Keeping Local Foods Interesting in Winter

apples-smIt’s almost February. The storage apples from last year’s crop are no longer crisp. The farmers’ markets and winter CSA shares are delivering the same root vegetables and cold-hardy greens they have been for months.

And not to bum you out, but the first ripe local fruit (strawberries) won’t be here or in other cold winter areas until late May. Despite all that, I’m loving my food at the end of January.

A Few Ways I’m Keeping It Interesting:

Delving into my pantry of preserved stuff: Those apples may have lost their crunch, but they still dry into a sweet and easy to grab snack (add a handful of nuts and you’re eating what I am for breakfast every time I’m on the train on the way to teach and the sun ain’t even up yet).

Strawberry-red currant preserves on my toast reminding me of fresh fruit to come; dried and home-canned tomatoes on my pasta; all the dried herbs from last year’s garden, and the herbal vinegars and oils.

Beyond the pantry, I’m cherishing the fresh stuff still coming in. The winter has been mild so far, so several edibles are still flourishing in the garden: my Arp rosemary, thyme, the parsley I planted in a crack in the cement,¬†as well as several wildlings, including field garlic, garlic mustard and chickweed…

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My hands-down favorite overwintering garden herb this year is salad burnet. Love this plant! Tastes like cucumber, and I’ve used it to make tsatziki (Greek yogurt-cucumber dip) even at this time of year when cucumbers are so not in season here.

winter-tsatziki-sm

Besides that, I’ve been delving into cookbooks for inspiration and getting creative with ways to use the greens, winter squash and root veggies that are ubiquitous here at this time of year. Some of my experiments turned out great (butternut squash chips).

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Others have been less successful, but hey, mistakes are how I learn (don’t ask about the ricotta I tried to make out of the whey from making feta, okay?).

What are you coming up with to keep the local fare interesting this winter?



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Pantry Pizza: Local, Organic, Tasty & Cheap

pizzaSaturday I get to pick up my winter CSA share, but meanwhile I’m making the most of my pantry, including some of the the canned and dehydrated stuff I put up during the warm months. So what’s for dinner?

Pizza.

For tonight’s dinner I used some CSA onions and garlic, plus foraged hen of the woods (maitake) mushrooms, home-canned CSA tomatoes, and dried oregano and other herbs from my garden. The cheese was one of my favorite local cheeses, Farmhouse Jack. The flour for the crust came from Farmer Ground Flour.

If I had eaten out tonight, what would an all-organic, almost all locally grown (the olive oil wasn’t) pizza featuring a choice wild mushroom have cost? $10? $15? Or if I’d wolfed down a couple of slices at the local pizza joint, how much would that have set me back? $5?

Because I volunteer time for my CSA share in exchange for vegetables, the onions, garlic and tomatoes were free. Ditto the seasonings from my garden and the foraged shrooms. That leaves the flour, cheese and olive oil. I estimate that tonight’s pizza cost under $4. It was big enough to feed two (guess what I’m having for breakfast?).

I’m focusing on the cost because one of the negatives that still haunts the sustainable food movement is the idea that it is an elitist thing that only those with money to spare can afford. It doesn’t have to be.

I realize not everyone is going to volunteer time to get a free CSA share, or learn foraging and food preservation skills. Not everyone needs or wants to. I’m just saying that if you really wish you could eat mostly local, organic foods and don’t think you can afford to, there are ways.

By the way, many CSAs offer discounted shares to low income individuals and families. If you need the help, it’s worth asking to find out if that is an option.

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Locavore on the Road: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

I started 2012 with an amazing visit to Jordan. We went to Petra, officially one of the Seven Wonders of the World:

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The Treasury at Petra - carved right out of the sandstone
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another building at Petra incredibly carved directly out of the landscape
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That's me on the left sporting the Bedouin-style scarf. The boy and his mom live in one of the caves at Petra, and kindly offered us tea (okay, they also tried to sell us a bunch of jewelry and rock fragments)

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While in Jordan we bought food being sold by the highway or on the curb. I was tickled to see common mallow for sale – it’s one of my favorite wild greens for soup and rice dishes, but I’ve never seen it for sale in the U.S.

mustard and mallow greens on sale in Madabar
mustard and mallow greens on sale in Madabar

I wish I could stay rosy-eyed about the beautiful produce I’ve been enjoying since arriving in the Middle East two weeks ago. The fact is that on the way to the fennel-seller below we passed a fenced off farming area clearly labeled Monsanto. Given the recent updates on the thousands of Monsanto-related farmer suicides in India and elsewhere, I couldn’t help feeling both saddened and angry.

fennel for sale alongside the highway in Jordan
fennel for sale alongside the highway in Jordan

On the bright side, in both Israel and Jordan I’ve had the opportunity to visit “eco-farms” that are using organic methods combined with solar energy, composting and other sustainable practices.

If you’re going to be in Israel, here’s a two-thumbs-up recommendation for Goats with the Wind, an eco-farm making wine from their own grapes and cheeses from their goats’ milk.

a selection of the goat cheeses and other treats at Goats with the Wind Farm
a selection of the goat cheeses and other treats at Goats with the Wind Farm

Just be sure to call first to make a reservation because it isn’t really a restaurant – but they will cook for you if you call ahead.

I foraged some choice boletes last week, and enjoyed some wood sorrel and chickweed in salads. Looking forward to more foraging in the 2 weeks I have left here this visit.

I finally got the updated schedule of my workshops, foraging tours, etc. for the next three months up.

These are my three favorites that are coming up soon:

Fermentation Workshop in Park Slope, BK

Saturday 11 February 2012 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Did you know that fermented cabbage has more vitamin C than plain old raw cabbage? That you can ferment root vegetables into tasty beers? Here’s how to turn the ho-hum local storage crops of winter into super-healthy, safe, easy to make fermented foods. We’ll cover fermented veggies like sauerkraut, basic alcohol fermentation, and yogurt – making.

Space is VERY limited (as in at my apt.), so please reserve a spot soon if you’re interested.

Herbs, Herb Gardens, & Herbalism @NYBG

4 Wednesdays January 18 – February 8 2012 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Study the history of herbalism and herb garden design. Take an in-depth look at some of the most historically important herbs, their uses, and cultivation requirements. Ancient as well as contemporary uses of individual herbs are discussed. A visit to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library to view centuries-old herbals completes the class.

Ehtnobotany of Our Native Flora @NYBG

2 Fridays, 27 January & 3 February 2012 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

From spicebush to wild ginger, sassafras to trillium, our region is rich in culinary and medicinal plants largely negelcted in contemporary use. Learn the historical use of these plants by native Americans, the Shakers, and other settlers. Plant identification and uses as well as sustainable harvesting techniques will be covered. Dress for the weather.

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Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes