Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Our local Christmas tree...

Doesn't get much more local (practically within walking distance of our current location) or organic (no chemicals, ever). And it was also fun!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Visions of... alpacas... dancing in my head

I haven't had much to say lately, at least nothing I was ready to share here. The truth is, I'm not any less committed to living a locally-based, sustainable lifestyle. If anything, I'm more committed. But... and it's a big 'but' (there's another big butt to discuss, but I'll leave that one for later!) I'm finding it hard to execute. My life is dominated by a 40+ hour job that keeps me locked in an office in front of a computer all day (barely seeing, much less experiencing nature) and the kicker is the commute. At 52 miles one way, I'm spending between 2 1/2 - 3 hours in the car each day. On the low end, I'm losing 12 hours in the car each week and on the high, it's 15. By the time I get home, I'm wasted. I'm lucky if I can motivate myself to put together any dinner. Even frozen pizza seems difficult some nights.

I'm deeply dissatisfied with the routine, with the job, with our current lifestyle. I'm spending long hours dreaming the far away dream of our future country-house-turned farm. Like so many other people who thought they were doing the right thing, we bought our home. It's a nice little house in a pretty nice neighborhood. And it's worth roughly 70% of what we owe on it. Moving isn't an option unless we receive a giant inheritance from a long-lost relative. I won't be holding my breath for that.

So we're stuck here, and I can't get my head back in the game. Living and working here, if we are focused, we can save a good deal of money towards the future. Towards the house and land I'm dreaming of. And somewhere along the way, we can hopefully figure out how we can make a living in this future life of ours. But knowing we can't have it now, or even in the short term future, it's driving me batty. In my mind, I'm adding more and more animals to our future. In addition to the chickens and goats, now I'm thinking sheep and alpacas. Of course, we'll need dogs. While we're at it, maybe we should breed some. Nevermind that I know next to nothing about these animals. I've got time to learn!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Add it to the list

I have a growing list of things that I want and need from our future home. I'm adding to it today... A Bulgarian Shepard (or Karakachan). A big, protective working farm dog.

And how cute is he?

Photo credit and a local breeder.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

December already?

I really don't know where this year has gone! Here we are in the home stretch...

Our little neighborhood got its first snow of the season over the weekend. It was pretty pitiful though - it rained most of the day before turning to snow. This time of year usually has me missing the Colorado winters, and it's no exception this year. Not only can Colorado cope with snow (it's amazing, precipitation falls from the sky and the area doesn't come screeching to a halt!) but the sun stays out. Our MD winters tend to be gray and wet... not my favorite!

Our weather preferences do present us quite a challenge for our future home though. We both much prefer cooler to warmer (yes, this means Texas is out!) but how much cooler is the question. I dream of the day that I can have a huge garden... but in really cold places, the growing season is super short. We'd probably need a greenhouse. And even then...

The safety of animals becomes a larger challenge too. I'm just starting most of my research, but I'd definitely need some structures to help any animals weathering the elements. And potentially bear-proof chicken coops? Or bear-proof anything... Is there even such a thing? And would I want to be someplace where bears attacking the animals was a possibility??

Still... might be worth it to be out in a beautiful snowy wonderland...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Our Thanksgiving

Just after Christmas last year, my parents moved out of state. This has so far made holiday planning a little more complicated, but just as great as before! For Thanksgiving, my sister and I spent the actual Thanksgiving Day at our respective in-law's celebrations. Friday afternoon, our parents flew into town and we prepared to have our belated turkey dinner at my house yesterday. In preparation, I warned everyone that I would be buying a farm fresh turkey for our main event. I say warned because my folks have always been dedicated butterball fans due to various dry-turkey encounters they've had. Butterball consistently delivers a moist turkey, there's no doubt about that.

Friday night, I enlisted Jay's help to brine the turkey. (He was not a fan of this, being adverse to all whole poultry.) Brining was the first step in my no-moisture-left-behind plan for our big boy turkey. (18.5 lbs!) I read from Polyface Farm's blog an easy ratio of salt to water for the brine - 1 lb salt to 1 gallon water. They recommended 4-6 hours of this treatment... but then I read about 99 other brining recipes, most of which recommended 1 hour brining per pound. These seemed like easy things to remember, so off we went! It wasn't until 10 pm that the light bulb went off...  most of the other 99 recipes were using significantly less salt. We (frantically) dumped out half the brine mixture, added a ton of water with the hose, and finally I went to bed.  After rinsing the brine off, my turkey friend got a nice injection of a butter, salt, and garlic mixture, a nice smoky herb rub and a nice cornbread stuffing and into the oven it went.

Final result? The most tender, moist turkey I may have ever had. The only problem is, we don't know if it was the brine or the injected butter or both! Looks like all our future turkeys will have to get the same treatment!

I've got the leftover carcass in my largest stock pot at the moment... swimming with some celery, garlic and miscellaneous spices - onion powder (sadly used up all the onion yesterday), fresh parsley, sage, oregano and thyme. It's sure to keep us in really great stock for months to come!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A quick and easy local meal

Last night I roasted the very last red pepper from my garden (the only thing I grew successfully this year). I'm not even sure how it made it to harvest, we've had a light freeze already. I roasted and froze the bumper crop that I'd received as part of my CSA share already - a great use of peppers, especially if no one else in the household likes peppers.

Since I was on my own for dinner last night, I took the opportunity to make an open face roasted pepper and goat cheese sandwich. The goat cheese was delivered along with our milk. Bread... home made on Tuesday night. This was local eating at its best!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fair Trade - a really basic primer

What is Fair Trade and why do I care?
According to wikipedia, Fair Trade is "an organized social movement and market-based approach that aims to help producers in developing countries and promote sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of a higher price to producers as well as social and environmental standards."

Without getting too preachy... The general approach is create a system that rewards fair pay and treatment of workers, as well as responsible environmental processes. It's not that surprising that in many cases, this can lead to higher prices. Workers can be exploited in many parts of the world (our own included), all in search of getting that bargain while shopping on well-lit stores thousands of miles away. And, it's not only the workers we have to be concerned with, but the impact some industries are having on the world. (Many discussions about the destruction of the rain forest come to mind.)

Is it the same as Free Trade?
Not really, no. The terms are sometimes used a synonyms, but in reality, Free Trade is a type of trade policy. Free Trade is a system that allows traders (or companies) to trade directly with each other, without the barrier of government policies or taxes.

Are there arguments against Fair Trade?
Yes, there has been criticism against the Fair Trade movement from both ends of the political spectrum. One thought process is that by providing what amounts to a subsidy to a "broken" system, the system is not challenged to change. Instead of supporting the small segments of an industry that are doing things the "right" way, we should be forcing change on the entire industry. The other school of thought is that the systems are "broken" because there is a market surplus. Prices are artificially low (or too low to support fair wages and environmentally responsible practices) because the industry is producing too much of their products. By providing additional funds to those industries, we are essentially encouraging them to produce even more of a surplus. Thus perpetuating the problem.

My take: I can actually see logic in both lines of thinking against Fair Trade. Ideally, entire industries that are supported by exploiting workers or the land will stop this activity. If there was a way to accomplish that in the short term, I would be all for "boycotting" the Fair Trade concept. I don't think this is a short term issue though. I also think rewarding (via our "subsidy" and our patronage) the companies or organizations that are doing things the right way is the most powerful statement an individual can make. The whole "put your money where your mouth is" thing. The risk of the surplus is an acceptable one for me; the alternative risk is that if those participating in a responsible way can't stay in business we lose our options.

What kinds of products can be Fair Trade?
It's a huge list - everything from coffee to sugar to cotton. There's a great list here that describes the risks that can be involved with the production of each. (I'm starting with coffee.)

Ok, so how do I find Fair Trade products? And how do I know them when I see them?
Many stores in the US are now selling Fair Trade products. From your typical grocery stores to "specialty" stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joes, you can find many Fair Trade products in the places you're already shopping.

Also, the beauty of the Internet can definitely help out here. A quick Amazon.com search lead me to 801 Fair Trade Coffee options.

In the US, TransFair USA (also sometimes called FLO) is the only third party organization that certifies that a product is Fair Trade. Other companies may say their product is, and it may indeed be, Fair Trade - but it's worth doing a little extra homework to be sure. TransFair USA uses the following logos:

It's also worth noting that Fair Trade does not automatically mean Organic. It's extremely possible that a farmer conforming to all the Fair Trade guidelines may still use some chemicals on his crops. It must be done in a reasonable and sustainable way, but chemicals may be used. Many products (particularly coffee) are both Fair Trade and Organic, so if that's important to you - you should be able to find it. (3 of the first 6 listed on Amazon were both.)

So that's it - just a quick summary of Fair Trade. Was it a recap of what you already knew? Or all new information, or a little of both?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My "To-Do" List

I have quite the "To-Do" list forming in my head these days. It's more of a "Wanna-Do" list, really... but I'm planning to tick away at it over the coming weeks (possibly months). In no particular order:

  1. Set up a composting plan (and learn more about worm composting...)
  2. Research and "road test" more natural skin care products
  3. Make an earnest effort to find good local wine (Stop laughing, Dad)
  4. Figure out the difference between "Free Trade" and "Fair Trade" (is there one?) and any other descriptors I need to consider for buying coffee... must. have. coffee.
  5. Trying making butter and cheese (Cheese has been on my list since, um... April)
  6. Research the possibilities of finding/starting a community garden
  7. The Great Chicken Plan... oh, yes...
That should keep me busy! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


So, um... the day I get my last bunch of fresh, local produce, what do we eat for dinner? Frozen pizza from Trader Joes - imported from Italy, no less.

(It was good, at least.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Our last farm day

Tonight was my last CSA pickup from Clagett Farm. All in all, I'm pretty bummed about it. It was my first year in a CSA - Community Supported Agriculture, a program where the community pays up front and shares the risk and gains of that year's harvest. It was 26 weeks of a TON of fresh, local, organic veggies - HEAVEN! Not only that, it was really, really reasonably price - coming in around $20 a week. With a small portion going to support their low-income food program.

As with everything on my journey, there were definitely some misses. It was a very rare week when I was able to use every bit of the share. Some weeks, the extra made it into work to some very appreciative and sometimes confused (heirloom veggies don't often appear in the grocery store these days). Some weeks, I'm sorry to say the extras ended up in the trash. (Not even composted. For shame!)

I still don't know what to do with okra. Still never even tasted it. Watermelon radishes? Um... sure. Sadly, no eggplant fans in this house. I want to like it, I really do. But, sadly, no.

My last share ended up being:
  • 1 lb sweet potatoes
  • 1 1/2 lb peppers (purple, orange and green)
  • 1 lb kale
  • 1 lb turnips (um... no ideas here)
  • 1/2 lb garlic (so. much. garlic saved for the winter)
  • 1 bunch carrots
They also offered some salad greens, but they've been wasted so often around here - I left them for someone else. Next year I'm stocking up with salad bar extras and we'll do better!

Sweet potatoes and garlic are headed into storage for the future. Not quite sure how long they will store, but I'm thinking I can get a couple months. Kale's going into my smoothies, except I can't get through a full pound fast enough. I'll need to do something with the rest. Turnips... no idea. 

Almost none of this year's harvest ended up in the freezer. I have a good amount of tomato sauce stored, and some garlic scape pesto, but mostly I missed the boat on that. I'll need to study up for next year... and get a better battle plan!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Local... in another place

This weekend we took off to West Virginia for a family memorial service. The family plot is in the middle of nowhere, and we've made a habit of staying a couple hours away at an adorable B&B. The town itself, Sutton, WV, hosts a small community - around 1,000 people. It's nestled against a river between Charleston and Morgantown. Tim and Melody Urbanic started Cafe Cimino in 1999, an upscale restaurant in the middle of the town's main street. They moved the restaurant and started a B&B, and that's how we found this GEM. We needed a place to stay, and just got extremely lucky to find a comfortable B&B featuring fantastic local foods. Once you're checked in, you can read about their "trans fat" free establishment and their passion for serving fresh, local foods.

The whole operation is in a beautiful  100+ year old home, with a carriage house (where we stayed) and a separate building hosting a wine/cigar bar.

The Carriage House (hosts 4 rooms, I believe)

The Wine/Cigar Bar - named Cimino's Little Dishes

We ate our dinner at Little Dishes both nights - we love the casual, relaxed atmosphere. We also loved the bartender Jill who waited on us the first night, and her husband Aaron who, while he doesn't usually work there, was pitching in on our second night. A great couple! (That's Jay in the picture - trying to pretend he wasn't having his picture taken!)

The walk from our room to the Little Dishes was short, but so cute. We pass the river and a firepit. (And since it was chilly both nights, it was very much appreciated!)


Even though both of our dinners were spectacular, the food highlight was breakfast. The 3-course breakfast was out of this world both days! Our second breakfast started with a fruit plate:

Followed by cranberry and golden raisin scones and blueberry muffins:

And finished with veggie and feta frittata with pepper bacon, crispy polenta and fresh mozzarella with a tomato balsamic dressing:

It's an adorable little town, and we'll most definitely be back!

Cafe Cimino Country Inn and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 29, 2009

If you love shrimp...

...and I do, allergy notwithstanding.

But if you love shrimp, for the love of all that is good and holy, do not read this. It's titled, accurately, Why You REALLY Don't Want To Eat Shrimp by La Vida Locavore (awesome name!) and is frighteningly descriptive of the issues surrounding the production and/or catching of shrimp.

The only reason to read it? (Aside from that whole knowing-what-you-eat thing.) To feel better about an allergy.

Seriously. Don't read it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's My Carbon Footprint?

There is no doubt in my mind that I have a larger than average carbon footprint. Sure, we recycle (but we do not compost.) I keep a very tight control on our heating and air conditioning (but we have more computers and tvs than people.) But my main concern (for so many, many reasons) is that I have a reeeaaallllly long commute. Since I drive a hybrid car, I started wondering how much that offset my 50+ mile commute. As it turns out, there are lots of carbon footprint calculators. Lots. And none of them match.

Using the same basic information, I set out to see if I could get anywhere near the same results from them.

1) CarbonFootprint.com My result: 28.88 tonnes of CO2. They say the US National Average is 20.40. Not surprisingly, factoring in 2 commutes of 40+ miles was the major contributor here.Though, my longer commute in a hybrid car was half what shows for Jay's slightly shorter commute in a moderately efficient crossover vehicle. (As a note, Jay gets all the credit for the hybrid as it was his before I stole it for my long commute.)

What I liked about this site: They asked about lifestyle preferences. Vegetarian? It'll give you credit for that. Only buy organic produce? It factors that too. Also, if you wanted to off-set your carbon footprint, it links to a page that gives you several options, with descriptions of each organization. Their carbon off-set costs ranged from $360 to $700. Oh, and I did like the cute (but sad) graphic.

What I didn't like about this site: The final result is in tonnes, and sadly, it took me a little while to figure out that's the same as tons. My sister also tested this site and thought it was a little cumbersome, so I'd say this one is only for someone who really wants to spend the time to get [what I hope is] a really accurate picture.

2) The Nature Conservancy's Calculator: My result: 75 tons. They say the US National Average is 80.

What I liked about this site: I really liked that you were asked about changes you could have made in the home, such as efficient lights or Energy Star appliances. And that you can see the effects each of those things has on your score as you go.

What I didn't like about this site: Wow! Talk about expensive. They recommend a donation of $1500 to "help protect land, plant trees and measure and verify the amount of carbon that they sequester over the next 70 years." There is some great information about their group along with their recommendation.

3) EPA's Individual and Household Emissions Calculator: My result: 60,550 lbs of CO2 per year. They say 62,250 is the US average for a household of 3. I had to do the math to get to tons to compare with the others (2000 lbs in a ton, FYI). 30.28 tons per year for us, 31.13 as the natural average.

What I liked about this site: There's a section that walks you through positive changes you could make complete with the cost and energy savings from those actions, with labels (no cost, $, $$, and $$$) to show you the cost for each action.

What I didn't like about this site: There were no lifestyle questions, and no place to "get credit" for improvements to your house. No helpful links to places to off-set your carbon footprint either.

4) An Inconvenient Truth > Carbon Calculator:  My result 25.05 tons per year. They say the national average is 7.5 per person each year. That puts a household of 3 at an average of 22.5.

What I liked about this site: Quick and easy, this would be a great stop for someone wanting to spend 3 minutes to see where they are in comparison to the national average. Their link for off-setting your carbon footprint was the cheapest one yet - $294. A bargain for easing that guilty conscience!

What I didn't like about this site: Since there was no place to enter two cars, I had to do the calculator twice to get our household footprint. They also don't list any vehicle options after 2006. For me, there wasn't enough to it, but I can see how this would appeal to others.

5) BP Energy Calculator: My result: 24.8 tons per years. They don't list national averages, at least not in an easy to see place.

What I like about this site: It had fun flash animation. The questions are standard, with some lifestyle and household improvement questions.

What I don't like about this site: It's hard to have complete faith in the site when it's a for-profit energy company, but they do seem in-line with the others. No place to off-site your footprint, completely unsurprisingly.

Final thoughts - Most of the sites were somewhere in the same ballpark: from 24.8 to 30.3. Nature Conservancy was drastically different than the others, and their offset costs reflected this! Depending on the source, we're either just over the natural average, or just under. It makes me feel a little better about our ridiculously long commutes - just a little though! Now that I have a pretty good idea where our footprint falls, I can start researching ways to off-set it. I'll share that as I learn more!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Final Count: My accidental day of baking

I really didn't plan on spending most of my Sunday in the kitchen. But, after the pumpkin killing, I was on a roll! Cooked and pureed the pumpkin, resulting in 11 cups of yummy, fresh pumpkin puree. 10 went straight into the freezer for future (yay!!) cooking projects. The remaining cup sat on the counter awaiting its fate.

Meanwhile, I baked a loaf of the Master Recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day. I need to stop doing that though because that's a really long title to keep typing out! Once that was done, I popped a loaf of pumpkin bread into the oven. I used my grandmother's recipe (two more eggs down!) which is easy and really tasty. I did notice that the pumpkin flavor isn't as concentrated as the canned stuff. I don't think that's a bad thing, but for something like pie, you might want to cook it down some.

I thought I'd been done baking at this point, until I realized we needed to eat dinner. (Yes, this was a realization, sometimes I conveniently forget about dinner.) Since I had no plan and nothing thawed, I whipped up some pizza dough. I meant to use my favorite whole wheat recipe, but after adding half the flour, I realized I'd been adding white flour. Oopsie. Half the dough into the freezer for the future. (All this planning ahead! Oh my!) Monterrey Jack Cheese with  BBQ sauce. Totally hit the spot. And after dinner, I roasted up the pumpkin seeds.

It was a full day of baking, but everything turned out so well! I was tired, but really pleased with my results! Breakfast today was pumpkin bread, lunch was (store-bought) soup with Artisan bread to dip. Carving out a little slice of 'la dolce vita' each day...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pumpkin Killer...

I did it. I killed the pumpkin. It turns out the farmer's market (Annapolis Mall) I planned to hit this afternoon (because I was too lazy to get downtown Annapolis for the morning one) has finished for the season. I headed over to Trader Joe's and it turns out, there were a bunch of cooking options there. I ended up buying a 5 or 6 pound Fairy Tale pumpkin.

Photo source (because I suck at taking blog photos!): The Pumpkin Connection

It was a bit of a challenge cutting the thing up. I kept imagining taking off my finger all for the cause, so I took it sloooow and steady. Scooped out the goop and seeds, and it's roasting in the oven. I took my cooking cues from The Pioneer Woman, who has a handy step by step guide for making pumpkin puree and roasting the seeds. You'd better believe I'm roasting the seeds later! I guess because my slices are bigger and there's more pumpkin to cook, her estimate of 45 minutes at 350 is WAY off.

This pumpkin was so vibrantly orange inside, it almost didn't look real. I cannot wait to try it!! Minor detail... I haven't quite figured out what I'm doing with it!

In the end, it's a California pumpkin, so it misses many of the qualifications I'm searching for. But, I gotta believe doing it myself is better than buying the cans of pumpkin (if you can find them!) at the store. C'est la vie!

I've also got dough rising - made from yesterday's Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day session. It's getting yum in here!

Edited to Add:
Submitted to Fight Back Friday! Check out the other Fight Back Friday posts!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A quiet, rainy day...

It's turning out to be a quiet, stay-at-home kinda day today. It's a little chilly, and has been raining off and on all day... definitely not the kind of day you want to be out in the world! It's too bad though, I had planned to hit the Riva farmer's market this morning to catch and kill a pumpkin! Maybe I'll run over to one of tomorrow's markets (downtown Annapolis or Annapolis Mall).

I've got my third round of bread from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day going. This method is brilliant. Really good bread with almost no effort! I switched to the 100% whole wheat recipe after my first try, and wasn't completely happy with it. So back to the master recipe! We all loved! the master recipe, so why mess with success? Even though the book was very clear that the flour used should be unbleached and not King Arthur brand (an issue with the gluten content, apparently), my first round used bleached King Arthur and it worked out just find. This time I've got organic, unbleached, so we'll see if it makes a big difference.

I'd had the first major issue with the dryer balls this morning. They only work if the last person to use them returns them to the laundry room! Not sure I can fault the product itself for this issue, but it does make it difficult to use them. Never had that issue with the dryer sheets! Hopefully they can be liberated from the "kid's" room sometime soon. I poked my head in and quickly ran back our for fear of infection or being attacked by something he's spawned in there.

4 eggs for breakfast, so 44 to go.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Beef, it's what's for dinner?

I've been thinking quite a bit about food, particularly meat, and how to best approach it given my new priorities. I haven't really needed to buy meat for months because we've had a really full chest freezer. This is because last year, when I was laid off at the beginning of the year and didn't get a permanent job until Fall when we knew Jay would be laid off soon, I shopped the sales and stocked up as much as I could. We have been eating through that stock, because regardless of the impact caused by the production of said food, I can't believe that wasting it does anything but continue the problem. And with 2-3 of us here, we still have quite a bit.

But pretty soon, I'm going to run out of a couple key things. We might have 1 package of chicken breasts left, 1 whole chicken and no ham. We have plenty of ground beef, which makes me sad because that's the one thing I really want to purchase from safe(r) sources.

I recently found out there are two custom butchers in Annapolis. I'm pretty excited about this, even though I don't relish the idea of having to grill the workers about the source and methods of their products. I'm much happier to research online, but it's clear that's not always possible. I figured I'd go over there this weekend and see what I can come up with. (Even though really, I don't need to buy much if anything right now.)

But then I was reading this article and it has me questioning. Am I any better off at a local butcher than the organic (or even regular) options at the grocery store? As important as I know this is, sometimes I am tired at the work it takes to research all the foods we buy. But then I am reminded that that's exactly what the commercial growers and CAFO owners want.

The last PolyFace Farm delivery is coming up in November, and considering they've become the leader in all things sustainable farming, this had been part of my plan for months. Once it became clear that there was no. way. I would be finding a place for their bulk beef option (seriously, so. much. beef), I missed their ordering deadlines. We're coming up on their last delivery of the year, and I'm determined to get my order in this time. It's really hard trying to plan for what would likely be close to 4 months of food. I'll give it my best shot, and we'll see where we end up!

Story of 100 eggs

Well, not 100 exactly, but 67.

We had planned to go camping this weekend with a group of our friends. Leading up to the trip, there were many, many discussions about food and activities. Since a couple of our friends are vegetarians, it made the planning slightly more complicated. When we settled on eggs for breakfast for two mornings, I offered to get the eggs for the trip. 4 dozen seemed about right - 11 people, 2 days. Well, fast forward to this week, the weather looks awful and Jay's coming down with something. Of course, we realized this AFTER I missed the deadline to change this week's farm order. Thursday morning, the nice delivery driver dropped off 5 dozen eggs, 2 lbs bacon (also for the trip) and a half gallon of the best 2% milk ever. The driver politely, but firmly requested we get a bigger insulated bag in the future.

I already had 7 eggs in the house, so now we're lousy with eggs. I whipped up a frittata last night, reducing the total count to 60. I know this doesn't seem like a huge problem - too many local, organic eggs? I hardly expect a pity party... but still - what am I going to do with 60 eggs??

My coworker offered to buy a dozen off me. She wanted to try the farm order this week, but had planned to be out on delivery day.

48 to go...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dryer balls: a review, and an awesome sandwich

I've been slowly trying to move towards natural laundry products over the past year or so. This hasn't been that hard for me since my oh-so-sensitive skin has never allowed me to use any of the "fun" laundry stuff. Dryer sheets, fabric softener? Not so much. About 6 months ago, I started using vinegar in the fabric softener slot, and I've really been happy with it. No issues with smelling like a salad - at least not that anyone's mentioned to me!

We've still been using an anti-static dyer sheet though (with 5 cats, we need something!), which I don't like at all. Aside from the cost, it makes me nervous that I don't know what's in them. And, yeah, it's another thing to throw out, but the thing that really annoys me is that I find them laying around everywhere. Apparently it's very difficult for boys unnamed household members to pick them up when they're done with their laundry. So this weekend I picked up some Dryer Max™ Anti-Static Dryer Balls. I thought I was buying Nellie's brand, honestly, but hey, it's what I found at the store. I can't speak for the longevity of the product just yet (which was what the Amazon reviews didn't like) but I've been pretty pleased with them so far. I wouldn't say it stopped all of the static, especially on a fuzzy fleece pullover, but it's a pretty good alternative to dryer sheets so far.

In the meantime, I've been trying to focus more on local foods and seasonal flavors. I'm usually pretty terrible at this, my stomach wants what it wants. And it's usually pretty random and unhealthy. Seriously, for a few months, I was obsessed with Pei Wei (a PF Changs - version of take-out chinese) and I could (and did) eat there 3-4 times a week. Switching to local and seasonal foods is a lot like electroshock therapy re-training my stomach. I've started doing this by focusing on high quality ingredients. Last week I ordered an amazing smoked swiss cheese and some freshly cured, thick bacon as part of my weekly milk and eggs delivery from South Mountain Creamery. Last night, I thought about doing a simple cheese, crackers and apple slices dinner, but figured Jay would ask where the real dinner was after we finished. So, I grilled up some a paninis using the swiss, 1 1/2 slices of bacon each, thinly sliced granny smith apples and a teeny, tiny bit of honey. It was out of this world.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A pumpkin of a problem

I read earlier today that there's a pumpkin shortage. I love pumpkin as much, or more, than the average person... but this doesn't seem like a big problem to me initially. Are we really running out of pumpkin? It seems to me that I can't go anywhere lately without running into (or falling over) them. Hell, I have 3 on my porch right now.

The problem seems to be a shortage of canned pumpkin. Um, I've only ever cooked with canned pumpkin. What about Thanksgiving? I'm hosting it this year for the first time. (Gasp!) Well, if worse comes to worst, I'll just make this year's Thanksgiving pie with one of them, right? I was sort of thinking about it anyway, actually.

Well, that article mentions that you can't eat the jack-o-lantern variety. I'm guessing that's what I have. This leads me to a question - is the problem that people just don't usually eat them? Or is there something inedible about them?

A quick Google search leads me to what I can only hope is good information. It seems you can eat any of the pumpkins lining the shelves, porches or streets these days. But you might not want to. Apparently they are stringy and not sweet enough. They'll serve for baked goods, but not for pies. For pies (or soup), you'll want a different variety. A smaller variety. 3-6 pounds seems ideal. I do have a smaller one on the porch, but there's really no way to know what variety it is. What's a girl to do?

This all leads me to the conclusion that I need to schedule a pumpkin-hunting excursion. I'll need to rely on the nice people at the Farmer's Market to point me in the right direction. And then? Then, I'm going to kill (and eat) a pumpkin.

And we begin again...

Ok, so here's the deal. I started this blog because it had become increasingly important to me to have a sustainable, local and mostly organic lifestyle, and I wanted to document my transition. Well, document my successes while I transitioned. It very quickly became obvious that it was harder than I ever realized. And since I wanted to talk about my success... well, I had little to talk about. It's not to say I haven't had successes, because I have, but I've had far more, um, lessons learned than I expected.

So I think from now on, I'll have to talk about the whole story. I haven't given up, not by a long shot. I'm just finding it harder than I expected, which was pretty naive to begin with.

Coming soon, I'll recap some of my successes (local milk? check) and challenges (local wine? um... not so much). Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Week 9, CSA

2 heads garlic
1.25 pounds squash
1/2 pound green bell and chile peppers
1 head cabbage or a large green tomato
1/2 pound carrots, onions, cucumbers
1/2 pound kale and swiss chard

Kale, collards and broccoli on the you-pick list.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

7 weeks of the CSA

Here's a recap (more or less) of the first 7 weeks from Clagett Farm's CSA. They send an email to members just before the first pickups of the week. It's been slightly different once you get there, but this gives a good snapshot!

Week 1:
1 bunch garlic scallions
1 bunch flowers or herbs(probably a choice of chives, oregano, mint, lemon balm and sage)
leaf lettuce (1/2 pound)
other greens (1/4 pound of spicy salad mix, arugula or baby kale--your pick-up will probably have only one of these, but you will get it all eventually)
Strawberries (1 pint)
3 seedlings (options include tomatoes, peppers, chives, basil, and more)
popcorn (1/2 cup)
arugula or rhubarb (choose one bunch)

Week 2:
It appears I deleted the email. I do remember it was pretty similar to week 1 - lots of greens, and some more seedlings.

Strawberries join the "you-pick" list this week.

Week 3:
1/3 pound lettuce
2 pounds kale
1/2 pound hakurei turnips, radishes OR 1 kohlrabi
1/3 pound bok choi
3/4 pounds garlic scapes
1/4 pound greens or some other small item, depending on
your pick-up site

Week 4
1/2 pound total: lettuce and kale
1 pound total: kale + collards
1.25 pounds total: kohlrabi + hakurei turnips + radishes
1/2 pound carrots
1/4 pound garlic scapes
1/2 pound total which varies depending on pick up site, including rhubarb, zucchini, herbs and spinach

Also this week, lettuce, kale and spinach join the "you-pick" list.

Week 5
3 pounds total: kohlrabi + turnips
1/2 pound carrots
1 zucchini
3/4 pound peas (choice of sugar snap and snow peas!)
all you want garlic scapes
3/4 pound total: lettuce and chard
3/4 pound total: kale and collards

Lettuce and kale still on the "you-pick" list.

Week 6
(I missed this week due to vacation, so I picked up a double share on week 7)
1 fresh garlic bulb
1 small bunch of green onions
2 pounds total: kohlbari + turnips
1/2 pound peas
1/4 pound lettuce
1/2 pound kale
1 head cabbage or 1 pound carrots

Lettuce and kale still on the "you-pick" list.

Week 7
1 head fresh garlic
1 head cabbage (red or green) or 1 lb summer squash
1 1/4 pounds purple top turnips
3/4 pound total: kale, collards or swiss chard
1/4 pound total: lettuce, peas or broccoli

Last chance for kale and collards on the "you-pick" list.

Week 7 in reality was a little different than the above list - I ended up with zucchini, cabbage, beans and garlic.

Friday, April 10, 2009

This is challenging

I wouldn't call this week the most successful week, in terms of the local food movement. We ended up eating out more than usual because my grocery purchases were so much less than normal. Sure, we could have eaten salads every night this week, but we didn't.

Not only that, so far, the most challenging meal is lunch. Jay and I usually take our lunches to work, his with sandwiches and fruit, mine is usually some type of frozen meal and fruit. We did have some fruit leftover from the previous week's shopping, as well as the bananas and mandarins I bought. It was still much less in both quantity and variety than usual, and there's just no such thing as a "local" frozen meal. I'm really stumped on how we can incorporate local food into our regular lunches. I'm sure there's a way, but I'm not sure to thinking out of the box yet.

Last night we had an almost completely local dinner though. We had a potato frittata and mixed green salad. The frittata was easy and really tasty.

I think, short term, my goal will be to just have the healthiest foods I can. This will include as much local food as possible, but in the absence of those options, I'll supplement with whole, healthy organic options as well. I'd rather eat an organic pear than none at all.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Swiss Chard and Green Garlic Creamy Pasta

I found a great use for Swiss Chard tonight. It comes together quickly, and is quite filling. So pretty and it tasted great!
  • 1 lb rainbow swiss chard, leaves and stems separated
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 2 whole green garlic plants
  • 3 oz cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup 2% milk
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 10 ounces whole wheat pasta, cooked according to directions.
  1. Roughly chop chard and green garlic plants, setting chard leaves aside.
  2. Heat oil in saucepan, then saute chard stems and garlic until tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, slowly heat milk and cream cheese in small pot, stirring to combine. Do not overheat!
  4. Once stems and garlic are tender, add leaves. Stir to combine, and heat until slightly wilted.
  5. Add milk mixture to pasta, stir well.
  6. Add chard and garlic, plus half the Parmesan cheese.
  7. Top with remaining Parmesan.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Today's Dinner

I managed to make partially local dinner today. We had honey-garlic grilled chicken featuring cilantro from the garden! I based it on this recipe, using olive oil and lemon pepper, and marinated for about 90 minutes. On the side was a very large salad featuring the falsely-labeled local greens from California.

I intended to take pictures, but it was eaten too quickly! The recipe was a definite hit. Very tender chicken. I'm not sure is I'll ever be able to get local limes, but otherwise, this could be a completely local meal.

It's gardening time!

I worked on the "garden" some more today. Our garden is actually a very long, narrow flower bed that sits along-side the driveway. Last year I had the hubby dig it all out, and I added a mix of compost and really rich soil. This garden space is the sunniest spot we have. The furthest part definitely doesn't get full sun, but I'm trying anyway! My mostly failure garden last year had nothing to do with lack of nutrients! (Unless you count the lack of full sun...) I'm convinced if I try hard enough I can make it produce.

The veggie seedlings I bought Friday made it into the ground. I know I should have hardened them off some more, but I'm hoping they'll be okay. This is the first time I've tried to used lettuce seedlings, and now I know why you direct seed. Their roots are too fragile, and lots of them broke. Hopefully they'll make it okay.

Half my snow pea seeds have sprouted, so I threw a few more seeds down to fill in. I'd like to get 8 vines going, since the season is so short for them. I also put 4 bush bean seeds down. It may be a little early for them, but we'll see. Those plants really out performed the pole beans last year. I dropped in a few cilantro seeds - the seedling I planted looks great, but I'd like to extend the season. The farmer I bought the plant from said the leaves will freeze well.

Ready for use already is:
  • Rosemary
  • Green garlic (I never harvested my garlic from last year, it shot up and is growing like crazy! I may leave it in for awhile to see if it'll form full bulbs this year.)
  • Chives.... so many chives
  • Tarragon
  • Cilantro
Also growing in the garden:
  • Snow peas
  • Bush beans
  • Lettuce
  • Mesclun lettuce mix
  • Strawberries
  • Curly parsley
  • Italian parsley
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Spinach
I still have some space left, though I haven't decided what else to put in. I figure I'll put a tomato plant in there, and definitely lots of basil. Not sure what else though!

We had a late breakfast of toast (not local, and not organic, but whole wheat) and eggs from the Amish Market. I added some chives into hubby's. He was a big fan!

Now to figure out dinner!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Farmer's Market Opening Day

I managed to get to the Farmer's Market (Riva Road, Saturdays 7 - Noon through Dec 20) about 10 minutes after its opening this morning. About a third of the vendors were missing, but those that were there were ready to go! I scored some REAL local things this time!

  • Large bag of kale
  • Large bag mixed lettuce
  • Small bundle of green garlic
  • Free range organic eggs from Ivy Brand. I actually pass this farm on my way to the farmer's market. 12 miles from home, although it's further if you factor in getting to the market. If only the farm was open to the public!
(Clearly, I didn't need more eggs after the 2 dozen I bought yesterday, but I was so excited to find truly local eggs - and the vendor talked me into it. She promised I wouldn't want to buy store-bought eggs ever again. I wonder what she'll suggest when the market ends for the season!)

I picked up some herb plants ready for the garden:
  • 2 oregano
  • 1 sage
  • 1 thyme
  • 1 Italian flat leaf parsley
  • 1 large bundle of cilantro plants
I grabbed a couple of orange cranberry muffins before noticing they were from the Great Harvest Bread Company. Really tasty, but not really local.

I also scored two bags of granola bars. They contain mostly organic ingredients, and the vendor stand looked like a local maker, but I didn't stop to verify.

The herbs are already snuggled into the garden. I'm also working on hardening off some plants I bought yesterday from Homestead Nursery. In addition to some flowers, I bought some packs of 6 seedlings:
  • brussel sprout
  • broccoli
  • lettuce
  • mixed greens
I tried to grow all these things from seed last year and only had moderate success with the lettuce. Here's to hoping this year goes better! I already have a head start though - my strawberry and rosemary plants are still around from last year and I've got two old herb pots my parents left me when they moved. I noticed yesterday I have a very healthy looking pot of chives and the other pot has tarragon and parsley growing.

Jay and I are headed out to the Eastern Shore today, I'm going to keep my eyes open for any early farm stands! Before we leave, I'm going to order my starter cheese-making kit!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The beginning

Today we start on this local food project. I know we'll never get to 100%, but I'm going to give it my best shot. I figured it would be relatively easy - we have an Amish Market open year-round and tons of Farmers Markets during the season. There's even one open twice a month in the Winter.

I started my day at the Amish Market in Annapolis. I was there about a year ago, and I remembered being surprised that some of the products weren't Amish. I found the same issue today. I skipped the meat counter, it was busy and I wasn't brave enough to start asking questions. I stopped at the pretzel vendor and was surprised to see the hardworking Amish girls using Pam before rolling the dough. Clearly, this wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.

I ended up with the following:
  • Golden Honey and Sugar Free Strawberry Jam, Olde Dutch Jams in Intercourse, PA. 132 miles away.
  • Apple Butter Spread, Kauffman's in Bird-in-hand, PA. 129 miles away.
  • Half Gallon 2% milk, Kreider Farms in Manheim, PA. 128 miles away.
  • Dozen Large Brown Eggs, Unknown origin.
  • White American Cheese slices, Unknown origin.
  • Smoked Cheddar, Millport Dairy in Leola, PA. (This one came with a sign exclaiming its Amish Made status.) 128 miles away.

Seeing as how we actually need to eat more than the above, I ventured over to Whole Foods.

In the non-local realm:
I already knew we'd be breaking the local buying for bananas (a staple in our house). I managed to find some organic bananas from Columbia. I also grabbed a bag of Mandarins from California, and two cans of Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes.

The most disappointing items were Organic Rainbow Chard and Green Lettuce from Lakeside Organic Gardens. Labeled as "local", these actually come from California. I guess Whole Foods and I have different definitions.

I managed to score some relatively local items though:
  • Dozen Large Brown Organic, Free Range eggs, Piney River, VA - 192 miles.
  • Cheddar with Old Bay, Hawk's Hill Creamery in Pylesville, MD - 80 miles.
  • Live Basil Plant, Shenandoah Gardens, Harrisonburg, VA - 167 miles.
  • Farm Raised Rainbow Trout from North Carolina (I haven't figured out what the goals for local fish are yet.)
Later in the day, I ran over to Homestead Nursery. They actually had some preserves from a local farm - including tomato sauce, but I didn't grab it. I might end up going back for it, if I get desperate. I'm hoping to get the garden moving quickly, because we definitely can't exist on what I'm finding now! Our first CSA share won't be until May 15th

Luckily, we're pretty well stocked up on meat and some frozen veggies, so this should get us through . Hopefully I can find more at opening day of the Annapolis Farmer's Market (Riva Rd) tomorrow.

Dinner tonight will be salad (green lettuce from above), and home-made pizza. I'm going to try to whip up a tomato sauce with the canned tomatoes and fresh basil, and use the Amish smoked cheddar, along with some fresh, but not local parmesan.

A definite start, but not as good as I'd hoped.