Posts Tagged ‘canning’

Food waste? Thoughts for the New Year

January 1, 2014
It's what's for dinner

It’s what’s for dinner

 

I read somewhere along the way that Americans waste approximately 40% the food they bring into their homes (I’m not sure if the statistic is true but it brought home a point).  How much to we ‘over buy’ at the grocery if we have the luxury? One of my lame-ass New Year’s Day traditions is to clean out my refrigerator.  I was shocked to see what I tossed:  odds and ends of cheeses, a few science experiments, long ago expired milk (in defense, I did buy the smallest container available for one item and I just don’t drink the stuff).  I made a quasi-resolution.  I’m going to eat what is in my freezer, pantry, fridge before heading to the farmers market.  Yes, there will be some things that I need to buy but I was stunned what I had versus what I thought I needed to go buy.  Dinner/lunch for the reset of the week is above:  a pork roast done in the crock pot with balsamic vinegar, onions and honey.  Mashed potatoes.  I do need to pick up salad stuff (but trust me when I say that will wait until the snow has past!).  Also cooked for the week ahead? A chard/corn/cheese frittata for breakfast.  And with the exception of the cheese and balsamic vinegar? All locally sourced.

 

I have no idea how long this experiment will last: fresh vegetables are hard to find in New England this time of year.  It will be an interesting, creative experiment.  If anything, it might help me learn what I actually eat versus buy because “it was a great price”.  But right now I’m mourning the mac and cheese I could have made had I only been paying attention!

Soup that’s good for the SOLE

January 1, 2012

As usual, I goofed on the deadline for the publishing dates for the Dark Days Challenge (maybe I should use the calendar that I was given for Christmas?).  I was reading the re-caps of the others participating and came upon a fantastic article the at explains (for me anyway) one of the reasons the entire SOLE “trend” is very important.  Barbara at the Crowing Hen posted a wonderful article about the conditions in the meat industry in the US.  For me, it’s that PLUS the insane amount of energy we expend getting items from the farm to the grocery store.

As the writers over at EmptyWheel noted regarding a complex cotton subsidy program:

“In WTO language, Brazil was allowed to suspend its obligations to  U.S. companies under the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property  Rights (TRIPS) agreement. This constituted a major threat to the profits  of U.S. agribusiness giants Monsanto and Pioneer, since Brazil is the  second largest grower of biotech crops in the world. Fifty percent of  Brazil’s corn harvest is engineered to produce the pesticide Bt, and  Monsanto’s YieldGard VT Pro is a popular product among Brazilian corn  farmers. By targeting the profits of major U.S. corporations, the  Brazilian government put the U.S. in a tough spot: either let the  subsidies stand and allow Brazilian farmers to plant Monsanto and  Pioneer seeds without paying royalties, or substantially reform the  cotton program. In essence, Brazil was pitting the interests of Big  Agribusiness against those of Big Cotton, and the U.S. government was  caught in the middle.

The two governments, however, managed to come up with a creative  solution. In a 2009 WTO “framework agreement,” the U.S. created the  Commodity Conservation Corporation (CCC), and Brazil created the  Brazilian Cotton Institute (BCI). Rather than eliminating or  substantially reforming cotton subsidies, the CCC pays the BCI $147  million dollars a year in “technical assistance,” which happens to be  the same amount the WTO authorized for trade retaliation specifically  for cotton payments. In essence, then, the U.S. government pays a  subsidy to Brazilian cotton farmers every year to protect the U.S.  cotton program—and the profits of companies like Monsanto and Pioneer.”

How many sustainable jobs would $147 million dollars create for local economies?  Yes, I live on a dry bones budget: there are 2 things I simply cannot avoid buying from big time producers: cat food and cat litter.  I have a 14-year-old cat: I’m not switching his brands, he’s too old.  Part of my resolution for this years is to buy as much as I can from SOLE providers, then local merchants and local chains last.  Will it do anything to help revive the economy of my community: doubtful.  Is it a teaspoon in bucket? Yes.

Any way, for my blogged about SOLE meal of the week, I made a huge pot of Cuban inspired black bean soup.

2 lb black beans from Baer’s Best Beans (soaked overnight, drained, rinsed)

2 quarts canned whole tomatoes from Old Nourse Farm (summer CSA), with juices

3 medium onions chopped from Shared Harvest

3 medium jalapeno peppers, seeds removed, chopped (from Mass Local Food)

4 cloves garlic also from Shared harvest

2 quarts cold water (you may need to add more while cooking the beans).

For me, it was simple, dump everything into a big stock pot cook until beans are soft.  Blend with an immersion blender.  Add hot sauce/salt as needed.  I garnish with a local cheese.

 

Localized Gumbo

December 18, 2011

For various reasons, I missed my annual trip to New Orleans.  I love New Orleans (maybe not as much as Tim Tebow loves the church, but it’s probably pretty close).  Eating in New Orleans is like taking a cab ride in China. . . . it’s a culinary adventure being deathly allergic to shellfish and all.  Still, I’ve found ways to eat (and drink) across the Crescent City.  I laughed when a recipe for gumbo floated across the in-box this week.  Aside from the obvious miscues (roux and okra?), the processed food and urging people to buy pre-chopped goods to save time (hi, your making ROUX people. . . . you can chop celery.), I started re-formulating the recipe in my head to make a GF, shellfish free gumbo.

1 cup of olive oil or melted butter

2 1/2 cups of GF Flour (I used King Arthur’s)

1 lb of sausage

3 cloves garlic

1 quart of whole tomatoes/basil

1 tsp of thyme and basil (dried)

4 cups chopped onions

4 cups chopped celery

8  cups chicken stock

2 green onions, chopped.

meat of 1 chicken shredded

1 teaspoon gumbo file

Hot sauce to taste

Ok, making roux is a pain and lost art (check out Top Chef from a few weeks ago if you don’t believe me).  You have to heat the oil and gently stir in the flour.  Then cook without burning to your prefered shade of brown without burning.  Initially you have to stir it consistently and constantly but for the last hour (yes hour) you can stir every 5-10 minutes.  The trick is to get a deep brown color without burning; after about 40 minutes it should look like the color of peanut butter.  I bake the sausage in the oven at 400 until done while making the roux.

Remove from heat allow to cool a bit.  Here is the fun part: whisk in the chicken broth quickly to minimize clumping.  I’ve found it’s easier to minimize lumps by putting the stock on the stove top and allow to warm via the heat from the oven.  Dump in the remaining ingredients, and cook on low for several hours.  I skipped the celery because I didn’t have any.

Easy after you get past the roux: it’s easy to see why this dish is one that was used to stretch food budgets.  Wikki has an interesting article on the history of and variations on gumbo.  Suffice to say, it’s a regionalized chilli cookoff. I wound up with enough for lunches this week and froze enough for almost a second week of lunches.

Meat: 8 O’clock ranch

Produce: Nourse Farms (peppers and tomatoes preserved from the summer)

Piccadilly Farms (onion, garlic)

Shaw’s Farm (butter)

King Arthur’s Flour (GF flour)

Why I shop local, can and all those other things.

November 27, 2011

My friend the author of Vegaparadise, posted a link on a recent article that appeared in the Washington Post regarding the increase in of ‘urban gardening’, canning and other activities that seem to be taking hold with members of GenX and GenY . The article which you can also find floating around FB, raises a few interesting thoughts.  Are those who are participating taking a step back for “feminist ideals” (note, yes, that was a gagging sound you heard coming from me) or empowering.  Ok, how about something that isn’t a simple cliché answer.  Maybe we are the generations that aren’t interested in chasing the a 24×7 lifestyle? Maybe after a hard look at the rampant consumerism which lead to an economic collapse, we’ve decided to try to be as local as possible (let’s face it, most of us would be pretty hard pressed to live a 100% locally sourced life – especially if we take any medicine).  I’m not going to rant on the evils of processed foods (I like them … and I know they are bad for me.  Some days, really, all I want is a donut) but maybe part of the resurgence of canning/cooking/scaling down is a recognition of just trying to minimize the chaos.

Part of the “local movement” does come from my desire to support small businesses in my area. Why? It’s better for me.  Chances are a local business owner lives in the surrounding area.  Local businesses have to pay taxes to my town, county and state.  Big box retailers often receive tax abatement deals to come into a town: often with disastrous consequences for the local and state economies.  There are a series of studies that can be found here.   Maybe my decision to support local business, farmers markets and other  local initiatives is one way I can contribute back to my local economy in an easy manner.

Perhaps there is another lesson in this: maybe the GenX and GenY members, having lived through a more, more, more childhood and early adulthood started to settle down when the economy started to nosedive (pick a time), realized there was more to life than a McMansion with a pool and never thought of it is an oppressive act.  I know for me, there is a certain amount of self satisfaction in opening a jar that I canned.  I know what is in the jar.  I know the food is probably not going to be under a recall.  I know that I can pronounce every word.  When I make the decision to spend the extra $2 on fairly traded items, I know that the people involved will be compensated fairly.

Maybe for me, part of my decision to be a locavore is based on this: I can’t ship jobs out of the country.  But I can make sure that where I spend my money supports my local economy so I’m not shipping my money out-of-state or out of the country.  And another reason I like to can, for me anyway, there is something meditative about the process: about combining, mixing and creating.

But I’m 100% sure I’m not taking a step backwards for women: I’m pretty much doing it for me, for the fun and the adventure.  And it’s a small way I can help my local businesses.

Eating Local in Winter

November 19, 2011

For November . . . .

I stumbled upon the Shared Harvest CSA earlier this fall and found it to be a perfect addition to the summer canning madness (and it was madness, but I have to admit that even I find a bit of self-satisfaction with that pop of a jar I’ve canned. . . . ).  Yes, I found another slightly bat shit insane challenge to partake in (it keeps me creative in the kitchen and when you’re cooking for one …) during the winter.

Is buying 100% local the most economical: no.  Is it something I can realistically do.  No.  I’m not 100% committed to giving up citrus and avocados and those don’t grow IN New England.  Plus throw in the allergy to shellfish (only our most common protein) and a gluten-free diet, it’s not feasible.  I’m not going to rant (at least today) about the benefits of local economies, see the Occupy Wall Street stuff for that (although I could probably make a more coherent argument for the benefits of local foods, industry than some of that mess) debate.

There is a challenge floating about on the web, Dark Days of Winter Challenge, that is about one meal a week that is S.O.L.E (Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical).  Will it be a challenge, yes, maybe? There are a few farmer’s markets in the winter (Wayland, Somerville, Winchester), plus the Mass Local Food Co-op.  The challenge will be finding the flavors, getting over my unrealistic fear of kale.  I’m going to try for 2 days a week for a few reasons.  First, I’m cooking for one so I don’t have to worry about kids and flavors.  Second, I did a ton of canning/freezing this summer.  Third, there is something inventive about cooking.  I cook on the fly.  While that will be possible, it will be a bit harder. And fourth, while we don’t have a long growing season here … we do have dairy.  Yup, I’ve already stalked out my local ice cream source.  Isn’t that all I really need to survive? It will be an adventure and I promise to try to post pics and recipes.

Up for tonight? Roasted potatoes, onions, carrots from the Shared Harvest CSA and round steak from my favorite place in the world, 8’Oclock Ranch  (seriously, if you are in their CSA delivery area? What are you waiting for? SIGN UP!).

And given the 3 bushels of apples?? Expect a few more canning adventure tales. . . .

Because I’m always looking for something new to drive me nuts. . . .

November 9, 2011

 

Dark Days

 

So my friend Amy over at Vegparadise found this challenge.  Since I joined her in the no grocery store challenge, she figured (correctly), I was up for the task.  Now we are up to this one: The 5th annual dark days challenge.  Ok, this one is a bit of a twist: in winter, cook one meal a week with items only grown 100-150 miles from your home.  Since I’m a pure lunatic, I’ve decided that I’m going to try for 5 days (15 meals) a week.  I’m adding one caveat: my meat and cheese will come from the fantastic 8’Oclock Ranch in upstate New York which is 300 miles from my for a few reasons: they have humanely raised, organic meats and a fantastic CSA program I’m already a member of!

Now, I did  get lucky in that I placed an order for dried beans from my current CSA from a western Massachusetts farm.  There is also a great winters farmer’s market in Somerville and a decent one in Wayland close to my place.  Finally, for staples like oh, eggs, I can rely on the Mass Food Co-op.  Still, it will be a challenge.  I mean, first, it’s New England: things like oats, rice, avocados simply don’t grow here.  Fortunately, my canning hobby addiction kicked in and I have a variety of items in jars and frozen for the winter.

For me, part of it is about supporting local farmers through the winter – but it’s more than that.  When I leave in the dark and come home in the dark, it’s easy to want to hit a drive thru and head home to curl up.  And yes, there will be pictures, it’s part of the challenge.  Have I mention yet that I created a root cellar in my storage unit? Hmmm.  What can I say? I hate the grocery store!

Some times, you have to go back to the kitchen

October 6, 2011
Pork and Spicy Peach BBQ

Pork and Spicy Peach BBQ

I’ve had a lousy week.  Sunday night, I found out a long time family friend died of lung cancer.  She had a wonderful life just a not so happy ending.  I tried to find something poignant to put on the flowers I sent to my mom but came up with “some days just suck”.  At least my mom laughed: I know her friend would have had she received the flowers.  The day of the funeral I had to deal with my condo association and their inability to follow a procedure from point a to point b thus causing me to be inconvenienced.  My mom and her friend are both retired school teachers.  The one thing that entered my mind (because I couldn’t be 1/3 of the way across the country at the funeral like I wanted to be) was “Lack of planning on your part, doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part”.  The cliché of the poster pretty much sums up how I feel about my condo mis-management firm.  Always a fire drill.

So, on this miserable rainy fall Tuesday night, I cooked.  A fresh ham (not smoked … really you could substitute a pork roast) from the fantastic 8’Oclock Ranch and some homemade peach bbq sauce that I made this summer.  The following is the recipe I used for the zesty peach bbq sauce:

6 cups finely chopped pitted peeled peaches (about 3 lb or 9 medium)
1 cup finely chopped seeded red bell pepper (about 1 large)
1 cup finely chopped onion (about 1 large)
3 Tbsp finely chopped garlic (about 14 cloves)
1-1/4 cups honey
3/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tsp hot pepper flakes
2 tsp dry mustard

(It’s adapted from the ball canning book:  I skipped the salt and Worcester sauce).  And I somehow used the wrong kind of hot pepper flakes so mine as an extra layer of heat (suffice to say, cayenne pepper is a tad hotter than hot pepper flakes: oops).  This makes about 4 pints.

I preheated the oven to 380.  Dumped a pint of the sauce all over the roast and cooked until done (ok, so the cooking time depends ON the weight of the roast so that you have to look up. . . .).  I served it over rice.

Finally it’s fall . . . and I get to cook.  And enjoy the rewards of my hot summer nights in the kitchen

Needing That Alone Time? Day 21. . .

September 5, 2011

SalsaSpend time alone. See this
list
of ways to free up time for yourself — to spend in solitude. Alone time  is good for you, although some people aren’t comfortable with it. It could take
practice getting used to the quiet, and making room for your inner voice. It sounds new-agey, I know, but it’s extremely calming. And this quiet is necessary
for finding out what’s important to you.”

Ok, truth time: this is one I thought I had mastered.  I’m a singleton (unless you count pawed creatures), my family is flung out from here to there (seriously, my closest relative is 8 hours away, my closest nuclear family member is 16 hours away) and truth be told, I’m pretty introverted.  I can blame my introversion on lots of things plus a dash of genetics.  I can be social but when I’ve had enough, I leave.  I don’t do well when I’m forced to be “on” for more than about 8 hours a day.  I don’t draw energy from other people …. a weekend with the nieces and nephews leads me craving quiet and sleep.

I realized while I am often “alone” it’s not recharging time.  It’s a factor of my life.  Meditation . . . not really my thing (I blame that on the unused seminary degree).  Art, eh. It’s a winter activity when I’m trying to refocus but not something renewing.  I found myself pondering this as I randomly decided to make pickled beets (ok, I had 3 pounds of beets from my CSA share and couldn’t figure out to do with them!).  Somewhere in the untangling of my thoughts I realized that my “alone time” was in the kitchen.  My culinary adventures and misadventures, canning, picking berries all have a point of rejuvenation for me.

I have a great little sous chef (the smell of boiling vinegar is a sirens sound to him).  I realized that during my cooking time, I decompressed.  I let go.  I played.  The benefit is, of course, a load of canned organic items for the winter (now what exactly I’m going to do with 5 pints of green heirloom tomato chutney is really beyond me).  Yes, I’ve found a bit of satisfaction in looking in my faux-pantry and seeing jars of items that I made but it’s more than that.  I found a place to rest my mind.  What I’m doing now will create interesting meals over the winter.  Since it’s just me, I don’t mind experimenting and can always ditch back to cereal for dinner if it’s really gross (hey, it’s easier to toss 1 meal without hearing the people are starving all over the world lecture from my grandmother in the back of my head!).

I realized while spending alone time, I’ve struggled with renewal time.  I’ve found something that I enjoy.  But seriously? What am I going to do with 8 pints of pickled beets?

Berry Picking

Evaluating commitments: Day 2 of 72

August 16, 2011

Mine are pretty simple: work and cats.  My family is pretty flung out so most of my time with them is crammed around various holidays.  I’m single which in and of itself can be a push/pull.  There are days it is exhausting (hi, if I don’t get it done, it’s not going to get done – the cats are lazy like that), there are days it’s lonely, there are days it’s fantastic.  Being single can make it harder to find community (you don’t have that instant introduction of kid-things, a partner who is probably more social that you are).  Being single takes time: nobody to share the household chores.

When I think of what gives me value in my life at the moment? I’m into canning.  There is something relaxing about chopping, processing, making various food items.  I am having a blast going to local farms and finding the produce that I want to preserve.  It’s my de-stressor (having tried knitting, reading and a host of other activities).  I’ve found a fun community on Facebook over canning.  I am able to reduce my carbon foot print by canning/freezing items that are grown in a nearby radius of my home.

My job is one of those things: it is what it is.  I have been working temp for a year or so.  My commute depends on traffic and my hours vary from 8 to oh 14 hours a day.  While yes, working is a necessity and yes it can be stressful and busy, with the economy as it is, I’m grateful for my job.  What I’ve learned in working in a stressful environment is that it is necessary to find slices of respite in the day.  Years ago, I’d never take breaks at work.  Now, I do.  I find that time for a walk around the campus to clear my mind before returning to work.  I jot e-mails to people.  There have been a few times at work where I’ve had to say “No.”  (and wow, is that uncomfortable as a temp!).

As I balance the commute, being single, trying to not live in an episode of hoarders, and watching a tight budget, I’ve learned that it’s ok to scale back.  I find myself only offering to do something when I actually want to (this is a perk of child-free, I don’t feel obligated to doing a host of things for my kids, the cats are GOOD that way!) participate in the activity.  My dirty little secret is that I probably do have a selfish life.  Yes, I donate my time, cash, efforts when I *have* the means.  I should do more.  A place for further reflections, I am sure!

Taking a month of …. for now. The No Grocery Challenge

July 30, 2011

So, a friend of mine posted this blog a few weeks ago on Facebook (seriously, how did I live before smart phones and social networking!).  I chased a few links and found what might be one of the original blogs.  (Eh, who knows …).  The rules are pretty basic: don’t go to the grocery store except for what cannot be sourced otherwise.  There are few challenges floating about in the locavore world.  I was immediately interested and agreed to this mad cap challenge. Hey, it’s just me, right? I mean, aside from the sous chef and the prince.  And then I decided to step it up a bit.  I am keeping the basic challenge: buying everything at farmer’s markets, stands with a short exception list (below) and then only $30.  And no, I didn’t stock up on Coke Zero or ice cream!

A lot of the people involved have kids.  I can hear some people in my life now “of course it would be easy for you, you’re single.” (uh, yeah, i also have an hour commute and work roughly 50 hours a week but that is a different blog).  Yup, I live the life of a singleton.  That also means, that if I worked 12 hours that day, there is nobody I can call to say “hey, can you toss on some pasta for me” (well, that and being gluten-free also).  I’m also working for a company that is facing an audit probably in August.  ACK!  So, I know August will be insane.  So why not kick it up a step?

For August, I will not only avoid the grocery store (except the list below), I’m also skipping caffination stations.  Not giving UP caffeine (that would be a danger to others) but avoiding the fast food life style of the mornings and sometimes evenings that have fueled me during early morning commutes or late nights because I’m too lazy to cook something.  I realized how horrific my eating habits (despite some canning adventures) had become when I realized that one day I consumed (seriously) a package of pop tarts from a vending machine, some carrots and a tomato (probably a few thousand miles on those), ice cream with strawberry jam (ok, I made the jam) and 2 dill pickles. Why? It’s what I had either in the house to eat without cooking or had for the vending machine. Seriously.

When the challenge was posted, I realized hmmm. It would probably be good FOR me to do this: I despise chain stores, I try to be a locavore (but let’s face it … some mornings hash browns and coffee from Dunkin Donuts do hit the spot), I believe in local businesses well and the entire menu I listed earlier.  The thing is, to some extent this will already be easier for me than many: I buy my meat from the fantastic 8 O’clock Ranch (which probably means I’m not a locavore FOR meat but since they are a small ranch in upstate NY … I’ll stick with them), I get most of my fruits and veggies from Old Nourse Farm’s CSA.  My issue is more that while I’ll can/freeze food, I forget to USE that food in my I-must-eat-now mode (that and I don’t own a microwave).  So with a bit of planning, I’m going to go free from caffination stations, grocery stores, chains . . . what I do need to buy I will buy from family owned groceries.  This will be interesting.  I’m sure I won’t save money (one of the original bloggers is in Hungary. $2 wine? Ha.) The obvious benefit is breaking myself of this pop-tart diet I seem to be on!

So, with that … my August grocery list is limited to: vinegar, yoghurt (don’t tell me I can make it … epic fail), half&half, cat food (they do like to eat), salt, sugar and olive oil.  The greater adventure … figuring out what I’m going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner now that I’m avoiding chains and the cafe at the office. If you see me, and you love me? Please hand me Diet Coke.  I’m sure I’ll need it by mid-August.