Saturday, October 1, 2011

Time Saving

My plan was to have this blog out earlier. Obviously my plan fell through. Though appropriate considering this blog is well....about not having enough time. Whether now or next year, I hope you find the tips useful as you manage your own busy life.

I hate to admit it, but I don't have the time or inclination to can and freeze food like I used to. I used to spend hours canning almost anything at anytime (ask my husband about the midnight tomato canning fest). I couldn't resist bottling up summer and saving it for a snowy day. My approach and attitude have changed as years have passed. This does not mean I don't can and freeze food anymore. It just means my priorities and tactics have been refined.

If you are like most families I know, you are very busy. Many feel they can't fit in freezing and canning food into their schedule. I hope to alleviate some of the stress that comes from wanting to preserve food but not having the time. Below are a list of ways I “cheat” when it comes to canning and freezing. I call it cheating because it differs from how I used to do it. I used to not use time-saving gadgets and would hand chop and grind everything. I used to can more than freeze and spend much time inside by the stove. Not anymore. I love to have the home processed food and I love to cook. However, I don't love spending our short summers in my kitchen. After all this time, I think I have figured out how to make it all work.

Now, I rarely endorse products. However, there are two items I would list as incredible time saving tools. They are a deep freezer (either upright or chest) and a Vitamix. What is a Vitamix anyway? A Vitamix is a high powered blending machine. They are expensive. If the time comes for a generous soul to ask you what you want for Christmas this year, ask for one. If a Vitamix is not in your future, you can do some of the tasks in a regular food processor. If you are a chef of any sorts, you will also appreciate one of these machines. You can make tahini, hummus, peanut butter, and a host of other items quickly.

In my idealistic mind, I love the thought of hand processing all my fruits and vegetables with a few close friends. However, in the real world and for most just isn't always possible. For much of us, time is taken up by children's activities, family responsibilities, professions and the like. Yet, it is possible for the modern family to store fresh local food with minimal effort. You will be able to refine your approach as time goes on to give you the food your family needs.

Ways to save time on food preservation (or “cheat” as I call it!):

1. Sit down with a notebook. Make a list of produce you will use most in the winter. Many times people can or freeze their abundance of vegetables only for the produce to still be in the freezer a year later. Think hard about what you actually will use. I realize this can be a challenge, but you do learn you won't actually use the 50 bags of zucchini you froze over the summer. Once you decide what you will need, decide if you will can or freeze the item. Many of the items you do use can be frozen. Freezing is a much faster process than canning. Freezing and canning produce different textures, so you will need to sort out which one is right for you. Over the years, I have fine tuned my list so that by spring, my freezer is about empty save for frozen meat. Don't spend time preserving if you won't use it.

2. A freezer is critical. Try to freeze items first as not only is it less time consuming, it helps preserve some of the nutrients. Heat destroys nutrients and so you will lose some as you preserve foods through canning. Here is a great easy to read guide about freezing some of the more common vegetables, I prefer an upright freezer over a chest freezer, but you can decide what might work for you. Some families share a freezer, so that might be a viable option for you with less expense.

3. I don't remove skins anymore when it comes to applesauce and tomatoes. Removing skin can be time consuming and also removes valuable nutrients. If you own a crock-pot or high powered blender, you can finely chop the produce and blend up the skin so it is not noticeable. I even leave skins on when freezing apples.

4. I have processed many apples in record time by doing two things. First, I make crock-pot applesauce. I chop apples (do not remove skins), throw them in the crock pot with a bit of water and eight hours later, I have applesauce. Then I freeze it. I do not can applesauce anymore. I shudder to think of my old way which consisted of: cooking apples, pushing apples through my hand grinder to remove skins, re-heating, and then canning. I just don't have that kind of time anymore. Another super quick process for apples is to chop apples in slices, place in a freezer bag and into the freezer. In the winter, I use them for crisps and pies. I also simmer them with a bit of cinnamon for a wonderful oatmeal topping.

5. Think about your technique. I used to take the top off strawberries and slice them all before freezing. Then I realized I was just dumping the bag into the blender for smoothies or cooking them down for pancake sauce – so why was I spending all this time chopping? Not necessary! I now top the strawberries, throw them into a container or bag, and done. I also met someone this summer who takes the tops off the strawberries in the field before weighing and paying (like at a U-pick farm). if you have the time while you are out picking. She told me she saves a few pounds in the cost of berries and the tops are already done when she gets home. All she needs to do once home is rinse the berries and throw into containers and into the freezer.

6. This summer, I had 40lbs of peaches to deal with. My daughters love canned peaches for eating out of the jar. it necessary for smoothie peaches to be canned? No! I canned 20lbs of the peaches and froze the other 20lbs for cobblers and smoothies. You don't have to decide between freezing and canning, but can use each together to maximize time and taste.

7. I could kiss my Vitamix when it comes to processing tomatoes. I used to spend time taking the skins off, cooking down and then canning. Now I wash tomatoes, cut the end off, chop in half and throw them into the machine. I blend them all into a chunky puree, skins and all. Frozen tomatoes with skins gives my family the highest nutrient value possible. I pour the puree into a freezer bag or container and viola! I have 50lbs of tomatoes frozen in no time. I primarily use my frozen tomatoes for soups, chili and the like. The skins are not noticeable.

8. If you use many jars of salsa and have the opportunity to can it (it isn't good frozen), by all means do it to save costs (good salsa can be expensive). I used to can salsa, but realized....we just don't eat that much and so right now, it isn't worth my time. I would rather store the onions, oil pack the peppers and freeze the tomatoes and sweet peppers for use in other recipes (all of these ingredients are in salsa, but storing this way requires less time than actually making and canning salsa). It makes more sense for me to spend a bit on the occasional jar of salsa than to spend time making and canning it. It is okay to let go of some things! Plus, it is possible to find wonderful locally made salsas and the entrepreneurs always need business. You can do this type of time/cost analysis for any item.

9. Give items away you don't need! Here is a prime example. I used to make a whole bunch of pesto because I had so much basil. However, I didn't use it all (I froze it) and then it went to waste. Talk about expensive waste (pesto contains nuts, cheese, olive oil – expensive ingredients)! Now, I freeze exactly what I think we will use and give the rest of the basil to friends. Believe me, they will appreciate it. Just because you grow it, doesn't mean you have to preserve it. Give it to the food pantry, neighbors and others if you won't use it.

10. My family can't have much sugar, so I don't make much jam. Again, tailor your food preservation to what you have, what you will use, what might save you money, and what your family enjoys. It is more important for my family to have the 40lbs of strawberries frozen, not made into jam. I'd rather support a local entrepreneur with my occasional purchase of jam than turn my berries into something my family can't eat much of.

11. Use your time in the kitchen efficiently. Maybe you have a CSA and not a garden and you have only a little produce here and there to freeze. Do it while you are making dinner. I mean, you are in the kitchen anyway, so make good use of your time. Many times I will only have 3-4 heads of broccoli or cauliflower to freeze. While my soup is simmering, I'll take to washing, blanching, and packaging it up. When dinner is cleaned up, I am all done! I might miss reading the newspaper article I would have read while the soup is simmering – but at least my kitchen work is done.

My neighbor tells me her sons preserve food, but not her grandchildren and this makes me sad. It is a good skill to know and can save a money family. I saw the other day that a small jar of pickled beets is $1.79. Not only do you not know anything about where the beets were grown, but I know I can preserve many more beets than that for $1.79. My weak spot of food preservation is dehydration and I would love to know if someone finds this a time saving technique.

Remember also to put your family to work! Even small children can wash apples and tomatoes. My girls and I had quite the chain of production this year from washing to chopping and bagging. I have sat my mother down on our nice porch and put her to work pitting cherries and peaches and other time consuming chores. The I "paid" her with a pint of cherries or a bag of strawberries.

Happy preserving! As for the next blog, I have a big trip coming up so I won't be writing for awhile. I won't give anything away, but this trip is sure to include a culinary adventure of a lifetime. I'll let you know how it goes when I get back.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Commitment to Place

When my husband and I planted fruit trees in our orchard many years ago, we were making a commitment to a place. Planting the trees signaled a new life stage. It takes a tree many years to produce fruit and I knew then I'd be here for awhile. If you plan to move after a few years, you might plant herbs or maybe even a full garden. But fruit trees? Fruit trees get planted when a person plans on settling down.

Recently, I returned from being away for two weeks. I mowed the orchard soon after I returned. It was then I realized all but the two youngest trees now have fruit. The pear and apple branches all bow from the weight of the fruit. My commitment to place finally paid off. This fall will be delicious with pear/apple crisps, baked apples, fresh pears, and applesauce.

Many people have made a similar commitment to this place. By place, I mean the geographical term referring to both the human and physical characteristics that exist. Food, faith, industry, folklore, rivers, streams, mountains and fields are all examples of human and physical characteristics. This commitment has been a benefit to the local food scene over the years. When I first moved here, I don't remember any farms offering a CSA, you couldn't buy meat or eggs at the farmers' market, there were no restaurants specializing in local food, and I surely don't remember church and school gardens. Now all exist.

So enjoy it all! August and September are the best months to enjoy the abundance coming out of farms and gardens. This time of year markets explode with produce, meat, honey, and others. Your garden may be bursting at the seams with tomatoes, zucchini, onions, basil and others. There are recipes I only make this time of year as they are best when made with the freshest ingredients. Below you will find a few....Enjoy....

Zucchini and Basil Salad
Thanks Jean!

3-4 medium summer squash, julienned
2-3T fresh basil, chopped
3-4T Parmesean cheese, grated
Toss together.

¼ C red wine vinegar
½ C olive oil
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. sugar
2 garlic cloves (or more if you like a lot of garlic), minced
Combine and pour over salad. Mix, chill one hour and serve. Best eaten the same day.

4 fl.oz olive oil
2 fl.oz red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T. salt
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. Tabasco sauce
4 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
2lbs fresh tomatoes or canned plum tomatoes
1 green bell pepper, sliced
2 small or 1 large cucumber, sliced
½ onion, sliced

garnish: croutons or hard-boiled eggs

Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, cumin, and Tabasco in a food processor with ½ the vegetables listed and puree. Transfer soup mixture to a bowl and puree the remaining vegetables and add to soup. Refrigerate until very cool or overnight.

Greek Stew

1 tsp. olive oil
1 ½ cups chopped onions
1 T. minced garlic
2 tsp. fresh oregano
1 tsp. salt
2 cups chopped tomatoes
4 cups peeled and cubed potatoes (about 2lbs)
1lb. green beans, stems removed (about 4 cups)
¼ cup fresh parsley
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
juice of two lemons
ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil and stir in the onions and garlic, cover and saute on low heat for 10 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add oregano, salt, tomatoes, potatoes, and beans. Cover the pot and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes and beans are tender.
Just before serving, stir in the parsley, lemon juice and pepper. Sprinkle feta on top.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wasted Food, Part 2

Currently I am reading the book The Faith Club, A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew-Three Women Search for Understanding by R. Idliby, S. Oliver and P. Warner (2006). In one chapter, Ranya, a Muslim woman, lists a few Islamic traditions. She goes on to describe one of them: “I am reluctant to throw out leftover bread without kissing it and asking for God's forgiveness, a custom reminding Muslims that many people in our world remain hungry”. We don't always realize how many people are hungry around the world and in our neighborhoods. We NEED daily reminders. In both ethical and financial terms, we cannot afford to waste food. In my previous blog, I gave numbers and facts on hunger and food waste. If you did not read the last blog, I encourage you to do so before continuing on here.

Three low-cost approaches are given in the article I mentioned from The Worldwatch Institute ( Reducing Food Waste: Making the Most of our Abundace, 2011). Those are: getting surpluses to those who need it, raising consumer awareness and reducing waste to landfills, and improving storage and processing for small-scale farmers in developing countries. Let's look at each one.

We cannot deny the existence of domestic poverty. Many children need to go to school in order to eat, families skip meals or give up other needed supplies in order to eat. Yet, we throw away an amazing amount of food. Some options for getting surpluses to those in need include: donating to food pantries and food banks and collecting from universities, grocers, businesses and restaurants to then deliver it to food programs. Some of this is already happening here. Churches with gardens are donating to food programs, Campus Kitchen (the free dinner on Monday night in Canton) utilizes excess food from the SLU dining halls, and some farmers are giving to food pantries and free weekly meals. I would love to see more of this connecting. What about retail food businesses and restaurants? What about the excess produce farmers may have after a farmers' market?

The second approach involves raising consumer awareness and reducing landfill waste. Raising consumer awareness is usually an uphill battle, yet after the battle is over what was once fought against becomes routine. Recycling is a great example. In terms of food waste, we are just beginning to raise awareness. In 2010, San Francisco became the first city to pass legislation requiring all households to separate recycling and compost from garbage. A class at Canton's elementary school did a study on how much of the garbage is food waste and are now making recommendations to the superintendent on how to separate food out for composting. To learn more about how to reduce waste and tips for leftovers, visit

Developing countries do not have expensive, western-style grain storage and processing facilities. This leads to a tremendous amount of food waste. In Pakistan, the United Nations helped 9 percent of farmers cut their storage losses up to 70 percent by replacing jute bags and mud constructions with metal grain storage containers (WorldWatch Institute, 2011). During my international travel, I haven't seen daily food waste as in the USA. When I was in Rwanda, my daughter didn't finish her meal one night. The Rwandan girls were shocked and asked for her plate to then divide the remainders amongst themselves. They just don't waste food like we do. In the United States, the food is wasted after production and shipping. It has made it to tables and stores, but for many reasons is still discarded. In developing countries, the reverse is true. The food is wasted prior to being sent for consumption due to adequate storage systems. Many sources tell us we will need to double food production in the next half-century, wasting food will just not be an option.

If you have any connections around the community to grocers, restaurants, universities, and farmers, please encourage them to donate their excess food. Living in a community means caring for and about one another. I firmly believe what happens to our local, domestic, and international neighbors eventually affects us all.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wasted Food

         My daughters and I went strawberry picking the other day. A yearly event for us, my daughters eagerly agree to go and help out. They are at the age now where they are old enough to really help out. We usually pick between 45-50lbs each year. Most of the berries are for freezing, but we also make a large batch of jam. The added bonus this year was my visiting mother who I quickly put to work chopping up berries. With all this help, it wasn't long before I could admire the quart bags full of berries and the many jars of jam adorning my kitchen counter.

         I went picking twice and on the second time, I was saddened to see so many rotting berries. Berries from this farm go to U-pickers and the farm stand, yet there were still so many berries waiting to be picked. Is it that people don't have the time or energy to go pick? Was it a bumper crop this year? All I know is there were way too many unpicked berries. Berries that could have been put to a good use (eating, of course).

        I have been making an even stronger effort not to waste food. My compost bowl is pretty full every day, but that is more from cooking with fresh food than anything else. Berry tops, kale stems and pea pods fill the bowl this time of year. I realize we all have leftovers that get shoved to the back of the fridge and ultimately end up in the compost, but nationwide, our waste of food is despicable.

        I just came across an article The Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project titled "Reducing Food Waste: Making the Most of our Abundace". According to the article and new statistics from the United Nations, roughly 1/3 (!) of the food produced worldwide for human consumption is lost or wasted. 1/3! That is unreal and hard to believe. What adds an extra punch is in industrialized countries, more than 40% of losses happen due to retailers and customers discarding unwanted but often perfectly edible food. Shouldn't that be a crime?

        We have 1 BILLION people chronically hungry and we are throwing away food because it doesn't look nice? We have families struggling to make ends meet in our own county and food is getting thrown away because it isn't pretty? In developing countries (due to storage, transportation and processing issues), 150 million tons of grains are lost each year. This is six times the amount needed to meet the needs of all the hungry people in the developing world (Worldwatch Institute, 2011). According to this, we currently have the food to feed all 6.7 billion of us. Yet much of this food is ending in landfills and dumpsters and in a place like India, as manure.

         The article also says technology (in industrialized nations) for the prevention of food from spoilage- such as climate-controlled units, drying equipment, transport infrastructure and others -has contributed to fostering our culture in which high levels of food waste is accepted. I do believe it is not only accepted, but encouraged. Our state laws, policies of restuarants and grocers and the search for the perfect apple or tomato lead us into a daily squandering of good food.

The article goes on to state three low cost approaches for addressing this issue. I'll discuss those in the next blog.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Top Ten Reasons by Naomi Crowell

Yesterday, my mom and I drove out to a farmstand near Potsdam. My mom and I looked at all the local vegetables, baked goods, honey, maple syrup, jam and more. All of it looked very yummy! I was feeling so excited and I wanted to look at the cookies first. However, my mom wouldn't let me look at them until after we looked at the vegetables. We decided to buy tomatoes, asparagus, cucumbers and lettuce. My mom tells me she thinks they grow the tomatoes and cucumbers indoors to have them so early.

After picking out the vegetables, we picked out oatmeal-raisin cookies (we didn't buy the chocolate chip) and a loaf of homemade bread. We gave all the things to the cashier. Then we went to look at other stuff like handmade bonnets, jam, honey and soap. My mom also was excited to see that they also now sell chicken and beef. For today, we settled on eggs instead. We weren't going straight home and didn't have a cooler.
Naomi and the tomato she picked out

After we paid and got back into the car, we ate a cookie and it was delicious! It was all so exciting! Here are my top ten reasons why I think you should visit a farm stand.

1.It isn't very crowded.
2.The stuff is all local.
3.You can get a parking space.
4.It is usually sheltered from the rain.
5.Some farm stands have other stuff besides food like handsewn bonnets.
6.They are open early and close late.
7.There are many choices of items and each month will be different.
8.If you don't have time for the grocery store, just go to a farmstand.....they are fast!
9.It is very fun!
10.If you are shy, you don't have to talk to a lot of people.

My mom stops at many farm stands all summer and sometimes we get berries, like strawberries and blueberries. Sometimes we get raspberries. Sometimes what we buy doesn't even make it home because we eat them all in the car. That happens with berries and cookies. I hope you can get to a farmstand soon!

Slow Food

I love my new 1-cup Italian stove top coffee maker. Yes, I may have to make several cups to satisfy my coffee desires, but it is an enjoyable process and I don't mind. When the coffee is done, I enjoy it slowly, thinking on the complex flavors of the coffee, milk and the frothy foam on top. It is a nice way to start the day.

I have been thinking about the “process” of making and enjoying food. Jump started by my trip to Italy, I am dedicated more than ever to enjoy the process of my cooking and not just the product. Handmade foods, wine, and olive oil were abundant in Italy and can not be missed by even the casual observer. One of the best dishes I had was a simple homemade pasta dish with fresh ingredients. Not complicated, but made with fine ingredients carefully chosen for their best flavor. The dish was homemade pasta with fresh olive oil, garlic and basil. Parmesean was there for sprinkling if desired. I am sure the process of making this dish was simple, yet produced a delicious end meal. For any meal the process starts with thinking about what is available fresh and local, then to choose the freshest ingredients you can find (preferably direct from the farm/farmer) and onward to taking the time to make the dish and to chopping and enjoying the aromas of oil, herbs and vegetables. Enjoying “slow food” doesn't have to be prolonged, complicated or out of your reach......even making small changes can help build a more solid connection to your meals.
Vegetable Stand in Florence

Italy is home to the Slow Food movement, which according to their website is now “ a global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world who are linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment”. “Slow Food was founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.” The Slow Food movement urges us to enjoy quality food in an environment that is not rushed.

I realize we all live very busy lives, yet I believe we can incorporate some aspect of Slow Food into our day. My coffee maker is one example. I choose fine ingredients, relax as I assemble the pieces and slowly enjoy the product. It wasn't a big change. The Slow Food movement gives us other ideas for bringing a relaxed pace of food into our lives such as such as direct contact between consumers and producers through farmers' markets and CSAs and shopping at stores who stock local produce ( ask the retailer about the food the sell to learn about origin, production techniques, etc...). I would also add stopping by roadside farm stands, asking neighbors for the extra rhubarb, enjoying recipes based on locally available foods and savoring the meal when you sit down to eat.

With thoughts of Italy and slow food in my mind I leave you with two things. The websites for you to get more information and . The other is an asparagus risotto recipe. This was one of the other most wonderful dishes I had in Italy and it now coincides with the asparagus harvest taking place now. Enjoy!

Asparagus Risotto – Risotto agli Asparagi
Recipe by Kyle Phillips
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes


1 pound asparagus
½ small onion, finely sliced
1 ½ cups short-grained rice along the lines of Arborio
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons butter or ¼ cup olive oil plus 2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup dry white wine, warmed
1 cup grated Parmigiano
The water the asparagus was cooked in, topped off with beef broth or veggie bouillon to make 1 quart, simmering
Salt and white pepper

Clean and boil the asparagus for a few minutes or until a fork easily penetrates the tip of a spear. Use tongs to remove the asparagus from the water. Trim the tips from the stalks and set them aside. Cut the remaining green part of the stalks into one-inch lengths and set them aside too. Return the white ends of the stalks to the pot, along with the broth or bouillon.
Saute the onion in ½ the butter or the oil and when translucent, remove it to a plate with a slotted spoon. Next, stir in the rice and saute, stirring, until the grains have turned translucent, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the warmed wine and cook until evaporated. Then add the one-inch lengths of green asparagus stem to the rice, and begin stirring in the liquid, a full ladle at a time. Continue adding liquid and when the rice is almost done, stir in half the reserved tips. Check seasoning and continue cooking the rice until it is al dente. Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining butter and half the grated cheese. Let the risotto stand covered for two minutes, then transfer it to a serving dish and garnish with remaining tips. Sprinkle remaining grated cheese over it and serve.
**there was also a note you can puree asparagus before mixing it in to the risotto.**

The Sweet and Sour

January's blog included a monthly list of suggestions for increasing local food into your diet. Included are buying local eggs in January, trying to purchase a chest freezer in February, visiting a sugar shack in March, and joining a CSA in April. Here we are already in May and it is time to eat wild leeks, rhubarb and other early foods. are you doing so far? If you have made progress or want to share exciting “local food” news, don't hesitate to comment here.

It is the last day of April, but my rhubarb will be ready very soon! I am excited it has grown so quickly even through the dreary days. I leave for a ten-day trip on Monday, so my plan is to use the tallest stalks for a dessert this weekend. I can't wait any longer. I am going to make the Chocolate Chip-Rhubarb Cake (see recipe below). When I return, I will make the Curried Lentils with Rhubarb and Potatoes. Rhubarb adds an interesting zest to dishes that are not desserts/sweets. If you do decide to make a dessert with the rhubarb, try adding almond or orange extract to cut out some of the sugar. Freezing rhubarb is easy too. Just wash the stalks and chop in pieces and place in a freezer bag. That is it.

Along with wild leeks and maple syrup, rhubarb is a true north country food. The oldest farms have hidden patches in places you wouldn't think of. I have found at least two other patches (that we didn't plant) around our farm hidden amongst rocks and shrubs. Most north country locals have a story of their grandmother eating rhubarb with salt or sugar. Rhubarb is wonderful (once you give it a chance) and to keep it growing all you have to do is....well....nothing. It is a perennial and cares for itself. The only care I do give is I chop the large leaves (poisonous) off right in the patch and leave them on the ground for weed control. If you live in town and want a bit of country life along with the experience of growing your own food, try rhubarb. It is perfect for landscaping on the side of the house or along a fence.

In June it will be strawberry season. One thing to think on is to freeze extra berries so they last from season to season. I still have some in my freezer - which is great this time of year as I now can easily make a strawberry-rhubarb pie. If I had to go buy strawberries from California to go with my local fresh rhubarb, I probably wouldn't make the pie. A little planning, a big freezer and your excitement over regional food goes a long way.

Chocolate Chip Rhubarb Cake

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup butter

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. almond or orange extract

2 cups flour (your choice of flour)

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 ¾ cup chopped rhubarb

½ cup chocolate chips


1 tsp. vanilla

½ cup chopped nuts

1 tsp. almond or orange extract (whatever you used above)

¼ cup chocolate chips (if you want more chocolate)

½ cup brown sugar

Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and other extract. Combine flour, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, alternately with buttermilk, mixing with each addition. Stir in rhubarb and chocolate chips. Pour into greased 9 X 13 baking dish. Combine topping ingredients. Sprinkle over cake batter and bake at 350F for 45 minutes.

Curried Lentils with Rhubarb and Potatoes

1 cup dry orange or yellow lentils

1 very large sweet potato, peeled and sliced

1 tbsp. oil

1 cup rhubarb, diced

2 Tbsp. liquid sweetener – honey, maple syrup, sugar syrup

1 Tbsp. curry powder

1 tsp. ginger root, grated

1 tsp. red hot chili powder

salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup shredded coconut

Cover lentils with water in a deep pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and add raw sweet potato slices. Simmer until soft. Remove from heat, drain and set aside. Preheat oven to 400F. Heat oil in a skillet and once hot, add rhubarb. Reduce heat and cook until tender. Stir in sweetener and seasonings. Mix with drained cooked lentils and potatoes that have been mashed together with a fork. Pour into a oven-proof dish and bake until piping hot, about 20 minutes. Garnish with coconut. Serve with chutney and a bowl of brown rice.

Wild Leeks, April 2011

Yesterday my family went on our annual pilgrimage to “Leek Valley”. Leek Valley (named by us) is a small moist valley in the middle of our maple/beech forest near Pierrepont. Wild leeks, otherwise known as ramps in the south, cover the valley in enormous numbers. Wild leeks are a pungent scallion like wild plant with a garlic/onion flavor and an earthy aroma. As we head through the forest, my children spot them easily. They are the only green we see this time of year like a soft green blanket lying in what appears to be a still sleeping wood. One of the earliest wild foods, their green leaves are a welcome sight to winter weary eyes.

I will make several trips to this spot over the next month. I am happy for the walk and happy to switch from snow boots to mud boots. I am always prepared with a spade or trowel and a pail (or cloth or plastic bag) for carrying. Wild leeks have tenacious roots, so be sure to dig deep otherwise you might break off the green tops and leave the white bulb underneath. It is best to shake the extra dirt off right on the spot. I only take what I need and don't like them to sit longer than 2-3 days in the refrigerator.
They are used in everything from salad, stir-fry and soups to tacos and casseroles. Wild leeks are high in vitamins A and C, lutein and calcium. While some people only use the bulb, I encourage you to use the greens also. There is no reason to discard them, just chop them up and add along with the bulbs.

I put wild leeks right up there on my list of quintessential north country foods. If follow my blogs, you will know, I am fascinated by what was once considered “farm food” (primarily for poorer families) is now considered gourmet. Wild leeks can go for as much as $15-20/lb in some parts of the country. You will find them in the most upscale restaurants. If you are looking to buy them locally, try Nature's Storehouse in Canton or The Potsdam Food Co-op. If you have a friend with land, ask to go poke around and find some. There are numerous photos online to help guide your way, but really....look for the green plants (and remember, the only other possible green plant out there is the small wildflower and even it doesn't have much green to it). Please do not take them from trails in nature centers. That is considered not ethical.

I love this crescendo of fresh local foods in our life. Maple syrup and wild leeks start us off. Rhubarb is soon to follow and fiddle heads are surely popping out of the earth as I write. In another month or two, we'll have many options. One of my deepest wishes for the local food movement is it goes back to being “the norm”. I don't want it to be only for those who can afford it or for a select progressive minded group. I want it to be just how it is. With that said, incorporate it into your life. Share meals with families and friends and most of all....with your children. It is with them that we can get back to “the norm” of eating local.

The Sweet Life

Despite the continued threat of winter weather, there is a bit of magic to the month of March. As if planned, events converge marking the end of winter's grasp. Birds chirp, robins return to pace the yard, snow melts, days grow longer and trucks haul sap to nearby sugar shacks. I feel as if I too am thawing out from the bitter winds, deep snow and long nights. I am relieved.

We are now in the midst of maple sugar season. The hustle and bustle of this season breaks winter's silence. I notice increased traffic on my road. Trucks loaded with large sap containers go back and forth. Buckets hang on what seems to be every available maple tree while steam and smoke rise from the sugar shacks nearby (there are at least five). This is the start of fresh local food. Sap is drained from the maple trees to then be boiled. Before boiling, the sap looks like water. After much evaporation, the sweet treat emerges and is used in everything from coffee to baked goods, beans to casseroles, and of course, the traditional pancake topping. See baked bean recipe below, the winner of the Ottawa Baked Bean Fest, courtesy of Diane Mausser.

I encourage you to visit one of the local sugar shacks. As if from a dream, entering a sugar shack is an entrancing experience. The scent of warm maple syrup surrounds you and sweetness hangs in the air. This coming weekend, March 26 and 27, is the second Maple Syrup Weekend in our county. Many sugar shacks are open to visitors while also offering samples, gifts such as coloring books and pencils for kids, and tours to view the process of making maple syrup. This is something you want your children to see. Not only because maple syrup is one of the quintessential foods of the north country, but it is a great lesson in the making of a local food. The education of how food goes from being in the forest/garden/field to on our plate is critical.

Ready to celebrate the ending of winter and the coming of the fresh local food season? Visit a sugar shack, enjoy the sweet treats and maybe purchase a gallon to support your neighbor. Then top the day off by attending GardenShare's literary and musical celebration this Saturday night, March 26th. From the GardenShare website “Enjoy an evening of scrumptious short stories, tasty tales, and well-seasoned poetry readings, hosted by Master of Ceremonies Todd Moe of North Country Public Radio.” Music will be interspersed with the readings and guests are invited to a dessert reception after the performance. You can buy tickets online, via phone or at the door. Visit these two sites to plan your day, and

Winner of the Ottawa Baked Bean Fest

1pds (900g) dried navy beans

½ cup molasses

1 tbsp + 1 tsp dry mustard

½ cup dark brown sugar

4 whole canned plum tomatoes, crushed

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp + 1 tsp salt

½ tsp freshly ground pepper

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

12 slices of low salt bacon

½ cup maple syrup

1 very large onion peeled and chopped

Soak beans overnight. Drain and rinse

•Preheat oven 300ºF. In saucepan combine molasses, mustard, brown sugar, tomatoes, bay leaves, salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce and 5 cups of water.

Bring to a boil and whisk until sugar is dissolved.

•Chop onion.

•Chop in squares ½ pkg of bacon.

•Layer ingredients, onion on the bottom, then beans, then bacon.

•Pour in molasses mixture and gently stir.

•Liquid should cover the beans by ½’. Add water if necessary.

•Add maple syrup. Season with salt and pepper before serving.

A Place at the Table, continued, March. 2011

This past January my family attended the St. Lawrence University Martin Luther King, Jr. service. The service was held in the beautiful Gunnison Chapel on campus and was a mix of reflections, singing, prayer and readings. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out the service would focus on injustices surrounding hunger and food insecurity.

I would like to share excerpts from Shaun Whitehead's reflections, which were given at the service. Shaun is the assistant chaplain at SLU, a powerful speaker and deeply spiritual person.

“A Place at the Table” excerpts from Shaun Whitehead's MLK reflections 2011

“To those who hunger, give bread; to those who have bread give hunger for justice.”

(paragraph two) Hunger is a justice issue. A core value of the human race is to turn no one away who is hungry; to feed our neighbor. It is so central a value, that a proverb tells us “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink.”

(paragraph three) …..While chronic hunger doesn't make the evening news, it takes more lives than famine. This is the invisible hunger and it is widespread right here in the United States of America. 49 million people right here in the United States live in what our government calls “food insecure” families. …...”Food insecurity does its worst damage to children. When the body doesn't get enough nutrition, the brain isn't fully alert. ….” The intellectual and personal development of children in chronically food-insecure households is likely to be permanently stunted” (Beckman, David).

(paragraph seven) But how can we be mobilized to take the issue of hunger seriously and give voice to the voiceless? …..WE'VE GOT TO CHANGE OUR THINKING. ….we have become accustomed to injustice and the ways in which it is entrenched in our society. We expect some folk to continue to go hungry. ….we've got to regain our outrage. We've got to be disturbed again. ….49 million in the U.S. should unsettle us.

(paragraph eleven)....We're organizing at the grassroots level. There are those in this community who have been working on the issue of hunger in the North Country. David Beckman (author) tells us that there must be a WAVE OF INSISTENCE to mobilize to end hunger in our world, in our time.

(paragraph seven)....But to accept the charge to lead the exodus from hunger (even in light of our own struggles), we've got to accept that we are all interrelated.

Shaun reminded us that once Dr. King told us “The world in which we live is geographically one. We are caught in an escapable network of mutality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all directly. I cannot be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be”.

Shaun's reflections contain much more than is listed here, but I hope you can get a sense of Shaun's call to urgency. In the most powerful country in the world, how is it that our citizens can be hungry? It doesn't make sense to me. In the next few weeks, consider her thoughts and then go out and be compassionate to your neighbors (for many hungry people don't “look” hungry) and become part of the “wave of insistence”.

Next time I write we will be in full swing of maple syrup season! I can't wait.....

A Place at the Table, Feb. 2011

The exasperation I feel surrounding the issues in my previous blog have kept me from writing this one in a more timely manner. I started to discuss the problem of obese yet malnourished people and the title of Mark Winne's 2008 article "The Poor Get Diabetes, The Rich Get Local and Organic." If there is one thing sure to make me cringe, it is the thought of fresh local food only going to a select group of people. It bothers me that a subject I love such as local food would become a class issue. I don't want it this way. I want fresh, local and healthy food to be the norm, something all of us have access to. I want it to be a "given", something that just is.

Even as little as 65 years ago, it was the norm. Poor families ate well, eating foods we now think of as gourmet. My neighbor has shared many stories of her very poor family and their diet. Fresh milk, eggs and butter, grass fed beef, venison, wild leeks, local chicken and grain all were part of her diet. She told me she did not have any money of her own as a child, but didn't realize her family was poor because they ate so well. It wasn't until adulthood she understood her family's poverty. Fortunately, there are many farm families today who still have a garden and fresh eggs, milk and can/freeze many foods. Yet according to my neighbor, many of these skills are not being passed on to younger generations.

Efforts are being made to make sure the poor do not get diabetes while the rich get local and organic. GardenShare recently hosted Dr. Poppendieck, an advocate for healthy school lunches. I did not make it to the talk, but I do know providing school lunches which include healthy, locally grown foods can be a way to close the food gap that we cannot afford to have. It could be a way to reach families from across the economic spectrum. From what I see in my daughter's cafeteria, most children buy school lunches. So why not use this opportunity to feed our children nutritious foods? For some children coming from extreme poverty, this may be the only meal of the day. I have a friend who went to very small rural school here. She told me many children would come to school when they were sick. Why? Because if they didn't, they wouldn't eat that day. All children need nutritious foods, but especially the most vulnerable who may only get to eat at school.

I meant for this blog to be about hope. I am afraid with any issue - reality, concern and hope are mingled together. My next blog will be insightful as Shaun Whitehead, chaplain at St. Lawrence University, has graciously shared with me her reflections on hunger from the Martin Luther King, Jr. service a few weeks ago. Her reflections are the source of the title for this blog. I was at the service and her reflections are an inspiration. I will share some excerpts with you in the next blog.

Good Food for All

published Jan. 2011,

Unless the radio news report is about a particularly violent event, I leave the news on when my daughters are in the room. My almost 11 year old likes to listen to radio reports in the car with me and it stirs up interesting discussions.

Driving to Potsdam recently, I had both daughters with me. The news report was about the problem of malnourished obese people living in poverty. Both daughters were trying to understand how someone can be obese, yet also malnourished. If you are overweight you eat too many calories and therefore are nourished, right? Wrong. Cheap food gives the body many calories, but those foods are not full of nutrients. A bag of chips will have many more calories than a head of broccoli, but they are empty calories which contribute little to a well nourished body. A person will then gain weight from the high calorie food, yet remain malnourished due to the quality of food consumed. It is a cycle in which a person has little money for food, buys the cheapest food available (usually empty calories), becomes obese, over time becomes malnourished and all this leads to health issues and even less available money due to medical bills. How do we even begin to combat this?

Here is what Naomi, my 7 year old, says:

Naomi: Well, we could give people seeds.

Me: Yes and there is an organization here which does this. Not everyone though has garden space or knows how to plant them.

Naomi: We could teach them or we could have one big garden and give everyone a space. If they needed help, we could harvest the vegetables for them.

Me: There is a church which grows food and donates it to people who might not have fresh vegetables. Gardeners also donate food to food pantries. It would be nice if others could maintain their own garden at home or in a community garden (I then go on to tell her about community gardens).

Naomi: I like that. Maybe then they would eat broccoli.

Emma (the almost 11 year old): I bet the people feel yucky after only eating chips and cookies.

Me: I am sure they do. (So ends the conversation for now...)

I wish the answer to obesity and malnourishment were as easy as Naomi proposes. Go back two years to a news article of Jan. 9th, 2008 titled: The Poor Get Diabetes, the Rich Get Local and Organic by Mark Winne. I deeply sigh whenever I see a title such as this. Part of me sighs because the issue is so complicated. Another part sighs because it is true in many cases. Yet another part of me sighs because of what I know and what others might not. Like Winne, I know people in poverty would also choose local and organic if they had the means and it was available to them.

All of us want what is best for our children and as Winne points out, urban low-income people are aware of the benefits of organic and local. There are many factors limiting access to healthy food both in rural and urban areas. Transportation, lack of availability, price, and mistrust puts up a wall which blocks all of us from consuming the healthiest food available.

There is hope! In the next few blogs I will take time to talk more about this issue and the projects going on which might help close the food gap.

A New Year's Resolution, Jan. 2011

Happy New Year! I wish you and your family a healthy 2011. Now is the time to make a few New Year's resolutions. We are all familiar with the most common such as losing weight, exercising more and managing money better. Yet I would like to see this one on your list: Commit to eating more locally grown food in 2011.

Below is a plan of action for following through on this resolution. I think you will be surprised at how simple and enjoyable it will be. I imagine the average reader does not have their own garden and are busy people. Maybe you already garden and store your own food – that is great! If not though, the suggestions below will be easy – by the end of the year local food will be a natural part of your lifestyle.

The first step? Take out your 2011 calendar right now. Second step? Write a reminder note in each month to try to do the following:

January – Read Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Start buying and using local eggs.This is an extremely easy step and I guarantee you will notice how tasty they are. You can visit a food cooperative or a health food store to find them. Try asking your local grocery store if they can carry eggs from a local supplier. Check the local food guide here – maybe your neighbor down the road is selling eggs and you didn't realize it.

February -Write yourself a reminder to look for sales on chest freezers. Owning a chest freezer is key to having access to local food throughout the winter. Canning food is valuable also, but let's start easy – we'll discuss canning in the 2012 resolutions!

March – Plan to visit a sugar shack and purchase maple syrup. See how many times you can replace your table sugar with maple syrup. Ever tried it in coffee? Decadent.

April – Sign up for a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Each month you will receive a box of vegetables or meat depending on your CSA. Vegetable CSAs generally run June - November while meat CSAs run throughout the whole year. A list of CSAs can be found here on this website.

May – Farmers' markets start. Look for asparagus, rhubarb, wild leeks and early greens. Don't be afraid to ask about a vegetable you are unsure of. Farmers love to talk food.

June – Visit a U-pick strawberry farm. Anyone can do it – you don't have to be in top physical shape or spend a lot of time. If you have never eaten a fresh strawberry, you are in for a treat! This is where the chest freezer comes in. Freeze as many strawberries as you can for winter time. Take your children to help pick.

July – Gardens and farms are in full swing. Visit markets and roadside stands. Start planning meals around what local foods are available. Commit to trying a new food this month and serving it to your family. If you have the means, start purchasing extra food and freeze it. I use yogurt containers and freezer bags for this. Many times you can get a price break on buying in bulk. Talk to a farmer about purchasing large quantities of vegetables or fruits and see what kind of deal you can get. Good items to freeze this month would be spinach, peas, basil (pesto), beans, and whatever fruit you may find (raspberries, blueberries, cherries, for example).

August – The options are limitless! Make sure you have checked out the market stands that sell poultry, beef, lamb and other meats. Again, negotiate if you want to purchase larger quantities. Some farmers are able to sell half a pig or lamb – this may seem like a lot, yet you will freeze most of it and eat it throughout the year.

September – Introduce yourself to one of the farmers whose stand you have been visiting the past few months. It is a wonderful to have a personal connection with the person who grows your food. Now is the time to send to the market a friend or co-worker who has never been. They will have many different fruits and vegetables to choose from and will realize what a wonderful experience it is to go to a farmers' market or visit a roadside stand.

October – Make sure you have already purchased local apples. These can also be frozen. I core and slice them and put them in freezer bags. I also make applesauce and freeze it. Purchase pie pumpkins and pumpkins for Jack-O-Lanterns. You will see them in a variety of places from markets, roadside stands, small grocery stores, and food cooperatives.

November – On this website, visit the local food guide to find a farmer who sells turkeys. There is no reason to buy aThanksgiving turkey raised out of northern NY. Call the farmer early in the month so you can get on their list. They will call you when the turkey is ready. Many times, you will end up with a fresh (never frozen) turkey. Give thanks for all the hard working farmers on Thanksgiving. They never get enough praise or attention for the work they do in growing food for us.

December – Treat yourself to dinner at one of the restaurants using locally grown food in their menu. Tell the chef/owners you appreciate their support of local farmers. Purchase gift certificates to these establishments for holiday gifts.

A perfect example of all this put into action is the New Year dinner we are having tonight. The menu is roast chicken (a chicken I bought at a November market and put in the freezer), acorn squash (you can store local squash for quite awhile in a cool dry space) and because we never got to it in December, potato latkes (storing potatoes, onions and garlic is easy too). Gathering these food items took me a little longer than it will for the non-gardener as I had to dig my potatoes, onions and garlic – but for someone who doesn't grow any of their own food, it would take maybe 15-20 minutes. All of these items are easily purchased at most farmers' markets.

Organization and planning are key to get a system in place and I hope the above recommendations help with that. Who knows? Maybe this resolution will help with the others including weight loss and money management. I bet you will even encourage others this time next year to make the local food New Year's resolution.

This Thanksgiving, Nov. 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. What I love about Thanksgiving besides the fond family memories is the blending of the traditional and contemporary. By traditional I mean foods on the “must have” list in order for Thanksgiving to be a real Thanksgiving. These foods have appeared at Thanksgiving dinner since childhood. For my husband and I this includes my mother-in-law's pearl onions and peas, my grandmother's cranberry and orange relish, my mother's sweet potatoes with (do I dare admit it?) marshmallows and the always present mashed potatoes and gravy. The contemporary includes those foods appearing since I have had my own family. This includes pumpkin pie made from my garden squash, a locally raised turkey from ½ mile down the road (not the grocery store), my daughter's famous apple pie (from our own apples) and buttermilk biscuits, and acorn squash with nutmeg, cinnamon, butter and walnuts.

I am tutoring an ESL (English as a Second Language) student from Jordan. She asked me if all Americans understand the meaning of Thanksgiving. I could not assure her we do even though we are supposed to. I do know that almost every American has strong memories both of the actual Thanksgiving meal and those who attended the meal. How many of us have heard “but you must have (fill in the blank with a food) at Thanksgiving!”? People feel strongly about this issue and about who should and should not be present at the dinner table. Do you only invite family? Friends? What about strangers? I think I am not the only one who takes time on this holiday to think back to previous Thanksgivings. It is a time to pause, to assess change always present in life and to give thanks in whatever way is meaningful to us.

I admit I am filled with more sadness though this Thanksgiving. While I give thanks for my blessings, I can't ignore the news reports of those struggling more than ever. Struggling to put food on the table, struggling to keep health insurance and to keep a job, struggling to provide clothing and heat to their children. And while my table will be filled with food and my belly stuffed, I think of those who I met in Africa this past summer. Those who live in extreme poverty and can't image a feast as great as mine. This Thanksgiving while giving thanks, please keep all of them in your thoughts.

Food for All, Nov. 2010

I picked up my CSA at the last farmers' market of the season on Friday. It is a sad time to say goodbye to the market until next May. As I packed the vegetables into my bag, another CSA member said to me “I hate going back to the grocery store”. I agreed, although also thankful for my freezer full of vegetables, meat and fruit. I went home and unpacked onions, broccoli, salad greens, green peppers and more. As I filled the shelf, I mumbled under my breath at how packed my refrigerator now was. It didn't dawn on me until later that night.....many people both in our county and around the world will never have the opportunity to lament an overcrowded refrigerator. I felt a mixture of feelings including thankfulness for my secure food supply, shame for griping about having too much food, and concern for others who don't have enough to eat.

I had to do a double take when I saw the headline “Food stamp recipients in county up 60% in three years.” (North Country This Week, 10/12/10, Piche). This is a huge increase. Recession aside, I would hope these numbers would go down throughout the years, not up. There are positive programs in our community which help those struggling to put food on the table. The EBT/GardenShare table at the Canton Farmers' Market swipes EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards (during May-October). The recipient then gets tokens to use at the market for fresh food. The Canton Methodist Church offers a weekly free will dinner. SLU Campus Kitchen is now also offering weekly meals at the UU church in Canton. Community members have access to neighborhood centers and food pantries, yet these are struggling to keep up with demand. As important as all of these programs are, they are band-aids. They don't address the root cause of poverty and hunger.

The root of the problem looms over us, either inadequately addressed or ignored. In his book Closing the Food Gap, Mark Winne notes “The antipoverty campaign must support health insurance, quality education, childcare, and a living wage for all citizens.” Fully addressing hunger isn't as simple as giving away free food. He also goes on to state we must begin to reduce the size and scope of food banking in America. I would agree with this - only after we have systems in place which address hunger more effectively. After 17 years of working with a variety of disadvantaged (primarily by income and race) groups, I have seen how critical it is for families to obtain food within the day. As we have seen from the national debate on health insurance, addressing the root causes will not be easy and quick.

Fall Treats, Sept. 2010

I have a love-hate relationship with this time of year. Fall is great for many reasons yet it also means the coming of a long winter. Mornings are colder than I would like. Farmers' markets start winding down. However, I love the abundance of squash, pumpkins and apples. This has been an amazing apple year. Our late apple tree is loaded with large apples. They are wonderful fresh off the tree, yet we also use them for apple muffins, apple pancakes and apple pie. The same for squash – squash is perfect for dinner menu items, as well as a multitude of baked goods (see below).

If you haven't been to the farmers' market recently, I encourage you to go. You''ll see how the offerings have changed from last month. A farmer at yesterday's market told me it was his last one of the season – so go now, while you have the chance. You'll find many fall favorites – from apple cider to squash and pumpkins in all shapes and sizes. Besides the market, another good source of finding apples and pumpkins/squash is The Free Trader. Many farmers advertise their U-pick farm, pumpkin patch, roadside stand and such. The ads range from the southern part of the county up through to Massena.

I rarely use pumpkin in cooking. At our house, they are decorations on the front doorstep, soon to be turned into Jack-O-Lanterns. Squash (such as Butternut, Hubbard and Buttercup) produce a much better result in cooking than pumpkin. Pumpkin is watery, while fall squash is dense and firm. My mother came for Thanksgiving one year. She told me very adamently she does not like squash. I made my “pumpkin” pie secretly and served it at our Thanksgiving dinner. She then said it was the best pumpkin pie she had ever had. Funny - considering it didn't have any pumpkin in it. I had used squash in place of pumpkin. Use an equal exchange in recipes– if it calls for one cup pumpkin, use one cup squash. Give it a try – just keep calling it pumpkin pie because squash pie just doesn't sound as nice.

Pumpkin Walnut Muffins:

Preheat oven 350F
Sift together:

1 ¾ cup flour (you can use whole wheat/white mix, pastry, oat – try different ones)

¼ tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. Cinnamon

¼ tsp. ground cloves

In a large bowl, beat until light and fluffy:

1 ¼ cup sugar (again, try different sweeteners– maple syrup, etc...)

1/3 cups butter

2 eggs

Add and then beat in: 1 cup cooked pumpkin or squash

Add dry ingredients in three additions alternately with:

1/3 cup milk

1 tsp. Vanilla

Do not over beat between each addition. Fold in:

½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Pour into muffin tin (with papers or oiled without papers) and bake about 20 minutes.

Regional Cuisine

Items from a Rwandan market

orginally published in Sept. 2010

I traveled more this summer than I usually do. By the end of September, I'll have traveled through nine states and across the Atlantic to another continent. I find great pleasure in enjoying the regional cuisine of each location. If you head off the beaten path and ignore fast food chains, you will learn a lot about an area by what food is considered local. Food is rarely only food. It says a lot about geography, culture, people and history of an area. I encourage you to be on the look out for local diners and restaurants, farmers' markets and produce stands while you travel.

This is the typical menu when we head to my in-laws in Maine: lobster, clams (ones we dug during low tide), blueberries in everything from dessert, pancakes to salad, whatever my in-laws have in the garden, seafood chowder, crab rolls and popovers. Most of this food comes from within a ten mile radius of their home and is wonderfully fresh. I find it interesting that while some foods (such as popovers) do not necessarily contain local ingredients (the flour), they are every bit a part of the regional cuisine. Foods like popovers have a historical notch in the menu and it would be fascinating to trace their history.

There is a TV show I enjoy, one I only happen to catch every once in awhile due to infrequent TV watching. I can't even remember the chef's name, but his job is to travel around the world and eat local food. Whatever foods are local, regional or traditional....he consumes them. He then has the joyous job of talking and writing about it. I think “I'd love that job” until he is in Thailand eating caterpillars and scorpions or in Mexico eating jellied pork tacos. Maybe I wouldn't try those items, but I love learning about foods served local households and sold in neighborhood markets around the world. However, whatever you can handle – take part in what the locals are eating. Your trip will be all the better for it. One of our best meals in Spain a few years ago was in a working class diner off the beaten path – not a tourist destination.

This summer, I tried some new and enjoyed some not no new foods. My trip to the southern U.S. was full of creole sauce, grits, hush puppies and seafood. In Rwanda, I visited a market to purchase local fruits and vegetables (some of which I wasn't sure what they actually were) and at meals I tried various curries while my daughter ordered goat kebabs. When I head to Cincinnati next week, where I grew up, I can expect meals which are based not on local ingredients, but Germanic heritage and the influence of southern cooking. It is a crime in my family not to like sauerkraut or corn pancakes.

I never realized how “southern” some of Cincinnati's foods are until I moved here. I remember foods such as okra, collards and biscuits and gravy as a regular part of the weekly menu. Cincinnati was an important part of the underground railroad serving as a protective site for escaping slaves and abolitionists. Meals served here and now are part of that historical story.

I'd love to know about local foods from areas you have traveled or lived. I'd love to know about recipes in your family based on heritage and ancestry.

Sack Gardens Revisited, August 2010

Below you will find a few websites with instructions on how to make sack gardens. The photos are very helpful and this seems better than listing the steps here. I encourage you to give sack gardens a try.

I did want to move on from sack gardens and talk about the harvest season. I am anxiously waiting for my tomatoes to ripen, but in the meantime there is plenty of produce to be had. My early apple trees are loaded. Gardens and markets are bursting at the seams and if you have been waiting to incorporate locally grown food into your diet, now is the perfect time. An excellent recipe for using a multitude of fresh vegetables is gazpacho (see recipe below). When we had gazpacho in Spain, it was blended as to be creamy like tomato soup. Most gazpacho in the U.S. is chunky, with vegetables cut in small pieces. You can try it both ways and see what you think. Serve with fresh bread for a wonderful lunch or as a starter with dinner.

If you are interested in continued access to local food throughout the winter, now is the time to get started canning and freezing. Canning ideas include: Dilly beans, pickled beets, tomatoes, salsa, applesauce, pickles, pressure canned veggies (such as wax beans, corn and carrots) and jams such as blueberry and peach. Freezing includes: pesto (basil/cheese pasta topping), berries, zucchini, kale and chard, tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower, apples and corn. My favorite food preservation book is The Ball Blue Book. My copy is tattered, stained and notes are scribbled here and there. It has seen much use.

Food preservation methods not mentioned here are drying and dehydrating. I don't have much experience with these. I do dry herbs – oregano, thyme, basil, lavendar and sage. Please share with us if you have experience with drying and dehydrating.

If you have too much produce and don't wish to preserve for the winter, please donate it to a food pantry. This way food can make its way to those who need it the most. See a list of pantries right here on the GardenShare website.

Gazpacho Andaluz

from Spain, by M.Teresa Segura


4 fl. oz olive oil

2 fl. oz red wine vinegar

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp. salt

¼ tsp. ground cumin

1/8 tsp. Tabasco sauce

4 large ripe tomatoes, sliced

2 lb canned plum tomatoes (I just used fresh)

1 green bell pepper, sliced

1 cucumber, sliced

½ onion, sliced

ice cubes

To garnish:

chopped tomatoes


hard-cooked eggs

Combine the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, cumin and Tabasco sauce in a food processor with half of the vegetables listed and puree. Transfer the soup mixture to a large bowl. Puree the remaining vegetables and add to the soup. Add ice cubes (or water) to taste and additional salt if necessary. Refrigerate until very cool or overnight.

Before serving, garnish the gazpacho with chopped tomatoes, croutons and hard-cooked eggs.

Sack Gardens, August 2010

My daughter and I have returned from an amazing trip to Rwanda, Africa. One of my volunteer tasks was to create a new compost pile at the Ubushobozi sewing house. I did just that and explained how to take care, use and nourish it. We also laid plans for a productive garden and I hope it flourishes. I did not have the opportunity to create sack gardens as I mentioned in my previous blog. The sewing house is lucky to have enough space for a larger garden. For many in Africa and for many of you too though, there is just not the space to have a “real” garden.

From Rwanda to empty lots and rooftops in our U.S. cities, container gardens are taking off. Everything from pots, bags, small swimming pools and tin cans are being used to grow food. When I see the photos of these methods, I am always impressed by how much food can be grown. For many without food security, the gardens are a necessity and help pave the way to better health. As Mwende Pascal said in 2009 “The objective of sack gardening is to increase the access to food, thus increasing the food security and to provide means of gaining an income by selling possible surplus food”. All that from a sack? Yes, true enough.

As we scale down to focus on small towns of northern NY, there are many situations ideally suited for a sack garden. Apartment balconies, doorsteps of houses in the village, student housing and homes of the elderly could easily keep a sack garden. Sack gardens are also low maintenance and take little time and labor making them perfect for elderly, busy moms, persons of poor health, committed professionals and others. Sack gardens are easy to set up in a matter of days and the harvest of food can happen in as little as a few weeks. They are an easy way to include some fresh local food into your diet.

By the Book

Submitted by Robin Rhodes-Crowell on Thu, 2010-07-15 08:57

In the last blog I promised a list of my favorite cookbooks. I decided to keep it short and highlight my four favorites. There are many wonderful cookbooks out there and we all have our own favorites. However, these are ones I pull from the shelf again and again. I like being able to quickly look up a single ingredient and be presented with a list of recipes. When I have a mound of zucchini or a pile of spinach, I like to have recipes which highlight the same ingredient yet are not similar. This way I can avoid the usual pasta and stir-fry dishes.

My all time favorite is Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This 700 page cookbook is not intimidating. Madison begins with "Becoming a Cook" and then goes on to discuss and provide easy recipes for soups, vegetables, gratins and onward through tarts, pies and desserts. Before we go too much farther here, I should tell you I am not a vegetarian. While I do prefer meals with minimal meat, two members of my family certainly would be less than willing to give up being an omnivore. I certainly will discuss locally raised meat in future blogs. Madison's book is useful for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.

A favorite cookbook usually has stained pages, dog-eared corners and crinkled pages. Two of mine which fit this bill are Simple Suppers by The Moosewood Collective and Eating Well's Diabetes Cookbook. Simple Suppers contains just that - easy to prepare meals with a manageable list of ingredients yet always delicious. On the cover of the second book, Diabetes Cookbook, is a quote: "The way everyone should be eating" by Marion J. Franz, M.S., R.D. She's right and this cookbook is not just for diabetics. The beginning chapters contain good lessons on nutrition and are followed by recipes emphasizing whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats and even desserts. Many people think healthy eating involves sacrifice. This cookbook will prove them wrong.

Lastly, I would like to mention one of my 2009 Christmas presents. A gift from my mother-in-law, World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey, is wonderful! If you want to take your local ingredients and turn them into world cuisine, this is the cookbook for you. From the simple to the complex, Jaffrey gives us a range of recipes from India, North and South America, Africa and beyond. Some ingredients are not even possible to buy or grow locally and this is the way it is in most cookbooks. I'll leave it to you as to how to sort that out. I will say though the goal is not to give up food items like rice, chocolate, French wine and such, but to create a diet which is primarily focused on local foods. I do believe it is in this manner we can go on to create viable food systems.

Always Room for a Garden, July 2010

Submitted by Robin Rhodes-Crowell on Fri, 2010-07-23 02:00

This blog, unlike all the others, is written far in advance of its appearance date as I will be traveling through the last half of July. For today though, it is 92F at my house, yet I am baking. It will be worth it when we sit down to a fresh cherry pie tonight. Today my daughters and I picked cherries out in our orchard. The trees are full of red ripeness and we couldn't resist baking a pie. This is one of the sweetest treats of the summer – it doesn't get any fresher than this. I'll go on to freeze some of the cherries so we can enjoy them this winter in yogurt and crisps.

Even as I am pitting the cherries though, my mind travels across the globe. My daughter and I leave for Rwanda, Africa in five days. By the time you read this blog, we'll only have a few days left on our adventure. We are going to visit a sewing project whose products we sell in our shop ( The project trains young women who are now the head of household. The women are then able to earn an income and also receive tutoring in English, math and other skills. We'll be able to enjoy the natural beauty of Rwanda while also volunteering in a variety of ways for the project, including help with gardens. Due to Rwanda's dense population, space is critical and a garden there must be space efficient. I am taking information on how to make sack and square foot gardens.

Once I am back, I hope to share more with you about these two gardening methods. I do believe they are very useful for people here, especially those with limited space. Growing some of your own food, no matter how much, is a rewarding experience. Growing food in a small amount of space is possible. Landscaping with vegetables is one way and growing herbs and tomatoes in pots is another. Sack and square foot gardens are two others. I think after we discuss all the options, it will be easy to remember there is always room for a garden.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Beginning - June, 2010

A few weeks ago, I celebrated a milestone birthday. I spent time thinking about the beginning and end of life chapters so far. Where did the chapter of my interest in local food begin? Well, I clearly remember planting green beans with my grandfather on the side of their home in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio. My grandfather carefully dug the holes while I had the fun task of dropping seeds into each hole. I guess for me this was a beginning. The start of learning how plants grow and of how the simple act of planting seeds can begin to change one's life. Of course at the time I couldn't possibly know this was a beginning and it would be another ten years before I planted again.....this time in a college course.

The botany course was titled “Alternative Agriculture”. I was a geography major, but we also had to choose nine credits within either the botany or geology department. Excited to take part in some botany courses, I set off for my first adventure in the campus gardens. With my own garden bed, a hippie botany professor and one of my best friends, I planted my first garden. We waited and watched and watered and finally....I pulled my first beet. I remember being shocked at how simple it all seemed. Plant the tiny seeds and with time you get a beautiful sphere of deep red – a sweet beet. From then on, I was hooked. My education and interest in local food, gardening and environmental issues compiled at a rapid pace from then on.

I would love to hear about your beginning. Are you new to local food issues? Are you a seasoned pro who cans and freezes the harvest every year? Chime in and share. (This blog was first published on in June of 2010)