Eat Your Words: The Fresh & Green Table

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When I found this weighty paperback on the new book shelf, I assumed its main selling-point would be the beautiful photographs. Since I’m easily seduced by beautiful photographs, that would have been enough. When I finally dug in to read The Fresh & Green Table (Chronicle Books, 2012), I was impressed by chef/author Susie Middleton’s knowledge base and her accessible writing style. From the introduction:

“You might think that cooking vegetables is all about the ingredients. (Vegetables are, after all, so sexy.) But I think the real secret to making delicious vegetable dishes is a repertoire of good and easy techniques, brought to life – of course – in detailed recipes.”

I’ve made more than a few good veggies go bad because of my poor cooking techniques, so I’m closely reading these recipes, rather than simply gawking at the gorgeous photos by Annabelle Breakey.  The recipes are diverse, and adaptable once you’ve mastered some of the basic techniques. The Fresh & Green Table isn’t meant to be exclusively vegetarian, so a few of the recipes include meat, making the book an excellent resource for bridging the culinary gap in herbivore vs. omnivore households. Vegans will need to adapt the recipes a bit more, as Middleton is absolutely (blessedly) in the Julia Child camp regarding the use of butter, cheeses, cream, and eggs.

The Fresh & Green Table is Middleton’s second cookbook, a semi-sequel to Fast, Fresh & Green. The two books complement each other: her first book focuses on vegetable based side-dishes, while her latest offering is meant to showcase main dishes. You can read more about Susie’s cooking and farming adventures on her blog, Six Burner Sue.

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Tuesday Top Ten: Food from Cuttings

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With just a quick perusal of pinterest, you can find hundreds of grow-it-yourself instructions. As I surfed around DIY gardening sites, I quickly realized that some of the projects don’t result in edible food. You can grow beautiful avocado trees or carrot tops, but they won’t make much of a dinner. Here are our top ten edible items that we’re going to try to start from cuttings this year:

  1. Green Onions – from 17 Apart
  2. Ginger Root – from Tropical Permaculture
  3. Garlic – from A Veggie Venture
  4. Sweet Potatoes – from The Garden of Eaden
  5. Celery – from Deep Roots at Home
  6. Rosemary – from Geek Gardener
  7. Basil – from Garden Therapy
  8. Tomato Plants – from Vegetable Gardener
  9. Peppermint – from Mother Earth Living
  10. Lemongrass – from Backyard Gardening Blog

Setting Intentions: Grow

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The weather here is unseasonably warm, so we’ve got seeds and planting on our minds. We didn’t grow very much last year, so this feels like the year to really go big. It helps that I’ve been reading Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail, again. It’s one of those books that makes the idea of planting a lot of food seem possible, even though we don’t have a huge garden space.  Here are some of the steps we’re taking right now, to get on track to grow more of our own food this year:

  1. Mapping our entire yard space, so we can make better use of the light and shade – I really like this simple mapping tool from Gardener’s Supply Company. We’ll need to make a more detailed map of the small areas that we plan to use in our side and front yards.
  2. Deciding what we can realistically fit in our space.
  3. Gathering seeds! Seed Savers Exchange is a great resource.
  4. Finding and preparing alternative planters, inside and outside.
  5. Making a space to start some seeds inside – Gayla Trail has devoted a entire section of her You Grow Girl web-site to seed starting.

In addition to working with the garden spaces in and around our home, I’m also hoping to buy a plot in our school’s community garden. When school began in August, Sam was very interested in the plum trees in the garden, so he’ll be motivated to help care for the trees and help with the fall harvest. We’re also figuring out our CSA (or NSA) budget, and which farm we’ll support this year. We’ve been very happy with Monroe Farms during past years, but we’ve recently heard about some options that are even closer to our home.

Beyond the details and logistics of learning to grow more of our food, we’re simply enjoying our time outside, absorbing the fresh air, the light, and of course the dirt.

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What are you thinking of growing this year? 

 

Make It: Foodie 500

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Time to cool down the stovetop and warm up your keyboard! To continue with our intentions to stay flexible and improvise, I’m challenging myself to craft something from words. I very much enjoyed a few literary hours at Lighthouse Writers tonight, attending my first Friday 500 event with Angela. The theme tonight was flash fiction. We learned that flash fiction doesn’t need to be written quickly, but the final product should be brief (we listened to examples that ranged from 25 to 1000 words) and powerful. One of the discussion leaders talked about writing a story using 1000 words, then cutting his word count in half, then in half again. As you can imagine, if you cut a story to 250 words, you have to be meticulous in your word choices, the way you structure your sentences, and the devices you choose to move the narrative forward.

My challenge to you, should you choose to accept it, is to write a flash fiction piece, 500 words or less, with an overarching “Foodie” theme. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, why not try something new? I can’t offer you a fabulous prize for your winning entry, just the satisfaction that comes from flexing your brain cells. If you decide to take the challenge, and you’re brave enough to share, you can send your Foodie 500 to projectflip180 at gmail dot com.

Now go write!

The Improvisors

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It was a Breakfast For Dinner kind of night. A chant went up, and they demanded the old standby, Puffy Pancakes. Hardly the wholesome, locally-sourced, in-season meal I had in mind, after all of my crunchy reading during the past weeks.

We started to bargain. I agreed to make the pancakes in two batches: the first would be plain, for Sam the purist (he won’t even take syrup on his puffy pancakes), and the second would be my improvised somewhat-healthier version. They agreed to try both types. Both batches were made using the same batter, and the extra ingredients were added to the healthier muffin versions right before baking. Here’s our re-modified recipe:

Dutch Baby – 1/2 standard, 1/2 imps

Preheat the over to 425 F

Whisk together until smooth:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup white flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (not because it’s healthier, it’s what we had on hand tonight)
  • 4 large eggs (room temperature)

In the preheating oven, melt about 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter in a 9×9 or 8×8 baking pan. For our dueling batches, we also used 12 standard size muffin tins, and melted a dollop of butter in each tin.

When the butter is melted, take the pans out of the oven and make sure the butter covers the bottom of the baking pan and the muffin tins. Pour 1/2 the pancake batter in the 9X9 baking pan. Ladle or spoon the remaining batter into the muffin tins – each tin should be about 3/4 full.  Then layer your topping ingredients on the batter in the muffin tins.
  • Possible toppings: strawberries, shredded coconut, diced pecans (you could substitute any combination of fruit and nuts that suit you)
 Bake for about 15 minutes. Serve immediately, and enjoy!
This was a kitchen improvisation that paid off. Though Sam still claims to like the plain version best, the rest of us voted for the strawberry-coconut-pecan mini puffy pancake versions. There were no comments about the addition of wheat flour – I think it made the larger square pancake less puffy, but nobody else (Sam) seemed to notice, so I’ll keep making that substitution in the future.
What do you think we should name our new pancake recipe? 

Eat Your Words: The Natural Kitchen and The Locavore Way

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If you’re looking for good resource books about sustainable food production, The Natural Kitchen (2010) by Deborah Eden Tull and The Locavore Way (2009) by Amy Cotler are both worthwhile choices. Though the books include some recipes, each author is more intent on addressing broader questions about systems, sustainability, and mindfulness. Both books are dense with advice and inspiration for moving toward greener food systems. I especially liked Cotler’s chapter on “Open Recipes and Improvisations,” a style of cooking that works well in our home.

Tuesday Top Ten: Cheap Dates and Fresh Basil

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We have some simple, practical goals for our family meals. We want our meals to be:

  1. Delicious
  2. Inexpensive
  3. Healthy
  4. Easy to Prepare

Our fifth goal is more difficult to pin down. If I write, “Good for the environment” or “Good for the rest of the world,” it sounds like we’re on a positive track, but ultimately I don’t believe that any of our current food choices are truly good for the environment or the rest of the world. Our default shopping spot is Safeway (a traditional U.S. grocery store that seems no better or worse than any other chain). We buy packaged and processed foods, out of habit and because they seem less expensive. We haven’t done much with our backyard garden, except grow a lot of mint. We’ve become typical American consumers, and we think we’re too busy and too lazy to reform our habits.

In the name of reform and in the spirit of taking small steps to create big changes, we’ve got ten ideas to try, to get us back on a greener track.

  1. Buy in bulk – this week we bought cheap dates, pecans, and shredded coconut.
  2. Do part or all of our weekly shopping at Sprouts, or seek out the organic sections at Safeway and Costco.
  3. Shop the Sprouts sale circular and take advantage of their coupons.
  4. Try buying some items through a Frontier co-op.
  5. Make a plan to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group, or a Neighbor Supported Agriculture (NSA) group. I just found out about a new NSA in our ‘hood called Little Raven Farms.
  6. Make a plan to share herbs and spices with friends.
  7. Stay on top of meal planning – when we make a plan and buy the right ingredients, we’re less likely to fall back on prepackaged meals.
  8. When grocery shopping, stick with the list. That goes hand-in-hand with the old maxim…
  9. Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. Or kids with empty stomachs. And definitely not hungry spouses.
  10. Keep our little window-sill basil alive, and make a plan to start more indoor edible plants.
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What ideas would you add?

Setting Intentions: Stay Flexible

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Each Sunday, I think I’m going to write a terribly useful post like “How to eat organic for $29 a week,” or “My kids love broccoli, here’s how we made it happen!” But here we are, on our third week of setting intentions around family meals, and our goals aren’t that pragmatic. And I spent a good portion of my day doing a photo shoot for the Trashies that now occupy every corner of our home. They’re surprisingly photogenic, though not remotely organic.

We are making some tangible culinary shifts, like shopping at the organic grocery store more often, and buying fewer processed foods. The kids are trying new ingredients and flavors. We’re following rough weekly meal plans, and the crock pot is getting some extra play. But flexibility is the common denominator in each of those shifts. We still eat frozen pizza, and we’re very happy (as long as we cook the frozen pizza before eating it, of course).

While staying flexible isn’t something I can really teach you in five steps or less, I think it’s useful to break down your days and weeks, in order to identify areas where stretching might do you good. If you don’t realize you’re inflexible, then why would you even try stretching?

When was the last time you tried a new food or flavor? What was it?
How do you react when meal plans change at the last minute?
How do you react when an unexpected guest shows up for a meal?
Think about how you shop for food. Are there any patterns that have become ingrained, like walking the same route through the store each time you shop? 
Do your current meal time patterns work for you? How do you think the patterns could shift, to open up your meals to more celebration and presence?