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?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hasta la Vista, Banana?

I've been working on a long, link-filled post for a week or so and haven't posted it, or anything else lately, because I a got stuck. I was inspired to move on and get out of my rut by an interesting piece in the New York Times today about the expected spike in the price of bananas, thanks to floods in Ecuador, rising fuel costs, and a virus that may wipe out the single variety of bananas that is currently grown for the worldwide market. I rarely buy bananas. Personally, I'm indifferent to them taste-wise. Ethically, well, what's to like about bananas? One hundred years of colonialism, oppression, and deforestation for a fruit that must travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles to its final destination under refrigeration? Ugh.

I do sometimes buy bananas on those rare occasions when I take the kids to the produce market and they beg me for a bunch. Despite my ethical misgivings about buying fruit from afar, I try to pick my battles with the kids. I've been trying to explain the whole concept of buying local, seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables to Annabel lately. She's starting to get it, but she still wants me to buy watermelon, now. I've stuck firm on the watermelon and I suppose that one's easier for me because I grew up eating it only during the summer, whereas I've always known bananas as a year-round fruit. (I have often wonder, though, what is the natural season for bananas?) In my youth, watermelon was strictly a late summer, outdoor food, to be enjoyed during backyard cookouts. Strawberries came ready around my birthday in late May and strawberry shortcake was my traditional birthday cake. Well, that and Lady Baltimore cake, but you can't have too many traditional birthday cakes, if you ask me.

My tastes remain rather strictly geared toward what's in season. Recently, while cleaning out our deep freeze in anticipation of having to store 100 or so pounds of beef, I composted gallons of berries, frozen years ago and now freezer-burned and hardened into solid blocks. My husband wondered why we had so many berries we didn't use and I realized that I just don't crave berries out of season and so those bags just sit there in the bottom of the freezer, unused. We froze a bunch of asparagus this spring, when it was coming on so strong we couldn't keep up with it, and I am determined to cook with it soon, because I know come fall, I won't be interested. Next year, we'll try to give more away.

I want my kids to develop this same sense of the seasonality for food; to experience anticipation for asparagus, peas, strawberries, beans, peaches, tomatoes, watermelon, and pumpkins; to grow up with palates that know the difference between the fresh-picked and the well-traveled. It ain't easy, though, to convince them to eat greens or asparagus. Just last night, I made a bread pudding with local chard, kale, eggs, sorta local raw milk (I know I shouldn't count Sequim as local, but I haven't found a local raw milk dairy without a wait list), Canadian nitrate-free bacon (uh, we'll be getting bacon from the Decks in the near future), and the crusty ends of home baked bread. Luc ate what I fed him, though he mostly wanted the bacon. Annabel wouldn't touch it and ate a (nitrate-free, from Old Country Sausage) hotdog instead. Again, picking battles. I won't make her eat greens, yet, but I think from now on, I'll stand firm on bananas.

It's a perennial question for parents of young children, but for those of us trying to eat with the seasons, it's even more of a challenge: How do you get them to eat the good stuff? Also, what do you do when they refuse to eat what you have cooked for the family?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Our rhubarb patch looks spectacular this year and Sunday I finally got around to doing some rhubarb cookin'. I made two recipes from The Complete Book of Year-Round Small-Batch Preserving: Rhubarb-Ginger Chutney and Gingered Rhubarb Jam with Honey. Unfortunately, I was not impressed with either finished product. The chutney may improve with age and will be fine with pork, but my immediate impression was that it lacked the sweet and sour contrast of a good chutney. The jam is far too sweet for my taste--the honey completely overwhelms the rhubarb and ginger. The kids will love it, though, and the nice thing about making small batches is that we're not stuck with eating tons of something we don't like.

Fortunately, I did manage to make one fantastic rhubarb recipe, which I found at The Rhubarb Compendium, which truly has everything you ever wanted to know about growing, cooking, and even cleaning, with the first of spring's fruity ruby beauties. Continuing with the rhubarb-ginger theme, I made Gingered Rhubarb Apple Crisp, replacing two of the apples with some firm Washington pears I picked up at the market Saturday (which had me wondering just how do they keep those apples and pears so fresh for so long). Well, this was just absolutely one of the best desserts I've ever made. The ginger and rhubarb combination is amazing and the crystalline oatmeal topping added just the right contrast to the soft fruit. We had the crisp for dessert Sunday evening and by lunchtime on Monday, there was only one piece left. I'm looking forward to making it again later this week.

So, we still have more rhubarb to harvest. What else might we try to do with it? Freezing is out, as we're getting our quarter of grassfed Oregon beef on Saturday (!!!) and I'm determined not to add anything to the freezer. Anyone have a good rhubarb jam recipe that shows off its tartness rather than masks it with sugar or honey?

Monday, June 02, 2008

With a Little Help From My Friends

We're huge Beatles fans here at Chez Musser. Sure, my husband and I initially bonded over our mutual love of Led Zeppelin, but when we got married, our processional was Here Comes the Sun (played my brother on acoustic guitar). Now, we have the kids hooked on Yellow Submarine, both the album and movie, and Sgt. Pepper's, which I'm instructed to play, "Loud, Mommy!" in the car. Anyway, thanks, Friends and Family, for helping me get over my funk last week. I received so many kind words and thoughtful advice, from people I didn't even realize read my blog! Thank you thank you thank you!

Amazingly, the day after I wrote about my sadness about the eventual sale of the Musser Farm to developers, I happened upon a copy of the March 2008 issue of Progressive Farmer magazine at my doctor's office, with the headline, "Saving Our Farmland" on the cover. After my appointment, at sat in her waiting room and devoured Losing Two Acres, Every Minute. While I have known that there are organizations out there like Oregon Sustainable Land Trust, preserving farm land on a donation bases, I did not realize that local and state governments are actually buying development rights to farmland, leaving the farming family free to sell the land for agricultural uses. What a win-win deal. Farmer gets to keep his land, while getting some cash (which could be especially helpful for an aging farmer unable to produce as much as he did in earlier years), still leave a legacy for his children, and yet know that the land that sustained him and his family will remain farm land. I'm going to send a copy of the article to my Aunt Helen and Uncle Paul, as they not be aware that a program exists right there in York County. I can't be sure they'll be interested, but it's worth a shot!