Friday, December 26, 2008

When the weather outside is frightening…

When it has finally sunk in that your CSA is over for the year - (sigh!) - and you feel kinda lost in the supermarket looking at pricey half- dead produce, the Winter-CSA comes at you like a winter miracle. This is a rather new idea - not available in many places. 
The main mission of this Winter CSA - mine is called Winter Sun - is to keep local produce available to its members at affordable prices and offer it at a time when we would otherwise be at the mercy of the big chain supermarkets. The concept is really simple and cool. When the local farms have more produce than they can handle - remember the 20# of tomatoes per week? - they sell their surplus to Winter Sun, who in turn lightly process the fruits and veggies and freeze them. For four months in winter there are distributions where you pick-up your frozen treasures and get to shop at a really cool winter farmer’s market. The quality of the produce is of course outstanding and the farmer’s market with everything from greens to apples, cheese, quiche, honey, jams and breads is truly a wonderful resource of local goodies. 
I bought some of the best apples of the season fresh, crisp and organic - at less than half price compared to the supermarket!
 This month's frozen share contained:

a rainbow pepper mix

diced heirloom tomatoes

green beans
yellow & summer squash

whole blue berries

some potatoes

acorn squash

The handling of the produce is of course super easy - since most of it is already frozen in handy little containers, which Winter Sun will gladly take back to reuse.
So, of to a good start here - so much local goodness to enjoy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In season Now: Citrus

I am a big fan of citrus. It seems to be our only friend in the fruit department in the dark cold months of winter.
 Unfortunately, it also has to be shipped from far away to be enjoyed, when nothing else will grow in the northern hemisphere. But it seems somewhat more justified to sponsor long distance shipping for a fruit you would otherwise never be able to enjoy at all, in a time when nothing else will grow where you live.
I don’t like to sponsor long distance shipping when it is meant to deliver something at abnormal times during the year - see apples, or when there is an abundance of other local options to chose from - like in the middle of the summer. With citrus it is very easy. Either they are shipped or you will not be able to enjoy them at all, unless you are in Florida or California of course.

The citrus family contains widely available favorites for everyone from the tiny key limes to the basketball sized pomelos.
They all feature a baseline nutritional profile they can be proud of with some of them sporting additional benefits. Their flavors range form quite sweet mandarins and oranges to grapefruits with a bitter note and lemon and limes with their mainly sour tastes. There is a citrus for everyone - and even though there are slight differences nutritionally they are all quite comparable.
 It is important to point out that we are talking about whole fruits here. Juicing especially when the pulp is removed is a really bad idea. All of a sudden the nutritional profile changes and the sugar takes over.
Orange juice, the most popular of the citrus juices, should not really count towards your recommended daily fruit and vegetable servings, it should count towards your daily allowance of desserts though. Juicing any fruit has several consequences - the fiber is filtered out - the nutrients are exposed to air - which means they rapidly die off, since they are all relatively unstable and often the product, in order to halt this quick die off, is pasteurized, which means heating the juice to high enough temperatures to kill off all harmful microorganisms. Unfortunately we know that a lot of antioxidants and beneficial phyto-nutrients are very unstable and easily destroyed by the exposure to heat, so what you are left with is liquid sugar with a touch of vitamin C maybe, but don’t kid yourself you mainly had sugar.

Whole citrus fruits are a completely different matter. They come in their own packaging, supplying us with nutrients just at a time - usually in the middle of winter - when we could use the boost of Vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants.

Nutrients: The citrus family is famous for the Vitamin C it provides - all of its members are an excellent source of high quality unprocessed Vitamin C. They are also rich in folate, fiber, potassium, calcium and Vitamin A. All citrus fruits have a nice range of carotenoids and flavonoids. Some have their own unique flavonoids - lemons and limes boast hesperitin and naringenin which are powerful antioxidants. Grapefruits promote detoxification and seem to interrupt the growth of tumor cells.

Seasons: Their availability in the winter months is one of the main reasons the citrus family is one of my favorites They get us through the months of November through March. Enjoy all the grapefruits, oranges, mandarins, clementines, kumquats, pomelos, tangerines, lemons and limes you can, and then give them a rest until next winter when they will be most affordable and nutritionally at peak.

Organic: With oranges at #19, tangerines at #22, lemon at #25 and Grapefruit at #27 in the EWG list of most contaminated fruits and vegetables I would say to go with conventionally grown citrus unless the organic variety is on sale and even in price. Having said that, with certain recipes which ask for citrus cest - the grated peel mainly of lemons, limes or oranges - I would recommend to go organic.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How to get your veggies for $1000 less - A look behind the scenes.

Above: Farmers L: Jesica Pascual and R: Gwenael Engelskirchen

One of the nicest things that happened since I started this blog is that one of my long held beliefs - local farms beat prices at the supermarket any day - came true. Finally taking notes and tallies I was able to prove that a CSA is a good deal and combines the three most important things for me - cheap - green - healthy - into one neat package. Here is a look behind the curtains at the people responsible for saving me and about a hundred other CSA members substantial amounts of money in 2008. Of course they also spoiled us with the quality of produce and their general positive outlook.
Here is an interview with “my” farmer Jes Pascual

Q: How long have you been a farmer and did you always want to become
a farmer?

I've been officially employed at farms on and off for the past 5 years but it was only recently that I didn't hesitate at calling myself a farmer. Along with many in my generation, I didn't even know until after my college years that people could still become farmers. Some part of me always knew, however, that I would end up working with nature and especially with plants. For a long time I thought I would go into scientific research. I've since then discovered this is what I had wanted all along.

Q: What do you think is the most amazing accomplishment for a CSA?

It think it's in the way it changes people's view of food and diet. Faced with unknown vegetables or even unknown colors of vegetables (purple carrots? Yellow zucchini?), but knowing and trusting the person who grew them, I find folks are more willing to be adventurous and open about trying new veggies. And then they realize that they like something they grew up thinking they hated. It's almost as if some people break out of a certain anxiety about food and at the same time embrace the new connection to the people and the land that provided the "real" food. It's always wonderful to see.

Farm interns: L to R: Magen Markham, Cian Dalzell and Eric Newman.

Q: How was this season? Particularly difficult or relatively smooth?

If I ever have a relatively smooth season, I'll know it's time to quit. Every year there are always challenges, whether self-imposed or provided by nature. Figuring out how to grow better beets on this land and struggling with the eggplants and peppers were only some of this year's big challenges. On the other side of things, hey, it could have been worse. I think overall it was a pretty even, slightly good year. Next year will be better, of course.

Q: Anything you will do different for next year - aka things the farm
taught you?

Something valuable that farming has taught me is that patience is not only a virtue, but it is required- at least in this line of work. You always have to wait till next year to do anything different. One thing that I did at the end of this year that I will do again is grow beets from transplants. I will also grow more, much more, garlic. There are always new varieties to try and new techniques you hear about from other farmers. I am also always learning more about training interns. Probably that is where I have grown the most since coming to Phillies Bridge.

Q: If there was something you could ask from the members it would

The members as a whole are wonderful and honest people, whether they are saying good things or bad, and I value their frankness in the distribution room as well as in surveys. It's hard to ask anything from them because I'm not here to force feeling of community or volunteer-ship or even good eating habits. One thing that I like to see and that I hope spreads is
personal and educational involvement on the farm. If you like broccoli and don't understand why you don't get more of it- ask the farmer or come hoe the broccoli patch one day. If you like seeing children on the farm and wonder about the current state of public education, participate in the school visit programs. If you're wondering whether or not you too could grow veggies and help our planet, I'd love to help. We provide that opportunity here and I know people are short on time, but it only takes a little while and you'll be infinitely more knowledgeable afterwards. Even in the internet age, I think it's much better than looking something up on Wikipedia.

Q: Favorite vegetable - least favorite?

These days my favorite vegetable to grow is a tie between potatoes and cauliflower and my favorite to eat is string beans. I love growing potatoes because somehow I never get sick of digging them up and discovering the bounty's the five year old in me. I enjoy growing cauliflower because growing it well is a challenge and I love seeing this huge beautiful plant come from a teeny-tiny non-descript black seed. I grew up eating and enjoying a lot of stir fried string beans and I love being able to say that the string beans I grow are ten times tastier than the ones I had as a kid. My favorites often change though. In the near future I want to grow hops for super small batch beer even though I don't really drink the stuff just because I like the way the plant looks and grows. I'm also interested in trying out dryland rice, but maybe on my own land if I ever get it. Those two might be the next favorites.

Q: What do you like to do when you are not on the farm?

Right now I'm getting into home improvement with my boyfriend and his old house. It's satisfying in the same way that farming is. I tend to knit and spin yarn in the winter and this year I just bought a whole raw fleece from
the Hudson Valley Sheep and Wool Festival that I'd like to take all the way to a shawl or sweater. Next year I might take one of our sheep's fleeces and do the same. And I have to say that I do occasionally enjoy a milkshake from the diner.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Insane and Unheard of: Window Cleaner

Of all household cleaning tasks - including cleaning garbage pails - which actually has become a lot more pleasant since I ditched the plastic garbage bags - cleaning windows is the task I hate the most. The combination old windows, hard water and a nosy dog that leaves nose prints is just too much. Also this insane rush of absolute perfection sets in and it just feels that no matter how hard I try it leaves me exhausted and the windows are never perfect. But of course, I would not be talking about if I had not found a solution. And it is so painfully simple - I wonder if I could have enjoyed my windows all these years when I looked all over the place for the one cleaner, that would make this task a breeze. Long story short - it was under my nose all this time. Plain old white vinegar - undiluted - full strength available for about $2.50 per gallon. I think I remember, years ago trying vinegar in a complicated recipe for a homemade window cleaner - but between the water I had to add - not a very good idea with my hard water - it leaves a white film - and the old newspapers I was supposed to use to wipe the windows dry, I just remember it to be very messy leaving my hands black with newspaper ink and my windows schmeary and cloudy. Really upsetting, after you put in all this effort. So, the other day - guests on the way - there was an incident with a squirrel and my dog looking through the glass door and I just happen to have my bottle of vinegar out grabbed it just to clean the nose prints of - well it worked so well before I knew it I had to do the whole glass door. It was so easy, the vinegar cutting through every smear. And even after several hours, the streaks did not reappear.

Recipe for perfect windows:

You’ll need: 
 One old towel - cut in half.
 One half soaked in vinegar, the other half to dry off.

Start wiping with the vinegar soaked one and dry up with the other towel. Make sure you wipe the window completely dry - done! 
Absolutely effortless!
The aroma is not great, admittedly, but at least it is not harmful. I guess you could add some drops of essential oil if it really bothers you - peppermint, lavender or rose maybe. And here is the rest of it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Three cheers for Cast iron cookware

Three cheers for Cast iron cookware

Even though I usually recommend NOT buying anything rather than buying, I have to confess this is one kitchen item I think you should not be without.
Cast iron. Lately I have come across so many reports mentioning the health risks of all different types of non stick coating, you know the type of cookware that will knock any pet bird instantly of its perch. You may not have birds, but why expose yourself and your loved ones to potentially harmful fumes? And I know, no matter how hard I try not to scratch the surface of these non stick pans, scratches happen - which of course makes me even more uneasy, since all the promises of the manufacturers of “no known effects on your health” always come with this handy little proviso - “as long as the surface is not damaged in any way” which surely must be impossible. Anyone who has ever attempted to cook anything in a pan knows, that tiny scratches will appear within a couple of weeks - and those are the scratches you can see - there might be micro ones way before that.
Cast iron on the other hand is worry free. I know people always make it sound like seasoning a cast iron pan is akin to brain surgery in complexity - nothing could be further from the truth. What really seasons cast iron cookware is usage. The more you use it, the better it gets. And forget the whole - “your food will have a metallic taste” - nonsense. What your food will get, is extra iron - not so much that you could actually taste it, but if you are iron deficient - you will feel more energetic after using your cast iron cookware.
Best of all - cast iron is both indestructible and cheap. You could pick up cast iron cookware at the antique’s dealer or a thrift shop - just clean it - scrubbing it with either steel wool or just a plastic brush, then re-season it (covering it in oil and baking it for one hour) and you are in business. Cast iron can be passed down to your children - I have heard it even survives camp fires.
Also, it is not expensive, especially compared to every other pan on the market. I prefer the smaller sized pans since they are not too heavy. My favorite is the 10 ¼ inch skillet which is a steal at $19.95, and just think - it can not be destroyed - ever!
The best maker, I think, is the original Lodge Cast Iron which you can find here.

Nice pizza recipe:

Cast Iron Pizza:

½ package dry yeast
⅓ cup warm water
¾ cup - flour of choice - I use gluten free, but any "all purpose" will do

⅜ tsp salt
¾ tsp sugar or agave nectar
toppings of choice

1. Preheat oven to 425º. Mix yeast and water. This should be slightly foaming - let it sit for a couple of minutes. Add the sugar flour and salt. Stir well. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it sit in a warm place.

2. After dough has risen - about 15 minutes or so - knead the dough and push the dough into your slightly oiled pan. By the way - if your dough does not rise - don’t panic - you can still make the pizza - it just will be more reminiscent of thin crust pizza - my family actually prefers those.

3. Add your toppings of choice and bake at 425º for about 15 minutes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Seasons - What seasons?

Now, that I am back to shopping in the store for most of my veggies - sigh - I have noticed again how much we have come to disrespect Mother Nature and are completely ignorant of what the earth has to offer us at any given time of the year. I am talking about seasons. When you look into the produce department of the average supermarket you would think that we have done away with seasons all together. Yes, it makes perfect sense to buy an apple that has racked more frequent flier miles than you did last year. Watermelon in late November, why not?

We need to get back on focus here - first step would be to know what is in season. There is a wonderful website where you can check the seasonal offerings in your state. You can access it here.
Also, I have compiled a quite extensive list of fruits and veggies. Print it out - bring it to the store with you. I tried to be thorough, but if your favorite fruit or vegetable is missing - just drop me a line and I will include it. This list does contain fruits and veggies that have to be shipped from far - you can avoid those and only shop what is grown locally. You will definitely save money that way - and the planet will love you for it!

I have included some stern warnings in my seasons chart - vigilance please!

“First” means it could be a bit early for an item to taste like anything - if you don’t get an aroma - maybe pass for that week. Some veggie producers in their rush to be first on the market will order to pick when things are only barely ripe - not good for us - since the taste will be missing. Also, I have witnessed with some hardier items unscrupulous markets to offer last season’s leftovers! Happens more often than you would think!
“Last” of the season - should not be a problem - more of a warning to you - if you would like to stock up! Keep in mind you might see a particular item still offered weeks after the season is really done, but it will often have had to endure long storage or be an inferior substitute shipped from a lesser market all together.
“Grab” - means just that - this item will have a really short growing season and you might see it offered only once! So - Grab!
I have grouped cruciferous veggies together - since they have overlapping seasons - a quick refresher:

Cruciferous veggies love the colder weather from late fall to early spring. They include:
Collard Greens
Brussel Sprouts
Bok Choy

And just to remind everyone the Citrus Family contains:



Fruits: citrus, the last apples (careful!), cranberries
Veggies: leeks, beets, cruciferous veggies, spinach, swiss chard, potatoes


Fruits: citrus
Veggies: cruciferous still rule


Fruits: pineapple, Mexican mangos, citrus (especially Valencia and Blood Oranges), Rhurbarb
Veggies: spring lettuce, endive, artichokes, mustard greens


Fruits: pineapples from Hawaii, asparagus, avocado (haas), rhurbarb, mangos, first strawberries(careful!)
Veggies: asparagus, spring cruciferous - especially broccoli, first summer squash, spring onions (with green tops), garden peas, romaine lettuce, artichokes, new potatoes, spring carrots, spinach


Fruits: apricots from California, first berries(careful), Florida mangos, citrus(end of season - careful), fresh figs, pineapples from Hawaii (end), cherries (end of month maybe! - really short season - so grab!)
Veggies: green beans, bell peppers (first), cucumbers, summer squash, celery, sugar snap peas, vidalia onions, asparagus (end - careful!), endive (end- careful!)


Fruits: Cherries (short season - grab!), berries, cantaloupe, apricots, plums
Veggies: green beans, bell peppers, carrots, beets, garlic, summer-squash, swiss chard, basil


Fruits: watermelon, peaches (short season - grab - local, no spray only), berries, plums, currants (very short season)
Vegetables: tomatoes (first local - careful still early) walla walla onions, eggplant, peppers, beets, green beans, cucumbers, summer-squash,


Fruits: watermelon, pears (first- careful!), berries (end - careful!), peaches ( short season - grab - local-no spray only!), plums
Vegetables: corn, eggplant, tomatoes ( peak - local only!), basil, summer squash


Fruits: cranberries, grapes (American - organic only), apples ( first new crop), berries ( last - careful!)
Vegetables: cruciferous veggies ( first - careful!), mushrooms ( short season - buy local & wild if possible!) corn (last - careful!), green beans, summer squash ( last - careful!), potatoes ( new season’s crop), winter squash ( first- careful!), eggplant ( last - careful!)


Fruits: cranberries, apples, pomegranates, pears, fresh nuts ( walnuts, hazelnuts!), avocado ( Fuerte varietal)
Vegetables: winter-squash, pumpkins, cruciferous veggies, rutabaga,


Fruit: kiwi ( US grown), Navel oranges, grapefruit and other citrus, apples, pears, nuts ( almonds)
Veggies: Sweet potatoes, winter-squash, pumpkin, cruciferous veggies ( especially cabbage), turnips, parsnips, carrots


Fruit: Jaffa oranges, apples & pears ( last for the season), cranberries, all citrus
Vegetables: cruciferous ( especially kale, brussel sprouts), sweet potatoes, winter-squash (last - careful), turnips

Monday, November 10, 2008

This is it! The CSA is over -long live the CSA!

CSA 2008: The last pickups

So here we are 6 months later. What started out as an attempt to prove that a CSA is indeed worth it, and one would break even joining a CSA, has become something totally different. Break even we did - and then some. All in all we have gotten $1000 more in vegetables than we paid for. Again, this is not a typo: we paid for $860 worth of veggies and received $1800 worth of veggies this season. The tallying up of comparable pricing in local stores - both health food store and big chain supermarket were considered for the figures - was done to the best of my abilities. I counted everything, and made use of the self-pick as much as I was able.

Having been a member in several different CSAs over the years, I would call this season very good, but not spectacular, in the sense that the amount of veggies received was typical. Some crops did not do quite as well as excepted, whereas others really flourished this season, but that is, what I have come to expect from my CSA. The weather early on was a bit erratic. I know that some local farmers had a really hard time with their peaches with losses of about 80% of the crop. So that makes this result even more amazing. Needless to say I already gave my deposit for next year.

The quality and variety of the produce was beyond amazing. To compare these vegetables picked that very morning with anything in the stores, which has been picked green and then was trucked or flown half way across the globe, is really unfair. In some vegetables this is particularly evident. I have had a hard time getting the broccoli home at each pick-up, because it was so delightful eaten raw right there in the car. When you try the same thing with a supermarket broccoli - even an organic one - you feel like you are gnawing on a piece of wood!

A benefit that should be part of the decision to join a CSA is your carbon footprint. Sponsoring all this absurd trucking of vegetables around the globe with your shopping dollars, when the same fruits and vegetables can be grown around where you live seems insane. I know not everybody has the benefit of living in an area where there are many CSAs but looking at the map - they certainly are sprouting up all over the place. And let’s not forget cities grew around agriculturally rich locations, because the food industry has changed into this global beast rather recently. Until about 60 to 80 years ago almost everyone ate the localvore 100 mile diet not even by choice. It was inconceivable to ship apples from Argentina, China or even Washington state to New York state with its network of apple farms. Yet, nowadays nobody seems to have any qualms about buying an apple that has more frequent flyer miles than you do. I think that we are looking at the end of this madness. Change is in the air. How we feed ourselves will be part of that.

Last two pick-ups:

1 pound mustard greens $2.75
2 pounds parsnips $3.50
1 pound kale $1.86

1 bunch turnips $2.50
1 bunch radish $2.50
1 pound carrots $1.79
1 pound onions $1.30
1 ½ pounds jerusalem artichokes $3.75

And the final list:

2 heads cabbage $4.00
1 stalk brussels sprouts $2.00
½ pound collard greens $2.75
1 pound parsnips $1.79
1 pound beets $2.75
6 ears popcorn $3.00
3 ½ pounds potatoes $5.99

Total for the last two pickups: $42.23
Our season’s total so far was: $1836.43

So our final grand total for the 2008 CSA share is: $1878.66.

To wrap it up I paid $855 back in February and I received $1878.66 worth of vegetables and berries from middle of May to beginning of November. Wow!
I will tally things up - to show what the $1878 worth veggies contained, and also I will have an interview with our farmer Jes - to get a behind the scenes look at the CSA. Keep posted!
And I also have to tell you about the winter - CSA...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Insane and Unheard of: How to make your own Automatic Dishwashing Detergent

After you have tried making your own toothpaste, there is just no way back. You are on the path to utter money saving insanity. You really start looking at every item on your shopping list in a new way. Do I really have to buy this, or is there a way I could make this myself and save a bundle? I have to admit that dishwashing detergent had me stumped for a while, and then of course the solution was super simple.

Two things first, my dishwasher sucks! I am sorry to say it is an expensive German model and I have tried to defend it up and down, to the not very printable things it has been called by both my husband and my son. Even the repairman, who came in to repair my refrigerator, which was upset with me because I crammed it full with my lovely CSA produce, gave me a look, that was very non approving, a la “How could you spend this much money on such a piece of junk….”
Also, our water which is wonderful well water, that tastes great, is actually very hard, chock full of minerals, which leaves a whitish deposit on everything from the tea kettle to the wine glasses. So, the odds were stacked heavily against being able to get away with a homemade detergent, but, as usual, homemade beat the pants out of everything else I have bought in the store. I should have had a revelation, when I started getting sparkling glasses, an event in my house, with a simple vinegar rinse. But I guess I wanted to remain faithful to my Seventh Generation detergent, even though it costs way too much.
However, after the toothpaste incident, I was determined to give the expensive cleaner the boot, and I did a little research.

What I found was baking soda’s older, stronger brother “washing soda” or sodium carbonate, as it is called by Seventh Generation as the main ingredient in their automatic dishwashing detergent. Figures!
I paired this with Borax, which is a bit of a controversial cleaner. It is all natural, but of course that does not mean much, since poisons, such as arsenic are technically all natural too. After reading an health study conducted by the EPA, I have concluded that for me it does not represent a risk, but of course I would like you to make your own mind. You can find the EPA article here. Given the choice of having to swallow a shot glass worth of Cascade™ or my homemade borax - washing soda mix, I would chose my mix any day!

So here is the recipe:

1 tablespoon washing soda ( Not baking soda)
1 tablespoon Borax

1 cup vinegar as a rinse in a seperate rinse cycle - or filled directly into the rinse dispenser, or both.

This works wonders for me, despite the lame dishwasher and the hard water.
You may have to experiment a bit - you can double the amounts of either, or both the washing soda and the borax. Make sure everything is rinsed off well. I usually run the rinse cycle twice and add the vinegar to the last cycle.

Borax and Washing Soda can be found in the laundry aisle of your supermarket. You will have to buy it about once a year.
I paid $4.39 for 76 oz of Borax and
$2.99 for 55 oz of Washing Soda.

The white vinegar varies in price. I have found some supermarket store brands as low as $1.00 per gallon. Needless to say that although it is a great bargain as an all around house cleaner, I definitely do not consider this vinegar to be food. It is just awful and should never be used to eat - only to clean!

So, all in all your dishwashing detergent is down to cents per load - another expensive item eliminated from your shopping list for good!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A late autumn pick-up!

No more self pick. But still some awesome food to be had.
List for third pickup in October:

¼ pound arugula $2.00
¼ pound spinach $1.00
1 pound kale $1.86
2 pounds carrots $3.57
1 pound cauliflower $1.50
1 pound broccoli $1.50
4 pounds peppers $7.36
2 pieces squash $1.50
4 heads rutabaga $4.00
1 bunch parsley $1.99
1 bunch dill $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99

Total this pick-up: $30.26

Added to our total: $ 1806.17 = $1836.43

And now, the end is near….

Last couple of CSA pick-ups
With frost now coming up ever night - the pick-ups are getting smaller but the variety is still there! Love the hot peppers!

The list:

4 heads lettuce $6.76
2 pounds onions $2.60
1 pound swiss chard $2.10
1½ pounds broccoli $2.25
1½ pounds cauliflower $2.25
3 pounds peppers $5.52
2 bunches beets - with huge green tops! $3.98
2 handfuls raspberries $2.29
1 bunch parsley (curly) $1.99

1 bunch parsley (flat) $1.99
1 bunch dill $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99
2 pounds hot peppers $6.00

Total this pick-up: $43.70

Season’s total so far was $1762.47 plus $43.70. Grand total $1806.17!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Making your own toothpaste -part deux of the insanity!

So, after promoting making your own toothpaste - I researched the price of tubes to refill. If you don’t know what I am talking about, check it out here.
I was quite shocked to learn that Pearl Paint, one of the cheapest art supply stores in the world charges $1.04 for them. Plus shipping. So that got me thinking. It irks me to put cents worth of homemade tooth paste into a container, that costs $1.00. Since when is the container supposed to be more expensive than what’s inside. So, I looked at what I already have at hand. And then it hit me “Eureka”! Why not use the tube I already have: namely - the old toothpaste tube. So, I went to work.

1. I unravelled the end and cut off the last bit. This would only work with metal tubes. Shame on you, if your toothpaste comes in plastic tubes!

2. Then I inserted my homemade toothpaste - which admittedly was a bit messy. Careful don’t overfill! because then..

3. you have to reseal the end. A small pair of pliers works best.

4. Voila - done - of course you could also use a small container. If you want to be boring…

You are going to be able to do this two or three times only and the tube is going to get shorter each time, but it stays out of the trash -Green- and it is free -Cheap-, but it is definitely insane, although fun!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TA-DA! DRUMROLL - PLEASE! Our veggies are now 50% off - officially

Sadly I found out today, that the last pick-up for the season will be on November 8th, which is only 3 weeks away - but all good things must come to an end. For the last week I thought it might be a good idea to do a grand-total of all things picked, and the money saved and all that. Of course at the end of the season it is also the time to think of next year and with so many CSAs now having to establish waiting lists - the sooner you put down that deposit the better! I think I have proven here that a CSA a is well worth the money - especially since the 20th pick-up holds a bit of a surprise. We have now picked up $1762.20 worth of produce - so, we can truly say we have gotten our veggies 50% off - since we only paid $860 for them back in February. Not bad!

4 heads lettuce $6.76
4 roots rutabaga $4.00
1 pound kale $1.86
1 pound broccoli $1.50

1 pound cauliflower $1.50
3 pounds peppers $5.52
2 pounds eggplant $3.00
2 butternut squash $4.00
2 pounds hot peppers $6.00
1 handful raspberries $2.29
1 bunch flowers $5.00
pick your own green beans - 10 pounds - $19.90
pick your own basil - for pesto - hard to price - $5.00
1 bunch dill $1.99
1 bunch parsley flat $1.99
1 bunch parsley curly $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch thyme $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99

Total: $78.27
The season’s total so far was $1684.20, if we add this pick-up we have a grand total of $1762.47! Grand indeed, especially if you take into consideration that we paid $860 for our $1762 worth of veggies! The power of the CSA - and a true reward for doing something good for the local economy!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How to get your Kids to give up Soda!

I think we all know it by now - sodas are by far the worst part of our children’s diet. They have been implicated in everything from childhood obesity to bone loss. They are a nasty mix of hydrogenated corn syrup, caffeine, carbonated water, phosphoric acid, artificial flavors, artificial sugar and sodium benzoate (yum!), and they are completely void of anything remotely beneficial, nutritionally speaking. So, the task would be to remove this item from our children’s diet permanently - or at least ban it from our house and make soda an “on the road treat” only.

Now, the obvious solution would seem to be replacing soda with other forms of soft drinks, such as vitamin waters, sports drinks or iced tea. Ha! Actually that’s just side-stepping the real issue at hand. In reality, you haven’t advanced at all. All these drinks are still manufactured by the same soda industry - you are still feeding the beast! All these so called sports drinks are still loaded with sugar and many unhealthy ingredients. Your dentist will be forever grateful - you will send his kids to college, and the negative impact on the planet remains the same - all these drinks still come in plastic bottles.
But “no” you say, “Iced tea comes in glass bottles!” - well, apart from the fact that it is very unlikely that you will find an iced tea that does not have high fructose corn syrup in it - the very notion that it would be okay for a little kid or a growing teenager to habitually drink a very caffeinated beverage is simply wrong. Black and Green Tea have been implicated as a growth retardant (great, tell that to your football playing son or your daughter with model aspirations - or vice versa), and caffeine affects their little bodies particularly strong: irritability, mood swings, restlessness, dehydration, adrenal exhaustion, mild addiction are just some of the benefits!
So, what is the solution? Well, let’s look for something that is healthy, cheap and makes a positive difference for the planet. May I introduce: Water and Herbal Tea!
Water: plain filtered tap is just fine - stick it in the fridge. Done! You will have an ice cold, delicious, zero-calorie power beverage. Fill up your kid’s stainless steel to-go canteen and they are all set.
Herbal Tea: comes in a dizzying number of flavors; Raspberry Zinger, Lemon Zinger, Bengal Spice, Mandarin Orange, Peach Passion, Honey Vanilla Chamomile, to name a few. Stick two tea-bags into a glass jar, fill with filtered water, and in about 5 hours (or better yet, overnight) you will have an extremely flavorful, inexpensive, delicious, cold drink - try out all the different flavors and you may be surprised how willingly your kids will embrace this change. Cut out the often funny pictures on the tea box and stick them onto the glass jar - or better yet have your kids decorate the jar themselves for extra P.R. impact. Make sure your tea does not have artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners in it. Celestial Seasonings is a great brand to try - they offer flavor variety packs, which is a good way to get you started.

Try to resist the urge to sweeten the tea - it takes about a week for taste-buds to readjust and that way you can keep the tea calorie free. If however you absolutely must sweeten I would suggest agave nectar or stevia for a low-glycemic natural sweetener and then gradually try to phase them out. Both are available at your health food store.
Also, for the grownups, iced Earl Grey tea or Irish Breakfast tea is delicious and may replace that cup of coffee for a fraction of the cost. Enjoy!

High fructose corn syrup and obesity link
Bone loss: check here

Can you guess this veggie?

I am falling behind documenting my pick-ups at the CSA, so I have decided to bunch up two pickups in one post - to speed things up!
So these are actually pickups #18 and #19 and finish up the month of September - I know! - I said I was behind!
Even though the pickups are getting smaller - they are still full of traditional vegetables and unusual ones, just like the one in the picture - which is “celeriac” or celery root - an awesome soup veggie - that will produce great amounts of highly flavored broth and also makes a wonderful flavor addition mixed in with mashed potatoes.

List of Pick-up #18:

1 celeriac $2.00 - educated guess, because you cannot find them anywhere -much less organic!
¼ pound arugula $2.00
2 bunches beets $3.98
⅔ pound lettuce mix $3.75

2 pounds tomatoes $7.98
2 pounds peppers $3.68
1½ pounds chard $3.28
4 delicata winter squash $3.75
1 bunch flowers $5.00
pick your own green beans - unlimited - 10 pounds for me $19.90
1 pint raspberries $2.99
pick your own cherry tomatoes - unlimited - 5 pounds for me $10.00
cornstalks for decorations $4.99 - I have seen then from $4.99 to $12.99 Crazy!
1 bunch basil $1.99
1 bunch parsley $1.99
1 bunch hot peppers $1.00
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 handful okra $1.00
1 handful tomatillos $1.00
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch dill $1.99

Total for pick up #18: $86.25

on to pick up #19

2 heads cabbage $4.00
1 bunch radishes $2.75
¾ pound carrots $1.34
2 pounds peppers $3.68
1 ½ pounds eggplant $2.99
1 ⅓ pounds collard greens $2.79
1 head broccoli $1.50
1 head cauliflower $1.50

Pick your own green beans - another 10 pounds for me $19.90
pick the last cherry tomatoes - 2 pounds $5.00
1 pint raspberries $2.99
1 bunch flowers $5.00
1 bunch dill $1.99
1 bunch lemon verbena $1.99
1 handful okra $1.00
1 bunch rosemary $1.99
1 handful tomatillos $1.00
1 bunch parsley $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99

Total for pick up #19: $67.38
Our season’s total so far was: $1530.57 We add pick up#18 for $86.25 and pick up #19 for $67.38, and we have an end of September total of $1684.20!

15 Ways to get your Kids to eat their Veggies - Guaranteed!

Ok, let’s back up - I can not guarantee anything - but here are my credentials:
I have raised one picky eater into a handsome, 17 year old, healthy vegetarian and have been a nanny to countless others, some of whom I have turned into artichoke connoisseurs - at age two!
I refuse to believe that kids will not eat healthy food - after all the survival instinct kicks in at one point, and I refuse to have power struggles over food with two year olds - because to put it very bluntly - you won’t win - they will!
So - general rules - it has to be fun - relatively simple - and doable. Some of these tips may seem borderline insane - but let’s face it, so is trying to be a good parent some days! I am not in favor of “sneaky chef” tactics, you know the whole “hiding spinach in brownies” philosophy - because, quite honestly I think it is lying, reenforcing the notion that veggies are bad and brownies are good, and it is also a whole lot of work to hide miniscule amounts of vegetables in cups of sugar and goops of oil - there has to be a better way, and there is - 15 of them! No lying, no tantrums and no marathon sessions in the kitchen!
Some of these you might have tried, some of these tips already work for you, and others are worth a shot. Let’s start:

Let’s try to understand why kids are such picky eaters. I think it has something to do with the basic survival tactics of our caveman ancestors - back then, the kids who did not practice extreme caution when coming across an unknown food, often did not survive their curiousness. As a result, this inbuilt safety mechanism can drive the most dedicated mom or dad up the wall.

Let’s take it step-by-step

1. The “Salad - no way!” problem. What might be going on here is, that the mixing of different textures and flavors feels like a loss of control to our cautious kid. Solution: Try serving the same ingredients as a platter - nothing touches anything else - with the salad dressing as a dip. As you are slicing and dicing the ingredients for a salad don’t mix your child’s portion, simply arrange them in piles on a plate - or for extra coolness- bonus points - make them into a face or a character from a book. The dressing as a dip has to be of the highest quality; only the best oils, with a protein base and not too much sodium. Definitely out: anything with artificial flavors or colors, anything hydrogenated and please no MSG. Tofu as a base, works really well. Readymade dips include nut butters, cream cheese or hummus. Store bought dressings I can recommend include Newman’s Own - especially their “Light” line - and Amy’s salad dressings, available in the health food store or some supermarkets.

2. Rename veggies to give them a funky spin - I learned this trick from my grandmother, who was a cool person way before "cool" was even a term. She would have no problem naming spinach leaves “dragon scales” and snow peas “magic butterfly wings”. You could even make a dragon with spinach as scales with a lovely thousand island dip - maybe some carrot slivers as fiery dragon breath - you get the idea. Be creative - for more inspiration, consult Play With Your Food, by Joost Elffers, available at link

3. Sometimes it all depends on consistency - I know many kids that will not touch any green veggie that has wilted in the cooking process - they call wilted spinach “slimy” and to be honest, they are kind of right - but they will happily eat spinach "raw" - remember, better call it “Dragon Scales”.

4. You have heard this one before - let your kids help you cook. Take a deep breath - stop stressing and have more fun in the kitchen. Okay maybe this does not work after a long, busy day when you are just plain tired, but maybe on the weekend. Let them help you bake, or chop veggies, or mix dough for homemade pizza. They love getting their hands dirty and you can have really great conversations in the kitchen - I don’t know why it is, but being in the kitchen and cooking together gets people to talk to each other. When I say let them chop and cut - before you sue me for handing kitchen knives to your three year old - I am talking about craft kids scissors and plastic lettuce knives, of course. They are quite handy for performing a number of tasks. Not everything can be accomplished with these tools but you would be surprised at how handy scissors are in the kitchen. I actually have several pairs of real scissors in my kitchen, and they are some of my favorite prepping tools.

5. Research recipes together - kids are wizards on the internet and there is not a single fruit or vegetable that does not have an almost exhaustingly long description in Wikipedia or sites like that. Learn about veggies together! Give older kids the power to research recipes and make some choices about what goes on the dinner table. They may surprise you in their fearless approach to try out new things.

6. Join a CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture, otherwise known as your neighborhood farm). Buy a share in your farm and go on weekly trips to pick up the bounty! Your kids will be able to breathe fresh air, get to pet chickens, goats and other animals, and maybe help you harvest. Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw, at my local CSA, a little boy who helped his mom pick sugar snap peas and announced loudly and with conviction that these were way better than candy - there is a lifelong enthusiastic veggie eater for you. Find your local CSA here.

7. Mono eating: some kids want to eat only one type of food at a time - and that’s fine! Some adults embrace mono eating much later in life, when they realize that it is actually much easier on your digestion. Of course, the quality of these exclusive foods matters greatly, and most doctors agree that eventually kids will grow out of that habit and embrace greater variety. One should keep in mind that nutrition is the sum of its parts, and what is consumed over the course of a week many be more important than any one particular day. Imagine for lunch one day you set up your child with a gigantic bowl of baby carrots and a hummus dip. You’d be amazed at how quickly you’ll see the bottom of that bowl. You might be thinking that your child needs more to eat - but think about it you’re child is full, he or she is smiling, and they’ve just consumed a load of fiber, vitamins, protein, fat and a lot of carrots! It’s great!

8. Smoothies - although I am not one to embrace hiding vegetables - Smoothies do pack a nutritional punch - the basis of smoothies can be milk, tofu, soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk, etc. So, this can become a very valuable addition to a picky eater’s menu. Add unusual smoothie ingredients such as: lettuce, cucumbers, carrot juice, tomatoes, cooked butternut squash, cooked pumpkin, zucchini, beets (cooked or raw), or cooked sweet potatoes, and of course your fruits of choice. Try not to make your smoothies too sweet. Have fun experimenting wildly! Most blenders are safe for kids to operate, under adult supervision of course - and working the blender makes smoothies twice as fun for them!

9. Over at the Vegan Lunch Box blog, Jennifer McCann presented a great idea. Her observation was that sometimes vegetables just aren’t as accessible as cookies or crackers. So, the solution here is to buy a condiment box with an ice compartment (available at Linen’s n Things or Bed Bath & Beyond). These plastic boxes have five compartments to hold about two cups each of your soon to be favorite veggies - you put ice underneath to keep the veggies fresh and crispy all day long. This way the box can go straight on the counter in everybody’s view. Check out a picture here:
The options of what to put in the box are endless and open for discussion, of course. Suggestions are cucumber slices, carrots, snap peas, fruit spears, lettuce leaves, apple slices etc - you get the point. Now all you need is a little dressing, hummus, nut butter or any other dip, and you are all set - all day long for a veggie feast.
Whatever is leftover at the end of the day - becomes either pre-diced dinner ingredients or can be used for the next soup, smoothie or crock pot meal.

10. Speaking of crock pots - even small children can help decide what goes into a crock pot - and because it is not hot when you put the meal together, there’s no danger of getting burned - and again you have that involvement that gets children interested, and helps you avoid the power struggle.

11. You should respect that your children might want to eat at a different time than you would. The very first time you try to force your kid to eat, you have lost the battle. You are actually teaching them, that the more he or she resists eating, the more attention you will lavish on them trying to make them eat. This becomes their favorite game really fast. It is much better to wait until they are hungry and ready to eat.

12. Never use food as a bribe or reward or punish a kid for not eating. This creates a no-win situation and could lead to lifelong struggles with food. Especially the perception sweet is good (mostly a reaction they learn from you) is really a hard one to shake.

13. Play with your food! - touch it, make it into silly shapes, dye it with naturals dyes etc. the whole idea of the Japanese Bento Boxes is very intriguing. Check out some of the craziness and steal some of the ideas. Scroll all the way down - it is worth it! Did you see the tomato lobster - crazy! Some of these are extremely elaborate and some probably use artificial food dyes, which I would not recommend, but the general idea is wonderful. You will be amazed what kids will eat, if food is presented this way. Just think about how they are willing to embrace cereals just because some cartoon character is on the box - imagine if the same cartoon character actually is the food they are about to eat.

14. Tell stories that feature your kids, the veggies they are about to eat and the wild adventures they are going to have. This one is not only a lot of fun but really works. Don’t fret if you are not much of a story teller - borrow heavily form the classics - go ahead - whichever story you remember will do - just change the main character to become your child and weave vegetables into the story. This is another one from my grandmother, who was an awesome and fearless story teller. I remember hundreds of stories that featured me and the very lunch I was eating that day! It was so much fun and I remember being completely captivated, making sure I would eat every last bite.

15. Play the ABC Vegetable game. Vow to eat at least one vegetable for every letter of the alphabet with your kids. There is research, choosing, and cooking involved - and it should be fun! Some letters obviously will be harder than others. One mom tried this with her kids and writes a blog about her experiences in “The Great Big Vegetable Challenge” which you can read here
You will find inspirational stories, recipes and tips at this awesome blog.

Well, that’s it! I hope some tips here are useful to you. If you have any more that worked for you, let me know I’d be happy to expand this list.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Insane and unheard-of: Make your own Toothpaste!

Another weird mission - Danger! - If you chose to accept this mission - you might never go back to regular toothpaste.
I don’t know why I did not think about this earlier - but lately I have been quite upset about how much toothpaste actually costs.
Granted, I buy one of the most expensive ones out there - I have gotten hooked on Weleda’s Salt Toothpaste, which retails for anywhere from $3.75 to $5.00 for 3.3 ounces! I have also been buying Tom’s of Maine, which is a bit less expensive at around $5.00 for 5.5 ounces.
If we look at the ingredients, the first one listed for Weleda is:

“Sodium Bicarbonate” which is of course a fancy name for “Baking Soda” - so have I been buying Baking Soda for $5.00 per 3 ounces? It almost seems to be!

Water - could be free out of my faucet!

Glycerin - which is basically a fancy name for vegetable oil - (again - that costs close to nothing)

a list of herby sounding things - but on their website even Weleda admits, that those are present only in highly diluted forms - Translate: miniscule trace amounts

And Sodium Chloride - which - you guessed it, is salt. Again not terrible expensive.

So here is my recipe for home made toothpaste - it is so good, it is almost addictive.
Try your own variations - as always, have fun and experiment wildly!


* Baking Soda - the same kind you hopefully use for cleaning everything else in your house - so why not your teeth? Cost: can be as low as $0.50 for 2 pounds! Buy store brand - no need to go fancy here.

* Salt - whichever you use - it is really good for your gums - Cost: cents

* Glycerin - or any other vegetable oil - no real medicinal use - just used as a binder
It is available in any pharmacy or health food store and costs about $2.00 for 4 fluid ounces - but will last you probably a year! Or you could also use any other oil, that you already have.

* essential oil flavorings: you can use the traditional peppermint, spearmint or go more exotic and use fennel, cinnamon or vanilla. All of these are just meant to add taste, so even though we are conditioned to have minty fresh breath, there are options here. The essential oils will set you back around $5.00 per miniscule 5 mili liter bottle, but they are worth it! First of all, one of these will again last you for years, and second you can use the oils to flavor lots of other things , from cleaning vinegar to perfume.


1. Mix two to three drops of the essential oil of your choice with 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Add one tablespoon salt and two teaspoons glycerin to bind. Mix well and add additional flavors such as fennel or vanilla and you could also add one or two drops tea tree oil.

2. Store in an airtight container - or go to an art supply store and buy tubes to fill yourself, which are meant for paint - but you should be able to use them for your homemade toothpaste. I don’t remember off hand how much those go for, but it can’t be too much!

 Anyway - Let me know how you did - I am really curious to see what you think!

Another CSA pickup - #17

Pickups are getting more manageable again, which is a nice thing. It has been quite a lot of work processing all this food. Many people, after seeing how much I really pick up every week, have asked me - “Well, how much of this do you have to throw out each week?” which is a question that almost makes me gasp. What do you mean throw out? Okay, I admit it every now and then - something does go bad on me. Which drives me nuts. The occasional lettuce that commits suicide in my fridge, before I have a chance to use it, almost makes me cry. I know, I am looking into counseling, there just isn’t much support out there for looney veggie lovers. Generally, I could be considered obsessive - compulsive in my drive to use every last bit of my share. This has endeared me to friends, who I have given little teaser baskets full of produce (when I just couldn’t handle the overflowing counters any longer) and has also prompted me to invest in a new freezer, after I almost killed our refrigerator filling it to the gills with pesto, tomato sauce and green beans. I feel like a squirrel at times, trying to make sure I can rescue some of this produce over into the winter, where I know it will hurt to pay $3 per pound of not even remotely organic green beans.
I know some people really embrace pickling and canning, I just does not seem to be my thing. Somehow I still struggle with the thought of giving up so much of the nutritional value and adding either tons of sugar or salt. I know some pickling actually enhances certain aspects of the veggies - I guess it is something to be learned in the future.

2 heads Lettuce $3.38
2 pounds onions $2.60
4 heads bok choy $6.00

1 pound kale $1.86
8 pounds tomatoes $31.92
4 pounds peppers $7.36
1 ½ pounds rainbow chard $3.28
2 eggplants $3.00
unlimited green beans (15 pounds @1.99) $29.85
6 stems flowers $5.00
1 handful raspberries $2.00
unlimited cherry tomatoes (hard time pricing that) $15
1 bunch parsley curly $1.99
1 bunch parsley flat $1.99
1 bunch edible flowers $1.99
1 bunch hot peppers $1.00
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 bunch dill $1.99
1 handful okra $1.00

Total this week: $123.20
Added to our season’s total so far of $1407.37 - our new total is: $ 1530.57.
So, if we had bought the produce we received in stores tallying up average prices form chain supermarkets to health food stores we would have had to pay $1500 for veggies we prebought for $ 860 - not a bad deal!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How I converted to Seitan!

In our protein series I want to start with - it pains me to write this - a “meat stand in” that is not only often overlooked - because the first thing new vegetarians always think of is - quick - yep “tofu”, but is also really cost effective and mimics meat in texture, taste and appearance. All these things cannot be said about tofu. Even the most enthusiastic tofu fan would have to admit it to be a bit of an acquired taste. Not so with seitan.

Apart from the unfortunate name - we really should come up with a better one - this is an unmeat, that will not easily be detected, even by the suspicious carnivore. As a matter of fact, we used to be quite freaked out by a dish in our local Thai restaurant back in Greenpoint. “Vegetarian duck” was so close to the real thing - it was almost off putting. To this day I don’t know what they did to their wheat gluten - but it was impressive. We actually sent it back many times because we would not believe it was not duck. I should state here that I don’t miss any meat - honestly zero cravings, and when I thought I missed hot dogs - I found out I actually craved mustard!
So, this wonder can also be really cheap - but, and here comes the caveat - you should make it yourself.
By the way - the lovely image of the seitan stew is from one of my favorite blogs: What the Hell does a Vegan eat anyway. Thank you guys for letting me use your pic!

If you buy it prefab - often found in the freezer section - one brand “Ray’s Wheat meat” which is really good - it will cost you. One tub of Ray’s which contains 12 oz of ready made seitan retails for about $4.49. Using one whole tub to feed three hungry vegetarians usually had us fight for every little bit of seitan. If you made your seitan yourself - you can save more than a third!

Let me demonstrate. Now keep in mind that I am not willing to spend my life in the kitchen and I abhor anything that has to be kneaded, stirred or in any other way nurtured for more than 5 minutes. I am sorry I just do not have that much patience. So I had pegged making seitan as something completely out of my reach, since I was not going to devote my life to it - well, last week I thought I give another try - and, what a surprise. It is easy - efficient and fast. Why did I not try this earlier?
Ok - here is how I did it. Confession - there are other, probably more complex ways - I just usually bring it down to the simplest form. But experiment yourselves!

Simplest instructions how to make seitan:

1 box vital wheat gluten ( I like Arrowhead Mills) $2.99
2 cups warm water
4 tablespoons soy sauce $0.50

1.Mix wheat gluten with water in a big bowl. Stir until well mixed.

2.Start kneading the dough. Instructions will tell you everything from 5 to 15 minutes. I did it for two minutes tops - and it came out great. This would be something even little kids could do - since it is basically like play dough!

3.Add two tablespoons of soy sauce and let the dough rest for at least 5 minutes.

4.Meanwhile prepare a big pot with hot water - add the rest of the soy sauce.

5. Cut the dough into pieces and put into the lightly simmering broth. Cover and let simmer for about an hour. You could also add other seasoning at this time - either soup cubes or chicken seasoning would work well. Seitan will absorb any flavor you expose it too - so be creative!

To store you can either transfer the seitan - broth and all to the refrigerator or freeze it for later use - without the broth in that case.

Cost: For 28 oz of Seitan you spent $3.49. So your homemade seitan costs you about 12 cents per ounce, compared to 37 cents for the store bought one. That is a saving of 68%! for about 5 minutes of real work!

So make your seitan - plug it into any recipe, even Grandma’s Beef Bourguinon will work with seitan!
The lovely picture for this post came from one of my favorite blogs: What the Hell does a Vegan eat anyway. Check them out they are awesome!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chat away and get your veggies 50% off!

One aspect of the CSA experience is often overlooked. You get to meet so many cool people! I have met artists, teachers, bankers, musicians, college students, 70 year olds, who look not a day over 50, people helping out at food banks and many more colorful characters, over picking veggies. Just like at every party, where people always gather in the kitchen - where the food is - people also get chatty while picking their food. Everyone can talk to everyone else easily. Often the conversations go to the phenomenal quality of the food we all share. Some of the produce is new to us - some really takes getting used to. I can proudly say, I have finally found a way to embrace Okra.
Where did I find out what to do with it - and how to pick out the best Okra - on the farm, of course - talking to one of the farm interns, all of whom are an impressive source of information.
So talking to your friends and neighbors and the wonderful souls, who work day after day growing our food - what a wonderful side benefit. One that will be missed after the season is over!

Here is our list for this week:

2 bunches scallions $3.98

4 heads lettuce $6.76
2 pounds onions $2.60
1 ⅓ pounds collard greens $2.60
10 pounds tomatoes $39.90
4 heads bok choy $6.00
1 pound summer squash $1.89
1 pound cucumbers $4.49
2 big winter-squash $3.00
2 handfuls raspberries $3.00
unlimited flowers $5.00
unlimited cherry tomatoes (5 pounds - worth for me) $15.96
1 bunch flat parsley $1.99
1 bunch curly parsley $1.99
1 bunch dill $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 handful hot peppers $1.00
1 handful okra $1.00

Total this week: $105.14
Added to the grand total for the season of $1302.59 equals: $1407.73 or in other words, you would have had to spend $1407.73 to purchase the produce in local stores, we pre purchased through the farm for $855 back in February. We will get to a point where our farm produce was not only more nutritious more varied and more ecologically sound, but on top of all that 50% off! Wow what a deal!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pick your Veggies!

Back after a bit of a break. The amounts of produce picked up now really require work and planning so that nothing spoils.
When I promise people that it is possible to eat really well and for not too much money, and then they complain to me that they don’t want to spend any time cooking or picking free produce - I am perplexed.

I understand it may be difficult to pick when you have little kids with you or you are elderly and bending over hurts, but for the rest of us it should not be such a big deal.
What I have seen in my CSA, is moms alternating watching the kids. One mom stays with a bunch of children playing in the sandbox or looking at the chickens so the other moms can get a break and pick. And for elderly members I would like to propose to my CSA that we start a pick up service. Every time one of us goes picking we would just pick a little extra and give that to our members who are not able to pick for themselves. I know other CSA’s have done away with picking altogether, but I feel it is an essential part of the CSA experience. Picking your own food is a lovely way to spend time outdoors, enjoying the farm while doing something useful. That’s what always bugs me about going to the gym. All this energy expenditure without any tangible reward. I know going to the gym is reward in itself - but bringing home 15 pounds of green beans seems so much more of a gain.

Anyway - here is the list. We are slightly past peak now:

2 bunches scallions $3.98
4 heads lettuce $6.76
1 pound kale $1.86
10 pounds tomatoes $39.90
3 pounds peppers $5.52
4 cucumbers $4.49
2 pounds squash $3.98
2 handfuls raspberries $3.00
4 quarts green beans $7.96
unlimited cherry tomatoes $15.96 ( I picked 5 pounds worth)
1 bunch edible flowers $1.99
1 bunch rosemary $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch sorrel $1.99
1 bunch apple mint $1.99
1 bunch lemon verbena $1.99
1 bunch hot peppers $1.00
1 bunch tomatillos $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 handful okra $1.00
1 bunch dill $1.99
1 bunch parsley $1.99

Total this week: $115.31 added to our proud total of $1187.28 our new total reads: $1302.59! Bravo!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Just resign yourself and give in! The tomatoes have taken over your life!

Another phenomenal pick-up - and another 20 pounds worth of tomatoes! Remember back in pick up #9 , when I compared them to those creatures in Star Trek that keep multiplying - well that is what it looks like in everyone’s kitchen right now, where every square inch of counter space is covered with tomatoes!
I have sundried, frozen, salsaed and gazpachoed them and they are still everywhere!
But we will have lovely tomato sauce all winter long.
Also, they have inspired me to run a new feature on my blog called “Food Crimes” - which is all about silly things we do with food, simply because we are told to do so! Check it out here.

Here is the list for this week: Another 50 pounds worth!

4 leeks $5.56
4 pounds potatoes $3.99
1 ⅓ pounds swiss chard $3.28

½ pound mesclun mix $3.00
20 pounds tomatoes $79.80
1 pound peppers $1.84
1 ½ pounds kale $2.79
1 pound cucumbers $2.99
2 pounds squash $3.98
2 heads garlic $1.00
unlimited cherry tomatoes ( I picked 5 pounds) $15.96
unlimited green beans ( I picked 15 pounds) $29.85
unlimited flowers $5.00
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch parsley flat $1.99
1 bunch parsley curly $1.99
1 bunch basil $1.99
1 bunch thai basil $1.99
1 handful okra $1.99
1 bunch edible flowers $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 bunch mint $1.99
1 handful tomatillos $1.99
1 handful hot peppers $1.00

Total this week: $160.04
Added to the overall total for the 2008 season of $1027.24 we have a new grand total of $1187.28.
So I have picked up $1187.28 worth of produce form my farm share for which I paid
$855 in February.

But where will you get your protein from ?

If I had a dollar for every time if have been asked this question in the last twenty years I would be, not rich but at least have enough to open a savings account. There is the myth, that will not die, that protein is the ever elusive ingredient, that we constantly have to be on the look out for.
In reality, you will have to try really hard to find any food that does not contain protein, and yes, even vegetarian foods have protein in abundance. Also the proteins from vegetarian sources are of the same (some say superior) quality as those from meat sources, and let’s not forget, they come without cholesterol and saturated fats, although I personally do not worry about those either.
So, in this climate, where one’s diet is discussed and defended in crusade style rants on so many forums in the internet - it is quite hard to take a stand. Especially when one is very non-confrontational, as I am. You somehow always end up offending one or the other camp - either the protein worshippers a la Atkins or the protein negaters a la Raw Fooders - all of them believe only their doctrine, and are ready to defend it at the drop of a comment. So here are my two cents.

I believe protein is one of the necessary ingredients in everyone’s diet.

I believe it to be rather easily obtainable - unless you are a junkfoodie, and then protein deficiency is probably still not your biggest problem.

I actually like all vegetarian protein sources - such as tempeh, seitan, tofu, beans, lentils and the various soy and nut milks.

I would hope that it was finally universally accepted, that amino acids do not have to be combined - our wonderful bodies can do that without our supervision.

I think that overindulgence in any food will lead to problems, therefore over consumption of carbohydrates is just as idiotic as over consumption of protein. Moderation is always the key.

You can never eat too many vegetables. Period. So make them the star player on your team and add carbs and proteins as sides. Done! No worrying!

I don’t fear soy - it goes through cycles of acceptance and damnation. Again the mantra always is: Dont overdo it! I for one, am not a friend of over processed meat substitutes, and enjoy using tempeh, seitan and tofu in more unusual ways other than as a stand in for steak.
And that’s where it becomes interesting for me - so in the next couple of weeks I will post - “Protein recipes” - for fun and to debunk the myth...

Monday, September 8, 2008

New Feature: FOOD CRIMES

Sometimes we do things to food that just aren’t right and I do not mean cooking greens until they turn grey.
The over abundance of tomatoes the last couple of weeks has let me to research what to do with them.
And here was the problem: Every single recipe for making tomato sauce describes in painstaking detail how to get rid of the tomato skin. Boil and blanch, and this and that. Nauseating! Why?
Because 90% of the nutritional value of the tomatoes is in that skin you are told to throw away, or else your sauce will be rubbery. One word - Rubbish!
Why would you waste the beautiful skin of these lovely, heirloom, ORGANIC tomatoes to make sauce? Actually it really helps in making sauce, and here is why.
Yes, there is fiber in the skin, but that is A - good for you and B - makes an awesome natural thickener for the sauce. I would skim off the extra water the tomatoes release, and save it for the next soup or add it to any recipe, that asks for water and just use the tomato water instead.
The way to naturally thicken the sauce is to ladle out the skin parts of the sauce and puree them in the blender. Your sauce will have a beautiful consistency and you do not have to fidget around endlessly to get the skin off, nature intended to stay on!

CSA pick-up: The lucky 13!

This is truly half-time at the CSA - and not only money wise. The pick ups are starting to be so immense that even three hungry vegetarians cannot keep up. So let the freezing begin!
This pick-up was close to 50 pounds worth of produce - and that is not a typo.
And of course let’s not forget the quality of the produce is unparalleled.

The list:

1 bunch scallions $1.99
1 head radicchio $2.69
4 stems leeks $5.56

5 pounds potatoes $4.99
1 ⅓ pounds swiss chard $3.28
½ pound mesclun lettuce $3.00
20 pounds heirloom tomatoes $79.80 ( After much deliberation I priced the heirlooms at $3.99 per pound - I have seen them both cheaper and more expensive - even non organic ones! - but thought this to be a fair average)
1 ½ pounds peppers $2.76
2 pounds eggplant $3.69
1 ½ pounds cucumber $4.49
2 pounds summer squash $3.98
4 pints cherry tomatoes $7.98
unlimited green beans ( I picked 10 pounds) $19.90
unlimited flowers $5.00
1 bunch parsley $1.99
1 bunch edible flowers $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 bunch chives $1.99
1 bunch thai basil $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch peppermint $1.99
1 handful jalapenos $1.00
1 bunch thyme $1.99

Total this week: $166.03 which is of course a record for a single pick-up!
If we add this to our season’s total so far of $861.21 - we have a new grand total of $1027.24! Woohooo!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Observations while shopping

While shopping late at night at my local supermarket I noticed several traps that even the experienced shopper can fall for. If you consider yourself a novice read up on my shopping 101 tutorial. All you pros out there read on.

Trap #1: Five for $3
Trying to buy one tiny can of tomato paste - to process all these tomatoes from the farm share, I almost fell for this one. I nearly stacked five cans of tomato paste into my cart even though I only needed two. Why do we do this? They tell us to buy five, and we automatically do! I think partially it is guilt - a la - they are giving me a break on this so I will buy as much as they are telling me - and partially it is, that we are secretly afraid the deal is only valid if we buy as many as we are told. This also works in the produce section - Five plantains for a dollar! And we go ahead and buy five even though we only needed one. Very few deals fall apart if you don’t buy as many as you are being told. Usually it has to say - MUST BUY FIVE - but it very rarely does. So let’s pay attention.

Trap #2: The Bigger the Better?
We have been trained to believe that the bigger a package, the better the per ounce deal we should get. This works most of the time.

For some items, however - amaranth in my case - different producers offer vastly different prices per ounce. I always feel inclined to reach for the bigger package, but usually catch myself and whip out my handy calculator to make sure that, in this case at least, the smaller package is the BETTER deal. This is so counterintuitive for me, I actually have to use the calculator every time! Lesson learned - clip one little calculator to your purse and do the math. Those tiny calculators are one dollar and worth their weight in gold. Alternately, your cell phone might have a calculator function - so use it!

Trap #3: The item on sale has to be the cheapest one, right?
I almost stumbled on this one in the cheese section. Brie on sale for $9.99 per pound - not much of sale - but the sign was huge. So I reached for it, when I saw in the corner of my eye mixed in with the imported brie, that was not for sale at $12.99 per pound, the regular domestic brie - not on sale but only $8.99 per pound. Not that much of a difference, but the principle holds. The on sale item is NOT necessarily the cheapest - keep looking and comparing!

Trap #4: I would recommend to you, my advanced shopper to keep a sharpie marker in your purse and write the price of an item on the item, or if you are more timid write it on your shopping list. There will be no more wrong prices and nasty surprises at the checkout. When it is your turn at the checkout - TAKE YOUR TIME. That is why it is good to shop at off hours, or alternatively use the self check out. I like the self check out, because it gives me a chance to double check the price on every single item and reevaluate the purchase. Some times I feel cashiers rush you way too much. While you are bagging, it is impossible to keep an eye on the bill, as the products are rushed through the scanner. I know it is not the cashier’s fault - they have to rush, but the problem is, that once the item is bought and paid for, the likelihood that you would spot a price difference or return that item is getting ever closer to zero.
Ideally don’t bag, and watch the checkout process like a hawk, to spot differences. I still prefer self check out - I often change the language into Spanish and brush up on my language skills as well. I know I am crazy!

Trap #5: Forget sliced or diced.
It is basically impossible to buy fruit or cheese - any other way than whole, because the moment any kind of peeling, slicing or dicing took place the per pound price of the item quadruples. I know that meat eaters know no shame and walk to the deli department to have their lunch meats sliced - I think we should be able to do the same with cheese or bread and not have to buy the pre sliced older stuff only to pay four times the money.

Those were just a few observations on a recent shopping trip. Of course, as always, don’t shop when you are tired or highly caffeinated - you need a calm inner peace to not screw up.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ideas for Leftovers: Spring Rolls!

For any kind of leftover veggies - stir fry works best for me - “the spring roll” is like a secret agent’s trench coat - giving your veggies a new identity.
If there is a lot of sauce - I would drain it first - although it could make for an interesting variation. Let me remind you, any kind of veggie dish should work - almost anything can be made into stuffing!



*1 packet Naysoya Egg Roll Wraps - $2.69 (these can be found in your health food store in the refrigerator, or in the supermarket they usually place them with the tofu and the fake meats)
*about 4 cups leftover veggies - $2.00
*oil of your choice: $0.40

1. Chop your veggies finely - if you don’t have quite 4 cups I would suggest to stretch your veggies either by adding slightly sauteed cabbage - purple cabbage is one of my favorite “cheap” veggies - so much goodness in there, or, steamed broccoli or cauliflower would work too. Chop everything really finely.
2. Open your package of spring roll wrappers and fill each with about two tablespoons of veggie mix. Fold according to package direction. It’s really easy - don’t worry and the wrappers are very forgiving.
3. Gently heat two tablespoons of coconut oil - or whichever oil you use in stir fries.
4. Transfer you rolls into the pan - you will need to make several batches. Watch them like a hawk, since they brown very fast.
Enjoy - the are great in lunch boxes for kids or grownups. And make an excellent snack when you have to run. Also they are insanely popular at any party - they literally disappear in minutes.

Yield: 20 spring rolls - at about (depends on the veggies you used) 25 cents each.

WE HAVE A WINNER! CSA pick-up #12

We made it. We have broken even, and then some.
When I first set out to document my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) experience the goal was to prove to skeptics that joining a CSA is not only a great way to do something for your local economy, getting to spend time outdoors in a beautiful environment and eating a ton of veggies, but it also SAVES money. And the last point was a bit hard to prove since nobody I talked to could accurately tell me how much money they did save. Even I, who had been a member in different CSA’s over the last decade, never really knew how much produce I got for my share - all I knew was, that is was a truckload.
Starting to write every bit of veggie or herb or berry down, made me realize, what a huge economic impact the CSA really has. Ours has about 100 share holders and each of them has made a choice, with a tremendous effect. Voting with our dollars is the most power any of us have, and boy did we show them.
So, I give you now - the winning edition of this week’s CSA pickup. Don’t worry I will not stop counting - we have another 11 pick-ups to go!

2 pints cherry tomatoes $3.99
4 heads lettuce $8.16

4 bulbs fennel $7.47
2 heads radicchio $5.38
1 ½pounds Swiss chard $3.28
10 pounds heirloom tomatoes $29.99
2 eggplants $3.69
1 ⅓pound cucumbers $4.49
3 pounds summer squash $5.97
1 bunch parsley $1.99
1 bunch lemon thyme $1.99
1 bunch hot peppers $0.90
1 bunch Thai Basil $1.99
1 bunch sage $1.99
1 bunch cilantro $1.99
1 bunch tomatillos $1.99
1 bunch thyme
1 bunch okra $1.99
1 bunch oregano $1.99
unlimited flowers $5.00
unlimited green beans - 8 pounds - $15.92

Total this week: $112.15
Added to the season’s total of: $749.06 - our new total is: drumroll please: $861.21
So, in twelve weeks we have picked up $861.21 worth of great veggies, berries and herbs. My initial cost back in February was $855 so, now I made my money back and we still have 11 weeks worth of pick-ups to go. I think this is turning into a two for one special. I’ll keep you posted.