The first and the last

I love it when we sit down to a meal and realize it’s almost all local food!  We made this salad with our first garden harvest of greens (although we’ve been buying local lettuce for a few weeks now), radishes, green onion, and locally grown kidney beans.  The sunflower seeds and dressing (homemade with a base of olive oil, vinegar, and minced garlic) prevent this salad from being 100% local.

Second component of the meal: butternut squash soup.  We bought 15 butternut squash in the fall; for this meal, we ate the last squash.  They kept beautifully for over six months with minimal effort.  We put them in mesh bags (the bags that onion come in, for example) and hung the bags from nails in our basement.  Simple!

For this soup, we roasted the whole squash, then added sauteed onions, butter, milk, cumin, turmeric, and salt.  I blended it all with my stick blender for easy clean-up.

It all came together for a simple, delicious, local dinner.

Milk!

Several weeks ago, a friend turned us on to the milk from Lavy Dairy Farms in Silex, MO, just north of St. Louis.  Their listing on the Local Harvest website (linked above) reads as follows:

“The Lavy Dairy Farm is a certified organic Grade A licensed dairy. Family owned and operated. We sell quality organic raw milk. Our cows are cross bred for high protein and butterfat.”

Not only is their milk organic and local, the cows are pasture-fed (except in winter).  We finally visited in-person on the way home from Iowa yesterday.  For the amazing price of $3/gallon, we left with four gallons of beautiful milk.  Until we found the Lavy Dairy Farm, the lowest price we’d seen for this product (local, organic, pastured milk) was $10/gallon.

Now here’s the part that gets me.  They produce more milk than they sell directly to customers (like us), so every other day, a big truck comes to empty their milk tanks.  Due to the low demand for organic milk, they cannot get on an organic pick-up route at this time.  Their amazing milk that comes from cows tended with such care gets mixed in with all the other milk from factory-farm dairies!  Such a tragedy.

I don’t have exact numbers, but some quick peeking at milk commodity prices indicates that they make a mere $1 (rough average) per gallon on milk that they sell on a large scale.  They can sell their milk directly to customers (like us), but not directly to stores or at farmers’ markets because it is unpasteurized.

If you’re not sure that buying local food makes a difference, this proves that it does.  In this case, even selling at the bargain price of $3/gallon, the farmer makes $2 PER GALLON more when selling locally.  The Lavy Farm, and countless others like it, require [more] customers who value high-quality, healthy food produced in an environmentally-conscious manner.  Vote with your dollars!

I had my heart set on seeing some calves (and posting some adorable pictures here), but that was not to be. Due to the ever-present rain, we didn’t get to see as much of the farm as we hoped yesterday, but that just leaves something to look forward to on a future milk run!

Red hot chili peppers (or “Experiential learning”)

In seventh grade, my home economics class made pancakes and maple syrup.  I’m still not sure why we had to “make” the maple syrup, but apparently you can buy some sort of packaged “maple syrup” mix (which I’m sure consists of fun things like corn syrup solids, artificial flavors, and coloring), combine it with water, bring the mixture to a boil on the stove top, and voilà! maple syrup.

Skeptical about this “maple syrup,” I logically decided to taste it before adding it to my pancakes, rather than risk ruining all of the pancakes if the syrup was gross (which it probably was).  Not so logically, my sampling method involved STICKING MY FINGER into the pan of BOILING SYRUP.  The result?  A nice second-degree burn on my right index finger.  I do not recommend this method of taste testing hot liquids, especially hot, STICKY liquids.

I had "E.T. finger" for a number of weeks

Anyhow, last year we bought some locally-grown chipotle peppers.  (Chipotle peppers are just smoked jalapeño peppers.)  We have been slowly working our way through a rather large bag of them, enjoying the rich, smoky flavor they bring to recipes.  Like all chili peppers, they possess a good bit of heat.

Last night, I chopped one of the chipotles to add to a pot of chili.  A few minutes later, I felt an intense burning on the skin directly under my left eye — the skin that I had just rubbed with my unwashed chili pepper hands.  In an effort to alleviate the burning, I washed the area with soap and water, which only served to move the hot pepper INTO my eye.  The next few minutes involved me lying on the kitchen floor, worried that I might go blind in my left eye, with Matthew next to me, flushing my eye with a bottle of saline solution.

The good news?  My eye returned to normal in a relatively short time period.  Lesson learned?  It really is important to wash your hands (and cooking surfaces, such as knives and cutting boards) thoroughly after they come in contact with hot peppers.  And until you can do so, keep your hands away from your face!  Who would have guessed?

E.T. image credit to this site

June Eating

I really like food — eating food, cooking food, talking about food, thinking about food.  Fortunately, the husband shares these interests, so we usually cook together.  When my sister asked me for recipes awhile back, I was stymied, because we don’t often cook from recipes.  Sure, we have a shelf with lots of lovely cookbooks sitting on it, but except for some tried and true favorites, the cookbooks get little attention.

We prefer to cook with what we have on hand, trying ingredient combinations based on what sounds good and variants of dishes we enjoyed in the past.  If we have any ingredient we’re unsure about, well, that’s where internet searches come into the picture.  We also prioritize local foods which are abundant here right now, so without further ado, here are some recent creations.

  1. Sauteed swiss chard* with garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, served with quinoa.  Side of broiled asparagus**.
  2. Broccoli* and celery* stir fry with garlic and peas, served over rice.  Side of roasted beets*.
  3. Chanterelle mushrooms* sauteed in butter and olive oil with garlic.  Served over homemade bread with a side of steamed asparagus**.
  4. Salad of mixed lettuces* and arugula*, topped with roasted beets*, goat cheese**, and homemade poppy seed dressing.
  5. Whole wheat cappellini with homemade basil* pesto.  Side of grilled beets* and sweet potatoes.

* Food we grew (or foraged, in the case of the chanterelles).

** Food grown locally that we purchased from the farmer’s market or farmer.

Strawberry season + deep freeze = lots of work (and some good eats)

Late last fall, we purchased a used deep freeze so we would have a way to store local produce for the long winter months.  We are just now beginning to fill it with spring’s bounty.  Last weekend was asparagus; this weekend was strawberries.  Locally grown, using organic practices strawberries.

I froze most of the berries whole, but I couldn’t resist making some freezer jam.  I’ve observed my mom making freezer jam, but had never done it myself.  When I called for directions, she warned me that I would not like the amount of sugar necessary for the process.  (I frequently cut the amount of sugar in recipes to make them healthier.  You can often do this without negatively impacting the recipe.)

A quick bike ride to the grocery store yielded some Sure-Jell (pectin), complete with directions for freezer jam.  I quickly scanned the directions and saw that for 2 cups of crushed strawberries, I was supposed to add 4 cups of sugar.  4 cups of sugar???  For 2 cups of berries?!?  Why don’t I just open the bag of sugar and pour it straight down my throat?

As I was contemplating reducing the sugar, I looked more closely at the directions, which seemed to be speaking directly to me:

Measure exact amount of sugar into a separate bowl.  (REDUCING SUGAR OR USING SUGAR SUBSTITUTES WILL RESULT IN SET FAILURES.)

(Note: bold, italics, and all caps were part of the original directions, not something I added.)

They may as well have written, “Melissa, we are talking to you.  We know you are thinking about reducing the amount of sugar.  Don’t do it!”

I reluctantly bowed to the wisdom of the powers that be, and I now have about 10 cups (I doubled the recipe) of delicious strawberry flavored sugar goo jam in my freezer.  To be enjoyed in moderation.