Showing posts with label essay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label essay. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

How to Save Money and Reduce Waste in the Kitchen

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Today's post is an update of one I wrote back when the big purple mountains were the little green hills. Back before I knew what SEO was, back when I'd be silly and creative with my post titles.
I've updated the post--but the behaviors I described back then are behaviors I still practice--today!
Since I am primarily a visual learner but I want to make these simple behaviors accessible to every learning style, I've created a series of short videos to help show what I mean. Let's get started!

Keeping your kitchen environmentally friendly is more than buying certain products. It's practicing certain behaviors that help to reduce waste and save you money. Did you know that about 31% of the solid waste in the US is food waste? I learned that scary fact at a Montgomery County Food Summit and wrote about my tips for reducing food waste here. I want to do more than reduce my food waste, though. I want to stretch my food dollars to make more meals for my family.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle becomes Reduce (x3), Reuse, Repurpose, and Regrow

The first R is Reduce. I practice 3 different "reduce" behaviors to save money, get fit, and do my part to save the planet. The biggest one is that I deliberately reduce the amount of meat I eat. I pay attention to the portion sizes and often use meat as a garnish. For example, instead of each person getting a single steak on a plate I'll grill a couple of steaks, slice them into strips, and we'll each have a serving of steak strips. It's plenty for us to eat at one sitting and there's usually leftovers for another meal. What's the best way to eat less meat? Eat more veggies! Here's a post I wrote on how to boost the vegetable content of your meals all day long.

I'll stretch a pound of ground meat into 6-8 servings by combining it with finely chopped vegetables. Some of my favorites include onions, celery, carrots, bell peppers, shredded zucchini or kohlrabi, chopped mushrooms, and corn. I use that veggie mix in tacos, in meatloaf, and in casseroles aka Hot Dish.
Here are some of my tried and true recipes to stretch meat:

One simple change I made to reduce the amount of food I eat is to reduce my every day plate size. Breakfast and lunch are often on 6½ inch plates. Snacks and desserts are on 5½ inch dishes. And dinners? I use an 8 inch "lunch" plate! I do keep my 11 inch dishes to use on Thanksgiving and other 'gimme all the sides' holidays when I'm wearing my eatin' pants. Piling food onto a smaller plate makes a smaller amount of food look more abundant, and that's another way I reduce the amount of food I need to buy.

The final Reduce I'd like to share is about drinks. If your go-to drink is tap water, more power to ya! I save money and reduce the amount of waste I'm generating by reducing the amount I spend on fancy single serve drinks. This doesn't mean I don't meet a friend for coffee--that's the happy exception to my daily normal. I bring a cup with me when I go out to reduce the single use packaging waste. I choose to make my go-to fancy drink (for me, Iced Chai) at home. Here's my DIY Iced Chai recipe. This Spring I'm testing out different methods to make a DIY version of the slightly sweet fruity tea that we like to drink on expeditions.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

How to Eat Local This Year

Eat local, save money, and support your local economy--how the switch to a local, seasonal diet changed my life.

a typical early summer farm share box in the midwest
This is a typical early summer farm share box. It's got plenty of leafy greens along with some herbs, onions, squash, eggplant, peppers and radishes.

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So you want to Eat Local more often this year? Me, too. I'm glad you're here. I think eating locally is good for your body, your family, our environment and our community. Plus, the food just tastes good. For over a decade I've been deliberately seeking out locally grown fruits and vegetables, locally produced sweeteners, and locally sourced protein. I've moved from the East Coast to the Midwest while keeping up with my Buy Local habits. I suspect these tips are transferable, so I've decided to break from the usual 'how to use the farm share produce' recipe type posts for a series on how to add more local to your life. Please feel free to share with someone thinking about eating more local this year. I know we can all use support to make our good intentions into actions.

This series evolved from a talk I gave at my local community center entitled Eat Local, Save Money, and Support Your Local Economy. Over the years I've picked up a bunch of tricks to make successful local food choices, and I wanted to share some. The start of a new year is often a motivating time for many people, so if I can help nudge your local leanings into some practical action I'd be delighted.
Over the series we'll cover why sourcing food locally is good for your economy, where you can find local foods, and how to shop more mindfully. I'll share my philosophy on menu planning--when I do it, when I wing it. I will explain vegetable triage, and share some tips on reducing food waste. I'll give you some tips for preserving produce while it's abundant--without needing fancy equipment. Feel free to poke around the website--there's a lot of nuggets of wisdom in here along with some pizza. To help eaters like me, I've got my recipe index broken into produce type--from Acorn Squash to Zucchini--with a variety of recipes for a variety of eaters.

48% of each dollar spent in a local business is recirculated in your community

I'd like to start off with my biggest surprise--the WHY of Eating Local.

Why are YOU interested in eating local? For me, it began as a way to increase the amount of vegetables and fruits our family was eating while supporting farmers who are respectful and kind to the land in the region we live. The human and environmental impacts were pretty much all I thought about. Now, though, the economic impact of my purchases on my community are my bigger motivation. This is for two reasons. First, every dollar is a vote for what matters to you. Second, everybody eats. If I can combine my voting (dollars) with something I've already got to do (buy food), I see that as a winning multitask. As the chart above shows, 48 cents out of every dollar you spend locally is recirculated in your community. This multiplier effect ripples throughout the region. When you buy a box of strawberries or a loaf of bread at the farmer's market, or eat at a local independent restaurant, you are contributing to your neighbors, to your PTO, to the emergency services of your town as your dollars are recirculated by local business owners. You are enriching your community just by buying dinner. That's pretty empowering.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Eat More Veggies! (Allison's November Blitz Challenge)

My friend Allison inspired me several years ago with a challenge:

Make one small change in two areas of your health, do it for 3 weeks, and come to a party at my house at the end.  For charity!

Increase your daily servings of fruits and vegetables with these easy tips and tricks.

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There are more details (click here to see Allison's blog all about it!) but the key take aways for me were the idea (two small changes) and the timing that she chose:  Allison starts her challenge the day after Halloween (so, November 1).  Her three week blitz usually ends right before Thanksgiving (the 3rd Thursday in November).  So with a house full of candy and the holiday feasting looming, I was focused on small changes and self-improvement.


My small change is usually to eat between 5 and 9 servings of vegetables and fruit each day.

image of summer farm share box with radishes, carrots, and plenty of greens
and with a farm share like this, it's an easy change!

I usually have an exercise change too, but this is a food blog so I'll keep the focus on food.

I do better trying to eat something, instead of trying not to eat something else.  I figure, if I fill up on veggies and fruits, there is less room and less desire for the more fat- and sugar-laden treats in my house.  

It works for me.

Here's a sample of ways I incorporate more veggies and fruits into my day:

Friday, June 2, 2017

Help! I just got my CSA farm share. Now what do I do with it?

Practical advice for folks eating from a farm share including the three questions of Vegetable Triage and what to do when you bring your farm share into your kitchen.

the contents of a typical early Spring farm share box
A typical early Spring farm share--plenty of greens, peas, radishes, onions and garlic.

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Take a deep breath. I'm here to help.

It seemed like such a great idea, back in the cold dark days of winter, to sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share. A weekly box of fresh local vegetables and fruits? I'm in! Now reality is setting in. You've got a fridge filled with unfamiliar produce and the clock is ticking down to the next farm share day.
Before you're tempted to chuck it in the trash (gulp!) or swirl it down the disposal (noooo!) or toss it on the top of the compost heap (BTDT!) please read on.

Every day, some Thing in life can be overwhelming, but you get thru it by breaking The Thing down into smaller chunks. This applies to grief, term papers, and parenting as well. In terms of your farm share, this means you need physical, or at least mental, Vegetable Triage when the produce first arrives at your house.

overwhelming amounts of greens

The Three Questions of Vegetable Triage:

  1. What can live outside my refrigerator?
  2. What can I prep so I'm more likely to use it?
  3. What do I need to use up first?

Monday, January 16, 2017

How to Choose a CSA Farm Share

Factors to consider when choosing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share.

a typical summer CSA farm share box with corn, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and beans

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Welcome to Part Three of my series on How to Eat Local This Year. I'm trying to cover all the aspects I've learned over more than a decade of eating locally-sourced produce, so I've addressed different questions in each post of the series. In the first part, How to Eat Local, I cover the WHY question. To me, local produce just tastes better--and supporting local businesses supports your local economy. In the second part, Where to Find The Best Local Foods, I cover the WHERE--looking at farmers markets, on farm markets, grocery stores and Community Supported or Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) farm shares. Today I'm diving a little deeper into the HOW, to share the thought process behind choosing the CSA that's the best fit for you.

the chicken RV at Keener Family Farm
The chicken RV at Keener Family Farm.

How do you find what CSAs are in your area? There are several websites that offer a CSA search function, each with slightly different populations, so you're sure to find something from one of these. My favorite is through the website Local Harvest. The USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service operates the National Farmer's Market Directory. The EatWell Guide offers a listing of markets and CSA farms as well as farm to table restaurants. My favorite site for finding pick your own farms,, operates a sister site called Simply enter your zip code or postal code and search for the closest CSA.

The most common form of CSA is a produce CSA--mostly vegetables, some fruits. There's also meat CSAs, prepared dinners CSAs, bread CSAs, and even beer CSAs! Here in the US we are lucky to have a wide array of CSA farms in many urban, suburban, and rural areas. With multiple farms to choose from, how do you pick the one that's right for you? Since we've now made this choice 4 times in 2 states in the past 12 years, I figured I'd write a bit abut the primary factors that went into the decision. The biggest factor is convenience followed by the farming method, and finally the CSA model.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Tips for a Small Batch Thanksgiving

Practical ideas for cutting back, paring down, simplifying and enjoying the holiday more when you have fewer people at the Thanksgiving table.

a plate of Thanksgiving dinner

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One of the most relaxing Thanksgivings I have had was a deliberately low key affair. Because it was my house/my kitchen/my table, we did have 2 kinds of locally sourced vegetable sides from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share as well as stuffing and mashed potatoes and warm rolls and turkey and gravy and pie.  But not too much . . . .

serving Thanksgiving dinner in a relaxed, low key fashion
It's adorable how the dogs get in line when we're serving in the kitchen.

Last year we were 3 at the Thanksgiving table. By choice. My spouse was deployed, and while we've often shared others' tables during previous deployments, I just didn't have it in me again. I wanted to relax, chill out, spend the day in my jammies, watch my friends in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and just not fuss with being at a certain place or eating at a certain time.  I felt selfish and indulgent and I went with those feelings because, when he's on his 5th deployment, I've kinda earned the right to say 'nah, thanks but no thanks, we're good staying home'. I don't need to pretend.

Yes, engineers wear hard hats to carve & serve dozens of turkeys to their troops.

That's not to say I'm not grateful for the offers of well-meaning friends and family. I appreciate the love and support that surrounds us each time he's gone.  Each place we live manages to surpass my expectations of what 'support our troops' means to the families back home. As an aside, I'll offer a couple of tips if you've got a friend or neighbor who's dealing with a deployment: don't wait for her/him to ask for help. Offer concrete suggestions for ways you're comfortable lending a hand. From shoveling snow, raking leaves, mowing grass, edging the sidewalk, picking up a gallon of milk or some children's cold medicine while you're out running errands, taking and sharing your photos or recordings of the school play--there's something you can do to lighten the load of the family left behind that they'd appreciate but won't ask you to do. Show up. Offer. And if your offer is declined--offer again at another time. I'd imagine these tips would work for chronic illness or other long term situation where folks need kindness.

Monday, August 8, 2016

What's growing on Farm Fresh Feasts?

A peek into the back yard garden to see what's been happening so far this summer.

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You might think, with a website entitled Farm Fresh Feasts, that I live in a home that looks like this.

looking down a lane to a farm surrounded by corn fields and woods

Not at all close!  That spread, in northwest Wisconsin, belonged to my Grandpa. My daddy grew up on a dairy farm. I'm a generation removed from daily farm life, however I sure like to grow my own food. The dirt (ahem, the amended soil like my Daddy taught me to nourish) is metaphorically under my fingernails. (The nurse in me couldn't handle actual dirt remaining under my fingernails for long).

Instead, I grow crops in raised beds in my small back yard. The yard is big enough for the dogs to get up a good speed while chasing bunnies and squirrels, but small enough that my son can mow it in 10 minutes.  [Fifteen if he's actually paying attention, twenty if he does a decent job]. Kids are a work in progress.

These raised beds were made by my spouse. He upcycled the unwanted old cedar fence boards from a tilting privacy fence we replaced before we brought home our first dog. I've now got 5 beds that are about 2 feet by 4 feet, with space between so I can reach into the beds from 3 sides. All of this fits behind our house on our small city plot.

a small cucumber on a vine

I figured I'd show you around how the garden is growing thus far this summer. As with every year and every garden, I've got some crops that are doing well and some that aren't. I've got surprise volunteers from my compost and from the local wildlife.

cucumbers growing in a raised garden bed

Let's start with what's doing well. If you follow me on FB or Instagram you'll know that I've been putting up piles of pickles. So far I've got a gallon of refrigerator dills--both slices and small whole pickles--in two half gallon canning jars (with these handy dandy plastic storage caps--Amazon affiliate link) in the back of the fridge. I've got 8 quarts of one kind of spicy dill pickle, and 6 quarts of another kind of dill pickle, downstairs in the basement. I will keep on pickling until the cukes give up!

dill seed heads ready for harvest

Along with the cucumbers I've got dill going to seed. I put the dill seed into the pickling jars, but I've just learned a terrific way to store my dill heads while I wait for more pickles. Simply put them in a paper bag and pop into the freezer. How cool is that? Thanks, Aunt Jan!

tomatillos growing in a raised garden bed

The tomatillos are also growing like crazy, though I haven't harvested any yet. It's OK, I can wait until the Hatch chiles appear before I put up my salsa verde. In the meantime, I just keep checking on those beautiful balloons and waiting for them to burst.  [Silently, so as not to give anyone a little fright.]

raspberry canes in a backyard garden

The raspberries had a terrific season. I used black raspberries in a wide variety of recipes and put up a bunch to enjoy now that their season is over. Check out my Raspberry Recipes Collection for ideas for your raspberries.

raspberries and strawberry plants in a patch

In fact, the raspberries decided to take over the strawberry bed! I'm not so sure how I feel about this, but I let them grow this year. If I am happy with the harvest next year I won't pull them out. But if the strawberries want their space back, they'll need to step up production . . .

sunflowers and tomatoes in a raised garden bed

Volunteer sunflowers have been both a blessing and a curse. After 3 years of deliberately planting sunflowers where I wanted them to grow only to have nothing sprout, I opted to let the birds do the planting by filling my winter feeders with only sunflower seeds. It worked--we now have sunflowers in many places in the yard, and goldfinches are regularly spotted eating the seeds. However, the presence of the sunflowers is hampering the tomatoes in the bed above--leading me to a pretty dismal tomato harvest compared to this time last year. I'm not too worried yet--it's only August after all--but I may need to buy some tomatoes from our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmers to put up this year.

tomatoes growing in a raised bed in square red cages

While the tomato plants are not as vigorous as I've had in previous years, the fruits they bear do look pretty terrific so far. I'm sure they will taste amazing. For more recipes using red tomatoes, please see my Tomato (Red & Yellow) Recipe Collection for ideas.

a close up of a red hibiscus flower

I've got plenty of flowers planted around the yard to attract pollinators and make me smile. I tend to grab whatever's marked down without thought to coordinating colors, but things tend to work out every year.

herbs growing in a landscaped area of a garden

My herb area, above, has also been hit or miss. The parsley and chives are doing well, coming back after several cuttings. The cilantro pooped out well before salsa season, as it tends to do. More dills volunteered in this area after last year's deliberate planting, leading me to high hopes for next year.

a garden bed with a mystery squash vine, celery, sunflower and tomatillo plants

I've got 2 mystery squash vines this year. The one above is none too happy and will probably get yanked before the next yard waste curbside pickup so that whatever is bothering it won't spread in my compost bin. The one below, nicknamed tree squash, is probably a pumpkin and is doing fine.

a panoramic photo of squash vine climbing a tree, a peach tree, raised beds and a compost bin

Thanks for taking a tour around the garden with me!

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Monday, May 16, 2016

What's Going On at Farm Fresh Feasts-Local Eating Talk, Dog School, and Chive Blossom Vinegar

A glimpse into the past week--all about my local eating talk, Robert Barker's dog school, and making Chive Blossom Vinegar

I'm sharing an unusual-for-me post today. Normally I really try to provide value in my posts, to teach, to inform, to offer ideas for my readers.

Today, I've got nothing. Nothing but photos of what I've been up to lately. Most of these photos were taken by my spouse, like the one above of our front yard bun bun. We have 2 bunnies that have taken to hanging out in the front yard during the day. They like the cover provided by the daffodil leaves, the irises, and of course my Grandpa's sharpening wheel, used on his dairy farm in Wisconsin.

I don't mind the bunnies in the front yard because I'm not growing anything to eat there. As long as they stay out of the edible back yard we'll remain on good terms.  And if, like what happened last September, a bunny strays into the backyard and is caught by Simon and Robert Barker, well, we will provide that bunny with a proper burial. Because it lived.

A glimpse into the past week--all about my local eating talk, Robert Barker's dog school, and making Chive Blossom Vinegar.

So, no recipe today. No list of advice. Nothing really useful. Why? Well, for starters I spent my non-working hours last week finishing a slide presentation about local eating. I gave this talk at my local community center.

A glimpse into the past week--all about my local eating talk, Robert Barker's dog school, and making Chive Blossom Vinegar.

It was initially terrifying to stand up in front of 25 people and talk about stuff that's near and dear to my heart, but I'm very glad I did it. I learned quite a bit--including some cool graphics from the CSA Sign Up Day site--hey, value added--and I hope everyone got their money's worth. [It was a free class. I'd be happy to do it again.]

A glimpse into the past week--all about my local eating talk, Robert Barker's dog school, and making Chive Blossom Vinegar.
A glimpse into the past week--all about my local eating talk, Robert Barker's dog school, and making Chive Blossom Vinegar.

In other school news, Robert Barker completed dog school! My spouse returned from deployment in time to observe the last 2 classes and see RB in action. He said Robert looked eager to please but frequently clueless. That about sums it up.

A glimpse into the past week--all about my local eating talk, Robert Barker's dog school, and making Chive Blossom Vinegar.

Now, I've shared a recipe for a liver & rice dog food here, homemade without some of the strange stuff that goes into canned liver and rice dog food, but here's a simple way I'm turning some of my grass-fed beef liver into dog snacks.

A glimpse into the past week--all about my local eating talk, Robert Barker's dog school, and making Chive Blossom Vinegar.
Please observe this Basset hound successfully avoided multiple piles of dog treats on the floor while running, from a sit/stay, halfway across the store to come when I called him. Pleased as punch with my boy dog, I am.

More Value Added! To make easy liver snacks for dogs, simply thaw and rinse a package of beef liver under running water. Place a thin layer, maybe ½ inch, of water in a large skillet. Add the rinsed beef liver and turn the heat on to medium. Simmer the liver for about 20 minutes, turning once halfway through. Let cool, cut into dog bite sized pieces, and store in a jar in the fridge.

A glimpse into the past week--all about my local eating talk, Robert Barker's dog school, and making Chive Blossom Vinegar.

To store these treats I like to use a wide mouth pint jar closed with these plastic storage caps (Amazon affiliate link), and put one jar in the freezer and one in the fridge. Our dogs go crazy for these treats, which is a Good Thing as there are somehow 9 more liver packages in my newly-defrosted meat freezer. And 3 tongues. From one cow. Not sure how the math works out.

Finally, I'll close this post with the only thing I actually accomplished in the kitchen this weekend, other than coaching my son on How to Make a Pasty. [See, when you're on clear liquids for 2 days prior to your colonoscopy, you're not really into cooking. Or writing about food. Or editing photos of food. Or anything of the sort. Hence my silence. I'm all done, though, so it's back to usual for me. Tonight for dinner I made red wine beef stew and chive blossom muffins.]

I harvested my chive blossoms and I'm making Chive Blossom Vinegar. You can, too! I shared how on Instagram. You can see that image here.

A glimpse into the past week--all about my local eating talk, Robert Barker's dog school, and making Chive Blossom Vinegar.
The day after I added the vinegar to the blossoms. How pretty is this? Not done yet though.

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This post is linked up with Meghan's Week in Review!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015, the Year in Review Clickable Collage-Palooza

I like the format of a Clickable Collage and the arrangement of the Instagram Hashtag2015BestNine,  so I decided to offer up 3 Best 9 Clickable Collages to summarize my 3rd full year of blogging, along with some thoughts about moving forward into 2016.

My top 9 most visited posts of 2015 were all published in earlier years.

(Click on each image to go to the recipe it represents, hover over each image for the title)

A review of the best recipes posted in 2015, most popular posts visited in 2015, and top-performing pins of 2015, along with thoughts on the coming year.
The most visited posts from 2015.
Image Map

This further reinforces a few things to me:

  • Social Media is the present. The area I really need to work on is getting my content seen by my ideal audience--people looking to eat locally who are unfamiliar with lots of the vegetables they encounter. People looking to feed their families more vegetable-filled meals. People looking to save money by using their garden abundance throughout the year. Some of the best sources of traffic for me come from participating in recipe round ups. I've got a routine down for finding bloggers looking for my content, what I need to improve on is other ways to share my content on the internet.

A review of the best recipes posted in 2015, most popular posts visited in 2015, and top-performing pins of 2015, along with thoughts on the coming year.
The most visited posts published in 2015.

Image Map
As with farmers hunkering down and working behind the scenes during the winter months, I too will scale back. I'm not going to fix a tractor or set up irrigation lines. I intend to post twice a week and spend my found hours on Instagram on Facebook updating my 500+ recipes so that they are formatted for easy searchability. After all, 28% of my traffic comes from people googling things like 'garlic scape recipes' or 'green tomato recipes', seeing my posts appear in their search engine, and clicking on my page. Thank you! I've said I plan to do this back end work before, announcing that I'm on vacation, but then I actually take a vacation and don't spend my blogging break working behind the scenes. I'll try this in a different way and report back.

A review of the best recipes posted in 2015, most popular posts visited in 2015, and top-performing pins of 2015, along with thoughts on the coming year.
My top-performing pins on Pinterest in 2015.

As for numbers, I don't have a blow-by-blow to report on but they are up. After I added social media sharing buttons in October I had a definite increase in traffic. I have no idea why I didn't do that sooner. It was on the Blogging To Do list, and I'm glad I finally got around to it.

A review of the best recipes posted in 2015, most popular posts visited in 2015, and top-performing pins of 2015, along with thoughts on the coming year.

 I'm joining in Meghan's party over at Clean Eats Fast Feets. Check it out!Image Map

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Have a lovely 2016. Let me know how I can help you achieve your eating goals.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Caramel Pumpkin Butter Stuffed Bread

This lightly sweet braided bread is stuffed with caramel pumpkin butter and makes a terrific addition to a brunch or served with morning coffee or tea.

A recipe for lightly sweet braided bread that is stuffed with caramel pumpkin butter and makes a terrific addition to a brunch or served with morning coffee or tea.

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A recipe for lightly sweet braided bread that is stuffed with caramel pumpkin butter and makes a terrific addition to a brunch or served with morning coffee or tea.

I'll get to the recipe in a moment, but first I've got something else on my mind. I'm sharing this photo of the dogs for 2 reasons. First, I want to remind at least 3 people who've been thinking they ought to take a bag down to their local food drive to JUST DO IT. If 1 out of 3 people follows through, that'd be terrific. Second, I post this to illustrate the fact that despite holiday food drives THERE ARE HUNGRY PEOPLE IN YOUR COMMUNITY 12 MONTHS OF THE YEAR. Scroll below the recipe for ways you can reduce hunger in your town.

A recipe for lightly sweet braided bread that is stuffed with caramel pumpkin butter and makes a terrific addition to a brunch or served with morning coffee or tea.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Food for Thought: Reducing Food Waste

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Food for Thought:  Reducing Food Waste. Let's reduce the amount of food that goes into landfills by feeding hungry people the usable food, feeding animals the vegetative scraps, and composting the organic matter.
George Mertz of Patchwork Gardens CSA, delivering my Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, including a turkey grown by the Filbrun family of Maker's Meadow

Today's post is a tangent from my typical 'how to make the most of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share produce' recipe posts, but it is equally important to me: reducing food waste.

Food for Thought:  Reducing Food Waste. Let's reduce the amount of food that goes into landfills by feeding hungry people the usable food, feeding animals the vegetative scraps, and composting the organic matter.

Recently I attended the Montgomery County Food Summit [in Ohio. I grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland and went to school in Montgomery County, Virginia. There are lots of Montgomery Counties. Montgomery sure got around]. This was my 3rd year attending. The theme Hunger and the Local Food System didn't immediately make me say 'Wow! I don't want to miss this!' but I figured I'd learn something. It's always good to learn new things.

Food for Thought:  Reducing Food Waste. Let's reduce the amount of food that goes into landfills by feeding hungry people the usable food, feeding animals the vegetative scraps, and composting the organic matter.

I was delighted by Barb Asberry's talk on The Perspective of Value: Food Waste in the Desert. The last time I'd listened to someone talk about municipal solid waste--part of a series of composting classes--I was NOT taking notes as fast as I could. Barbara hooked me with this:

Let's feed people. Not landfills.

Boy that sounds so simple. It's too easy to forget, when you set out your cans on trash pickup day, that your trash doesn't magically disappear. It has to go somewhere, and that usually means a landfill. My county is pretty average in the U.S., and 31% of the overall food supply is wasted. That's 133 billion pounds that could have gone to feed someone or some thing.

In our county waste stream, a bit more than one third of the solid waste is made up of pure trash, a bit more than that are things that can be recycled, and a bit less are things that can be composted. Most of the compostable material is food--it makes up 15% of the overall disposed municipal solid waste. [How do they determine this? Analyzing truckloads of trash. Fun!] Other compostable items include tissues/paper napkins, yard waste, and wood. As the pounds of food waste increase so do the pounds of trash and compostable food containers.

Food for Thought:  Reducing Food Waste. Let's reduce the amount of food that goes into landfills by feeding hungry people the usable food, feeding animals the vegetative scraps, and composting the organic matter.
Only one of these is really too far gone to eat--the smoothie that languished forgotten in the fridge.

In my kids' lifetime, the amount of food waste in Montgomery County has more than doubled, from 6.25% in 1996 to 15% in 2014. That's crazy! It's not like people aren't going hungry here, either. We're all paying for this waste--paying by needing to buy more food, paying more people to pick up the waste, paying companies to dispose of it using more fuel and more vehicles, paying environmentally by landfills reaching capacity at a faster rate. What can you do, in addition to the obvious (menu plan, buy what you need, compost at home)?

Start at home. Do the things in front of you.

This quote, from Mother Teresa via Ambassador Tony Hall who delivered the keynote, resonated with me. One person can make a huge difference.  While composting is a good idea--what about before you get to that point? Before the arugula has yellowed, before the cilantro becomes slimy? If you have usable food, feed a living thing with it.

Food for Thought:  Reducing Food Waste. Let's reduce the amount of food that goes into landfills by feeding hungry people the usable food, feeding animals the vegetative scraps, and composting the organic matter.

You are probably donating to food drives this time of year. Know this--for every 24 bags of food assistance handed out in food pantries, soup kitchens, churches, shelters, etc across the United States, the federal government provides 23 of those bags [Michelle Riley, The Foodbank]. Vote to keep hungry people fed. Keep donating food. Don't forget to donate in January, April, July! Hungry people need food year round, not just during the holidays. 

I'll close with the following image. These cards were handcrafted by a Susan J of Chicago, IL. She sent them on to From Our Hearts, who sent them forward to where my spouse is deployed. To all the paper crafters who donate blank handmade cards to the troops--thank you.  It means a lot and I appreciate your talents. Happy Thanksgiving!

Food for Thought:  Reducing Food Waste. Let's reduce the amount of food that goes into landfills by feeding hungry people the usable food, feeding animals the vegetative scraps, and composting the organic matter.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Seven Tips for Making Pizza at Home.

Yesterday for lunch I baked 3 pizzas (only 1 tried and true recipe) for 9 other women and you know what I worried about most? My floors in relation to 3 shedding dogs with muddy paws. My countertops and their hard water stains. My dusty wineglasses. My housekeeping-not the food.

I did NOT worry if the pizzas would turn out OK. I make pizza at home so often that I've absorbed many lessons along the way. I figured it was time to share another list of tips and tricks. For my first essay, please see my Pizza Primer.
While thinking about what activity to compare making pizza at home with, the only thing that my brain kept coming back to was breastfeeding. I realize I will be alienating at least 75% of the population with this analogy. If you've got anything better I'd love to hear it. 

#1 Do preheat your oven. A hot oven is magic with pizza dough.

I don't go crazy with the self-cleaning function like I've seen in some recipes. I'm not even sure if my oven has a self-cleaning function to be honest, though Robert Barker, in his never-ending quest for stray cheeseburgers, did show me that the oven has a Dehydrate function.
A temperature of 425 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit is hot enough, but give it a good 30 minutes to an hour at that temperature.
If that will make your house too hot--I'm working on a How To Grill a Pizza post for the summer. I've only grilled 2 pizzas [and they were amazing!] but I need more experience before I can say I know what I'm doing.

#2 Do make your dough ahead of time. Or buy premade dough. This is no time to turn into the Little Red Hen and plant the wheat. Folks just wanna eat, you know.

Making the dough early means that the flour is fully blended with the other ingredients, molecules are enrobed, and all the gluten has had time to develop and relax. [If you're not into gluten, skip to #3. I'm not experienced with GF pizza dough and won't be touching the cauliflower "pizza crust" phenomenon here.] The side benefit of making dough a day or 3 early is that you get several short kitchen sprints instead of one marathon session.

#3 Do use a piece of oiled parchment paper on which you stretch out your dough and top it all nice and pretty.

Using parchment will help you transfer your pizza into the hot oven. This one little trick is worth the price of a box of parchment paper to me. I can make my pizza look amazing and then watch it slide off the peel and onto the hot stone while staying intact. Yes, the pizza joint pros make it look easy to transfer a topped crust into the oven, but that's why they make minimum wage and I make $17/month. I have failed at this crucial step more times than I shudder to recall. Parchment paper saved my babies' ears from mama's cursing in frustration.

#4 Do use anything you think would work on a pizza. 

You never know until you try it! For yesterday's lunch I looked to the preserved vegetables (olives & artichokes in jars and Garlic Scape Pesto in the freezer) in addition to the protein leftover from previous meals (grilled chicken and Kalua pig). Since we like to eat our Kalua Pig with fresh pineapple it was a no-brainer to add some pineapple to that pizza. Boom! Done. Of course you can always make an old standby--classic flavor combinations are classic because the flavors play well together. Keeping a package of pepperoni in the freezer means I'm always up for a good pepperoni and cheese pizza when the mood strikes.

#5 Do NOT buy a pizza peel. 

If you've got a large rimless cookie sheet it will do the same thing, especially if you're following Tip#3 and using parchment paper. Now, if you love making pizza and your happy pizza eaters want to get you a gift--ask for a pizza peel! They are useful to have around. Just not necessary like a stone is necessary to me.

#6 Do ask for help/troubleshooting in the comments below or on my FB page

If something isn't working right I'd like to brainstorm ways to make your pizza-at-home experience better. Last week my friend shared that she had no need for parchment paper because she simply pulled her stone out of the oven, spread the crust on it, topped it, and returned it to the oven. Her difficulty came in removing the cooked pizza from the stone. Even though she's much faster in the kitchen than I am [so are sloths. I am slow] the stone cools down enough to cause the dough to not immediately cook when it comes in contact. If a crust is placed on a hot stone it's similar to searing a steak--it will come off easily when it's cooked through. If the stone isn't hot the toppings will be done before the bottom of the crust.

#7 Do use my Visual Pizza Recipe Index (broken down into categories of pizza dough, vegetarian, savory pizzas with fruit, and meat pizzas) for ideas. Do follow my Friday Night Pizza Night Pinterest board for pizza ideas from around the web.

I wish you pizza success.

This post is shared on What's Cookin' Wednesday