Tag Archives: vegetables

Reach Out: Your #Locavore Friends are Waiting!

8 Sep

As we begin week 2 of the Locavore challenge, we’re thinking of the ways that food brings us together.  Most shared meals have this effect, but consider how eating locally offers the chance to make friendships, build new bonds, and keep your community and environment a place to live well.  Perhaps you don’t count farmers as regular dinner guests (but invite them, they may really appreciate someone cooking for them after a day of harvesting winter squash), but going out to a farmers market, buying their food, then treating it with interest and eating it with appreciation all go into building community with local food.  Imagine if nobody did that–what would happen to the farmer, the farmland, and your surroundings?  Now, imagine a brighter future.  What would happen if everyone who went to the farmers market convinced ONE friend, co-worker, or acquaintance to meet them at the farmers market.  How many more farmers would be supported?  How much more food would be available?  How much stronger would the local economy be?  (If you’re interested in some studies on the impact of small local farms, including how they tend to purchase more of their inputs from local sources, check out studies from the Dyson School of Agriculture Economics and Marketing at Cornell and the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems).

local-ingredient cornbread (made with honey and butter, not sugar and oil) and garden-to-table vegetable soup

local-ingredient cornbread (made with honey and butter, not sugar and oil) and garden-to-table vegetable soup

So, what happened in week one?  We saw a big uptick in blog visitors, some action on Facebook and Twitter.  One Twitter user, Amy Reinink, tweeted us photos her yogurt-in-progress.

She even strained it to make it Greek-style and posted about the challenge on her blog!  Way to go, Amy!

Our summer intern Maddy (you’ll read a post from her in a few weeks) has been working to engage community and bringing them to action through Think Local Geneseo.  Here some reasons those people gave why they’re taking the Locavore Challenge:

“I care about local farmers and their families”

“It tastes better”

“Factory farming is wasteful”

“I trust local produce”

“It makes sense”

See all the great reasons on their Facebook photo album.

Many locavores spent a few days last week sharing in traditional foods and activities of Rosh Hashanah.  They were brought into community through shared symbols, faith and for those who saw the connection, through local food-sharing.  It was indeed possible to have a very sweet Locavore Rosh Hashanah, with local apples and honey representing the sweetness anticipated for the new year.  We loved reading blogger Leah’s latest post at Noshing Confessions.  What inspiration, as usual, on good food and making the most of the seasonal bounty in the context of age-old traditions.

Some of us have families that give us instant community, and we can share the locavore challenge with them.  Sarah Raymond, Membership and Development Coordinator, is going through her first Locavore Challenge with NOFA-NY.  Here’s how her first week went:

“This September, as part of my Locavore Challenge, I plan to bring more dialogue into and emphasis on our food activities as a family.  As the month rolls on, I will help my kids keep their own Locavore journals, full of drawings, photographs, recipes we used together, stickers, stories, and most likely, a few smudged food marks. I think it can turn out to be a nice little family tradition every September. We began this week by going to our local farmer’s market. The kids picked out some peaches and blueberries to savor and share while exploring the market. Sure enough, not long after the first few bites, a group of kids had congregated together, each investigating and sharing each other’s food, with their parent’s approval of course. That’s one of the great things about food, it brings people together. For my kids, I want them to know that sharing healthy food is a way to show others their love and respect for them. In toddler terms, we like to give people healthy foods to eat because we care about them and want them be healthy so they can have fun.”

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Others among staff were impressed that a few words spoken to some fairly new friends (“I’m eating local foods as much as possible this month”) had a noticeable impact on those friends’ food-buying habits.  At a recent Labor Day dinner, the hosts were very excited to tell Rachel, Beginning Farmer Coordinator, that the tomatoes were from HER farmer (one she’d pointed out to them upon a chance encounter at the Brighton Farmer’s Market).  Everyone at the party agreed they were some of the meatiest, most delicious tomatoes they’d ever tasted.  True, when someone hears you’re trying to eat mostly local foods this month, you may have to convince them why you think it’s important (it may not be an instant sell).  But if you talk about the challenge in the right way, you can indeed effect change.   More on that later this week! Wednesday’s worksheet will help you come up with a Locavore Sales Pitch, so start thinking about why you are taking the challenge so you can tell others about it.

Let’s end this rumination turning the locavore challenge into a community-builer with some kitchen ideas that take a spin on one of our classic locavore activities.  That activity, appropriate to Grandparent’s Day (today), is to interview a relative about a food tradition.  That’s always a fun one, as some of our past blog posts show.  Decades ago, locavore eating was the only eating, and our grandparents (or great-great-grandparents) might not think of this challenge as anything but normal.  That’s where traditional foods and regional cuisine comes from–what used to be the best things to eat in that place and time.  If you’re low on inspiration from traditions, culture or passed-down recipes, try to make some new ones to repeat.  First think, “What are my local foods?  What’s available (farm-fresh) to cook with today?”  Work backwards to find a recipe that uses that food.  We have plenty of ideas collected on Pinterest.

One more crazy idea (and if you e-mail us a picture, we might just post it here next week) to share with friends and family.  Pick one ingredient.  A fruit or vegetable will be easiest.  Obtain a lot of it (perhaps in various varieties, from different farmers).  Then make a feast out of it.  Don’t just cook one dish with it.  See how many different ways you can play with that one ingredient.  Chances are that next year, whomever you invited to your Broccoli Brunch, your Carrot Circus, your Pepper Potluck Party, your Eggplant Eating Extravaganza, your Tomato Tournament or your Zucchini Zone will want to join in the fun again!  Voila! A Locavore tradition!  Try a variety of dishes, some cold, some hot, some raw, some not, to marvel over that one ingredient’s flavor and texture in all its forms.

lots of kinds of zucchini to test out!

Zucchini "Carpaccio"

raw zucchini salad (Martha Stewart)

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grilled zucchini and tomato salad (the kitchn)

zucchini ricotta galette (smitten kitchen)

zucchini ricotta galette (smitten kitchen)

ugly and therefore tasty zucchini chips

zucchini parmesan chips (smitten kitchen)

Pickle Recipe

quick zucchini pickle on toast with cheese (101 cookbooks)

zucchini ice cream (flavor of italy)

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Cultivating Vegetable Literacy with Deborah Madison

22 Aug

Deborah Madison is a writer, chef, and cooking teacher living and gardening in Northern New Mexico. Known for her many vegetarian cookbooks, Deborah spoke with us about local food, gardening, eating, and her new book. Rebecca Heller-Steinberg had the opportunity to interview Deborah, and her full article can be found in the fall issue of New York Organic News.

Sign up today to host a Locavore Challenge Harvest Dinner and you could enter to win a signed copy of Deborah’s latest cookbook, Vegetable Literacy.

Tell us about your new book, Vegetable Literacy.

My main intention in the book is to introduce vegetables in a different way, instead of by so-called season or by dishes. It’s really a way of introducing people to the idea of plant families—just the twelve that include the most common vegetables and herbs we cook with. It’s about showing what plants are related to each other and how they might behave similarly in the kitchen.

What do you hope readers will get from this book?

I hope readers might get a sense of joy. It’s so much fun when you begin to get connected to your world. So if you begin to become aware of plant families and some of their similarities and what you can expect to find physically as characteristics, it’s very exciting.

What I hope farmers take home is the importance of sharing more information with their customers. Most of us see only certain parts of vegetables. Farmers can do a lot if they’re able to show us something more, like how big an entire leek is. If people knew how many feet of leaves there are on a single leek plant, I think they’d be kind of surprised—and impressed. I hope it stimulates an appetite for knowledge.

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Do you have any suggestions for what you think we as gardeners, cooks, eaters, and farmers can be doing to be prepared for unpredictable weather and climate change?

That’s an interesting question and a big question. I don’t know how to answer that and I think about it a lot for farmers. One of the things I did in my garden is try out a new crop. I was reading about field peas, a drought tolerant pea planted in the South and originally from North Africa. I tried growing them in my garden and they worked really well for me. So perhaps we should be thinking about trying [unfamiliar crops that are adapted to similar climates.] I think that questions about weather and climate change are going to involve cultural changes too.

Do you have any embarrassing or guilty pleasures when it comes to food?

I hate the guilty pleasure question. I don’t believe in guilt and food, I really don’t. I don’t have things that I go and hoard. I may have excess sometimes. Yesterday’s lunch was a lunch of excess, which I paid for this morning when I was in my spin class. But you know, it was an excess of really good wines and really good food and good company and sitting around far too long.

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

Capturing the Locavore Spirit on the Road

21 Sep

[From Rachel]

I have traveled a lot this summer, and it has truly been great.  Each of the NOFA-NY on-farm workshops I have been to (and which I have planned) included a shared meal, and since there were farmers involved, the food was naturally sourced from nearby.  Additionally, when I travel, I tote meals, ingredients and just about anything I can to avoid relying on restaurants, though I do seek out natural foods stores with prepared foods, or restaurants with an organic and farm-to-table perspective about ingredients sourcing.  Chains are out of the question for anything besides stay-awake emergency coffee.  Mostly, I stick to my stash of fruits, homemade bread, and whatever leftovers I’ve boxed up for the trip.  I’d like to take some time to tell you how this went for me on a recent trip to Long Island, New York City and Poughkeepsie.

This trip presented me with a challenge to being able to control the food I’d consume on the road.  I was faced with a significantly long trip for which I could not pack enough to supply each meal.  This was hard for me, but I was comforted knowing that I’d be near farms and farmers’ markets and staying in houses, not hotels without kitchens.  I packed ingredients to make cornbread for my first stop–a field day and potluck at Quail Hill Farm (all the way at the tip of Long Island).  After an 8.5-hour trip (I drive slowly and take frequent breaks), I arrived at the house of two of the farm’s apprentices.  I was a bit road-weary, and I thought I’d have to break my local-foods vow with a scoop of ice cream (but I crossed my fingers for a locally-owned scoop shop, at least).  Never fear, they told me, they had half a pint of Ronnybrook ice cream that they had to save from melting during hurricane Irene’s power outages at the farm.  So I guess it never hurts to ask, and I was glad to have that to calm me down after the trip, while I stood in the kitchen and chatted about recent goings-on with the farmers.

The next day I had to find lunch.  Being in the Hamptons, there was not a shortage of delicious food that I could have spent money on, but would it satisfy my desire for a simple, local meal?   The fields were right there, and there was a kitchen available–why would I step off a food-producing establishment to get food from far away?  So I got the full Quail Hill Farm CSA member experience.  I harvested what was left over after the members had gone through and picked a few days prior, according to the very nice directional signs.  Quail Hill Farm’s CSA is almost entirely pick-your-own, a neat concept!  I got a little greedy gleaning off the plants and from the storage cooler (with everyone’s blessing) and was soon toting a bag of radishes, turnips, kale, spinach, herbs, peppers and tomatillos.  A weird mix, and I was really hungry, and a little disconcerted by the beachy humidity and wind.  I knew exactly what I was going to do when I got back to the kitchen.  Wash, slice and steam those veggies.  With food that fresh, it’s all I would need to do.  While the veggies steamed and released incredible smells, I chopped up some herbs.  I dotted a little Ronnybrook salted butter into the hot steamed veggies, and poached an egg for protein.  It was pure meditation on vegetables…and it was delicious.  It made me laugh when people passed by and commented on the wonderful look and smell of the food.  I couldn’t really take credit for much of that–the quality of my meal was a direct reflection on the skill and care taken by the farmers in raising healthy and vigorous plants bearing beautiful edible products.  And to think I had not prepared any of this ahead of time!

The turnips (red skin) look like radishes, and the radishes (watermelon variety) look like turnips!

At the potluck dinner, it was clear that we were in fall mode.  We enjoyed cornbread, baked pasta, squash and pasta salad by a fire, while we watched and felt the cold front move in.  I think everyone in New York felt that shift at about 6pm last Wednesday.  Songs were sung and company was enjoyed…then we all ran to our cars to get warm again.  It was such a low-key moment, when locavorism was unspoken and assumed.  As I left, Scott Chaskey, the 22-years-running farmer at Quail Hill, former NOFA-NY Board President, current Board member, presenter of our field day, and superb writer and amazing human being, sent me off toward the next leg of my trip with a jar of the farm bees’ honey and another pint of ice cream.  The generosity of the farmers’ gestures is an example of what makes local food work, and why it’s worthwhile.  I had no food for lunch, and there was the easy route of going to a restaurant.  But I would have sat there alone and eaten.  End of story.  But at the farm, there were kale and other veggies to be gleaned and radishes and turnips were sitting in storage.  From that, I got a meal so simple and elegant it would take Alice Waters’s breath away.  I still ate alone, but in the company of the spirit of generosity from the farmers.  Farmers want to feed you!  So give them that opportunity!  Visit their stands, their stalls at market, join their CSAs, attend their events.  You’ll end up with a feeling of sublime satisfaction, both emotional and physical.  

That was only days 1-2 of my trip!  Over the next few days, I was hanging out with my college friends in the city.  Normally I try to eat all the exotic foods that I can’t cook for myself when in New York City.  This time I wondered how I would fare, given a tighter budget and a commitment to seeking local foods (there are some great but upscale local-ingredients restaurants in the city, but I wondered if I really had the energy and funds to go that route for a few days).  It ended up that I didn’t go totally locavore in what I ate, and I am okay with that.  Here’s why:  I was MORE of a locavore than any recent NYC trip in my recent memory.  I was outspoken about my commitment to eating local and organic–I remained true in spirit, if not in actual action.  For starters, I ate both dinners in my friends’ apartment.  I can’t remember the last time we had not chosen to go out to celebrate my being in the city.  The first night, it was a simply meal that my one friend prepared (not using local ingredients, but the care and emotion taken in a meal came from within a 250-mile radius, and I accepted without judgment or hesitation).  I declared that I would cook for Saturday’s dinner.  We invited another friend living in the city, and my plan hatched.  I discovered a tiny new Greenmarket in the Socrates Sculpture Garden, several blocks from their apartment.  I scoped it out and scored plenty of beautiful produce to add to the growing stash.  I reported my findings and gave the market my seal of approval.  I think my friends will start shopping there (I advised them to start there, THEN go to the supermarket if you need more stuff.  It’s a great piece of advice to help people wrap their heads and finances around buying local food).  Then I went to Manhattan to enjoy a lunch with a dear old friend at Angelica Kitchen.  The restaurant is legendary for using local producers and for making very beautiful plant-based foods, before it was hip.  It was extremely enjoyable and I was glad to introduce my friend to this concept that I am so passionate about.  My friend learned that she likes non-spicy kimchee, and was impressed by the vegan butternut squash soup.  Before leaving Manhattan, I stopped at the huge and famous Union Square Greenmarket.  It used to overwhelm me with its booth after booth of loaded tables and pushy (sorry, NYC, but it’s often true that you can be a bit hasty at this market instead of enjoying the interaction with the vendors) customers.  I no longer feel this way…I have met many of the farmers at field days, the NOFA-NY Winter Conference and the NOFA Summer Conference.  I just went and visited familiar farm stalls, even if the people staffing them didn’t know me.  And for all you who live in NYC and are throwing up your hands at not knowing where to buy local flour: Cayuga Pure Organics sells whole grains (rye, oats, wheat berries and freekeh) and farmer-ground flours, beans and polenta.  Now you know–you don’t need to settle for bulk grains across the street at that national big-name expensive food store!  For dinner I made: bean soup with canary beans from a New Farmer Development Project farmer selling at Socrates Sculpture Garden’s market, roasted root veggies and potatoes, roasted winter squash, and freekeh.  It was actually my first experience cooking the roasted green spelt grains, and I was nervous since I didn’t know what sort of flavoring to put into it.  I threw a few golden raisins (not local) and apple cider vinegar into that pot, and that was all it needed.  What a flavorful and complex grain!  My friends (non-vegetarian boys who are adventurous eaters…but still…boys who may not have appreciated hippie girl food) were SO into the Freekeh.  They loved the whole meal, and to think we didn’t have to leave an apartment!  We even polished off a pan of apple-pear crisp after our starchy and lovely turn-of-the-season dinner.  It wasn’t all 100% local, since I didn’t have my pantry of local versions of the standard items, but it easily could have been.  I didn’t worry about that aspect at all: the spirit remained.  In fact, I was not stressed at all, like I usually am when trying to find the perfect NYC dinner spot to enjoy company of my best friends.  I cut out the middle man: the other cook,  and I think we created a new standard for my visits.  I cooked, showed off what I love about seasonal and local eating, and remembered how much I love my friends, especially because they not only ate, but asked questions about what we were eating (killed the joke that we were eating “roasted green smelt”) and even about farming and plants in general.  Being a locavore enhanced my ability to connect with my friends this trip, that’s for certain.

The next day, I went to my final field day for the season, up at Poughkeepsie Farm Project.  And guess what!  We ended with a fantastic filling potluck heavy on the potatoes and apples.  We were all hungry after 3 hours of learning about cover crop rotations.  It was blissful to sit and continue to talk and form friendships at those picnic tables (while being eaten by mosquitoes, who have a taste for local farmer blood apparently).  Through local eating, I connected with SO MANY people on my 5-day trip, had enlightening self-aware experiences, and realized, once again, that food breaks barriers if you let it.  Use the locavore challenge as the catalyst to connect with your spiritual self, your friends, your family and your farming community.  If that’s not reason enough to host or attend a potluck as part of our Potluck Across New York on Sunday, Sept. 25th, I wonder what could convince you!

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