Sunday, October 17, 2010


One of the things I hear most often when I preach, ahem, talk about how I eat, is "oh, I don't have time for that." To which I always want to respond that more accurately, they don't want to devote the time to that.

As an excuse for feeding your family food that is nutritionally suspect if not actively unhealthy, it's a bad one. It's not how much time you have, it's what you do with it. People often use the excuse that cooking "cuts into family time," as though family time must be consumption oriented in the worst sense-- trips to shopping malls, or theme parks, or even cultural activities, where you leave your home and part of the point is to spend money (I believe we're supposed to call it "stimulate the economy). Family time can also be spending the day, like I did today, in the kitchen with your kids, your friends, your siblings, your spouse, prepping food for the week or the season.

And yes, it takes a lot of time. I started this morning at 8 a.m. and I'm not quite done (still have soup to make). I have washed 6 sinkloads of dishes (we don't have a dishwasher). I have washed every pot I own at least twice. I'm exhausted. But my daughter went home with a quart of tomato sauce and a pint of hummos. Last week my son got tomato sauce, pickles, corn relish, and candied winter melon. I prepped 15 pounds of food for the food pantry. I've got three dozen muffins which will last this small family nearly a month (I froze two dozen for later, saving more hours for that elusive "family time").

I've been doing this every Sunday for more than a month. But I have a freezer full of food that looks to get me through the winter. I won't need to cut into "family time" in January to go to the grocery store, and I'll generate almost no trash, meaning less trekking to the alley with garbage when it's 20 below.

So before I share the recipe, here's what I did today:

with fruit purees
1 1/4 cups cornmeal
3/4 cup unbleached wheat flour
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. autumn spice of choice (cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, clove, etc.)

3/4 cup maple syrup (for apple) or 3/4 cup honey (for pumpkin or pear)
1 egg
1/3 cup yogurt or sour cream
3/4 cup apple, pear, or pumpkin puree
1/4 cup butter (melted)

Sift together all dry ingredients. Add egg, milk, applesauce and melted margarine. Mix until dry ingredients are well moistened. Batter will be lumpy. Bake in greased 8 inch square pan or muffin tin, in 425 degree F oven 18-23 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 3 dozen muffins.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I ate that on purpose

Unprocessed. Real Food. Slow food. Locavore.

Every time you turn around these days, there's a new term about getting away from the American industrialized, depersonalized, outsourced food culture. Now on my third food challenge, I think that Michael Pollan actually said it best (that's why they pay him the big bucks).
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

The main thing I take away from these efforts--all of them personally and culturally challenging, mostly well meaning, in varying degrees sensible--is that what you need to do is think about what you are eating.

When I was growing up in the middle of the last century, you didn't have to think about it. The food you bought, even in suburban supermarkets, was what it said it was. It had a shelf life and a source, which was mostly nearby. Importing food was something that starving Indians (as in subcontinent) did. Even as a child I knew which fruits were in season, not because I looked up a chart, but because if it wasn't in season, you couldn't buy it. No one ever got salmonella poisoning, and E. Coli was something you learned about in high school biology. Meat was meat colored, not that bizarre bright red (how do they do that, and why?). Chickens came with innards. Fruits did not have individual labels, and the butcher packed your meat in paper, even at the supermarket (yes, Virginia, there were butchers at the supermarket). You could buy only the amount you needed, and exactly the amount you needed, because they cut it on the premises. I got to Junior year in college before I knew that you could buy French fries frozen in a bag.

Because of this, I am able to "think" about food. I have clear memories of what it looks like, when it's naturally available, and how it tastes. My mother had to cook, because the prepared food industry was just getting started ("Prince spaghetti day", anyone?).

Younger generations don't have this advantage. You are rediscovering what I grew up understanding, perhaps the last generation to do so. I'm not saying there were no processed foods; we had spam and cake mixes and tv dinners and every day there was a new "convenience" product. But families eating meals cooked from whole ingredients was the norm, not the outlier.

For the way I live and eat, I think the "slow" approach works best-- seasonal, local, organic, whole. It gives you flexibility--can't find or afford organic? Buy it from the local mom-and-pop, instead of the super store (on the "3 outta 4 ain't bad" theory). What works about it, and all the other monikers, is that they make you think about what you're putting into your and your family's bodies.

Unprocessed. Real Food. Slow food. Locavore.

Call it deliberate eating.

Pumpkin Caramel syrup
1 c. brown sugar (or 1 cup evaporated cane sugar mixed with 2T of molasses)
1-2 T water
1 tsp white vinegar
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 c. cream
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1T homemade pumpkin pie spice (ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, in 4:2:1:1 ratio)

Put the brown sugar in a heavy-bottom saucepan, adding just enough water to make it the consistency of wet sand. Turn on the heat to medium and add the vinegar. This will keep the sugar from recrystalizing. Boil for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the pumpkin puree and spices and reheat to just short of boiling. Add the butter and continue to simmer until the butter is completely melted. Dissolve the cornstarch in the cream, then add it to the sugar-pumpkin mix and bring it back to a boil. Cool several hours in refrigerator or overnight.

Syrup will thicken and set in the fridge. To get back to pouring consistency, put the amount you need in the microwave, or reheat on the stove top.

Use for pumpkin caramel lattes, or as a sauce for ice cream, scones or apple pie!

You need a farmer to run a farm

Last June, through a miscommunication at Peterson Garden, we put in 12 "farm" plots-- four that we called "Farm4You" and 8 that we designated "Farm2Give." The F4Y plots were sold for $100-$250 to individuals who had time to harvest but not to care for a plot; the F2G plots were installed as teaching plots with all the produce donated to local shelters, community organizations, and food pantries. The original intention was to have as many F4Y plots as we could sell, and 4 demonstration plots (a Vintage plot, a Three Sisters, an Heirlooms plot, and a Bee Plot) from which we'd donate food. One day, in a fit of enthusiasm, I put in 3 more, then took on a fall plot as part of an outreach project.

Because the miscommunication was mine, I felt somewhat obligated to be the one caring for these plots.

Each plot is 24 square feet, for a total acreage of less than 1% of an acre. By way of perspective, an average, commercially-oriented truly family-owned farm is 180 acres, or some 1000 times the area I was taking care of.

While I did end up harvesting nearly 200 pounds of produce just from the F2G plots, I'm sure that we lost a lot of the yield to lack of care and missed harvests, so that produce rotted or dried before it could be picked. Because we didn't have a farmer, whose job it was to nurture these plants, plots didn't get watered, didn't get picked, didn't get pruned.

My lesson from this? As the title says, if you're going to have a farm-- a commercial enterprise providing food to other people-- you need someone whose job it is to grow things, in other words, a farmer. I know how much work goes into a garden--I plant twice that area in my backyard every year. But that's a few steps outside my door, and if I miss a harvest, I can rationalize that I'll just turn that into compost. No one starves or loses income because I let a few tomatoes rot on the ground.

But I feel bad about the yield we lost at Peterson. Good intentions and a green thumb don't make a farmer. What makes a farmer is an investment of time, and effort; it's a job that you do every day, not just when you can get there in your spare time. Not that I didn't already have all kinds of awe and respect for farmers, but this experience has hugely reinforced that.

Apple Carrot Bread

1 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp. orange extract (optional)
2 eggs

2 medium apples, peeled and shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup + 1T honey or 1/2 cup maple syrup+2T molasses
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350F/175C. Grease or line with parchment, bottom only of 9 x 5 or 8 x 4 inch loaf pan.

Whisk dry ingredients together; set aside. Beat eggs, add and beat in softened butter, honey, and molasses. Add fruit, mix thoroughly, then add dry ingredients and beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Stir in nuts. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan to cool. Refrigerate any leftovers. Makes 1 loaf.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The carpenter loved them

I was going to wait for some topic to pontificate on, but these are too good not to share immediately. You can thank "Kiki" for these; she was telling me sad stories and I felt compelled to ply her with sweets.

That's Sherri testing them, all unknowing that I made up the recipe. Fortunately, they're delicious.

So far, no one who's eaten them can believe they have no sugar.

Pumpkin-maple cookies with white chocolate chips

14 T ( 1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup molasses
1 large egg plus 1 egg yoke
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
10 oz. bag white chocolate chips (Sun Spire makes an all-natural one)

Heat the oven to 350F/175C. Line acookie sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the butter until smooth, then beat in the syrup and molasses, a little at a time. Beat the eggs then add to mixture, one half at a time. Mix in the vanilla and pumpkin puree. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg (if you grate your own, this is about 1/3 of a nut), and cloves. Slowly beat the flour mixture into the batter in thirds. Stir in the chips. Scoop the cookie dough by heaping teaspoons onto the prepared cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are browned around the edges. Cool on wire racks.

For an alternate, less sweet taste, and a truly sugar-free snack, substitute dried apples or pears for the chips.

Unprocessed readers: All spices also purchased whole and ground by me. To grind your own spices, you can use that old coffee grinder that's hiding away somewhere from your hipster days. To clean it, run some white rice through it after each spice, then wipe down with a rag. See, a use for the white rice you're not eating this month!

Makes about 4 dozen 2" cookies.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How unprocessed IS unprocessed?

I'm taking part in the October unprocessed challenge from blogger Andrew Wilder at Eating Rules, and have been taken a bit by surprise by the depth to which people are taking the unprocessed concept.

I didn't really think about the concept of "processed" food; after all I process all my food, inasmuch as I cook it. I try to stick to whole foods like fruits and vegetables out of my garden, but I have no problem with flour, wheat or white, rice- white, brown, or wild, pasta from the chain market (and as far as I'm concerned whole wheat pasta is just nasty. Semolina, please) or sugar, although I have switched from standard white (which is usually highly refined beet sugar) to evaporated cane. I never thought about these as being in a category called "processed." I can't make them myself for varying reasons of skill, appliances, time, and philosophy, so I buy them as ingredients and make a meal.

So what this challenge has made me confront is, first, what exactly is a processed food? Raw food enthusiasts will throw cooked food into that category. Fair enough. Flour is processed by definition, and in fact you CAN do this yourself, but does "unprocessed" mean not processed at all, or is flour okay if processed at home? Some "staples" like sugar, really can't be made at home; I can and do switch to honey when appropriate, but frankly, sometimes it's got to be sugar. That's another food, single ingredient, but highly processed by nature.

There are lots of foods like this; processed, outside the home, the process being the thing that makes that food what it is. And I'm not talking about Lays potato chips. I'm taking about pasta. Jam. Bread.

The take away is, a challenge like this makes you think about what you're eating. It confronts you with not only the health, but the social nature of food:I need a miller to process my flour. Since I went SLOW, I actually know my miller, if Facebook counts as "knowing" someone. But I had to think about it. It makes you think about what others are eating. If you step over a line you've drawn for yourself (chocolate) you know you've done it, like cheating at solitaire. Doesn't really matter, but no one's making you cut out refined sugar, and no one knows when you eat it.

Well, except you and your gods.

I made this tonight, with roasted garden vegetables (home grown green peppers, winter melon, radishes and carrots) and penne from organic grain. It's seasonal, local, organic and whole, but is it unprocessed? You tell me.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Spitfires soldier on

It's the last official Spitfire check in, which makes me a little sad. This was a wonderful project that connected me with a lot of people I'd never have had occasion to speak with, literally or virtually, otherwise. It helped me as a gardener to see what sorts of failures and triumphs others had, and how this planting thing connects us all.

The plant itself was a giant "meh" for me-- I'm not sold on the concept that a nasturtium can "climb." This one needed to be trained to grow up; it really wanted to trail, and while the color was a big plus for some people, I'm not that fond of it. My search for a deep purple, black, or mahogany nasturtium continues.

These plants were rather schizophrenic-- they hated the heat, but craved the sun, wouldn't climb but too spindly to trail nicely. They grew well in my conditions from all methods--wintersown, direct, and indoor starts, and I ended up with 6 healthy plants. The foliage really finally took off in September and they doubled in size in just the last 5 weeks or so, so in the end I'm getting nice fall color out of them.
Anyway, this plant was so-so, but the project was great. Let's do it again next year! (Or what about a houseplant, started now, and nurtured through the winter....)

So last time: I'm growing Spitfire Nasturtiums for the Seed Grow Project. Thanks to Renee's Garden for the seeds, and a big thank you to Mr. Brown Thumb for setting it up and getting me involved.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Real Food, redux

Oh, I love those web challenges-- Kindergardens, Eat Real Food, Project GROW. Here's a new one, Unprocessed, from blogger Andrew Wilder at Eating Rules. Basically, one month with no processed foods.

I love Andrew's definition of unprocessed:

Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available, whole-food ingredients.

It backs up my contention here at Mahlzeit, that all you need to cook is common sense. In fact, I think a lot of my non-cooking friends (cough Monica cough) are actually cooking more than they let on. The foodie police and cooking shows intimidate us into thinking that we all have to be gourmet cooks (whatever that means) or it somehow doesn't count. I've taken to buying my spices at the Spice House so I can get them without fillers (although I don't think they are organic for the most part) but when the clerk there asks me rather superciliously what kind of cloves I want (they have 4 different ones), I just look at him. I don't know. Cloves, dude. I just want cloves.

I really try never to make anything on here that any eater couldn't make with easily available ingredients and common sense. Personally, I try to use food I've preserved--whole veggies and fruits either from my garden or from the farmers' market, but even the local corner grocery store (if you're lucky enough to still have one) carries garbage-free whole foods, both fresh and canned.

Point is, you don't need fancy ingredients. You don't need fancy appliances, or pots. You barely need a cookbook, and if the only one you have is of the Betty Crocker "learn to cook" ilk, you're doing great. I'm still using the same set of Revere Ware pots I inherited from my mother, who bought it in the 40s when it was the latest thing in cookware. (Yes-- the ones with the Bakelite handles.)

The main thing you need to cook healthy, delicious food is mileage. Eat real this month, just make yourself cook. You'll be ready to make Thanksgiving dinner in no time.