Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Too many tomatoes

Although we ate some fresh garden tomatoes, and canned 11+ quarts of tomato sauce, 2007 was not a great year for tomatoes in our garden. We had a cool wet spring, and a cool (delightful, really, in human comfort terms) summer, and our tomatoes didn't really take off until August, with production peaking in September, just in time for back to campus and the craziness that brings.

Of course, part of the reason for the low productivity is our decision to go away on vacation, and while gone, neglect our pruning and staking duties, which resulted in a giant green jungle. Hoping to increase our tomato yield through a little healthy competition, Dan and I have agreed to a tomato-growing contest this summer (his idea, I might add). While we still have to work out all the details, we've decided we'll grow the same varieties, starting the seeds together, etc., but once we determine a planting date, it is every woman for herself. I'm now immersed in perusing the 'net and my stash of gardening catalogs, trying to come up with the list of varieties we'll grow.

Potential varieties:
Sungold cherries (these babies are a definite)
Amish Paste*
Orange Banana*
Ruby Pearl
Green Zebra
Milano Paste+

The tomatoes marked with an asterisk* I grew last year, and in general was very happy with; but notice the plus mark+ beside Debarao and Milano? These are 2 new paste varieties I'm considering, because they are much earlier than the Amish Pastes or Orange Bananas. I saw the Milano Plum in the John Scheepers Kitchen Gardeners catalog, $2.95 for 50 seeds. Milanos are hybrid determinate types, ready in an astonishing 60-65 days.

The Debrarao were recommended by my friend Holly's go to organic gardening source, Dan Pratt of Astarte Farm in Hadley, MA and are ready in 72 days. Seeds are available from Johnny's $2.95 for 40 seeds.

Another gardening crony recommended Opalka (82 days) tomatoes from Pine Tree Garden Seeds, saying they beat the Amish Pastes by a country mile for taste, few seeds, and thin, tender skin. Of course, they are not early. And then there are Grandma Mary's Paste (68 days), but there is no mention of flavor in the notoriously wordy Fedco catalog, hmmm. As I said, I was happy with the Amish Paste (85 days) and the Orange Bananas (85 days), but now I'm dithering and these are only the paste varieties! What is a gardener to do? Suggestions are welcome.

What we are eating

Remember all those groceries? Well, here's what we've been eating this week. (Sorry for the lack of photos, I'll try and remember to snap some photos for the remainder of the week.)

Friday night
Grilled kielbasa and onions with Raye's Winter Garden Mustard on the whole wheat rolls. (Kielbasa from a local-to-my-friend-Holly smokehouse in Western Massachusetts)

B: Eggs, whole wheat rolls, grape jelly, grape juice, coffee
L: Leftover pasta with peas, onions and cabbage from Thursday night
D: Tortilla chips and guacamole, squash enchiladas, Mexican rice, brownies

B: Yogurt, fruit, toast, coffee
L: Mexican rice casserole (leftovers re-vamped with beans, corn, cheese)
D: -- light snack and dinner with friends

B: fruit smoothies
L: leftover squash enchiladas, oranges
D: pasta with meatballs, spinach salad

B: oatmeal, fruit, coffee
L: Ali, soup pot-luck on campus, Dan leftover Mexican rice casserole, oranges
D: Pasta with Maine shrimp & peas, mixed broccoli/cauliflower

B: cereal with peanut butter toast, coffee
L: Ali, lunch meeting on campus, Dan leftover meatballs & pasta with broccoli/cauliflower, oranges
D: Grilled Cabot cheddar cheese sandwiches with Raye's mustard, pickled beets, bread 'n butter pickles

What's on tap for the rest of the week? Hmmm I'd better get to work roasting some cauliflower!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Egregious greenwashing

This story of the Bath, Maine McDonald's and their new-found commitment to recycling really frosted my cake. In my mind, the real story is that they have only recently begun to recycle, and that leads me to question how many other restaurants, or any businesses for that matter, are not recycling and at what cost to local communities?
So far, Fraser [the manager] said, only about 10 percent of the customers have caught on. But behind the counter — where store employees recycle storage containers, egg crates and plastic pickle boxes, among other things — the effort has cut the restaurant's total garbage output in half.

"Before we started recycling, we had 16 cubic yards of trash per week," he said. "Now we're down to eight."
At eight cubic yards of trash per week, in one year that's 416 cubic yards just for this one McDonald's Restaurant. Kudos to the manager for getting the program started -- he deserves a lot of credit for bucking the status quo -- but how is it that no one figured this out before?

I'm appalled that the Times Record covered this as a news story (page 3) and didn't ask a few challenging questions. A news story covering America's/McDonalds meaty habits can be found in today's NY Times. Mark Bittman, a food writer, did a great job with the story, raising really important issues facing the country and our apparently insatiable desire for inexpensive meat. Yeah, that's right, a food writer. Sheesh.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Is that a chicken?

I swear the gentleman on the left in this photo, from the What the World Eats photo series, is holding a chicken.

What we eat

Regular readers of this blog know I think about food a lot. Growing food, buying food, cooking food, eating food, writing about food, food politics, etc., food is almost always on my mind.

The photo essay about family food purchasing around the globe really caught my interest. (Quite possibly because it give me something to think about other than work these days, the stress of which is causing to me chew on my pillowcase in my sleep.) So I decided to post my own photo with list and notes.

I'm a big proponent of buying locally, but this is an area I really struggle with during the Maine winter (this morning's 8°F temp is not veggie friendly, at least until I get one of these). With just 2 of us at home now, a winter share at our local CSA farm is just too much food, especially of food that Dan and I are, shall we say, learning to appreciate more, like kale. So, what we don't have in storage from our garden or local farmstand purchases, I purchase at a grocery store like most other Americans. This week, I spent $160 on that food. My purchases:
    • 1 Empire sweet onion
    • 2 avocadoes
    • 3 heads garlic
    • ½ lb piece ginger root
    • 1 bunch cilantro
    • 4 lbs yellow onions
    • 1 bunch celery
    • 1 head cauliflower
    • 5 lbs organic carrots
    • 1 lb spinach
    • 2 lbs parsnips
    • 3 lbs butternut squash
    • 3 lbs 80% lean ground beef
    • 1 lb Cabot pepperjack cheese
    • 1 lb parmesan cheese
    • ½ gallon whole milk (for yogurt)
    • ½ lb half 'n half
    • 8 oz sour cream
    • 1 lb coffee
    • 2 lb bag blue tortilla chips
    • 2 lbs (36) corn tortillas
    • 2 bxs Ghiradelli brownie mix
    • 3 lbs old fashioned rolled oats
    • 2 lbs honey
    • 16 oz can cannellini beans
    • 16 oz natural peanut butter
    • 5 oz tomato paste in a tube (Italy)
    • ½ lbs sea salt (France)
    • 4 whole-wheat rolls
    • 2 ltrs extra virgin olive oil (Italy)
    • 1 bottle wine
    • 12 bottles microbrew beer

Unless noted, all items are produced domestically, and some are organically produced. I usually have a few meals in mind when I grocery shop, but my primary method is to have a well-stocked pantry that allows me to be 1) inspired and have on hand what I need, or 2) uninspired and in a big hurry, and to have the makings of a quick, nutritious and from scratch meal.

Of course, I was in a rush at the grocery store, and forgot a couple of things --some dried pasta for the pantry, frozen peas, vegetable broth, and black beans. I also plan to stop at the Co-op in a nearby town for yogurt culture, pepitas, whole wheat flour and some herbs and spices. All those items will add another $25 - $30 to the list, I suspect.

What will all those items become, meal-wise? Dinners will include a big Mexican feed tonight (with company for dinner), shrimp chowder (with Maine shrimp from the freezer), squash soup and/or squash enchiladas, meatballs with tomato sauce and pasta or (for Dan, his favorite) meatloaf with potatoes, roasted cauliflower soup. Spinach salad, carrots, parsnips, squash will all be seen as vegetable sides. Lunches will primarily be leftover dinner. Breakfasts will include fruit from the freezer in smoothies, oatmeal, or, you guessed it, Henbogle eggs. There may well be a quiche or eggs for dinner some night, too. Brownies are always on hand for company or a chocolate emergency. We will make bread from flour and yeast on hand, and other pantry staples like rice and potatoes will also find their way into this week's meals.

You'll notice there are few pre-packaged foods, and that is not unusual. I did not have macaroni and cheese from a box until I went to college (boy, was cafeteria food in the mid-80s an unpleasant surprise!) and I learned to cook from my mother. Dinner at our house started as ingredients, and I've cooked that way pretty much ever since, although I will say Annie's macaroni and cheese and Classico (no corn syrup added) spaghetti sauce have been seen in my pantry. Since then I've discovered roma tomatoes heated on the stove with olive oil and garlic is better tomato sauce, and Kyle is not here as often to inhale the Annie's mac and cheese (and much else) from the pantry. I do purchase some treats from Trader Joe's when I get the chance, namely their ethnic sauces or my big weakness, TJ's tuna in curry sauce (YUM YUM YUM).

Many years ago now, a new-ish friend was at my home, and looked in the pantry and asked me where all the food was (huh?) I didn't really understand at the time that she meant where were all the cans of soup, boxes of mac n cheese, jars of spaghetti sauce, etc.? I was not enlightened enough to know then that the way I cook was not typical, and sadly, is becoming less so all the time.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A look at food budgets around the globe

The Slow Cook recently wrote about this interesting look at weekly food purchases around the world. The photo series was originally published in a book by Peter Menzel, The Hungry Planet. It was really interesting to look at what folks purchased and spent on food. It was astonishing to see the amount of processed and fast food (how depressing to see Tony the Tiger in Italy!) and sobering to see what the family in the refugee camp in Chad survives upon. I'm counting my many blessings right now.

Links to the additional pages: Part II, Part III

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A good day for soup

The skies were clear here at Henbogle today, setting us up nicely for a big plunge in temperature, when the forecast is for a low of 3ºF overnight. The high today was in the mid 20sºF, but with a perky little breeze --perfect soup weather.

I've got a strong tendency to stockpile items like food, building materials, fabric, garden tools. The other day, when making room in the freezer for our pork delivery, I realized that I need to actually use all the food I have so carefully laid away (so far we've only cracked open 2 jars of tomato sauce, and a 3-4 of grape juice). In six months, I hope to be picking more strawberries and harvesting lettuce from the garden. It was high time to use those freezer veggies, so I stirred together a big batch of minestrone soup.

I had made a big batch of stock from one of our delicious freezer chickens the other day, so I sauteed some onions, added some carrots, celery, garlic, then the stock, potatoes, cannelini beans, cabbage, and from our freezer, swiss chard, wax beans, green beans, corn and pesto. With some homemade garlic croutons and warm from the oven ginger bread for dessert, I can almost forget the plunging temperatures. For a little while.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cloning is just creepy

Earlier this week, the FDA determined food derived from cloned livestock is safe. More than ever, am I glad my freezer is full of locally, humanely raised chicken, lamb and pork (and strawberries, greenbeans, corn and swiss chard. And yes, I know it needs defrosting.)

I don't know why the idea of cloned meat is so creepy -- after all, we clone plants (also known as propagation from cuttings) all the time. The idea of cloning animals for meat production, though, is just too Soylent Green for me to be comfortable with it, and I am concerned for the poor unfortunate animals whose cloning experience was unsuccessful. Dolly the sheep had multiple health issues which may --or may not -- have been linked to her cloned status, and birth defects are common in cloned animals.

Part of my unease stems from the FDA itself. After all, the FDA's record of late could use a little beefing up -- Vioxx and Avandia spring to mind.

All in all, this just gives me yet another reason to stay out of the supermarkets. We just received a yummy stash of porcine splendor from my pal who raised 2 pigs in his backyard. I'm really looking forward to pork chops, made the old-fashioned way.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Chickens caught sneezing by papparazi

Meg over at FutureHouse Farm posted the funniest photos of one of her hen's sneezing that I had to link to it. BTW, Meg's chickens are a similar cross to our Hubbards Golden Comet Chickens, notice how similar they look.

Snowed In

Hyacinth, Poppy and Iris (who should know better!) spent the night snowed-in their snowdome last night. Apparently, they were too freaked out by the snow to make the scary trip (all 5 yards) to Henbogle Coop.

Dan reported when he went out to shovel and secure the coop for the night that 2 of the girls were standing in the snow halfway between the snow dome and the coop, clearly attempting to fire a neuron and recall the way to the coop through the darkness and snow. Fortunately, Dan came along just in time to shoo them into the coop, but the other three were not departing the security of the snow dome.

All were were fine this morning. When they heard me coming with treats they came out to greet me. Poppy and Iris had a few beakfuls of treat then made a beeline for the preferred nestbox. Iris got there first, so Poppy stood on the edge of the box crowding Iris until I picked Poppy up and placed her in the next box. 10 minutes later, I had 3 additional fresh eggs, nice and warm.

Silly chickens. They are cute, but clearly have some challenges in the brain department.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Tamale Pie

Tonight's yummy dinner: Tamale Pie.

I made a bit pot of chili the other day. It is always a bit pot of chili, because how else can you put in all the things that make chili taste great? My typical batch includes onion, garlic, green peppers, red peppers if I have them, chipotle chiles, chili powder, corn, carrots and/or sweet potatoes, black beans, pinto beans, canned tomatoes (DelMonte diced with jalapenos), and a few other secret ingredients. This batch included some ground beef and green peas, and kidney beans instead of pintos.

Anyway, with a big pot of chili, that leaves some great options for morphing it into another dish, in this case, Tamale Pie.

The recipe, (such as it is):

2 c stone ground cornmeal
2 eggs
2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 c oil or melted butter
1 ish cup of yogurt or buttermilk
milk enough to make it the right consistency
1 ish cup shredded cheddar cheese

Leftover chili

Mix dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, oil, and yogurt. Add the dry ingredients, stir together, and add milk as needed.

Grease the sides of a casserole dish. For best result, use a dish with a fairly large surface area (my pictured dish is really too small but that casserole is magic). Spread the leftover chili evenly the casserole dish. Pour 1/2 the batter over the top, sprinkle half the cheese. Pour the remaining batter and spread over the cheese. Bake at 350 until the cornbread is done, test with a toothpick or cake tester. Remove from the oven and spread the remaining cheese over the top. Broil until melted and yummy (2+/- minutes). Serve and enjoy!

The wallop zone

Well, thus far we've received about 14" of snow. We are definitely in the wallop zone, as Dan so aptly described it. We're in the white band, just a bit NE of Portland.

Dan did not have school today, but I elected to drive in to work as I stayed home on Friday during our freezing rain/sleet/rain/yuk storm. After a short day in the office, I hit the road for home at about 3 pm, and it was a white knuckle drive for at least half the drive, but conditions improved as I got closer to home (and don't they always!)

Dan was out cleaning up when I arrived home, he looked like a Yeti, but at least the worst of it is done. I left him to it and made a nice bubbling hot dinner. The snow was white and fluffy, and covered up all the sand and muck, so I'm trying to make the best of it. If I recall correctly, I read somewhere that as of our last storm, we had received 36 inches of snow. Add today's 14"+ and thus far this winter, we've received over 50 inches. To date. And did I mention February and March are our big snow months?

Monday, January 07, 2008

The good life

A comfy seat, family, and a nearby woodstove, what more could a cat ask for? (Well, at a minimum, tuna, and catnip, plus a servant to administer it, and maybe some new cat toys, and a heated plush catbed for when the woodstove isn't running, oh, and fresh litter every day.)

From left, Luna, Luigi, and Yoda, who grace the home of our friends Bill and Karen with their presence.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The damn ice...

has created an ice dam, which has created a damn leak.

We still have not repaired the dining room ceiling where the upstairs bathroom sink sprung a leak all those months ago.

There is not a roof rake to be found within 25 miles. So, we drip. Thus far the leaking is confined to the ceiling above the kitchen sink, and the window above the sink.

Maybe one of us will be able to find a roof rake Monday near our respective workplaces.

Yeah, right. Maybe we need to investigate deicing cables before next winter.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Compare and contrast



Today was cold, in the low teens with gusty winds. Tomorrow is supposed to be colder. I'm ready for spring, bring it on!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Another 8 inches...and where will we put it?

The snowbank at this point is nearly over my head.

Our Adirondack chairs are reminding me that it will be a long time before we are using them.

I can hardly believe that is garden in front of the grape vine arbor. This summer it looked like this.

The snow is pretty....
The garden shed.

The hen's snow dome is holding up, but looking a bit strained under all this snow. I hope it makes it through the winter!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Fresh snow for the new year

True to the forecast, the snow began here at 12:50 pm, and it has been snowing steadily ever since. Dan's guessing that as of 6:30, we had 3 inches of snow, with the flakes becoming heavier and falling more rapidly as the evening goes on.

The forecast has flopped and flipped more than a presidential candidate before the Iowa caucus, but right now the prediction is for up to 9 inches, about half of early predictions for 12-14 inches. Will there be school tomorrow? Only time will tell at this point.

Yesterday, we spent a very pleasant new year's eve with friends Bill and Karen. After shoveling out yesterday morning, we picked Bill and Karen up in the afternoon and drove to the local independent movie house to see the movie Juno.

We all enjoyed it, as did most of the other patrons, judging from the laughs during the movie and smiles after in the lobby. We then grabbed dinner at a locally owned Mexican restaurant, then went back to Bill's and Karen's for a few games of cards and some celebratory champagne. Karen whipped up a dessert treat, "David Eyre's Pancake," an eggy, puffy pancake reminiscent of a Dutch Baby, but sprinkled generously with lemon juice and powdered sugar.

Curious, today I did a quick search on it and found it had been originally published in the NY Times by Craig Claiborne in 1966, and again fairly recently featured in the food section. More can be found about the pancake and David Eyre here and more, including the recipe below, from Eyre himself, here.

The David Eyre Pancake

2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (the New York Times recorded the nutmeg measure as a "pinch")
4 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
Juice of half a lemon, or more to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, lightly beat eggs. Add flour, milk and nutmeg and lightly beat until blended but still slightly lumpy.

Melt butter in a 12-inch skillet** with a heatproof handle over medium-high heat. (An 11-by-7-inch Pyrex dish will work equally well, according to Eyre.) When butter is very hot but not brown, pour in batter. Bake until pancake is billowing on the edges and golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Working quickly, remove pan from oven, and using a fine-meshed sieve, sprinkle with sugar. Return to oven for 1 to 2 minutes more.

Sprinkle with lemon juice. Serves 2 to 4.

** Eyre said a cast iron skillet made the pancake too crisp.

In the article, Eyre mentions the pancake is delicious served with macademia nuts, pineapple and/or mango. I'll have to try that!

Decidedly delicious. Thanks, Karen, and best wishes to all for a happy and healthy new year!