June 27, 2008

Our Fair Share - CSA Week #7

You may be asking why I didn't post the contents of last week's share. Well you see, last week Rob and I completely forgot to pick up our share on Wednesday night. We weren't doing anything special, and we weren't particularly busy, but we spaced. Sara and Jamie, the sisters (as in the related kind, not the religious kind) who run the CSA, were great about it and I arranged to come down to the main building to pick up our share the next day. They were fun, laid back, flexible with trading items we didn't need for something we truly wanted, and shared a couple of sources for zucchini recipes. After meeting Sara and Jamie, I'm even happier with our CCSA choice. Does that explain why I didn't post the contents? Nope. I guess I'll have to leave you hanging.

So what did we get in this week's share?

Brick City Gardens - Lettuce (3 small heads)
Daniel Gooding Farm - Sour Cherries
Herbs En Route - Chives
Kimker Hill Farm - Whole Grain Pizza Dough Mix, 1 lb
Lee Farms - Cucumbers, Yellow Squash & Zucchini
Ozark Forest Mushrooms- Mushroom Mix (mostly oyster with a couple of shitakes)
Pilgrims Acres- One Dozen Eggs
Ropp Jersey Cheese- Tomato Basil Garlic Cheddar
Seven Thunder Bison- Ground Bison, 1 lb
??? - Red Beets with Greens Attached

We also swapped a pound of Kimker Hill Oat Flour for what would have been the fifth "bear" of honey in our pantry. I use honey in baking recipes, batches of home made granola and on PB&H sandwiches, but we can't seem to tear through it quickly enough to keep up with the incoming supply.

I could probably also have swapped out the beets, since Rob doesn't like them, but I'm taking it as a challenge to find something that he does like beets in. Suggestions are welcome.

I was unsure about the sour cherries, since there aren't quite enough to make a full crumble or pie. So tonight I plan to make a sour cherry syrup, which apparently makes a tasty beverage when combined with lemonade and sparkling water.

June 18, 2008

Chile Chews' Quit Now Challenge - Update

At the beginning of the month, I joined Chile Chews Quit Now Challenge. You can find my introduction to this challenge here. I realized yesterday (when Chile popped over to my blog to ask me how the challenge was going) that I hadn't posted an update on this challenge, so here we go.

How successful have I been with sticking to the challenge?
I’ve been relatively good about eating vegetarian lunches (or as Chile says, quitting “animals in my lunch”). I have to admit that I’ve amended the rules a bit to allow for food provided by clients at lunch meetings, as I can’t always inform them of my eating habits in advance and I don’t want to offend the clients.

What have I learned from the challenge so far?
First, I miss being able to order anything I want. It’s a little bit difficult to eat vegetarian meals in downtown St. Louis restaurants, especially when there’s a tomato scare. I don’t often walk more than 2-3 blocks to buy my lunch, and the restaurants within that radius have a limited number of vegetarian options (usually 1 or 2) on their menus. A few restaurants I’ve tried have no vegetarian options at all. Other places have removed the vegetarian options from their menus because they cannot serve tomatoes until the FDA deems them safe from salmonella. So I’ve learned that, if I don’t see anything on the menu that sounds good, it never hurts to ask if the chef can make up a vegetarian option or omit the meat from one of their standard meals.

Second, I’ve learned that vegetarian meals can be incredibly tasty and satisfying. So far this month, I’ve eaten a grilled vegetable panini, a strawberry orange salad, cheese quesadillas with corn and salad, a grilled cheese sandwich with creamy tomato soup, a tomato-basil-mozzarella sandwich on Italian bread (before the tomato issue was publicized), penne with chicken, mushrooms and summer squash (by special request, I got this without the chicken), a vegetarian taco salad, and rotini with broccoli. Nearly all of these meals were quite tasty, and I generally didn’t miss the meat at all.

Third, vegetarian meals are cheaper than those with meat. This helps with the rising prices people are seeing all over the world.

And last, I’ve learned that I feel slightly more energetic and generally a bit healthier when I eat more green stuff and less meat. Last week I “accidentally” at vegetarian meals for two and a half days before I realized it, so clearly I can cut out a significant amount of meat from my diet. So far, this has manifested in covering more of my dinner plate in greens and less in roast beast.

How will this challenge impact me when June is over?
I did a little research about how much protein I really need in my diet, and discovered there isn’t a clear and concise answer to that question. Estimates range from the World Health Organization’s guideline of 4.5% of daily caloric intake to the National Research Council’s guideline of 8% of daily calories. I’d guess that I have historically eaten about twice that amount, so I feel comfortable with targeting a diet that cuts meat out of all breakfasts (with exceptions for special occasions), most lunches and a dinner here and there. We're also buying nearly 100% local, naturally pastured raised meat, which I'll talk about in an upcoming post.

So my thanks go to Chile for challenging me to eliminate some of the excess from my life. I know this is a small step, but eventually all the small things do add up.

June 15, 2008

One Local Summer

+ free range, all natural eggs from our CSA share
+ plain bagel from our CSA share
+ methuzela cheese from our CSA share
+ Mississippi mud coffee from our CSA share (locally roasted)
+ chives bought last week at the farmers' market
+ hothouse tomato (salmonella free!) bought yesterday at the farmers' market

Bagel draped with melted methuzela cheese and topped with a halved 2-egg chive omelette, served with a side of tomato slices and washed down with fresh-brewed iced coffee liberally dosed with hormone- and antibiotic- free 2% milk.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - Lillies

June 12, 2008

Our Fair Share - CSA Week #5

Sorry I missed last week - our CSA has several different pick-up locations and times, and last week's shares somehow got jumbled in the distribution process. I'm not sure where everything came from, but I do know that we received cheese, blue corn tortillas, greens, an herb bundle, black beans, and a bunch of other good stuff.

This week's share includes:

Random thoughts about this week's share:
Seems like a good early-summer balance between green stuff and other. Apparently lots of other members traded their trout in for other meat, so we didn't have to opportunity to purchase extra meat this week. The pecans will be great in my next batch of homemade granola, then I'll freeze the rest for later. Who knows, maybe I'll use some of the flour and a zucchini or two to make bread...The cheese spread is tasty (had some on an everything bagel for breakfast this morning), but I'm slightly disappointed that it has MSG listed as an ingredient. Rob and I are both intrigued by the garlic scapes and can't wait to figure out what they're best in.

June 8, 2008

One Local Summer Update

This year, I signed up for the One Local Summer Challenge. This means that I've committed to eating one meal made from entirely local products each week. For this exercise, I will define local as originating from less than 150 miles of my house. I'm allowing exceptions for oils, spices, and items like flour that are milled locally but the grain itself may have originated from slightly farther away.

What did I eat this week?
The plan for yesterday was to head to a U-pick strawberry farm with a couple of friends so that I could make something yummy with local berries. We'd meet at 8 am, then carpool for 30 minutes to the farm to pick. That seemed reasonable, since this particular field is open 7:30 to 11:30 am, or until they are picked out of ripe berries. Unfortunately for us, their parking lots were nearly full when the gates opened at 7:30 am. When I called at 8:00 to make sure they were open, I was told that they were closing their gates at 8:30. Although we could have rushed to make it into the gates before they closed, it didn't seem make sense to drive all the way out there to hunt for the last ripe berries in the field.

Now what to do? We decided to head to the Tower Grove Farmer's Market to see if we could find fresh berries there. After a half hour stay at the market, I had nabbed a nice bag full of sunflower sprouts (an incredibly tasty addition to salads), a beautiful bunch of chives (Rob was planning on making cheese and chive scones later that day), a dozen local eggs, and three quarts of bright red, sweet smelling, organically raised strawberries. Though the berry vendor is not certified organic, a sign on their stand noted that they do use organic farming practices. I've found this is fairly common in smaller farms, because the certification process can be painful and expensive.

Anyway, enough rambling and let's get to the food. When I got home from the market I found a yummy sounding recipe for Summer Strawberry Bread in a cookbook I picked up earlier this year. We've made a couple of things from their recipes so far, and they've both been excellent. So, I pulled together my local ingredients and went for it. Here's how I made it.

Summer Strawberry Bread, Adapted for Local Ingredients
1/2 cup chopped local almonds
1-2/3 cups locally milled 10-grain flour
3/4 cup turbinado sugar (not local, but organic)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (not local)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (not local)
1/2 teaspoon salt (not local)
3 large, local, free-range eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil (not local)
1/3 cup local, organic milk
1 cup small, local strawberries, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8" loaf pan. Spread whole, raw almonds onto a rimmed cookie sheet and toast for 8-10 minutes in the oven. Cool for 5-10 minutes and chop finely.

Combine flour, sugar, almonds, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

Whisk eggs in a small bowl until frothy; whisk in oil, then milk. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the egg mixture. Blend until just moistened. Fold in the berries.

Spoon into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Run a sharp knife all the way around the pan, gently running between the pan and the bread to loosen any stuck spots. Turn the bread out onto wire rack and let cool.
How did it turn out?
I really liked this bread, and I think it would work with a lot of other fruits. If you eat bananas, you can trade the almonds for walnuts and the berries for bananas. If you have fresh blueberries, you could probably swap those directly for the strawberries. I suspect that rhubarb would also be a welcome addition.

What would I do differently?
I would add another 1/2 teaspoon of salt and maybe 1 tablespoon of honey if your berries are not quite sweet. If you use anything but 10-grain flour, you should reduce your liquids to 2 eggs and skip the milk.

How did I eat it?
I brewed a pot of local Kuva coffee in the french press while the bread was baking and poured myself a big mug with turbinado sugar and a little warmed milk. Then I sliced a couple of pieces of bread and slathered them with a little bit of fresh goat cheese.


My goal is to make my local meals more and more complex, but this was a simple and delicious way to start my local summer. Oh, and next time I'll try to have pictures.

Note: You can also keep an eye out for a post from one of my strawberry picking / farmers' market going friends, who is planning on posting her recipe for Strawberry Cupcakes. I tried one, and it was quite tasty...

June 6, 2008

Step #2 - Reduce your emissions

Change #1

Until recently, Rob drove a Chevy Tahoe. Although we really did like the comfort and spaciousness of the big bohemoth, we did not like it's gas mileage (15-17 mpg). We also found that we only rarely had much more than just the two of us to haul around. So about four months ago we made the decision that it was time to get rid of the big behemoth and trade it for a greener vehicle.

We looked and we looked, and finally settled on the Toyota Camry hybrid or the Prius. We test-drove both, rented a Prius for a weekend, and talked it over for what seemed like weeks. It seems that we just couldn't decide between the two until one day...Ding!...On went the lightbulb and it came to us that if we couldn't decide between the two, maybe we should just pick the one that is better for the planet. Voila - decision made. Since the new Prius arrived in our driveway, Rob has literally tripled his gas mileage. Now he's working on getting much higher gas mileage as the engine wears in.

We've found that we now take the Prius on all our errands except the dirty ones - my Matrix has a fairly large, plastic-lined trunk area, which makes it perfect for hauling plants and bags of mulch.

Change #2

But we didn't stop there. I've given up my parking pass and started taking public transportation to work. I started this last summer, when I thought I'd try out the brand new extension of our regional light rail system. The first line ran between the airport and downtown, which was great, but it didn't seem to serve most of the people who commute by car to work. The new line, however, ends about four miles our house.

My driving commute included 20 minutes of drive time, plus five minutes to walk from the parking garage to the office. Between the drive to the train station and the 45 minute train ride downtown, my commute is roughly one hour. The added 35 minutes each way are tough on the days when I just want to go home, throw on some old clothes and work in the yard. On the other hand, the ride time does seem to help me decompress on the way home, so I tend to arrive home a tad happier and a little less stressed out. I think it's a good trade-off.

Last year I switched back to driving when the shorter days came. I have a hard time convincing myself that the extra hour of train time was worth it when it means I have zero time at home in the daylight. Does that seem like a cop-out? Hard to tell...but at least I'm reducing my mileage during 6 months out of the year.

Change #3

Even when I commute to work every day, I drive a maximum of about 8,500 miles a year. I can go anywhere from 4-6 months without needing an oil change, and by then the little sticker that the oil change folks placed on my windshield is long since illegible. This means that I have a hard time remembering to get my oil changed or my tires rotated on a regular basis. Although I probably should have known this, I had no idea that forgetting to take my car in would seriously affect my mileage.

About six weeks ago I was cleaning out my glove box, pulled out an old receipt and realized that it had been over 5,000 miles since my last oil change. I took the car in and had them change the oil and oil filter, and rotate and balance my tires. Ever since, my gas mileage has increased from 30 mpg to 36 mpg, a 20% increase.

I'll be checking my tire pressure and keeping track of scheduled oil changes and tire rotations from now on.

The Results (so far)

Between these two changes, we should be able to cut our household gasoline use and vehicle-related emissions by more than 50%. Not too shabby, but I know we can do better. We're currently pondering an electric lawnmower, so that may be our next move toward household gas independence.

Does anyone out there have any other suggestions for our next step in our personal gas use and emissions reduction?

June 2, 2008

Growing Challenge Update #4

In the month of May, the greater St Louis area received more than four times our usual rainfall. In fact, we're already more than halfway to our normal annual rainfall, but we typically have rain fairly well distributed throughout the year, eventually reaching our rainiest month in November.

This has proven to be very bad for some of my new plants.

The Odessa Summer Squash babies I started indoors are trying valiantly to reproduce before dying.

If you look really closely here (or click on the image to enlarge it), you can see that my Royalty Purple Pod beans dropped all their leaves...AFTER they started growing tiny little purple beans. Bummer.

Another side effect of the rainfall is that ants have moved into the lovely, well-drained soil of the planter bed to escape the waterlogged clay that makes up the rest of my yard. When I cleaned out a handful of dead leaves, I unplugged the rain-stopper the ants had fashioned and discovered this hole. It's about the diameter of my index finger. I found about 12 holes this size throughout the planter.

Should I be worried? Because I am.

Yesterday, I planted two new Odessa squash near each of the dying seedlings. I also planted two new Royalty Purple pod beans near each of their denuded friends. Hopefully they'll quickly sprout and overtake the poor waterlogged seedlings...

On the upside, our tomatillo plant and its companion nasturtium sprouts seem to be doing well. Guess it's not all bad news...

Did I mention that thunderstorms are in our forecast for every day this week? I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the rainfall will be minimal and that the winds don't do any major damage.

UPDATE (6/6/08): I decided to cover the garden with a frost cloth and plant new seeds next to the dying squash and beans. Half of the new seeds are already up! I'll keep you posted...