the desk in your office, the kitchen utensils are on top of the TV cabinet, the bowl of fruit is on your bed, etc.). Make your space canning central for a few hours.  I was always impressed with how the gymnasts packed and unpacked their extra gear each time they took their turn. Compared to that, the pre-canning cleanup seems like a cinch!
  • Set up your process. When I’ve canned with my dad, we actually did a little walk through of who would fill, wipe, place lids, etc. Get that flow nailed down whether you’re alone or (better) with friends/family. If it seems like you’ll be dancing (and not for fun/music/joy), reconsider the placement of your items. You may need an A set-up (chopping, cooking); a B set-up, filling, lidding and a C set-up, boiling, cooling. Think about what goes next to what from the perspective of where you’re going to scoop into, drip onto, etc. Prop up one end of your cutting board on a rolled up towel so it drips that juice into the sink. Move the kitchen furniture around so you get that work flow just as you need it. Put the compost bucket next to you on the floor. Don’t worry, these aren’t forever moves.

Canning Set Up A: H2O is essential–you’re going to get dehydrated (just like an Olympic athlete!).  Clean sink, towel over kitchen items not stowed away, pot ready for tomatoes, weighed produce, tilted cutting board.  The pot will actually replace the produce bowl in about 30 seconds.

Canning Set Up B: jars in hot water, boiling water canner on stove, 2 pots of cooked tomato products, lids in their simmer pan, funnel, jar lifter, lemon juice!

  • Have some gear. Ok, I know this isn’t really fair to tell you to go buy stuff, and I’m actually not a gadgets person. But canning is a case when the right tools for the job, and some fun extras, really make it go smoother. After you go through a few trying bouts without a piece of equipment, you’ll learn what you really need. For me it was a wide-ended funnel and an apple peeler/corer

    I’m saying, “don’t mess with me or my tomatoes or you go into the boiling bath too!”

    (scored at a thrift store–which are categorically awesome for kitchen gadgets, less so for athletic gear).

  • Hold Opening Ceremonies: In my case, my setup process also includes setting music and donning my canning clothes–apron and well-secured hair. If putting on a Rambo bandanna makes you feel awesome and gets you in the mood for canning, make it a ritual. Truly, so much of canning is taking the chore out of it, and making it something you do for a good time. It’s probably going to get hot in your kitchen–maybe you feel like canning in your bathing suit. I say, “Go for gold!”
  • Don’t forget Closing Ceremonies: Don’t leave your kitchen messy…at least get the mess consolidated, surfaces wiped and everything close back to order. Nothing will deter you more from future canning than the memory of waking up to a mess the next day (remember all those times in college when you said, “I’m never drinking again” because you felt like such a wreck? Canning isn’t so habit-forming at first that you actually will can again if you have a can-over in your kitchen the next day). So, for me, that pre-cleaned countertop and dish rack help the closing ceremonies go off without a hitch (and I’m not inviting washed-up pop stars to my kitchen).

HAVE FUN!  (I know I look super-serious in the self-portrait, but I was unclear when the camera was going to go off and it felt vain to take another snapshot.)  I hope you enjoy preserving the bounty, and maybe you’ll find canning is for you.  Again, go listen to the FSC podcast, it will get you very excited!

I NEED the dark days challenge…

8 Dec

From Rachel

Sigh.  That’s how I feel about my local eating lately.  Since the end of September, Rochester has still been awash in great local and organic produce, and I’ve definitely been relying on the farmers for fruits and veggies.  We’ve been fortunate with really mild weather, and it’s almost DECEMBER!  Still, despite the good habits I formed during September, including purchasing local only flours, etc. I do feel I’ve lapsed a bit.  It doesn’t help that my inventory of local polenta, freekeh and oats ran out, but I’ve still been using local wheat flour and eggs.  I lapsed on making my own soy milk, I’m using (fair trade) white and brown cane sugar more than local sweeteners, etc.  So I’m SO glad there’s a new challenge to kick me into gear.  I like the Dark Days Challenge because it’s the moderate approach to locavore…I wouldn’t be a content locavore every meal of every day, as we all know.  But my favorite foods are the ones that star local organic fair produce, so this is a great choice for me to use as sort of a practiced meditation on that concept during the winter. It’s like going to that really intense yoga class even though you sort of do yoga in your living room most mornings or something like that.

“Good Enough Reason”

Though eating local is instinctively a good idea, I find myself faced with when to use the results of long summer afternoons storing food for this very occasion.  I don’t have enough stored to eat these foods all winter, so they become extra special to me.  They become like a collection of good wine for some people…wine that never gets enjoyed because it’s so special.  I dehydrated, pickled, canned and froze foods all summer and fall so I would enjoy it, not just enjoy looking at it, but I know that a lot of that food will not get opened if I don’t have a “good enough reason.”  I sort of rang a starting bell on opening jars at Thanksgiving.  Seemed like a special enough occasion and like it was late enough in the year (never mind the non-frozen ground outside that is yielding heavenly sweet kale and big ol’ carrots and more).  When I post about Dark Days, I plan to give a run-down of the stored foods opened and the fresh foods used, which will encourage me to open and celebrate the fresh taste of summer and fall while snow (maybe) falls outside.

On Thanksgiving and next day:

  • Pickled green tomatoes (canned Sept. 2011)
  • Ginger-Pear-Lime preserve (canned August 2010–only three jars were made of this heavenly stuff, and I thought a first holiday meal with a significant other’s family was “good enough reason” to break out the final jar)
  • Delicata squash (brought in a huge bin into the NOFA-NY office by our at-large technical assistance specialist, who is a lifelong farmer who obviously knows just how to grow and cure winter squashes, that flesh was dang dense and sweet)
  • Rosemary and parsley (my windowsill)
  • Beets and Turnips (from last CSA pickup back in October)
  • Carrots, potatoes, garlic, onions (local farmers)

Annnnd forgot to take pictures of how all this glorious food came together.  There was a pickle tray with Lea’s refrigerator pickles, beans, garlic scapes and my green tomatoes.  The ginger-pear-lime went on bread on Friday, next to cranberry relish.  Squash and veggies were roasted and mixed into a quinoa salad (dressing included South River miso, soy sauce, organic orange juice, windowsill parsley, butternut squash seed oil) for Friday.  The rosemary roasted potatoes that I made were probably the winner in the local-ingredients content, as only the olive oil, salt and pepper were not local.  So, not doing too bad without really trying, but I’m all fired up reading some other blogs, ready to challenge myself to highlight local non-vegetable ingredients again.

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!

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