Archive for ‘Good Food’

May 27, 2013

by Cynthia

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Princess with her head stuck through the fence. Again.


This is my little goat, Princess, who really does believe that the grass is greener, and tastier, on the other side of the fence. Never mind that she has ten acres of good grazing at her hoof tips. Perhaps she was lured by the faint scent of wild honeysuckle growing along  the fence row in the next field. Maybe she spotted some poison ivy, a goat delicacy, creeping up a sumac and she couldn’t hold herself back. She never learns.  God love her little bitty goat brain. She acts surprised every time she gets stuck, crying out to her buddies who nonchalantly look her way and keep on chewing. Our Great Pyrennes, Harry, has begun to ignore her. When she was younger,  he would do his good goat dog duty and go sit beside her until Tim or I arrived to wrangle her free.  I think he has finally developed compassion fatigue.  Princess gets herself into this predicament so frequently that we have moved her into a pasture with electric fencing.

The problem really isn’t that she sticks her head through the fence, it’s that she can’t keep on going. She can’t get her whole self through.  She sees something she wants, she heads in that direction, then she gets stuck.  Princess is a walking metaphor for what we psychotherapists call Ambivalence.  She has lots of desire, but not enough follow through.  Trapped by her own bulk, she is unable to move forward.

I realize I have my own ambivalence about being a better citizen of the planet. I decide to drive my car on a day when I could easily take the train. I order a chicken dish  in a restaurant that has Tyson written all over it.  I get enraged by the squash bugs annihilating my zucchini, and I buy some Sevin, “just this once.”

These petty environmental crimes won’t have a big impact on the environment, but neither will my efforts to live green and eat clean. Global warming is bigger than all of us little organic gardeners out here no-tilling and composting and recycling and picking bugs off our plants at sunrise. But we are making a difference.

Growing your own food reduces your carbon footprint in at least two ways. Think about this finding in a recent study of organic versus traditional farming methods;  “Recent studies of the US food system have shown that most (50–70%) of the average households‘ carbon footprint for food consumption comes from farm production and subsequent processing, with transport accounting for only an average of 11%, respectively, across all sectors or food products.”   Sustainability 2011, 3, 322-362

The more food we grow in our back yard, or buy from our local organic CSA,  the more we reduce our carbon footprint.  And we get much better food.

Maybe, just maybe, if enough of us are passionate about the planet, and we make enough noise, the rest of the world will pay attention. Maybe our collective ambivalence about making the kinds of changes that DO impact the environment will begin to shift. Then those folks who refuse to believe that humans are negatively impacting the global climate might get on board. They might realize they are not as smart as they once thought, might second guess their assertions about hard science and recurring patterns.

Meanwhile, the garden is planted and the fruit trees are full of tiny apples and peaches and cherries and pears. The berry bushes are heavy with green fruit. The animals on our farm are making us lots of rich fertilizer and we are moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle. I will get stuck now and then. Caught in my laziness, or ignorance, or ambivalence. Seduced by a Big Mac. If you see me, give me a push



May 19, 2013

The New Food Economy

by Cynthia

2012 (62)

It’s the middle of May and by now New Year’s resolutions are a thing of the distant past. Like diets, New Year’s resolutions sound like a great idea and they actually make you feel better about yourself for a while. This will be the year you really do it. (Lose ten pounds, learn to speak French, stop smoking, etc…….) Then a little slip becomes a little habit and there you are, late at night, standing in front of your refrigerator with the ice cream calling your name. You are only human, after all.  I don’t make New Year’s resolutions for this very reason.  I make intentions. Intentions give me more wiggle room. I don’t RESOLVE to do something; I merely INTEND to do it. The inevitable failure is softened this way. Each year, come January, I intend to make sure the pantry is empty and the freezer cleared out before next June when the vegetables start coming in. This is no small intention. My husband and I live alone, and while we are big eaters, we usually go into the summer months with remnants of last year’s bounty untouched.

I feel intimated when I open the freezer door and realize how much is in there. Green peas from the previous spring. Peaches, tucked away in the deepest corner, collecting freezer burn like cockleburs. Bags of blackberries, raspberries, blueberries. Dried herbs. Garlic scape pesto. A whole unplucked duck? Bags of casserole ready sweet potatoes. Sliced strawberries. Assorted packages of goose flesh. A quiche made with spring onions and fennel. A container of gumbo my husband made last March. And a twelve-pound turkey I had planned on cooking for Christmas until I got excited by a recipe for vegetarian lasagna made with kale and fontina cheese.

Unlike most people in the world, I never wonder if I will eat, only what I will eat. When Tim and I moved to the farm nine years ago, opting out of the suburban lifestyle was one of the motivators. Opting out of what Micheal Pollan calls the Big Food economy was another. Growing our own food isn’t just about avoiding GMOs and industrial fertilizers. It’s about having choices about what we eat. As less and less American soil is devoted to farming, those choices get more precious. President Obama lost me as a fan when he signed into law H.R. 933, an appropriation bill which included the Monsanto Protection Act. A republican senator from Missouri ( headquarters of biotech giant Monsanto) co-authored the portion of the bill with Monsanto execs  that protects Monsanto from being sued if any of its GMOS are proven to have caused harm to the millions of consumers who are eating it’s genetically modified foods. The provision also strips the USDA of the power to stop the sale and planting of potentially hazardous genetically engineered crops even if “in the course of its assessment the Department finds that it poses previously unrecognized risks.” (The corn syrup in your Coke is made with Monsanto GMO corn, just so you know).

Due to significant protest and activism on the part of people who are outraged at this free pass to Monsanto, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), plans to introduce an amendment that would repeal the section that protects Monsanto and other Big Ag companies. GMOs don’t scare me nearly as much as the Big Ag companies who can buy the political power to do whatever they want with our food supply. The growing food movement includes seed savers, home gardeners, small farmers; anyone who cares about the quality of the food they eat and the health of the soil that provides it.

More and more of our friends who live in urban or suburban environments are joining CSAs. Like having a small chicken coop in your back yard, being a member of a CSA or shopping at the farmer’s market is trendy. Like driving a hybrid, it’s a statement that you care about the environment, that you’re a conscious person. As another person who cares about the environment, I’m happy about that. But what if all those folks went out into their back yards and planted a garden? Got a little dirt under their fingernails? What if local parks devoted space for communal gardens? What if the “new food economy” were something that more Americans could participate in as a way of life?

I realize how lucky I am to be sitting in the midst of such bounty. Acres of green pasture and leafy woods. Clean air and the sounds of birdsong. And a freezer full of food. This year perhaps we’ll have a big party and cook as much of what’s still left from last year’s harvest. We’ll empty the pantry shelves, throw open the freezer. What we don’t eat will go home with our guests like party favors. Who wants strawberry jam? Lima beans, anyone? How about a duck?

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June 28, 2012

Berry Heaven

by Cynthia

the fruits of july

July means blackberries!   This photo is of Apache blackberries, a domestic variety that I planted along the fence around the garden.  Along our driveway are several wild blackberry brambles, and I’ll take the taste of those little gems over these big, fat domestic berries any day. The domestic berries are like Las Vegas strippers: plumped up, sexy, and easy to get.  Picking the wild ones involves a bit of preparation. The other day I suited up to pick wild berries- no skin exposed- tons of Deet- and my gardening gloves on.   I filled up my basket and then took off my picking clothes before ambling out to the garden to pick these easy guys! No thorns, no chiggers, and huge juicy berries.  The domestic berries are so easy to grow, I don’t understand why every yard doesn’t sport a few canes.

Apache is a nice domestic blackberry that just needs some good amended soil, a bit of sunshine and consistent watering for the first year to establish its root system. Plant the canes three feet apart along a fence line or string up a support with some posts and wire.They make a great privacy screen in the summer! The canes that grow in the first year are primocanes, and won’t produce fruit. Prune them to around four feet tall. The second season, they will become floricanes, and will be producing berries. After fruiting is over and the canes die, cut those first year canes out, and tie up the new canes, which will become the fruit producers the following year. If you want to grow blackberries, or raspberries, check out your local Farmer’s Co-op next year for good plants at reasonable prices.

Here is one day’s raspberry harvest from only 5 plants!


Here is  the reason I gain weight in the summer while everyone else is wasting away in the heat; Aunt Ina’s Quick Cobbler.  It’s just too easy. Pick the berries, make the cobbler, pig out. The recipe is in the Swan Family Cookbook, which was complied by one of my industrious cousins. You can’t buy it, unfortunately. So  you won’t get to see the photo of me at four years old with my finger stuck  up my nose that precedes the section on Salads. Too bad, right?

Here is Aunt Ina’s recipe;

1 stick of butter

1 C. sugar

1 C. self-rising flour

3/4 C. milk

2-3 cups fresh fruit   ( if using peaches or apples, steam the fruit first to soften it)

Melt the butter in a deep dish. Mix the sugar, flour and milk together in a separate bowl, then pour the mixture over the melted butter. Put the fruit on the top and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until the top becomes slightly browned and the cobbler is firm.


January 9, 2012

Stone Soup

by Cynthia

“Reuse, Refurbish, Recycle”. It’s a trendy slogan, and it’s something I find rewarding.  Tim and I were going through boxes in the attic yesterday. We were hauling the Christmas decorations back to their storage spot until next year and got distracted. We found a box of knick-knacks he had collected from his parents’ house after they died; little porcelain bells, a mother of pearl encrusted pill-box,  red glass salt and pepper shakers, and some carved wooden animals. With a bit of polish, the salt and pepper shakers were usable, and the wooden animals made  a great addition to the cows and horses and sheep in the grandchildren’s collection of farm animals.

Sometimes I cook with the principle of recycling in mind. Perhaps it is laziness, or the fact that I hardly ever throw food away, but I sort of enjoy going through the refrigerator and seeing if I can make something delicious out of the bits and pieces of past meals. Sort of like making stone soup. I’d been in the garden earlier in the day and collected a basket of kale and lettuces and spinach.  The lettuces and spinach would make a salad, and I wanted to use the kale in something warm.

I opened the refrigerator and began looking through the bins. The first find was encouraging. A half used package of bacon!

The smell of bacon frying is the solitary reason I will never understand vegans. I think of vegans in the same category as priests and nuns who pledge to give up sex forever as a religious practice. No sex? No bacon? Come on, life is too short for those kinds of sacrifices.  I suppose there are some people who actually don’t like bacon, but then again, that is sort of diagnostic, don’t you think?

If you want to make stone soup, begin with some kind of savory fat or meat.  If bacon, fry 4 pieces of bacon very crisp and drain off most of the drippings. If you are a nerd like me, you pour it into the little round aluminum canister like your grandmother used to collect bacon grease. It even helpfully has the word GREASE pressed into the side in case you get confused. Your stuffy foody friends will cringe at the sight of it, but grandma knew a thing or two about flavor. The rest of you can pour your grease into something non plastic and throw it out later, but why? Crumble the bacon into a large soup pot.

I had an abundance of shallots this year so I chopped a handful along with  2 cloves of garlic and a few pieces of celery I found in the crisper. Onions would work just as well. Chop them fairly fine and then saute them in the drippings until they are soft. Put the garlic and onions/shallots and celery in the pot with the bacon.

Since I had a big bunch of kale, I cut out the ribs and chopped it before wilting it in a skillet with some olive oil. I then put the wilted kale in the soup pot. Cabbage or spinach would also work nicely.

I found some  red fingerling  potatoes and a few carrots in the fridge.  I chopped them up and put them in a small covered saucepan to boil until they were on the soft side.  Then I put the potatoes and carrots and the water they were cooking in all into the soup pot with the other vegetables and bacon.

Now you can go a bit crazy here and create your own version of stone soup. What’s in the fridge? I found a cup of white gravy left from last week. I also found some roasted root vegetables and some white beans.  I put them all in the soup.  Then I took 2 quart jars of tomatoes I canned this summer and poured them into the pot, along with 2 cups of chicken broth. Then I sprinkled on some dried thyme and few sprigs of rosemary, a bit or salt and a grind or two of pepper.

So the basics are the following; a savory fat or bit of leftover meat,  an assortment of vegetables, some broth and seasonings. Be sure you have enough liquid that the soup can cook down a bit and not get too thick. Let it sit on the stove and simmer on low for a couple of hours.  Make yourself a cocktail and relax while your soup simmers. It will smell heavenly and whomever you live with will think you a culinary goddess.

December 29, 2011

The Intentional Eater’s Dilemma

by Cynthia

The Intentional Eater’s Dilemma

I was listening to an interview with Micheal Pollan on NPR last weekend. He was doing Michael Feldman’s show, What Do You Know?, and was talking about the new addition of his book Food Rules. Micheal Pollan is smart, inspiring and convincing about food.  In the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan established himself as the Pied Piper of intentional eaters by tracing the industrial food production system from source to table.

On my kitchen counter sits Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s book about her family’s year long experience of living in the Kentucky countryside and eating only what they could grow or buy close to home. Kingsolver’s book convinced me of the virtues , and the pleasures, of being a locavore. 

In the same week as the Pollan interview,  I downloaded an article by Andrew Weil on the Anti-inflammatory diet, hoping to use my food choices as a way to diminish the symptoms of lupus that have been wreaking havoc on my body the past few months.  If I eliminate the foods that are on Weil’s list of no-no’s, and I eliminate foods that are non-organically grown, and I eliminate foods that were grown far away and shipped to my area, burning fossil fuels and contributing to the decimation of the ozone layer, what is left for me to eat?  Especially in the winter, and darn it, it is winter now. The only things in the garden are the winter greens. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to have them. I eat them raw. I chop them into soups. I make dips, omelets, and casseroles with them. But what about my craving for an orange? Or a fresh carrot?

Being a locavore in Zone 6b is no fun in the winter. But if I hop on down to the nearest grocery and buy an organic orange that was picked a couple of weeks ago and came to me by way of California and an 18 wheeler, I feel as if I am doing something immoral.  If I only eat what I can buy or grow in my hometown, I am resigned to the frozen or canned or dried fruits and veggies stacked in my pantry or on my freezer shelves. I try to be good, I really do. I haven’t had a fresh green bean since August.

But I have a confession to make. I buy limes. I buy them all year long, three or four at a time. Granted, I am growing a lime tree, I have good intentions. If I live another 20 years and manage to keep this tree alive, perhaps one day I will quit my guilty habit of buying fresh limes. Could Barbara Kingsolver and her family live on that farm the rest of their lives, eating only what they could make or purchase within a few miles? I wonder. Would her children grow up smuggling fresh fruit into the house under their raincoats? Would her husband leave her for the first woman who offered him a fresh vine-ripened tomato mid-winter?                     .

This food choice thing is one area where I believe in moderation. Michael Pollan talks about flexatarians- people who are mainly vegetarian but eat meat on occasion. I like that word. I’m a flexatarian. Mostly, I eat organic food that I grow in my own yard, and meat that some man in my family has shot and slaughtered. But now and then I go to Subway and get a turkey sandwich and a bag of chips. Sometimes I buy beef jerky and pretzels at the gas station and chase them with a Diet Coke. And we already know about my lime habit.  None of us has to eat perfectly to make an impact on the environment. If all of us would eat a little more organic, and a little more local, and a little less meat, the planet, and our bodies, would be a lot better off.

October 18, 2011

Good Food Post

by Trisha

It’s early November and time to clean up the garden. I spent a few hours yesterday cutting tomato vines and pulling the wire cages out of the ground for storage until next summer. The ground around the garden beds was littered with gnarly, ropey vines that had been tiny, tender shoots just a few months ago.  I gathered a couple of bushels of green tomatoes and a few red ones, mostly the little Amish paste heirlooms. Then the vines went into the wheel barrow and out into the field beside the garden to be burned.

Today I started the process of turning all the beds with a shovel, shaking the dirt off the weeds before throwing them into a pile. Next week, a layer of straw and manure goes on the beds, and as soon as I get a couple of hours in with a rake, the beds will get blanketed for winter with a thick pile of leaves. While turning the soil over, I found a few sweet potatoes that had hidden from me when the potatoes were harvested a few weeks ago. Then I came across a few stray onions, and in another bed, some Yukon Gold potatoes.  I realized I had just uncovered dinner!

 I brought my basket of garden dregs into the kitchen and washed and sliced them.  They went  into a roasting pan along with a few of the Amish paste tomatoes that I left whole. I tossed them with half a cup of olive oil and a quarter cup of balsamic, a shake of sea salt and some ground pepper. Then a few sprigs of fresh rosemary scattered on top just for the heavenly smell.  They baked, covered, in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degress and then another twenty minutes uncovered. Some kind of insanely delicious magic happens between the sweet sugars in the roasting tomatoes and the starches of the potatoes. I forgot to do it, but it would have been even better if I’d thrown in a few cloves of garlic.

Where else but in your own backyard can you literally dig up some dinner by surprise?