The Dark Days Bring Comfort Foods

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It is lovely to think that each of our regions provide  what we need from season to season. This time of year, New England offers food which creates the type of meals I think of as being comforting. I’ve been making mashed potatoes, turnip casseroles, and cheesy noodles; to name a few. The most wonderful root vegetables have been popping up lately, and because I’ve never worked with many of them, I get the added bonus of experimentation.

The other day at the farmers market I found some lovely eggplants. I didn’t even know that eggplants were commonly grown in New England!  And, if I had to guess I would have thought they were  of the fall rather than the winter.  I presume that due to our recent warmer-than-usual weather, many vegetables are still thriving which typically would be done for the year- perhaps that is the case with these purple beauties. None-the-less, I grabbed a few of them, and decided to make a bake.

I have a good deal of tomato sauce in my freezer which I cooked up at the end of the summer, and this provided a wonderful base to make a meat sauce. I began by browning some local beef and onions together in a little olive oil. 

Next I sliced my eggplant very thinly, and sprinkled each slice with salt- (I’ve heard this reduces the bitter taste you can sometimes get, although I am not clear as to whether or not this practice is actually helpful). 

Then I heated some butter in the pan and added my eggplant slices a few at a time-  browning them on both sides. Next I simply layered the eggplant and meat sauce until my baking dish was full,  and then topped the whole thing off with some Vermont cheese! After about 15mins in the oven, dinner was ready!

What winter vegetables have you been cooking with this season?

The Right to Choose Raw

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So I’ve been reading this two-part (part one, part two) article on AlterNet about raw milk, and the laws which surround it’s use and consumption.

The articles tell the story of a man sued by the sate of Maine for ‘the unlicensed distribution and sale of milk and food products’.  The story goes on to confirm that rather than being a ‘distributor’, Brown (the farmer in question) is simply a farmer, with one cow whose milk he uses to feed his family. What is left over from the cows regular milking is then sold at his farm stand. The complaint from Brown and other farmers like him is that the laws which cover actual distribution farms don’t understand what a small-scale diverse farm like his does or how it operates. These small farms have some vegetables, fruits, a few chickens maybe a cow or a goat- what they do not have are herds, flocks, or thousand acre crops. These types of farms are not interested in becoming industry farms or anything close. They simply want to be able to sustain their families and those from their community who are interested in the fresh foods they can provide.

Luckily for farmers like Brown who live in Maine, there are local ordinances in place which provide support to the type of small-scale farming we’re talking about. Lawsuits such as the one against Brown go against such ordinances, and this is where I see a huge problem. The ordinance which specifically protects Brown is intended to allow it’s citizens to choose their food. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it?  Across the country however, small scale farmers who are hoping to have access to raw milk are being shot down….but, in the wake of Mr. Brown’s fight, they find hope in similar local ordinances.

I cannot help but feel that we all should have the right to eat and drink as we please. In fact, I feel outraged that the sale of raw milk from a small, clean, well looked after farm would be ridiculed while no one blinks an eye as millions of  McDonalds hamburgers are sold each year…. even after finding that they don’t deteriorate….

Certainly there are risks to drinking raw milk, but I believe that those risks are well understood. What’s more, anyone who is going out of their way to get raw milk is doing it for a specific reason and desire. We aren’t talking about a fast food restaurant that any Tom Dick or Harry can find on any street corner from NYC to L.A.

People seek out these types of raw fresh foods for very specifically desired benefits, or lifestyle choices. Most people who buy overly processed foods aren’t so much choosing that food as they are choosing the cheap price tag attached. So why then is it that there is a need to put an end to these small farmers who have chosen to help their like-minded neighbors and promote healthy, wholesome foods? I say give the people what they want.

http://www.alternet.org/food/153364/why_is_a_farmer_who_sells_extra_milk_from_his_one_cow_to_neighbors_being_sued_by_the_state_of_maine

http://www.alternet.org/rights/153371/regulators_crack_down_on_micro-dairies,_but_small_farmers_fight_back_with_local_food_sovereignty_ordinances

Dark Days Ricotta

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As the days continue to grow darker, my kitchen provides me with a creative space to explore local foods of New England. This past week I came home from the farmers market with a good deal of milk and cream, and therefore decided to try my hand at making cheese! I heard ricotta was a good place to start, and so I set out reading about the process and what I might need.

Ricotta is traditionally made with the by-product of cheeses, and therefore is not a traditional cheese itself. What we will be making is essentially a fresh soft cheese! So, if you don’t intend to make mozzarella on your day off and then whip up some fresh ricotta with the byproducts, take a look at the simple steps below for a lovely soft cheese you can dazzle your friends with and step up and dish from breakfast to dinner!

The basics of ricotta making involve fresh milk, an acid, and a touch of salt. The acid can be vinegar or a citrus juice. As a warning, I will mention that the most complicated aspect of this recipe, as I found at least,  is to make sure the milk doesn’t scald or boil over- burnt milk is a nightmare to clean and smells really bad!

Ricotta:
2 1/2qt. Whole Milk
3 Tbl. White Vinegar
1/4 Tsp. Salt
(you can also substitute heavy cream for 1/4 of the milk to give your ricotta an  extra creamy taste: ex, 2 qt. milk, 1c. cream)

To begin, line a sieve with 4 layers of cheesecloth, and set in the sink.

 

 

 

 

 

In a large pot, bring milk and salt to a boil, stirring occasionally and watching that the mixture does not spill over the sides. Add in vinegar and reduce the heat slightly, stir as needed and wait for curdling to begin (this should take about 2 mins). If you do not see curdling start, you may want to add more vinegar to the pot (just be careful that you do not add too much or you will have an vinegar cheese!). After about 5mins, turn the heat off and allow the ricotta to form at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

Pour the mixture into your prepared sieve lined with cheesecloth and let the extra liquid drain for about 30 minutes. What remains in the cheesecloth is your fresh ricotta! You can now store it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Chris’s Local Take on Breakfast

As I’ve been working out all the kinks of my new diet, my fiance has been a real trooper.  His support actually never ceases to amaze me and the other morning when he made us breakfast was no different.

I think I had intended to whip something up before we got on the road, but because mornings are my very least favorite thing I was running behind…. again….
I believe the conversation about breakfast went something like this…
Him: “honey, what did you have in mind for breakfast?”
Me:”I don’t know, we have some eggs in there and that beet hash I made for dinner last night….”
Him:”uh…. okay…”

So rather than getting frustrated with me, and my new desire to make our lives just a little bit more difficult…. he made us the most amazing breakfast sandwhiches!

The Sandwich:
4 thick Slices Tomato
1c. Beet Hash
4 Eggs
4 Slices of Bread, Toasted
Olive Oil
Begin by beating the eggs until yolks are incorporated into whites.  Slowly mix in the hash. Add olive oil to a pan and allow wait until the oil is very hot, about 2 minutes over medium heat. Pour egg mixture into pan and allow to set. Flip the mixture over, like an omlette, and allow the other side to set. Remove from heat. Place the egg mixture over two slices of toast and top each with two slices of tomato. Place the second slice of bread on the plate and serve!
Beet Hash:
4-6 Red Beets
8 Fingerling Potatoes
Olive Oil
1 Sprig Fresh Rosemary, chopped
1 Sprig Fresh Thyme, chopped
Salt and Pepper
Preheat oven to 300. Boil the beats and potatoes for about 10 minutes, then drain and let cool. Slice the potatoes and beets into thin strips, about 2″x1/4″. Toss the beets and potatoes with thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Put mix onto a cookie sheet and bake at 300 for 20 minutes.

On the Go is Hard

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I have found that eating locally becomes harder the farther away from home I go. While I was away from home for Thanksgiving, I found an app that helps me find farmers markets, restaurants that source locally and grocery stores with locally made products…. but, when you are with family or friends it feels hard to stick to your wants without being rude or throwing a wrench in preexisting plans.

Take for example my weekend trip to Colorado for a friend’s birthday bash.  My girlfriend knows that eating locally is important, but with a ton of people all out to have a good time, I can’t make requests which require so much extra research and likely limit our choices, not to mention raise prices.  So what is there to do?

I worry that by not being able to stick to my goal 100% that I’ve failed in some way. I end up incredibly frustrated with myself and start to wonder what I was thinking to start making such big changes in my life! But when I come out of my fog, I start to look at options to make things easier on myself…. can I renegotiate my parameters? In fact…. that makes me wonder what my parameters are!!! I had to do a bit of negotiating for the dark days challenge, so that helps, but perhaps I need to make myself some more serious rules, as well as exceptions in order to keep things in perspective when lie gets hectic or I’m on the road.

After having read about many people who have had to deal with my same dilemma, I think what I’ve decided is that while I am at home, I will stick to a strict New England radius, including Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut.  And if I’m in New York or New Jersey with family, I  can extend the radius and bring things home with me.  While I am traveling or with family and friends who don’t share my vision, I will just have to be more relaxed and try to make conscious choices where I can. I still have the opportunity to seek out locally sourced restaurants with friends, and when I travel alone I will make sure that I am being local wherever I can. Something else I can do while I am traveling is to eat vegetarian dishes. This takes the guess work out of whether or not I am getting meat or fish that is sustainably and ethically raised.

As if my convictions aren’t strong enough, another benefit of being extra conscious of what I’m eating is that while I’m on vacation, I won’t be gaining as much weight as I otherwise would. People gain an average of 1lb per day while they aren’t home, so by being conscious about what I’m eating in general, I’ll be ready to stay on track and not gain a bunch of unwanted weight!

Entertaining has been a challenge for me, as has snacking …or meals when I am too tired to cook. Eating locally is incredibly involved and I’ve found it to take up quite a bit of my time. So, I have decided to start making foods and snacks in advance and freeze or store them, depending on what it is that I have made. I believe this will really help me to stick to my goals and be both healthful and conscious!

I have done a little reading on what items will freeze well and I will be including that information along with recipes as I begin to pre-make food for myself. If you are interested now, here are the sites I’ve been researching on:
http://www.helpwithcooking.com/food-storage/foods-freeze-well.html 
http://cliqueclack.com/food/2009/09/24/cook-and-freeze-for-whole-food-dinners-all-winter-long-fresh-foodie/
http://mysouthsidestand.com/health/five-produce-places-tips-for-keeping-fresh-food-in-winter/
http://www.blog.farmboat.org/?p=346

Dark Days Challenge, the Beginning

This is the first week in the Dark Days Challenge, a challenge which asks that one meal each week is cooked using sustainable, local, organic and ethical ingredients. Seeing that I am already challenging myself to switch over to local foods in general, I liked the idea of having support from like-minded individuals during the toughest time of the year to be sourcing locally!

For this challenge, local means within 100 miles, and can stretch a bit farther if needed during these more challenging winter months. I will be including exceptions during my challenge to allow for coffee, chocolate, oils, and spices (these items will be sourced ethically and sustainably even though they will not be from New England).

Serendipity has stepped in, and my first meat CSA from Chestnut Farms came this past weekend, which has made the start of this challenge much easier! Additionally, the folks at Lemon Thyme Farm partner with a local shop so I am able to get milk, cheese, and vegetables locally as well! So for dinner tonight I have made an herb roasted chicken with a turnip au gratin.

Fresh ingredients: Veggies from Lemon Thyme Farm, and cheese from Vermont to make the Turnip Au Gratin. The dish has a bit of a sweet taste from the apples which rounds out the bitterness of the turnips. I chose a sharp cow cheese but a softer cheddar or any other cheese which is locally available to you would work nicely as well. I also used thyme as my seasoning because I have a small plant still hanging on in my window box, but again- any savory herb which you might still find locally would work nicely.

The turnips must be peeled before cutting them into thin strips. I chose to use a variety of turnips available this past week at the farmers market. This one was particularly beautiful.

I served the chicken over a bed of sauteed onions and seasoned it with salt, pepper and thyme. A nice local wine and this meal is complete!

Local vs. Sustainable

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Living in New England it is so exciting for me to see fresh caught fish, scallops, and oysters at farmers markets. Recently however, it has come to my attention that ‘local’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘sustainable’.

There is certainly a risk in making assumptions…. we’ve learned this lesson repeatedly since childhood- ‘to assume makes an ass out of u and me’. But it happens so often, and in so many ways, and now I find myself making assumptions about eating locally. I’ve been blindly going into my new diet never considering that just because I make friends with the fish monger at my farmers market and I know he just got his catch in that morning, it doesn’t mean that he isn’t fishing a vulnerable species…. or perhaps isn’t using sustainable or ecological fishing methods. In fact, I don’t know what species are vulnerable, and I wouldn’t have the first idea what methods of fishing are better than others!

Seafood is deemed ‘sustainable’ when fishing practices look beyond meeting todays consumer demands, and consider the species ability for reproduction such that it can continue to meet future consumer demands. There are 10 standards which must be met by a fisherie in order for them to be considered sustainable (as stated in the Magnuson-Stevens Act): 1. Prevent overfishing while achieving optimum yield. 2. Be based upon the best scientific information available. 3. Manage individual stocks as a unit throughout their range, to the extent practicable; interrelated stocks shall be managed as a unit or in close coordination. 4. Not discriminate between residents of different states; any allocation of privileges must be fair and equitable. 5. Where practicable, promote efficiency, except that no such measure shall have economic allocations as its sole purpose. 6. Take into account and all for the sustained participation of, and minimize adverse impacts to such communities (consistent with conservation requirements). 9. Minimize bycatch or mortality from bycatch. 10. Promote safety of human life at sea.

So, does the guy who slings fish at your local farmers market need to be registered and follow all of these rules to be sustainable? According to some, yes. I would guess that fishers can be aware of these ideals and not have been recognized by the MSC. But, how do you know????? And, if you’ve committed to eating locally, do you rule out fish if it’s local and hasn’t been stamped with approval by the MSC? I guess everyone will have to come up with their own answer.

What I’ve found so far is that eating fish in general can become a slippery slope when you begin to look at all the possible hazards…. health-wise, and from an eco-conscious perspective. As we’ve seen in livestock production, the use of antibiotics on healthy animals has lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria. What’s more, ‘As much as 90 percent of antibiotics given to livestock are excreted into the environment‘. Taking the same system to the ocean with farm raised fish can lead to leaching in the water, where wild fish would then pick up antibiotic traces.

To add to the confusion, fish are constantly exposed to toxins due to their direct contact with water. Our oceans are a catch-all for waste, run-off and all the stuff we put down the drain. Knowing your waterways is key to ensuring you are getting healthy fish if you choose to eat locally. Also consider that choosing wild fish over farm raised may mean destroying an aquatic eco-system and farm raised may mean consuming hormones, and antibiotics!

Basically it comes down to doing some research. Shopping locally CAN give you an advantage because you can ask questions of the person who actually caught the fish, rather than a middle-man. Also take some time to find out about the waters your local fish would come from, and how fisheries in your area operate. There are certainly ways to eat healthy, local fish….. and when you get it, the taste and health benefits will make all the effort worth while!

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/connelly/article/A-Smoking-Salmon-report-Was-deadly-fish-virus-2309866.php#page-2

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/evidence-supports-ban-on-growth-promotion-use-of-antibiotics-in-farming-134113558.html

http://thelocalcatch.web.officelive.com/Wheretofindourcatch.aspx

http://www.msc.org/about-us/what-we-do

http://www.ecori.org/natural-resources/2011/9/26/is-local-seafood-sustainable.html

http://www.thedailygreen.com/living-green/blogs/organic-parenting/conscious-kitchen-challenge-5

http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/titinx.asp

http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/fishshellfish/fishadvisories/states.cfm

Seasonal

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December is upon us and as each day passes it is more and more likely that snow will make eating locally more difficult. I fear a long winter ahead.

Having started my challenge late in the fall, I always knew that I wasn’t exactly making things easy on myself- I just knew that I needed to make this change in my life, and it couldn’t wait. That being said, today is the first of December- and suddenly I see winter  just around the corner.

I’ve been freequenting various seasonal guides to make sure I know what I will be dealing with each week at the farmers market, and I must say- for what seems to be a big push in the direction of eating locally, some of the sites aren’t all that helpful! Take for example the chart on the mass.gov farmers market page.

Nothing grows in Massachusetts when it isn’t summer??? I’d be in a lot of trouble if I believed this!

I knew Simplesteps had a good website with very useful information, so I decided to check with them about seasonal selections… but I ended up feeling equally disheartened. According to them, in the early part of December, in Massachusetts I can eat/ get locally: Christmas trees, oysters, snap peas, turkey and wreaths. What about eating my vegetables!?!?! Am I honestly supposed to consider greenery as my greens?

Luckily for me I live in New England, and each state is so tightly packed amongst the rest that eating locally for me includes Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Connecticut! So… what do these other states have to offer? It seems New Hampshire and Vermont have the same fate as Massachusetts…. wreaths are the big ‘green’ this time of year. But surprisingly enough, Maine (which I would have guessed to have even less than we do due to its more Northern location) is growing apples, beets, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, onions, potatoes,  rutabaga, squash, snap peas, oysters, and turkey in addition to wreaths and christmas trees! Brilliant! If I source to New York I can add broccoli, cauliflower and turnips to my table, and Connecticut brings me pears and mushrooms! Now I feel like I have something to work with!

Knowing what is available feels like half the battle. It must be creativity and outright stubbornness that gets you the rest of the way though, because eating root vegetables and greenhouse leaves all winter cannot be an easy task! Luckily for those of us on the east coast, we also have a great variety of fish during the winter, which can help to liven-up an otherwise tired meal. I will try to post recipes and ideas for utilizing these local items as I manuever my way through the winter world of New England offerings!

If you are looking to start eating locally, the best advice I can give you is to start slowly and know that it is going to take a lot of planning. What foods will you be able to get this week? Are you going to be able to cook them so they are ready to grab when you run out the door in the morning? And always have some snacks with you!

 

Here are some helpful resources:
http://www.simplesteps.org/eat-local
http://www.eatlocalamerica.coop/elablog2009

78% of New Farmers Were Not Raised on Farms

This is incredible news to me…. the local food movement has become so big that now the majority of new farmers have never even worked on a farm! 78% of new farmers in fact were not raised on a farm! The local movement, and influx of media criticizing factory farming has really pushed local eating into the mainstream.

To hear that there are college students who are willing to be, as Emily Sloss said, ‘the first wave’, is just amazing. This seems exactly right to me. Think of all the things we take as second nature now; someone at some point had to stick with that new idea- and really follow it through in order for it to become common place today.

With any luck, local farming will also become commonplace in the years to come. We will all know our farmers, and where our food comes from- and we will be happier and healthier because of it. There is clearly a lot of work to be done, and  long road to travel, but with any luck…. we will find our way!

Take a look at this great article about Duke University’s campus farm!
http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/New-Farmers-Confront-Realities-of-Local-Food-Movement-134789698.html 

Bright Futures

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The future is looking brighter and brighter for local eaters, and that makes me very happy! I am still finding my challenge to be, well…. challenging…. but it seems that everyday I find news about another venue popping up, new media coming out, or an article which sheds light on the steady increases and benefits of eating local!

It is so exciting to me! I worry that we’ve become too  removed from the food that we eat. Certainly, it is an incredible luxury to walk into a market and be able to purchase food from around the world- already prepared, and easy to grab and go! These types of foods fit our society. We are fast paced, and our food must really match the rhythm of our lives. For many people the pace of an ever hastening lifestyle can simply not be changed, and so it is understandable that fast food restaurants and super sized grocery stores are so heavily utilized. For those who need these conveniences, the fact that local food is moving up in the world means that even the most convenient items can start to be healthier, more wholesome and likely produced by more sustainable and humane methods! Fantastic!

For sanity and happiness sake, I need to take it easy- and slow things down as much as I can. Eating local has been a tremendous help in doing this.  I have also become far more appreciative of what I have, and the work that goes into having it. Something as simple as preparing a meal and enjoying it at the table can completely change the mood of your day, and if you can light a candle and find a pleasant dinner companion, all the better.

There is so much information to be had out there if you are interested in eating locally, and I think you’d be surprised at the support too! Don’t get me wrong, it is difficult- and the farther from home you go (where everything is already set-up and you know where to find your food) the more difficult things become. But the rise in information and acceptance of living a healthful life is very encouraging. Locavores have a very bright future ahead!

 

Check out these articles I’ve been reading today:
Two new food focused films are coming out!
Great article about Alicia Silverstone and her very eco-friendly life
Kansas City has started a campaign to eat local for the holidays
Farmers conducting research to be more effective

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