Tag Archives: CSA

Sugar, ah, honey honey

Moments of my life are an incredibly odd, barely-anyone-is-in-the-audience musical. I frequently have a song in my head related to what I’m thinking about. Sometimes it’s my own snazzy made-up tune, other times it surprises me from the basement of my brain. Harry “benefits” from these songs quite regularly. He’d thinks it’d be funny to highlight my antics on a YouTube channel. Today’s post has me singing The Archies, “Sugar, Sugar.” Feel free to join me in your own at-home musical now or thank me for the earworm later.

I’ve realized that if you scroll through my blog recipes, it’s a little deceiving. I am quick to post favorite sweet recipes, the treats that punctuate our life, and less apt to share what is sustaining us between those moments. I’m basically showing you our exclamation points while leaving out the text. And those exclamation posts are rolling in sugar.

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Random soup I actually took a picture of simply because it was beautiful. This is an example of my CSA stone soup approach – purple potatoes in the base, some cooked quinoa I had in the fridge was tossed in, plus roasted romanesco and cauliflower thrown on top because why not.

There are various reasons for this pattern here. I typically follow recipes for desserts and they last long enough that I can sneak a picture or two without much fuss. In contrast, I’m a very practical cook. During peak produce seasons our meals are made from whatever the farm boxes and garden have provided. I throw a bunch of vegetables together in a pan and roast them, make a curry, piece together a soup, make a vegetable-rich pasta dish, or lay out various picnic-style nibbles, like cheese, eggs, bread, salad and fruit. Some of these meals feel worthy of sharing here, but I rarely think about photographing what I’ve cooked prior to us consuming it, let alone writing down the steps for how I made something. So, it doesn’t happen and I forget what I did a few months later, making up another soup instead.

I’m here to set the record straight. With a treasured soup recipe and an itty-bitty commentary on sugar.

In general, I like our approach to sugar. I don’t demonize it. I view it a lot like I view alcohol. We remain mindful that it can become addictive, over-consumed and lead to significant problems, but as an occasional treat it’s fine (for us). Basically, the only time I embrace sugar as a main ingredient is in desserts. I bake about once a week with whole fats and usually some percentage of whole grain flours. These desserts are rich and satisfying, so we rarely end up eating five cookies or three muffins in one sitting. Rarely.

Unfortunately, it takes dedicated label reading to ensure that sugar remains solely in desserts.

If you run into me at a grocery store and see me cursing at yogurt or a loaf of bread under my breath, it’s because I’ve just read the label. I am concerned that sugar has invaded the ingredient list of almost everything one finds on a shelf in grocery stores. It’s being used liberally in places few would expect it, turning savory, would-be-healthy foods into candy. Pasta sauces, salad dressings, crackers and dried fruit are being pumped with sweeteners. Now I’m occasionally even re-reading ingredient lists of things I buy regularly to confirm they haven’t changed. I’ve noticed that as popular brands get bought off by bigger companies, sugar gets added or increased.

Our everyday food routine is pretty simple and mostly sugar free. We drink water and things steeped in water. We rarely buy juice and almost never purchase soda. Our regular breakfast rotation includes oatmeal and eggs. One weekend morning we eat buttermilk pancakes that are sweetened with maple syrup (there’s no sugar in my batter, unlike boxed mixes). I make a maple syrup and brown sugar sweetened granola somewhat regularly. Weekday lunches for the boys include simple vegetarian sandwiches, a hard-boiled egg for Charlie, some cheeses, sliced fruit and veggies. Harry and I usually eat leftovers from a big dish of whatever I make Sundays (chili, soup, etc…), a salad or a sandwich. Our dinners are typically quite basic, too. Rice and roasted veggies, soft tacos, pastas, salads, soups and occasionally meat or fish with vegetable sides. Last night the boys ate quesadillas and frozen peas heated in butter while Harry and I finished off leftovers. This isn’t unusual. It’s the simplicity that helps us maintain the pattern.

This particular soup has nourished us for many winters. Years ago a relative handed me a newspaper clipping with the recipe and I risked it, despite hesitations with the lentils. It was my first exposure to red lentils and I wasn’t yet familiar enough with Melissa Clark to know that I could trust her taste. I immediately loved them ten times more than other lentils, so I’ve been making this soup multiple times a year for six years. I’ve tweaked it a bit along the way to suit our desires: thickening it up a bit, adding more carrots. We like it this way, but I also appreciate that it’s a very forgiving soup. Fewer lentils, more carrots, more lentils, fewer carrots. It can all work out. Just add broth or water if it’s too thick for your taste. The flavors will be nice either way. It’s a hearty, nourishing soup with enough lemon to remind you that spring will come.

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This is an “Oh! I should take a quick picture and blog this” shot. It’s really delicious. You’ll just have to trust me more than the picture.

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

Slightly adapted from Melissa Clark’s NYT recipe         Yields 6-8 servings

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 white or yellow onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • A pinch or two of cayenne, ground chili powder or paprika, more to taste
  • 1 quart (4 cups) chicken or vegetable broth (plus more broth, or water, if too thick)
  • 2 cups red lentils (rinsed and picked through)
  • 3-4 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon, more to taste
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped, to garnish (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic, sauteing until softened and golden, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and spices. To prevent burning, stir constantly for a couple minutes until the spices are fragrant. Add the broth, lentils and carrot and bring to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook about 20-30 minutes, stirring here and there, until the lentils are soft.

Puree at least half of the soup using an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor. (Be extra careful with hot soup and blenders.) Taste for salt and texture, adding salt, pepper, broth, water and/or further blending as desired. Stir in the lemon juice. Top with cilantro or parsley and maybe a drizzle of olive oil or dusting of chili powder.

 

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Podcasts and pumpkins

While chopping, whisking flours or sorting laundry, I frequently listen to podcasts. The one requirement: I must be alone. Otherwise I’m forced to pause and rewind twenty times within a five minute window to compensate for the surrounding monkey noises. That gets awkward with beet juice or batter on my hands. Either way, between the shows, siamang calls, and our recent subscription to Rdio, I’m taken care of in the background noise department. Speaking of which, have you heard this song? It came on randomly for my husband, stopping him in his tracks. We keep listening on repeat. Take a break and let it wash over you.

Oddly enough, the music or program of choice keeps coinciding with my task. “Beat It” popped on while I chopped roasted beets. I danced in my apron in the kitchen, waving my red-stained hand like it wore a white glove. While preparing this pumpkin bread, which made my entire house smell like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, the next-in-line show from Molly and Matt’s hilarious Spilled Milk post was, whaddaya know, pumpkin spice! I guess I should stay away from podcasts and songs about knife injuries. Or burning kitchens.

Back to the pumpkin. I never imagined that anyone familiar with Seattle’s amazing coffee offerings would convince me to try a Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL?!!!) at Starbucks, but they did. Plus, they provided consolation that I’m not alone in my dislike of pumpkin pie. Lastly, and most importantly to me at the time, they enjoy pumpkin bread. It would’ve been a teensy bit discouraging to be in the midst of preparing this with intentions to share here while simultaneously wondering if my offering was detested by a majority.

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Our vegetable farmers provided CSA members with THREE (!!!) Winter Luxury pumpkins this year because the unusually sunny, warm summer weather made for fruitful squash. I was thrilled by the abundance. I’ve roasted all and thus far we’ve consumed pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread and pumpkin risotto. Thanksgiving will involve me trying my best to share the caramel pumpkin cheesecake.

Roasting whole pumpkins is amazingly simple. Stab the pumpkin a few times with a knife. (I forgot to do this for 1/3. It turned out ok, but needed longer and I had to poke holes anyway. I may have been lucky.) Bake it for an hour at 300-325℉, or until you can poke through the skin with a fork. Once it’s cool, the skin peels off with tremendous ease, the seeds scoop out in a few swoops, and the flesh can be frozen in containers sized for the job or used within a few days. It comes out so tender and moist that it’s already a puree- no blending and very little mashing required.

Is fresh pumpkin tastier? Many argue that it’s up for debate. I surmise it depends on the squash. Winter Luxury pumpkins receive a lot of fan mail. I’ve seen their overflowing mailboxes. Apparently, butternut squash is also favored for pumpkin breads and pies. I have yet to try, but I’m intrigued. Just don’t bother roasting your average Halloween pumpkin. You’re much better off with canned. (Plus, it’s probably moldy by now.)

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This pumpkin bread is velvety, tender and has bit of a crunch from the crust. I generally prefer sweetened breads to be smooth, so I stray from nuts, raisins, etc… in the batter. Streusel and crunchy toppings are different matter, though. Bring ’em on.

Regardless of your stance on “pumpkin spice”, you have some control here. You can tone things down if you’re not a huge fan. (In this case, I would recommend leaving the cinnamon as is, reducing the nutmeg and eliminating the cloves.) I find it strong but balanced. My boys LOVE it as is, and as trusty as their palates may be, I share that here because they would probably reject it if it were more heavy handed. In fact, I just pulled out a jar to thaw so I can make another loaf because Charlie thanked me THREE times for sending him a cream cheese slathered piece in his lunch yesterday. “It was just delicious, Mom.”

I am not sure how I acquired this recipe. I’ve been making versions of it for years, before I even read food blogs, and all I have is a printed paper. I’m sharing the version that I lean towards most often. I bake it in a loaf pan and as muffins. I add up to a third of whole grain flours by keeping the weight the same, I change the ratio of oils by keeping the volume stable. All of these experiments have worked. So, if whoever led me to this recipe is out there and reading this, Thank You! It’s survived a lot of recipe culling. It’s the slice of pumpkin I want at the table.

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Pumpkin Bread

From someone who may or may not identify themselves, who adapted it from Tartine. Makes one 9×5 inch loaf, two 8×3 inch loaves, or 12 muffins.

  • 225 g (1 2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 255 g (1 cup + 2 tablespoons) pumpkin puree (I’ve used as much as 300g without problems. It just needed to bake a little longer.)
  • 200 g (1 cup) coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil (I typically use about 1/2 cup of each. You can use 1 cup of just one oil. I prefer the combo.)
  • 270 g (1 1/3 cup) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons demerara or turbinado sugar (though granulated is ok)

Preheat oven to 325℉ / 160℃ with a rack in the middle. Butter pans or line them with muffin cups or parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the oils, granulated sugar, pumpkin puree, and salt until they are completely combined. Add each egg individually, whisking until it’s fully incorporated prior adding the next. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add the dry mixture to the wet, stirring with a gentle hand until just combined. To help it mix evenly, scrape down the sides occasionally.

Place the batter in your pan(s) of choice. Smooth the surface by rapping the pan on the counter, as needed. Sprinkle the two tablespoons of sugar evenly over the batter. Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, the 8X3 loaf pans for 44-48 minutes, or the 9×5 loaf pan for 60-65 minutes. (Always check them with a tester to ensure they’re cooked. If there’s still wet batter on the tester, throw the pan back in the oven for a few more minutes.)

Let cool in the pan for 10-minutes, then unmold and cool completely on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Want to gild the lily? Take a note from Renee Erickson’s zucchini bread recipe and fry the slices in some butter first, serving them up with a dollop of creme fraiche. The bread is also quite nice topped with cream cheese. I bet a lightly sweetened sour cream would be delicious, too. Why not ice cream? Or whipped cream? Just like pie, but better.

 

 

A case in point

I would put money on Brussels sprouts being the most hated vegetable among my generation. Too many of us were served them steamed to oblivion without an ounce of fat, grain of salt, or drop of acid to help them along. Because of that long history of disappointment, this is a great vegetable to experience after the transforming powers of roasting. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. If bacon is a gateway food for you, start there. There’s a reason it’s a classic pairing. I enjoy them roasted with balsamic, too. And, of course, let’s not forget about them with aged gouda and sriracha.

I’ve written in detail about Brussels sprouts before and this probably won’t be the last time, either. Having an arsenal of ten to twenty great brussel sprout recipes is not unreasonable, right? Maybe this blog should be called Brussels Sprouts and Baking. Anyways, I like them raw, shaved into salads, but I adore them caramelized from roasting so much that I would’ve eaten the entire pan last night if Harry didn’t object. Just don’t give them to me mushy and steamed.

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Our last CSA pick-up was a double. Two weeks of vegetables on our counter!

I didn’t set out to share this recipe here, but once I tasted them and groaned with delight, I snapped a few shots knowing what I needed to do. The one of the stalk was taken for my Instagram friends. I’m weirder and sillier there. (More myself- I’ll get there here, too. Baby steps.) I happen to post shots of vegetables in front of my face somewhat regularly, so this was sent out prior to knowing I’d share the recipe. Now, you too, can see what Brussel sprouts look like before they’re detached! (They have big leaves that stick out all around, too.)

This preparation presents the sprouts a bit brighter, and certainly a tad brinier. It would make an excellent Thanksgiving side, but also can stand alone nicely as a meal by itself. Throw an egg on it, poached or fried, and let that runny yolk add an extra saucy element. (The browned butter mixture can certainly be left off of kids’ portions. My boys aren’t huge fans of capers and although they ate a few bites, I think they would’ve eaten more without the sauce.)

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The recipe comes from the queen of roasting and braising, Molly Stevens. Have you seen her James Beard award-winning books, All About Roasting and All About Braising? I don’t own them, but I check both out at least three to four times a year from the library. When I recommend savory cookbooks to new cooks, these top the list. She is an excellent teacher and clearly shares the rationale behind the techniques, helping novices feel comfortable along the way. Her recipes are tried and true, approachable and delicious. That braised cabbage I can’t get enough of? Hers. Our Thanksgiving roast last year was from her, as well. She’s the first chef I go to when I want to cook a huge, expensive chunk of meat but am scared.

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♬ These are a few of my favorite things! ♫

 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers and Lemony Browned Butter

From Molly Stevens’ All About Roasting. Serves 4 as a side.

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, yellow or brown
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed

Preheat the oven to 425℉ with a rack positioned in the center. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (or just scrub later).

Cut the Brussels sprouts into halves or quarters to make for bite-size pieces. Place them in a large bowl to toss with the olive oil, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Arrange the coated sprouts in a single layer on the baking sheet. (You don’t want them crowded because they’ll steam instead of caramelizing.) If some leaves fall off that’s fine; leave them to roast, as well.

Roast the sprouts for 20-25 minutes, turning once or twice to encourage even cooking. They should be tender throughout and nicely browned.

To make the browned butter, melt the butter over medium heat in a small skillet or saucepan (smaller than 6-inches across so that it doesn’t burn). Once it’s melted, add the mustard seeds, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook until the butter foams and turns golden brown. This will only take about 2-minutes, so watch carefully and swirl the pan frequently to prevent it from burning. Next, add the capers and lemon juice, removing the pan from the heat immediately. They’ll sizzle! Season with salt and pepper to taste and keep warm until the sprouts are out of the oven. (The butter process took about five minutes. It could be started towards the end of the roasting period.)

Serve the sprouts after tossing them together with the browned butter mixture. Add more salt, pepper or lemon juice as desired.

 

 

A savory summer tradition

Some of our summer traditions outshine others. Splashing in Puget Sound or one of Seattle’s many free wading pools. Pretty fabulous. Eating farm-fresh fruit and vegetables. Divine. Several months between jobs. Not so wonderful.

With summer winding down, it appears like our time sans income might also come to an end. Hopefully by school’s beginning. Paperwork isn’t signed yet, which is the only thing at this point that will let me truly rest easy, but all signs look positive. If the title of my next post is UNCLE! you’ll know otherwise.

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While Seattle is traditionally slow to warm up, notorious June gloom and all, July, August and September are my definition of perfect. Blue skies, 60s in the morning, 70s in the afternoon, flowers, water, mountains, light late into the evening. Knowing that orcas are swimming just a mere ferry ride away. You know? Summer!

Our fabulous vegetable farmers invited CSA members to the farm for a potluck last weekend. I was so happy we could go. I wanted to see their fields, meet other CSA members and celebrate that community. I was also excited for the boys to meet our farmers and their little guy, as well as see where our vegetables grow. We soaked in the evening light on their beautiful land, conversed with many interesting people, ate a lot of delicious food, and heard about their farming practices while walking the fields. The boys picked blackberries from the bushes lining the farm’s boundary for at least an hour. That was their favorite part, along with the tractor time.

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I brought a cheesy herb bread and a salad. It was the second time I’ve made this bread for a party. While it’s good by itself, it sings when soaking up dressing or soups, partnered with tapenade or other spreads, or best yet, topped with roasted tomatoes. If the bread is older than a day, it needs the extra moisture. If it’s fresh, the moisture and flavor contrasts are still a very nice bonus. Besides, I never need extra motivation to make roasted tomatoes.

I remember not knowing what to do with my surplus tomatoes my first year of gardening in Colorado. (They actually grow well there, as opposed to Seattle.) I only ate them raw, in salads and on sandwiches. The next year I was introduced to my first roasted tomato recipe. It was a revelation. Until I am bed bound and wearing diapers again, these will remain a tradition in my household.

I have played around with various versions, but I like Heidi Swanson’s recipe best. It is so simple and delicious. Cherry tomatoes impart a sweetness that other tomatoes lack. I will not turn down any version of roasted tomatoes, but these knock my socks off. Plus, after several seasons of difficulty growing tomatoes in Seattle, I only planted cherry tomatoes this year. This year’s first batch were made from my gold nugget, lemon drop and black cherry plants. Candy in a jar. For me.

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Savory Cheese and Chive Bread

Minimally adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Makes one loaf

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2-1 teaspoon salt (depending on saltiness of additions and chosen cheese)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (Dorie recommends white. I used black because it’s what I had.)

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup whole milk, at room temperature

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 generous cup coarsely grated Gruyere, Comte, Emmenthal or cheddar (about 4 oz)

2 ounces of your choice of cheese(s) from above, cut into very small cubes (about 1/2 to 2/3 cup)

1/2 cup minced fresh chives or other herbs (I used 1/4 cup chives, a scant 1/4 cup basil and a little mint). You can also substitute scallions, bacon bits, ham, etc… for some of these additions.

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Preheat the oven to 350℉ with a rack in center. Butter a loaf pan. (Dorie recommends a 8 x 4 1/2 x 2 3/4 inch loaf pan, but I just have a 9 inch pan, so I checked mine at 30-minutes and it was ready.)

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl.

Put the eggs in a medium bowl and whisk until foamy and blended, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and olive oil.

Pour the wet ingredients over the flour mixture, gently mixing until they’re just combined. Stir in the cheeses, herbs and any other additions. Scrape the dough (yes, it’s supposed to be thick) into the prepared loaf pan and gently spread it evenly into the pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes (or up to ten minutes longer if you have an 8-inch pan) until the bread is golden and a knife tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for a few minutes, then run a knife around the edges and invert the loaf. Turn it back right side up to finish cooling on the rack.

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Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

From Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day

Makes about one cup (Not enough.)

1 pint cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup / 60 ml extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon natural cane sugar or maple syrup (I prefer the syrup.)

1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

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Preheat the oven to 350℉ with the rack in the top third.

Halve the cherry tomatoes and place them on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (It’s fine if you don’t line it, but it’ll make easier work of getting them off, as well as cleaning the pan.) Whisk together the olive oil, sweetener and salt. Pour this mixture over the tomatoes and gently toss until well coated.

Arrange the coated tomatoes cut side up and roast 45-60 minutes, until they shrink a bit and start to caramelize around the edges.

To store these beauties, let them cool and then transfer them, along with leftover olive oil on the sheet, into a glass jar. They’ll keep about 1 week if you hit your head and forget about them in the fridge. Otherwise, they’ll probably last a day or two.

I highly recommend doubling this recipe. There are never enough. (Toast, goat cheese, roasted tomatoes. Zucchini ribbons, basil pesto, roasted tomatoes. Pasta, parmesan, basil, roasted tomatoes. Spoon, roasted tomatoes.) I use both oven racks and just rotate them at about the 20-minute mark.

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Making the most of the pits

The amount of beautiful fruit on my counter the day of our CSA delivery is actually a little bit embarrassing. Without fail, I see the piles and wonder how we’ll get through it all by the next week. But we always do. A few pieces of fruit might end up in the freezer for smoothies, but most just end up in our morning oatmeal and eaten raw as snacks all day long. We have an “open bar” policy with the fruit. The boys can always grab a piece, no need to ask.

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Week 4’s delivery. I have way too much fun making pyramids and decorating my cake platter. Simple pleasures, folks.

Having so much stonefruit around the house leads to a lot of pits. Fruitflies, too. But I am only going to make simple syrups from the former. I first discovered how delicious and truly simple these syrups are last spring when I came across this gem of a recipe for rhubarb mojitos. I LOVE mojitos. I basically grow mint for those drinks. Alcoholic or virgin, sign me up!

I am also fond of the idea of less food waste. In fact, I’m a little bit obsessed with this and feel really guilty about throwing food out. So much so that I love having our neighbors’ chickens to feed my wilted, sorry greens, carrot tops and any other produce I’ve let sit too long. These chickens, Betty and Betty, know the boys and me so well that they “bok bok bok” happily when they hear our voices.

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“Sunshine on my stone fruit makes me happy” (John Denver’s alternate version- few people know this. You can thank me for your new bit of knowledge.)

Our first season of the fruit CSA came on the heels of making those rhubarb mojitos. I ordered extra cherries for dehydrating one week, and as I stared at an enormous pile of pits, I decided to try to make a simple syrup from them. It worked! There was enough cherry fruit left on the pits to lend a strong cherry flavor and the pits added an essence of almond that’s really nice. This gave me yet another use for our stonefruit. Plus, it’s nearly free.

Having a sweet drink around the house is a rare treat. We don’t buy soda and rarely buy juice. The boys like the syrups solo, but I usually serve them to myself mixed with water to my preferred level of sweetness. My favorite combo is sparkling water, a little freshly squeezed lime juice, and some mint. I also occasionally enjoy white rum in place of the water. The mojitos were so popular last season that we’re out of rum.

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Mojitos! I mean, mint!

I save our pits in a glass jar in the fridge or freezer, depending on how fast I’m going to get to them. I also throw in any parts of fruit I’ve cut off because it’s bruised, overripe or otherwise damaged. I only save pits from fruit that was sliced to serve, not sucked on. If I was only serving myself, I wouldn’t care, but with two young boys and their boogers, I’m not taking chances. I have mixed up all the fruit pits. Right now I love the mingling of flavors this provides, but soon I’m going to make just a peach and cinnamon syrup and freeze some for winter. Oddly, I really want to drink the flavors of peach pie this winter.

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It may be 60 in Seattle, but it’s still summer.

Stonefruit Simple Syrup

1 cup stonefruit pieces and/or pits* (peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, pluots, nectarcots, cherries, etc…)

2 cups water

3/4 – 1 cup sugar or 1/4 cup honey  (Taste for sweetness. I lean towards less since our fruit is quite sweet, but I’ve seen recipes calling for up to 2 cups of sugar. Those are too sweet for my liking but if you’re used to sodas, you might need to start high and work you way down lower. Similarly, our current honey is quite flavorful and I found 1/4 cup to be plenty. You’re probably best off tasting it as you make it, adding more as desired.)

Optional: a light sprinkling of cinnamon, freshly ground nutmeg, a splash of vanilla or part of a bean & if you’re into it, a whole clove (I find that cloves can be overpowering, so consider letting one simmer in the syrup for just a minute or two and then discarding it). I love cinnamon with the stone fruit. I feel like I’m drinking pie.

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring them to a boil. Reduce to let them simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it cool.

Strain the solids and discard. Simple syrups will last for at least two weeks covered in the fridge. (You can also leave the solids in while the syrup is refrigerated. Just strain prior to serving.) If you prefer, they can be frozen, like ice cubes, and added to summer cocktails. Or warmed up in the winter when you’re missing peaches.

Serve the syrup with extra water (tap or sparkling) to your desired level of sweetness or drink it full strength. I generally prefer about a 1:1 ratio. Add lime juice and a few mint leaves for pizazz. There’s never enough pizazz.

If you’re feeling like an extra special treat, forego the water and add a tablespoon or two of fresh lime juice to an ounce of white rum, two ounces of the simple syrup and some muddled mint leaves. Summertime stonefruit mojito! Cheers!

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*DISCLAIMER

After originally posting this a friend alerted me that many stonefruit pits may contain cyanide in them. The kernels inside the pits house an enzyme that, when released, breaks down into cyanide. This enzyme could be released through mastication of the kernel or smashing it to pieces. Anyways, after reading 20+ google entries on the topic, I can’t quite tell whether or not the enzymes could also be released from the kernels during the boiling process, nor if the boiling process would kill them. There seems to be varying opinions, but this source seemed to be the most thorough, accurate description if you want to read more details.

I also found this stonefruit pit recipe online. These NYC chefs are still alive and have served countless customers without problems. I’m pretty sure they would’ve been shut down if that wasn’t the case. From my reading and my tweets with a few chefs (Nigel Slater responded to me! Made my day!), I am not concerned about making this syrup with pits added for flavor. I haven’t felt sick from it and haven’t noticed anything in my children. Maybe we have cyanide metabolizing superpowers, but I doubt it. If you are concerned, use just the fruit for your syrup. Either way, it does seem clear that we shouldn’t be chewing and swallowing the kernels, so please don’t do that. However tempting it may be.

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My Balance with Growing Food

My kitchen currently smells like the odd combination of garlic, apricots, peaches, and nectarcots (which are so delicious!!!). Our beloved fruit CSA started a few weeks ago. The box comes Wednesdays and we have just a few items left. Three days in and we’ve almost eaten it all. I just might need to order a bigger box. The fruit is going faster this year than it did last year because the boys are now 100% nuts about it all. They even have little fights over who will get the last of the items. We have had cherries on pancakes, cherries with yogurt, cherries with chocolate. It has been divine. Once a week this delivery provides me with an adult version of Christmas morning.

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Nectarcots, apricots, peaches

I’m crazy about both the CSAs we do, so having them as a regular part of our life for six months a year has led me to think differently about the food I grow. I’m moving towards high value, low maintenance produce. I also will make room for things that taste dramatically different fresh from the garden, that aren’t grown by our farmers, or that we eat a lot of. Like garlic.

I harvested my garlic last week. It’s now on our kitchen counter curing. Upon recommendation of my favorite northwest garden blogger, I mostly planted the variety Music. Oh my goodness. I pulled one out and could not believe how enormous it was. I’ve never seen a bigger head of garlic, except for Elephant Head. It is huge and gorgeous and now my kitchen smells like garlicy peaches.

Garlic in ground

Rows of garlic in early June

Do you know how easy garlic is to grow? It’s pretty silly. When someone asked me about mine I almost felt like I was lying saying I grew it. I basically did ten minutes of work for this yield. You just put a clove in the ground in the fall and it sits through the winter to shoot up in spring. Hardneck varieties give you a delicious scape as a bonus (garlic scape & arugula pesto!) that you get to snip off and enjoy a few weeks prior to pulling the head out of the ground. It’s about as easy as it gets.

Garlic scapes

Garlic scapes

Do you have hesitations about growing food? Starting with something like garlic this fall could be a great way to go. I also highly recommend perennial fruit (berries!) and herbs because they provide a lot of value for less work than annuals. All of my perennial herbs have probably paid for themselves ten times over. A few more harvests from our various berry plants and they’ll have paid for themselves, too. (Also, even people who don’t love to cook can thoroughly enjoy a bowlful of berries.) Cheaper produce, like carrots, I enjoy planting here and there for the kids to harvest but mainly am leaving annual veggies to our fabulous CSA farmers. Along with being more economical, we get significantly more variety than we could grow at home.

My ultimate dream is to have a permaculture edible landscape that produces a lot of unusual berries that we gorge on, preserve and freeze for the winter. (Have you heard of jostaberries, gooseberries or salmonberries? Elderberries, BOYSENBERRIES!, huckleberries, and the usual suspects, too, of course.). I also want hardy kiwi, cherries, more varieties of plums, apples, asparagus, rhubarb, and *sigh*, so much more. Maybe even chickens and ducks. If this place were ours, there would be much less grass and many more edible plants. But, our landlord was only willing to let us plant where the weed beds were, and even then, he asked us to remove the raised beds when we leave. So, for now, I’m thankful we’ve got what we’ve got, along with a lot of opportunity to dream big.

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Music! My garlic harvest

Here’s my current favorites resources and/or sources of inspiration when it comes to growing some of my own food:

Northwest Edible Life – blog, facebook

Salt of the Earth Urban Farm – blog, facebook

Paradise Lot – New York Times article, blog,

Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping website is lovely food for thought, and I always add to my dream list when I browse her book.

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The mother of all garlic. She will be next year’s seed. (My phone screen is broken, so forward facing pictures are always foggy.)

Nurtured by Food– Moving Towards Awe

“The words “wow” and “awe” are the same height and width, all w‘s and short vowels. They could dance together. Even when, maybe especially when, we don’t cooperate, this energy–the breath, the glory, the goodness of God–is given.

Gorgeous, amazing things come into our lives when we are paying attention: mangoes, grandnieces, Bach, ponds. This happens more often when we have as little expectation as possible. If you say, “Well, that’s pretty much what I thought I’d see,” you are in trouble. At that point, you have to ask yourself why you are even here. And if I were you, I would pray “Help.” … Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.”

–Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow

If you had told 26-year old me that 36-year old me would say that food is one of her biggest passions, I wouldn’t have believed you. I also wouldn’t have been sure what that even meant. Was I consumed with filling my belly bite by delicious bite? Was I baking and cooking during all my free time? Did I now weigh twice as much as I used to? Those were probably the only questions I would’ve had because I was ignorant about issues surrounding food. I certainly couldn’t have grasped that many bits of information, gathered over a decade’s time, would transform my eating habits. I wouldn’t have had a clue regarding the broad range of emotions paired with this journey: tears of joy hearing about teenagers experiencing their first fresh raspberries, savoring each bite of a new dish with surprisingly flavor combinations, deep sadness and anger reading about the atrocities committed by many pursuing profit through the corporate food system.

Maybe you’re on this journey with me. Maybe you’re watching it from a distance thinking I’m off my rocker. I know those passionate about food can look that way. I’ve made my share of mistakes in how I express myself about it. Since eating is a common way to celebrate relationship and build community, awkward moments easily present themselves. Nobody wants to have just made dinner for someone only to have them tell you that they could never eat “x” food product again, while that very product is ready to be served for dessert.

This is a complicated, touchy subject and new information arises almost daily. No matter how hard one tries to do what’s best for their health, humanity, and the environment, it can feel like it’s not enough. Or that it’s all too much. I frequently feel the tension. I can be really passionate and committed to some things, only to see it slip away a year later. Other times, I am surprised by my own consistent, growing devotion.

This is what I’ve realized: Knowledge shows me the road. Inspiration and courage lead to my first steps. Wonder keeps me walking.

SKEPTICISM and CURIOSITY

During my twenties, conversations with a few classmates and coworkers about their amazing homemade meals for weekday lunches, vegetarianism, or gardening adventures all made me a little quizzical. Sometimes I was jealous, eating my boring sandwich and mealy apple while they ate incredible smelling leftovers. Often I was skeptical of their enthusiasm. I didn’t really want to make any changes nor hear some of the truth they were speaking. I didn’t want to pay more money for organic food. I didn’t really know how to cook. I didn’t know how to garden. It all felt too big.

I was also naive. I wanted to believe that big companies had the best in mind for their customers. I believed that the US government monitoring agencies were capable and protecting us. I didn’t think about real ingredients versus additives. I didn’t think beyond the 1990s nutritional education that low fat is best. (I’m definitely over that.)

Eventually something one of these wise souls said to me years ago would make it into the bigger news rounds. And it would happen again. And eventually it happened enough that I began to realize they really knew something about food safety and health (the first things I cared about) before the general public did. I began to trust them and seek out more information. I was always a bit amazed at their knowledge and humbled by my naiveté.

MOVIES and BOOKS

Harry and I watched Super Size Me together one night upon recommendation of a friend. From that point forward, we were deliberate about avoiding fast food. We weren’t serious consumers prior, but it was a fall-back for us on road trips or long days away. I’m happy to see some big chains making baby step commitments to sustainable practices and more nutritional food, but I still greatly prefer to pack meals from home. I find it’s tastier, healthier and more economical.

After repeated prompting from a close friend, I got up the courage to watch Food, Inc. It was my first introduction to government subsidies, our reliance on petroleum, the overuse of corn, and the oh-so-lovely details surrounding factory farmed meat. It, and what I’ve since learned from champions like Michael Pollan, is why I usually do not eat meat if I don’t know where it came from. (Sometimes I forget and still do. Sometimes I don’t forget and still do.) Anyways, this means I don’t eat meat if I’m dining out unless sources are listed. Thankfully, many restaurants in Seattle are committed to sustainable, local food sources. (This Portlandia clip highlights just how funny it can get in the Pacific Northwest.) I think the limited options have led to increased creativity in the culinary scene. Our chefs make radishes sexy.

GARDENING

FIve years ago, under the amazing tutelage of my master gardener father-in-law, I began growing food. It was miraculous to me. I don’t think I’d planted a seed since preschool and I’d certainly never harvested food I had nurtured. Growing food is magnificent. Smelling the dirt while planting seeds. Watching the first sprouts. Anticipating the first harvest. Witnessing a “mostly dead” (I will always love Billy Crystal’s Princess Bride character), under-watered artichoke plant pop back to life because I decided to not give up on it. These are all mini miracles to me.

Often, there is just as much pleasure in the harvesting as there is in the growing. Sometimes more. I love growing rare varieties or using parts of plants that can’t be found at grocery stores or even farmer’s markets. I find tremendous satisfaction taking a colander outside and coming back with dinner. My personal favorite is harvesting herbs by hanging my body out our kitchen window. I planted them in the perfect spot.

Having a garden with high yields of any particular vegetable forced me to broaden my cooking horizons. I experienced my first zucchini fritters the first year I had a zucchini plant. As I grew to love cooking more, my palate began to change. This marked the beginning of my path to preferring fresh food over processed alternatives.

(Just like our bodies don’t begin to crave exercise and healthy food until they’ve experienced them regularly, my experience is that our palates aren’t tuned in to fresh flavors until they’ve been surrounded by them for awhile. If this is new to you, be patient. Your palate probably needs a tune-up. This is one reason I don’t like the term “food snob” / “coffee snob” / etc…. There is nothing wrong with being more aware of flavors. Would you tell someone who prefers Fat Tire to go back to drinking Keystone?  A chocolate lover to move from Theo to Hershey’s? These refined tastes can happen across all foods and drinks with practice. This type of practice is really, really fun. Unless it’s with whiskey. Which will always taste like band-aids to me. I refuse to practice more.)

ENVIRONMENT

Growing produce has taught me how intricate our food system is and the crucial aspect of biodiversity. We inherited decades of weeds with our rental, but aren’t using herbicides and pesticides. Of course our place would look better with much less work. Don’t get me wrong, it can be tempting. But ultimately I think it’s a selfish choice. Soil is alive and these chemicals can kill the vital microorganisms, as well as beneficial insects. There are systems that work beautifully to keep it healthy without toxic synthetic chemicals present. Places where these chemicals are rampantly used now have resistant bugs, previously unheard of pesticide resistant-weeds, and poor soil quality. Additionally, they get into waterways and hurt the overall ecosystem, including salmon. They are also being linked to bee colony collapse. Bees pollinate a lot of our food, people. That isn’t good. Perfect grass is not more important than food. There are countless other reasons why pesticides and herbicides make me angry. This is the biggest reason I’m passionate about organic food. (Truly. Not my family’s physical health, though I think it matters for that, too.)

There is stunning beauty in the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, even though how out of whack we are scares the daylights out of me. When systems are right and we’re growing food using sustainable practices, everybody wins.  (Or at least has potential to prosper more. The social / racial / class divide here is not lost on me.)

SOCIAL JUSTICE

Books like Barry Estabrooks’ Tomatoland and articles from Pollan highlight the frequency with which farm workers are enslaved and the power of Big Food. Small farmers regularly get sued by Monsanto. (Watch Food, Inc. or Seeds of Freedom.) I do not want my money to support slavery or bullying companies. I try to be very careful about this and doing so often eliminates a lot of food and seed choices. (That being said, I have a lot of learning to do when it comes to understanding when other purchases are ethically problematic. The Bangladesh factory tragedy should open all our eyes a little wider, right?)

I actually find having fewer choices freeing. I feel good about not giving money to companies with questionable practices and fabulous about giving money to those going against the flow. The icing on the cake for me is that the latter companies almost always have better tasting products. More expensive, but I’d rather eat really delicious chocolate treats once a month than semi-tasty ones every week.

TASTE

I had the incredibly weird and highly unrecommended experience of losing most of my senses of smell and taste. The etiology is unknown, but my doctor guessed this was from a particularly bad sinus infection paired with massive sleep deprivation during Miles’ first few months. Also, possibly nasal inhalers I used for allergies years prior. Regardless, for a solid six months I could only taste bitter and super sweet.  (We lived down the street from one of Seattle’s amazing bakeries and I was far too frequent of a chocolate ganache cupcake and cappuccino customer.)

During that time, I was still eating processed food on a regular basis. By “processed” I mean food that I could not replicate at home. If ingredients aren’t real food, I consider it processed. My definition doesn’t eliminate all store bought food. I began to notice that most foods with preservatives had a bitter aftertaste that I didn’t notice before my smell went awry. I began to understand why so many additives were in those foods-not just to cheaply sweeten, but to mask the bitter. It was a huge turn-off to me.

I began purchasing more locally grown food, including participating in orchard and vegetable CSAs last year. I love supporting small family farms for the obvious reasons. But the taste of those fresh foods and unusual varieties have brought me to tears. One of my neighbors, who grew up in Hungary, told me she hadn’t tasted fruit like our CSA fruit since she was a little girl. There is splendor in those bites.

We are missing a lot of amazing flavors when we depend on big farms. The ideal harvesting times are skipped and varieties are chosen to tolerate weeks of transportation in trucks and big boxes. Plus, refrigeration often ruins flavor quickly. Most of us know how delicious homegrown tomatoes are. The same difference in vibrancy goes for all other vegetables! If you haven’t had fresh from the farm broccoli, do yourself a favor. It isn’t bitter. Carrots are bright and sweet. Onions and garlic are juicy. I relish the taste of a freshly picked red to the core strawberry. June! Come soon! After years of Driscoll’s, that’s a jaw dropper.

Maybe desiring good tasting food, and being willing to wait for it, is also a commitment to maintaining a sense of awe with food. Just like we wait for tulips in spring, we wait for peaches in summer. I want the glory. I don’t want it to fall flat.

“If we stay where we are, where we’re stuck, where we’re comfortable and safe, we die there. We become like mushrooms, living in the dark, with poop up to our chins. If you want to know only what you already know, you’re dying. You’re saying: Leave me alone; I don’t mind this little rathole. It’s warm and dry. Really, it’s fine.

When nothing new can get in, that’s death. When oxygen can’t find a way in, you die. But new is scary, and new can be disappointing, and confusing– we had this all figured out, and now we don’t.

New is life.”

–Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow

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A final little note-

I understand that this is a personal journey. I may hope for people to walk the road with me, but if they don’t, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to share a meal. Being invited to someone’s home is a huge gift to me. Please don’t apologize if something isn’t organic or local. Don’t even mention it. I’m not going to tell you these details, either. Maybe we can all try to keep our meals shame-free? (I have my own issues with this.) For some this means not apologizing about nothing being homemade, for others it’s not worrying that the tomato sauce comes from a can. We all have our issues, and the spectrum is actually quite hilarious! There are people out there making their own pots and pans for their 100% homegrown food, too. They probably feel bad that they didn’t build their own house. I’m sure of it. So, invite people over! Share what you have. Cook rice and beans, boil pasta, get take-out if you need to! Community is so much more important.