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Is the local food movement making a difference?

I read this story in the paper yesterday. (How quaint!)  Star Tribune had one of their “let’s print two differing opinions side-by-side” opinion features.

Local foods make a difference vs. Local foods don’t really make a difference.

Greg Breining, the “anti-local foods” guy, makes all the usual arguments, including the one about how the transport of food is only one small part of the fossil fuels needed to grow food.

Steve Calvin, Mr. “pro-local foods,” doesn’t pretend that eating local is going to save the planet, but makes more of a “every little bit helps” kind of argument.

Both writers agree that it’s good to know where your food came from, and eating locally is one way to do that.

I’m not going to pretend to be a hardcore locavore.  I’m hardcore about organic, but there are several things that I am not willing to give up, such as coconut milk and at least some tropical fruits, especially during the winter.

The biggest place you can make a “locavore” impact is by buying all your meat from local, small (or small-ish) farms who practice humane, more sustainable animal husbandry than factory farms.  If you do nothing else “local,” you can still make a huge difference in the meat department.  And not just for the environment: for your own health as well.

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A first-timer’s guide to canning tomatoes

Last night we canned tomatoes for the first time.  Bit of a learning curve here on 18th Ave.  For one thing, we didn’t start until a little after 8 p.m.  I also didn’t read directions very well ahead of time and had to run to the grocery store for lemon juice before we even started.  But, in the end we were successful.


We ordered 25 lbs of tomatoes from the Tony and Gina at Food4Thought, which they kindly delivered right along with our CSA box on Thursday.  They charged $37.50.  I felt it was a reasonable price for these gorgeous organic romas, delivered right to our door.


We had several stock pots full of boiling water.  On the right, Adam is dipping tomatoes into boiling water to loosen their skins.  Behind that are some lids in a small pot, and then to the left are some jars.  The canner waits on the far left.


To loosen the skins, dip in boiling water for about a minute, then dip in cold water and peel off.  Or run under cold tap water.  We got them peeled, cored, and cut in half pretty quickly.  Maybe a half hour’s worth of work at the most.




Adam got the jars out of the hot water, leaving some water in each one to keep it hot as long as possible.  I don’t understand this step, but the directions said to do it…


I added 1 T. of lemon juice and 1/2 tsp. salt to each jar, then stuffed in the tomatoes.  We decided to do pints because they are close to the same size as a regular can of tomatoes like we would normally buy in the store.


Next came the waiting game.  Wait for the water in the canner to start boiling.  Wait while it “steams out” for 10 minutes.  Wait for the pressure to get to 11 lbs.  Set the timer for 25 min. and wait.  Next, turn off the burner and wait for the pressure to come all the way back down.  Thank goodness I had a trashy teenage vampire novel to read while I waited.  Finally, everything was done:


Final yield: 16 pts + 3 qts.  (We ran out of pint jars but had some extra quarts on hand.)  I took this picture at 1 a.m.  We had to go through the whole canner processing twice because we made so many that they wouldn’t fit at the same time.  Next time I go to the grocery store I will price out cans of tomatoes and see if we’re coming out ahead on this one or not.

Even if not, it’s gotta be really close to break-even, and it was an interesting process.

Update, August 2, 2012: I have since found a much better deal on canning tomatoes. A 20-lb case can be ordered directly from Gardens of Eagan for $16 and picked up at the area farmer’s markets where they have booths.

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CSA Week 12


These boxes just keep getting better and better.  Week 12’s full-share box:

1 head cauliflower
1 bunch cilantro
6 apples
2 heads bok choi
3 heirloom tomatoes
1 cantaloupe
1 bag green beans
Mixed peppers: 2 purple, 2 green, 1 banana
4 beautiful eggplants
5 cucumbers
1 pt box of crab apples

Tomorrow night (or maybe Saturday) I am going to make apple sauce with some of my apples and the crab apples.  I think they will give the sauce a nice tang.  Right now, at this very minute, we are canning tomatoes.  MANY tomatoes.  Will post about that tomorrow.

Standard CSA info:
What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts


Recipe: basic coconut milk curry


Here is Adam’s most basic curry recipe, endless variations of which are eaten at our house every week.  This feeds about 3-4 adults.

curry1Required ingredients:
-1 can coconut milk (full fat, don’t bother with the light crap)
-1 T. red or green curry paste or yellow curry powder (more or less, to taste)
-1 T. brown sugar
-1 tsp. tamari or soy sauce

Other ingredients (pick and choose):
-1 onion, sliced vertically
-About 1/2 lb – 1 lb vegetables, such as green beans, peas, broccolli, cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, or whatever you have on hand
-About 1 c. of some source of protein, such as beans (garbanzos are good), leftover chicken, hard-boiled eggs (sliced in half) or fried tofu, seitan, etc.
– red pepper flakes (especially if you use curry powder, as it is not as spicy as curry paste)


Heat wok or large frying pan (preferably with slanted sides) over medium heat until hot.  Add 1/3 of the can of coconut milk.  Bring it to a low boil, stirring occasionally.  Boil for 3-5 minutes, until it starts to give off a sweet aroma.


Stir in curry paste or powder, squishing it around until it completely melts into the coconut milk, about 2-3 minutes.  Add onions and other vegetables.  Add the rest of the can of coconut milk, the brown sugar, and the tamari (or soy sauce).


Bring to a simmer, cook for about 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.  If you are adding protein, add it now and simmer for another 5 minutes.  We generally use already-cooked meat or beans — if you have raw meat, brown it lightly before you even start making the curry.  (Hard-boiled eggs should be added last, just as you’re about to serve it.)


Optional: garnish with a splash of lemon or lime juice and/or fresh cilantro right before serving.  Serve over brown rice.

The version pictured above is green curry with brocolli, carrots, and onions.


Here’s another version Adam made a few weeks ago.  It’s a red curry with chicken, green beans, and onions.

We usually keep this pretty simple.  This recipe is based on a couple of the curries in Real Vegetarian Thai, one of the best Thai cookbooks I’ve ever seen.

When we make this Rowan will eat more than any of the adults at the table.  Anneke puts away plenty, too.  When made relatively mild, this is great toddler food.

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DIY apple picker

We went all the way out to the suburbs this weekend to try and find an apple-picking tool at Fleet Farm.  Being unsuccessful, Adam decided to make one himself:


applepicker2It’s simply an old dishsoap container, with a wire hanger wrapped around it and affixed with duct tape.

This is my favorite detail:


It’s attached to an old broom handle.  We’d like to get a slightly longer one eventually but this will do for now.  Adam picked a bunch of apples while I was rocking the extremely rambunctious kids tonight, and we cut a bunch of them up for freezing.  We freeze them in 5-cup portions so that we can easily throw them into a pie or crisp over the winter.  This is significantly more putsy than applesauce, but it’s good to have variety.

peelingapplesWe also had a tree service out to give us a bid yesterday on removing our diseased/dead pine trees.  They think our apple tree has fire blight and for an extra $150 they will prune out all the diseased branches.  Apparently it’s quite an ordeal because you need to disinfect your tools between each cut to avoid spreading the blight to other areas of the tree.  Worth it?  Most definitely.

Update, 1 August 2010: Well, to be honest, this apple picker was not built to last.  It was covered with duct tape by the middle of the season last year, and completely fell apart at the end.  We were out at Fleet Farm this weekend and they had some apple pickers in stock so we picked one up for $11.

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Preserving food: a quick run-down

This is the first year that I’ve really gotten into preserving food.  I’ve frozen some things in the past, but with the combination of expanding our garden and subscribing to the CSA, I just simply have so much more to work with this summer.  I don’t have a favorite method yet; I think each one has its pros and cons depending on your situation.

Freezing: Pick produce.  Throw in freezer-safe ziploc bag or jar.  Freeze.  Or make huge amounts of sauces (like tomato sauces) and freeze in smaller portions.  Last summer for some reason I planted tons of basil, so I made pesto and froze it in 3/4 c. portions.  We ate pesto all winter.  So much that Adam refuses to eat it now.  So I’m skipping that one this year.
Pros: super easy, and nutritional value of most things is well-preserved
Cons: you need to have the freezer space available.  Works better on small scale unless you have a huge chest freezer.  Even then, you’re susceptible to freezer burn or power outtages ruining your food.

Canning: This is one area where I am very inexperienced, but soon to be more experienced.  Later this week, in fact, I’m going to can tomatoes for the first time ever.
Pros: even in a nuclear winter, you would still have food to eat.  Before reading the Road I would have scoffed at this.
Cons: much of the nutritional value of most foods is lost, and the process involves special equipment and know-how so you don’t unwittingly give your family botulism.

Fermenting: This is my personal favorite of the moment.
Pros: easy to do, especially on a small scale.  Enhances nutrition of food that is preserved.  Requires little to no special equipment.  Here’s a great “getting started” video from Sandor Elliz Katz, the author of Wild Fermentation.
Cons: some foods might require a slight re-adjustment of your palate.  Scale can be a problem, too, as we are finding out.  Pretty soon you start to run out of refrigerator space.  Also, some ferments can be putzy for the person who’s not an enthusiast (like cheese, beverages, and cured meats).

We are seriously considering making a “root cellar” type of area for storing some of our fermented and canned foods.  Ideally it would stay very cool, like 50 degrees.  We have a closet in the basement that stays very cool in winter, and I think with a little work we could make it into a proper cold storage area.  I need to make fall projects list one of these days; my mental list is getting really long.

Update 8/25/09: Good grief, I completely forgot one entire category of food preservation: drying.  I’ve never tried drying anything, but I would love to try making sun-dried tomatoes one of these years.

Any other methods I’m forgetting?


Applesauce time

We are so lucky to have inherited a large old apple tree with our house.  It has been sorely neglected over the years, but it still produces quite a few apples every year.  I’m not sure what kind they are; they’re small and green and turn partially red when they’re ripe.  They’re pretty tart, but definitely not the tartest I’ve ever had.

Today my parents were visiting so during the kids’ nap my mom and I picked a bunch of apples and made applesauce.

applesauce1Our method is: quarter and core the apples, pile them in a big stock pot, then cook down until mushy.

applesauce2Run them through a hand-cranked food mill to remove the skins.  I have an old Foley food mill that I bought quite some time ago.  I had to wash the dust off it before we used it.  I’m pretty sure it was less than $10 at a local hardware store.  When it’s all processed, give it a taste.  If you used really tart apples you might want to sweeten it just a bit.  I added about 3/4 c. of brown sugar and a good heaping tsp. of cinnamon.

applesauce3Check it: 8 pints and 1 quart of free food.   We’re going to eat the quart this week, and the pints I put into our freezer.  Applesauce freezes pretty well.  It also is relatively easy to can so I’m going to try that too at some point this fall.  I want to try a wide variety of preservation methods.  Freezing is really handy because it’s really… easy.  But we bought a pressure canner as our anniversary present to each other so we’re going to try that as well, most likely this coming week.

Tomorrow I’m going to do a post about different preservation methods and their ups and downs.  If you read my fermented salsa post you’ll see that there’s a lot of confusion about what it means to “pickle” or “can” or “ferment” foods.  I have tons of questions about them.  It’s all a learning process I guess.

We’re also embarking on a “save the apple tree” mission because I think a couple more years of neglect and it will peter out for good.  So we’re having 4 trees that surround it cut down this week (2 of which are dead and 2 of which are sickly).  Then I want to try and prune the apple tree and address whatever bug seems to be eating a fair number of its leaves.  Stay tuned.

UPDATE, 8/24: we had an arborist out at the house today to give us a bid on removing the dead/dying pine trees, and he informed us that our apple tree most likely has fire blight.  For a pretty reasonable price, the company will prune out all the infected branches when they’re here cutting down the other trees in a few weeks.  Yay!


Recipe: fermented salsa

You ask, I deliver.  Here you go, Matt!  From Nourishing Traditions:

Makes 1 qt
-4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
-2 small onions, chopped
-3/4 c. chopped chile, jalapeno, or milder pepper (seeded)
-6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped or pressed
-1 bunch cilantro
-1 tsp. dried oregano (or a good T or two of fresh)
-juice of 1-2 lemons
-1 T. sea salt
-4 T. whey or 1 extra tsp salt
-1/4 c. spring or purified water

For small scale recipes like this, it’s not really that big of a deal to just peel the tomatoes with a paring knife.  If you do a search on how to peel tomatoes you’ll see a lot of advice about boiling water, and dipping the tomatoes first in the boiling water, then in the cold water.  It’s true; the skins practically peel themselves off when you do this.  I’d only bother with making that many pans dirty if I was making 10 qts of salsa, not one.  But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

Anyway, mix all ingredients and place in a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar.  Press down lightly until the juice rises up; if there is not enough liquid to cover the vegetables then add a little water.  The top of the vegetables/liquid should be about an inch below the top of the jar.  Cover and keep at room temperature for about 2 days before transferring to the fridge.

A note about timing: that “2 days” is a very subjective figure.  It depends on a number of factors.  If you use the whey, this process goes very quickly.  If you don’t, it takes a little longer.  The temperature of your kitchen is also a factor.  This took 2 days in our kitchen, but we used whey.

How do you know when it’s done?  Taste it every single day.  Twice a day if it’s really warm in your kitchen.  Open it up, press the vegetables down, and give them a taste.  When it tastes really good, it’s done.  As you can see, there is pretty much no way to get this wrong.

If you use the no whey-extra salt method you’ll know it’s done when it starts to taste less salty.

I don’t know that I’d let this one go too long… probably better slightly fermented than sour-kraut-level fermented.

Variations: endless.  You could leave out any of the spices if you don’t like them.  You could use lime juice instead of lemon.   You could use 2 giant tomatoes instead of 4 medium.  I doubled the recipe and used up 4 giant brandywine tomatoes.

UPDATE, 10/12/2009: We had a recent batch of salsa that we let ferment until it was practically exploding on top of our fridge.  I think it took about 3 days, but that was in August when it was relatively warm here.  Anyway, it tastes good, but it is very bubbly.  Like champagne salsa.  Kinda weird (still edible).  If you want to avoid this, transfer to your fridge before the “exploding with bubbles” stage.  There’s a lot of variation in this process, and with practice you get better and better at it.  Give yourself the permission to experiment and fail, and you can’t go wrong.

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CSA Week 11


This week’s full-share CSA box:

6 heads broccoli
2 nice bunches of basil (one purple, one green)
8 nice apples
Amaranth (greens in bag)
8 Roma tomatoes
1 pt Sungold cherry tomatoes
1 bunch chard
5 bell peppers
A bunch of big fat carrots
Onions (green & red)

Standard CSA info:
What is a CSA?
Where do we get our CSA from? Food 4 Thought.
See all of my CSA posts

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A toad

A toad was in our garden tonight!  I think this is a good thing — don’t they eat bad bugs?  Maybe they eat good bugs too.  Anyway the kids got a BIG kick out of it:


In other news, tomato season is in full swing.  We are making a fermented (of course) version of salsa, and we might do some canning this weekend or next.