Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How to become a better cook

Cook with what is in season. That is the single thing that has transformed me from a pretty good cook to a most-of-the-time-great cook (if I do say so myself).

It started 8 or 9 years ago, when 2 things happened simultaneously. First, my family joined the Genesee Valley Organic CSA program, receiving fresh shares of produce throughout the summer and fall. Then, the natural foodstore where I shopped went out of business. Eventually through a lot of people's hard work, the store re-opened as a cooperative. In the meantime, a few people organized a buying club, renting out a small space in my neighborhood where we got staples and produce year-round, again much of it locally grown.

These days, eating local is all the rage, and you don't need special circumstances to do it. For me, I now grow a lot of my own food and get the rest from our three-year-old local farmers market.

Either way, using what I have readily available forces creativity in the kitchen. It's hard to follow a recipe precisely if you stick with what you have in the pantry/garden/market. That single fact forced me out of my cooking comfort zone and got me to experiment and improvise much more in the kitchen. Now I understand the characteristics of individual ingredients/herbs/spices and have a sense of how they might go together, although I still use cookbooks to give me new ideas and inspiration.

Last night I made a Wild Rice Salad with Asparagus, Feta,Walnuts,and Strawberries, loosely inspired by this recipe.

I can't give exact amounts (since I didn't keep track!), but here are the general instructions.

1. Cook up some wild rice. (I use a rice cooker and love it.)
2. Cut up your asparagus and steam if for 1-2 minutes. You want it to stay crunchy.
3. Mix together, along with some feta cheese and toasted walnuts.
4. Mix in John Robbins' tahini dressing from May All Be Fed. (This is my all-purpose salad dressing, and I used it in a slightly different way here.)
4. Give it a little more "juice" with some good quality olive oil and a few dashes of balsamic vinaigrette. My favorite balsamic is from Artistic Eats and my favorite to-die-for olive oil is from VM Giordano's, both available at the Rochester Public Market.
5. Serve with sliced strawberries on top.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

City girl in the country

Last week I visited Texas, where T's parents live (Austin), and where DS is studying at the Round Top orchestral festival/institute.

Apparently evolution is a hot issue in Texas. This graffiti was on a walking trail. (I think it was the Lady Bird Lake Trail.)

It was great to see DS. Here he is (second row) warming up. He seems to be thriving there, despite the 101 F heat. The festival was founded by pianist James Dick, and he performed with the orchestra in the evening concert. It was one of the best classical performances (pianist and orchestra) I've seen anywhere. (I might be a little biased.)

The grounds were also amazing. They have historic buildings from across the world, and very comprehensive herb gardens. Also shown below is the graveyard showing the time it takes for certain materials to decompose. The grounds are a funky mishmash of Roman ruins, historic US buildings, and whatever else seems to have struck their fancy.

We also visited the Blanton Museum of Art,, where T's stepmother is a docent. She is very passionate about the museum, and I can see why. Their contemporary collection was wonderful, and introduced us to some Latin American artists that we don't see up here in the "North."

The picture above is from inside an installation by Cildo Meireles, critiquing missions established in South America to convert indigenous peoples.

All in all, a wonderful trip, which had the added bonus of really making me appreciate the temperate Northeastern climate.

There was much more, and you can see pictures at my June 2009 Flickr set.

(As to how traveling across the country fits into sustainable living, I will simply say that we cut our usual vacation down, and we haven't visited T's parents in several years. And it's hard for me to turn down an affordable opportunity to see one of my kids perform with a world-class ensemble.)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Country girl in the city

I spotted these petals on a walk along the Genesee Valley Greenway, a fifteen minute drive/40 minute bike ride away from my home near the "Center City" of Rochester.

At times I do long for the country. A recent post by knitwear designer Kristin Nicholas about the tenth year anniversary of living on a farm with her family reminded me why. Growing up in Indiana instilled a deep love of the rural landscape.

But it also made me realize how much I appreciate living where I do. By living close to where I work, go to school, and do much of my business, I not only drive much less, I also feel embedded into my community. It's very common for a friend or neighbor to pop by to share gardening info, neighborhood news, or just to chat.

I walk across the street to get a pedicure from my nail technician neighbor. I walk a couple of blocks for coffee, bike about 10 minutes for my yoga class, 10 minutes the other way for graduate school, and have my choice of any number of restaurants if I want to eat out. Many of my friends live in this neighborhood, and it's so easy to stay connected because of that.

The cool thing is that I still get to enjoy some "country," through my backyard garden and chickens, of course, but also through the many patches of nature within walking or short biking/driving distance. Although I enjoy and value visiting other regions and cultures, I am truly a person that wants to feel rooted in "place." I want to know my backyard, my neighborhood, my city, my county, intimately. I'm pretty close to knowing the first two that well, but it will take years to know the city and county so well. And I love that. The natural world is so rich. I sometimes wonder if people took the time to really know their own patch of it, whether they would be so reckless towards it.

When we visited the Greenway, the trail was coated with the petals of blossoms from the trees. Truly, I cannot think of anything, at this moment, more enchanting.

p.s. If you think my neighborhood sounds intriguing, check these websites for details: BASWA and SWPC.

Chicken update

In the afternoon, the girls like to take a dust bath. They find a patch of dirt, wriggle around, jockeying for the best position, and finally they settle in for a good half hour to an hour.

It's a very peaceful time of the day.

I don't watch regular TV, but "chicken TV" more than makes up for it. And there are no commercials.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Getting excited about the harvest

It may only be June 4, but tonight's picking of a full bunch of radishes has me psyched! Last year I tried to keep track of my harvest, listed below. As you can see, we had a lot of peas and tomatoes!

I don't think I'm going to do such a detailed catalog this year, but I will tell you that so far, I've harvested several radishes, some baby lettuce, 2 bunches of rhubarb,2 bunches of chives, several onions, and sprigs here and there of dill, oregano, mint, and lemon balm.

I'm also really happy to have found a source for local organic grains. I picked up my first order tonight from Small World Bakery at the South Wedge Farmers' Market .

I love market/garden season!

Harvest 2008

Basil (3 lb.)
Collards (5 lb.)
Cucumbers (15 oz.)
Dill (6 oz.)
Green beans (4 lb., 2 oz.)
Jerusalem artichokes (5 lbs.)
Lemon balm (1 lb 6 oz.)
Lemon verbena (6 oz.)
Lettuce (3 lbs, 10 oz.)
Mint (3 lbs., 14 oz.)
Mustard greens (4 lbs.)
Nasturtium (1 lb. 6 oz.)
Oregano (2 lb., 1 oz.)
Parsley (1 lb. 10 oz.)
Peas (5 lbs.)
Peppers (2 oz.)
Sage (12 oz.)
Shadberries-foraged (1 lb., 4 oz.)
(1 oz.)
Strawberries (4 lbs.)
Swiss chard (3 lb., 3 oz.)
Tomatoes (62 lb., 11 oz.)


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