Monday, June 30, 2008

Farm stands and fresh veggies

I can tell it's almost time for local produce at the market: my garden has really taken off in the past week. And if my garden is growing, you can bet the farmers are way ahead of me.

So while I've been watching my broccoli grow like a weed and the tomatoes threaten to rise up and shake off the fetters of their cages, I've also been keeping an eye out for roadside stands. Thus far I've run into one: the award-winning Kubecka Farms in Kirkville.

Tonight I swung by the stand briefly after work to take a look at what was available. I saw, yes, dearly familiar broccoli and some lovely-looking zucchini and summer squash keeping watch over a container of deep red strawberries that you just know are incredibly sweet and delightful. Unfortunately I didn't happen to need these particular items for my menus this week, so I continued on my way ... but I'll keep an eye out to see what becomes available, day by day.

I wonder if Vollmer Farms is still around on Collamer Road? I'll have to check it out tomorrow on my way home. It'll be fun to find farm stands around the county and see what's available and when, and I'd love to know where to go for fresh veggies in weeks when I know I won't be able to make a trip down to the Regional Market. As much as I love the market, if I can pick something up from a farmer on my way home, it's that much gas I'm saving by not making that Saturday morning trip into the city.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How you know you're just too busy

My little soap business has exploded in the last month or so, as I think I mentioned in my last post a couple of days ago. Between it and my full-time job at the paper, I haven't had time for much other than sleep and foraging at local eateries (nothing notable, trust me).

Yesterday I finally realized that the refrigerator was empty except for stuff like Thai red curry paste, Azuki bean paste and sambal oelek. Because of course everyone's refrigerator has a jar of sambal oelek, right? And two bottles of ketchup. There isn't enough ketchup in my diet. That was just in the door. In the back, I found a bottle of lemon juice and a half-gallon jug of real maple syrup keeping company with the nutritional yeast and golden flax seeds.

I am not Iron Chef; I cannot create five masterpieces from a single ingredient. I had run out of creative uses for stuff like Chef Shaikh's hot sauce that hadn't already made my head blow off my neck like the Apollo spacecraft at liftoff. And I just didn't have the heart for one more supper of lingonberry jam on toasted roggenbrot while I packed yet another 3784563487563047 orders.

So I broke down and got some groceries, some of it being produce from local farmers. I'm glad to know that I don't have to wait till mid-July for the locally produced fruits and veggies. Now the fridge is happy and full of veggies. I just need the time to figure out what to do with it all!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Garden update

A sudden, sharp uptick in activity with my soap business has temporarily sidetracked me from blogging in recent weeks ... but life still goes on! When I haven't been busily packing orders and updating spreadsheets (or warming a chair at my day job), I've been tending the garden.

This year's garden promises great things to come. We managed to put together a third garden box to accommodate the broccoli and lettuce plants. I've already picked some tender broccoli "crowns," having learned from last year's crop that the best thing you can do with broccoli is pick it as soon as it begins to look like broccoli. Delicious!

As usual, we have far too many tomato plants, but can it really be too many when you have so many different varieties? Early Girls, Better Boys and standard beefsteaks, not to mention the three or four heirloom varieties I brought home from the plant sale at the co-op a month or so ago. It's a matter of hurry-up-and-wait, as I want a nice thick drippy homegrown tomato sandwich now.

The strawberries are doing well, judging by the nibble marks from some hungry predator (note to self: Must make the time to set up the chicken wire, maybe that'll keep the neighborhood bunnies away). I managed to actually pick and eat a ripe one that survived ... and it was good. We have over a dozen individual plants at one end of the long bed beside the house.

The bell peppers are looking good as well. I have one plant that's actually producing a pepper! Very exciting stuff. Last year's pepper plant fell victim to a tomato plant that grew so large that eventually I was unable to even enter the garden. Let's just say things are laid out a little differently this year.

This year, I have an entire garden bed devoted to herbs! In addition to sweet basil and Greek oregano, I have rosemary, cilantro, Thai basil, mints (peppermint, pineapple mint and chocolate mint), wormwood, and lemon balm. Plus I threw in a random heirloom pea plant and an eggplant just because it looked like there was enough room.

Off to one side, I planted "double yield cucumber." Hmmm ... double yield: is that a threat or a promise? I expect it will eventually rear up on rudimentary hind legs and emit a feral roar as it overtakes the garden.

So far everything is off to a wonderful start. The mints are definitely feeling at home and in fact, all the herbs are quite large and bushy already. Time to get cooking! There are the beginnings of actual tomatoes on the Early Girls and the cherry tomato plants are in full bloom. As I mentioned earlier, the peppers and broccoli are doing nicely.

It's a bit late right now but I want to post some pictures of the garden. Coming soon!

Monday, May 26, 2008

What's for dinner this week?

There's something about a pot of kale simmered in hot broth that makes me expect to find cannellini and tender bits of sausage waiting for me at the bottom. However, last night's Portuguese Green Soup had neither beans nor sausage. It did, however, feature mashed red potatoes that thickened the liqueur of the soup nicely (silky-smooth!), as well as a chopped onion and some fresh garlic (my addition). Oh yes ... and a few drops of hickory smoke flavor snuck into the recipe, too.

The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, but I figure I need more oil in my life like I need a hole in my head. And instead of water, I used what I found in my fridge: some beef stock and lots of chicken broth, topped off with water. I was very pleased with how my version came out!

Gina's Portuguese Green Soup
(Adapted from Faye Levy's International Vegetable Cookbook)
Serves 3-4 as an appetizer

1-1/4 lb. boiling potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
5 cups beef stock, chicken broth, or water
Salt & freshly ground pepper
3/4 lb. kale, stalks discarded, leaves rinsed well
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Hickory smoke flavoring

In a large saucepan, combine potatoes with the liquid of choice and bring to a boil. Cook over low heat for 25 minutes or until very tender.

Meanwhile, pile kale leaves on a cutting board and, with a sharp knife, shred the kale leaves in crosswise strips as thin as possible.

With a slotted spoon, transfer potatoes to a bowl. Mash 'em with a hand masher. The skins will mostly stick to the masher, leaving you with mostly mashed potato - add just the potato to the cooking liquid.

Just before serving, bring soup to a boil, stirring. Scoop out the remaining skins from the pot. Add onion, garlic and kale. Boil uncovered over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until kale has reduced in volume and is crisp-tender. Add smoke flavor to taste; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What's for dinner this week?

Dinner this weekend will be Vietnamese Beef Soup, thanks to a recipe in the Jan.-Feb. 2005 issue of Diabetic Cooking: Slow Cooker Recipes - one of those pocket-sized booklet-type publications you find at the supermarket register. It's not hardly authentic, but it was pretty easy to put together, which is bonus for me on a weeknight. Overall it's not bad, nicely filling in a soup-y way and flavorful.

This week's meals also featured the Jamaican tempeh curry taco mix from a couple of weeks ago, and Thai glass noodle salad (from my favorite Thai cookbook, the name of which eludes me, of course ... sorry ... I'll update it as soon as I get back into the kitchen!). I also enjoyed a snack or two of a Middle Eastern lentil and rice dish topped with yogurt from Wake Robin Farm, eaten as a dip with a torn piece of whole wheat pita.

Snack time's important to me, and as much as I'd love to savor a single serving of dark chocolate from Aldi's, I have to stick with more healthful options (at least for the time being). So I've been savoring Empire apples, bananas and juicy, ripe mangoes dipped in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon. Another snack has been cheese curds that I also picked up Saturday from Wake Robin Farm - something new from Meg! What a wonderful surprise!

Over the weekend I have a baptism to attend (my third grandchild; she's adorable) and more meals to plan for the coming week.

Here's the recipe for Vietnamese Beef Soup:

3/4 lb. boneless beef (top sirloin or top round steak)
3 cups water
1 can (14.5 oz.) low-salt beef broth
1 can (10.5 oz.) condensed consommé
2 tbs. reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tbs. minced fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick, 3" long
4 oz. rice noodles, about 1/8" wide
1/2 cup thinly sliced or julienned carrots
2 cups fresh mung bean sprouts
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1.5 cups chopped fresh basil
2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced; or 1-3 tsp. Chinese chili sauce or paste (wear rubber gloves if you're using the peppers)

1. Place beef in freezer 45 minutes or until firm. Meanwhile, combine water, beef broth, consommé, soy sauce, ginger and cinnamon stick in large saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer, covered, 20-30 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick; discard. Meanwhile, place rice noodles in a large bowl and cover with warm water; let stand until pliable, about 20 minutes.

2. Slice beef lengthwise in half, then crosswise into very thin strips. Drain noodles. Place noodles and carrots in simmering broth; cook 2-3 minutes or until noodles are tender. Add beef and bean sprouts; cook 1 minute or until beef is no longer pink.

3. Remove from heat; stir in red onion, cilantro, basil and jalapeño peppers or chili sauce/paste. To serve, life noodles from soup with fork and place in bowls. Ladle remaining ingredients and broth over noodles.

Makes 6 servings.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

One of my pleasures in life

... is cooking. I really enjoy crafting an incredibly delicious meal, preferably with fresh-from-the-farmer ingredients, and savoring the flavor. I'm constantly on the lookout for new recipes and ideas (just ask the librarian in the town where I work ...)

So I was excited to come home from an extraordinarily long day to find in my mailbox not just dairy-case coupons from Wegmans, but the latest issue of Wegmans Menu Magazine as well! The magazine's all the more exciting now that they've begun putting coupons in it.

The cover shows a luscious-looking piece of Cedar-Plank Salmon still on the slightly charred plank, garnished with some lime slices. In fact, the issue seems to focus on seafood in general. Not something that's in my budget these days, given recent events, but there's nothing wrong with quietly drooling over the food-porn images, right?

In addition to the seafood, sandwiches and smoothies (ample alliterations abound!), there is a section devoted to heirloom tomatoes. I saw a handful of these irregularly shaped and colored beauties at my local Wegmans the other day, so I'm not terribly surprised to find them featured in the Menu magazine ... but they aren't at all in season. Well, they must be somewhere ... just not here. I guess.

Anyway - immediately following the heirloom tomato recipe section is a special article on Wegmans' commitment to locally grown foods. It looks like a nice article, one that prompted a flood of thoughts.

First of all, I started scanning the article for mention of any of the farmers I know - Wyllie Fox Farm, Wake Robin, Stone's Throw Farm, etc. Nope; not this issue. (The magazine has a multi-state distribution, so the editorial board understandably took a sampling of farmers from around their operating area.)

I realized that I know at least half a dozen more local food producers this year than I did last year at this time. I've broken bread with wonderful people who I wouldn't have met if it weren't for one person who introduced me to the Eat Local challenge last summer.

And then it struck me - the difference just one person can make in a neighborhood, a community, a county, a state, a nation.

Because I learned of the Eat Local challenge, I was compelled to seek out locally produced fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, beverages. I found other people in town doing the same thing, and I got to know the people who grow the food I use to feed my family. And now my family and friends have learned about eating locally and where to go to find what they need, and they're telling their friends.

And that brings me back to a conundrum. Do I make the weekly 20-minute drive to the Regional Market, where there are plenty of local food producers I can actually chat with and who offer the most amazing veggies to be found anywhere ... or do I drive 2 miles to the Wegmans down the street any time I like in season and purchase my locally grown veggies there as an anonymous consumer?

The thrifty side says, Save on gas. Just go to the store and be done with it.

The rest of me says, But where's the fun in that? Where's the sense of community, of connection?

So I think I'll be making regular trips to the market (that is, when I'm not hiking in the woods somewhere) and savoring the experience as my weekly treat to myself. I'm sure I'll find whatever's called for in any of those Menu magazine recipes ... and then some.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

April eat local potluck

Tonight was the April potluck with the Syracuse-area Eat Local crowd, down at Stone's Throw Farm in South Onondaga. Did we ever feast! It's hard to find locally grown vegetables this time of year in this part of the world, but somehow they did: a fresh beet and carrot salad with a lovely vinaigrette; fresh kale with a dollop of feta-garlic dressing; a spinach quiche with just the right "spinachy" flavor; a sausage and cabbage dish made from the farmer's own hogs.

And there was more to nibble on: Hors d'oeuvres included Lively Run goat cheese, homemade raspberry and "blackcap" (wild black raspberry) jams, and a selection of crackers. H- brought one of her legendary breads, a mix of white, whole wheat and rye that she whipped up ... someone brought garlic & cheese biscuits (divine!) ...

I brought a turkey casserole, using Plainville Farms turkey, garlic & herb raw milk Cheddar cheese from Meadow Creek Farm and topped with crisped bread cubes from Liberty St. Bakery's WW bread (the Mennonite grandpa from the Regional Market). I also brought dessert, in the form of 10x sugar-dusted lemon-rosemary cookies (using egg yolks from Meadow Creek Farm eggs and rosemary snipped off my own plant in the living room).

Lots of good conversation, lots of reconnecting with people I haven't seen since summer. It was so good to come out of the winter doldrums, the stress I was under all winter, and have a good time and share laughs with good people. I'm really looking forward to the next potluck!

The idea came up of putting together a cookbook ... something featuring not only the potluck dishes, but listing the farmers who set up shop at the Regional Market and the products they offer (veggies, meats, dairy, etc.). Apparently there are business grants for this sort of promotional venture. Plus I have experience in putting together cookbooks. Altogether, I'm considering it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Eat Local potluck tomorrow!

I'm pretty excited about the Eat Local potluck supper tomorrow. I've been little more than a shut-in this winter, and like the lovely purple crocuses that have popped up in my front yard, it's time to come out of my winter doldrums and get back into the swing of things. What better way to do that than to join some like-minded folks for good food and good conversation?

I stopped by the Regional Market last Saturday morning and was surprised and delighted by what I found there - locally produced milk, cheese and butter, not to mention hydroponically grown lettuces and greenhouse-grown fresh veggies. I picked up another Greek oregano plant to replace the one that died suddenly over the winter (I'd dug it up and brought indoors so I could have fresh herbs, but it seems it was overwatered and suffered root rot), but there were so many other herbs that piqued my interest: chocolate mint, ginger mint, Thai basil ...

This year may be the year in which I invest in some lovely pots and begin a container garden in my front yard along the walk. I imagine it would be a delight for the senses to brush against fresh lavender, thyme, oregano, rosemary and other herbs as one walks to the front door. I'm going to start by bringing home some of the herbs I find at the market, and see what happens.

In the meantime, though, I need to decide what to bring to the potluck! So tonight I'm sipping herbal tea as I go through my favorite recipes to see what I can do with the local products I can find at the market.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What's for dinner this week?

I may have already mentioned this, but every weekend I take the time to whip up my meals for the week. I find that if I don't bring lunch and dinner with me to work every day, my blood sugar gets too low while I'm in the car on my way home - not good. So I prepare something for lunch and something for dinner (usually on Sunday afternoon), and I have fabulous leftovers all week.

This week's dinner will be sweet potato and cashew korma with coconut rice, courtesy of Cooking Light magazine. It's absolutely delightful! I left the sweet potatoes a bit firmer than usual to offset the softness of the tofu cubes. It's vegan unless you add the yogurt when serving, and to lighten the fat & calories a bit I used light coconut milk with the rice. (I also used a rice cooker.) I'd heat up a papadum in the microwave for a minute or so to accompany.

This is, by the way, that sweet potato recipe I thought I'd lost :)

Friday, March 28, 2008


Today's big topic for me is nutrition. Specifically, I've been wondering whether I'm getting enough stuff like protein. Yeah, I eat my share of meat, beans, dairy and all ... but am I getting enough protein? Or too much?

One website said that for my height and weight, I should be consuming 83 grams of protein a day, minimum. Another tells me to double my weight to find how much protein in grams ... but gosh, that seems awful high. (I can't see how 300+ grams of protein a day can be good for you.) Still another tells me to multiply my weight by .4 to reach the magic amount. And isn't the USRDA something like 65g? Or 50? Too much, and too little, can each be harmful.

I had a problem many years ago when I was vegan: I didn't know much about proper nutrition and I wasn't getting enough protein, and (among other things) my metabolism crashed and burned. So I'm a bit nervous about protein.

In the face of so much conflicting information, the one thing I can do is determine how much protein I'm getting right now. So I've decided to keep a food diary for the next week, and jot down what I'm eating and how much. Since I rarely prepare meals for which I don't have nutritional information (ie., I normally follow recipes that a serving size and its nutrients), I'm hoping this won't be dull or burdensome. In the meantime, I'll keep researching.

EDIT, 4/11/08: I've managed to take in a good 30-50g of protein a day, which really just isn't enough for someone my size. A friend called a little while ago to inform me that according to her Weight Watchers leader and to a book called The Fertility Diet, the way to calculate one's protein intake is to multiply your body weight by .7. Under that formula, I need to double my protein! Which I can believe, since lately the more I eat, the more weight that comes off. (She adds that the Fertility Diet promotes a greater amount of vegetable protein than animal protein. I'm not that familiar with the diet myself, but I'll check it out when I get a chance.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Photos and springtime thoughts

Just a quick post (as it's way past my bedtime) to remind myself: use that fancy camera you bought and take pictures! Pictures good!

In the meantime, here's a photo of what were probably the most delicious potatoes I've ever eaten. I can't wait to partake of the local produce again!

I know ... it's time to sign up for the CSA shares. Unfortunately, my pocketbook took a major hit last month, so no CSA for me. I hope to be able to do it next spring. Until then, I'll keep visiting the farmers market and work on building out the garden (we have two of the planned five raised beds built so far).

Somewhat unrelated thought: I wonder if the eat local supper club is still happening?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I'm back!

First of all, it's good to be back! "Real life" happened in a particularly nasty way toward the end of January and I haven't able to put my mind toward blogging much til now.

Things are better for me these days, and my attention is back where I enjoy it most: thinking about what's for dinner. Lately I'm finding the answer to that eternal dilemma in the pages of food magazines.

I recently splurged a bit and got myself a subscription to Vegetarian Times. I don't usually subscribe to publications, as I don't often have the time to read them through, but lately I've been leaning more toward vegetarian/vegan than carnivorous. I found a recipe for tempeh chili in the latest issue (April 2008) that really worked out very well and stifled my reservations about the fermented soybean cake. As soon as I see that it's on VT's website, I'll post a link.

I made a couple of substitutions. The recipe called for a dark beer but I don't drink the stuff, so instead I dry-roasted some buckwheat flour and stirred it into the chili and added the 12 ounces of water that the beer would've provided. Also - whoops! - two teaspoons of maple syrup were called for but I ended up adding probably two tablespoons when the syrup came out of the jug much faster than I'd anticipated. Didn't hurt the taste! Plus ... I added probably a tablespoon of coriander powder and cayenne pepper for some added zing.

There's something else I wanted to make, something involving sweet potatoes, but silly me ... I can't find the recipe anymore. What do I do with 24 ounces of sweet potatoes? (I'm sure I'll find an answer!)

I did another uncharacteristic thing yesterday: I brought home a copy of Clean Eating magazine from the store. I'd never heard of the phrase "clean eating." Apparently it means eating foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, which I think is generally a good idea: the minimally processed food is more likely to be the healthiest, most satisfying food.

I couldn't resist the cover photo of a slice of veggie pizza. The magazine itself seems chock-full of recipes and all sorts of nutrition and health tips - there's even a 30-day meal plan with simple, healthful foods and a shopping list - and I'm really looking forward to checking it out more closely.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Quick eats on a lazy day

It's been a long week at my day job, and I'm not looking forward to spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I still want to eat well, however; and I don't want to blow a chunk of change at a restaurant. What are my options this weekend?

What's in the freezer? Ever since my husband rehabilitated the freezer chest in the basement, we've been careful to set aside leftovers and extras. As long as I've marked each container properly, I can simply pull out a Ziploc bag or a Rubbermaid container and heat a good, solid meal in the microwave.

Canned foods are also good choices, but watch out for the sodium (salt) content. If you select something that has more than, say, 30% of the recommended daily intake for sodium per serving, either consume less than a serving or drink lots of water to hopefully reduce the amount of water retention you'll experience later. I know my body will retain up to three pounds worth of weight after I eat something salty (that includes french fries and commercial soups), so be careful if you're watching your weight.

Having said that ... canned beans are a blessing and can be the basis for many a delicious, quick meal. You can add garbanzos (chickpeas) to salad veggies (which can come bagged from the store, which means even less effort on your part) and dressing. Beans add protein and vitamins/minerals to dishes.

Minimal prep time goes along with the homemade pastes I keep in the fridge. I have a basic mild curry paste that I like to heat up in a small pot while stirring in some plain yogurt. This makes a tasty sauce that goes well with cut-up cooked chicken or frozen veggies - just make sure the ratio of yogurt to paste is to your liking. You can buy all sorts of similar sauces and pastes at larger supermarkets, or make your own.

The nice thing about living near relatives is that you're always welcome to stop by ... and if your relative happens to be like my sister, her kitchen is always open :) I don't get to see her very often, despite the fact that she lives 10 miles down the road, so when I do stop by she's happy to play gracious hostess and pull out some of her best goodies. She makes a mean guacamole from scratch, and always has all sorts of fresh veggies and organic blue chips to go with. I do the same when she visits (even more rare, unfortunately), so it's all "even Steven."

Personally I prefer visiting my sister - not to "mooch," but because she's lots of fun and I get the bonus of getting to hang out with my 8-year-old nephew! When my only contact with the outside world is either co-workers or the grocery store, a few hours with family feeds my spirit as well as my tummy.

What other ideas do you have for eating well on a lazy day?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

... so how did that korma come out?!

I promised to report back on the korma I made for New Year's Eve. It came out wonderfully! Admittedly, it was very different from the cream/cardamom-based restaurant style of korma, but it was still creamy good and delightfully rich and complex in its taste. In the same bite, you could taste the pungent lamb, the pistachio and the yogurt. It was rather time-intensive, but it was worth it to have my dear husband insist I teach the cooks at the restaurant how to make it!

For New Year's Day I made a much simpler dish, a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's "Invitation to Indian Cooking" involving black-eyed peas called lobhia. I used to make it often back when I was a vegan who wanted to make delicious food without a huge grocery bill. Some tomato, some black-eyed peas, some onion and some spices ... and the net result is YUM! I used to eat it with dry toasted whole-wheat bread instead of an Indian style of bread; this year, though, I made a dozen chappatis and we "dined in style" for the first night of 2008.