Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Roast Made Easy

Although I don't make a holiday roast (my holiday being over and all), I've had a great big hunk of meat taking up space in my freezer, and I thought now is as good a time as any to serve it. This time of year is great for a good, hearty roast. Rich foods are a perfect comfort on a cold, snowy evening, and that's just what we've got here in the Northeast.

Roasts are often all-day cooking affairs, but that doesn't mean they have to be complicated or difficult. On the contrary, making a roast can be the most worry-free, hands-off choice for entertaining. Roasts pair especially well with root vegetables, which are in season anyway, and the veggies can cook right alongside the roast, making entertaining with a dish like this incredibly simple.

I made this dish with a beef roast, but I don't see why you couldn't use any number of other meats - lamb, bison, venison, elk, wild boar (if you're lucky enough to have access to these). But whatever you do, do yourself, your community and the planet we all share a great big favor - make sure your meat comes from grass-fed (or wild) animals from an ethical, local farm. Animals given the opportunity to roam freely, raised on a natural diet, are far less prone to disease, have much higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids, and are generally more nutrient-dense than their factory-farmed counterparts. Buying locally raised meats supports your local economy and avoids the huge carbon toll of transporting food over long distances.

A happy and DELICIOUS holiday to all!!!

Holiday Roast Made Easy
2 Tbsps. safflower oil
3.5-5 lb. boneless roast
6 small or 3 large turnips, cut into 1/8ths
3 large carrots, peeled and quartered
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 cup water
2 Tbsps. dried tarragon
1-2 Tbsps.coarse salt
black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsps. butter

In a large cast iron skillet, heat the safflower oil over high heat. Sear the roast for 3 minutes on each side.

In a slow cooker, add the turnips, carrots, onion, garlic and water. Place the roast on top of the vegetables so that the meat drippings help to flavor the veggies.

Combine the tarragon, salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar in a small bowl and whisk together. Spoon the mixture over the top of the roast. Add the butter in small bits over the top of the roast. For an even richer flavor, you can add the pan drippings from the skillet to the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6 hours.

Allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing thinly against the grain. If you like, strain some of the juices and reduce in a saucepan for about 15 minutes, and serve as a sauce to accompany the meat. Serve sliced meat alongside the carrots and turnips.

Serves 6-12.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Breakfast for Dinner

My husband has asked me to make eggs for dinner for ages, and I've always resisted. Finally, one night when I had almost no time to cook, I decided to give it a shot. OK, he was right (Did I just say that?). Eggs are not just for breakfast.

I served this very fluffy frittata alongside some baked veggie latkes, making it a sort of eggs and hash browns.

Greek Frittata
5 large pastured eggs
1/4 cup milk
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. safflower oil
1/2 bunch spinach, washed and dried well and trimmed of tough stems
10 grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
10 fresh basil leaves
4 oz. crumbled grass-fed goat's milk feta

Preheat the oven to 350F. Preheat a 12" cast iron skillet on the stovetop over high heat.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Add the oils to the skillet, spreading them evenly around the pan. When hot, add the egg mixture and reduce the heat to medium-low. Scatter the spinach, tomatoes and basil leaves around the pan. Allow the eggs to cook for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the feta around the pan, and cook for 2 minutes more.

Move the pan into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until springy to the touch. Cut into 6 wedges and serve hot.

Serves 2-3.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sustainable Holiday Table

Think about all the ways you impact the planet when you make your holiday meal a sustainable one:
- Holiday meals are bigger than most, so the effects of one meal are multiplied;
- It's a great way to honor the spirit of the season;
- You'll support your local farmers when they need it most (winter is pretty lean);
- You'll be enjoying fresh, wholesome foods, and sharing them with your guests;
- If family or friends have come a long way to be with you, perhaps your food's short commute can offset some of those carbon emissions;
- Your guests may come home with more than a full stomach ... they may come away with new wisdoms that could carry into their daily lives.

Here are some links to help you find sustainable foods to put on your table this holiday season:
Find local farms, CSAs, farmer's markets - http://www.localharvest.org/
Find sustainable local meat - http://www.eatwild.com/products/
Find out what's in season in your area - http://www.eatwellguide.org/i.php?id=Seasonalfoodguides
Saving money on green foods - http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/save-money-local-holidays-christmas-meal-451202

Monday, December 7, 2009

Baked Veggie Latkes

With Hanukkah just around the corner, it's high time that I post a good latke recipe. Latkes are a traditional Jewish potato pancake served on Hanukkah. Typically, they're made with grated potatoes, onions, matzoh meal and eggs. The mixture is fried in plenty of oil. The oil really is essential, because oil is so central to the Hanukkah story in which a tiny amount of oil miraculously lit the Temple menorah for 8 days. So, virtually everything for Hanukkah is fried.

Of course, we all know frying is not particularly healthy. So, how to get around this? Well, I say it's still a latke if oil is employed, but in lesser amounts. How much more in keeping with the story of Hanukkah would it be if, by some miracle, I could coax from a minute amount of oil something as delicious as a fried latke? I'll go one better! What a miracle it would be if I could use a tiny amount of oil to make latkes full of all kinds of good-for-you, seasonal veggies (that means no zucchini, folks) that kids would actually like!

Well, that miracle happened (yes, I know I'm tooting my own horn a bit too excessively here). I made these latkes (in bite size form) for my daughter's nursery school class's snack. I expected the batch to last for 2-3 days, but they lasted only one day (kind of a reverse Hanukkah miracle). The kids loved them, and apparently the teachers did, too, as I was asked for the recipe.

Happy holidays, everyone! Enjoy, but with a little less weight gain this holiday season.

Baked Veggie Latkes
6 Tbsps. safflower oil, divided
4-6 russet or yukon gold potatoes, peeled and grated
1 onion, grated
1 large carrot, shredded
1/2 bunch leafy greens (I used mustard greens), shredded
4-5 scallions, finely chopped
2 Tbsps. potato starch
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350F. On a cookie sheet with a rim (jelly roll pan), spread 2 Tbsps. of the oil evenly.

Place the grated potatoes and onion in a tea towel or cheese cloth. Squeeze the liquid out, and then empty the potato and onion into a large bowl. Add the carrot, greens, scallions, potato starch, and egg and combine thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon potato mixture onto the cookie sheet in small dollops, flattening each pancake. Bake for 40 minutes, flipping halfway through. Repeat with remaining batter (should be about 3 cookie sheets full). Best served hot with applesauce or sour cream for dipping.

Makes about 1.5 dozen full size latkes, or 4 dozen bite size latkes.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Olive Oil Poached Salmon

Poaching is not usually my cooking mode of choice, and so I'm not very experienced in doing it. Poaching in oil, I've never done ... until now. I don't know what came over me, but I had a vision of olive oil, capers, lemon, and fish, and I said to myself, "I have to do this!" And I'm glad I did!

Now, the olive oil component is certainly not cheap, but the oil can be reused for the same application mutliple times, so consider that the oil's expense is only partly attributable to this meal. So, say a bottle of good, organic olive oil on sale goes for $11, which is what I usually pay. If you use this oil four times, then the cost for this meal is less than $3 (which is less than $1 per serving) ... not too bad. And who's to say you'll only use the oil four times? You might get more out of it!

And what of the health component? Am I just going to break all the rules of this blog (chuck health and cheap ... maybe we'll keep the green part)? The oil that is consumed by this recipe is actually quite minimal. Measure your oil before and after cooking, and you'll see what I mean. Besides, fat is not our enemy, particularly the kind of fat in olive oil (monounsaturated), which has been shown to help lower bad cholesterol (LDL). In fact, extra virgin olive oil, which is generally cold-pressed, is as close to a whole food as you can get without eating raw olives (does anyone do that?); it is not heated, not refined, and since it is from the first press of the olives, it contains the highest concentration of vitamins and minerals of any other type of olive oil. Have some antioxidants with your fat and flavor, why don't you?

Given its non-refinement, extra virgin olive oil is a very poor oil to use in high heat cooking, because it has a low smoking point, but it's excellent in poaching, which is a fairly low heat, simmering application. And it is not simply used as a heat conductor either. Yes, it does function to impart heat, but more importantly, it imparts some serious flavor.

So, forget your dieting rules about avoiding cooking in oil, and enjoy a meal full of healthy fats and lots of deliciousness!

Olive Oil Poached Salmon
4 fillets of wild, Alaskan salmon (4-6 oz. each), skinned
3-4 cups of extra virgin olive oil
2 lemons, sliced into rounds
several sprigs of fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried
1/4 cup capers
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt to taste (capers are salty, so go easy)
white pepper to taste

Pour olive oil into a stainless steel skillet to the depth of the salmon's thickness (about 2 inches). Heat the oil over medium heat until it is quite warm, but not hot (you should still be able to touch the oil without being in excruciating pain). Lower the heat to medium low to keep it at a simmer. Do not allow the oil to boil.

Add half the lemon slices and the sprigs of thyme to the pan. Lay the fish fillets (in batches, if necessary) to the pan. The fish should be fully submerged in the oil. Simmer for 4-5 minutes. Remove from the pan, and allow excess oil to drain on a cooling rack.

In a small bowl, combine the capers, parsley, salt, white pepper and 4 Tbsps of the simmering oil. Serve the fish topped with the a slice of lemon and drizzled with the caper mixture. I served this with a side of wild rice with wilted seasonal greens.

Serves 4.

Tip: To reuse the oil, filter it through cheesecloth and store in a glass bottle (the original bottle is fine) in the refrigerator. Remove the oil from the fridge about an hour before you plan to use it to allow the oil to re-liquify.

Photo of olive branch from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Olivesfromjordan.jpg).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Coriander-Pineapple Acorn Squash

Thanksgiving is fast-approaching. This year, I'm not hosting, so my chance to play around with Thanksgiving flavors is now, just on a smaller scale.

This recipe is reminiscent of the sort of sweet yam dishes many people serve on Thanksgiving, but with squash instead of yams. No, there are no marshmallows ... sorry, kids.

Coriander-Pineapple Acorn Squash
1.5 lb. acorn squash
safflower oil spray
1/3 cup canned crushed pineapple
1 tsp. ground coriander seed
1 tsp. coarse salt
2 Tbsps. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsps. brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F. Trim the top and bottom of the squash to create a flat surface on either side. Cut in half between the two ends, and remove the seeds and strings. Spray an 8x8" baking dish with safflower oil, and place the two haves of squash in the dish, trimmed side down. Bake for 30 minutes.

Cool the squash until you can handle it comfortably with your hands. Scrape the flesh of the squash into a mixing bowl. Add pineapple, coriander, salt and vinegar. Mix well. Scoop the mixture into the same 8x8 baking dish, and spread evenly. Sprinkle with brown sugar.

Place under the broiler for 5 minutes, or until the top is browned. Serve hot.

Serves 4-6.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Trader Joe's? The Jury is Out

I'm new to the wonders of Trader Joe's. I've heard such great things about it: the low prices, the large selection of organic and whole grain foods, the unique products. It seems like everyone I know raves about it. So, now that one opened just 10 minutes from my daughter's nursery school, I thought I'd better check it out.

I went for the first time last week and left empty-handed and a little let down and confused. I was unaware that most of the products they sell are their own brand. I suppose there must be a way to make such a variety of products and still have them all meet high quality standards, but it still doesn't make much sense to me. I always thought better products (food and otherwise) are made by companies that specialize in something. Now, I haven't actually eaten any of their products yet, so I really can't say if they break this rule. But that issue aside, there several other issues I have with TJ's.

I was a bit saddened by the focus on processed foods. It seems like at least 50% of the store is their store brand of stuff in a box - frozen meals, cereals, canned products, refrigerated prepared foods. I found it troubling to be in a store like that, especially when it has the reputation of being a healthy food store. Healthy food is whole food, not processed foods. I suppose there isn't a grocery store on the planet that doesn't have lots of processed foods (even most health food stores do), but I was expecting to get great deals on real foods, like grains, beans, spices, baking supplies, etc. (incidentally, some of those things can be found at TJ's, but they are less prominent than the processed stuff).

I thought TJ's was a mostly organic store, and although they do have quite a variety of organic foods, you have to be careful to look for the organic symbol. Many times, I thought I was spotting a great deal, only to notice upon closer inspection that the product wasn't organic, hence the low price. I was a bit thrown to see so much conventional produce, in particular.

There are also some environmental concerns that I have with TJ's. Although they certainly do some things right (using paper shopping bags instead of plastic, for example), their products (even in produce) are clearly not locally-focused. That means that buying produce from them, or any other potentially local product (dairy, meat, bread, eggs, honey) is not supporting your local farmers, and it is adding to your carbon footprint by transporting foods that could be sourced locally.

So, I obviously had some negative first impressions about TJ's. But in the week that followed, I thought about it again and reconsidered some things. I do buy some processed foods: bread, cereal, canned tomatoes and dry pasta, to name a few. So, I may as well save some money at TJ's and buy that stuff there, if it's good, and if it's truly a savings. I also don't buy everything locally: I try to buy nearly all local produce, and as much as possible I buy local meats, eggs, honey and dairy. But I can't buy local grain, flour, sugar or nuts, to name a few. So, I may as well save some money and buy that stuff there, too. Finally, although I buy nearly all organic products, I would consider buying some non-organic products at TJ's because their products are GMO-free, and that is a major concern for me in most conventional products.

I went back to TJ's today, and I did buy a few things, and at very good prices:
- Organic boneless chicken breasts @ $6.99/lb. - I have yet to find local boneless chicken breasts, and this is an excellent price
- Whole wheat organic spaghetti @ $1.29 for 16 oz. - that's $0.70 less than the spaghetti I usually buy, when it's on sale
- Organic whole wheat min-pitas @ $1.79 for 8 - I've never seen these anywhere else
- Whole wheat pizza dough (non-organic) @ $0.99 - I still would like to start making my own pizza dough, but for now (with the little one only 3 months old), I'll forgive myself
- Whole wheat small flour tortillas (non-organic) @ $2.29 for 10 - I haven't seen this size whole wheat non-GMO tortillas anywhere else
- Whole wheat large flour tortillas (non-organic) @ $2.69 for 10 - not sure this is such a great deal. If it were organic, it would be a great deal. At least it's non-GMO.
- Organic light brown sugar @ $2.99 for 24 oz. - this is a real bargain - the same amount would normally go for more than $5. Only problem is that it's not fair trade.
- I also thought about buying their dried unsulphured mango, but then I saw that the first ingredient is sugar, so I nixed that.

I have some guilt about buying all this stuff. None of it is ideal, but it's hard to argue with the prices given that they required only small compromises. Still, what good are ideals if you're willing to compromise them for a bargain? I don't know ... I have figured this one out yet.

Ultimately, I think what made TJ's a less than life-altering experience for me is the hype. I went in expecting a revolutionary shopping experience, and I came away feeling like all I saw was a different business model for the same old, same old.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Halloween Sweets Project for Kids

I'm going to disappoint a lot of folks in this confession: I'm not into Halloween. I think I went trick-or-treating twice in my life, and it was no big thrill. My mother is lucky her house was never egged or TP'd, as she gave out pennies on Halloween.

That said, I was inspired today to post about some fun food stuff to do with kids on Halloween. Another mother who is also a member of Holistic Moms Network posed the question of what to use to decorate cookies on Halloween that is not grossly unhealthy. So, I came up with a list of suggestions, and here they are.

Dark (brown, but almost black):
- Raisins
- Sprinkelz brand makes a few different types of sprinkles with no artificial colors.
- Carob chips
- Cacao nibs
- Use a microplane to shred some fair trade organic chocolate

White:
- Shredded coconut
- Coconut butter sweetened with agave, maple syrup, or your choice of sweetener, if you need something spreadable
- Cream cheese mixed with maple syrup and little vanilla (I stole that one from my friend, Rose)

Red (think blood):
- Pomegranate juice
- Beet juice

Orange:
- Egg yolk mixed with a little pomegranate or beet juice and sweetened (you'd need to then bake whatever you put this on)
- Turmeric mixed with pomegranate juice and sweetened - mix this into a white frosting or coconut butter to make it spreadable
- Steamed, pureed and strained pumpkin, winter squash or sweet potato mixed into white frosting or coconut butter
- Pureed mango (deepen the color with just a little molasses or brown sugar)

Purple:
- Blueberry juice

You could go the traditional route and have the kids decorate cupcakes or cookies. Maybe make a bunch of different color "frostings" for the kids to spread on them, and then give them a few other decorating options, like raisins, carob chips, shredded coconut and a bowl of pomegranate juice.

Another alternative to cookies and cupcakes is to make a jelly roll cake (with a healthier recipe - maybe this one), but don't roll it. You can get some Halloween cookie cutters and have the kids cut out Halloween shapes. That way, the decorating colors don't need to be spot on to still look Halloweeny.

For a very artistically inclined child, you could even give them a whole jelly roll cake to decorate so they have a full canvas to fill.

Despite my own disinterest in the holiday, I do hope you and yours have a healthy, happy, spooky Halloween!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tofu Tacos with Cashew Sauce

Eight years ago, when I met my husband, I found out that I didn't have the adventurous palate that I thought I did; and even though his tastes were somewhat narrow compared to mine, he cooked things that I never considered. I even turned my nose up at some. Most baffling to me was tofu. Sure, I had eaten tofu here and there in Asian restaurants, but it was always because it happened to be on my plate mixed in with other more desirous things, not because I was specifically interested in ordering tofu.

I knew myself to be entirely open to foods of all sorts, so in realizing that I was wrong in this perception, I found myself in a challenging position. I didn't like being someone who wasn't open to new foods, even though I clearly was that person. So, I decided to simply be open and accept my newfound friend - tofu. And now, I'm a true fan.

As it turns out, tofu is a very complex food, which I am only beginning to understand. It can be eaten in any number of forms (soups, sauces, stews, frozen, fried, sauteed, grilled, baked ... you name it). It can take on virtually any flavor, so it can fit in any cuisine. Lots of culinary fun can be had with tofu, and that is what I am attempting to do.

This recipe is one of my adventures in tofuland.

Tofu Tacos with Cashew Sauce







16 oz. firm tofu
tofu marinade (see below)
safflower oil spray
20 leaves of greens (I used swiss chard and turnip greens), shredded
1/2 daikon, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
3-5 turnips, sliced into matchsticks
1 cup bean sprouts
cashew sauce (see below)
12 brown rice tortillas

Tofu Marinade
3 Tbsps. low-sodium tamari
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. brown rice vinegar
2 inches ginger, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced

Cashew Sauce
1/2 cup raw cashew butter
1/4 cup wheat-free low-sodium tamari
1 Tbsp. brown rice vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsps. tahini
2 Tbsps. safflower oil
2 Tbsps. agave nectar

Place whole tofu brick in a bowl. Place another bowl or plate on top of the tofu and weigh it down with something heavy, such as a can of beans. Put the weighed down tofu in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. Remove the weight, and pour off whatever liquid has accumulated in the bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together marinade ingredients. Cut the tofu into four equally thick slices. Lay the tofu slices in a single layer in a small glass container or pan. Allow to marinate, refrigerated, for at least 4 hours, turning once.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Spray with safflower oil. Once the pan is hot, add the tofu slices. Grill for 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove from pan. Once slightly cooled, cut tofu into thick strips.

In a small bowl, whisk together cashew sauce ingredients. It will be somewhat thick. If you prefer a thinner consistency, add water, 1 Tbsp at a time until you reach the desired effect.

Using one tortilla at a time, paint the center with a dollop of cashew sauce, add a few strips of the tofu and some of each of the vegetables. If using taco-sized tortillas, simply fold in half and enjoy. If using burrito-sized tortillas, bring one end over, fold in the sides, and then roll the wrap over the other end. Cut in half on an angle.

Serves 4-6.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sweet & Sour with a Dash of Pomegranate

One of the things that really says Fall to me, other than changing leaves and sudden gusts of wind, is the appearance of pomegranates in the produce section. There are so many products on the shelves that feature pomegranates, touting it's superfood capacity as an antioxidant, but so few people actually eat pomegranates as they are naturally, and in the short season that they're available. I think that's a terrible shame. I believe that what is stopping people is the foreignness of the fruit, and the mystery of how to approach it. Once you learn how get into it and how to eat it (which is as simple as cutting it open and eating the kernels inside, which look a lot like red corn kernels), you can do a million things with them! They offer great color and taste contrast in savory dishes, and they offer textural interest in sweet dishes. Here are a few easy things to do with your pomegranate (that you will surely buy this week):

- Toss into a green salad
- Toss into a fruit salad
- Toss a handful into your morning oatmeal or cold cereal
- Eat as a snack (lots of fun for kids)
- Cranberry Apple Pomegranate Sauce
- Garnish savory dishes featuring fruit-friendly proteins, such as fish, pork, chicken or shrimp
- Make Sweet & Sour Stir Fry ........

Sweet & Sour Stir Fry
1/2 cup brown rice vinegar
1/4 cup mirin (sweet rice wine - sold in Asian food stores and some grocery stores)
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup brown rice syrup (sold in health food stores)
1 Tbsp. unsulphured blackstrap molasses
2 inches of ginger, cut into chunks (no need to peel)
pinch coarse salt
14 oz. brown rice fettuccini
1/4 cup safflower oil
1.25 lbs. mahi mahi, skinned and cut into 1" cubes
1 head napa cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, cut in thin 2" strips
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into thin 2" strips
1 bunch scallions, cut into thin 2" strips
1/2 cup pomegranate kernels
1/2 cup raw cashews or peanuts, rough chopped (optional)

In a small saucepan combine the vinegar, mirin, lime juice, brown rice syrup, molasses, ginger and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and reduce the sauce by about half (about 15 minutes). Fish the chunks of ginger out and discard, and reserve the sauce.

Cook the fettuccini according to package directions.

In a very large wok or stainless steel skillet, heat the safflower oil over medium-high heat. Add the fish and stir fry until just cooked. Remove the fish from the skillet and set aside. Add the cabbage, carrots and red pepper, and stir fry until the cabbage is wilted and the carrot has softened a bit (10 minutes). Return the fish to the pan and add the sweet and sour sauce. Stir to combine. Add the fettuccini and toss until combined thoroughly and heated through.

Serve in bowls garnished with a sprinkle of scallions, pomegranate kernels and nuts.

Serves 4-6.

Source of pomegranate photo: www.producepedia.com

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Maple Orange Glazed Halibut


Tonight's dinner afforded me a very proud Mommy moment. My 3-year-old little girl completely cleaned her plate without any encouragement or prodding. Not that she's a bad eater - quite the opposite. Still, that she finished every morsel is really the best compliment I could get. And it feels particularly great that this meal was not at all "kid friendly"; that is, it didn't feature typical kid fare, like pasta, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, etc. Tonight's dinner was a wonderful example of just how much children can enjoy healthy, adult foods, if only we let them try them.

I don't typically buy Halibut. It's a very expensive fish. But last week, I saw some beautiful fresh wild Alaskan halibut steaks on sale for only $7.99/lb (Atlantic halibut should be avoided ... it's heavily overfished, and is therefore not a sustainable option). That's even less than I pay for my wild Alaskan Salmon, and that's frozen! I couldn't resist. It's a real treat for me. Halibut is a very sweet, moist, flaky fish. It's also very easy and quick to prepare, and needs very little adornment to make it special. Yum!

Maple Orange Glazed Halibut
1 lb. wild Pacific halibut steaks, cut into 3 portions (about 5 oz. each)
2 navel oranges
1 Tbsp. low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
pinch salt (optional)
safflower oil spray

Juice one of the oranges, and set juice aside. Zest the other orange, and set aside. Then supreme the second orange, reserving the supremes for garnish.

In a small saucepan, combine orange juice, orange zest, tamari, maple syrup, and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and then reduce heat to medium low. Reduce the mixture down until it thickens a bit, enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Spray the skillet with safflower oil. Once the skillet is hot, reduce the heat to medium high. Add the halibut portions. Cook for 5 minutes on each side. Then brush the top with the maple orange glaze. Turn and glaze the other side, allowing the glazed fish to cook 1 more minute on each side. Remove from pan.

Garnish the steaks with the orange supremes. I served this with a quinoa pilaf and green beans with toasted almonds.

Serves 3.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mystery Meat for Lunch

What is it about school lunches? I always thought that it was just public schools that had dreadful cafeteria options, but apparently, even private schools that cost an arm and a leg are still feeding our kids pseudo-foods. What happened to the national health-consciousness trend (think Michelle Obama's organic garden)? Where are all the parents who are buying organic foods in increasing numbers, and where do their children go to school? Are all the statistics wrong, or are parents just ignorant of what goes on outside their homes?

As you may know from my previous post about my daughter's nursery school, we provide our own snacks for her because what is provided there is often questionable, to say the least. I'm not completely happy with the nursery school for a variety of reasons, and I'd love to find something closer to home (it's a 20-30 minute commute), so I've been keeping my eyes open.

Today, after coming out of the grocery store, I noticed a pamphlet on my car's windshield. Of course, I began immediately muttering profanities. Then I realized that the pamphlet was for a Montessori school that will be opening up in our area next year. I read the pamphlet with interest, went home and checked out the website. I was thrilled to see all sorts of great things, like natural material toys, mixed age classes, botany as a core subject area ... what fun! And it's walking distance from home! Yay! I thought I'd found a home for my kids! Then I see the bad news - lunch and snacks are provided by the school, included in tuition. What is lunch? Here is a sampling from their lunch menu:

Chicken Nuggets
Meatballs
Macaroni and Cheese
Grilled Cheese
Ham & Cheese
Mozzarella Sticks
Baked Ziti
Pizza
Corn Dogs
Hot Dogs
Beef and Macaroni

I can almost guarantee that these are all heavily processed, fatty, salty, sugary foods that are probably frozen or canned. Nevermind that this menu completely excludes vegan children, providing no options for them whatsoever. It's absurd for any child to eat a regular diet of these foods! All those great teaching methods will go to waste on children fed nothing but garbage. Kids need real, fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and wholesome proteins to sustain their energy, their growing bodies and their developing brains. And how will it affect our children if they regularly eat dairy foods full of hormones (known to cause early onset of puberty and reproductive cancers), meats full of antibiotics (which is how most antibiotics are consumed in this country, not by prescription), grain products stripped of their nutritional content (making them pure calories and nothing more), preservatives, stabilizers, artificial sweeteners, high glycemic sweeteners, and many other edible toxins? Will the Flintstones vitamin they took in the morning make up for everything lacking in their diets? For many of us, it matters what our kids eat. That needs to be the case even when our kids are in someone else's care.

Lunch is a part of every school day. In fact, for many kids, it's their favorite subject. That's no joke! What kids learn at the lunch table are life-long lessons, maybe ones that will ultimately affect them more than their ABCs will. A learning institution that doesn't see lunch as a learning opportunity, to teach kids how to get the most from their bodies and their lives, is failing its students, plain and simple.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pumpkin Pineapple Chicken

A while back, I learned how to cut up a chicken (see here). I resolved at the time to only use chicken that I'd cut up myself, with the exception of boneless chicken. Now that I have a baby to care for, time is not on my side, so that rule has been temporarily scrapped. Please forgive me!

This week, while looking for split chicken breasts on sale for $4.79/lb (good deal for organic chicken!), I noticed packs of chicken that included breasts and drumsticks for $2.49/lb. (also organic). Woo hoo! So, essentially, for the same price as 4 breasts, I got 4 breasts plus 10 drumsticks! What a deal! This recipe makes use of my free drumsticks, a small pumpkin from my CSA, and a can of pineapple bought on sale ages ago. Supremo cheapo!

Pumpkin Pineapple Chicken
2 cups fresh pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cubed
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 shallots, rough chopped
1 tsp. ground coriander seed
1 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
salt & pepper, to taste
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 1/2 cups homemade or low-sodium veggie broth
2 Tbsps safflower oil
10 chicken drumsticks
1 cup fresh pineapple cubed, or 1 can pineapple chunks
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 400F. Combine pumpkin, garlic, shallots, spices and olive oil in a large baking dish. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

Scoop pumpkin mixture into a blender, adding the veggie broth. Puree until smooth.

In a large stainless steel skillet, heat the safflower oil over medium high heat. Season the drumsticks with salt and pepper. Add the drumsticks to the pan, and cook for 5 minutes on each side.

Add the pumpkin puree to the pan. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the pineapple, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Add the cilantro and adjust seasonings. Serve over whole wheat couscous.

Serves 4-5.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Thai Red Curry with Fish

I love any and all good curries -- Thai, Indian, Caribbean, you name it! I even remember having a fantastic North African goat curry at a hole-in-the-wall take-out place in Queens years ago. Curry is good, honest peasant food, which is to say that it has no airs and it requires no sophistication to enjoy it. It is not an acquired taste. It just tastes good!

I admit it ... I cheat when I make curry, which makes them supremely easy to make and foolproof. When making Indian curries I generally use jarred curry powder or garam masala, and when I make Thai curries I use jarred curry paste. These things can be made yourself, and in general I encourage that sort of thing. But some things ought to be left to the experts, unless you really know what you're doing. In the case of curry powders and curry pastes, there are plenty of perfectly healthy options out there that contain no MSG, HFCS, or other bizarre almost-food products, so this is a short cut I can live with.

A word of caution: curry can be hot, and especially if you are working with jarred Thai curry paste, it most likely will be. If you're particularly heat-sensitive, you might want to try making your own curry paste, and leaving the chilies out, or to a minimum.

Thai Red Curry with Fish
2 Tbsps safflower oil
1 - 1.5 lbs. fish fillets (almost any will work ... Mahi Mahi is what we used, but you needn't use such a firm fish. Stay away from very strong-flavored fish like salmon, tuna, or bluefish), skin removed
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 large onion, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2-3 heirloom tomatoes, chopped
2 bell peppers (any color), cored and cut into strips
1 bunch leafy greens (kale, beet greens, spinach, chard), washed, ribs removed, and leaves torn into large pieces
14 oz. can light coconut milk
1/2 - 1 1/2 tsps. Thai red curry paste, depending on your heat tolerance
1 cup cubed fresh pineapple, or 1 can pineapple chunks
1/4 cup fresh Thai basil (or other basil), torn
cooked brown rice

In a large stainless steel skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper, and place in the hot pan. Cook 2-4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

In the same pan, add the onions and garlic. Saute until slightly browned, 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and peppers, seasoning with salt and pepper, and saute until the tomatoes begin to soften, about 7 minutes. Add the leafy green and saute until wilted. Add the coconut milk and curry paste, and adjust other seasonings. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Flake the fish or cut into large chunks, and return to the pan. Add the pineapple and basil. Serve over brown rice.

Serves 4-5.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bulgar Lentil Salad

I sometimes forget to use less common grain products, like bulgar wheat, and too often, when I do, I go with well-established applications, like tabouli. Although this is yet another cold salad, it doesn't resemble tabouli at all, so that's a relief to me. I've cooked out of the box ... yay!

I really like the nuttiness of the bulgar, but if you don't care for it, try this recipe with quinoa, barley, millet, or even brown rice. The vegetables can also be switched out for whatever is seasonal when you make it. This particular combination makes for a fun color palate.

We're eating this for lunch this week, but it could be dinner or a side dish. It would work very well for a picnic, now that the weather seems to be cooperating again!

Bulgar Lentil Salad
4 medium beets, cleaned and trimmed of ends
1 cup bulgar wheat
1/2 cup green lentils
2 2/3 cups homemade or low-sodium veggie stock
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsps. chopped dried onion
salt & pepper, to taste
1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed of ends and cut into 2" pieces
1/2 pint grape tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
2 Tbsps lemon juice
2 Tbsps olive oil
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 400F. Wrap each beet in foil and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 40 minutes. Allow to cool. Peel the skins, and cut the beets into small cubes.

In a medium covered saucepan, combine the bulgar, lentils, veggie stock, garlic powder, chopped onion, salt & pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

In a small covered saucepan fitted with a metal basket steamer, steam green beans for only 2-3 minutes, or until bright green, but still firm.

Combine the bulgar mixture, cooked green beans, tomatoes, dill, lemon juice, olive oil, cumin and cayenne in a large bowl, and toss. Season with salt and pepper, if needed. Serve topped with a handful of beet cubes.

Serves 4-6.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Food Face

Yesterday, I was reminded of a very fond childhood food memory. Although I was never a terribly picky eater, every child needs some encouragement to eat sometimes. So, my mother came up with a fun and creative spin on serving food that did just that. We made faces out of food. Most often, we'd cover a plate with cottage cheese, and then decorate it with things like raisins for the mouth, olives for eyes, apple slices for ears ... you get the idea. It can be done with lots of different foods.

I'd forgotten about food faces until my mother came for a visit yesterday and made one for my daughter. She loved it so much that she asked for another one today for lunch. So, this is what we did:

Eyes - Hard-boiled egg sliced in half
Nose - Cherry tomato
Mouth - String beans
Cheeks - Potato rounds
Hair - Shredded carrot

Note: The tomato, string beans and potatoes were all taken from the potato salad that I was planning to serve her for lunch.

For younger kids, you might need to make these for them, but as kids get older, they can make them for themselves. It can really get them interested in cooking, and eating. Even a 3-year-old, like my daughter, had some input. It was her idea to shred the carrot for the hair.

Eastern European No-Mayo Potato Salad

I know mayonnaise is all the rage in culinary circles, but I can't stand the stuff! It's flavorless and gloopy, and it must be the bane of the potato's existence. I think even the most mayo-crazy foodies might agree that what passes for potato salad in most cafeterias and delis is only made worse by the gobs of mayo slathered all over those innocent potatoes. Poor things! Well, no potato salad of mine will ever have to endure such torture.

While in college, I had the pleasure of tasting a fabulous alternative to American potato salad that really spoke to me. It was made, of course, by someone's grandmother. A Croatian friend of mine had a grandmother who lived to feed other people, and she was quite a good, homey cook, so I was happy to oblige. One of the dishes she made was a potato salad with green beans and tons of garlic. Instead of mayo, this salad was dressed in a clean vinaigrette that added brightness and flavor to the dish. Quite a welcome change!

This is my approximation of what that wonderful Babba used to make, with a few added ingredients of my own.

No-Mayo Potato Salad
1 lb. thin-skinned potatoes (any color), scrubbed and sliced 1/4" rounds
20 fresh string beans, trimmed of ends
3 large cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1 very small red onion, or 2 shallots, sliced thinly
1/2 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsps. fresh parsley, chopped
3 Tbsps. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsps. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large covered pot with a metal steamer basket, steam the potatoes until they are just cooked. In the last 3 minutes, add the green beans to the pot. Allow to cool.

Combine the potatoes, string beans, garlic, onion, tomatoes and parsley in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper until well emulsified. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well. Serve cold or room temperature.

Serves 4-6.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summertime Grilled Chimichangas

It's amazing to me how few vegetables I need to buy at the store in the summertime. The CSA has provided very well for my family this year. Looking at what was in the fridge, I threw together this recipe of very seasonal, colorful stuff. It's super easy, and it's very toddler friendly (if your kids are like mine, they might open up the tortillas like a present and eat the insides). It's also healthier than your average chimichanga, which is deep fried and full of greasy meats. This is much lighter, and much more figure-friendly. Hope you enjoy them as much we did!

Summertime Grilled Chimichangas
1 ear of fresh corn
6 flour tortillas (whole wheat or sprouted grain)
1 can aduki beans, drained and rinsed
3 Tbsps diced red onion
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
1/2 bell pepper (any color), diced
1 large heirloom tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
6 oz. shredded monterey jack cheese
safflower oil spray
1 lime, cut into wedges

Steam the ear of corn for five minutes. Cut the kernels away, and reserve.

Preheat a cast iron skillet or large cast iron pan over high heat. Working with one tortilla at a time, add small amounts of the beans, onion, jalapeño, bell pepper, corn, tomato, cilantro and cheese in the center. Fold two opposing sides over toward the middle, and then fold in the other sides. Spray the pan with a film of safflower oil, and reduce the heat to medium. Grill the stuffed tortillas seam side down for 2 minutes. Turn and then grill for another two minutes. Enjoy!

If you need to keep these warm while grilling the others, you can put them on a cookie sheet in a 200F oven.

Serves 3.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Healthy Italian Hoagie

My husband often reminisces about his days in Hoboken, New Jersey, when he could walk to the corner store and get himself an Italian sandwich, piled high with capicola, prosciutto, and fresh mozzarella. I'm not sure that gobs of salty, fatty meat would win as much esteem with my heart, but I can nonetheless appreciate a good sandwich.

Given that it is Jersey tomato season, and eggplant and basil are also plentiful, I thought I'd take a crack at my own version of an Italian sandwich, healthy style. So here goes:

Healthy Italian Hoagie
1 whole grain Italian bread or French baguette
homemade basil pesto
safflower oil spray
1 small eggplant (you could use the ordinary black variety, but the skin is tough on those. I used my zebra eggplant from the farm. Japanese eggplant would also do nicely, though you might need two of those), sliced thin, lengthwise
salt & pepper, to taste
1 large heirloom tomato (any color), sliced into thick rounds
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, thickly sliced

Cut the bread lengthwise into two halves. Toast in the oven at 400F for 5-10 minutes.

Spray a large cast iron skillet with safflower oil, and heat over high heat. Coat the eggplant with oil on both sides of each slice and season with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot, reduce heat to medium and grill eggplant for 2 minutes on each side.

Slather both halves of the bread with a generous amount of pesto. Then pile the grilled eggplant, tomato, and fresh mozzarella. Season with salt and pepper. Cut into individual portions.

Serves 3.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Roasted Tomato Soup with Lemon Basil

My daughter cheers for tomato soup year round, even in this sweltering heat we've been enduring. Somehow, she hasn't taken to gazpacho, which would be the more refreshing choice, I think. This week, since we were inundated with tomatoes from our CSA, and we picked an interesting assortment of specialty basils at the farm, I thought I'd try a new twist on tomato soup. The result is a sort of Thai-American fusion soup.

For a more traditional tomato soup, substitute standard basil and heavy cream for the lemon basil and coconut milk. If you can't find lemon basil, you could use lemongrass or just plain lemon juice.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Lemon Basil
8-10 medium ripe tomatoes, rough chopped
2 Tbsps olive oil
2 stalks celery, rough chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed
4-6 shallots, rough chopped
2 Tbsps lemon basil leaves
salt & pepper, to taste
1 14 oz. can light coconut milk

Preheat oven to 400F. In a large baking dish, toss the tomatoes with the oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Add the celery, garlic and shallots, stirring to combine. Return to the oven for another 30 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350F. Add the lemon basil and adjust seasonings, stirring to combine.

Cool completely. Pour the tomato mixture into a blender and puree. Pour puree into a stock pot or dutch oven. Add the coconut milk and heat the soup through. Adjust seasonings. Serve hot.

Serves 4-6.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Time for Lunch

In an effort to encourage public schools to provide whole, fresh foods to school children, and to pass legislation that will support that goal, Slow Food USA has started a campaign called Time for Lunch. They are asking people around the country to host a public potluck, called an Eat-In, on September 7th (labor day), and invite everyone you can, including legislators, to attend. This is a serious step in the right direction to get our kids off to a healthy start, making them more equipped to learn. Establishing good eating habits in our kids could help this generation overcome the threat of increasing childhood diseases, like early onset type 2 diabetes, and could help them grow up to be healthier than their parents' generation.

To learn about organizing an Eat-In, visit http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/campaign/time_for_lunch/organize_an_eat_in/

Contact your legislators about this issue by visiting http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/campaign/time_for_lunch/contact_your_legislators/

Sign the Slow Food petition in support of the Time for Lunch campaign by visiting http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/campaign/time_for_lunch/

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Best Bang for Your Produce Buck

One of the best things we can do to make ourselves and our families healthy is to eat real, fresh foods. Many of us may think that what we get in the supermarket in the produce aisle is fresh, but the reality is that much of that food comes from halfway, or all the way, around the world, and is far from fresh. For most foods, that means they have to be picked before they ripen, robbing them of their natural development. Once picked, most fruits and veggies immediately begin to lose nutritional value, as they start the decay process.

The longer something sits in a crate, the greater the distance between farm and plate, the less real food you are getting. If you're buying conventional (non-organic) produce, and it's from far away, you're barely eating a natural substance. In fact, you may be eating more chemicals than nutrients (many foreign countries use harsher and more chemical pesticides and herbicides than we do in the US). Sure, it may look nice, and we've somehow evolved to value the look of produce over its taste and nutritional value, a cultural phenomenon I'll never understand. But you are getting very little for your produce dollar in buying these products. Granted, if you live in certain parts of the world (like the Northeast US), winter makes sourcing local produce quite a challenge. The rest of the year is quite a different story.

Here are some options that could work for you to help get real food on your table, and avoid spending your life savings to feed yourself:

CSAs
As I've mentioned in many a previous post, we subscribe to a CSA (Community Support of Agriculture) program. This program is run by a local organic farm (the one we use is Honeybrook Organic Farm). It helps them to have this subscription program, because it guarantees them an income for the year, regardless of weather conditions. It helps me, as a consumer, because I get fresh, local, organic produce every week from a farmer I trust.

This is how is works: You apply for a share with the farm, and if you can get a spot (our CSA fills up FAST!), you then pay for the upcoming year's share. Many farms offer only one kind of share - a full share. At Honeybrook, we have the option of a family share, an individual share, or a delivered boxed share. Family and individual shares must be picked up at the farm. Boxed shares are delivered to a wide variety of locations on specific days, and individuals must come to pick up their boxes within certain times. We took a boxed share, which we split with a friend. The cost this year for our share was $624, of which we paid $312. The harvest season typically runs from late May to early November, depending on conditions, so that means we're paying an average of $12.50 per week for our share. What a terrific bargain!

Our CSA grows all sorts of vegetables (lately our box has includes lettuce, beets, summer squash, fennel, kale, cabbage, basil, radicchio), plus aromatics, like onions, garlic and herbs, so there's little need to buy other vegetables. Some CSAs grow quite a bit of fruit, too, but ours is limited to berries and some watermelon, so we do still spend additional money on fruit.

Another benefit to many CSAs is that they have some pick-your-own crops. For no additional charge, members can come to the farm to pick specified quantities of certain veggies or fruits. During strawberry season, we picked 8 quarts of strawberries in the course of two weeks!! Not only was there no charge for this, but my daughter and I had a great time in the fields, and she got herself completely covered in strawberry juice and mud (what fun!). The strawberries were also about the best I've ever tasted. Just incredibly sweet and flavorful!

We've also picked sugar snap peas, snow peas, green beans and herbs so far this season. Oddly enough, the act of picking these things gets my daughter interested in them. If you can believe it, she was eating raw green beans and chives right from the fields! It's a great way to familiarize kids with the growing and harvesting process, and helps them learn about their food, opening their minds to new tastes and textures. Now, my daughter happily eats chives, even though she'd always complained that they were too sharp before.

Although there is sometimes an overabundance of certain veggies or fruits during the season, this is really a benefit that can carry you through the colder months. Too much basil can easily become pesto sauce, which freezes quite well. Too many tomatoes can become tomato sauce or tomato soup, which also freeze very well. Zucchini is great for quick breads, another good freezer. Strawberries can become strawberry jam, which can be canned and stored in the pantry, or you can just freeze them whole (stems removed) and use them in smoothies whenever. Potatoes, carrots, beets, and other root vegetables can be stored in a cool root cellar for months. Winter squash can keep for a couple months right on your counter, or you can cut them up or puree and freeze them. Just because you receive a box full of goodies every week doesn't mean you need to use them up before the week is over. Making them last means you'll have more variety in your diet throughout the year.

Farmers' Markets
Farmers' Markets are everywhere now, as there has been such a return to local agricultural support. They offer many of the same benefits as a CSA, but with more flexibility and variety. Typically, the prices are higher than you would pay per pound through a CSA, but still lower than organic produce in the stores.

The great thing about Farmers' Markets is that you really can get to know the farmers themselves, since they often tend their own tables. You can find out how they grow their veggies and how they raise their animals, and see if their philosophy jives with yours. Just like in a CSA, you're still eating a seasonal, local diet, and very often their products are grown organically (even if not certified as such). You get to pick what you want to buy, and leave the rest (with a CSA, you get what you get), and you control the quantities of what you buy (so you won't have to figure out how to use 5 heads of lettuce in a week!). Although some CSAs also offer things like eggs, dairy and meat, these are much more commonly found at a Farmers' Market. You might even find local artisan cheeses, local raw honey (a very tasty way to keep seasonal allergies at bay), grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and eggs, raw and un-homogenized milk (in those states where this is legal), in addition to all the local produce.

Co-Ops
There are a couple of different types of co-ops that can provide reasonably local produce options. There are organic food co-ops, most often found in urban areas. Typically, members of the co-op must work a minimum number of hours at the co-op store in order to participate. Members are part owners in the business, and therefore might receive a small dividend annually. Food co-ops often stock similar products that would be found in a local health food store, but the prices are often lower.

There are also food delivery co-ops, like Purple Dragon, which deliver fresh produce, often sourced locally, throughout the year. These are generally higher in price than even store-bought organic produce, but since they emphasize seasonality, subscribing to such a program could be a boon to your health, which might not be available to you otherwise.

Farm Stands
Certainly, most farm stands that you might pass on the road are not selling organic or ethical produce and other products, but they are nonetheless fresh from the farm, very inexpensive, and seasonal, all of which can be great supplements to your diet, and a relief to your purse. You might not be able to fill out your fridge by stopping at random farm stands, but you may very well discover some great finds! Many also have pick-your-own produce, which is especially inexpensive. If you see one, stop by ... you never know what you'll find!

Nearly Free Food
This is one area where I have just about zero experience, but I'd love to apprentice with people who could show me the ropes. I'm talking about growing, finding, or hunting your own foods. All of these are nearly free ways to get food.

Growing vegetables or fruit is quite beyond me and my brown thumb, and being that I have no land at the moment, I'm off the hook. But when I get the opportunity, I will certainly call on my most knowledgeable friends and family to help me make sense of dirt and compost and seeds and such. It's a complete mystery to me.

Another very foreign option to me, but one that is gaining in popularity, is raising animals. There are people with tiny little yards in Brooklyn who are raising chickens. Why not? Come to think of it, I always did want a goat as a kid (excuse the pun). They would be awfully good at mowing a lawn. Hmmm ... something to think about.

Finding foods is a true skill, and I think employing someone to help you navigate, whether you're talking about finding wild greens or mushrooms, is essential. There are very few things I've ever scavenged. I suppose I was lucky enough as a child to grow up in The Bronx where wild mulberry trees and wild chives abound. I've also had my share of honeysuckle nectar from those very sweet smelling blossoms, but I'm not sure if I count that to be a true food substance. You'd need an awful lot of honeysuckle to sweeten your tea.

Hunting is one option that, I admit, is a bit unsettling to me, but I recognize that my distaste for it is cultural and familial, and not at all rational. Hunting is perhaps the best way to get healthy, natural meat. Some part of me is interested in learning about it, but I just don't know if my brain and my queasy stomach agree.

Worse Comes to Worst
If you have none of these options available to you, you can always buy from health food stores, or, at worst, the mega store. The smaller and more independent the store, the more likely their produce is sourced from local farms. Large stores tend to negotiate with large, corporate farms. So, even when Jersey tomatoes are in season, WalMart might still be stocking their shelves with Californian and Mexican transports. Do your best to find out what is seasonal locally, so you can go to the store with that knowledge in the back of your mind. If you buy foods that should be seasonally available in your area, you might luck out and get the local stuff, even at the mega mart.

A final note
So, where can you find information about your local options? Here are a couple of great sources:
www.localharvest.org - This is your best resource for local CSAs, Farmers' Markets and Food Co-Ops.
www.NRDC.org - Natural Resources Defense Council - This is a great source of information about seasonal produce. It is organized on a state-by-state basis, so you can always see your own state, and the neighboring ones, as well.

For most people, some combination of the above is what works best. See what's available in your area, and find your best fit.