Thanksgiving Success!

As challenging as it is to cook Thanksgiving dinner when you have two small children, I have to say this evening’s meal was a fabulous success. Our neighbors cooked a turkey for the carnivores and I made the rest. Not only did we get things done at approximately the same time, but for the first time in our history (and we’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving together since 1996!), Matt actually liked every dish that I made. Before you start thinking that either Matt is horribly picky or I’m totally clueless, I will tell you that part of the challenge is that I have certain foods that I have to have (dressing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pumpkin pie) in order for me to feel like it’s Thanksgiving. The problem is that pumpkin pie is the only thing on that list that Matt likes. So…I’ve had to come up with a bunch of variations on the dressing, sweet potato, cranberry theme before I found the right mix. If I’d just given up and had Italian (which is what Matt used to eat on Thanksgiving when we were first together), it would have been a snap. So, here’s what we had on the menu at ChezArtz this evening: Mushroom Cashew Pate roast (a hybrid of two recipes from the National Trust cookbook)
Cranberry, Leek, Chestnut dressing (my own creative recipe)
Chipotle Sweet Potatoes Mashed Potatoes with mushroom, red wine, horseradish gravy (my recipe) Patty’s Horn Butter Rolls (yum!) Pumpkin pie & apple pie with coffee
Oh yeah, and copious amounts of wine including Kir Royale (champagne with creme de cassis liqeuer). I’m thankful that it didn’t take me 20 years to get it right 😉 Happy Thanksgiving. 🙂 Julie

The 100-Mile Challenge

I received an e-zine article the other day that got me started thinking. The article was from Seventh Generation’s Non Toxic Times and it was about the 100-Mile Challenge. The idea is that you try to buy food that is produced within a 100 mile radius of your house for a month and is meant to encourage people to shop locally for their food. The article summarized the benefits of eating locally-grown and produced food as follows:

  • It protects the environment. Food that travels is food that uses fossil fuels, which contribute to pollution, climate change, and other woes. Locally-produced food doesn’t have to travel much so it’s a lot cleaner. And local food is more likely to come from smaller family farms that generally use more sustainable practices than factory farms.
  • It protects our health. Locally-produced food is a lot fresher so it contains more nutrients. It also tastes better because local farmers are growing their crops and raising their livestock for flavor, not easy processing and shipping. Instead of tomatoes bred to survive a month in a shipping container, for example, we’re likely to get an heirloom variety bursting with juice and taste.
  • It protects and strengthens our local economies. When we buy locally-produced foods, we support local businesses and nearby farms, and keep our dollars circulating in the local community. We also make those communities stronger. In Vermont, for example, if we could replace just 10% of the foods we eat with local products, we’d create over 3,600 jobs, and add $376 million to the local economy.

We made the switch to primarily organic foods when we lived in England because, frankly, they weren’t that much more expensive than conventionally-grown foods and we had the extra cash-flow to experiment. Now, five years later, shopping organic is ingrained in our way of life and, with the opening of a Vitamin Cottage natural food store less than a mile from our house, it’s even more convenient to do so. The next step, in my opinion, is to use my family’s consumer dollars not only to support organics, but to support local businesses. That’s why last summer we signed up for a Community-Sponsored Agriculture program with Monroe Organic Farm. The Monroes have farmed this same plot of land up near Greeley, Colorado, for generations, and they grow muskmelons that surpass even the Indiana melons I grew up on in both flavor and quantity. And don’t get me started about how good their eggs are–there’s a reason that Gabriel frequently demands scrambled eggs for dinner! Anyhow, a CSA program is one in which families like ours pay upfront for a share of the produce grown on the farm in a given season. This provides the farmers with the cash-flow they so badly need during planting season while at the same time guaranteeing that we’ll get a large onion-bag of freshly picked produce every week during the season. This is definitely a learning process–we got so much produce last summer that some was given away and even *gasp* composted. This summer, I have managed to can, freeze, or cook just about every last bit of food we received (OK, I gave away some of those fantastic melons because three per week was more than Gabriel and I–the melon hounds in this family–could tackle!) and have decided to sign us up for a half winter share. The winter share includes anything that they picked and stored in a root cellar up at the farm and should include everything from popcorn (hence our newly-established Sunday night ritual of popcorn for dinner & a movie) to winter squash to potatoes. It should be an adventure, so watch this space to see if we’re sick of root veggies by February. I love the idea that we’re supporting the local economy and family farms. You don’t have to go too far back in either of our families to find farmers (in fact, I have a couple of dairy-farming cousins and Matt’s Mom’s family still has a farm in Sweden), but it seems like the average American these days is so far removed from the farms and ranches that produce the food they eat. I mean, your Big Mac is so farm removed from the original source of the beef, grain, and vegetables that went into it that it’s easy to see how we’ve gotten where we are. Where are we? You might ask…Well, a full third of this country is obese. We’re making bad foreign policy decisions because of our reliance on the fossil fuels used to power our obsession with transporting food, goods, and people thousands of miles. Most children today have no idea what goes into growing the grain that makes up their sandwich and think that Wonderbread is real bread. Not where I want this country to be and not where I want the country to be when my children are adults. So what to do. Buy local. Support local farmers and local businesses. Read about how to make better food choices at the supermarket, or better yet, shop at the Farmer’s Market! Savor your food instead of wolfing it down in front of the television and actually think about what you’re feeding your family. It will make a difference. I promise.

Why I love canning…

It’s August, a time of year when I become absolutely obsessed with canning, freezing, and dehydrating. That’s right, canning is not just for your Great Aunt Mabel, hip (or not) young (or not) people do it too! When we bought our house in 1999, we inherited a home-canner’s paradise in the way of fruit trees, vines, & shrubs. We had two blue concord grapes, a red concord grape, a white Niagara grape, rhubarb, raspberries, an apple tree and two cherry trees. My husband grew up on home-canned grape juice, so I decided to give it a try. Our first batch was canned in the dishwasher (don’t try this at home kids!) and was delicious! I have now graduated to a simple canning bath and for about $100 of equipment, jars, bands & lids, I can now put by enough jam and canned fruit that we don’t have to buy any all winter long! In recent years, I have taken out all but one of the original grapes, cut down a diseased cherry tree, added a sweet Muscat grape (not producing enough for wine, but makes an excellent white grape juice), and added a strawberry patch to the garden. I have also signed up for Monroe Organic Farm‘s CSA & fruit share, which means I’ve added peaches, plums, pears, and apricots to my canning repetoire. This year, I tried a new recipe for plums from that is so good I might have to buy another box of plums to make more. So, top 7 reasons I love canning:

  1. It’s one of the few things that ties me to my extended family’s traditions (my Aunt Amy makes the best pickles you’ve ever tasted and now I make them too!).
  2. It’s good for the environment because I don’t buy frozen or canned fruit that was trucked in using lots of fossil fuels.
  3. I have complete control of the ingredients from choosing individual fruits at peak ripeness to controlling the amount of sugar and salt.
  4. The stuff I can tastes so much better than store-bought and is fresher too.
  5. It’s organic without the sticker shock because organic produce is cheaper when it’s purchased in season.
  6. The look on Gabriel’s face when I feed him canned Colorado-grown peaches in mid-winter is worth the effort!
  7. And hey, I’m a foodie, so I’m always looking for unusual food-related hobbies to pick up!

If you’re interested in learning more about canning, this site will get you started. Jars and other supplies are frequently available (at least here in Boulder County) at your local thrift store! Happy Canning!