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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!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Feeling Full

Last night's event at Trezzi Farm for Sustainable September went well. I even think my presentation on Community Food Security went well. I never know if my talks that are not classes or to other philosophers make good sense to anyone until after the fact.

The weather was cool, but it did not rain, thankfully. There were enough people there, again, thankfully. The volunteers showed up and worked hard. And the food and wine were amazing. I told David from Trezzi that the meatballs (made with grass fed beef from Lazy R Ranch) were as good as my grandmother's--and it was true. He talked about putting in the grapes for his wine by hand and the risks associated with growing grapes or anything really. A reminder of the deep courage of farmers--who knows what the weather will bring, what pests will come, if there will even be a harvest this year?
For me, someone who cares about ethical eating, the event was bound to be a success. For if even one person who had not thought about how eating and ethics were connected thought about it, I would count it a success. There were lots of people there last night who were not, by and large, yet part of the local food groups or other groups working around food. And some of them signed up to be kept in the loop. Therefore, SUCCESS!

On the ride home from Trezzi after the event, winding myself down the twisty roads of Green Bluff, looking down at the city below, I felt full. I physically felt full from the great meal, but also my mind felt full. The event was reinvigorating for me as I continue to think about how to teach students and others about the ethics of food. And then I hit Division. For those of you in the Spokane area you know the street I mean. Coming from the north where Green Bluff is using Division is the most efficient way to get to where I live, especially since we are in the midst of end of summer road construction. I had been lulled by the good food and thinking positively about ethics and food until I hit Division with its collection of strip malls, fast food and chain restaurants. Not exactly the bastion of ethical eating I had just left.

I guess it is a good think I was reinvigorated, there is still much work to be done. The fall harvest is just around the corner and I am ready to go now!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Community Food Security

Spokane is participating in Sustainable September. I guess that means we've come a long way. One of the tracks of events has to do with local food. Being part of the committee has allowed me to meet some interesting new people and get to know better some people I had merely met once or twice.

One of the events of the food track is going to be a dinner at a Green Bluff farm next week. I am particularly excited about it because it is about ethics and food and I am going to be one of the speakers. I had planned only on blogging about this after the event, but it has been a while since I have written (I'll say more about that another time). And, well, we're trying to sell a few more tickets for the event.

The idea with Sustainable September is that communities come together around events that highlight the different aspects of sustainability in their own community. For Spokane, local food is one of these aspects that is becoming a lot more important as we realize the great benefits our local community can share and contribute when it comes to what one eats and what gets grown in our own area.

That's the focus of my talk -- Community Food Security. A little preview to pique your interest--food security has been the dominant way that those in international development circles have been talking about hunger for decades now. As the concept worked its way into the American discussion of domestic hunger, it shifted to be more about nutrition than starvation. And the idea of communities being food secure started to come to the fore. There has been a lot of debate about what that might mean--for a community to be food secure. For individuals we look at the ability of a person to have reliable access to healthy food to support an active lifestyle for 21 meals a week. But for a community that definition doesn't quite work. There are other assumptions at play.

At the brief presentation next week (and I promise it will be brief) we'll discuss what it might mean for Spokane to be food secure and how that might require some work and changes to our local food policy and to personal choices about food.

One choice that is a good one would be to join us at Trezzi farms on Thursday the 9th for a wonderful meal, a little thought provoking conversation, and some beautiful scenery!