Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stocking Up on Local Food

Despite a rather packed Saturday schedule, somewhere between swim lessons at the Community Center and a matinee of the Nutcracker the munchkin and I braved the cold to get to a winter Farmers Market, this time the Oakton Smart Markets. My first stop was to Heritage Farm & Kitchen to stock up on more dried kidney beans as well as other assorted beans, frozen chicken legs, eggs, lettuce, onions, maple syrup, sweet potatoes and Trickling Springs Creamery butter.

I picked out an assortment of apples—mostly honey crisps, nittany, and gala—from one vendor and a large bear of honey from Celestial Farms before rounding the trip out with 3 bottles of wine from Fabbioli Cellars. My head is filled with visions of what I could make with the chicken and red wine and I'm excited to add butter and not one but two sweeteners to my culinary possibilities.

I also had the good fortune of running into a friend from the neighborhood Sustainability movement and Local Foods Working Group. We took the time to catch up; I shared my commitment to eating local during the 5th annual Dark Days Challenge and she updated me on effort to bring a local grocer/storefront to our town. We also chatted over canning, preserving and fermenting endeavors recent and planned and after lamenting about the difficulties of canning large batches in a postage stamp apartment kitchen I was invited to “borrow” her kitchen the next time. I can get by with small batches just fine but I think I will have to take her up on her offer when tomatoes are back at the markets.

I plan to get to the local grocery near my work soon to as I hear they have Daisy flour and I would like to pick up a whole chicken for roasting so I can make some more stock before I run out.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dark Days-Week 2

So much for my early confidence, this is going to be harder than I though…especially if I don’t get to the market soon.

A quick rummage through my apple bin revealed a few local apples left so sliced them and mixed them with the last of my lettuces and some sliced carrots from the garden, and some of the white beans from Heritage Farm and Kitchen. Because I made this for lunch the night before, I used a splash of my daughters organic OJ to keep the apples from browning but no other dressing.

It was a simple preparation but the snap of the apples plus the amazing flavor of the beans made it substantial enough to hold its own. It would have been better with a bit of bread or a little meat but until I get to the farmers market or check out the Maple Street Market I’m running short on options. I will have to make shopping it a priority this next week.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Harvest Monday

I find it a bit funny to start sharing my harvest Monday of the year this late in the season, especially now that we’ve entered December, Virginia has endured the first few frosts of winter and I have already done my first dark days post. After all, in previous years, despite being apartment bound I have always had something growing on the porch. But then, I started this year a little behind the curve.

At the end of July, a time when most gardens are in full swing and many a green thumb is looking forward to the slow days fall and winter, I was just breaking ground. I finally got off the community garden waiting list and received a well placed, healthy, but neglected plot. The whole thing was covered with weeds, nothing had been planted that season and though a previous owner had laid cloth and built up beautiful soil on top, the ground beneath was all clay and rocks.  Aside from a large patch of mint and some pungent lemon herb the plot was gifted with three wood box frames that defined the beds.

Knowing that my new garden enthusiasm could fizzle in the dog days of August I assessed the soil condition (best closest to the entry) and decided to start working at the worst corner and work backwards, figuring that if/when I got tired I already had decent soil I could plant in. Every spare moment I headed to the garden to pull weeds, clear rocks, and begin double digging the beds. I ended up planting fall/winter crops in mid-late August. Below you can see the three beds (here shown with the high hoops installed but not covered).

Straight ahead I planted kale a row of turnips, lettuces, a salad greens mix, tatsoi, and pok choy. I had intended to put second and third to the right but never got back to it. In the far left, the worst rocky corner, I seeded a bunch of Austrian field peas as a cover crop. I will dig it in come spring to put some much needed nutrients back in. It’s a great little corner for a perennial. In the bed on the right are beets, carrots, celery, and onions. Cabbage and broccoli are in the bed on the right, though those have been mostly nibbled by insects.

Since September I have been harvesting a few leafs of lettuce, some kale, and accidentally pulled up a turnip but nothing substantial until today. 4 small carrots, a small turnip (not pictured) that had started to grow above ground where I needed to secure the row cover, a head of tatsoi, 2 big handfuls of lettuces, and 3 handfuls of kale. I was tempted to harvest more but I really want to stretch what little I have into the winter to see how things fare in the cold/snow to come.Not bad for a first winter harvest.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dark Days-Week 1

Dark Days indeed.

Trying to fit in my increased mileage meant that I either pushed it to run in the oncoming dusk, had to peel off to the gym for the treadmill, or switch to morning runs. This plus the the always busy work week meant that I failed to do any prep, shopping, planning or even thinking about the dark days challenge until this weekend. Normally not an issue but since I haven’t made it to the farmers market since Thanksgiving (and all that was used up in the big feast) my pantry was near bare (of SOLE food anyway, I’m almost embarrassed to share the amount of other junk that is in there). I could almost cry to think that I had fail before the challenge had started.

I did manage to stop by the garden plot to finish tucking in the greens, seeing how my row covers faired in the rain and winds of last week, and harvest a head of Pok Choy, 20 leaves of kale, a few baby celery leaves and some mint. I also started rooting around in my packed little freezer and found one last package of pork sausage produced locally.

Granted, the spices and beer used to flavor the sausage probably doesn’t grow around here but I know the pork did. When I can’t get locally grown I guess I will be settling for locally made. This still meets with my goal of supporting a locally based food economy. I then remembered that I still have a bag each of dried kidney and great northern beans from Heritage Farm and Kitchen, a Mennonite Co-Op in Pennsylvania. All was not lost!

I set the great northern beans to soaking overnight and started to search the internet for inspiration

This morning, after I returned from our 5k Run with Santa race, I cooked up the sausage and added in a quart of my home canned veggie stock (all local veg).

Next I shredded the kale leaves and added in about 2-3 cups of beans.

Though one bowl barely passes for a meal and wish I had some other seasonings, the veg broth was flavorful and extremely fragrant, the sausage added a nice bit and the beans were really high quality so after the first sip I forgot all about the missing salt. I hadn’t know it but this was just the thing I needed post run on a cold winters day and thanks to no planning, a last minute panic turned into the perfect –local—bowl.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Small steps

Step 1. Stop feeling guilty about not exercising and eating poorly. Admit that you not perfect, your going to be lazy at times but that’s no excuse not to start again.

Step 2. Get up off the couch and run 3.1 miles (yup that’s a 5k) up and down slippery muddy slopes, across streams, through woods and back to the lake with a fun-loving run club Thanksgiving morning before cooking turkey, potatoes, and cranberry to put on sandwiches for the next week.

Step 3. Put 6 year old who’s too tired from running her own mile race into jog stroller and race to find/catch up with the runners/walkers who started 10 the club run 15 minutes earlier because you were to consumed with getting the kid dressed, fed and settled to make it on time. Proceed to run/walk 4 miles.

Step 4. Stop eating out. Make afore mentioned sandwiches with sprouts and mustard and pair with clementines, apples, carrots or salad. Pack lunch, snacks, fill bottle with water, and tea bags to take to work at any cost.

Step 5. Admit that you need support. Finally return the call of the new Health Counselor who has been patiently trying to reach you for 4 months and confess all your bad habits and slip ups. Get reminded by a total stranger that you haven’t failed, just taken a little (probably needed) break, you have already accomplished several goals including running a 5k (something that was once an impossible task and is now somewhat routine), finishing a 10k, dropping a dress size or two, and losing 15-20 pounds.

Step 6. Feel better. Make a plan to get active at least 2 days a week, pack lunch with health foods and drink more water. Go to bed excited to start working on your goals again.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dark Days Challenge 2011-2012

Nothing like the Dark Days Challenge to remind me to do what is best for me, my family, my health, the earth and the local economy. Yes it’s that time again. Time to face the cold and dark with delicious sustainable, local, organic and ethical (SOLE) food. As in past years I will again be joining with other local food enthusiasts to prepare at least one meal a week entirely prepared with foods grown, raised or created from ingredients available in my local food-shed. For me that is about 150 miles up and down the Potomac River, into the Lancaster region of PA and a little down the Blue Ridge Mountains except for salt, pepper, minimal amounts of oil, chocolate and mom’s home canned raspberry jam and tuna from CA (it is unthinkable to come home without a few jars of home preserved goodness in our family).

Got a quick look at my stored ingredients when I cleaned out the pantry before thanksgiving and even though I didn’t get much canning/preserving done this summer I think with a few trips to the farmers market I will have a good run at it. Still have canned potatoes, chicken stock, vegie stock, a salsa or two, peach butter, grape juice, and some other sauces. I’ll have to check the freezer but I know I have some oven-dried tomatoes, and some farmers market sausage. Also have some local wheat flour left Managed to get in a small crop of carrots, turnips, beets, celery, kale, cabbage, oriental greens and lettuces into the community garden plot at the end of July. The root vegies are all looking good and the greens are thriving under the row covers so I may even get to have some salads

Since I had originally planned to eat out for Thanksgiving until my daughter begged me to cook it, I didn’t end up with an entirely local meal like previous years but I made the best of it. I went to the Wednesday Reston Smart Market and stood out in the freezing cold (not quite but with the wind it was bitter) to purchase an 11 pound heritage breed turkey from Heritage Farm and Kitchen. It cooked up beautifully and went great with my 1/2 local mashed potatoes (the last of my self-harvested spuds from the Great Country Farms Potato Dig plus a Trader Joes assortment), pan gravy (pan drippings, local flour, my stock and a bottle of gifted non-local red wine) and cranberry mold (cranberries from whole foods that may have been right at the 150 mark, local honey, non-local orange/cranberry juice). Haven’t gone too fancy with the leftovers, mostly repeats and sandwiches. Local Saturday Farmers Markets were closed so hopefully I can get some more local food stuff or this weeks entry will be barebones (guess its time to make the turkey soup).

Season for Balance

I’ve lost my balance. Since returning from my sisters wedding to be overwhelmed with work chaos and falling utterly behind in all things at home, it seems that I can only function in spurts. When I have the energy I pour my heart into the matter at hand and when that energy runs out it seems I just crash and become too worn out to tackle all the challenges that need addressing. Hitting that vicious cycle of cause and effect I have let my exercise motivation slip, my eating habits rely almost entirely on fast and prepared foods, my mental focus fade into survival mode only focusing on scraping together for the immediate needs and letting everything else take the back burner.

I need my balance. Lost in the clutter of my life and my home I’ve hit the point where I need to regain my balance in order to take care of my work and family obligations, not just to bring back my health and happiness. Being a Libra I crave that fine tipping point between the chaos and the order where thing flow freely and shift readily but always within bounds. With the bounds broken I’m left scrambling too much to catch everything and keep it from falling and the futility leads to letting it all go and that never works for long.

I will find my balance. The seasons are changing again. My friend autumn, with her blustery winds, chill air, and brief rich hues reminds me that I to can change again. It’s time to let the breeze sweep out the clutter, the air invigorate my motivation, and to refocus on what is important. More to follow.