Friday, September 14, 2007

Time to go to market!

It's Friday night, and guess what I'm doing tonight (other than writing)? I'm putting together my grocery list for a quick trip to the Regional Market tomorrow.

I won't have much time, only an hour and a half at best, but it'll be delightful to shuffle along with the crowds and gawk at the beautiful produce and products. It's been a few months since I was there last, thanks to a summer full of home improvement projects and just sheer busy-ness. I can't wait to see all the farmers from the central and northern regions with their fall offerings. And buying food from them supports the quality of life here.

I live along a very busy four-lane highway that 20 years ago was a tree-lined bucolic state route. Active farms graced its length: pumpkins, cabbages, sweet corn, you name it. But now they are (almost) completely gone. Instead, we now have townhouses, hotels, restaurants, a car dealership, food clubs and shopping plazas. (Let's not even get into the traffic congestion!)

Did the farms vanish because of high taxes? The farmer passed away with no one to keep the farm in production? Not enough income? A developer came along and made an offer that couldn't be refused?

The answer is probably a bit of all of the above and more. But I can't help but wonder if more local folks had stopped by the farms and bought those pumpkins, that corn, whether more of the farms would still be around today.

I'm here for the long haul, and I believe our farmers want to be, too. So I'm going to do my tiny part in keeping what remains of local agriculture alive and well.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mom's pasta e fagioli

I tend not to cook anything unless I have a recipe, but there are exceptions, such as my mom's pasta e fagioli and linguine with clam sauce. These I can make from memory, drawn from 30 years of experience wielding a paring knife and mincing cloves of garlic into microscopic cubes. The fragrance of garlic gently simmering in a pan coated with olive oil ... that's home.

The family recipe for pasta e fagioli is blatantly simple. It's great comfort food and quick to put together. And it's a warm, friendly foil for a big salad and some hot garlic bread. Only thing is, I can't give you exact amounts because everything is relative: how many are you feeding? How much garlic do you have on hand? Etc.

But here goes:

Mom's Pasta e Fagioli (serves 1 or 2)

Half a box of small shell pasta
2 tablespoons Olive oil
2 or 3 big cloves garlic, minced
1 can cannellini beans, undrained (I tried using dried, but the results were less than stellar)
1/4 cup (est'd) fresh parsley, chopped
Dash of ground cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper (optional)

Cover pasta with water in large sauce pot; bring to a boil and cook according to the directions on the box, or to your preference.

Meanwhile, Heat just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large pan gently on medium-low. Add garlic and stir frequently until garlic softens and turns a light gold color - don't let it brown. Your kitchen should smell heavenly.

Add the beans and the liquid from the can. Stir and heat through. Sprinkle on the parsley and cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper if using.

Drain the cooked pasta and return to the pot. Add bean mixture to the pasta and combine. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Eating locally

The night before we left for Vermont, my sister's house guest whipped up some homemade guacamole while I assembled a ... well, an enchilada of sorts I suppose: raw cheese grated onto a tortilla and covered with bits of locally raised free-range chicken, some organic local lettuce and probably unlawful quantities of that guacamole. It was wonderful, if a bit odd.

I'm having a tough time with the Eat Local Challenge so far, although I was pleased to be able to eat local even while on vacation. I haven't bought any groceries yet this month and for me, that's the clincher for success. I'll be making a grocery list tomorrow, however; and with the help of the local food source lists over at Cookin' in the 'Cuse I expect to be able to limp along until the Regional Market on Saturday morning.

One thing I know I can do is pick up a tub of non-homogenized yogurt from Wake Robin Farm and some locally produced granola for breakfast ... and eat it out of a bowl thrown by a local potter. I have some local honey for a sweetener, should sweetening be needed. So that's breakfast; what about lunch and dinner?

At the moment, the best I can think of within my budget is locally grown produce for the mother of all salads. Pick a tomato from the garden, toss in some fresh basil and oregano, and stop by some roadside stands in the neighborhood or visit the Wegmans down the street. I'm still working on this one though :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Local food and farm stays

While my DH and I were in Grand Isle, a lovely island on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain, we stopped at an inviting farmstand shop called Hackett's Orchard. We fell in love with the apple cider doughnuts, made fresh every morning, and the amazing variety of tomatoes! They also had fresh sweet corn, squashes, Vermont cheeses (including Neighborly Farms, producers of organic farmstead cheeses) and a very pretty black cat.

It was at Hackett's that I learned of the Vermont Farms! Association, which exists to "provide educational opportunities about agriculture to the public," according to its Web site. One thing that appealed to me was the opportunity for "farm stays," which offer guests at farm bed and breakfasts the opportunity to help out with some of the farm's chores during their stay.

With the decline of family farms, farm stays are an incredible opportunity to really get that much closer to the origin of food: the labor and care required to actually produce something to put on your dinner plate. Milking a cow, feeding goats and collecting eggs from chickens connects one to one's food and may even reinforce the fact that food doesn't magically appear in a plastic wrapper or Styrofoam carton. I'm hoping to do a farm stay vacation next year, myself.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Coming home

I took a break toward the end of last week, cycling with my husband on one of Vermont's islands in Lake Champlain and camping in the Adirondacks. I'll get back into the swing of things soon as I finish unpacking and acclimate myself to the regular world again!