Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Genesis of a Kitchen Garden Part I

Two-and-a-half years ago I moved away from Minneapolis after having lived there my whole life, and landed in Austin TX. I miss a lot of things about Minneapolis; tulips, marmots, and rain among them. But the thing I miss most of all is my kitchen garden. I have had a garden most of my adult life; growing food comes naturally to me, but not here in Texas.

Growing vegetables in Texas is possible, in fact I've read that it's even quite popular, but it's a totally different ball game than growing vegetables in Minnesota. For starters, here in Central Texas we get two short growing seasons separated by the inferno of summer. Where I come from you wouldn't dare plant a tomato before Mother's Day, but here in Texas if they're not in the ground by St. Patrick's Day it's probably already too late. The timing is different, the pests are different, and the soil is different. It was clear to me the first time I visited Austin in early March and saw the nursery marquee advertising "spring vegetables" that I would have a lot to learn if I wanted to garden here in Central Texas.

So while the learning curve is high, and it feels like a whole new world, I do long for a garden and have decided that this, my third Spring here in Texas, is the Spring that I am finally going to plant a kitchen garden.

Armed with a few Texas-specific gardening books, my tools, and a sturdy helper, I have taken on the task of converting a ragged, neglected, and mostly pretty rough piece of turf into a completely organic, raised bed kitchen garden. Clearly, I've got my work cut out for me; there is turf to till, beds to build, soil to be hauled in, and plants to plant. But with some hard work, a little planning, and a truckload of luck I will soon have a kitchen garden once again.

Stay tuned for Part II - The Building of a Kitchen Garden

Monday, February 23, 2009

Salsa Fresca

Salsa Fresca
This recipe makes a mild salsa that's tangy and alive. If you'd like a hotter salsa try two jalapenos instead of one, or one jalapeno and one Serrano pepper. Personally, I have never met a chip I didn't like or a salsa too hot so I use two Serranos. Like most things, this salsa is best if you can pick the ingredients straight from your garden, but if you just have to have fresh salsa in the off-season use organic produce grown as close to home as possible. Or better still, make several batches while the ingredients are available and freeze them.

3 cloves of garlic
1 small onion coarsely chopped
1 large jalapeno pepper coarsely chopped
5 roma tomatoes coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh cilantro
juice of 2 whole limes
2 tablespoons of organic olive oil

Begin with the garlic, onion and pepper in the food processor or blender and pulse until finely minced. Add the tomatoes and cilantro and puree until smooth. Add the lime juice, and the oil and blend again just briefly until well integrated. Serve with tortilla chips, of course. The salsa will keep in the refrigerator for a few days, or it can be frozen.

Makes 4 cups


Salsa on Foodista

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Julie and Julia - A Foodie Book I'd Recommend

My neighbor and friend left a rather tattered copy of Julie and Julia by Julie Powell in my mailbox with a tiny Post-it note attached that read, "It will either make you puke or laugh." I was intrigued. I had no real idea what the book was about, and I'm not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of Julia Child. I don't have anything against her, I just don't know that much about her. I've never seen her show, never cooked any of her recipes, and I don't own any of her books. But I love food, and I love good writing, and I especially love to read good food writing. So I gave the book a go.

The book is a memoir. A food memoir that grew out of the yearlong project, The Julie/Julia Project. Julie Powell was a 29 year old New Yorker, working in a dead-end job as a secretary for a government agency, when she decided to cook all 524 recipes in her stolen copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, and blog about it daily. No small task, clearly. The book chronicles that year of cooking with wit, down-home honesty, and occasional irreverence.

No matter that Julia Child was a stranger to me when I started this book. She is not the star of this book. Julie Powell is. And while yes, I did learn a thing or two about Child, and even grew to admire her some, it is Powell who I learned to love in these pages. She is funny and genuine, and a joy to read. She drinks a little too much and is prone to fits of weeping, but she is also an inspiration to anyone who has ever dared to try something new with their lives.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sunday Brunch - A Celebration

It is no great revelation that we as people have a long history of food as the main attraction at our celebrations. Most of our major holidays center on the idea of feasting, Thanksgiving is of course the most obvious example. Even those holidays that are not completely food-centric still have a canon of traditional foods associated with them - Easter Ham, Christmas Goose, July Fourth BBQ, and the favorite of many The Birthday Cake. We commemorate major occasions and accomplishments with food and beverage - A champagne toast, a graduation buffet, and a post funeral potluck are just a few examples.

These food traditions help to define us culturally, they ground us geographically, and unite us with a common bond. I'm no social anthropologist, in fact I'm mostly just a girl with her own sordid history with food, but it seems to me that this is at least partly because food, quite simply, makes us feel good. It gives us comfort, nurtures us, and when it's at its best it can bring us oh-so-much joy.

It was in the spirit of traditional celebratory feasting that I planned a recent brunch. I run, and most of my friends run, and so it was no coincidence that several of us were all running the same local Half Marathon. And since running hard for 13.1 miles is both an accomplishment worthy of commemoration, and enough to make a person darn hungry, I thought what better way to celebrate, and to feed our well-earned appetites than a post-race Sunday Brunch.

Several people contributed to the spread - we had two different quiches, we had biscuits, we had muffins, and we had strata (which incidentally those of us originally from the Midwest were familiar with, while the native Texans had never heard of). We also had mimosa. Because nothing says celebration like champagne, but also because 9:00 AM is a little too early to hit the bottle straight, and everything's better with orange juice.

My contribution to the meal was fruit - The Sunday Fruit Salad. I dreamed up the recipe while tossing and turning sleeplessly from pre-race jitters the night before the race.

(See previous post for recipe)

I was victorious. My friends liked it. It's a pretty simple recipe really, but the basil and honey add an unexpected twist. Together they are the little something different that will prompt your guests to ask, "What did you do to the fruit?" The mostly tart fruits make this salad bright, and refreshing, perfect for after a long run, or when the weather turns warm and sticky. I would recommend that you cut your fruits into rather small bits, about the size of the blueberries. Doing so will make the salad a touch delicate and slightly elegant.

There are not a lot of choices for Texas local fruits in January. In fact, I can only think of citrus when pressed. So while everything in my version of The Sunday Fruit Salad was organic, only the honey and basil were locally produced. Depending on what time of year you make this dish, and where you live, you may or may not be able to go local. Either way, I would advocate for the fruits I've included - they play off each other perfectly both in appearance and flavor.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Sunday Fruit Salad

The Sunday Fruit Salad

A simple recipe really, but the basil and the honey add an unexpected twist. Together they are the little something different that will prompt your guests to ask, "What did you do to the fruit?" The mostly tart fruits make this salad bright and refreshing. I recommend that you cut your fruits into smallish bit, about the size of the blueberries. Doing so will make the salad a touch delicate and slightly elegant. Depending on what time of year you make this dish, and where you live, you may or may not be able to go local. Either way, I would advocate for the fruits I've included - they play off each other perfectly both in appearance and taste.

1 pint fresh organic blueberries

1 pint fresh organic strawberries cut into small bits

3 organic kiwis peeled and cut into small bits

2 small organic tangerines (clementines if available) peeled and cut into small bits

6-8 large leaves of fresh organic basil finely chopped

2 teaspoons organic honey

After cleaning, peeling, and chopping all fruits, gently toss all ingredients together in a serving bowl so that the honey evenly coats the fruit, and the basil is nicely distributed.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Greenling - Organic Food Delivery

I have a new love in my life. I recently signed up for a grocery delivery service — They bill themselves as “a home delivery service of local and organic food”. While it is not an exclusive arrangement, I am pleased to say I have made a firm commitment to this new grocer in my life. What follows is our story, thus far.

I have been increasingly dissatisfied and desired something new in my grocery life. Because I eat almost exclusively sustainable, organic, and/or local foods I shop at the local high-end natural food market. When I lived in Minneapolis that meant Whole Foods. Now that I’m in Austin, TX it means Central Market. Ironic I suppose since Whole Foods is an Austin based company, but Central Market is closer to home. I like Central Market. It has nice selection, and the people are friendly. But it’s also expensive and huge, and they make my meat buying difficult. I sought change.

I had fantasies of saving money on my monthly grocery bill. Let’s be honest shopping at a high-end natural food mega-mart isn’t cheap. I admit that some items on Greenling are also expensive, and perhaps slightly more expensive. However, I theorized that by limiting my choices to those available at Greenling, and staying away from the store I could avoid the temptation, which is sometimes strong, to buy the impulse items — the plethora goodies that aren’t on the list, but look delicious nonetheless. I could avoid the prepared foods as well, which while convenient are both very expensive and not all that good for a person.

My more-than-once-weekly trips to the giant grocery store take a ton of time, time that I covet, and never seem to have enough of. In the past I didn’t think about it much, I would just begrudgingly cruise every aisle of the market. Then I started paying attention to just how much time it was really taking me to shop, and was stunned to discover I was spending on average 3-5 hours grocery shopping every week. That’s practically a part-time job. And it wasn’t a fun part-time job. These grocery errands were repetitive and getting rather dull — trip after trip of the same old staples, aisle after aisle of the same old same old. A change of scenery was what I needed and I was hopeful that Greenling could be just such a change. I also believed that by leaving my grocery runs behind I would be reducing my carbon footprint. Although I admit I have not done the necessary research to determine by exactly how much, though I assume that every bit helps.

Finally, I sought new kind of meat — cleaner, greener meat. While I abstain from eating meat, and have for 20 plus years, I cook meat, and I serve meat to my loved ones. I was seeking a source of local, organic, and most importantly pastured animal products. Not just “grass-fed”. All animals are “grass-fed” until sent to the feedlot. Not just “free-range” which requires only that the hens have access to the outdoors, but does nothing to enforce how much time they spend there. (I’ve always pictured something like a doggie door on the side of the hen house and the hens having no real idea of how to use it.) No I wanted animal products that were truly pastured and local. Animals that were being humanely raised and eating the diets they had evolved to eat.

These were the things my current market left me wanting. I had to face facts, Central Market just couldn’t satisfy me, just couldn’t be everything I wanted it to be.

Then I met Greenling. We met on the Internet, and at first glance it seemed to be just the thing I was looking for. I flirted with the idea of making a change for several months before I made my move. I was reticent. I approached with caution. I admit I feared that something would be missing from my grocery life; there was something sensual about the time I spent at Central Market. For all it’s faults shopping at Central Market was a sensory experience. There seemed to be something very impersonal and detached about shopping on-line. Would I miss the opportunity to weigh pomegranates in my hand, as if able to tell which will taste best by its heft in my hand? Would I miss pinching the grapes? Would I yearn to smell each hunk of plastic wrapped cheese, deciding which to buy based on a stinky-ness scale I had invented for my self and developed to a finely tuned sixth sense? If you can’t smell the cheese through the plastic, it won’t taste good.

And besides I don’t do well with change, neurotically clinging to the familiar.

But alas, I was smitten. Greenling had caught my eye. I was attracted by the time saving convenience, and the hope of saving a few pennies, and the meat. The thrill seeker in me was also attracted to the element of surprise. Greenling offered a certain sense of mystery and the unknown that I found thrilling and knew could be satisfying. I would replace the thrill of smelling cheese with the thrill of mystery and intrigue.

Ultimately I decided it would be worth it, I was ready to make my move. I created an account; I set my log in and my password, and filled my first virtual basket. I even included the “Surprise Me” item, which promised to be “…super fresh…and impressive”. I set the delivery date.

Then came the anticipation, a close second to mystery and intrigue on the thrilling scale in my world. I found myself looking forward to my delivery, like I look forward to the mail everyday. I was like a schoolgirl, waiting for the prom. I anxiously, and with enthusiasm, waited for the goods to arrive.

And when they did I could not have been more pleased. There on my doorstep, left by the friendly delivery guy, were my Greenling Tubs. And what they held within was beautiful. Inside my tubs was a bounty of organic, and local foodstuffs that I could feel good about spending money on, and even better about eating. It was more than I had hoped for.

The cheese arrived wrapped in paper instead of plastic. It was a sharp, fragrant, and crumbly cheddar made from the raw milk of pastured cows on a local farm by artisan cheese makers. It swept me off my feet.

The local, and organic mushrooms were packed in a paper bag, which is how it should be, allowing the fungi to breath keeps them fresher longer. As a bonus the bag was printed with recipes, a little quaint yes, but I appreciated the gesture. I found it charming.

The eggs were also a real treat. Some were tiny, and some were huge, and they ranged in color from a deep terra cotta to a light latte and just a few were the soft bluish green of turquoise. I haven’t seen eggs like these since I visited my Auntie’s farm as a kid.

I’d have my sensory experience after all.

I also had the smallest grocery bill I have had in some time. And I didn’t even have to leave the house.

I knew right off this wasn’t just any grocer. This was special. I wanted to make it a steady thing, and signed up for delivery dates on a weekly basis. I’m still friendly with my other market, and I’ll still visit for my frozen fruit, and my bulk dry goods. After all, I still need the stability of a well-stocked pantry. But I have traded the temptation of prepared foods for something more wholesome. I now have full access to cleaner, happier meat. I have left behind the daunting hours of cruising aisle after aisle for something fresh and new. I look forward to a long, loving relationship with my new local and organic grocery delivery service.