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Archive for November, 2010

Ah, the pre-Thanksgiving frenzy. My cheese pumpkin is baked, drained and ready to be made into a pie. I roasted the seeds with a little bit of salt and Ancho chili pepper, local since it was brought from New Mexico from my friend Pilar! (See below for recipe.)

But this morning, in the midst of my holiday cooking,  I got this action alert from the Cornucopia institute asking us all to call our Senators and tell them to hold firm on KEEPING the Tester-Hagan amendment part of the S.510, the Food Safety Modernization Act. The legislation will likely come up for a vote when they go back into session early next week.

Here’s the back story. (Via the Cornucopia Institute) Right now there is a bill in the Senate called the S.510, the Food Safety Modernization Act. According to the Cornucopia Institute, for over a year, the big Agribusiness trade organizations have supported passage of  this bill. From agribusiness’s perspective, the bill was a win-win: they could absorb the costs of the regulations because of their size; they’d gain good PR for supposedly improving food safety practices, gain some protection from legal liabilities—and hobble the competition—local food producers by crushing them with new regulatory burdens.

Their anti-competitive motivation was only speculation until now. But when the Senators agreed to include the Tester-Hagan amendment in the bill, to exempt small-scale direct-marketing producers from some of the most burdensome provisions, agribusiness revealed its true colors. Late last week, twenty agribusiness lobby groups fired off a letter stating that they would oppose the bill if it included the Tester-Hagan amendment.

The letter from the agribusiness groups states: “[B]y incorporating the Tester amendment in the bill, consumers will be left vulnerable to the gaping holes and uneven application of the law created by these exemptions. In addition, it sets an unfortunate precedent for future action on food safety policy by Congress that science and risk based standards can be ignored.”

The full letter can be viewed here:

Local producers who market directly to consumers — like the farmers at the greenmarkets in NY — are not the problem.  As Cornucopia Institute points out, “All of the major foodborne illness outbreaks have been caused by products that went through the long supply chains of corporate agribusiness, many emanating from factory-scale farms.”

By forcing small family run farms to  have to deal with the protocol and expenses set up for large factory farms, the government is putting these small farms at a disadvantage  and helping to squelch agribusiness’ competition.

Over the past few months I’ve spoken to many many farmers who have openly explained their farming practices. And what I’ve learned is that for many small farms, a commitment to farming green does not always come with an organic stamp. For many, that organic certification is too expensive to manage.

Not to be too corny, but a phone call to your senator could be a great way to say thanks to our local farmers this Thanksgiving. It’s also not a bad way to ensure that next year, we can have locally produced Cheese pumpkins and other produce for our holiday tables.

If you’re in NY and you want to call to voice your protest, here’s the info:

Kirsten E. Gillibrand, – (D – NY)
(202) 224-4451
email: gillibrand.senate.gov/contact/

Charles E. Schumer – (D – NY)
(202) 224-6542
email: schumer.senate.gov/new_website/contact.cfm

Or you can always call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or find your Senator’s website. Apparently, if the phone lines are busy, the best way to reach them is through the “contact” page on their website.

Chili-spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds from a pumpkin

1-2 tsp Ancho chili powder

1 tsp salt

Rinse and dry seeds. Lay out the seeds on a cookie tray. Mine were a bit wet, so I left them in the oven for 10 minutes before I added the spice. Then I added the remaining ingredients and tossed the seeds on the tray. Bake until you hear popping. Be careful not to burn.

Enjoy as a Thanksgiving appetizer. Should pair well with a glass of Prosecco and small talk about how you called or are planning on calling your Senator to tell them to hold firm on KEEPING the Tester-Hagan amendment part of the S.510, the Food Safety Modernization Act!

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When I was a kid, my mother made us carve our pumpkins on the back porch. One of my most tactile autumn memories is the feeling of pulling the slimey mess out of a big cavernous pumpkin on a cold autumn afternoon. I love squishy things. I love mess. It was a good job for me. She’d wash and roast them with salt. I loved, and I still love, roasted pumpkin seeds

But this is not a post about pumpkins seeds. It’s about seeds in general. And guess what, pumpkins don’t have a monopoly on the category.

In September, I was digging the big fat juicy seeds out of a butternut squash. I wondered, “Should I throw them into the stock? Or just into the compost?”  But they looked so much like pumpkin seeds, it seemed a shame to waste them. Actually, it is.

Turns out, you can eat any kind of winter squash seed. So far, they all taste pretty much the same. But I do find that Acorn squash seed have a slightly nuttier flavor. Every time I make some sort of squash, I roast the seeds and put them in a jar.  One of my kids loves them.

My next endeavor is to try to hull the pumpkins seeds raw.  According to a writer on Suite 101 Hulling seeds is not small chore. He cites this trick which he learned from Mexican women he knew. Apparently if you smash the seeds  with a rolling-pin and  dump them into a bowl of water, the hulls will float and the seeds will sink. Then you can  strain out the seeds from the hulls and use . I’ll let you know if it works.

In the meantime, here’s a basic recipe for classic oven roasted pumpkin seeds.

(via AllRecipes.com)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup winter squash seeds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Chili powder or Cumin (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
  2. After removing the seeds from the squash, rinse with water, and remove any strings and bits of squash. Pat dry, and place in a small bowl. Stir the olive oil and salt into the seeds until evenly coated. Spread out in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes, or until seeds start to pop. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheet before serving.
  4. Store in an air tight jar or in the refrigerator.

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Saturday, I had farmer’s market despair. I got there after noon and except for a few freezer burned scraps, there was no lettuce to be found. It felt foreboding — like a chilly wind on an autumn night that reminds you that pretty soon, winter’s going to barrel in like a freight train.

“No salad?” the babysitter asked when I wrote out instructions for the kids’ dinner on Monday morning. “No.” I answered. “I couldn’t buy it this weekend. I’ll buy some this week.”

She cocked her head at me and thought about what I was saying. Her English is still rough, so I’m sure everything gets processed in slow motion. Finally, a puzzled look settled on her face and she nodded politely as if she understood.

Last night we watched The Walking Dead. In the story, the last human survivors are in their camp in the mountains talked about shooting squirrels, foraging for wild mushrooms and worrying what will happen when the run out of that the last can of beans.  I thought, why am I simulating this crazy post apocalyptic experience in my head?  Ok, I know I have to bring up this Apocalypse is coming fear in therapy.  But on the other hand, why should not having lettuce be such a travesty. I was really in a panic until as I was writing this post I remembered that when I was a kid, in the winter, we used to eat coleslaw. Cabbages won’t go away for a while.  Again, I just need to shift how I think about what we eat and when. (And teach my kids to eat coleslaw!)

I have gotten into the habit of the farmer’s market on Saturday with a shot of veg from the CSA on Tuesday. Now that the CSA is over, I knew I had to do something differently.

This morning, John and I went to that Fort Washington Greenmarket on 168th street on the way to work.  Although there were under 10 vendors, there were a lot of farmers who weren’t in Inwood and the selection and quality was  amazing.  I was sad to learn the market closes for the season next week.

I was particularly impressed by the variety of apples.   One orchard from Goshen had lots of heirloom varieties that I’d never seen before.
“Russet apples?” John asked as I picked out an armful of decidedly not read apples. “Russet’s not just for potatoes?”

I never thought about it, but the word russet actually means yellowish brown or reddish-brown. And as John pointed out, it’s a Crayola crayon color.  In terms of taste, the Golden Russet apples are delicious. They’re honey sweet and firm with a nice hint of tartness. I really love them!

My most exciting find was a cheese pumpkin.

I made my first pumpkin pie from scratch last week. (The recipe came from my friend Cathy — it should be on her blog soon. ) I used a regular looking pumpkin I got from the Inwood market. It wasn’t a sugar pumpkin, but the farmer said it would work. And it wasn’t bad. The flavor was actually very similar to butternut squash. I also baked a plain old Jack O Lantern pumpkin they were selling for 99 cents by B’s school. Yes, it was a supermarket buy, but my sustainable rational was that if I didn’t buy it, it was going to get trashed. It was not delicious. The flesh was much paler, almost white, and when I sliced it into sections the pumpkin was as thin as a shell. It wasn’t inedible but it was bland. Mixed in with the other pumpkin it was fine.

The pumpkin that everyone on the blogs talk about as being the best for pies is the cheese pumpkin. And I found one today.

One  farmer , who said she used to make 8 pies every thanksgiving, said that my 8 lb pumpkin would make about 4 pies. It only cost me 6 bucks.

“More pumpkin?” John asked as I eyed the big yellow nut of a squash. Last week, in addition to the pie, I’d made cranberry pumpkin bread, which B has been eating every morning for breakfast! I told the kids it was muffin bread. B knew it was a mom trick, but he bought it. Z, couldn’t get past the tartness of the cranberries.

We were already laden down with bags by the time I spotted this prize.  Actually, John was laden down. The farmers laughed as I loaded him down even.

“Where’s he going to put it?” they chided.

“He’s the one who really love pumpkin pie,” I said.

“It’s true,” he said and carried it happily home.

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread
(based on my friend Emily’s recipe)

Ingredients
2.5 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
3 cups fresh pumpkin
1 cup oatmeal flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup fresh cranberries
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.

Beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs and pumpkin

Sift flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl. Add cinnamon.

Stir into wet mixture.

Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes.

Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Using sharp knife, cut around edge of loaves. Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.

Note: We ate one loaf and stuck the other in the freezer. It freezes beautifully! This morning we took out one, cut a slice and dropped it in the toaster for a great, quick, not a pop tart breakfast treat.

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My new compost seems to be doing much better. The worms are wiggling, fat and happy. And with the help of  a layer damp newspaper on the top, we have licked our  fruit fly problem. Tomorrow I will get more boxes from my father’s house and make that home-made worm box so that I can give the 2nd and 3rd grade class their rolly pollies and worms back.

In the meantime, I’m excited about the payback from my composting travails. As you see above, I am the proud farmer of a real live radish. In fact, my windowsill garden is doing great. With the exception of my thyme, my other herbs are thriving. The Swiss Chard my sister gave me last spring is growing healthy and strong. As the summer heat grew more chilly, the Swiss Chard really perked up. And even inside, it’s doing great. In early September, I planted a circle of radishes around the chard. And last week, I saw a red and white top starting to poke out. This weekend I hope to have my first harvest.

I read that with radishes you can stagger the plantings. So when I emptied the fruit-fly infested compost bin, I used my pot of compost to plant lettuce and more radishes. The seedlings are definitely sprouting and I’m very proud.

Is growing food in your living room urban farming? I’m not sure. I want to look into growing tomotos. But beyond that, I’m not sure how much more I’ll do. So for the moment,  fresh eggs or no fresh eggs, we are not getting a pet chicken.

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According to the SunChips website, the EPA states that 26% of the municipal waste stream going to landfills is organic material that could have been composted. But I’m not sure I really believe SunChips, because for one thing they took  most of the “compostable bags” off the market for being loud. And despite the Sun Chips claim that those “compostable bags” would break down in 12 weeks, my own test SunChips bag didn’t. I realized this last Saturday when cleaned out my worm condo.

For two weeks I piled mounds of  shredded newspaper onto my gorgeous, stinky compost. But the fruit fly epidemic in my kitchen didn’t go away. When I opened the box, and turned the compost, the soil was teaming with tiny wiggly larvae. On top of the flies, I was also discovering some sort of silver fish with long wiggly bodies and pinchers at the top crawling along the floorboards and up the walls. Ok, they may have been smaller than a bit of yarn. But still, it was one too many creepy crawly things in the kitchen.

So I had to take drastic measures.

First, I emptied all the compost. When I was done, I had a huge flower-pot full or rich soil. I planted some lettuces and radish seeds, covered the pot with plastic wrap and put it on the fire escape. I hoped the cold would kill the fruit flies without killing the seedlings. It seems to have worked.

Then on Saturday morning, I dumped the not-quite-finished but infested compost into a garbage bag, painstakingly pulling out all the worms and rolly polly’s I could find. I’m happy to report that many of the worms were fat and happy.  I made them a temporary bed in a Chinese food container with holes cut in the top, and gave the worm bin a hot shower bath and then left it outside overnight. Again, I hoped that whatever potential infestation the hot water didn’t cure, the cold air might. (I don’t think fruit flies like the cold).

As I was I was sorting out worms, I wondered what would Michael Pollan  would say about it all. In The Botany of Desire, he  makes a compelling argument that things in the natural world are using us an evolutionary stepping stone. Well, I say, if the worms have learned to use me as an evolutionary tool to thrive and conquer the world, I hope they chow down a lot of garbage in the process

The whole worm relocation process took over two hours. I basically I gave up most of a Saturday morning  and it really tested my resolve. The regular kitchen garbage can was sitting there, eager to help me out. It would have been so easy to just send the flies to the landfill. But I didn’t. Instead I hauled the bag of compost to my dad’s house in the suburbs.

My dad is in the process of moving out of the house that I grew up in. I’ve been having a lot of issues around the garbage that cleaning out a house filled with 50 plus years of flotsam and jetsam creates. His inclination is to toss a lot into the regular trash. I have been trying to collect fabric and sort out stuff that can be recycled. (Anyone know where to recycle old trophies in NYC?)

His real estate agent seems to think that new is better — more valuable. So they’ve taken out a lot of “old” hardware, lighting fixtures, and replaced it with shiny, new, ugly stuff.  Even the plantings in the yard are being “made new.” Hence an over  fifty year old Rhododendron may be dug up because it’s blocking light in the living room. Whatever happened to mature plantings being a selling point? My father also said he plans to have the compost pile removed. I think his exact words were:  “My agent said nobody wants a pile of shit in the backyard.”

Ironically, he told me that last bit of news after I had just dumped the compost into the big pile in the back. I’m sure I looked horrified.

We always composted garden scraps when I was a kid. I had such visceral memory of the four by four wooden frames with a thick screen stapled that my father made and used to sift out soil that my mother added to her begonias and tomato plants. We also  had a wormy apple tree in the backyard and an Italian plum tree that usually did better and produced about an apron full of sweet egg-shaped fruit. Both trees are both, but I remember the experience of growing and eating food from the backyard. How much has that affected me and all the crazy stuff I’m attempting to do in my NYC apartment?

True, composting is not exactly easy. But it’s not the hardest thing in the world. And the truth is, the only sure fire way to make your organic garbage disappear is to compost it. It’s not new but it’s pretty valuable.  My father promised me that his lawn people will be compost our big pile of shit from the backyard and not throw it in the trash.  And unlike SunChips, I do believe him.


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This kid who won’t eat beans. He won’t eat potatoes unless they are french fried. He won’t eat most vegetables. What did I do wrong?

When I first started to rethink the way I chose to eat, I was thinking mostly about myself. I’ve certainly thought about kid food, but I haven’t really incorporated the level of restrictions I was applying to my diet to my kid’s diet. I did cut out a lot of processed foods because I started to be aware of the amount of packaging a box of organic granola bars and organic pop tarts created.

Moving away from processed food has been more of a symptom of my attempt to eat sustainably and less of a focus. And there are a lot of kid shortcuts I haven’t eliminated. For example, I make my own bread (thanks to a great Irish Soda bread recipe and the bread machine) but I buy bags of store-bought pasta. I could make pasta, but wow, I think we would be eating a lot less pasta.  I guess I should give it a try.

Right now, I plan two menus for every dinner. (Two choices if I’m lucky.) One is a kid’s choice — which frequently involves an animal-based protein (hence the search for grass-fed local beef and affordable pastured chicken). The other is grown up meal, which tends to be vegetarian and locally sourced.

My biggest kid food success since I’ve started is that I got my older son and his best friend to eat kale chips. (I used a What Would Cathy Eat recipe and left out the spice).  Tonight, I’ve brought back carrot soup which used to be a bi-weekly staple. But it must have been off the menu for a while because when I suggested it the kids didn’t know what I was talking about.

“Hey,” I said to Blaise, “I think I’m going to start making that carrot soup you used to like.”

“What carrot soup?”

“You remember. I used to make carrot soup for you guys. You liked it.”

“Mom,” Blaise said. “When’s the last time you made food for us during the week?”

Ouch.

I stumbled upon a websites that has made me rethink my you eat your stuff, we’ll eat ours way of living. Table of Promise is by a mom (who happens to live in my neighborhood) who, in the last six, months has gotten her family off processed food. I really applaud her efforts. And I’ve been checking in with her blog for inspiration.

I worry that my kids don’t eat adult food because I don’t eat dinner with them enough. I often have to work late.  It’s hard to ask a babysitter to force your kids to eat my friend Cathy’s recipe for Stuffed kabocha squash with quinoa and chickpeas — which is on the menu for John and I this week.

That being said,  I am committing to making getting home for dinner more of a priority. And, over the next 6 months, I’d like to discover at least 1 meal (other than pasta) everyone will eat at the same time.

Wish me luck, and send in your suggestions. Please!

RECIPE: Kid-Friendly Carrot Soup

1/c cup of chopped onion
1 stalk celery (chopped)
1 small piece of fresh ginger (minced)
1 cup of cubed apple (about a 1 apple)
2 cups fresh cauliflower florets (optional)*
5 cups cubed carrots (tops removed, peel on)
1/2 stick butter
2 tbsp olive oil
5 cups of vegetable stock or 4 cups of vegetable stock and 1 cup apple cider
Salt and pepper to taste.

Saute the onion in a half a stick of butter and the olive oil. Add chopped celery. Cook for about five minutes until the onion and celery are translucent. Add the ginger, apple and cauliflower. Saute until the apple is soft. Add about five cups of chopped carrots and cook for about ten minutes checking to make sure nothing burns.

Add the stock and cider. Cook for another twenty minutes to let the flavors blend. Puree with a hand blender or in batches in a regular blender.

Makes about 8 servings.

* Add any vegetable that you want to sneak into their diet. Cauliflower is good because it will not overwelm the taste of the carrots (and it’s still in season). But you could probably use zucchini or another mild vegetable as well.

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Ok. Halloween is one of those days that gets a cultural pass. It’s pretty tough to eat local and not make garbage and still indulge in gathering bags of candy. But if you’ve already indulged in the day’s bacchanal of mass consumption (which I thoroughly enjoyed) here’s a few tips that can make you feel good during the post Halloween sugar coma.

1) Terracycle your candy wrappers.
I was happy to find out that Terracycle will take any sized candy wrappers. The Muscota new School has a candy brigade, so send in your wrappers with a local kid if you know one. If not, check Terracylcle for other locations.

(One or two websites, suggested buying Fair trade candy. I wish I had thought of that before today.  I need to do that next year. Any one know of a local source?

Here’s something depressing. Apparently a lot of the cocoa that goes into our chocolate comes from farms where children are forced to work according to this recent article in the Baltimore Sun.

2) Eat your pumpkin
Pumpkins can be baked and eaten like any other squash. Even Jack O Lanterns, if you want. Just trim off any wax and pop the non-scorched bits in the oven. Many websites said that the large carving type pumpkins are not good for eating, but I baked one last week and added it to some butternut squash. I thought it tasted fine.

I told my kids that if you eat a Jack O Lantern before Halloween, it keeps the scary creatures away. (They didn’t buy it. But it added a nice pre-Halloween ghoulish joking to dinner.)

3) Save your costume.
With a little imagination, this year’s old costume can become something awesome next year.  Or save them for a costume swap.

One Fair Trade Candy Resources I found online:

The Natural Candy Store
Cute earth balls and pumpkin candies. It looks like the bulk  stuff is not that expensive.

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