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 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