Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas decorations

Merry Christmas! I hope everyone is having a lovely day. I'm taking pictures and blogging while waiting for the English muffins to rise, which suits my definition of lovely quite nicely.

My goal of this blog is to help improve my experience of the seasons year over year. That worked for Christmas decorations, I think. I blogged about them last year on Christmas Day, too. Maybe that will be a tradition!

We skipped all the outdoor decorations this year. All I miss is the experience of seeing Christmas lights as we drive up to the house in the evening. Decorating the garage with lights would solve that problem.

The doors are better with red bows as I thought they would be.

We put the creche under the tree this year, the tradition in R's family. Joining it are the Christmas village that my mother had under her tree the last few Christmases and a train set that Rick gave his father.

We decorated the railings this year with green garland and red bows. We're thinking that next year they need lights.

An unexpected decoration this year was the water lily. R wanted to see if he could overwinter a tropical water lily in our bay window. Not only is it surviving, it bloomed at Christmas for us!

The English muffins are ready! This recipe makes a tasty muffin, but it takes at least twice as long to cook as the recipe states.

Christmas Eve supper

This was a last-minute menu, so I have no idea whether it will become a tradition. But it was very successful.

The main course was Pollo Diablo from the Weber Big Book of Grilling. This recipe has the marinade right -- a blend of fruit juices and spices, particularly red pepper flakes. I used about half the red pepper flakes that it called for and it was plenty spicy for us. But we used the method recommended in the book -- we butterflied a whole chicken and marinated it. Then we put one skewer through the legs and another through the wings and breasts to keep it open. R grilled it for about an hour and it was delicious with just the right amount of heat.

While the chicken was grilling, I made risotto following the recipe in the Joy of Cooking, but with less butter.

And we served that with a green salad tossed with dried cranberries, toasted pumpkin seeds, and slivered carrots. The salad was a dry run for the one I'm bringing out to the family gathering today. It worked! I made up the dressing recipe:

Orange-Rosemary Salad Dressing
1/4 c olive oil
2 T fresh rosemary, chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press
1/4 c cider vinegar
5 drops of habanero cider vinegar (I used Blue Heron Orchard's)
1/4 c orange juice
salt and pepper
2 T coarse mustard (I used Sandhill Farm's)
1 T agave nectar

Heat the oil and the rosemary over medium heat until it's bubbly all over. Turn off the heat and stir in the garlic. Allow that concoction to steep while everything else is prepped.

Put the other ingredients into a food processor or blender and process a few seconds until mixed. Add the oil and herbs a little at a time while continuing to process. Process until smooth.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Vilsak as Secretary of Agriculture

The Governor of Iowa as Secretary of Agrigulture was not exactly the change we need in the opinion of people in the sustainable food movement. But, they seem to be largely looking at the bright side. Who knew that they could get over 50,000 signatures on a last minute petition? The people behind the petition, Food Democracy Now, have already moved on to suggesting choices for the head of USDA and many of the other bloggers and activists are starting to think about what else that 50,000 people could be doing to influence food policy in the United States and around the world. The Eat Local Challenge blog has a short list of responsive pieces.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More candidates for Secretary of Agriculture

Michael Pollan didn't want the job (he's happy in his current position). There is a really fine interview of him on line at the Bill Moyers Journal website. Michael Pollan and many other people whose names you might recognize (Alice Waters, Rick Bayless, Wendell Berry, Frances Moore Lappe, Marion Nestle) signed a petition proposing a slate of possible candidates for Secretary of Agriculture. You can sign it, too! Via Adventures in Eating Locally.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

First snow and first novel

We woke up to our first real snowfall of the season today and I finished my NaNoWriMo novel this afternoon. I finished at the big weekly write-in in Clayton. Among other things, I heard stories about winter weather at the end of past NaNoWriMos and how that helped or hindered people's completion of their novels.

I'm looking forward to NaNoWriMo as an annual event in my spiral of seasons. Writing a novel is a wonderful way to spend the month of November.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Organic matter in the making

We had a beautiful and late autumn color season this year. And when the leaves decided to fall, they went all at once. Since then, R's been working on gathering them up. He mowed a few more in this year than last. Or, at least, that was the plan. But the pile actually looks bigger this year, so maybe not.

We used all of 2007's leaf mold pile a couple of weeks ago when we prepared our two active garden beds for winter. So, we're feeling pretty good about the sustainability and usefulness of this project -- even if it does involve many hours of dirty work to make the pile.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Michael Pollan for Secretary of Agrigulture

I just signed a petition asking President-Elect Obama to appoint Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food) as Secretary of Agriculture. The more I think about the idea, the more I like it!

via Eat. Drink. Better.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

NPR on the Farm

Farrar Out Farm, where I buy my chickens and eggs, is featured on a story on NPR: Missouri Farming Couple Worries About The Future. Be sure to check out the Photo Gallery.


Today is our last pick-up for our CSA subscription this year. We really enjoyed it and will definitely be signing up for next year. It took some adjustments in the way we plan and cook meals, but they were usually tasty adjustments and even the failures were fun experiments.

Family Harvest is an all-produce CSA run by two farms: YellowWood in Hermann and Lee Farms in Truxton. We got mostly vegetables, but also all the watermelon we could eat in the summer and 2-4 baking apples each week of September and October.

They offer full shares and half shares. Our half share was plenty for two of us, stopping just short of overwhelming. In the summer, there were times when nearly every meal needed to include something from the CSA box in order to keep up. The fall has been just as abundant, but things keep better -- we'll be eating sweet potatoes, potatoes, and squash from our CSA boxes for several weeks to come.

The CSA has been my single best way to save money on food in 2008. For a half share, it worked out to about $1.75 a pound. That's the advertised rate and is a good price to pay for produce even at the grocery store, much less locally grown using organic methods. Since there were weeks we got more than the advertised ten pounds in our box, the cost turns out to be somewhat lower and an even better deal.

And, the CSA was my longest running healthy habit of 2008. Getting a steady stream of produce in the kitchen meant that I consumed a steady stream of healthy fruits and vegetables.

Family Harvest plans to take 65 more subscriptions next year than they did this year, so there is an opportunity for new members. They are working on the 2009 brochure and will be mailing it soon. If you want me to put you in on the mailing list, email your snail mail address to my yahoo email (joyweesemoll) and I'll send it to Family Harvest.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


With two nights of freezing temperatures predicted, I did my final harvest on Sunday. My garden did pretty well this year, given how little energy I really put into it. I only got three zucchini which is kind of embarrassing. Who can't grow zucchini? My bell peppers were pretty much a bust, too. I wanted to wait for them to ripen to red peppers, but most of them rotted on the vine before they got that ripe. I got gobs of jalapenos, though. I had most fun with the eggplant. My two plants provided a steady, but not overwhelming, supply of small to medium eggplants, mostly used in grilled eggplant and salsa and eggplant scramble.

My big project on Sunday was making pesto from the rest of my basil. I made pesto last year just before a freeze, too. That's a nice seasonal tradition -- I like having a reason to pay attention to first frost warnings. I am amazed at how much basil grows at the end of the growing season. We pretty well decimated my three plants in July and August during tomato season, but I had enough basil this week to freeze four batches of pesto!
I used the pesto in an apple salad I took to a gathering Sunday evening and it was a hit.
3 Gold Rush apples from Centennial Farms, chopped and tossed with lime juice
1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts
All tossed with a made-on-the-fly dressing of pesto, yogurt cheese, and apple cider. It was yummy, especially with the chicken that my brother marinated and grilled.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Election season

It must be nearly November of a leap year (aka Presidential Election Year) if a former president is speaking at the local high school. A friend and I are going to hear President Bill Clinton tomorrow night at Kirkwood High School for the Change We Need Rally. I wonder if he'll be well-briefed enough to address that we're a grieving and healing community.

I'm a little bit more than half way through the book for the Book Club of the Community for Understanding and Healing. This month's selection is Other People's Children by Lisa Delpit. It's a book by an educator for educators. At first, I was worried that it would be too technical, but it's been fascinating. I had to work out the definition of "basal" in teacher talk, but otherwise the jargon has been limited. I've learned a lot. This will be an excellent basis for discussion on Thursday night.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

November means NaNoWriMo

For thousands of people, October has a seasonal significance beyond being the peak fall color season. It's the time of year when you prepare for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month in November. Participants eagerly await the opening of the forums on the NaNoWriMo website in late September or early October to reaquaint themselves with writing buddies from previous years and to greet the NaNoWriMo newbies.

This year, I'm a NaNoWriMo newbie. I considered participating the previous two years, but this is the first time I've actually committed myself far enough to sign up on the site and start posting to the forums. If I enjoy the event as much as others have, I expect to make this part of my annual observance of fall.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Where do MO candidates stand?

The Candidate Forum on the Environment on October 6 from 7-9pm at Central Reform Congregation (Kingshighway and Waterman) is a good place to ask questions about sustainable agriculture, urban forestry, and other environmental issues. My insider contact for this event says that a number of Missouri House and Senate candidates have indicated that they will be participating including ones from the City, Mid-County and Kirkwood-Webster area.

And there's a cool You Tube video to go with it!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

OLS Week 13: Oops!

I had perfect attendance in the One Local Summer Challenge until the very last week. I ate several meals of local foods, but didn't get around to blogging any of them -- most were uninteresting since they were dishes I'd already described.

Oh well, this gives me a chance to reflect on what I've learned.

New ways of cooking. I told someone recently that instead of asking "What's for dinner?" we've learned to ask "What needs to be eaten?" Besides a new way of menu planning, that also implies being a much more flexible cook. Eggplant in salsa was invented on the fly--we've had it once since and it's likely to appear several more times in our meals before my garden and the CSA box run out of eggplants, tomatoes, and jalapenos.

New foods and new recipes. Edamame, delicata squash, blackberries, beets, purslane, sunflower shoots, soft goat cheeses, zucchini prepared raw in a slaw, cantaloupe sorbet, potato salad from tiny potatoes -- and bigger ones later in the season.

New experiences. Grinding flour at home, freezing our own sorbets and ice cream, working with sourdough starter, growing vegetables, subscribing to a CSA, experiencing the sensual pleasures of several different Farmers Markets.

An old problem. Or a couple of them. Sometimes, I can be a perfectionistic to the point that if it can't be perfect, it might as well not happen at all. Sometimes, particularly in July and August, my brain cells deactivate in the presence of high mold and pollen counts. The two together meant that there were times in the last couple of months where I had the irrational mindset of "if I can't eat local, I might as well eat junk."

My transition to all natural foods happened last fall and winter. The local foods were an addition in the spring. What shocked me about suddenly consuming items from convenience stores and fast food restaurants this summer was how much garbage it generated. I realized that my choice to eat natural foods was a big leap in both my health and the health of the environment. The choice to eat many local foods, while a significant contributor to both health and environment, is not the most important thing for me -- it's a good addition on top of a strong foundation of eating natural foods.

So, I will continue eating local by enjoying Farmers Markets, resubscribing to my CSA, and establishing a larger vegetable garden. But I probably won't be joining any more local food challenges for awhile. I need to focus on my foundation of natural foods.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

OLS Week 12: from my garden!

Most of the summer, I was quite certain that I wouldn't get any produce from the vegetables I planted. Between poor soil and hungry rabbits, my plants were all stunted. But, it turns out that even stunted plants will manage to put out some fruit. We have fairy tale eggplants and jalapeno peppers to harvest and I have high hopes for the bell peppers as well.

Today's lunch entree was a potato (Yukon Gold from our CSA) topped with the leftover side dish from a couple of nights ago -- grilled eggplant in salsa, which turned out to be essentially ratatouille with a Mexican accent. R grilled 5 baby eggplants from our garden while I made the salsa.

I started by roasting 4 roma tomatoes (CSA) and 2 jalapenos (our garden) in the toaster oven. I would skip this step if I were in a hurry or trying to turn 10 pounds of tomatoes into salsa for the freezer, but I do think that the roasting added a dark, richness to the salsa. When the vegetables had colored on two sides, I let them cool slightly while browning onions (CSA) and garlic (farmers market). I chopped the tomatoes coarsely and threw them in the sauce pot with the onions and garlic to stew for awhile. I waited for the jalapenos to cool and then cut them into tiny pieces and put them in with tomatoes to cook some more. I eventually added some cumin and salt an pepper.

When R brought in the eggplant, I removed about 2/3 of the salsa from the pan to use later and coarsely chopped the eggplant, then stirred it into the remaining salsa. Voila! A nice side dish with grilled chicken and cool potato salad. The coolness of the potato salad was especially important because this salsa is spicy! Apparently, my garden jalapenos are hotter than the ones I've been getting at the farmers markets recently.

So, for a quick lunch, I microwaved a potato, topped it with the leftover eggplant and salsa, and served it alongside the fruit I got from a sampler box at the Tower Grove Farmers Market this morning -- Asian pear and two kinds of plums. Some handy reading material cut the glare of the sunroom so that I could get my photo.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

OLS Week 11: New Sides

We eat a lot of grilled chicken in the summer. What's different this summer is the astounding of variety of side dishes we're getting from our CSA box.

Accompaning our local chicken (Farrar Out Farm, Kirkwood Farmers Market) tonight were two new vegetables to us, both from our CSA, delicata squash and edamame. I marinated the squash in soy sauce, maple syrup, and sesame oil before handing it over to R to grill with the chicken. Taking the advice of our farmer, I cooked the edamame pods in water on the stove -- setting the timer for five minutes at the moment the water started to boil. After they cooled, I popped the beans from the pods then tossed them in a dressing made with soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds I toasted in a dry skillet.

It was all delicious!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

OLS Week 10: Using Summer Squash

I was asked yesterday by a fellow subscriber to my CSA for summer squash recipes. It's that time of year. Old joke: It's safe to leave your car unlocked in small towns in Missouri, like the one I grew up in -- except during July and August when you'll return to find your back seat filled with zucchini.

The link I sent was this Summer Squash Slaw, so I decided to make it again. I made it with all yellow squash tonight since I didn't have any zucchini. It's somewhat prettier with the green, but tastes just as good with only yellow. The squash was from my CSA box, the onion and red pepper came from tonight's Maplewood Farmers Market. I used local honey instead of sugar in the dressing and some habanero apple cider vinegar from Blue Heron Orchard (bought at Local Harvest Grocery).

Guess where else there is zucchini hiding in this meal? One of our favorite bread recipes is Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread made in the bread machine. I've long since changed the proportions of whole wheat and white flours -- I use 2 cups of whole wheat and 1 1/2 cup of white. Also we use gobs of fresh rosemary from our deck. But this loaf is special in two ways.

The zucchini came in one of my early CSA boxes before I'd quite got the knack of consuming the vegetables as they came. I grated and froze several cups of mixed zucchini and yellow squash. I froze each cup in a separate small container. Once frozen, I could dump the large squash cubes in a single ziploc bag for more efficient storage. Now, I thaw one cube at a time for this recipe.

Tonight's new addition was to use some sourdough starter in place of some of the flour. While I'm experimenting with sourdough, I find I'm throwing a lot of starter on the compost pile. One way to use it instead of lose it is in yeast breads like the Sourdough Honey Whole Wheat bread I made for this OLS post. Since my starter is whole wheat, I substituted a cup of starter for a cup of the whole wheat flour. Those of you experienced with sourdough starter will know that I should have also reduced the liquid -- I ended up adding quite a bit of flour in the first kneading. But the loaf rose very nicely and has a subtle tang of sourdough.

Rounding out supper is the sandwich filling -- chicken fresh from Farrar Out Farm at tonight's market. I cut the chicken, deboned the breasts (see my post about How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Whole Chickens), and marinated them in olive oil, fresh lime juice, and mustard. Then R did his magic on the grill. A nice meal!

Friday, August 1, 2008

OLS Week 9: CSA Hash

As our CSA box becomes more bountiful every week, I'm finding it helpful to eat vegetables three meals a day. There are two breakfast dishes I eat that can incorporate lots of vegetables.

One vegetable-laden breakfast is a scrambled egg with sauteed vegetables. The method is the same as I used for this Asparagus Scramble, but in this season I've been making it with basil and tomato along with diced eggplant that I've roasted in the toaster oven. Eggs and eggplant make for quite an elegant breakfast.

Much more rustic is today's One Local Summer challenge breakfast: potato hash. I diced a purple potato from last night's CSA box and sauteed it in olive oil. While that was cooking to a golden brown, I diced other vegetables from last week's CSA box that I want to clear out -- part of an onion, a whole yellow squash, and a whole green pepper. At the last moment, I put in some chopped tomato just long enough to warm it up. The tomato was from the Farmers Market but we got several in the CSA box last night, so I'm flush with tomatoes right now. Add some salt and pepper and this is a very satisfying breakfast and a great way to consume local produce.

Besides potatoes of many colors, green pepper, yellow squash, onion, and tomatoes, our CSA box this week contained green beans, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and eggplant.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

OLS Week 8: Two meals in one day

I had two local meals yesterday for the One Local Summer challenge.

At lunch, I enjoyed Mexican Purslane Stuffing stuffed into half of a giant zucchini from our CSA box. The recipe isn't that great. Am I right to suspect the authenticity of a Mexican dish seasoned with soy sauce? And, it never says when to put the purslane in -- I chopped it and dumped in after the tomatoes. I'm not an experienced enough cook to know how to cook an egg without scrambling it. Since I knew I was going to put it under the broiler after stuffing the zucchini and I trust my source for eggs, I erred on the undercooked side and it seemed to work.

I'll make it again the next time we have a giant zucchini with these changes: sautee the purslane in the skillet with the onions and garlic just before adding the tomato instead of steaming it, skip the soy sauce (the dish was plenty wet from the Cherokee Purple tomato), use the chili pepper as suggested (I didn't have a local -- and safe -- pepper so I just used black pepper yesterday), and put a little cheese on top.

We fixed supper entirely on the grill, which is one of my favorite ways since I do very little of the work. This was our first sweet corn of the season! A lot of seasonal eating is new to us since this is our first year of One Local Summer, but we both have enough of a rural background to know that you only eat sweet corn in season. It was worth the 10 month wait -- especially since we ate it nearly every day during the season last year!

The squash is another Less is More recipe (explained in yesterday's post, hosted by One Hot Stove for the Monthly Blog Patrol originated by The Spice Cafe). Grilled Marinated Summer Squash is easy and the lemon juice is a surprisingly nice touch (if not local -- I'm considering that a spice for this dish). I've made it twice now and both times I started marinating it in the morning to cook in the evening -- overnight seems like overkill. The recipe is from the Kitchen Gardeners International blog, a blog I've been really enjoying even while my kitchen garden this year is mostly failing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Less is More -- Blackberry Sauce

I bought blackberries at the Farmers Market last week. My single memory of fresh blackberries is picking one off a bush in my Grandma's yard and popping it in my mouth. It tasted like dirt. So, I didn't really no what to expect.

These blackberries are mouth-pucker tart but wonderful -- more of a candy experience than a fruit one. I've been eating them one berry at a time, but I was worried that I wouldn't get through them fast enough.

So, along comes a blackberry sauce recipe from Alanna at Kitchen Parade. In the picture, I'm adding the second half of the blackberries to the macerated mix. Alanna served it over vanilla frozen yogurt. It's delicious over chocolate frozen yogurt, as well.

This qualifies me for the Less is More challenge issued by Nupur (who makes amazing spring rolls) at One Hot Stove to make a dish from another blog that has five or fewer ingredients. "Less is More" is Nupur's theme for the monthly blog event, Monthly Blog Patrol started by The Spice Cafe blog -- the idea being that there's a new reason every month to go look at food blogs.

I may have to buy some more blackberries to try this blackberry sorbet from another food blogger, Kelly at SOUNDING MY BARBARIC GULP!

Friday, July 18, 2008

OLS Week 7: Simple Sandwich Supper

Our One Local Summer challenge meal this week was last night's supper, at the end of a long day that included picking up our CSA box (this week's contents: zucchini, yellow squash, cucumber, broccoli, onions, green beans, green peppers, Oriental eggplant, and carrots).

We marinated the skinned chicken breasts that I de-boned on Wednesday in some oil with garlic and onion--all but the oil from Farmers Markets.

Meanwhile, I made a cabbage salad. The cabbage was from last week's CSA box and the carrots from this week's. The home-made Asian style dressing had no local ingredients, but I've figured out that with that dressing R will eat more than his share of cabbage. I composted part of our first cabbage, so I consider that a good trade if it means we eat more of our cabbage.

R grilled the chicken and I served it on toast made from the Sourdough Honey Whole Wheat Bread that I baked on Wednesday. This was my first 100% whole wheat loaf made with homeground flour and it turned out fine. The sandwich also had heirloom tomato and a "special sauce" made with mayo (lightened with yogurt cheese), mustard, and local honey.

Dessert was my first all-local concoction made in the ice cream machine -- a cantaloupe sorbet that was simply pureed cantaloupe and honey.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Virtual Summer Vacation

My brother is blogging!

We're not planning any trips until the old house is sold, or at least, ready to go on the market. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my brother's Fly Fishing Adventure through his blog. Stories, pictures, and the kind of ponderings that seem to only happen on vacation. He's traveling in the American West and the scenery is beautiful.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

CSA Box, Week 4

This week's box has:
  • one head of cabbage
  • two zucchini
  • two yellow squash
  • one cucumber
  • one onion
  • one bell pepper
  • two broccoli stalks

We should do all right with that. When I left to get this week's box, our produce drawer was nearly empty! We're getting better at this. It helped that we had company for lunch today and I had an excuse to fix Beet Roesti with Rosemary and Summer Squash Slaw.

A vital CSA coping technique seems to be to have a couple of dishes in our repertoire that don't really need a recipe and can be fixed with any number of vegetables. For us right now, those two dishes are fried rice and pasta.

For fried rice, we marinate a chicken breast cut in small slices in soy sauce, about a half teaspoon of tapioca starch, and whatever else sounds good for at least ten minutes. In the meantime, I chop up the vegetables we're using into small pieces, loosen leftover rice with a fork, and make up a sauce from the various bottles of Chinese sauces we have in the refrigerator (soy, hoisin, hot sesame oil, sweet chili, etc) . The cooking process may vary a bit with the vegetables but it usually goes like this:

  1. Stir fry the chicken until opaque, then remove it from the wok and reserve.
  2. Stir fry the vegetables, starting with the toughest and ending with the most tender.
  3. Stir the reserved chicken and sauce into the vegetables.
  4. Stir the rice into everything else and heat until the rice is warm.

The pasta dish varies even more. It usually starts with a half package of the fresh pasta that I buy at Tower Grove Farmers Market from Mangia Italiano and an 8-oz can of tomato sauce I buy at the supermarket (although I just bought some at Whole Foods that had a better ingredient list). While the pasta cooks, I saute any aromatics (chopped) I have on hand, then any vegetables (chopped or sliced) I want to use up, and add lots of fresh basil from the garden. Then the tomato sauce goes in and I stir it up and simmer it on low heat, maybe adding some dry herbs and spices or some honey. If the pasta takes too long and the sauce starts to dry up, I'll add some low sodium V8 juice to keep things saucy.

With those two dishes in our repertoire, often served on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, I can make a big dent in what's left in the produce drawer before our new weekly box arrives on Thursday.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Home-Ground Flour and Sourdough

A more prudent person would have separated these into two separate adventures, but home-ground flour and active doubling-itself sourdough arrived in my kitchen on the same day, so what's an excited baker to do? Bake no-yeast bread with home-ground flour, of course.

Home-Ground Flour

Alanna Kellogg, of A Veggie Venture and Kitchen Parade, offered me a "real flour experience." That turned out to mean a large tin of wheat and a grinder. We made the exchange over a lovely lunch in downtown Kirkwood yesterday afternoon and I came home with a new toy for the kitchen.

Grinding a cup or so of flour turned out to be easy and quick. The flour texture is varied which makes beautiful flecks in the dough.
Sourdough Starter
For a couple of days, I'd been maintaining some of my starter (also originally from Alanna) using the directions at the Sourdough Home website. By yesterday afternoon, I had gobs of the stuff growing and bubbling in a bowl on the counter. The Sourdough Home site is all about making bread without yeast--all the rise comes from the sourdough starter. That's been my goal since this spring when I started thinking about how one would make an entirely local loaf of bread -- it would have to be sourdough to avoid the use of commercial yeast. The ultimate bread for that purpose would be A 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread, but I used some discretion and didn't go for that as my first no-yeast and first home-ground flour loaf.
Black Canyon Sourdough Bread
Instead, I started with a loaf that would use a high percentage of non-local bread flour and only a little of the home-ground whole wheat flour: Black Canyon Sourdough Bread. I made just half a recipe because of my other challenge. Besides all the new tools and techniques, "fix the oven" has not yet made it to the top of the priority list. So, I needed to do the final rise and bake in the bread machine, which will only bake one loaf at a time. The photo is of the dough going in for its final rise.

It turned out surprisingly well. The bread has a nice texture and that distinguishing sourdough flavor. The only problem was from the bread machine. The loaf was small so only the side and bottom crusts were browned. The top of the loaf is pale. Next time, I might try using a 3/4 recipe instead of a half one to see if that improves the baking.

...and some English Muffins, too

That bread only used a tiny amount of the sourdough starter, so I mixed up some Sourdough English Muffins last night, too. The recipe calls for all white flour, but I snuck in a cup of my home-ground flour. I didn't have an English Muffin cutter so I cut my dough into twelve large squares with a knife. They still look and taste like an English Muffin.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

OLS: Accidentally Local

I realized as I was fixing my first meal of the week, Sunday morning breakfast, that it was all local even though I hadn't planned it that way. I'd just been thinking "What's for breakfast?" The answer turned out to be a scrambled egg (Farrar Out Farm--they are currently at Maplewood Farmers Market on Wednesday and are moving around on Saturday to figure out where the best place is for them, but this week they will be at Clayton Farmers Market) with purslane (my garden), garlic scape (Centennial Farms selling at Tower Grover Farmers Market), and zucchini (CSA box) plus strawberries (Clayton Farmers Market -- there's a booth there with a patch planted in everbearing strawberries) and toast (the Sourdough Honey Bread I made for the Fourth) spread with Coeur de Creme goat cheese (Baetje Farms selling at Kirkwood Farmers Market).

This is the beauty of the One Local Summer challenge. By committing to one local meal a week, I've found sources and developed habits leading to the result that much of what we eat, right now, for every meal is local. We're reaching the height of our local growing season and it feels great to be eating the fruits of the earth in my region. It was a yummy breakfast, too!

Friday, July 4, 2008

OLS: Happy Fourth potluck

This is cheating in the One Local Summer challenge slightly since it's not an entire meal. But, it's my entire contribution to a family potluck and it's the first time that I've aimed to make an entirely local contribution, so I want to honor that accomplishment.

First up, Sourdough Honey Whole Wheat Bread. I made some changes to the recipe based on hazy recollections of a loaf I made a couple of weeks ago, but I had to return that cookbook to the library and didn't copy the recipe so I couldn't repeat it exactly. So, I increased the sourdough starter to 1 cup, decreased the honey to a 1/4 cup, and decreased the yeast to 1 1/2 teaspoons. I also swapped out vegetable oil for butter to get another local ingredient in the bread. The only non-local ingredients were the salt and yeast. My starter, by the way, came from Alanna Kellogg of A Veggie Venture and Kitchen Parade. She got it from a woman (edit: Margie Kahn--see Alanna's comment for more details) who used to bake bread everyday when her eight children were growing up. My goal is to make an entirely local bread using no yeast, but I wasn't going to try that for the first time on a loaf destined to go to a party.

Contribution two, Cucumber Salad. I doubled the recipe using two of the cucumbers from our CSA box (one from last week!), a handful of the tiny onions we got in our box yesterday, and a large whole tomato from CJ's Produce at the Kirkwood Farmers Market. He's getting his tomatoes right now from an Amish farmer in Illinois who grows them hydroponically. I did not double the dressing because it seemed like plenty. I swapped out the sugar for honey to get in one more local ingredient. The only non-local ingredient was some of the vinegar -- I used one tablespoon of Blue Heron Orchard Habanero Apple Cider Vinegar and three tablespoons of non-local rice vinegar.

Unfortunately, we didn't coordinate our potluck very well and there ended up being three loaves of bread on the buffet. The other two were the kind that were buttered then re-heated in the oven and my more boring loaf didn't compete well. Oh well, it will make a fine bread for us this weekend. The cucumber salad was so popular that I brought home an empty container--that's always a mark of success!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Gratuitous celebrity sighting and CSA box

There's an old joke that you know you're from the Midwest if you're on a first-name basis with your mayor but you've never met a celebrity. Art, our mayor, and I had our last meaningful conversation last month at Chautauqua the night he was our emcee. But celebrities have definitely been a rare occurence in my life.

We were visiting our friend B, who just started dialysis this week, at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital today when Joss Stone came by. She's singing downtown tomorrow night. In this photo, she's just signed a shirt for B, after apologizing that it's pink, but that's her favorite color. I think she wasn't fully prepared to be meeting any 18-year old boys at the hospital, but she didn't have any problem being appropriately gracious and breezy.

Okay, back to one of the normal topics for this blog. The CSA box this week had more cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, and beets. New for this week were a sack of tiny onions and broccoli. I'm experiencing what most newbie CSA users experience -- being overwhelmed by produce. We're doing pretty well. I've already cheated some by freezing grated zucchini and yellow squash to use in bread later, but I don't have enough freezer space to do that much more and peak season for summer squash hasn't even started yet. I'm hoping that the holiday weekend helps -- I'll bring a big salad to our gathering tomorrow!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

OLS: CSA supper

This week's One Local Summer meal was inspired by and mostly produced from the Community Supported Agriculture box we picked up Thursday night. Our week 2 box contained yellow squash, zucchini, beets, and mixed lettuce like last week and three new items: green beans, baby potatoes, and cucumbers.

The thinking for our OLS meal went something like this: cucumbers - tzatziki sauce; baby potatoes - potato salad; hmmm, how about a potato salad with tzatziki sauce instead of the normal dressing; green beans are good in potato salad; last night's grilled chicken leg quarter would make the whole thing a main dish. That with a green salad could be a good cold supper.

I made a half batch of this tzatziki sauce recipe and still only used about half of it in my dish, leaving plenty to dip and spread and dress other food in the coming week. I took lots of advice from the comments to make the sauce less runny -- used hand tools instead of the food processor, used yogurt cheese instead of the yogurt, and drained the grated cucumber for a few hours. I used rosemary instead of dill because that's what I had available from the garden and because I like rosemary with potatoes.

I blanched the green beans (cut bite size) and boiled the potatoes (whole), using the same hot water and ice bath water for both vegetables. The potatoes and grilled chicken were cut bite-size and all stirred in to the tzatziki sauce. I left the whole thing in the refrigerator for a couple of hours so the flavors could marry.

The salad is the lettuce mix from the CSA box. I grated beets in it. We tried the beets boiled and chilled last week, but didn't really like them. We didn't hate them so we thought there might be some way we could appreciate them. I baked those sliced beets in a 400 degree toaster oven until nearly burned and enjoyed the beet chips but with lots of oil and potentially carcenogenic charring. According to this article about "The 10 Best Foods You Aren't Eating," the best way to get health benefits from beets is to grate them and eat them raw, so that's the way we intend to try this week's beets.

I also put purslane on the salad. Purslane is number 6 on that 10 Best list. I considered buying seeds this winter after learning about the health benefits of purslane. But I was concerned about the weediness and wasn't sure we didn't have some already. We have a garden bed that we haven't really decided what to do with so, of course, it got weedy this spring. It turns out that one of the weeds is purslane. So, I'm gradually pulling the other weeds and this will be my purslane bed this year. Guess what? It grows like a weed! Much better than any of the vegetables I planted are doing.

The results? We liked the green salad even with two new-to-us vegetables. I grated the beets finely, pretty much liquefied them, and they blended into the homemade russian dressing. Next time I'll try a coarser grater to see if we like them that way as well. We barely noticed the purslane with the other greens.

The potato salad was, well, bland. I guess there's a reason that tzatziki sauce goes with spicy meat in gyros. We doctored it with soy sauce at the table and that helped a bit.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lowfat Chocolate Frozen Yogurt

Happy Summer! We spent the first weekend of the summer doing Pond-O-Rama, the garden tour of the St. Louis Water Gardening Society. We saw lots of beautiful and inspiring gardens.

When I posted about my strawberry sorbet, two people asked about the ice cream maker I got with my birthday money last month. It's a Cuisinart ICE-20. I bought it at Cornucopia, the kitchen store in Kirkwood, but Bed, Bath, and Beyond carries it as well. The going rate seems to be about $50. Ice cream makers underwent a revolution while I wasn't paying attention. They now involve a gel-filled freezer bowl that you have to remember to put in the freezer a day before you want your frozen dessert. The advantages of these new styles is that they don't require messing with rock salt and they make small amounts suitable for small families.

This recipe doesn't have a single local ingredient. Someone else can do the calculations about the relative carbon footprint of freezing your own dessert versus buying factory-made and freezer-truck-shipped product. The reason I'm making my own frozen desserts is less about being green and more about using ingredients that I'm happy to eat.

I combined this recipe with the one in the booklet that came with my ice cream maker. But I wanted to use nonalkalized cocoa as my flavoring because I read somewere that was the healthier way to consume chocolate (how's that for good library research?). I've been using Chatfield's Premium cocoa from Whole Foods but I'm open to hearing about sources that are Fair Trade, especially if they are produced in the Midwest.

I've had two problems with this recipe. I'll write about my solutions but this is also a plea for more experience cooks to let me know how I should be handling these ingredients.

Problem One is getting the lumps out of the cocoa and cornstarch. I'm sure the correct tool for the job is a sifter (I'm pretty sure that I have my mother's in a box somewhere), but I've been dumping them in the saucepan and using a whisk to break up the lumps. I've yet to find lumps in the final product whether or not I worked to get rid of them, so this may be a problem that is being solved somewhere along the way without my effort.

Problem Two is a sticky substance that develops at the bottom of the sauce pan when I'm heating the evaporated milk and other ingredients. I've started putting the saucepan on very low heat, stirring continuously with a metal spatula, and raising the heat very gradually to boiling. That seems to have solved it. The sticky stuff doesn't re-melt into the mix, but it does taste like a fudgy taffy, so not an unpleasant surprise in chocolate frozen yogurt.

EDIT August 17, 2008: It turns out that the biggest problem I've had with lumpiness in my frozen yogurt this summer was from another source entirely -- the evaporated skim milk. I learned this: don't shake the can and don't scrape the gunk out of the bottom of the can. If you do, you get milky, flavorless lumps in the final product.

Lowfat Chocolate Frozen Yogurt

2 tsp cornstarch
3/8 cup nonalkalized cocoa
1 can evaporated skim milk
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 1/2 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt

1. Whisk the cornstarch and cocoa together in a small saucepan.

2. Whisk in the evaporated milk and the agave nectar.

3. Cook over low heat while continuously stirring with a metal spatula. Gradually increase the heat until the chocolate mix begins to boil. Turn off the heat and continue stirring for a couple of minutes.

4. Allow the chocolate to cool for a few minutes. Stir by spoonfuls into the yogurt.

5. Chill the yogurt mixture in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

6. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for freezing the yogurt in an ice cream maker.

Friday, June 20, 2008

First ever CSA box!

CSA logo courtesy of A Veggie Venture.

The day I've been anticipating for months finally arrived -- the first delivery from our Community Supported Agriculture service. Our CSA is called Family Harvest and is a subscription to two farms, Yellow Wood and Lee. This reduces our risk, slightly. Both farms experienced too much rain as we all did in this region, but only one field at one farm is currently in danger of flooding. I'm very much hoping it doesn't, because that's our tomatoes, onions, and peppers for the summer. One of the points of using a CSA is to get the consumer in closer contact with the food source -- it's working for me.

The picture is of the contents of our box after I prepped them before putting them in the refrigerator. I thought this would be a good time to write about how I prepare produce, mostly tips I've picked up in the last year from reading Cook's Illustrated. I had feared that it would take a long time to wash up the produce every Thursday evening, but this week it only took a half hour or so.

I keep a spray bottle with 1 part white vinegar, 3 parts water, under the sink. I used this for the initial wash of the zucchini and yellow squash, then rinsed them with water.

The two different kinds of lettuce are Summer Crisp Head Lettuce and Leaf Lettuce Greens Mix. My method for washing greens (both salad and cooking) is to put them in the bowl of the salad spinner and cover them with water. I gently swirl the leaves around in the water and then let them sit for a couple of minutes. Then, I gently lift them into the strainer portion of the salad spinner. I appreciate my big sink at this point because I can have the bowl and the strainer in the sink at the same time. Dump out the bowl and repeat the process. Usually two rinses are enough, but I did four rinses once on some really muddy bok choy. When the water is clear after lifting the greens out, I know I'm done. Then I use the salad spinner in the conventional way and spin the washed greens to get them mostly dry.

I store washed vegetables, including greens, in reusable produce bags like these Evert-Fresh ones. I get them at Whole Foods and have used that brand and another one. This has cut down considerably on my use of ziplocs and seems to work at least as well. The instructions say to use each bag 8 to 10 times -- but how am I supposed to keep track? In practice, I use them until they tear or I accidentally let something go bad in them.

Until a few months ago, I would have thought that beets only came pickled and I've rejected all pickled things since childhood, so it's possible I've never had beets. Fortunately, one of our farmers, Tricia, wrote some advice in the newsletter that came with our box (she boils, peels, slices, and chills beets in a balsamic and olive oil dressing to serve cold alone or in salads -- sounds good to me). So, I started by separating the beets into three parts. The leaves were washed like the lettuce, the beets were washed with the vinegar spray, and the stalks were rinsed and then thrown in the stock bag in the freezer -- except for the really dirty ones that went straight into the compost bowl.

That leaves the cabbage. When I buy a head of cabbage from the supermarket, I wash the outer layer of leaves with the vinegar spray and rinse. But supermarket cabbages don't come with those beautiful curling outer leaves. The cabbage wasn't very dirty, so I decided to just leave it like it is and rinse it when we're ready to use it.

We already ate one zucchini in a pasta dish last night. The beet greens will go in our chicken and greens dish tonight. I'll be eating lettuce salads with beets and at least two kinds of cabbage salad. That cabbage may be big enough to be the basis of a soup as well. I'm not quite sure what I'll be doing with the rest, but I can't wait to find out!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

OLS: Grilled Chicken and Salads

Our One Local Summer meal this week was a supper of two summery salads and grilled chicken.

Potato Salad with Kohlrabi
Biver Farms (which I learned during a chat with Alanna of A Veggie Venture at the Kirkwood Farmers Market on Saturday is pronounced "beaver") at the Tower Grove Farmers Market had tiny potatoes on Saturday. I boiled those in their jackets until they were fork tender, then sliced them in half for the salad. On the advice of CJ at the Kirkwood Farmers Market, I diced my kohlrabi and soaked it for several minutes. Then I sauteed it until carmelized -- it developed a nice touch of sweetness as well as a more tender texture. I tossed the potatoes and kohlrabi with thyme from my deck. For the dressing, I used local honey and Blue Heron Orchard habanero apple cider vinegar with nonlocal mayo, mustard, salt, and pepper. After chilling for a couple of hours, this was the highlight of the meal.

Green salad
The green salad was simply two kinds of lettuce from recent trips to farmers markets and sunflower shoots from the Claverach Farm booth at the Maplewood Farmers Market. The dressing has no local ingredients, but it is homemade which makes it locally produced! I don't measure salad dressing ingredients -- just toss things together until they taste good. In this case, it was mayo lightened with yogurt cheese, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper, and agave nectar.

Grilled chicken
R grilled the leg quarters from two Farrar Out Farms chickens (one bought at the Kirkwood Farmers Market, as usual, and the other at the Maplewood Farmers Market where Farrar Out started appearing last week). I wanted leftover chicken for chicken salad sandwiches later this week when our nephew will be here to help with yard work. R still gets a bit of a thrill out of the fact that our chicken legs match up. He remembers the six-packs of leg quarters I used to buy at the supermarket that would have five right legs and one left leg. As he was grilling those he'd find himself wondering about the odd chickens they raise at commercial operations.

This is the first One Local Summer meal that I shared with someone else. The verdict: "we should do this every night!"

Saturday, June 14, 2008

OLS: Farmers Market Day lunch

My Saturdays are suddenly packed. I now have an established habit of going to two or more Farmers Markets bright and early on Saturday morning. That's going to be a bit rushed for the next couple of months because I need to shop and get it all home in time to make it to my cartooning class at Meramec Community College at 10 AM. Saturday afternoons and evenings will need to include some produce preparation time.

So, I needed a quick lunch and a local one since I haven't recorded a One Local Summer meal yet this week. I cooked up a pot of black turtle beans from Kimker Hill Farm last night. Then, today, all I had to do was spoon some into the food processor with a little of the cooking liquid and some Kimker Hill "nice and mild" summer salsa. I was a little worried that it would be too runny for a sandwich spread, but it held up just fine. The cilantro on top came from the Three Rivers Community Farm this morning at the Tower Grove Farmers Market. The strawberries are from the Our Garden booth -- they have consistently had the prettiest strawberries I've seen at the markets and they are also available at the Wednesday night Maplewood Farmers Market.

I also had a large salad with this lunch. There's enough local produce in my refrigerator now that I have a selection of salad vegetables. Today I used two different kinds of lettuce, grated kohlrabi, sunflower shoots, asparagus, and feta cheese. The dressing was homemade but leftover from something, so I don't have an exact recipe. I would have used local honey in it and, since it was kind of gloppy from being in the refrigerator, I thinned it with Blue Heron Orchard habanero apple cider vinegar -- you can pick that up at Local Harvest Grocery.

This meal really feels like a transition meal, moving into late spring and full speed ahead into summer.
Edit: oh yeah, and the bread is 97% Local Bread.