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.