Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pot Roast and Veggies

Tonight I'm having a friend over for dinner and we are going to eat like kings! Because of a busy Sunday this week, our typical meat day got shifted to Thursday. My two housemates are both working late tonight, so it will just be the two of us dining on a feast of pot roast and gravy, garlic smashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts, and cauliflower with cheddar cheese ALL TO OURSELVES! Can you tell I'm hungry? Here's some recipes for ya'll:

Pot Roast

I browned the roast in a hot (NOT non-stick) pan--a few minutes on each side. Then I put it in the crock pot over some carrots and an onion, chopped up.

I added about 3 tbsp. butter to the pan I had just taken the meat from and melted it while scraping the meaty goodness off the bottom of the pan. I added 2 large tbsp. flour to the butter, whisked it together, and let it cook for a minute or so. Then I poured in one part chicken stock and one part beer, while whisking, on pretty high heat until it thickened into gravy. I poured this over the meat and set the crock pot on high for three hours.

Brussels Sprouts

I halved and washed some brussels sprouts right after I bought them on Sunday. Tonight, I will dump them in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, add salt, pepper, loads of garlic, and a touch of balsamic vinegar. I'll roast them in the oven at about 400 until they look nice and crispy--30 minutes or so.


I also cleaned and chopped some cauliflower on Sunday. I will dump that into its own roasting pan to cookat the same time as the sprouts with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and maybe cumin. Right before it's done, I'll sprinkle some grated cheddar cheese on top so it gets all melty and wonderful.


While the veggies are roasting, I will halve some potatoes, boil them with skins on (lazy way), and mash them up with some butter, a scoop of cream cheese, salt, pepper, and several cloves of garlic. I might throw in some dried chives if we have any.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween Treat

This snack is definitely not limited to Halloween, but I served it at my Halloween party.

Maple Caramel Corn

8-10 cups (popped) popcorn
3/4 stick butter
1 1/2 cups maple syrup

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add maple syrup. Bring to a boil and cook until it reaches 300 degrees, or for about 15-20 minutes. Pour mixture over popcorn, stir, and let cool.

Enjoy! Don't come calling me when you get cavities, though.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Things You Should Never Buy: Mayonnaise

It's about time for another "Things You Should Never Buy" post! Today's installment is on mayonnaise. I was always scared to make it myself, because I thought it would be difficult and complicated, but it's really easy!

I needed some mayonnaise to make deviled eggs for a Halloween party I'm having tonight (more on that later). It's not something we usually keep around, and I was not going to buy a whole jar of processed food just to use a couple scoops. So I decided to make some myself!

I scoured the internets for recipes, and ended up just experimenting on my own. All the recipes I found used a whisk to hand mix the mayo, but eff that, ya'll. I busted out the blender. I also read that a warm bowl helps, so I filled the blender with boiling water and poured it out right before I started.

I started with two egg yolks* in the blender. I added maybe a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar, and a half teaspoonish of mustard powder.

I blended this a little bit, then very slowly starting drizzling in olive oil as I blended. I just kept adding olive oil slowly until it was about the consistency of regular mayonnaise. It ended up being almost 2 cups--which is good because the internets told me that 1 cup of oil to 1 egg is a good ratio.

It was really that easy!

* Make sure you use fresh eggs from a reliable source, since they will not be cooked. Salmonella is probably not fun.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Farmville Gets Real

This article by Peter Smith discusses the new phenomenon of land sharing for gardening. He tells the story of Peter Rothbart, who started We Patch, a garden sharing social network in Seattle:

"Two years ago, Peter Rothbart was riding through Seattle on his bike. He came to a traffic circle. In the center was a 15-by-20-foot patch of soil where the city allows residents to garden. A man was standing there, looking down at a sorry-looking bunch of plants that had been run over and obliterated by a late-night driver. Later that evening, Rothbart went to a barbecue and overheard a woman talking about how she had an expansive lawn that she didn’t have time to take care of. “What if that guy could garden her land?” he said. “It just seemed like a good idea.”

So he started We Patch, one of a dozen new websites designed to connect wannabe gardeners with landowners who have available garden space. Let’s say you have an unused space that might make a good pumpkin patch, you offer it up on the website. If you’re a gardener without a garden, you can find available space—and contact the landowner. Sometimes, it leads to a rendezvous and a handshake agreement. Other times, gardeners and landowners spell out exactly how they’ll share produce and labor from a shared plot of land. It’s like a Craigslist devoted exclusively to gardeners—without the used car parts and hopefully with fewer missed connections."

There are now loads of similar sites across the country. I've written before about using public spaces to grow food for hungry people, but I wonder how we could use a network of shared private spaces to accomplish the same goal. Could organizations that are already working to feed people--shelters, food pantries, faith and community groups--start a network of land sharing that would allow them to feed people with local whole ingredients? Can we add another player to this equation? We're connecting land owners to gardeners. How do we connect gardeners to people who don't have access to fresh local food and don't have the skills or resources to grow it?

Brainstorm with me here, people...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Eleven-year-old Birke Baehr's Speech on Our Food System

Check out this Tedx speech on our food system by Birke Baehr. Sure, it's probably scripted, but the kid's making decent points anyway.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lazy Sauce

No, friends, still no pictures. My mediocre writing will have to suffice. Someday soon I'll get myself a camera and do this blog right.

Yesterday I got a basket full of end-of-season tomatoes at the farmers market. It was probably 10 quarts or something. The farmer called them "paste" tomatoes, which I had never heard of, but she said they're no different from "sauce" tomatoes. In other words, they make good sauces and pastes.

I took them home, and, feeling moderately ambitious, decided to make sauce but not can it. This meant I could fool around with the recipe all I wanted; I just needed enough room in my freezer for the sauce.

I diced a couple of medium-sized white onions and started to saute them in a stock pot in some butter. I added a couple of diced bell peppers too, since we have approximately 250 in the fridge.

While the onions and peppers were doing their thing, I washed and cored the tomatoes in batches, and pureed them in the food processor, skins and all. Remember, this is lazy sauce. I added the pureed tomatoes once the onions had cooked long enough to be translucent. I could have deglazed the pan with some red wine or something first, but again, this is lazy sauce.

After adding the tomatoes, I threw in a few cloves of pressed garlic. I probably should have sauteed it with the onions and peppers, but I forgot. I also added a scoop of basil and scallion paste that Housemate's amazing sister made for us. You could just use some dried basil and probably oregano. I also added salt and pepper.

Then I let it cook down for about 3 hours, adjusting the seasonings every now and then. When it finished cooking, I ladled it into freezer-safe Mason jars, let them cool, and stuck them in my freezer. To defrost, I will stick a jar in the fridge a day ahead of when I need it, or put the whole jar in a pot of water on the stove (removing the lid first, of course!).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Sacramental Table

"We can not live harmlessly or strictly at our own expense; we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want." --Wendell Berry

Maybe I'll write more about this when I'm being less lazy...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Honey Dill Carrots

Here's a recipe for carrots with a honey dill glaze mentioned as a side for lemon herb chicken.

Peel and slice some carrots (on the bias, if you want to be all fancy.) Steam them in a pan with an inch or so of water, or roast them in the oven at 400 for half an hour-ish, then put them in a pan on the stovetop.

Add a few tablespoons of butter, the same amount of honey, fresh or dried dill, salt, and pepper, and cook on low for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle with slivered almonds if you really want to get crazy.

Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken

I've been on vacation, ya'll! Sorry for not posting, but I've been having too much fun traveling all around New York state (and a little bit of Vermont) for the past few weeks. Two awesome teammates and I made this roasted chicken for dinner during my giant (20+ person) family vacation on Keuka Lake.

The chickens came from the Pennsylvania Yankee Mercantile general store in Penn Yan, New York. No, nowhere near Pennsylvania--see the comments for an explanation. The store only sells items produced within 100 miles of Penn Yan. Their mission is to keep people in the community aware and in touch with their food chain. If you're ever in Penn Yan, please check them out!

Here's how we made the chicken:

2 small whole chickens (you could, of course, use just one)
thyme, marjoram, tarragon
salt and pepper

2 lemons

white wine

Preheat the oven to 350 or 375. Wash chickens and place in roasting pan. Smear the chickens with butter or drizzle with olive oil if you prefer. Sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and herbs.

Roll one lemon on the counter to get the juices flowing, then cut it in half and squeeze over top of the chickens. Stuff half of the lemon in each chicken, along with a clove or two of garlic.

Pour some white wine in the bottom of the roasting pan (enough to cover the bottom of the pan). We used a white table wine from the Salmon Run label of Dr. Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars, a local Finger Lakes winery.

"Get the label in the shot, maybe they'll send me a free bottle," I shamelessly said to my cook teammate/photographer friend.

Roast for about two hours total, or until a meat thermometer reads 175 degrees in the thickest part of the chicken breast. Baste with liquid from the pan every 20 minutes or so, and add more wine if needed. Squeeze the second lemon over the chickens after about 45 minutes (once they've browned) and tent with aluminum foil to keep them moist.

We served these bad boys (girls, actually) with steamed carrots in a honey dill glaze, pasta Alfredo, green salad, and a watermelon and goat cheese salad.

By the way, this is the first post I've ever done on chicken. If you're someone who is intimidated by cooking a whole chicken, but knows that whole chickens are much much cheaper per pound than chicken parts, this looks pretty simple, right? You can follow the same steps, but change out the flavor components (lemon juice, herbs, wine) for different ones.

Remember to save the carcass (in the fridge for a few days or freezer for pretty much ever) to make stock with! Just plop it in a stock pot (or crock pot), add some quartered onions, carrots, celery, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf, fill the rest of the way with water, and simmer on low all day. Skim the fat off, strain out the solids, and freeze in ice cube trays for later.

(Awesome photography by Sarah Amico)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Vacation Breakfast

I stayed at my parents' house this past week, and on Saturday my mom and I made a delicious breakfast of poached eggs over hash browns. My mom is a Master Poacher of Eggs, which is interesting, because she doesn't really cook much of anything else, and even some really talented home cooks avoid poaching eggs because it's supposedly so difficult. She's an egg savant.

Hash Browns

1 medium potato per person
1 medium white onion per 3-4 potatoes, diced
couple cloves of garlic
chili powder
maple syrup

Halve and par boil the potatoes for about 10 minutes. Run cold water over them to cool them off, then grate them.

Melt a generous amount of butter over medium heat in a pan. (Put a wide, shallow sauce pan of water on the stove to boil at this step). Add everything but maple syrup to the melted butter. Cook, tossing it every few minutes until the potatoes are sufficiently browned, then drizzle a little maple syrup over top and cook for an additional 5 minutes or so.

Just before the maple syrup step, when your water is boiling, begin poaching your eggs. Crack them directly into the water, VERY gently. I poach them for exactly as long as the toaster takes to make toast on medium, because that's what my mom does. Even when I'm not actually making toast, I use the toaster to time the eggs. Because I've never bothered to just time how long the toaster takes and remember it. It's probably about 4 minutes--so the yolks are still drippy, but the whites are cooked. I don't know, just use your toaster.

Put the hash browns on a plate, and when the eggs are done, gently scoop them out of the water with a slotted spoon and place them over top of the hash browns.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Canning Basics

If you read the title of this post and started to run away in fear, stop. Come back. Relax. Canning is not hard, not dangerous (if you follow the rules), and not complicated. We're talking about simple hot water bath canning today, and anyone can do it. You don't need special equipment that only the Super Secret Canning Society of Old Ladies gives out. You don't need a chemistry degree. You CAN do this!

So, why should you can? Um, like a million reasons. It allows you the opportunity to eat local fruits and vegetables throughout the year. It gives you something to do with the mountains of tomatoes/berries/apples/whatever that ripen at the same time. A basket of homemade jams makes a great Christmas gift. It's a great way to spend an afternoon with your best friend, Natalie. (If you don't have a best friend, Natalie, think about getting one; they're awesome). Also, you'll be ready in the event of a zombie apocalypse wherein all grocery stores are destroyed.

Convinced? Okay, let's start canning!

Step 1.
Gather the following equipment:

canning jars and lids - New jars come with lids. If you're reusing jars, you will need new lids.
large stock pot - large enough to submerge your jars
tongs - Canning tongs are nice, but regular kitchen tongs will work if you've got a steady hand.
clean dishtowels - a whole mess of 'em

The following are not totally necessary but are really nice.
canning funnel

wire rack for the bottom of the stock pot

Step 2.
Choose a tested canning recipe for hot water canning. This is not the time for making up recipes. You can only can very acidic foods without a pressure canner, so you need to follow the recipe precisely to ensure the right pH. I'll post some recipes here later this week, but the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is a great resource as well.

Step 3.
Fill your stock pot with water with a towel or wire rack at the bottom, and put it on the stove to boil. If you have a dishwasher, load the jars and rings in start it. Do NOT put the lids in. Begin preparing your canning recipe in a separate pot.

Step 4.
When the water in your stock pot is boiling, drop the lids in for 1 minute, then remove with tongs and place on a clean towel. If you don't have a dishwasher, submerge your jars in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then remove and place on a clean towel. You want to do
this (or remove jars from the dishwasher, if you're using one) immediately before the recipe is done. The idea is to fill hot jars with hot food.

Step 5.
Fill the jars with whatever you've made, leaving however much space the recipe calls for at the top. Slide a knife down the inside of the jars, to get rid of any air bubbles. Wipe the tops with a damp towel and put the lids and rings on.

Step 6
Submerge the jars in the boiling water in your stock pot, cover, and boil for the time indicated in the recipe (probably 10-15 minutes).

Step 7.
Remove the jars carefully with tongs, set on a clean towel, and leave undisturbed for 24 hours. You will hear some popping noises as they seal! Check the seals by pushing on the lids the next day. The center should not be popped up on any of them. If any jars failed to seal, you can stick them in the fridge and eat them within a few weeks. As for the rest, store in your pantry and enjoy for up to a year (as per USDA standards)!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Things You Should Never Buy: Microwave Popcorn

This post begins an ongoing series called "Things You Should Never Buy (Because They're So Damn Easy to Make)."

I stopped buying microwaveable popcorn long ago for a number of reasons. It makes nearly every food caution list because of the carcinogens in the packaging. The butter-like substance of unknown origin covering the kernels gives me pause. The price increase from bulk popping kernels to bagged popping corn is absurd. And the bagged popping corn creates unnecessary packaging waste that bulk kernels do not.

So I have been making popcorn with loose kernels on the stovetop. It's pretty easy, but I've thought here and there about getting an air popper. I haven't yet because I try to avoid single task kitchen tools (think: melon ballers, panini makers, egg poaching doodads). I'm so glad I didn't buy one, because my housemate tipped me off to an amazingly obvious concept I had never considered: Microwave Popcorn.

We put a handful of loose kernels in a brown paper bag, folded the top over a couple times, and laid it in the microwave. We cooked it on the "popcorn" setting--probably 4 minutes or so. That's all. Seriously. And it worked! I was ecstatic (I really like popcorn). It suddenly seemed so ingenious--microwave popcorn! Why hadn't I thought of this before?

I gleefully remarked, "I bet this is how the first Native Americans to make popcorn felt!"

My housemate looked sideways at me and replied, "I think you're a little overexcited."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Help! Green Tomatoes!

Okay friends, I got these green tomatoes in my CSA share last week.

While they look gorgeous sunning on my windowsill, I'm not sure what else to do with them. I have a recipe for the standard midsummer fried green tomatoes, but that's old news. And frankly, I hate breading things. Don't get me wrong, I love Things That Are Breaded, but I hate doing the actual breading.

What else can I do with them? Does anyone out there have any brilliant ideas? Please??

Refrigerator Pickles

Last night, during a bout of insomnia, I made a jar of Refrigerator Pickles out of two cucumbers we had kicking around. Now, if I were a pickler worth my salt (pickle joke), I would know to use only the freshest cucumbers to pickle with. By freshest, I mean picked a few hours ago. But honestly? These will still taste fine.

I'll share the recipe I used below, but let me preface it with an important warning. You can see that I guessed on some measurements and sort of threw things together in this recipe. If you are planning to seal your pickle jars and store them anywhere but a refrigerator, you may not do this. Hear me? Don't do it. Find a legitimate, tested canning recipe and do not deviate from it. Seriously.

Okay, on to pickle fun!

Step One

Bring 1 cup each of apple cider vinegar and water to boil in a small pan. (White vinegar would also be fine)

Step Two

While you're waiting for the liquid to boil, slice 2-3 cucumbers into whatever shape or size pleases you. Slice up a clove of garlic and some fresh dill too. Shove it all in a quart-sized jar. Really shove it in there.

Step Three

By now your liquid has probably boiled. Whisk in about a half cup of sugar, some pickling spices, mustard seeds, peppercorns, and a whole tablespoon of salt. Boil it all for ten minutes.

Step Four
Pour the liquid over the cucumbers in the jar. Put the lid on and stick it in your fridge for a week or two. Then, enjoy for about three months (if they last that long)!

Housemate Recipes

My lovely new housemate, who writes over at Using the Buffalo, made a delicious summer dinner last week and was kind enough to share her recipes! I went to the farmers market and brought home sweet corn, blueberries, cabbage, cucumbers, cilantro, and beets (among other things). This is what she made:

Braised Red Cabbage:
1/2 onion

1/2 head red cabbage

Good splashing of both red wine and balsamic vinegars. (She likes to use more red wine vinegar than balsamic because it tends to taste less sweet.)

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan for a minute or two then add chopped onion. when the onion starts to get a little translucent (about 4 minutes), add the red cabbage. Saute about five minutes on high, stirring often. Turn the heat to low, and add the vinegars. cover and let simmer for about half an hour or until the cabbage has the amount of crunch that you like. add salt and pepper to taste.

Corn & Blueberry Salad:
This recipe is good with leftover corn that you don't feel like reheating and gets even better if you let it sit overnight.

3-4 ears of sweet corn

1 cucumber

Some blueberries

1 jalapeno



Lime or lemon juice


Cut the corn off the ears into a bowl. Chop up the cucumber however you like, dump some blueberries in, chop up some cilantro, add chopped jalapeno, then sprinkle cumin over all of it - probably about a teaspoon. Add about two tbsp of lime juice and one tbsp of honey. Mix all together and let sit for a bit.

Beets with Yogurt and Mint:
2 cups plain yogurt

a bunch of mint

3-4 small or medium beets

3 cloves of garlic

Olive oil

Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Cook the beets however you like. I boiled them (cut off the stems leaving about 1/2 inch and throw into some water, bring to a boil, then turn it down a little and let cook for about an hour). When the beets are done, let cool or run under cold water for a few minutes. . Peel them then shred them into the yogurt. Chop the mint finely and fold in along with the spices. Heat some olive oil in a pan with three cloves of garlic--I chopped it up finely, but you can do big chunks. Keep the garlic in the oil until it turns brown, then fold it into the yogurt.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Farmers Market

I visited the South Wedge Farmers Market yesterday (as I do every Thursday) to pick up my CSA share and some other items. Man, is it ever the season of abundance! The tables were loaded with produce! Here's what I received in my CSA share:
Swiss chard
Green beans
Summer Squash
Green tomatoes

Some other tasty items I saw available:
Sweet corn
Sour Cherries

If you're in the Northeast, look for these items! They're all in season right now.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pickled Beets

I've gotten a bunch of beets, two weeks in a row, in my CSA share. I'm not a huge fan of beets, but I do like them pickled (feel the same way about cucumbers), so here's a seasonal recipe for pickled beets:

2 bunches of beets (5-8 in each bunch), sliced into thin strips
1 head of new garlic, roughly slice each clove
1 quart white or cider vinegar
1/2 quart sugar
1 heaping tsp. salt
1 tbsp. pickling spices
Small handful of chopped dill, if you like it

Fill 2 sterilized (read: just out of a HOT dishwasher) quart-sized mason jars with sliced beets and garlic. Bring vinegar, salt, spices, and dill to a boil in a pan. Remove from heat and add sugar. Then, pour it through a cheese cloth (read: a thin dish towel if you're not Martha freaking Stewart) into the jars of beets. Now, at this point, you can just throw a lid on the jars and keep them in your fridge if you'll eat them within a few weeks (but wait 24 hours before cracking them open).

OR you could seal them:
-Get some NEW lids and rings--you can reuse lids for fridge pickles, but new is essential for making a seal.
-Boil a giant pot of water, dunk the lids and rings in it for a minute or so, then put them on your full pickle jars.
-Then submerge the jars in the boiling water for 10 full minutes.
-Take them out with canning tongs (or regular tongs, carefully), and let them sit undisturbed for 24 hours. You might hear them pop as they form seals. You should NOT be able to get the lids off by hand, without a can opener.
Now, you can eat them immediately or store them in your pantry for up to a year. I would recommend doubling or tripling the recipe if you plan to seal the jars. It's not really worth the trouble unless you make a decent sized batch.

(Hopefully my lazy ass will upload some pictures of these beautiful pickles soon).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Eileen Cleans...herself

A few recipes for self-care items:

1 part baking soda (a deodorant)
1 part cornstarch (an antiperspirant)
20-30 drops tea tree oil (antifungal)

At this point, you could call it done and use it as a dry, powder deodorant. Or you could add a couple tablespoons of coconut oil and spoon it into a used, empty deodorant container. Let it sit for a day or two before using. I've found this works better than store-bought "all natural" deodorants.

Just mix some baking soda with enough water to make a paste. Add 10 or so drops of essential oils for scent if you want to get crazy. If you bought tea tree oil to make deodorant, throw that in. Remember, it's antifungal, so it cures dandruff. It's also a good insect repellant, so you probably won't get lice, if that's a concern of yours. Put it in a recycled container and use like regular shampoo.

Mix 1 part vinegar and 1 part water and use after shampooing. I'm still figuring out the best application method for this. I use a spray bottle currently, but I think one of those ketchup/mustard bottles with a skinny squirt tip might work better.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Eileen Cleans

or, An Ode to Vinegar and Baking Soda.

I am a bit hesitant to branch out into topics beyond eating, but I've had a few requests, so I'll address some ways I extend my food philosophy to other areas of my life. I figure, if I'm not eating it, but I'm breathing it in, slathering it on my body, spreading it around my home, or pouring it down the drain, the Food Rules should still apply. After all, this philosophy isn't just about protecting my health or my taste buds, or the environment as singular interests. It's about acknowledging that all life exists in relation to all other life.

So am I eating whole, local, sustainable food and cleaning with manufactured chemicals? Heck no. And why not? Pick your reason:

-They're toxic to me.

-They're toxic to the rest of my environment.

-They're not produced in an environmentally safe way.

-They're freaking expensive.

And what about "natural" cleaners? Well, they're still a steep and unnecessary expense. Plus, there's no universally accepted or regulated meaning to the word, "natural," so the first three reasons may still apply as well.

I only use two main ingredients in cleaning: vinegar and baking soda. I mix 2 parts white or cider vinegar (which I buy in bulk) with 1 part water in a spray bottle. I use this to clean a number of things:

-kitchen and bathroom counters



-windows and mirrors (it doesn't leave streaks)

-anything metal (great at removing rust)

-floors (in mop water)

If you're concerned about the vinegar smell, it's completely gone by the time it dries.

I mix baking soda (which I also buy in bulk) with a few drops of an essential oil for scent (I like lavender) in a shake-able container. You could reuse one of those plastic Parmesan cheese shakers or a mason jar with holes in the lid. I use this as an abrasive on things that really need scrubbing, like:

-counter tops

-stove top and burners

-dishes with stuck-on food

Just sprinkle on some baking soda, scrub with a wet rag, and wipe away. I also sprinkle it on carpets before vacuuming to deodorize.

Some other miracle uses?
-softens laundry in place of fabric softener
-works the same in place of hair conditioner
-can be used in place of "Jet Dry" in dishwashers

Baking Soda
-cleans hair in place of shampoo
-can be added to dry dishwashing or laundry detergents to stretch their use
-deodorizes shoes, couches, and bodies

More on these uses later. For now, what do you clean with?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Strawberry Lemonade

Do yourself a favor and make this delicious early summer treat to celebrate the season. It's simple and easy, but you'll look like a pro if you bring it to a party in a fancy pitcher.

1. Roll 3 or 4 lemons on the counter to get their juices going, halve them, squeeze juice into a pitcher. Watch out for seeds. Maybe quarter a couple after squeezing and drop them right in.

2. Drizzle some simple syrup* in. Don't ask me how much exactly, just err on the side of less--you can always add more once you taste.

3. Fill the pitcher most of the way with cold water and stir.

4. Throw in a couple handsful of the strawberries you managed to freeze before anyone devoured them. They'll act like little ice cubes. And also turn your drink a lovely pink color.

5. Taste and adjust ingredients for flavor.

*Simple Syrup
1 part water
2 parts raw or granulated sugar

Bring the water to a boil, remove from heat and immediately stir in sugar. Let it cool a little, then pour it in a fancy bottle and refrigerate. (You can add vanilla or other extracts for flavored syrups).

Camp Menu Planning

I will be away next week, working at one of my favorite places ever--Creation Week Camp. It's a camp for middle and high schoolers that uses community building to nurture creative energy and spiritual growth. This year, I was charged with helping a fellow staff member create a menu for the week.

Last year's food was pretty dismal--lots of meat, over-processed, bland--so this year our job was to turn that around. We can't really claim to be nourishing people's spirits while we're feeding their bodies junk. We created a menu focused on local ingredients, meals made from scratch, where meat is a side rather than an entree. We tried to aim for meals that would be familiar to most of the kids. I thought I'd share the menu plan with you here.

1. Scrambled eggs with fresh veggies and cheddar cheese cooked in
2. Buckwheat pancakes with fresh fruit and bacon
3. English muffin egg sandwiches with cheddar cheese and optional sausage
4. Oatmeal with topping choices (honey, maple syrup, milk, almonds, raisins, berries, coconut)
5. Egg and vegetable frittata over potato hash browns

Alternative options available at breakfast everyday:
Yogurt, granola, corn flakes, Rice Krispies, toast, bagels, fresh strawberries, apples, and cherries

1. Sandwich wraps with any combo of turkey, cheese, sliced veggies, and sprouts, plus tomato soup
2. Whole grain pizza with cheese and vegetable toppings
3. Vegetarian chili with rice
4. Hummus and pitas, vegetable tray and yogurt dipping sauce, vegetable soup
5. Chicken and rice soup with green leaf salad

1. Tacos with rice and beans or turkey meat
2. Sloppy Joes with option of either ground turkey or bulgar and beans, roasted green beans
3. Vegetable stir fry over brown rice with option to add chicken
4. Turkey or veggie burgers, baked sweet potato fries, tomato and cucumber salad
5. Spaghetti with meatballs on the side, green leaf salad

Alternative options available for lunch and dinner everyday:
Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, green leaf salad, fresh apples, strawberries, cherries

We're already getting some mild pushback from the cook, who is afraid kids won't go for these dishes. I don't really agree, and frankly, I'd rather have kids complain about too many vegetables than be docile and happy eating junk food. What do you all think? Will teenagers like this? Will they eat it? Any suggestions?

Spring Salads

This blog would really be better with more pictures. I promise I'm on it. Really.

I got the first share of my CSA (more on CSAs later) last week, and it was overflowing with greens. It included (among many things) a super-sized bag of varied lettuces. I am not very good at using up greens before they wilt, so I devised a plan.

I washed all the lettuce at once, let it dry on towel, and tore it into bite-sized pieces. Then I divided it all among 5 of my lovely glass Pyrex tupperware containers. I added some sugar snap peas, chopped in half, some chopped garlic scapes, and some grated farmhouse cheddar (all from the CSA) to each container. I added sliced strawberries to just two of them (because I ran out), and put all the containers back in the fridge.

Every morning this week, I grabbed one of the containers from the fridge, and brought it to work for lunch. I dressed them with some homemade strawberry balsamic dressing* I already had in the fridge.

I had the interesting experience of sitting with a co-worker on Wednesday who was eating some kind of reduced-fat microwaveable plastic-wrapped food-like mush because she is "eating healthy" to try and "lose weight." I was quietly grateful that all I'm doing is "eating real food" to try and "enjoy meals."

*Strawberry Balsamic Dressing

1 spoonful of last season's strawberry jam
1 part balsamic vinegar
2 parts olive oil
salt and pepper
a little dill if you want to go crazy

Put it all in a small mason jar (really great to use the last bit of jam in the jam jar). Shake vigorously.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

If you just had a delicious meal of, say, ravioli with garlic scape pesto, and you're hankering for some dessert, guess what's in season? Rhubarb! And since rhubarb is pretty sour on its own, its sweet little strawberry buddies ripen up at the same time of year just to bestow on us the pleasure of pairing the two. Aren't we lucky? Let's make a crisp to celebrate:

1/2 - 3/4 quart strawberries, sliced
5ish stalks rhubarb, (soaked in water for 30 minutes if they're more than a day old), chopped
the juice of a lemon
1-2 cups sugar or honey
1 tbsp flour

Mix all this together and put it in a glass or metal baking dish. Let it sit in the fridge for 20-90 minutes so the sugar can suck the delicious juices out of the fruit. Then stick it in the oven at 375ish degrees F for 20 minutes. During that time making the topping...

1 stick cold butter, sliced into tbsp-sized pieces
1 cupish brown sugar
1 heaping cup oatmeal

Pulse these ingredients in a food processor until the butter is in pea-sized pieces and well mixed. Crumble over top of the fruit and return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes, and voila! Strawberry-rhubarb crisp!

The Great (e)Scape!

Sometimes I'm hesitant to write recipe posts for lack of step-by-step kitchen pictures. Mostly I forget to take pictures while I'm cooking. Sometimes I do TAKE beautiful kitchen pictures, but then I lose my camera cord or just plain don't bother to upload them. The thing is, I should just post recipes anyhow. So, put your imagination caps on, y'all, we're making pesto. Here we go:

Step 1
Get yourself to the local farmers market and pick up some garlic scapes. They are the green stems of garlic plants that need to be trimmed off in the spring. And consequently, they are in abundance everywhere right now, but will disappear in about a week. They have a flavor like garlic but are much milder. Grab some locally made cheese while you're there--Parmesan is ideal, but any hard, aged cheese will work.

Step 2
Gather the rest of the ingredients from your pantry or neighborhood food co-op: some kind of nuts--almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, whatever--olive oil, salt, and pepper, and some lemon juice wouldn't hurt.

Step 3
Break out your food processor (unless you're a slob like me and it's already sitting on your counter because you never put things away). Throw in a handful of nuts plus 3-4 bite-sized chunks of cheese and pulse a few times. Then throw in a heap of roughly chopped scapes, the juice of one lemon, salt and pepper, and stream olive oil in while you process until you have a saucy consistency. If you can't stream the oil in, just add a bit at a time, blending between each drizzle.

Step 4
Eat it over pasta, spread it on bread, crackers, bagels, or anything! Mmm...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Geezer Granger's Kitchen Hints

The Geezer has many years of cooking and eating experience and I've been asked to share some of these. From time to time I'll post a recipe, an idea or a tip. Where to start? Let's go back to the very beginning, as if you were just starting to set up for cooking.

Basic things essential to a successful kitchen:

Butter, not margarine
Olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Sweeteners; honey, maple syrup, molasses, brown or raw sugar
Spices; thyme, marjoram, rosemary, sage, oregano, basil will do for a start

And the reasons why:

Margarine, the last time I looked, is made with processed oil(s) and chemicals. Butter is a more natural food containing milk, cream, and salt. Now, if you are watching your fat and salt intake read the label to see how much is there. But, we're using this to flavor and enhance the food, not to eat it by the spoonful.

Get a good quality extra virgin oil from a single source, that is, one country not a blend from all over the Mediterranean. There are volumes written about different olive oils, look it up!

The apple cider vinegar is preferred over the white distilled vinegar, it has more flavor and contains trace amounts of minerals.

Notice white sugar is not listed. The other sweeteners are natural or less refined, have trace amounts of minerals, and are much more flavorful. Buy the honey and maple syrup(we're talking the real thing here) locally.

I've listed a few of the basic spices to get you started. As you try new recipes and become adventurous in your cooking, the number of spices in your cupboard will grow exponentially. Buy them in small quantities, the fresher the better.

Read the labels on salt in the store. You might be surprised to find other ingredients. Try sea
salt. Don't worry about the lack of iodine, you don't need that much. You can look that up also!
Pepper? 'cause I've always used it.

Onions and garlic are natural foods. They are good and good for you. Flavor enhancers par excellence!

Let's make a salad dressing. This is not an exact recipe, just the outline, fill in the blanks!

Some olive oil
Half as much vinegar
Sweetener(add a little at a time and taste it)
Two spices (over time, you'll get sense of what goes well together)

Next time I'll share some salad dressing formulas.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Urban Foraging

(It looks like Meredith is going to win this challenge hands-down.)

I am super grumpy today, but I wanted to share this completely brilliant idea I had. I don't know why no one's thought of it before. Okay, probably someone has, but I am claiming credit.

Access to fresh local produce in low-income urban communities is a huge problem. In communities where food access is limited to convenience foods like soda, chips, and fast food, we see much higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. We can't forget that the new face of hunger is obesity. This is an epidemic.

So here's my thought: Cities spend considerable resources every year on landscaping (especially Rochester, the "Flower City"). They plant trees along sidewalks and other plants in parks, playgrounds, city building grounds, and even on highway medians. Why not plant edible perennials in these areas? We could feed bring fresh produce to thousands by offering the opportunity to forage on public land.

Planting apple trees along the sidewalk would not consume any more resources than the merely ornamental trees regularly planted. The same goes for other landscaping throughout the city. This tiny change in city policy could make a huge difference without expending any extra resources.

I just so happened to sit next to the mayor of Rochester at an interfaith function last month. I may need to give him ring. What do ya'll think?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Farmers Markets

The time for farmers markets is nearly upon us. In about a month, my three favorite markets will be opening for the season! I typically visit at least one of the following every week:

Brighton Farmers Market

South Wedge Farmers Market

Monroe Village Farmers' Market

Where will you get in-season, local food this summer?

Monday, May 3, 2010

To Pasteurize or Not to Pasteurize?

Here is an article from Sustainable Food highlighting the controversy over raw milk. The article doesn't really come down on either side of the battle lines. I'm not sure where I fall on the argument either. I don't buy raw milk, but I've tried it once or twice. I haven't heard any arguments for raw milk that make me feel compelled to regularly risk the potential pathogens lurking within. However, I'm in no rush to make the sale of raw milk illegal. We allow raw chicken to be sold and let consumers make their own decisions about how to deal with the (much more significant) health risks it involves. I'm not sure why milk should be any different. What do you think?

What's the Problem with GMOs?

I just stumbled upon the blog, "A Month Without Monsanto," by April Davila, and I highly recommend checking it out. April took on the challenge of going a month without using any products that could be traced back to agricultural giant, Monsanto. The blog is fascinating and a remarkable example of how consolidated modern agriculture has become.

She does a great job of illustrating the struggles of trying to avoid Monsanto products and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but maybe we need to ask why we should avoid them at all? Are we in the local food movement just a bunch of traditionalist Luddites? Are we missing the potential in what could be the next greatest human innovation? I don't think so. Here are just a few reasons why GMOs seem dangerous to me:

  • There is virtually no research on their long term health effects in humans (though they've been shown to cause organ failure in other mammals).

  • The increase in the use of GMOs has caused an increase in seed prices for farmers.

  • Because Monsanto owns the genes it alters, farmers can no longer save seed from season to season. This pushes family farms out of business and leaves us with corporately owned factory farms.

  • Genetic modification (and the ownership of genes concentrated in the hands of one company) creates a monoculture that is extremely susceptible to disease and pests.

These are only a handful of the numerous reasons to avoid GMOs, and Monsanto products in particular. April's blog demonstrates, though, as Monsanto's power grows, it will become harder and harder to do so.

Image courtesy of Jamblichus's Weblog

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May Blogging

Super cute 11-year-old fellow blogger, Meredith, over at Merry Merry Quite Contrary, and I are working on a blog challenge this month. We each post at least once a day, every day, or else we owe the other some candy. I'm already down one bag of candy, since I forgot May started yesterday! Leave some suggestions for posts you'd like to read in the comments! I have a feeling she's going to need to see a dentist by the end of the month...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Pig's Ass

As long as I'm on the topic of filling out petitions and urging you to sign letters, here's a link to a pretty alarming story from Sustainable Food.

A private agency that assigns foster children to homes in Baltimore has refused to place children in a Muslim woman's home because of her beliefs against eating/buying/serving pork. It is illegal for such an agency to discriminate against someone on the basis of religion. The article points out that plenty of value systems prohibit pork consumption--Judaism, vegetarianism, even some sects of Christianity. I work in interfaith cooperation at my day job, and sadly, it does not surprise me that this agency's "policy" is only affecting a Muslim family.

In conclusion:

A Real Life Conversation at my Parents' Dinner Table:

Mom: Mmm, delicious. Where did this ham come from?

Wacky Uncle: A pig's ass.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Do You Know What You're Eating?

Not for long. It soon may be illegal in the U.S. to label foods as free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This would eliminate all avenues for consumers to seek out food that is not genetically modified.

Go and sign the petition at Food Democracy Now if that makes you angry.

They're not asking for GMOs to be banned--or even labeled. They just want organic growers to maintain the right to label their products as GMO-free.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Smoothies (Happy, Mom?)

At my mother's request (which cannot be ignored), I will post a few smoothie recipes today. I have a smoothie for breakfast a few times a week--sometimes with oatmeal on the side, sometimes alone. I mainly use a fruit+yogurt+milk+occasional extra flavor formula.

I make them with an immersion blender, which I'm afraid is on its last legs, but you could use any blender. If I had to make a recommendation (and I don't have to, but I will anyway), I think the Magic Bullet blender is particularly drool-worthy. However, it has some drawbacks. It is pricey, especially considering that it only blends small portions at a time. It seems useful mainly for drink blending--so it may be worth it if that's your primary blending need. I do a LOT of blending/food processing, and I have a kitchen policy against singular-task items (think: melon baller, panini press, avocado slicer). My current blender consists of a hand-held motor piece which attaches to three different components: a food processor, electric mixer, and the immersion blender. It's versatile, simple, small, and gets a LOT of use.

On to smoothie recipes! If you still have local summer fruits in your freezer, bless your frugal heart. If you are getting fresh local fruits already where you live, I hate you. I've moved on to Wegman's frozen fruits. Here are some of my favorite recipes:

Mixed Berry Smoothie
Combine and blend:
1/2-3/4 cup frozen blueberries, raspberries, strawberries
1/3 cup yogurt
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp honey (Make sure your honey is local and organic! Bees are dying, people!)
Dash of salt (and I really mean just a dash)

Peach-Blackberry Smoothie
Combine and blend:
1/2-3/4 cup frozen peach slices and blackberries
1/3 cup yogurt
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
dash of salt

Cucumber Melon Smoothie
Combine and blend:
1/2-3/4 cup sliced frozen cucumber and cantaloupe (honeydew would work, but I like cantaloupe better)
1/3 cup yogurt
1/3 cup milk
dash of salt
(Add some fresh dill for a more savory treat)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie
Combine and blend:
2-3 tbsp homemade chocolate syrup
3-4 tbsp peanut butter
3/4 cup frozen yogurt
1/3 cup milk

And when it's late April and it snowed this morning and you've totally given up on eating locally until the asparagus comes up...

Shamefully Tropical Smoothie
Combine and blend:
1/2-3/4 cup frozen mango, pineapple, strawberries
1/2 cup orange juice
dash of salt
tiny splash of hot sauce

These make about one serving each, but they are very approximate measurements, so feel free to play around with them--adding more of what you like and eliminating what you don't. What are some of your favorite smoothies recipes? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Earth Day Eating

Earth Day was this week, and in addition to organizing a group of kick-ass teenagers at an interfaith recycling drive this weekend, I've been thinking about how to practice earth-friendly eating. (Step one: blog more often, slacker). We seldom think about the impact of our eating habits on anything but our own bodies, but this week I'll be posting about how the way we eat affects the world.

There's a great post on Design*Sponge (a site I love to drool over) about "earth day eating, every day." Ashley put together a great list of ways to be earth conscious in your own kitchen.

Some that I'm already doing include:
*Composting kitchen scraps
*Keeping a kitchen garden
*Canning & Preserving
*Making my own dairy products
*Recycling all paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum products
*Repurposing used glass bottles
*Supporting CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture)
*Patronizing farmer's markets
*Carrying my own shopping bags to the market
*Reusing plastic food bags
*Seeking out locally grown and processed foods
*Buying/eating foods in season
*Running the dishwasher only when full
*Using homemade and/or non-toxic cleaning supplies
*Seriously minimizing the use of paper towels
*Storing foods in glass, ceramic, or metal containers instead of plastic

She had some suggestions that I'd love to do when I have more space--like keeping bees and chickens. She also had some suggestions I haven't been doing, but should--like bringing my own containers to the market for meat and fish and buying biodegradable trash bags.

These are pretty simple practices that someone like me can implement while working (more than) full time and living in a tiny city apartment. For those of you who have a little land or maybe a kitchen that fits more than one person in it at time (seriously, my kitchen is that small), think about what kind of impact your food habits can make!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mmm, Bacteria.

I made the best yogurt ever last night! I've made it before--even regularly for a while--but it has always come out more runny and liquidy store-bought yogurt. Last night, I solved the problem! I am so proud and totally convinced that I am the first and only brilliant person to think of this solution ever, so don't burst my bubble, ya'll.

So yogurt is incredibly easy to make. You start with some yogurt. Okay, that sounds stupid, but the point is, yogurt is self-replicating. Really, you could start with a bacterial culture that you order online and have shipped to you, but might as well just use a scoop of your plain yogurt--with LIVE cultures (read the label)--from the store. So get some of that.

While you're there, get some milk. Anything from skim to whole is fine (even cream will work). Pasteurized and raw milk both work, but ultra-pasteurized will not work (and you probably shouldn't be drinking that tasteless, nutritionless crap anyway).

Next find yourself a clean quart-sized container. I use a Mason jar. Pour a quart of milk in a double boiler and heat to about 180 degrees. If you have a kitchen thermometer, bully for you. I do not, so I just estimate--takes about 20 minutes, not quite boiling, but too hot to touch. You actually have to touch it to find out that it's too hot to touch. It's not rocket science. Or baking.

When you think your milk is hot enough, remove it from the heat and let it cool to about 110 degrees--comfortable to touch, but hotter than body temperature for the thermometerless among us.

To the cooled-down milk, add about a tablespoon of yogurt and stir.

Pour the mixture into your quart-sized container, cap it, and keep it warm for 8-12 hours, then refrigerate. Keeping it warm is the hardest part, but last night I discovered I could fill my slow-cooker with water and keep the jar in there overnight, set on "keep warm." This is how I got my yogurt to be so thick!

The slow-cooker is by far the best method I've tried, and I highly recommend it. If you don't have a slow-cooker and can't borrow one, you could put the jar in a cooler filled with hot water, but you'd have to keep adding water to keep it warm. Or you could wrap the jar in a towel and keep it on the stovetop if you have pilot light to keep it warm.

You can keep making new yogurt by taking a scoop from your old batch each time!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pissing Off Vegetarians

Boyfriend's de facto sister-in-law is newly vegetarian, and I have to confess to trying to convert her back to omnivoriousness. I know this is like the root of all food justice evils, but hear me out.

Being anti-vegetarian is practically blasephemous, especially in the whole/local/organic foods community. But I kind of am. When I hear someone is vegetarian, my first question is, "why?" Some common answers are:

1. "I'm making a religious choice. My religious beliefs mandate it." I pretty much leave that alone. First, because I don't want to be in the habit of arguing beliefs and practices that are integral to a person's identity, and second, because a culture containing a religious mandate against meat-eating usually also contains a food culture (cuisine) that is healthy and full without meat.

2. "I'm making an ethical choice. Killing and eating animals violates my personal values. Animals have rights similar to human rights." I tend to leave this alone too, since I generally think it would be offensive to argue against it. However, I don't really think it is a particularly logical argument. Humans have clearly evolved as omnivores, and meat is part of our natural diet. This argument for vegetarianism seems to put humans and animals on the same level in terms rights, because humans, of course, are animals. It then demands that humans not act like animals by choosing to modify their natural diet.

And then the flimsiest two reasons:

3. "I'm making a healthy choice. Meat isn't good for me." This is just false. Meat is part of our natural diet; we've evolved to eat it for millions of years. It's true that most Americans eat more meat than necessary (it needn't be present at every meal and should certainly not be what meals are centered on). It's also true that meat that's raised in factory farms--with antibiotics, growth hormone, and animals ankle-deep in fecal matter--is not healthy. But the meat I eat comes from farmers I know personally who raise animals ethically, organically, and outside. And (considering its higher price) I only eat it a few times a week.

4. "I'm making an environmental choice. Meat-eating isn't sustainable, and it's harmful to the environment." That's certainly true of factory farming. And vegetarians who can't get meat anywhere but the supermarket are vegetarians I support. But there is a way to raise meat with consideration for the animals' wellbeing, their natural diet and habitat, and the effect of animal treatment on human consumers. If you can find local farmers raising animals like this, I urge you to support them.

There is no escaping the truth that all life subsists on other life. Frankly, it's not a truth I'd care to escape. It is a sacred cycle that should be treated with honor and gratitude. As such, I make an effort to know that my meat comes from someplace honorable, natural, and sustainable. Do you know where your tofu comes from?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Urban Homesteading

Merry over at Merry Merry Quite Contrary told me I didn't have to apologize for not posting in like 3 months. So I'm not. Suck it.

Someone gave me this awesome book called The Urban Homestead for Christmas this year. It is the most comprehensive guide to city self sufficiency I've found. It will definitely change the way I eat this year.

Boyfriend's mom and I are planning on expanding her garden this spring to take over her entire back yard. She was already planning on putting in raised beds, which this book advocates for small scale growing. I'm going to create indoor compost bins for both of us that utilize worms to get the most out of composting in a small space (ew, worms?! yep). I'll post step by step photo instructions on how to make them once I figure out where to get my worms.

I did some food preservation last summer and fall--mostly canning, some freezing. This book's authors are big supporters of fermentation and drying as means of preserving food. These methods are old, time-tested, and introduce our stomachs to lots of healthy bacterical friends (Bacteria and worms?! Disgusting!).

I happened to get a food dehydrator for Christmas as well, but I can't really use it until I have some fresh fruits and vegetables to put in it. I will, however, be making cheese, yogurt, and sourdough bread before winter's over. Look for updates on these projects! (In less than 3 months.)