We're an ordinary family, complete with picky eaters, budget concerns, and time management issues. But to prove that "eating local" works - even for busy families in cooler climates - we're trading Chick-Fil-A and goldfish crackers for grassfed meat and local produce. Join our adventure in learning to eat (sort of) sustainably for the summer!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pizza sauce recipe

Here's my take on the pizza sauce recipe that came with last week's CSA basket, which turned out really, really well.  This made enough for two pizzas, plus leftovers that are probably enough for at least one more pizza (or some really tasty dipping sauce)

5 T olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 T dried basil
large pinch of red pepper flakes
2+ pounds roma tomates, peeled and seeded

In a heavy bottom pan heat the olive oil over medium low.  Add the onions, carrot, basil, garlic, and red pepper.  Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring often.  Lower the heat if vegetables are starting to color.

While the vegetables are softening, peel and seed the tomatoes.  Stir them to into the vegetables in the sauce pan and raise the heat to medium. Cook the sauce at just under a boil - it is important to evaporate much of the moisture.

When all of the ingredients have cooked and become very soft run the mixture through a food mill with the smallest screen in place, discarding any solids that remain in the mill.  Return the sauce to the pan and place over low heat.  Add a little salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, to thicken the sauce.  Remove from heat when desired consistency is reached.

Last week's dinner menus

Friday - CSA homemade pizza - used the pizza dough from the CSA, made my own tomato sauce from scratch with the CSA tomatoes, topped it with onion and peppers and sausage from the CSA.

Saturday - Ohio City Pasta ravioli with frozen pasta sauce from earlier this summer

Sunday - Basil burgers made with local grass-fed beef, homemade pesto, local mozzarella, and tomatoes from our front yard, served on buns from Blackbird Baking Company.

Monday - Quiche from Gray House Pies

Tuesday - went out to Aladdin's, where we shared a soup and an entree

Wednesday - leftover crab soup from before the summer, homemade bread with homemade raspberry jam

Thursday - Cabbage and noodles with ham, made with all local ingredients (except the salt and pepper)

Last week's shopping

Total for the week - $191, including school lunch stuff and some extra stuff we canned and froze

Two things I'm proud of this week that help offset the ghastly amount we spent on prepared food like quiche - the grapes and the tomatoes.  The grapes I found at a roadside stand a few doors down from Fitch's Farm Market, and the guy was selling two-pound bags for a dollar a piece.  Whoa - you can't even beat that at the grocery store for stuff that was shipped halfway across the world!  And the tomatoes came from Miss Dorothy, the retired lady who has a farm stand along a busy road near our neighborhood.  Her prices on produce are a little high, but it's really convenient, and she reminds me of my grandmother, so we try to throw some business her way.  She's got VERY reasonable prices on what she considers "seconds," fruit and veggies that aren't up to her very high standards.  We bought two of those two-quart produce boxes heaped full of somewhat cracked and spotted tomatoes for $5, and I spent all day Sunday canning them for this winter.  I need to get some extra jars so I can do that again before she runs out of squishy-but-cheap fruit!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Raspberries - the trilogy

In 2008, we taught our 3-year-old how to pick raspberries:

In 2009, our 4-year-old taught us how to pick raspberries:

In 2010, our 5-year-old decided taking pictures was more exciting that picking raspberries:

For three years in a row now we've gone to Rosby's to pick raspberries.  Each year we've been lulled by the bucolic sounds of earthmoving equipment and freight trains - the farm is practically downtown:
View Larger Map

One of the reasons I like going there to pick (other than the excuse it gives me to make tons of raspberry jam) is that it's fun, even if you don't particularly want to pick.  This year Liza gave up on picking after 10 minutes or so, and she was happy running around in the row, chasing bees and photographing wildflowers.  There's a place for the kids to run off some energy in the shade:

And three of the sweetest Frisbee-fetchers in the county waiting for you to make your way past their yard on the way to pay for the berries:

And, oh yeah - fresh raspberries are one of nature's most perfect foods.  Especially when you combine them with outrageous amounts of sugar and spread it onto homemade bread .... mmmmmmm.  So get your butt in gear and find someplace near you to go pick some!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Urgh, my aching feet

Today's cooler weather had me in a fall mood, which meant I finally felt like giving the kitchen a REAL workout.  The fruits of 7+ hours of labor:

For anyone playing along at home, that's five quarts of canned chopped tomatoes, four cups of canned tomato juice, two full recipes of pesto ready for the freezer, one batch of basil+olive oil ready for the freezer, three containers of chicken broth ready to freeze (in recycled jars - no, we didn't can in those), and a recipe of strawberry-rhubarb sauce that's ready to freeze.  And a loaf of bread - how could I forget that?

And I made dinner, too - what Jason dubbed "Frankenburgers," thanks to all the good bits that kept falling off while he grilled them.  Onions, mozzarella cheese chunks, and a heaping dollop of basil make for some pretty fine burgers - although not quite as fine as the Baba Burgers from a few weeks ago.

Unfortunately, I made something else while I was in the kitchen all day ...

... a metric ton of dishes.  Oh, well - you can't make an omelet without breaking any eggs, right?

Last week's dinner menus

This week's cooking was a testament to improvisation, since I didn't really have all the ingredients for any of the recipes I wanted to use.  So I left out the mushrooms in the chicken divan and subbed in a different type of cheese, I left out the meat in the stir fry and used a whole mess of vegetables instead, and made the eggplant dish salsa-y instead of spaghetti-y.  And they all worked out really well, possibly even better than the originals.

I also canned some regular tomato salsa and peach salsa this week, and we've been snacking on the leftovers that didn't fit in the canning jars I had.  Mmmm, spicy peachy goodness ....

Friday - forgot to write it down
Saturday - homemade arrabiata sauce on Ohio City Pasta ravioli
Sunday - on vacation, ate at Cracker Barrel
Monday - on vacation, ate at Wendy's
Tuesday - chicken divan from my grandmother's recipe
Wednesday - stir-fried vegetables (pattypan squash, green beans, onions) with peanut curry sauce, organic brown rice
Thursday - eggplant skillet recipe made with homemade salsa and "mexican blend" cheese (instead of tomato sauce and mozzarella)

Last week's shopping

Total for the week - approximately $174
(including things like soap and light bulbs, and the beginning of stocking up for school lunches)

CSA contents (approx. value, $25):
4 Ginger gold apples
4 Paula Red apples
4 Vestar apples
2 pounds red haven peaches
1 pound organic granola
1/2 gallon milk
1 pound green beans
1 bunch radishes
1 large black opal eggplant
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1.5 pounds roma tomatoes

Farmers' Market purchases (total - about $64):
lots of tomatoes - 16.75
three dinners of ravioli - 22.50
honey puffed corn - 6
macaroni and cheese pub pie - 3
habanero pickles - 3.50
heirloom carrots - 3
broccoli - 2.50
bacon - 5

Giant Eagle purchases (total - $83.32):
conventional chocolate chips - 2.99
conventional chocolate chips - 2.00
conventional cocoa - 3.99
conventional peanut butter - 2.59
conventional pepperoni - 2.39
conventional pepperoni - 2.39
conventional wheat bread - 3.89
conventional ginger - 1.70
conventional tahini - 6.99
light bulb - 5.99
light bulb - 1.59
crayons - 2.79
crayons - 2.79
soap - 2.50
organic chickpeas - 1.00
organic rotini - 1.75
organic apple juice boxes - 2.75
organic chocolate pudding mix - 1.69
organic apple sauce - 3.39
organic fruit snacks - 5.59
organic fruit snacks - 5.59
organic raisins - 4.99
organic onions - 3.99
organic celery - 3.99
organic cilantro - 2.79

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Oh, noes! Salmonella outbreak!

Oh, dear!  I wonder if my eggs are included in the recall?

Wait, my eggs come from a lady who raises her chickens sustainably on a farm in the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, not from some giant poultry production line in Iowa.  I guess that's why I didn't think twice about the safety of making Lord Baltimore frosting for my cake the other day.

Omelets at my house, everyone!

PS - more info on chicken conditions in Ohio, the nation's second-largest egg producing state, here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Where does that come from?

I'll just come right out and admit it - I love our county fair.  I love the cheesy 4-H exhibits, livestock judging, rides, and junk food.  I love seeing what people in my area have made and cooked, grown and raised, done and tried to do.  For an overwhelmingly urban/suburban county (less than 3,000 acres of farmland in a county that has about 300,000 acres of land), we have a lot of farm stuff to see.

I grew up in the country, you see, in a small group of houses surrounded by farms (and swamps, but that's another story, unless you want to hear about my neighbors catching snapping turtles to supply to the local fancy restaurant for soup).  I wasn't a farm kid, but I was the neighbor of a farm, so I got the best of both worlds.  I got to visit the cows and horses without having to actually care for them.  I could go buy stuff at the farm stand in the summer without being stuck hoeing any rows.  We could let our dog run in the soybean field in the fall without having to do any harvesting of our own.  And if occasionally the house smelled like manure, well, we could always put the fans in different windows and get the swamp smell instead.

View Larger Map

We moved to suburbia when I was going into 7th grade, trading the freedom to do some really, really cool things (and some really, really stupid things) in a place where everyone knew me for the chance to live in "civilization" when I was old enough to actually want a social life.  There weren't many farm stands or pick-your-own places in the 'burbs, and my lessons on foraging for food took place in the aisles of the Superfresh. I could order at a deli counter with the best of them, not to mention pick out a cantaloupe that actually tasted vaguely of melon instead of cardboard.

My daughter, however, is probably going to spend her whole life in suburbia, only seeing farms when we buy our food in the summer or visit my in-laws, who raise chickens and various commodity crops in Maryland and Virginia.  Any farming she does is going to be for fun when we're paying for the privilege of harvesting our own berries or whatever.  I'm going to have to work to get her to the point where she can recognize corn and soybeans and tomatoes in the field before they fruit.  And the only place she's going to be milking a (pretend) cow is at the fair.


And that's why I love the fair.  We hardly ever went when I was a kid - who needed to, when we were already surrounded by all the tractors and cows you could want?  But it's a great place for kids like Liza to get a concentrated dose of "what has to happen before the food gets to our table," along with some fun.  

We saw cows feeding their calves the way nature intended.  We had a chance to talk a little about how every bit of milk she drinks comes from one of these adorable little minivan-sized beasts.  We even happened to walk past at the right time to see a goat hooked up to a miniature milking rig so we could see how they get the milk out for people to drink, and we talked about how the guy who makes the feta cheese I buy at the farmers' market probably uses goats like these.  We saw chicken eggs hatching, and hours-old chicks tottering around on toothpick legs, and adorable older chickens raised as 4-H projects.  We saw rabbits of all sizes, and we discussed how the giant ones are sometimes raised for food and exactly how would you cook a rabbit, anyway (stew, she decided, definitely stew)?  She petted a calf, a couple of extraordinarily dirty sheep, and a piglet not much bigger than a guinea pig.  She caught "fish" and identified animal tracks, which won her a participation ribbon in the Junior Fair building, and I caught her taking it out to admire it over and over again for the rest of the day. We ate chicken strips and chicken paprikash and an apple dumpling with ice cream.  And, oh yeah - we went on a few rides, too.


Is this sort of indoctrination necessary, or even desirable?  I think so.  I will never be a successful vegetarian until someone declares bacon to be a vegetable.  But I do think we should all know where our food comes from, exactly what it is and how much time and effort went into getting it on our plate.  Reading about it and talking about it help, but seeing these things up close and personal make much more of an impression.  If Liza sees a cute piglet and decides she doesn't want to eat bacon for a while, that's fine with me.  At least she'll be making a somewhat informed decision, rather than believing that chicken nuggets grow on trees and are harvested by happy elves or something.  So until I can convince Jason to help me build that chicken coop in our backyard, the fair is the best place for that sort of education.

Also, Paprikash!  And dumplings! 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wagon? What wagon?

Oh, hai!  You're still here?

Well, that takes a load off my mind.  Here I thought that with my three weeks of partially non-local debauchery, you'd have wandered off by now.

So, yeah.  That happened.  I had stuff going on, and my husband was out of town, and the kid had summer camp and swim lessons and gym class and art class, and writing on the blog got pushed waaaaaay down on the list of stuff to do.  I didn't even keep track of my menus or my shopping, that's how far down it was.

We still got the CSA basket, and I still hit the farmers' market (when I wasn't walking 60 miles to raise money for breast cancer research).  We ate out a lot, but mostly at places that are sort of defensible, at least when you're in a hurry and desperate.  For example:

- Chipotle, where the kid gets a cheese quesadilla and I order pork so that I get the stuff that's "naturally raised," whatever that means.  At least they make their own guacamole there every day, out of innovative ingredients like avocados and lime juice.
- Wendy's, where the kid gets chicken nuggets and oranges, and I get either a salad or something chicken-based.  No miserable CAFO cow meat for us!  Plus, although it's a nationwide chain, Wendy's is headquartered in Ohio, so it could be worse.
- Bruegger's Bagels, where the kid gets a buttered bagel and I get a bagel with scrambled eggs and bacon.  At least they make the bagels locally, even if they are importing the ingredients from who-knows-where.
- Chick-Fil-A, where they don't serve cows, they use them as advertising.  Least defensible of my choices, probably, but very, very tasty.
- Bay Diner, a new local restaurant that probably serves Sysco's finest, but at least it's a locally owned business where the waitresses are getting to know us by name.  Also - chocolate chip pancakes!

We also went to Cedar Point, where we ate healthy, all-natural local food like cotton candy and doughnuts and frozen lemonade.  And today we're going to the county fair, where I will attempt to eat an elephant ear the size of a garbage can lid.

What can I say?  Nobody's perfect, least of all me.  BUT ...

I haven't bought non-local crap at the grocery store.
I haven't eaten any beef that wasn't pasture-raised (although I really, really wanted a Reuben the other day)
I have only eaten one meal in the car, and that was because we had a total of 20 minutes between activities to drive 15 miles and eat lunch.
I took a dish to a potluck that was entirely local (except for the olive oil and vinegar), and nobody even noticed.
I haven't wasted that much of my CSA food, since I've managed to squeeze in extra vegetables in some old recipes (Grandma's spaghetti sauce tastes just as good if you add a pattypan squash, half a green pepper, and a chopped mildly spicy pepper to it; egg burritos benefit from extra green peppers and yellow squash, not to mention lots of cilantro).

So, since I have to wrap this up because I have to pick up my daughter and take her to Chuck-E-Cheese for lunch, I'll just end with this:
Eating locally is a journey, not a punishment.  I'm trying my best, but even the best of us jump off the wagon with both feet sometimes.  But I'm getting back on the wagon again ... tomorrow.