Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fresh Ways with Our Food

As I wrote a few weeks ago, our family has made some changes regarding how much meat we eat and where it comes from. When I first decided to switch to buying only meat from local farmers raising pastured or naturally fed animals, I assumed our meat costs would rise significantly and so I decided it would be best to just eat less. As it turns out, by buying in bulk, we're actually spending less per pound than we did buying meat from Gartner's, our local butcher that sells grain-fed beef raised in Banks, and significantly less than what New Seasons charges for its grass-fed Country Natural Beef from Eastern Oregon. By the time I figured that out, though, I had already gotten into some new meal planning and cooking habits and so plan to stick with eating smaller quantities of higher quality meat.

My primary method for reducing our meat consumption has been to only cook it once a week. For the last couple months, that has meant roasting a whole chicken, a beef rump roast, or some other 3-5 pounds of meat for dinner on Monday. We eat as much of it as we want that evening, then I add the remains to salads, soups, casseroles, or sandwiches the rest of the week. We also eat a lot more eggs, legumes, and potatoes. Twice-baked potato, with sharp cheddar cheese, yogurt, and broccoli or asparagus, and maybe a bit of prosciutto or bacon, is my all-time favorite cool weather comfort food.

Mark Bittman wrote a piece in the New York Times recently about reducing meat consumption, with several good ideas on how to go about it. We've incorporated a number of his tips, making rules, buying less meat and more vegetables, and we forgot the "protein thing" a long time ago. And while I have learned to really appreciate all manner of fresh vegetables, I'm still learning about cooking with whole grains and incorporating them into my weekly meal plans. As a kid, I liked having fruit for dessert and want to re-adopt that habit.

Along with reducing my meat consumption, I've also been on a book diet, too, so my trip to Looking Glass Bookstore in Sellwood last week was a special treat. I bought two new cookbooks there to help me learn fresh ways with fresh fruits and vegetables: Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables by John Peterson and Angelic Organic, and Local Flavors by Deborah Madison. What I like best about both these books is that they are organized by season. Both cookbooks feature uncomplicated recipes using familiar ingredients most of us have in our kitchens.

Farmer John's has sections devoted to the early, mid, late, and extended seasons, loosely grouped according to leafy, fruiting, rooting, and storable vegetables (though carrots are grouped with the fruiting varieties and cauliflower and broccoli are with the rooting veggies). Each vegetable has its own section, with recipes, storage and handling tips, culinary uses, and culinary partners. Farmer John's is full of quotes from Rudolf Steiner on nutrition and biodynamic farming, plus excerpts from the Angelic Organic CSA newsletter. All the recipes are vegetarian, though some include dairy. This week I'll try Easy Greens with Peanuts and Creamy Choi Soup.

Local Flavors starts with the early spring produce and basically moves chronologically through the seasons, but fruits and vegetables are grouped in families: greens; crucifers including cabbage, kale, broccoli, turnips; the vining cucurbits family of squashes, melons, and cukes; corn and beans (not closely related, but I suppose the connection is that we grow them to eat their seeds); vegetable fruits like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers; roots and tubers; stone fruits; pomme fruits; citrus and suptropical fruits, as well as foods that keep, such as nuts, dried fruits, rice, and honey. Inspired by her recipe for radish butter, I've been making radish sandwiches for a couple weeks. Last week we had Pasta with Peas, Fresh Sage, and Bread Crumbs. Annabel loved gathering the sage leaves and blossom for this...the peas came from our garden as well. I'm trying Stir-Fried Snow Peas with Pea Greens tonight.

What fresh ways with the season's offerings have you discovered lately?

3 comments:

Andrew DiPalma said...
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Jess said...

I've been working on finding local sources of food, but it's a challenge. I'm happy I have a garden to feed us for a portion of the year; it just seems like I often end up back at the grocery store, and I can't figure out how NOT to.

I found your blog on the dNT yahoo group, and I'm impressed. Looking forward to reading more!

Chris said...

Hey, Jess. Thanks for the kind words! I've been chipping away at this "eating local" thing for a long time, but only in the last year have several things come together to make the longed-for reality possible. I know that frustration with not being able to always act in accord with our intentions. We "practiced" local eating for a long time, eating food that wasn't actually local, but was at least in season for our area.