Friday, November 29, 2013

book review: Dearie: the Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz

There are many people who might not think that spending 25+ hours listening to an audiobook is a productive or enjoyable use of time. But when you commute as much as I do, you need something to pass the time and/or stave off the road rage. (Oh Parkway West, you try the soul.) The most recent book I finished is Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz. It was a fantastic use of more than 25 hours of my time. 

Julia Child's profile has been heightened in the last few years, much of that owing to the rise of cooking in the public interest and a wildly popular memoir, Julie & Julia, which chronicles one woman's project to cook all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking within one year. The movie based on the memoir also brought her to the forefront of popular culture, introducing her to a generation that didn't grow up watching her cook on public television.

I was introduced to her through that memoir. I then found myself intrigued enough to go deeper, and I picked up My Life in France, Julia's own book about, obviously, her life in France with her husband, Paul. Ironically, I read the book during my honeymoon. (Yes, we're the type of people who read books on trips, even honeymoons.) It's one of my favorite reads of all time.

Spitz's book begins at the beginning - with background on Julia's grandparents and family history. It traces her (remarkable) life in great detail, quoting from her own letters, family members and friends. (Man do I wish we were still a society that had a letter writing habit.) We're so used to hearing about how Julia liked to cook and how she introduced French food to American society. We forget that she was actually a real person and had interests outside of what she brought to our culinary history. I liked that this book really spent time explaining how Julia became the person that the country fell in love with, including the things that were important to her and the things that made her who she was - good and bad.

We have a tendency with public figures to gloss over the not-so-nice parts of their personalities, especially if their public faces are positive. I liked that this book clearly showed that Julia had character flaws, just like anyone else. She was a normal person who led an extraordinary life.

A good biography makes you want to call everyone you know and start sentences with "Did you know that...?" I wanted to do this so many times while listening to this book. Did you know Julia was a breast cancer survivor? Did you know that she had a thing for hot dogs from Costco? Did you know she was friends with James Beard and M.F.K. Fisher? Did you know the love of her life, her husband Paul, suffered from dementia in his last years and didn't know who she was? Did you know she was supposed to be on one of the planes involved in 9/11, but due to a scheduling snafu ended up staying in Boston longer?

I also think a good biography doesn't feel like a list of facts, but an engaging narrative. This book made time spent in the car fly by, partially owing to a great reading by the actress who recorded the book, but also simply because it felt like a story I was swept up in. I have a much greater appreciation for the national treasure that is Mastering the Art of French Cooking and how it stands apart from so many other cookbooks through the years. Even in her 90s, when craving french onion soup, Julia made her own recipe. No other recipe could touch it. 

Perhaps I'm drawn to Julia because of her strong feminism. Or because she was both larger than life and ordinary. Probably a lot of reasons, as she was a complex woman. But maybe at the end of the day, I love that she valued something that I do - cooking and carefully crafted, delicious food. She didn't just value the food, but the work and the skill and the time that it took to produce. Cooking is valuable and it's for everyone - an art everyone can access and enjoy.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

on gratitude

I'm sitting in a local coffee shop on the North Side as the snow that started overnight keeps falling (#gobblegeddon is the best hashtag I've seen so far), watching out the window and listening to people come in and out. Most of them are grumbling about the weather, even though most of them have probably lived in western Pennsylvania for their entire lives and shouldn't be surprised that in winter, it snows.

Even with the holidays approaching, as a people, we like to grumble. When pressed around the Thanksgiving table, we'll say "Yes, I'm thankful for my family and friends and job and a roof over my head." Meaning it, yes. But it feels rote - like we've all listed those things off a million times. But how many times do we move beyond what we're "thankful for" and really dwell on gratitude? I can list off a million things I am thankful for - like getting enough of a cell signal at my desk to listen to Pandora or the Americano I am currently drinking. But for what am I truly grateful?

I could probably reflect and write on gratitude for thousands of words. I am truly blessed in so many ways. But something in particular is nagging in my mind, especially as Thanksgiving approaches tomorrow - the profound gratitude that I feel knowing that I have no doubts about where my next meal is coming from.

Last week, the news was buzzing about a viral photo that showed a holiday food drive that was happening for employees at a Wal-mart near where I went to college in Ohio. This brought up the debate about a living wage for retail and restaurant workers - and rightfully so. But to distill it to just a fight about wages obscures the fact that there are probably workers at that store who wouldn't have a Thanksgiving dinner without that food drive. And there are people across America who will go to bed hungry tonight. 

There are many food drives at this time of year, and supporting food banks is really important. But I don't think that people will truly understand the scope or the severity of the need in this country unless we begin to be truly grateful for what is on our tables and appreciating its value. 

When a child doesn't want to eat something at dinner, parents will say "Do you know there are hungry children in Africa that would love to eat that?" That's true, but there are hungry children next door, too. In our own neighborhoods. 

As I enter the abundance of the holidays - elaborate meals and baked goods, presents and parties - I want to remain profoundly grateful for the gift of a full stomach and do my part to fill some more.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone.  

For more information:
(Nationally) Feeding America
(Locally) Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Real Life CSA: week 25, produce

This is it! The final week in our spring/summer/fall produce share. Lots of great basics this week.

Can't say no to butternut squash and apple cider this time of year. The turnips will make another delicious puree, and the carrots, onion and potatoes are always eaten up on salads and as sides. They never last long in our house!

We must eat well in our house because we even had a hitchhiker along for the ride this time. This little bugger was fast for a slug!

I love this herb pack for Thanksgiving - rosemary, sage and thyme. The bag smelled delicious.

The last of the apples for this season. Mark looked at them and said he was glad we know how to appreciate these since most people would probably think they were "bad" because of their spots and lumps and bumps. I am glad I haven't had the feeling of a waxy apple on my teeth in a long time!

Happy for one more round of sweet and sour cabbage too. It's a fantastic side for pork, and it also uses some apple cider!

Our winter CSA with Penns Corner Farm Alliance starts the first week of December, so I'm anxious to see what it will bring. (We're switching CSAs for the winter season simply due to pick-up location convenience - our current pick-up spot is not a winter location and the other locations are prohibitive in inclement weather from our house.)

Friday, November 22, 2013

book review: Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard

This book was a breath of fresh air after getting riled up watching Vegucated this week and reading some informative yet disturbing research on the threat of antibiotic resistance. As the subtitle would suggest, Gaining Ground is indeed the story of one man working to save his family farm. It's hopeful and inspiring and beautifully written.

Frequently we hear from Big Agriculture about how supportive they are of farmers and making their lives easier. We see commercials idolizing the American farmer from these companies (*ahem*, Monsanto) and claiming that their whole company history has a legacy of upholding the American agricultural dream. 

The most poignant part of this book illustrates how that is simply an illusion created in a marketing department. After years of Forrest Pritchard's family farm taking on more and more debt and trying different things to make it profitable again, the family turned to commodity crops - corn, in particular. Managed by someone they hired to grow the fields upon fields of corn, they hope to get at least $10,000 from the harvest - enough to cover their debt payments at a minimum. The manager shows up on their doorstop and tells them they got "eighteen sixteen." They are devastated, thinking they only made $1,816 on a harvest that they were expecting five figures from. The manager is embarrassed to relate to them that in fact all of the season's work - all of the fields and harvesting, the months of time and the use of the land - has yielded them $18.16. Eighteen dollars, sixteen cents. Not enough to fill a car's tank with gas. 

I'd encourage you to read the book, since Pritchard relates that story in a way that rips your heart out, like you're standing on the front porch of their house looking at the manager and seeing the truth hit them all squarely in the face. It's at this point that Pritchard decides to turn the farm around - to abandon commodity farming for a different path. The rest of the book is the story of that turnaround - how they went from growing commodity corn to farming pasture - first for cattle and chickens and then for pigs and sheep.

I don't want to give away all of the wonderful stories in this book - though I will say the one involving Pedro riding shotgun made me both laugh out loud and shed a few tears. (Pedro is a goat.)

To say the book is hopeful and positive isn't to say the process of saving the family farm was all beautiful pastures and dollar signs. He even makes a point to say that saving the farm is a journey, not a destination. There is hardship and sadness along the way. But this book was a testament to the fact that good, slow food production can be done. Farmers deserve better than $18.16 for their essential contribution to our basic needs. 

Reading about what it actually takes to start an operation such as Mr. Pritchard's also gives you an appreciation for why pasture raised meats don't cost $1.99/pound - and why they shouldn't. We equate higher prices with quality in so many other areas - why can't we get to that mentality with our food? When we have to buy an appliance, we don't go for the cheapest one we can find because an appliance is an investment. Food is an investment too - particularly in our long-term health and well-being, to say nothing of the environmental and community investment.

Treat yourself to reading this book. Don't be surprised if it makes you want a farm - or a Pedro - of your own.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Real Life CSA: meat, month 6

Due to a scheduling snafu on my part, I was not able to take photos of the final meat CSA from Clarion River Organics, but I still want to relay what we got, because it was pretty awesome.

The chickens were all stewing hens this month, since in other months we got more roasters. We found that slow cooking a stewing hen in the crockpot produced pretty flavorful meat for us to use in salads and wraps (that just fell right off the bone with minimal work required). We'll probably do that again soon so we can boost our supply of stock again.

For beef, we got a big roast, some bones for soup, sirloin steak and the usual ground beef, as well as some all-beef hot dogs. The bones will come in handy because I'm going to need a supply of beef stock for the winter as well. 

As a side note, we have saved so much money over the last few years by making our own stock. Not only does it save us money, but it allows us to control the seasoning and the portion size for freezing to reduce waste. 

This month it was the pork share that really got us excited. Not only did we get more sausage, chops and ribs, but two types of bacon. I adore bacon, but rarely eat it, since it's very expensive to buy pastured pork products in the store, and we don't often have pork belly for Mark to cure some of his own. We are going to enjoy every bite of that bacon.

Last but not least, we got pork fat. Yep, FAT. And we are psyched. Why? Because you can render pork fat into lard. LARD. Real lard. From a local farm. Which we have never found in the Pittsburgh area before (unless there's some place I'm missing). I've always wanted to make a pie crust with lard. (If you haven't guessed, we're not a fat-phobic household. We drink and eat full fat dairy products. Moderation is our philosophy. Plus you can't convince me a little pork fat is less healthy than a cup of Crisco. Anyway.)

I'll probably do a post when we render the fat and share how it turns out. Our CSA email provided a link to a how-to, so that should really help. (Yet another benefit of CSAs - they have a vested interest in you being able to actually use and consume their products.)

This was the last month for the meat CSA this season. If Clarion River offers the meat CSA again next year, we will most definitely sign up. (We've now got a freezer full of meat to eat for the next 6 months!) We've made a lot of great dishes with their products and the quality is high for the price. It's also made us really conscious of using up what we have and cooking from the freezer, rather than from the grocery store shelves. It was a great experience, and I encourage anyone interested in sourcing their meat from local farms to give it a try and check out their options. (They offer the chicken, pork and beef share separately so you can order based on your preference - we just really like chicken, pork and beef.)

Also, if you want to try their meat out before you consider a CSA subscription, visit them at the Pittsburgh Public Market this winter in its new location!

Thanks Clarion River Organics!  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

movie review: Vegucated

If the point of a documentary is to get people to critically think about an issue, Vegucated certainly met its goal for me, though it caused me to scribble furious notes and get riled up more than any other documentary I've watched so far.

Vegucated follows three people who agreed to go vegan for a period of 6 weeks, undergo a health screening before and after, and be educated about why someone should choose to be a vegan. Childish cinematography aside, I didn't want to hate this film. I felt like it meant well, but veered off into a lot of what I felt was misleading information.

First, my disclaimers. I think anyone should be able to pursue the diet of their choice. I respect vegetarians and vegans for their diet choices and see the myriad of benefits diets such as these provide, not only for animals and the environment, but for individual health. However, if the choice to live by those diets involves twisted logic (which is then used to attack what I'd call an ethical omnivore diet), that's where I have an issue.

When the three participants decided to go vegan for the purposes of the film and were beginning the transition, the filmmaker/narrator emphasized that they should look for vegan versions of their favorite products to ease the transition. This film was so full of processed foods, it made me ill. I'm not sure why someone would choose to give up dairy or eggs, only to constantly eat heavily processed foods with artificial additives and GMO soy. Processed foods have a huge impact on the environment and vegan versions of regular processed junk are not at all more healthy. To wave GMO soy milk and veggie/soy burgers packed with a list of 30 ingredients and claim that it's the epitome of health is misleading. If I saw one more person waving a container of Earth Balance around acting like it was health food, I was going to scream.

Along those same lines, the filmmaker points out all the wonderful restaurants where you can eat vegan - like Subway! and Johnny Rockets! My question is this - even if you eat a vegan option at Subway, you are supporting a corporation that does not support environmentally sustainable practices, and sources the meat it serves to other people from the worst of the factory farms they claim to not support. So it rings false to me when you claim veganism is good for the environment, but give your money to the exact corporations that destroy it. 

There was a great deal of footage from factory farming operations in this film, which in some ways is great. I applaud any effort to get people to stop eating factory farmed meat. I've written about that before, as well as made clear my support for defeating Ag-Gag laws. If the only meat available were from factory farms, I'd never eat another bite for the rest of my life. Factory farms are atrocious and disgusting in the extreme and should not even be allowed to exist. However, the filmmaker/narrator doesn't just stop there with farms - she visits a "small, family farm" and claims it's just as bad as factory farms. No kidding. The "small, family farm" that she showed had a CONFINEMENT SYSTEM for its chickens. 

The farms where we source our meat absolutely would never use a confinement system. I've been there and seen it - I don't have to go undercover with a camera because they openly welcome people to visit. While I think people can legitimately have ethical issues with eating animals, it is unfair to paint all meat eaters as people who allow animals to suffer. Not everyone who drinks milk sources the milk from a cow who had her calf ripped away from her at birth.    

Another argument that doesn't hold up is that all animals raised for food contribute to environmental decline. It's true that factory farmed meat is terrible for the environment, and the majority of grain production in the country (as well as most of the antibiotics, incidentally) goes to raising these animals. Last time I checked, our farms allowed their cattle to graze on pasture, not grain shipped in from across the country. They also use their manure to fertilize fields, not trap it in a waste lagoon and then spray it everywhere, contaminating water supplies. They use rotational grazing methods that are sustainable. They don't destroy the earth - they nurture and protect it.  

And this doesn't even touch the health portion of this film. Yes, in 6 weeks the three people each lost a few pounds and saw benefits in their blood pressure and cholesterol. And it's a fact that a plant-based or plant-heavy diet that's low in saturated fat and cholesterol is great for your health. But these people were not active and also continued to eat junk food - but it was vegan junk food, so it was "healthy" (ooh, Teddy Grahams are vegan!). These people are obviously not representative of all vegans, but to promote it as a healthy lifestyle while still encouraging people that they can eat processed cookies is wrong. "Vegan" doesn't equal health any more than "organic" equals health.

Ultimately, to paint all farms and meat eaters with such broad strokes is irresponsible. I know many vegans and/or vegetarians that eat a whole foods diet and don't rely on processed garbage as an "easy way out." But this film made me feel like I was on one side of a war, good (vegans) versus evil (everyone else). In actuality, I think an ethical omnivore has a lot more in common with a vegan than most people would assume - both are conscientious eaters, aware that what we eat involves much more than just mindless bites. So why can't we just get along?  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Real Life CSA: week 24, produce

This is our next to last share for the season, and even 24 weeks in, we're getting new items!

New this week is celery root - the two dirt clod looking hairy roots. We've made that into celery root puree (friends who have the same CSA were able to donate theirs to us as well due to an allergy so we had double!). Don't they look like something out of a Hogwarts botany class?

More apples this week. Been eating these dipped in lemon juice and with peanut butter as a snack. Delish!

I usually make a fennel and sausage pasta when we get fennel, but since this is a smaller amount, I might look for something else. But look at these fronds. Crazy.

Very happy for more chard too. It made a great side with the celery root puree this weekend.

Mixed greens and peppers will find their way into salads. The potatoes were a side with coq au vin (Julia's coq au vin) on Sunday. 

Just one more week. Stay tuned!  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

lessons learned: October simplified

I spent as much free time as I could spare in October working on simplifying my life in one specific area - belongings. After taking a hard look around my house (and realizing that some closet doors hadn't been shut in months - or *shudder* years), I knew I needed to start the process of organizing and sorting and cleaning, no matter how long it took. 

I started with our spare bedroom/office and moved my way through the upstairs. I made piles upon piles of items to toss, store, donate or sell. Right now, our dining room is full of boxes that need to be stored for the spring, when I'll be joining some friends in a yard sale. It's now past my October "deadline," but I am done with everything but the basement and 50% of the kitchen. (Doing the kitchen requires me to have the basement clean with some new storage areas for things that can't live in the kitchen any longer. I'm looking at you, canning stuff!)

Even though there's still a lot to be done, I can acknowledge how far I've come in parting with items that really contributed nothing to my life but a growing sense of my belongings closing in on me. The piles of stuff were always sitting there, mocking me and making me feel guilty and overwhelmed. The dust on the piles showed just how little the items were actually used.

I've sold about a dozen books on Amazon and been able to put aside some great stuff for my little niece, both for now and when she gets older. And I am really happy that I can add to my sense of peace by providing stuff for other people that might get use out of it. 

I'm being much more mindful about what comes in and out of the house, and I'm not buying things without a specific purpose for them. I've also learned that a good barometer for whether or not you should get rid of something is if you've used it in a set time period. For example we had a metric ton of board games - ones I had collected in college as I sought to own every Trivial Pursuit ever created - as well as the more advanced variety like Munchkin and Pandemic. I went through each game individually and asked myself - have we played this in the last year? If I had a game night tomorrow, would I want to play it? If the answer was no, it went in the pile. 

Having a plan really helped. But what helped the most was finishing that first room. It made me realize how much peace came with accomplishing a task that had sat unfinished for so long as well as the calm that comes with space, margin and order. That great feeling pushed me forward. 

My big goal is to finish the basement and kitchen before Thanksgiving so that after the holiday, we can pull out our Christmas decorations and feel like we don't have to strategically place them around piles of clutter. I can't wait to enjoy the holidays without thinking "I was meaning to get around to this..."

Have you had any simplifying success this fall? 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Real Life CSA: why I'm not sharing what we got this week

This was a big week for us, CSA-wise. A great final meat share from Clarion River Organics and our next-to-the-last produce share from Kretschmann Family Organic Farm.

I usually take photos and gush about all the goodness that we are so blessed to have. But I'm not posting them until next week. Why? Because if the proposed rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act go into effect unchanged, as currently written? There might not be any more Real Life CSA posts. There might be many less small farms, community supported agriculture programs. The farms in our community that we have come to love would have their viability threatened, and who knows how many shares they could support, if any? 

There wouldn't be any photos of organic greens, because the compost restrictions would make it hard to grow those locally. We wouldn't benefit from the years of accumulated agricultural knowledge that our farmers carry, because they'd be told to sanitize, sterilize and modernize, with no regard for what that actually means on a practical level. The restrictions on wildlife encroaching on crops? Have these people BEEN to Pennsylvania? Do they think deer will respect property lines?

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review featured Don Kretschmann, the owner of our produce CSA, in an article yesterday that shows you in photos how his farm is threatened by these FSMA rules. Read it. 

Both of our CSAs have spoken up about how it would affect them. Read about it here and here. These are not groups that are typically outspoken about their political views. They're too busy planting things and harvesting things. But it was important enough for them to take time out to speak up, and we owe them a few minutes of our time to comment in support.

I know I have mentioned this issue and the importance of commenting on these rules many times over the last couple months, and I've tweeted about it a lot too. Here's the thing. Being a CSA subscriber is a great joy for us - and that's not hyperbole. It's a privilege to be able to source such wonderful food locally - one that we don't take for granted. I might not know the technical ins and outs of farming and I'm no food policy expert. I'm just a normal consumer that can't imagine a summer, or a winter for that matter, without my local farms. 

Americans love to complain about our government. I think we can be disillusioned with the democratic process sometimes, feeling voiceless in the face of what feels like so many things we can't change. But this is a chance to participate and to use your voice. All the things they taught you in elementary school about government? This is where it comes alive.

For more information on how to comment, TODAY, before it's too late, visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's FSMA section here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

watching 'The French Chef' in 2013

I used to be addicted to the Food Network. I knew every chef, every show, every dish. I would even credit my beginnings in the kitchen to my exposure to it (since I didn't lift a finger in the kitchen until I lived on my own and got sick of eating microwave macaroni and cheese). The Food Network made me want to elevate my own culinary experiences to the level of "delicious" and not just "adequate." 

But at a certain point, I started to outgrow it. I didn't need the chefs to educate me anymore. (And I also grew dismayed at how disconnected Food Network programming is from the larger issues of food in this culture - hunger and agriculture, primarily. But that's another story.) To me, the programming all became shiny and glossy on the surface and not enough substance underneath. And really? No one's food ever looks like the dish on TV because it isn't touched by 4 stylists between the kitchen and the plate.

Julia Child's The French Chef was America's first real cooking show - like the great grandmother of what you see now on the Food Network. But they wouldn't air her show in today's lineup, unless it was in the context of a tribute or documentary on the origins of food entertainment. Why? Because it's real.

I'm listening my way through a book about Julia Child and am gathering ideas for a Mastering the Art of French Cooking themed dinner. Being on a Julia kick, I recently watched through some of the episodes of The French Chef. (Available for free on Amazon Prime, and also on DVD.) They are utterly enchanting in all their imperfection. No fancy camera angles, no lens flares or vibrant colors, even when the program started appearing in color. What you see are messes, stacks of dishes, improvisation and mistakes. She laughs at herself and tells you not to take yourself too seriously. After all, if a classically trained chef can screw up an omelette flip, we can too! I can't imagine any Food Network chef telling me to have the "courage of my convictions" in the context of eggs.

In one episode she realizes she doesn't have the right lid for the pot she's trying to cover, so she sticks something else over it with a shrug. Today's food shows would do as many takes as it required to get it right. Would you ever see Sandra Lee with a big splotch of wine on her pristine white shirt? Or the Barefoot Contessa wiping her hands on her clothes? Watching Julia is watching a reflection of me in the kitchen. (Just a 6'3" version of me in heels and an apron.)

You can also feel how genuine her happiness is when something turns out right, because it's instant and isn't rehearsed. The woman makes her own sound effects when she moves garlic through a press and into her dish. If that's not joy in cooking, I don't know what is.  (And I will henceforth exclaim "sploosha!" when I use my garlic press.) 

If you have ever had the experience of wanting to make a dish worthy of the Food Network, but are intimidated by the process, watching Julia removes that barrier. Your kitchen doesn't have to be fancy or pristine, your tools state of the art, or your chopping skills mastered. You just have to have the courage to try in the first place.

Monday, November 11, 2013

reading this week

Startups Try to Reroute Food Waste to the Hungry (NPR)
Really interesting article about ways to save food that would otherwise be wasted. This is no small feat - but these groups are doing amazing work. One group has saved over 300,000 pounds of food so far!

Whole Foods' New Produce Ratings: Transparency Bears Fruit (Civil Eats)
Whole Foods is introducing new ratings for their produce and flowers, similar to those used for their meat products. The model is a "good," "better," "best system. I really appreciate that these labels won't just take into account the environmental conditions under which the products are grown, but also the treatment of those people who grow them and harvest them. I'm a huge fan of transparency, and Whole Foods is a leader in this regard.

Scientists Say 'No Consensus on GMO Food Safety' (Food Democracy Now)
A group of scientists and physicians released a statement asserting that no scientific consensus has been reached on the safety of GMOs. This is important because many groups are using "science" to back up their positions about the safety and/or danger of GMOs. I actually think that one of the best arguments for GMO labeling is exactly this - we don't KNOW what GMOs do. So until we do, shouldn't products be labeled?

FDA Ruling Would All but Eliminate Trans Fats (NY Times)
The FDA has proposed eliminating artificial trans fats, a major known contributor to heart disease. They'd eliminate them by removing the "generally recognized as safe" label and requiring companies to prove they are safe, which is unlikely considering the medical evidence. It's being lauded as a big step in public health, and it is, but knowing the FDA, it seems like anything can happen.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Real Life CSA: week 23, produce

We're winding down with the CSA for this season. I have been thinking back over the 23 weeks we've had so far and realized that we've done so much better this year with drastically reducing any waste. We're learning how to plan meals to keep up with the ups and downs of the season. It's almost like a rhythm that we're learning to follow and anticipate. Even 23 weeks in, we have a new item this week!

We've had cabbage and beets this season, but not frequently. I'm thinking haluski or cabbage rolls, which ironically I never liked as a child but love now.

Radishes, greens and carrots will accompany the salad greens. Might actually try to do something with the beets, even though I haven't found a recipe yet that I've actually liked. 

New this year, turnips!

We've been enjoying the greens from the turnips, but now we have the real thing. I've seen multiple ways to prepare these, similar to potatoes - scalloped  mashed, gratined. Now just to pick one!

More apples this week. These might need to be made into a dessert - perhaps a galette?

When I reached in the bag, I grabbed this pepper and nearly put my fingers through the soft spots, so this will make a great treat for the chickens tomorrow!

We also had some hitchhikers this week. I put away all the produce and found these guys hanging out on the island.

Live bugs (and those that scurry like mad!) mean the produce is really fresh, so I never mind finding them. At least before I use the veggies!

Last week is likely the final week of our spring/summer/fall share. That means it's almost time for our new winter share! We're never short of produce at Next Gen House - that's for sure.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

movie review: Forks Over Knives

Forks Over Knives surprised me, in that it's the same message that many other documentaries have covered, but it somehow felt different. The film makes the argument that a whole foods, plant-based diet is vital for long term health and well being. At the same time, a diet that includes animal products, such as meat, dairy and eggs, and highly processed, refined foods, contributes to long-term health issues.

We've heard that message a lot - it's one of the ideas that has made veganism so popular. And I think it's true that a diet heavy in plants, low in animal products and without processed foods can have dramatic impacts on your health. It has on mine. 

But where this film differed from others, including Food Matters, is that it was focused on science and clinical studies. It seemed much more solid on clinical evidence and research. At the same time they interviewed many people who also had their own anecdotal evidence to contribute (including a champion MMA fighter who is a vegan athlete!). The narrator also decided to pursue a plant-based diet after getting some troubling blood work that showed that he was at high risk for heart disease. Just 13 weeks of a diet change completely reversed his risk factors.

This film was a good reminder that we have more power over our own health than we think. Perhaps my favorite line was when someone mentioned that if you think your health and wellness is based solely on your genes (and that you're doomed to taking pills because of them), you are a victim. Yes, you might have to take some pills for some conditions. But we don't have to be victims of the drug companies pushing blood pressure and blood sugar pills. 

This is a good film to watch if you aren't really convinced that there's scientific evidence that supports clean eating or are still on the fence about its benefits. It's less hippie, more science. Which is right up my alley. You know, wanting to farm in space and all.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Grover's grapes?: marketing produce to children

Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama held a press conference with Elmo and Rosita, Muppets from Sesame Street. (Side note - does it make me super old that I have no idea who this Rosita character is?) She was announcing that Sesame Street will allow its characters to be used to market fresh produce, including fruits and vegetables, to children free of licensing fees for 2 years. This is an effort in partnership with the Produce Marketing Association and the Partnership for a Healthier America, and it coincides with the First Lady's "Let's Move" campaign. 

This reminds me a lot of the Chipotle campaign - where at first glance it seems awesome and simple, but it is actually a lot more complex. The good first - any effort to get kids to eat more fruit and vegetables is important. Kids need vitamins and nutrients as they grow and develop, and eating lots of fruits and vegetables at a young age helps to build healthy habits and allow kids to develop a taste for more than just chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. 

But is the best way to get them to eat the fruits and vegetables to package them and put famous characters on them?   

As far as characters go, they could have chosen worse than Sesame Street. Sesame Workshop has contributed to the education of millions of American children over the years. I grew up on Sesame Street and I know I learned so much from watching it on PBS.

Also, Sesame Workshop is giving up a lot of profit in waiving licensing fees for two years. That's a big deal, even considering the PR boost they will get by the gesture. 

But at the end of the day, I am not convinced that marketing to children is even really appropriate in any context. Marketing at its most basic level is about manipulating information to persuade someone of something. Young children haven't developed the reasoning skills to be able to discern between education and marketing. Putting characters on packaging, even of healthy foods, reinforces the idea that you should buy items with characters on them. Sesame Street characters already appear on foods for kids - processed, packaged foods. And to them, what's the difference between Grover, Disney Princesses, Hello Kitty or Tony the Tiger? 

It would be more compelling to me if characters weren't currently used on all manner of junk food products aimed at kids. They will likely be unable to differentiate between Grover on a package of cookies and Grover on a package of grapes. I recall wanting my mom to buy products I knew I didn't like, simply because of the packaging. I hated sliced white bread when I was a kid, but I know I lobbied for her to buy Wonder Bread because it had cheerful polka dots on it. I was unable to reason that I didn't actually even want to eat it. This is not to say that items shouldn't be attractively packaged or designed. But how much more seductive is Elmo to a child than polka dots? A lot.

It can also be argued that there might be a price increase in the fruits and vegetables with the characters on them, considering that previously unpackaged vegetables and fruits might need plastic bags to feature the characters. That all remains to be seen, as the marketing for these products actually takes shape. I hope that it's done really carefully, and that it will encourage other companies to really consider what messaging they are sending to children. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Real Life CSA: week 22, produce

Even though the season is winding down, we still get an impressive amount of produce in the share - and not just storage crops.

Going to have a pepper slice-a-thon this weekend and get a bunch frozen for winter fajitas, since we already have enough chili peppers hanging to dry in our kitchen (which you've seen if you follow me on Instagram @nextgenhouse)

This is the second week for turnip greens and I'm not disappointed. We ate last week's turnip greens sauteed with the previous week's chard as a side dish for the nice dinner we made ourselves on our wedding anniversary this week. Mark's found a great way to leech the bitterness out is to use a little white wine or broth to allow the greens to cook longer while the liquid evaporates. It also lends a good flavor to them. I've never enjoyed bitter greens so much as this season!

More delicious apples this week. Trying to savor these guys every time, knowing we won't be getting them forever. But a great way to savor great apples through the winter is...

We're drinking this fresh, but you can also freeze the whole half gallon by pouring off and enjoying about a half a cup to give it room to expand. We had no choice but to drink this fresh anyway, considering our chest freezer is officially packed to capacity. I'm not even sure another molecule of ice could fit in there. (The peppers will have to be shoved in the upstairs freezer. Might have to eat up some ice cream to make room. What a sacrifice.)

Gratuitous slightly unfocused tendril shot!

The radishes and greens will be salad this week, and the potatoes will be stored if we don't use them as a side. As for the dill, I'm thinking of drying it or preserving it in another way since we are unlikely to use that enormous bunch in one week of recipes.

I'm not sure how many weeks we have left, but I will miss this CSA when it's done for the season. 

Remember that if you're in the same boat - that you enjoy your CSA and the fresh variety of foods it brings to your diet, comments are still being accepted on the FDA's new rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act that threaten small farms and local producers. Read more directly from our CSA about how they would be specifically affected by these potential rules here. You can read my comment and find instructions on how to submit your own here.