The “in” Crowd

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Are these tomatoes fresh? Why don’t they smell like a tomato? Am I imagining it or didn’t tomatoes used to smell different, rich and vibrant?

You’re not crazy.

It’s probably one of two things: it is really modified or grown differently, OR it is just NOT in season!

I’m assuming that you, like me, have often wondered what produce is actually in-season at several points throughout the year. I’m lucky, having grown up with a veggie/fruit garden and in or near the country for large portions of time, I at least have an inkling of what might be in-season. I know how to smell a tomato in July, tap a watermelon in July, and taste a little, tart strawberry in May/June. But I often wonder, how are we supposed to know if we’re not growing this stuff ourselves? And what about those magnificent greenhouses? Don’t they just throw a wrench in the machine?

This week I set out to see what resources were available on our wonderfully-wide-web.

Epicurious.com came through, of course. As did many other foodie-hubs. Here are some of the solid resources I found. ENJOY!

Seasonal Cooking Guide – Epicurious.com
The Bountiful Year – Visual News.com
In Season Listings – Eat the Seasons.com
In-Season Produce by State – Field to Plate.com
Regional Seasonal Produce – About.com

If you want to learn more about why tomatoes seem so “off”… here is more info (or you can just google, “what happened to tomatoes?”)

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Three-Bean Vegetarian Chili

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I tried a new recipe this week. I loved it! I’m sure I’ll be able to improve upon it over time, but for now, it’s a winner.

It’s a three-bean vegetarian chili. It is NOT a vegan recipe. I used chicken broth instead of veggie broth, because it is what I had. If you want vegan, all you need to do is swap the chicken broth for vegetable broth.

Also, I used ancho chili powder, and what a great flavor that made! Yum.

Here is the recipe: (it’ll be posted under Soups)

Ingredients:
-1 large onion – finely chopped
-28 oz can of diced tomatoes or you can boil/peel/chop 6 of your own large tomatoes (I did a combo)
(NOTE: if you use your own tomatoes, you can use the water/tomato juice to add more liquid to the chili)
-2 cups of broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable – LOW SODIUM is best)
-4 garlic cloves – diced
-2 large roasted red peppers (you can roast yourself using the broiler or buy in a jar, both work)
-2 tbsp EVOO

(drain/rinse all beans)
-1 can cannellini beans
-1 can red kidney beans
-1 can pinto beans

these next ingredients can be increased or decreased to taste and to manage heat
-2 tsp ancho chili powder
-2 tsp cumin
-1 tsp regular chili powder
-1 tsp cayenne pepper
-1 tsp paprika
-chopped fresh cilantro (to taste)
-salt & pepper to taste
**optional: fresh jalepeno or habanero… (if you want more heat)- dried peppers work well, too

Directions:
Ideally using a dutch oven, cook the onions and garlic in tbsp of EVOO until onions are tender (low-medium heat)
Add spices and cook for 2-3 minutes
Add the tomatoes (and any juice) and stir until well mixed, cook for 2 minutes
Add the broth – bring to simmer and cover. Cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the beans and cook for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve!! Makes about 6 servings.

Foodscaping and Agricultural Cooperatives

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Foodscaping – is it feasible? Yes.
Does it work? Let’s discuss.

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Amazingly, a few of my friends and I must have been on the same train of thought this week. I saw a couple of reposts of a foodscaping blog/story. This is an idea that I know some of my friends have implemented, that my sister and I have bounced around (or something close to this idea) in our many brainstorming sessions, and that is very close to my heart.

What is foodscaping?

It is basically the idea that you landscape your yard to include food/edible plants.
One of my friends calls it “front yard farming” – but it can be ANYWHERE on your property. Here is the Wikipedia page.
Here is more on the “definition” although I’m not sure why we needed a fancy word for what people have been doing off-and-on for centuries. It’s really just the same thing as a gardening or farming. Maybe we should hybridize those two words: a gardenfarm? hmm.

Agricultural Cooperative Wiki

From what I understand, foodscaping should use easily maintainable plants, should include a combination of types (wiki on plant types here) of plants, and should ideally be hearty for your planting zone. I think that there are probably some movements that suggest you plant indigenous species, but that will probably limit your options of edible varities. Given that we’re in the US though, this is a bonus for us. A TON of edible plants are indigenous to the good-ole’ Americas.

Here is the most recent article that I’ve seen floating around posted on OffGridWorld.com (sounds like my kind of place). This article seems to suggest it’s the same thing as urban farming, not sure I agree, but that’s OK. I’ve heard a LOT about urban and vertical gardening and using old/abandoned buildings for this purpose. This is an idea I could get behind. A pity I don’t have the resources. Maybe I’ll get super motivated and start this venture. This article is also a little biased and sets off my wacko-meter, but it’s a good one to parse.

That being said: why is this such a fascinating concept? Probably because it’s going to become the only way you can ensure you KNOW what you’re eating. You grow it from heirloom seedling? You know what you’re eating. On the flip side, if your house is surrounded by parking lots and gas fumes, your product is hardly organic, so please note that. That isn’t supposed to be a deterent, it’s just a reality of modern life. But you’ve got to pick your battles.

As someone who grew up with a mom and dad who grew a TON of our vegetables (and most of them, at times) I can attest to the fact that growing veggies and fruits is a LOT of work. You WILL get pests/pets/and wildlife stopping by the “inspect” the goods. You will also lose crop every year for random reasons. But the idea that you, and your neighborhood, could theoretcally establish a co-op farming universe, why… it’s almost utopian! It’s so old fashioned it’s almost early-man-esque and yes so freaking logical! It makes me want to march out of my house and go buy seeds! (from a local farmer, of course!)

There are LOTS of people throughout the US trying to do some version of co-op farming. I really think it’s a no-brainer. If you have the space, time, and inclination… what is stopping you? You know you can’t trust what you’re getting from Food Lion or Giant – let’s be real! I’m reading article after article about the nasty, toxic stuff in the food we get from foreign countries (seriously, why do we import our garlic from China?) – I’m beginning to get kind of creeped out by food, in general. Kind of like when I was a kid and was convinced that if I ate things off a bone I was secretly a cannibal. (Don’t ask, I really have no explanation.)

Anyway… I’d love to hear your thoughts on this concept. PLEASE! Discuss!

Want More Info? Go to these sites/stories:
NPR Article from 2012
CROPP Cooperative – A Farmer’s Coop
EAT WILD – DC
Local Harvest
CO-OP DC – Directory
(This is just a directory of various coops in the DC-area)

National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
Copa-Cogeca – EU Farming Coop

The Cornish hens

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Well folks, I tried to bake/roast cornish hens Sunday.

It actually turned out OK, but because they take so little time to cook, I found myself anxious about how well-done they were, etc.

I also tried, perhaps misguidedly, to bake sliced potatoes with the hens. The potatoes did NOT cook through!! Though they were sliced AND in the oven the same hour-and-a-half! WTF.

What worked perfectly was the seasoning, so I’ll share that.

What you need

Fresh thyme
Fresh rosemary
Fresh marjoram (if you can find it; if not, just get the dried leaves, not the powder)
Small head of fresh garlic (although, if you skip the potatoes, you don’t need more than 12 cloves)
Crushed red pepper flakes
Fresh pepper and coarse sea salt
half a lemon

What to do

I stuff the bird with a twig of rosemary and a twig (maybe 3-4 little branches) of thyme and four cloves of garlic and a 1/8 of fresh lemon
Adding 3 tablespoons of garlic, I mixed up 1 tbsp chopped thyme, 1 tbsp chopped rosemary, and 1 tsp of marjoram leaves
Added a few pinches of garlic powder
Added the red pepper, salt and regular fresh pepper
Mixed it all up with the olive oil and rubbed it all over the bird (and let some drip inside)
I put some extra sprigs of thyme and rosemary with a sprinkle or two of marjoram and the rest of the garlic in the pan around the bird
drizzled lemon juice over the rest of the bird

Stick it in the oven at 375 for 1.5 hours – basting and turning every 30 minutes. (Remember, it needs to reach 180-degrees F)
I covered these (based on a “how to” instruction guide) with tin foil for 15 minutes just to let them keep cooking a little. Makes them juicy.

Good luck and let me know how this recipe works for you.

The Low-Down on Organic Food(s) – From the Wash.Post

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Today, I read an interesting article from the Washington Post about the nutritional differences between conventional food and organic.

It is not very helpful in its conclusions as it seems to suggest that everything needs more research or the data is “inconclusive”.

I get that this debate is evolving and young, but it seems to me that everyone conducting studies has an axe to grind or an issue to support and its generating poor data.

On the flip-side: this is a really contentious argument.
I’m not sure there is really a way to win this argument – for a number of reasons.

1. we will end up with a food and resource shortage regardless of the method used to generate food

2. meat, while delicious, is not the most important part of a human diet… but have fun convincing people of that! And raising meat is one of the many reasons we’ll end up with the aforementioned food/resource shortage

3. argiculture, in general, isn’t the most amazing thing for the environment – regardless of the method of farming. Also note this: if I am farming organically, but my neighbor is not – my stuff probably isn’t really “organic” either. It’s one of those things that people don’t realize when they set out to farm for themselves – but seepage, spray-drift (wind blown pesticides), etc… all will screw up your ability to farm organically. ALSO! don’t forget to check the soil if anyone has farmed there before you! Hell, check the soil anyway!

4. No one reporting any of this data is a “free and clear” source. Newspapers, writers, bloggers, everyone is influenced by someone – be it big-pharma, big-agri, or whatever… or their neighborhood preacher – everyone, even innocently, repeats their ingrained biases

So… now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you. What’s next?

Not sure.

Maybe you know?

More Health/Healthy Food Articles – and teaser for a cornish hen recipe!

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I hope everyone on the East Coast enjoyed the glorious weather this weekend. I spent almost all day gardening yesterday. Putting in that sweat equity.

As I was gardening, I mourned the loss of my herb garden. Some of the herbs that I lost to frost a few years ago, I’d grown from seedlings into full-fledged bushes!
I need to start a new one, but with my chipmunk and rabbit problem, I’m just not sure whether it’s worth the effort. My tiny little townhouse backyard does not lend itself to creative gardening techniques.

I wanted to post some of the health articles I saw this weekend.

ALSO!!! I’ll have a cornish hen recipe up here later this week. I’m going to cook cornish hens for the first time!!
I’m busily devising the perfect recipe. Right now it involves fresh herbs (you see now why I was mourning the loss of my rosemary and thyme plants!!!) – like rosemary and thyme.
I plan to stuff the hens with herbs and of course, TONS of garlic, and maybe lemon? Not sure. I’ll let you know what I end up with and whether it is any good.

A Note about Wild Game: Cornish game hens/Cornish Hens/Rock cornish hens – are not game birds. They are basically just chicken, bred small. But it’s important to note that game birds are a great, lean meat option. Check your local markets and organic grocers for humane, keep-and-catch options. If you like chicken, cornish hens are a great option. Lean and mean, these birds can be amazingly succulent not to mention quick-cooking! Here is a Mayo Clinic article on the health of wild game meats.

Health/healthy food links:
Potassium – get your heart-healthy dose
Love your fruit? Turn up the heat. (I’m a BIG fan of compotes… and they make a mean addition to any meal or even crepes!)
High Protein Diets – Bad for you? — Yes! Depending on your age

Looking for an excuse to keep on drinking that cup o’ Joe? (I need no excuse!)
Coffee and Liver Health
Coffee and Memory

Weekend Reading: Butter is Back! — Wait. Was it ever gone?

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I read somewhere recently that “Butter is Back”.

Maybe on the washingtonpost.com or nytimes.com. Not sure.
For those of us in the U.S., and most definitely those below the Mason-Dixon line, I don’t think butter was ever “gone.”

As a long-time lover of butter, I recently was shocked to listen to a Polish news article stating that a recent study found that heating butter (for cooking) broke the fat down chemically – and that this new chemical make-up actually activates cancer cells. Eeew! And given that a day later, I read the “Butter is Back” statement, I was intrigued by this pronouncement and inspired to get the deets on butter.

I spent some time this weekend reading up on different aspects of health and cooking. Given that I’d recently read a great article on higher smoke points and begun playing with canola oil, I was in for a bit of a shock. What I read this weekend is making me return the new, big-bottle of canola oil I just bought.

I embarked on a journey through English-speaking media outlets to try to find the butter-makes-you-get-cancer storyline, so that I could share it with you all. Yeah… no go. I did find lots on the wonders of butter. I guess the “Butter is Back” proclamation is accurate. But I also tangentially began searching for “healthy oil” options. What I did find, was as equally disturbing as the butter-causes-cancer-genes-to-activate declaration. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought that smoke-point and oil breakdown would be related. And I don’t know why, given my perspective and opinion on microwave-food, it didn’t occur to me that heating oils and certain foods might alter the compounds (of said food and oils) enough to make these seemingly “healthy” oils rancid and bad-for-you!

What I learned:
-To cook cleanly, you need minimally processed oils and fats
-Butter and ghee are OK… but only with low-heat cooking (although you can use higher heat with ghee)
-Stay away… and I mean FAR away… from the “vegetable” oils. Just ’cause it says “vegetable” doesn’t mean it’s good for you or a vegetable
-Olive oil is still our friend
-We need to look at unrefined coconut oil (all those paleo-people have been saying this for years and it turns out they might be right)

The bottom-line:
Unprocessed, unrefined, and unpolluted/diluted are all better for you. Go figure.

I guess we’re all coming around to this way of thinking, it’s just taking some time.

I don’t know about you, but there are some miracles of science that I just love. Can we say Cool Ranch Doritos? Oy. Dear gods, give me the strength to Just-Say-No.

Here are some links to the articles I enjoyed most and sites I thought most useful:

Cancer – Cells – and being Healthy
Amusing info on butter – Caveman Doctor
Health Wyze and Rancid Oils
Straightforward Low-down on Butter and Ghee
Mayo Clinic – Healthy Cooking Techniques
Science Daily: Butter leads to lower blood fats than olive oil
Great video on the Mediterranean Diet – Yet another study backs up its efficacy

Site image: Butter Ben Franklin – borrowed from EndlessSimmer.com