Posts tagged ‘kale’

April 3, 2018

Spring is for Renewal – Even in the Kitchen!

Spring is for renewal – even in the kitchen! The winter season is hanging on here and there, but the spring growing season will soon arrive with wild contributions of poke salat, dandelion greens, and lamb’s quarters.
Of course you’re not required to eat from your yard. Farmers markets, food co-ops and select grocery stores will fill vegetable bins with leaf lettuce, spinach, chard and kale. Fresh vegetables deserve a fresh presentation now and then and spring feels like the proper time for renewed inventiveness in the kitchen.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to pick leaf lettuce from the garden my grandmother planted at our farm. It was so tender and flavorful, nothing like an iceberg lettuce wedge which I only really appreciate when drenched in bleu cheese dressing topped with bacon pieces. For years, it was the only lettuce I knew. (How lucky was I?)

The vegetables we grew were what we ate. My mom wasn’t going to drive into town to buy different vegetables from the store when we had perfectly good ones peeking through the dirt across the driveway. Of course, we didn’t want to eat the same thing every day, so necessity became the mother of invention. New combinations or cooking methods developed on the fly.

A few years ago when I first purchased a share in an organic farm, I noticed that a similar thing happened in my kitchen. Rather than plan meals and make a shopping list, I was suddenly planning dishes based on the surprise ingredients I received each Friday when I picked up my share from the farm. Not knowing in advance what I would get made the experience feel like a cooking adventure. It renewed my sense of creativity in the kitchen.

Now, when the weather warms, I can’t help but feel an excited anticipation for the arrival of fresh tender greens, small green onions, beets, peas, asparagus, and broccoli. I love the bright colors! I love the flavors! And I love having a chance to think of new combinations!

I was thinking about giving you some recipes next, but that might keep you from the fun of creating your own. I would never want to rob you of fun! Instead, here are the top 8 ingredients I like to have available to pair with fresh veggies:

While they’re great for soooo many things, it’s not always practical to keep an avocado in the kitchen. I can’t tell you how many I’ve thrown away because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the changing level of ripeness.

Now I keep Wholly Guacamole avocado minis on hand. I can use them in anything requiring mashed avocado without worrying whether they’ve gone bad.

Goat Cheese
The light creaminess of goat cheese won’t overpower even delicate garden flavors.

Boiled Eggs
Keeping a few boiled eggs in the refrigerator comes in handy for salads and casseroles as well as pasta dishes.

Fresh Ginger
Grated fresh ginger is delicious with beets or green beans and can give salad dressing a kick.

Any fresh herb could make this list on a given day, but today I like mint. Tomorrow, who knows, I may like cilantro.

Mirin or Rice Vinegar
Mirin is a rice wine with a light sweet flavor. Both mirin and rice vinegar add light acidity to a dish or dressing.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
I buy hulled pumpkin seeds and toast them in the oven with a little olive oil spray and salt. They bring a satisfying crunch and earthy flavor to salads. They’re great by the handful too.

I like the texture of quinoa. It works great as a base for a Buddha bowl or a salad and it has a higher protein-to-carb ratio than rice.

With these ingredients, or your own favorites, you’ll be well equipped for a variety of spring culinary creations. Inspiration for combinations can come from anywhere — accidentally tasting two things together on your plate, a dish you’re served in a restaurant, something you remember from childhood, a recipe you want to vary, a cooking show, a painting — literally anything!

This is the kind of post that makes my sister crazy! She would be much happier with an actual recipe. I want her to learn to play with flavors. Mostly, I want her to have the pleasure of discovering something new, delicious, and totally unexpected that she created. I want that experience for all of us! It feels so great on so many levels!
I feel so grateful that spring offers the bounty for such opportunities over and over and over again! It truly is a time of renewal.

April 4, 2017

Spring is a Great Time to Locate Sources of Fresh, Local Food

farmers marketEarly in the growing season is a great time to locate the best sources of affordable fresh, local food. Imagine a salad of buttery lettuce, scallions, shaved carrots, spicy micro-greens, and vine ripened tomatoes topped with a grate or two of artisan cheese or one made of crispy cucumber slices and fresh dill. It’s hard to beat the full flavor of fresh produce.

It can also be healing to get your hands dirty. There’s something about working with peaty smelling soil that makes you feel more connected to the earth and its natural ebb and flow of life. The green of a garden makes the space calm and inviting — even if that garden is inside.

If you’re lucky enough to live in the country, your own garden gives you the best of both worlds — fresh produce and a place to work the ground, get some sun, and breath in the smell of earth, grass, and possibly not-as-pleasant compost. When you have the land available, a full-fledged garden may be the best source of fresh food during the growing season. 

I grew up helping my grandmother in the garden. Hers was located on our farm about 10 miles from her home. In the spring, my dad would till up the soil and from that point, it was my grandmother’s domain. Long before anyone talked about the dangers of skin damage from the sun, she wore long sleeved shirts and a broad-brimmed hat while she dug, planted, weeded, and harvested lettuce, onions, cabbage, zucchini, summer squash, okra, peas, green beans, potatoes, corn, and tomatoes. 

Down the road, my great aunts shared a garden. They spent many afternoons sitting in chairs in the lawn shelling peas, snapping beans, or shucking corn together while they swapped stories. When the grandkids were around, we ran free in the yard or the fields. There was a sense of community created by these shared tasks that lessened the drudgery and made them as much enjoyable social activity as everyday task accomplishment. To those of us who grew up in this environment, it’s no surprise that designed communities that encourage similar shared gardens are springing up in cities like Asheville, NC.
If you live where outdoor space is more limited, raised beds or containers provide a suitable environment for tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, kale, cucumbers and other favorites. Even a window sill can host pots of herbs throughout the year. 

Growing your own herbs and vegetables provides an opportunity for mindful interaction with nature and reduces the cost of fresh food, but it also adds to your task list. A garden must be tended to get the best results. Regular watering, weeding, and harvesting all take time. If you’re long on fertile land, but short on time, you may want to explore additional sources of fresh food.

Luckily, the farm-to-table movement has increased the number of options for procuring fresh produce, grass fed beef, and free range chicken. Shares of organic farms can be purchased through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. Each share entitles you to a weekly pickup of food from the farm. The contents and amount of food vary depending on your location and the specific farming organization. Another version of this arrangement offers memberships that entitle you to pick up a weekly food basket.
Community garden plots are collectively farmed by a group of people. They may sell food or allow you to trade labor for a certain amount of food. Trading labor for food can make them a budget friendly option. Don’t assume these are only located in affluent neighborhoods. There may be one near you no matter what your economic or social status. My city has a community garden located in a low income, gang saturated neighborhood next to a middle school. It is used as a learning tool for students.

Down the street, a neighbor turned an empty lot into a neighborhood garden. He rented small plots to his neighbors for a nominal fee on a first come, first served basis. On a Saturday morning, it’s not unusual to see neighbors visiting while they work in the garden. Sometimes cities or counties have similar gardens located on the outskirts of town.

Other options for fresh, local food include the traditional Farmers Markets that abound in cities. There may be one within walking distance in your neighborhood. Many vendors can swipe your debit card, so take reusable bags, but don’t worry too much about getting cash on the way.
market 2

In more rural areas, farmers sell fresh fruits and vegetables from the back of pickup trucks. If peaches grow in your state be sure to stop the next time you see a farmer with tubs full for sale. There’s nothing like the perfect fresh peach!

While all these options are worth exploring, you may not need to change your routine at all. Some urban farmers sell their food in grocery stores. Ask a store manager whether this is true in your local store. Natural Grocers has a stock of locally grown produce in my city. Even Walmart has made an effort to increase its selection of locally grown items.

I’m looking forward to digging in the dirt this weekend, but most of all, I’m looking forward to the harvest and all that yummy food!