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Friday, December 17, 2010

Of Coffee Shops and Christmas Parties

I both love and hate this time of year as I suspect many who grade exams do.  Spring semester with summer looming, nice weather, and less of the rush of the holidays always seems less stressful.  But, the end of fall semester is punctuated by parties--Christmas parties.  Teaching at a Catholic university as I do means we don't have "holiday" or "winter break" parties.  We have full-blow Christmas parties with trees, sleighs and Santas.  We are Christmas party people here.

Between the grading, which I have been doing more often than not this semester in a local coffee shop or two and those Christmas parties where I don't get to pick the food, ethical eating can get tricky.  Admittedly, sometimes the love of a party or the necessity of uninterrupted grading get the better of me.

The coffee shop a few blocks from my apartment is cozy, is within walking distance (obviously), has free wi-fi and tables roomy enough to spread out on without feeling as though I have taken a table obviously intended for four people.  I feel like I have almost moved in there.  The coffee there isn't the worst possible, but it isn't my normal fair trade (or relationship) organic shade grown.  They sell some fair trade coffee beans, but rarely is that the blend that is brewed in the shop.  I usually limit myself to a single cup or a latte when I am there because of that.  And sometimes I do have a cookie.  The cookie I choose is from a local bakery that sells to coffee shops and the like.  It's a nice neighborhood shop and it serves an important purpose when there are hundreds of papers to grade (which means thousands of pages). 

The Christmas parties are another thing altogether.  The beautiful spread that is a focus of so many of these parties rarely has a lot of ethical choices.  And sometimes, weirdly, what counts as "seasonal" at these parties is really not seasonal at all.  It's hard not to indulge when people are trying to make sure you are having a good time and equate that with everyone having his or her fill.  Tonight, at the biggest of the university's Christmas parties, I had the specialty cocktail, some veggies, cheese, and some mini desserts.  I didn't eat any of the meat or shrimp (not that I would eat shrimp anyway, but that's because I just don't like it!) figuring that given not knowing a lot about where the food came from this was the best bet.  I try to remember that my values about food are on the cutting edge and not everyone shares them, but the food we are eating was prepared with care by the catering staff at the university and that their work is to be respected.

The big Christmas party tonight was just one of many I attended this year.  There was the department party, the college party (as distinct from the University party, which was the one tonight) and there were even a few I didn't attend.  (I have gotten more discriminating having been here now for six holiday seasons.)  The majority of the Christmas parties I go to are on campus and catered by our university dining services, which does source some things locally, but not many--yet.

I did, however, have several conversations with people about ethics and food tonight.  One such conversation I very much expected--I had yesterday been asked to say something for a newspaper article about ethics and food that this person was writing.  The other was because, very third hand, I had heard that this other person was working on some ethics and food issues at her church.  I think I may have found another event to contribute to given that conversation.

(Additionally, this week was a retirement party for two faculty members at the university who had a combined 70 years of service to the university.  And I had a conversation about the ethics of food there, too.  Another faculty member asked me what I thought about the food being served--what was being served there was more ethical.  There were a few choices that were pretty good at that one!)

So, while the Christmas parties and coffee shops might not make for the most ethical eating, the social atmosphere of the parties made for new opportunities to continue this work.  And well, the coffee shop enables me to do the work that actually pays the bills.

Advice for this time of year?  Try to eat well.  Have some of your favorites, but think about how you might make them more ethical.  When planning holiday parties and meals, consider what changes might be in order to better reflect your food values.  It might mean swapping out an ingredient or two, considering if some dish is really needed if it can't be made more ethical, shopping smart for things like candy, buying local food or wine for gifts, and thinking about new traditions with new more ethical foods.  Talk with those you eat with about how your values are changing your food choices so they aren't surprised and hopefully will be willing to try something new with you.  So with that, and hopefully visions of sugar plums, I wish you all a very merry Christmas (or whatever winter holiday you prefer) and a happy new year.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cocoa Loco

It's cold.  It's damp.  I have hundreds of papers to grade.  A chocolate pick-me-up is in order--a cup of hot cocoa.  And as I have been reading student papers about human trafficking and "slave chocolate" it only makes sense that I made my cocoa with fair trade cocoa powder.

I have no idea why people use hot cocoa mix.  Cocoa from scratch is just as easy.  Tastes much better and you can control the ingredients.  I know you can get hot cocoa mix that has fair trade cocoa powder, but this is easier and the ingredients are so much more versatile!

So, for those of you who might not know just how simple it is to make hot cocoa from scratch, here it is:  A splash of milk in a mug, add to that a splash of vanilla, a few grains of salt, a heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder and two tablespoons of sugar.  Stir while a cup of milk is heating.  When the milk is hot, stir it into the paste and enjoy!

I added some whipped cream and had a nice treat.  Now I have to get back to those papers!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Lowly Lentil

If you have been reading this blog for very long you've already determined that I like soup.  I have not always been a big soup maker, but in the last several years I have made a lot of soup.  It is economical, tasty, versatile, its recipes are very forgiving, and it is a great way to eat veggies.  It allows me to usually have a good lunch at school, too.  I admit--I do reheat it in the microwave, but alas, it is the most energy efficient way available.

Last night I had planned to make lentil soup, but was really tired when I got home and opted for something less labor intensive.  And that's saying something since lentil soup is pretty much a chop and stir proposition.  It isn't even a lot of measuring.  As long as the proportion of liquid and lentils is pretty close, you're good.  So tonight, since the lentils were already in the measuring cup, since I knew there was celery, onion and carrot in the fridge, since the turkey stock made from the Thanksgiving turkey was defrosting as I took it out of the freezer Monday, it was time to make soup.

Lots of lentils are actually grown here in Eastern Washington.  Pullman, Washington, home of Washington State University, hosts a lentil festival every summer.  I will admit though, I have no idea where the lentils I used tonight grew.  I bought them in bulk months ago and I can't remember.  There's some chance that they are local, but it is more likely they are just organic.

Lots of people don't really like lentils.  I think they are misunderstood, myself.  They are a good source of protein and when prepared well are tasty.  I remember last year having a choice between lentil soup and minestrone at an Italian restaurant in Providence, RI.  I chose lentil and so did my Great Aunt and a few others in the party for my Grandmother's 90th birthday.  But my immediate family was surprised.  We didn't eat a lot of lentils growing up.  But I do love them now.  Simple, humble, lowly--but a food of great sustenance that is inexpensive.  Surely peasant food in all cultures that eat them, but good food nevertheless.

And with one and a quarter cups of lentils (I mixed green french lentils, red lentils often used in Indian cooking, and brown lentils), an organic onion, organic carrots, and some organic celery, five cups of turkey stock, a fourteen ounce can of organic diced tomatoes, some Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, a little olive oil, and hot sauce, I have probably 8 servings of healthy soup.  I pureed about two-thirds of the soup in the blender and stirred that back into the pot before serving.  I garnished with some dried tomatoes I made over the summer.  It took less than an hour from start to finish--that's from chopping to doing the dishes.  I am satisfied on a cold night and have soup for lunches and dinners, some even frozen.

This time of year, I have to eat healthy an ethically when I am cooking for myself to off-set the indulgences of the myriad of Christmas parties and other events at school.  This lentil soup fills the bowl and the tummy, just as it soothes the soul.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Prepared Pantry

The weather has been bad the last couple of weeks in Spokane.  Lots of snow and poorly plowed roads.  Makes a city slicker like me not want to go out as much as I can avoid it.  Now, this snow storm and the ensuing "trapped in my apartment" feeling came right after Thanksgiving, so I was eating leftovers.  But we all know that as much as many of us really love Thanksgiving leftovers, they can get tedious.  I had given a lot of the leftovers away to my guests, which was a good plan, but there was still a lot to eat.

The leftover situation made my reliance on my pantry less than typical for a snowed in period.  I am not, however, one of those people who does a pre-blizzard shopping trip made up of bread, milk and peanut butter.  (I remember fondly an article about pre-hurricane shopping that appeared in the local paper when I lived in Florida about how many people did this and why this wasn't the best choice.)  Instead of rushing out, buying a weird collection of things that likely can't be turned into any particular meal, I have a well-stocked pantry of things I know enough about.  And in my kitchen, with its serious lack of cabinet and counter space, it's a feat in itself.

In any event, winter is the time for pantry cooking.  For one thing, if you are committed to local food, in most place in America, there isn't a lot growing in winter.  And so far this winter, Spokane has already had more snow than last winter and we now have the honor of the snowiest November on record, beating out a record from 1955.  I am lucky to live in a neighborhood with a coffee shop, a pub, a nice Italian restaurant, a bar, a pizza place (although I am not crazy about their pizza) and a grocery store in walking distance.  I can even walk to downtown from my neighborhood if need be.  It takes some of the pressure off for doing the mad-dash pre-storm shopping trip, but I am usually pretty well-prepared.

I am pretty permissive for what I consider to be in my pantry.  I include whatever vegetables and fruit that I am wintering over (like apples, onions, potatoes and winter squash), whatever I have stored in my freezer (chopped carrots and celery for soups, crushed tomatoes, homemade stock, sliced strawberries and rhubarb, other berries, usually some frozen green beans, peas and spinach, and usually some grass fed beef--hamburger, or steak), what is in the fridge, always butter, milk and cheese, hopefully a lemon, lime and orange, and what is in the actually pantry--dried pasta, corn meal for polenta and baking, rice (arborio, white, and brown) and other grains (including wheatberries, faro, and quinoa), local flour (bread, all purpose, and whole wheat), canned tuna, cartons of organic stock, lentils,  fair trade chocolate, nuts.  There is always oatmeal and other breakfast cereal (one of the few processed foods I really eat), crackers, peanut butter, sundried tomatoes, dried fruit (some bought, some dried by me), local honey and a variety of vinegars.  My pantry, however, is always a mess.  I have some basic idea where things are, but it is cramped and crowded.  (This is why I have opted for no photo of it--it is a bit embarrassing!)

It is amazing what you can do with that collection of things.  Tonight for dinner -- beef and barley soup, a pantry meal (and lunch for next week) for a cold, icy, Spokane winter night.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A New England Thanksgiving in the Inland Northwest

These are my Publix Pilgrim salt and pepper shakers.    

On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, I had a few colleagues and friends over for Thanksgiving dinner in typical New England style.  We had roasted turkey (organic, free range, minimally processed), mashed potatoes (from Olsen Farms), stuffing (see previous post), homemade apple sauce (yes, those same Braeburns are back a it), homemade bread (local flour), Washington state wine, and cranberry relish and green bean casserole brought by the Sauers, pecan pie, brought by Debby and pumpkin pie brought by Philip.  Even though a lot of the food was local, it was New England through and through, not just because of the cook!  I suppose it is because, having grown up in New England and that's where this American holiday originates, it's really all I know about Thanksgiving.  I have been a guest at others homes and places for Thanksgiving, but really, it is almost always a New England meal.  Americans, for as much as we love technology, also love nostalgia. 

And that love of nostalgia is both a good thing and a bad thing for ethical food.  On the one hand, it makes us want for food grown and raised by farmers not industry.  And that is a good thing.  On the other hand, it makes some people think that that is in fact the way food is grown and raised.  And since that isn't usually so, that is a bad thing.  So making some effort, even on the other side of the country to make an ethical New England Thanksgiving is an act of rebellion and of tradition.  Rebellion in the sense that trying to have a New England meal in the Inland Northwest might seem a little less than local and doing it ethically means changing some things to make it local and more sustainable.  And traditional in the sense that this is what Americans all across the country were eating at about the same time. 

Setting the table for friends and colleagues for Thanksgiving this year was a little different for me.  It was a good fun day even with all the snow and treacherous travel to get to my neighborhood which never seems to get plowed.  But still, it lacked something, as have most of my Thanksgivings in Spokane--family.  To make up for it in some small way, I read a short story to my guests that I absolutely love before we ate, MFK Fisher's "A Thing Shared."  It isn't even three pages long, but it is such a moving tale of how food and family come together and how through those experiences we learn about one another and often treasure the memories in our hearts.  This Thanksgiving is a new memory for me.  The first I hosted without family there and it is a memory I will treasure in a special bittersweet kind of way.

The weather hasn't gotten any better and I don't expect it will for a while.  So I am holed up in my apartment with lots of Thanksgiving leftovers--which is a good thing.  And that does remind me that a day spent with friends, good ethical food, and memories is something to give thanks for.  Gratitude can come in all shapes and sizes is something I am learning once again.  That is, after all, what Thanksgiving is about--giving thanks for the year's blessings, looking forward to the winter and the tough times that winter can bring (for us, in Spokane, it will likely be the weather making for tough times), and hopes for the spring when it finally comes, bringing with it the beginnings of new meals and next year's feast.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On Giving Thanks

I live thousands of miles from my family and given my teaching schedule I don't get home for Thanksgiving anymore.  In the years I have been in Spokane I have had Thanksgiving with colleagues and friends most years, graciously invited to their celebrations, even if, sometimes, at the last minute (that seems to be the way the inland northwest does invitations!).

This year, though, I decided to host Thanksgiving at my apartment and invite some folks, who, like me, are away from family.  Everyone is bringing something, but it will be, a more or less, traditional New England Thanksgiving. 

One thing it must have is stuffing.  I'll admit, in my home growing up, it was usually packaged stuffing.  The big issue was whose taste won out -- did we have Stove Top (my sister's favortie) or Bell's (my favorite).  My brother didn't seem to care as long as there were no mushrooms.

Bell's, I have discovered, is a New England thing.  I have looked high and low for other New England favorites in the many non-New England places I have spent my adulthood, but unless I am a guest somewhere, just can't seem to think Thanksgiving should be without Bell's Seasoning in the stuffing.  They make a dry packaged stuffing with bread cubes pre-seasoned, like other kinds of packaged stuffing and that is sometimes what we had growing up.  It was always on sale at the holidays.  But they also sell small little boxes of Bell's Seasoning.

Last year I asked my father to mail me some.  He, of course, did.  And I got in the mail a padded envelope with four boxes of Bell's Seasoning (one ounce each).  I was surprised at getting four boxes, but am surely glad that I did.  I am half way through them and will be using a lot tomorrow in that stuffing.  Bell's is really quite a simple thing -- a blend of sage, rosemary, oregano, ginger, marjoram, pepper and thyme.  Add the salt yourself.

I did panic a little yesterday on what I hoped would be my last trip to the store before tomorrow.  I couldn't find the envelope with the remaining boxes.  Thankfully, it was found before I had to resort to looking for some other kind of poultry seasoning or resorting to a box.  But I did forget a few things that I hope I can figure out how to do with out (it is bitter cold today).

I've started prepping for tomorrow's stuffing--stale homemade bread has been toasted and cubed, celery has been chopped.  Onion will be chopped tomorrow, still considering the mushroom situation.

Thanksgiving table will be set with the traditional fixings of a thanksgiving dinner, including that New England stuffing.  Can't wait to smell the turkey roasting and the sage that will greet my guests for a little bit of New England in the inland northwest.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

It's a crack-up.

I was looking at recipe sites the other day trying to find some interesting snack foods or things to make with apples.  I ran across a recipe for crackers.  yes, crackers.  You can make them at home.  In fact I remember being a kid and my mother talking about making some crackers and that it was more trouble than it was worth.  Nevertheless, I was intrigued.  I like to cook and bake a lot more than my Mom does, so maybe I wouldn't find it more trouble than it was worth.

So today, I am making crackers.  It's also an excuse to use my new food processor.  (I never had one before and finally just decided to get myself one and a good one at that.)

My first batch was, I think, a little under-cooked.  They weren't very crisp.  I was worried about burning them.  And, some of them puffed up a bit.  Second batch I pricked with a fork so they wouldn't puff up and I baked them longer, to make sure they crisped up.  They are actually pretty good.  And I can control the ingredients--such as local flour and cheese, organic corn meal, milk, vinegar and butter, salt, pepper, paprika and a little baking soda.  Having that kind of control is something I like because it enables me to eat more ethically.

And I am glad I know I can make them.  But I doubt I'll make them all the time.  Maybe Mom was right after all.  They are a little bit more trouble than they are worth!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Apple Capital of the World

Washington state is known as "the apple capital of the world."  Or it least it used to be.  When I moved to Washington five and a half years ago I remember watching the local news, in absolute dismay as the governor announced a trade agreement with New Zealand that would include--apples.  great!  Not quite great--we'd be shipping apples in our fall and importing them in their fall.  Wait, Washington state import apples?  Bizarre.  Sure, some apples really are better eaten soon after picking.  But lots of apples are "designed" to hold over the winter, or at least a long portion of the winter.

I grew up on the East Coast thinking Washington apples were the best, aside from those I picked myself at some U-pick apple orchard nearby.  I really had been convinced by the advertising the Washington State Apple Commission had done.  And now I live in Washington and I won't eat an apple that isn't from Washington.  Heck, I try not to eat any that aren't from eastern Washington.

Which brings me to my current dilemma.  I may have been a little overzealous in my apple purchase yesterday.  Yesterday was the last market day for the outdoor downtown Spokane Farmers Market.  I bought a lot of stuff that can be held over.  Although I didn't get enough onions, since most from my preferred farmer (yes, I have a preferred farmer) had been already claimed.  I'll have to remember that next year.  I have had a busy fall and expect November to be just as busy, so I knew I wasn't going to get up to Green Bluff to pick my own apples this year.

So I bought a box.  A box, what can be the problem with that, you ask?  Well, I bought a box of organic Braeburn seconds (that means they have some dings, are a wide variety of sizes and shapes, they just aren't the super pretty apples they want in the grocery store, but they are perfectly fine to eat).  I went up to this organic orchard's stand and said to the guy there "I want some apples that a good for drying."  That's how I put up for winter the apples I picked last year so it seemed like a reasonable question to me.  He said, "for drying?" and looked down at his feet.  I said, "Yea, something a little firm, a little tart."  What I didn't know then was that he wasn't wondering what apples were good for drying he was wondering what GIGANTIC box of apples, still in the back of his truck, had apples for drying rather than the display boxes at the stand proper where people pick like six apples!  He said he had seconds of Braeburns and Golden Delicious.  I actually think Delicisios--red or golden- are anything but. He said the box was $30.  For a box of organic apples, that seemed like a good deal to me.

It was a very good deal -- 40 pounds of apples.  He had to carry the box to my car.  What have I gotten myself into?  He assured me that Braeburns keep well, too.  He said, if kept cool, they can last for months.  At least I don't have to dry them all this week.  But that food dehydrator is going to get a workout.  I dried apples all day yesterday, and I will all day today, too.  During the week it is a little harder since apples dry in four to five hours and by the time I get home from work, I might not have time to process and dry them before I go to bed.  It will be an interesting few weeks, I think.

So I am also trying to do other things with apples.  This morning I am making apple popovers.  Yesterday I just happened to be flipping through the television channels and say someone cooking with apples.  I stopped flipping--I have 40 pounds of apples to get through.  It was a show I never watch, with a really annoying host it turns out, who is like a cross between Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart--oy.  But, she and her guest were making apple popovers.  I have never made popovers, but have always wanted to try.  I remember the first time I ever had one, at the fanciest restaurant in my hometown (which sadly, has closed).  The light and airy bread gets its loft from eggs and heat--no other leavening and are called "popovers" because they are served upside-down.  They are literally, popped over.

I am not using a popover pan.  There are special pans made just for baking popovers.  I am using a muffin tin, which hopefully is an acceptable substitute.  The special pans are made of something that heats up really well and each opening is as narrow as a regular muffin tin's opening but deeper, for a more impressive shape, I guess.  If these popovers turn out well, I am asking for a popover pan for Christmas.

So, now I am waiting on popovers, thinking about other things to do with apples, and thinking about the work I have left to do today, this Halloween, for school and my career.  No dressing up for anything for me, except the school teacher with her apple.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Do you know the way to San Jose?

I am just back from an academic conference on environmental justice and sustainability in San Jose, California at Santa Clara University.  It was a really interesting conference and I got to meet a really interesting woman in my field, which is always a treat.  But this was, after all a conference on sustainability and that means there was some talk about food and sustainability.

The food served at the conference was, by and large, either quite good or typical conference fare.  The first afternoon at the conference started with a cocktail party with some passed hors d'oeuvres, your standard cheese and cracker plate and crudites.   Dinner was lovely, and I was assured by the people who worked for Santa Clara that much of the food really was sustainably grown (although I have my doubts about the chicken and the chocolate).

But I do have two moments from the conference that are both more important than the food or my doubts from the first dinner.  One has to do with the conference topic and presentations the other has to do with lunch on day two. 

Lunch on day two was a soup and salad buffet.  I like buffets since you can make your own choices about what to take and how much to take.  The salad was separated into individual bowls--lettuce in one, carrots in another--you get the idea.  It was pretty much sesame chicken salad.  I chose judiciously--only what I wanted to eat and only as much as I wanted to eat.  I skipped the soup, even though it looked pretty good.  But as I was finishing what I took one of the conference organizers, with whom I had dinner the night before mentioned that I hadn't eaten much--but I had eaten all I wanted and was full.  No need to take more than I needed.  Waste is not sustainable.  I don't mean to be critical.  She did not mean anything insulting by it.  Rather, I expect she was trying to be a good host--hospitality is a key trait of Jesuit communities and schools.  But it did stick with me.  Often we push food on others as a sign of hospitality and I am sure that in earlier times it made more sense than it might now.  But I am going to try to do less of this myself since it encourages overeating or waste, neither of which is good!

The other thing has to do with some discussions about food and sustainability as content of the conference.  Santa Clara has a garden to teach their students and others about food and the environment.  We are starting a garden here, too--the raised beds went in earlier this month.  They also do outreach into parts of their community to discuss and try to alleviate food deserts which are getting more and more prevalent in urban centers.  But the main focus of environmental justice, something I teach about in some of my classes, has really got my wheels turning.  How can I work this idea into my food ethics research?  I'm getting ideas.  this is not what I expected from my time at this conference.  I expected to go, asked to be the leader of the delegation from my school, and that was it.  But by taking the opportunity seriously, I got some food for thought, too.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Soup's On!

This Saturday and last were both simmer up crushed tomatoes and make soup days. Last Saturday I made some butternut squash soup using the last of my homemade chicken stock from the freezer. I had to use the stock or there would not have been room for some of the soup. Today I made cream of potato and leek soup. Each batch was about 7 cups of soup which is enough for a 2 weeks worth of lunches. Yum.

In the fall and winter I often make soup on the weekends so I have something reliably good, healthy, economical and ethical for lunch during the week. I hate spending a lot of money on a sandwich or something at school when I know I should have brought my lunch. I would rather wait until I had lunch plans with someone to spend the money.

There is something really homey about soup. When it is cooking up on the stove it makes the house smell like someone has been doing some heavy cooking, although most of the soup I make is pretty low maintenance. Admittedly, this Saturday and last, I made soup that needed to be pureed in the blender. That's unusual for me.

But this morning at the farmers market, walking though the stalls now fewer in number than in the height of summer, I thought I ought to take advantage of having some leeks still available. Winter squash will hold over longer. And next weekend I am out of town at a conference in California, so no farmers market for me. When I return, it will be just days before the last farmers market of the season and I will really have to think ahead of what I can buy and store for the long winter.

But as of right now I have 18 cups of crushed tomatoes in the freezer, 2 cups of butternut squash soup and 4 cups of cream of potato and leek soup in there. There are also several cups of diced white onion, of celery and of bell pepper. There are 9 cups of sliced strawberries and another 3 of blackberries with a few strawberries and raspberries in there for good measure. I have 8 cups of dried tomatoes and 6 cups of dried nectarines. I still have to get some apples to dry. There are 5 pounds of onions and 10 of potatoes for storing in the dark part of the fridge. I have 15 pounds of whole wheat flour, too.

Clearly I am starting to take stock of what will be available for the winter. It is harder to eat locally for me in the winter, although this will be the first winter with the Co-op, so I am interested to see how much that helps in my endeavors. (Above that's the cream of potato and leek soup with a crisp of Parmesan and provolone on top. Delish!)

There will certainly be more soup in the weeks to come and soon there will be casseroles and other hearty warm dishes to ward off the cold that comes to the inland northwest as the late fall creeps into full winter. I am looking forward to the noodle and rice casseroles, the polenta with mushrooms and dried tomatoes polenta with crisp pancetta and shavings of good Parmesan cheese and a glass of dry red wine. Maybe winter won't be so bad after all!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tomatoes everywhere ...

I've been dealing a lot in tomatoes lately. This point in the fall the newness of tomatoes has worn off and the processing them for the winter begins in earnest. I have been drying, crushing, freezing and eating tomatoes. This processing has made me convinced I really do need to learn how to can them. It would be much more efficient. But, until that day, I deal with them by drying, crushing and freezing.

Barbara Kingsolver, in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle talks about processing tons of tomatoes. Ok, well, not tons, but close--she weighed them. Her youngest daughter refers to her as "Mama, the Tomato Queen" and used up all her red crayons in portrait after portrait. I have not yet committed this kind of insanity. But is it really insanity? As Kingsolver mentions, those tomatoes she puts up in the summer and fall will still be local in February. And in February they look to her like glowing red Valentine's.

Tomatoes are so versatile and such an important part of so many recipes and there are plenty of really good organic canned varieties, but this for me is not simply a matter of eating locally or organically, although it is in part. It is also about making sure the farmers from whom I buy all these tomatoes will be here next year. I am trying to pay them for their time and their effort.

Especially this year. It has been a rough year for a lot of people in the agricultural business here in Eastern Washington. A lot of people lost some of their crops -- and tomatoes were hit hard. The coolness of the weather was not what the tomatoes wanted. A few weeks ago one of the farmers I frequent at the Downtown Farmers Market was interviewed by the local paper about the slow tomato crop and what to do if your home garden was a victim. So I have been buying more tomatoes from them and from every farmers market I go to, since I do know how to deal with tomatoes now for using later better than for other crops.

Yesterday I dried some tomatoes and turned others into sauce. And I also ate some. There is one benefit to this strange weather we have been having. There was some late arugula at the farmers market yesterday which turned into an arugula, tomato and warm bacon dressing salad that was just amazing.

But I am pretty sure that the dried tomato pesto, spaghetti sauce, and other items this winter made with the tomatoes I am putting up now will be amazing, too. Amazing that some of summer has made its way into winter and will be a reminder of gratitude for the growing season past and of the growing season ahead.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Getting out of the kitchen, and then back in

I've been getting out of the kitchen a lot lately, that is, doing a lot of outreach related to local, ethical food. In just a few weeks time I was on a panel talking about organic, local food at the local temple for their Hadassah group and two programs in the residence halls. Well, two for residence life, one was in a hall the other was at the farmers market, but a program run by a residence assistant.

Doing these kinds of programs always excites me, but makes me a little nervous, too. It is exciting because I get to talk about something I am passionate about to a whole new group of people, people not yet "converted" usually to the virtues of local, organic, sustainable food. And nervous because I never know exactly how to pitch a non-academic talk. I am much more comfortable talking to academics or in the classroom.

The talk for Hadassah was over brunch and with two other local food experts. The Jewish women of the group were almost all dressed up. They were excited to be kicking off some of their programming for the year. It was really nice and fun. I grew up in a community with a lot of Jewish families and it had been a long time since I had been in that community. And, there is no lack of interest when talking to Jewish people about food--it is such an important part of their culture and religion. I even got through a couple of lines of the blessing in my head before I forgot what was coming next. But I suppose as a Catholic I can be excused for not knowing Hebrew.

The two residence life programs were very different from one another, but both really interesting and fun. The one last weekend was entitled "Girls Go Green." They walked to the farmers market from campus and I met them there, gave them a little tour, talked about local food issues, the Co-op and answered some questions. They were polite and at the same time, distracted by the bounty that was available. We talked about cooking and how to make meals more sustainable. It was a glorious day weather wise and I think they had a nice time. And one thing about GU students that always impresses me, they are thankful--I got a note from the RAs who planned the event, signed by all the girls who went. I hope they are now more thankful for their food, too.

And Thursday night I did a little cooking class. The RA who approached me about this program also works in my department office. We planned a menu of my chicken tortilla soup and cornbread. It was not a glorious night weather wise, it was rather, a dreary, rainy night as we get deeper into fall. Soup was appropriate. I had forgotten how poorly equipped Res Hall kitchens tend to be. I brought some cooking equipment with me, but we still lacked a few things that would have made things a little easier. Nevertheless, though, we made enough soup and cornbread to feed 26 college students in half and hour. As the soup finished simmering and the cornbread got that lovely golden color to the crust, I talked to the students assembled about local food and sustainable food and how this food really is healthier. As the students ate, I walked around to each little group and we chatted about what was important to them -- when the farmers market is open, could they get Filipino food at the farmers market, what about Chinese food at the farmers market, what do we do on campus, is any of the food in the caf local. The RAs for this program washed all the dishes and things I bought and had the thank you note to me the next day. These students, too, know how to be thankful for a meal.

People want to know about their food. The food system has just gotten so complicated that it makes it difficult and lots of people threw up their hands in frustration. But that frustration seems to have been turned into action as more and more people want to learn and then do something about it, change the way they eat.

The more people I meet and the more I talk to about the ethics of food the more I find who are interested. A few years ago when I started doing this people either thought it was weird or were surprised there was such a thing. No longer. More often now I get questions about when my class meets, will it be offered again, and from non-student adults I get the question of whether or not they could audit the class.

I take all of this as a good sign. People do care and are getting primed to act. These are all activist rebel types. They tend to be educated folks who are realizing that their food dollars are supporting things they wouldn't otherwise support and are concerned about their health and the environment's health. this is where things come full circle. I know I have inspired some to make changes about their food and they in turn inspire me to continue to do this work.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cook, Pray, Eat

Somewhere just after I poured soy sauce on my stir fry of broad beans and cipollini onions I realized I had just turned two very Italian vegetables into Asian-American food. Served over rice with some peanuts it was Asian style, on another occasion, those broad beans and onions might be a puree under some lean meat with pesto, much more Italian, or even the veggies in a risotto, again much more Italian, but basically the same food. America was a stir-fry pan more than a melting pot tonight.

After a stressful meeting at school, I headed home. I had thought of stopping at the local pub for a pint and a meal, but as I drove past, it seemed crowded, likely due to the unusual last taste of summer we've been having here. I was not in the mood to deal with the crowd and noise, so I continued on the last four blocks to home.

I was exhausted and not feeling like cooking, but needing some comfort food. I poured a glass of California Sauvignon Blanc and rummaged through the fridge--what was easy and satisfying? That's when I realized there were still some of those broad beans and they really ought to be cooked. I picked them up at Strawberry Hill the other weekend when Ali and I went to Green Bluff. It was now or let them go to waste--not acceptable for an ethical eater.

And after this stressful day (and one glass of wine) cooking became a more palatable idea. As I chopped and stir fried and the smell of the onions hitting the oil, I became more relaxed. As things were coming together, even for this simple meal, I felt gratitude for this food and being able to prepare it. For too many across the planet, just having enough food is a cause of constant stress.

Cooking can be prayer. It often is when one cooks for others. But tonight, for me, cooking was a prayer for the care I deserve to give myself after a stressful day. I am thankful for this food and thankful for the care I can sometimes remember to show myself. And I am also thankful to have been given the grace to remember.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mingling at the Market

I know I blog about the co-op a lot. But it really is great and I want to support it in any way I can. In the short months it has been open, not even a year, yet, I have become dependant on it. Shopping there is stress-free, they have similar food values as I do and just generally pleasant, people are friendly and chat. It is much more of a human experience than shopping in a large grocery store where everyone is anonymous.

Last night the co-op hosted an event, Mingle at the Market. It went so well they are planning on doing it again, maybe even monthly. Tickets were reasonably priced $20, which included the service charge for the ticket re-seller. The 40 people there (a full house, they turned people away at the door) got an abbreviated tour of the co-op, a chance to ask questions, samples of 7 eastern Washington wines, and tons of snacks from savory to sweet.

I had been lamenting to one of the co-op's board of directors that I would hate to plan a ticketed event in Spokane. People never seem to get tickets early--waiting until the last minute. This makes planning for food and beverage difficult, so I am glad that they sold out of tickets in advance. Maybe the folks that came day of will get tickets ahead of time for the next event.

The co-op's eating space was turned into three elegant banquet tables with linens and paper flowers. Printed menus of the food and wine were at each place setting. After an early glass of white wine we got our tour of the market. While we were doing that, they were setting up the food. We came back, got our food at the buffet and settled in to chat with new friends interrupted only by the pouring of the next wine and a little information from their knowledgeable wine buyer on everything we were drinking.

The standout was definitely the Washington Malbec from Kennedy Shah in Woodinville. Who knew a Malbec from Washington state. It is lush and rich without being heavy. It is totally drinkable and good paired with food. A great find for under $15 a bottle.

I sat with people I did not know. There were some folks who wandered in that I did know, but I had bought my ticket alone and decided I was going to talk to people I didn't know. But there was something I knew about each and everyone there--they were at least interested in if not yet committed to the idea of local, sustainable, ethical food. Having something about food in common, and eating and drinking sure breaks a lot of ice between people who have not yet met before.

It was a lovely evening with good food and good wine and good company. When I was back at the co-op this morning after the farmers market I was really happy to chat with some employees about the previous evening's event and so happy to hear that they are going to do it again. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

So, if you are in the Spokane area and want to support or get to know the co-op these events are a great way to do it. I'll be sure to post the information when it is available! Cheers!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Feed a cold, starve a fever?

I have a cold. And it has been a few days now. I always think I can plow through and not have my schedule affected by it. It is such wishful thinking.

Admittedly, I don't think much of cooking while I am sick, even if I need to eat. This is one time when I think that eating less than ethically would be easier--if I still ate processed food, I wouldn't have to cook when I was feeling under the weather. It would be so much easier.

But this is also when it really pays to be prepared. I had made soup two weekends in a row to bring for lunches to school. Two different kinds of lovely, home made, ethically sourced, soup. Some had been frozen for the future, but the future came earlier than expected. I needed to thaw that soup out for comfort food for the ill, i.e., me. And of course, we all know, soup is good to eat when one is sick, the steaming broth helps breathing.

If I had had a fever, it wouldn't have mattered, but since it is "food a cold, starve a fever" it is a good thing I was prepared. I will get better and get over this cold and not be reduced to eating something less than good in order to do.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Strawberry Hill Farm

I think I may have missed the mark with my "dining for dollars and making sense" posts. I realize now that when thinking about eating ethically and inexpensively, my lifestyle, being single and cooking for mostly just myself doesn't really get to the heart of the issue for a lot of people. Plus, I pretty much always have leftovers, which means sharing recipes of a week doesn't help a lot. So, I know I have to get back to this issue somehow later. I am still trying to figure out how to best do this.

Setting that aside for the moment, I made another trip to Green Bluff yesterday. After talking at Trezzi on the 9th, I wanted to get back up there to do some more exploring, picking, reveling in the great bounty just north of town. It struck me that this is a good model if it could be done everywhere and more directly--an agricultural area supporting an urban center.

My friend Ali and I were glad that he weather held and we were able to make it up to Green Bluff. I had thought about picking apples and getting a jump on fall, but we were treated instead to some late summer veggies and berries--have to love the late summer berries! We weren't headed to any particular farm up there, but just turned when we got to a place neither of us had been and that meant we ended up at Strawberry Hill Farm. It was small and sweet. The teenager who showed us around and helped us find good picking places couldn't have been nicer.

They don't use chemicals on the plants, but are too small to get certified organic. this is food that is often referred to as "safe." When we got out of the car and into the little shop to meet our guide, we were treated with some freshly sliced cucumber and a little bit of information about the farm. But it wasn't until we were out back on the farm itself that our guide told us that the music we were hearing was because the owner believes the plants do better when they get to listen to music. It was nice classical music.

We picked two kinds of green beans (including some Hilda beans which were giant flat romano green beans and are delish! Strawberries, blackberries and golden raspberries. Carrots and cucumbers. Yum. They also had tomatoes, basil by the bushel it seemed, onions, summer squash and winter squash and pumpkins (soon to be ready, though). It was a lovely, easy to navigate spot I'll be sure to go back to. On the perimeter of the garden patches and he green house were chickens, emus, a couple of llamas and some goats. This is a full service kind of place.

After we finished our picking, we headed to Harvest House for a slice of pie, some pumpkin donuts and some hot apple cider. We sat and talked about how good it is to be able to head up to Green Bluff for an afternoon, to really appreciate what we have and to feel good about eating the food we have picked and will be able to eat. Can't wait to head to the Farmer's Market next weekend--Ali's going to come along and it promises to be a nice morning, once again feeling good about local food.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dining for Dollars Part 2

So, it's hump day now. And how well have I been doing eating ethically on a budget? With the exception of yesterday, pretty well I think.

Monday I had coffee and yogurt for breakfast (total $1.05). For lunch I had some of the soup I made on Sunday, but I forgot to bring any cheese for a garnish (total $1.29). As a snack I had two tiny, Italian plums (the kind that dry into prunes) that were organic and local bought Saturday at the farmers market ($.60). Dinner was some left over pizza from Sunday (total $1.61). Daily total--$4.55.

Yesterday,well, my breakfast was the same--coffee and yogurt (total $1.05), but for lunch I was invited to the Jesuit Community at school to talk some shop with a new teacher and last night I had dinner out at a local brew pub with a friend (cost with tax and tip, $15.00). This is a bit of an aberration and not typical for trying to eat on a budget (although maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch).

Today was much more typical. I had my coffee and yogurt breakfast. It's still my Roast House coffee and local yogurt without any artificial colors or sweeteners (total $1.05). Today for lunch I had soup with chips as garnish (total $1.29). For a snack I had some homemade trail mix made with local apples I dried last fall, some nectarines I dried a few weeks ago, some dried unsweetened organic coconut and some walnuts. I have to do some estimating here since I can't remember exactly what I paid for those Green bluff apples last October. I am guessing it's around $1.50. Dinner tonight (since I am actually typing this while on a conference call board meeting and soon will be making dinner while at the meeting, too!) a garden burger (bought on sale, $.83) on an organic whole wheat bun ($.62), with home made french fries from Olsen farms potatoes ($.50). I'll use some organic ketchup ($.24) and some mustard (negligible) and some sliced tomato (grown by a colleague in his garden, thanks Doug!). Total -- $2.19--that's dollar menu prices at a fast food joint, but for much healthier local food. Not bad, if you ask me. For the day that comes to $6.03. That's less than half my dinner out from last night.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dining for Dollars and Making Sense

An old high school friend, Allie, has been reading my blog (thank you!) and she asked about eating ethically on a budget. This is something that my college students ask about, too. And something that is important to consider as eating ethically concerns everyone and poverty issues about food and food security are not immune to consideration here.

So I made myself a challenge--this week I am going to write about ethical eating on a budget and post some recipes that can be done ethically easily and for low cost. This is not about compromising quality or ethics and I'll still be eating well.

I started on Sunday, and this meant prepping ahead for the week. I did some cooking on Sunday that will carry me through much of the week. This is a necessity for me during the academic year if I want to eat healthy, ethically, and less expensively. I know a lot of single professionals who eat a lot of take out, which gets expensive, and honestly, I would rather buy good quality ingredients and shoes than spend all my money on take out.

One caveat before I post my recipes and cost calculations for them, I am not a math whiz. So, if you find an error, let me know and I will correct it.

Sunday Breakfast: Coffee and Waffles
Roast House Fair Trade, Organic Shade Grown Coffee, bought on sale at the Main Market Co-op at $7.99, minus my member discount. I weighed the beans and it came to 1 ounce, so it was $.45 for the pot.

Waffles--I used to be an avid Bisquick user, but now I make a homemade version of Bisquick. This does involve using some less than ideal ingredients on occasion, but I can use local flour.

The recipe for the homemade "bisquick" is:

8 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups dry milk
2 cups shortening

For waffles, 2 cups of this mixture ($1.20)
1 1/2 cups organic milk ($1.08)
1 local egg ($.50)
1 tablespoon oil ($.05)
1/4 cup local oatmeal ($.10)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts ($1.50)
1/4 cup organic shredded unsweetened coconut ($.50)

Served with local butter ($.12) and real maple syrup bought on sale ($.29), comes to $.45 per waffle. If you skip the nuts, etc, in the waffle mix (reduce milk to 1 1/3 cups), the cost comes down to $.29.

Not bad even if you have two waffles.

Sunday Lunch: Pizza
I admit, I love pizza. And I love it even more if it is homemade. Something about it reminds me of good childhood dinners. I have written about making pizza before, so this will be a bit quicker.

The pizza I made had a mixture of local white and wheat flour for the dough, organic crushed canned tomatoes, whole milk mozzarella from the co-op, some Parmesan, and a collection of red peppers, pappadew peppers and pepperoncini. About a dollar's worth of flour, a negligible amount for sugar, salt, oil and yeast, but let's put a price tag of $.35 for all of it, likely the yeast is the most expensive part. Cheese came in at $2.05, tomato sauce at $.42 (I buy organic tomatoes by the case--I used to do it at the local grocer's case sale, but will do so now at the co-op), and assorted peppers $1.00. That's $4.82 for the whole pizza by my estimation. It serves about 3, so we're talking $1.61 per serving. Again, not bad.

Sunday Dinner: Chicken Tortilla Soup
Weirdly, the first time I had chicken tortilla soup was when I was living in Minnesota. I went to a Christmas time soup party. We made two kinds of soup and ate and everyone got to take some soup home. It was like a cookie swap for soup. I have no idea what the other kind of soup we made was, but this one I really liked and have been making and modifying it ever since.

I love making soup, too. It is great to take for lunch to school. I am always the envy of those who are having canned soup in my department. It can be healthy, is a great way to eat your veggies, and by making it yourself you can adjust the sodium level a lot. Plus, making soup is economical and makes a lot of servings. This recipe makes 12 1 cup servings, which could be lunch and dinner for a single person for most of a week. I tend to make several kinds of soup over several weekends freezing some so I can have different kinds for lunch during a week.

1 chicken breast, organic, ($3.50)
32 ounces organic, free range chicken broth ($2.00) on sale
16 ounces frozen corn kernels ($1.99)
can of organic black beans ($1.29)
organic, local onion ($.75)
organic local red pepper ($1.00)
lime ($.39)
2 cans fire roasted organic tomatoes ($2.78)

Comes to $1.14 per serving, with garnishes of organic corn chips and cheddar cheese (another $.30) it's $1.44 per serving.

That means for Sunday my meals cost $4.40. That's about the same as a medium flavored latte on campus. That really puts it into perspective, I think.

Eating ethically on a budget does require some forethought and some planning. It requires some time in that I have to cook myself and not rely on prepared, processed or packaged.

I'll be back later in the week with some more about how my ethical eating on a budget goes this week and where I likely faltered some! Happy eating!