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!