Stock Your Pantry

We seem to be in the height of the harvest now and it is a great opportunity for people to grab what they can to enjoy the tastes of summer through the winter. 2014-10-03 11.21.47Can you imagine tasting a summer peach in February?  The ones available in the supermarket are currently in flower in  South America. They will be harvested a bit green to make the 1500+mile journey to us without spoiling. They will be presented in the grocery store a bit hard and you will ripen them on the counter. When you taste it, it will be very pale in flavor compared to the tree ripened, freshly harvested fruit you can pick up in the market.

So what can you do?

You COULD consider eating in season. We used to do that when I was little because fruits and veggies grown overseas and brought in were very expensive. Then shipping prices dropped and here we are, expecting to eat watermelon in January. Consumer demand drives corporate decisions. If we the people who love our food to taste good decide we will not buy unripe produce during the winter three things can happen:

  • The stores will reduce what they bring in.
  • Local farmers probably will pick up the slack as much as the climate permit.
  • We learn that eating in season brings a lot of joy as we welcome a favorite flavor once again for the first time.

Image result for canning equipment canning toolsAnd there is a fourth, but it’s all on you: preserve the food available in season. You can freeze (easy), dehydrate (also easy and you can pick up a dehydrator that will work well for you for as little as $50), canning (a bit of a learning curve and you need a huge canning pot and attention to food safety issues), and freeze drying  (if you have a spare $3500 to purchase one, I want to use it for just 2 kinds of processing, please).

Of course, there is an easy way: shop Can-Do Real Food and stock your pantry.personal pantry

For example, right now we have a lot of dehydrated fruit offered as single types, combinations and fruit leather (roll-ups).  Can you imagine buying some watermelon strips now and holding them in your cupboard until January?  That will be a ripe full-flavored yumminess.

Image result for summer poeach winter peach comparison

The tomatoes began to show up in the market a few weeks ago and last week the farmers who provide surplus to Can-Do Real Food started sharing. I had enough to make salsa, some mild (golly gee, people, I ONLY used bell peppers…..and some mild Hatch chilis that barely stirred my palate, so be BRAVE) and some we loaded with jalpenos and more but Graham says it is “medium”. Heat lovers will have to taste to know if it provides enough pain/pleasure.  So, when you buy, buy TWO and put one in the back of your cupboard and forget about it……until the holiday gatherings. Then pull out the taste of August!tomatoes from BS

The next tomato project is the Loaded Pasta Sauce. Buy 6, get 10% off. Buy 8 and get your choice of a small (9 ounce) jar or a small dehydrated bag of your choice free. Buy 12 and get 15% off (and the freebie that you earn at 8).

Why do I suggest this? Because eating locally grown food supports our neighbors, the farmers who work from beyond sunrise to sundown in all kids of weather.  I want you to enjoy eating local food year-round and if you don’t preserve today’s harvest, take advantage of the fact that I do…with no artificial anything.cropped-mission.jpg

 

Umami What?

Okay, unlike other foodies, I’m a bit slow in some areas. I knew the tongue could detect sweet, salty, bitter and sour but only a few years ago I heard about umami.

MSG is a flavor ingredient that got a reputation for causing headaches, but what was valued was how it enhanced flavors, particularly in soups and stews.

And now, through the magic of dehydrating foods that are found nearby, Can-Do Real Food is offering Umami Dust! Just a tablespoon of the mix added to your soup, stew, pot roast or other slow-cooked dish will perk up the flavor into a new level of appreciation.

The mix has two main elements. Earthy notes are provided by a mix of crimini, portobello and shitake mushrooms. The essence of the ocean is provided by dulce, a form of seaweed, and sea salt.

No MSG.

Enjoy!!!

umami dust

 

 

Who Do You Know?

My mom was a nurse and so made sure we ate healthy meals. Each night we’d all sit down together as soon as the parentals were home from work and we’d have a meat and two veggies. Usually a home baked dessert afterwards. Sometimes it was delicious and sometimes I would have preferred to have a “no thank you” helping (i.e, liver).

As I struck out on my own I usually made a meat (never liver) and veggie, trying to skip desserts. Anyone who knows me personally knows I lost that attempt.

And once the kids were on the scene the effort improved and more veggies entered the picture (but never any liver). Most meals were made from scratch in those days but I had my shortcuts, like boboli or frozen bread dough to make pizzas and Betty Crocker brownie mix for the chocolate fix.

About seven years ago I started learning more about how the food we were eating was considerably different from the same food of my childhood. Concerns about pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified foods were one thing. But then I learned about how fish like tilapia was a farm fish which meant it was raised in man-made ponds that were often pretty polluted. And now, to complicate things more, Congress permitted country of origin information to no longer be on labels. So, really, where DOES that chicken come from?

Around the same time I began to get involved in the farm-to-table movement in West Virginia.  To say I knew nothing is not an understatement. I grew up in the New York metropolitan area, and while New Jersey’s nickname may be the Garden State, I lived in the paved part. But I enjoyed visiting farms and asking questions and I learned.

I learned a lot and I learned only a smidgen of what they know. They, the magic makers who take a tiny little speck of stuff, a seed, and manage to make that turn into tomatoes or squash or spinach. Amazing magic. They know how to do it and it definitely takes a lot of skill.

Right now here in the Willamette Valley some of the farmers are finding some fields are drying out enough from the winter rains to get started, but others will have to wait for more sun….or at least more non-rain days.  And then, later, they will deal with the vagaries of the weather, with heat and sunshine and lack of rain. And then, here in Oregon, the rains will start again, maybe in October, maybe in November, maybe with climate change whenever it does.

Those vagaries can make or break a financial year for our local farmers…and your local farmers too. I don’t care where you are when you read this, you have some small farms nearby. About a hundred years ago there were farms all over. The Garden State, for example, had earned its nickname because it was the vegetable garden for New York City.

So, accept this piece: there are farmers near you, raising food you can eat.

Before I started working with the farmers I met in West Virginia and here in Oregon, they used to be invisible. Either I never went down back roads or the roads I drove were not rural enough. But they were there, all along. Maybe just tucked back off a long driveway, or around the hill on the other sides. They are there.

Why am I belaboring that point? Because it is time, past time, for you to know your farmer.

I’ve been using that phrase for years and it seems more and more I am posting it almost weekly as new disgusting things about our food becomes known. But what does it really mean?

It means that it is once again time for you to understand that what you put in your body does make a difference.  It means your food is even more important than who won March Madness.  It means that it is time you understand the difference in your food can make a difference in your life.

I’m not talking any special diet here. I am talking knowing the source of what YOU chose to eat.

First of all, and maybe this is all you need to appreciate, it will TASTE BETTER!  Why? Well, most of the fruits and veggies at the supermarket come long distances, flown in or by train or by truck.  In order to be transported without spoilage, those fruits and veggies are picked green…not ripe. Almost everyone has eaten tomatoes in the winter and then a fresh tomato off someone’s backyard plant in the summer. THAT amazing explosion in your mouth is the humongous difference in eating something picked green and something vine ripened.  ALL fruits and veggies are that way.

Not only that, but if you were brought up with canned vegetables, try all those that you decided you would avoid as an adult one more time, fixed from locally grown fresh produce. If you’re like me, you will be surprised. Those cans of spinach that Popeye crammed down his throat to get strong never convinced me….until I ate fresh spinach in a salad and then braved up and cooked some. Spinach is no longer on my “hate it” list.

Secondly, and this is a bit concerning to me, we know our infrastructure (bridges and highways) have not been getting the maintenance they should have been getting over the past few decades. If there is a problem, as there was with the blizzard here in Oregon in the Columbia River Gorge blocking I-84 and the railroad, the transportation of goods (including food) may be slowed.  If I can get most of my food from local sources, I can manage quite well. Now the Willamette Valley is an amazing garden and so much grows here that we could get by with only a few things missing from our diet, but not all areas are this fertile. Nevertheless, there is food near you. Find out what it is and learn how to prepare it for your meals.

Third, while the economic indicators show that the recession is over, it just doesn’t feel that healthy yet. One way to have a tremendous impact on your local economy is to spend more of your money IN it. In other words, use local shops and farms and services instead of the large corporate entities as much as possible. I, for one, discovered that printing my labels for my canned products cost more at Staples than at a small locally owned print shop. A lot less at Copy Cabana! So, when I go in weekly during my processing season and pay for printing, I know that money will mostly stay right here in my town.  The food I buy from local farmers helps the local economy the same way.

So how do you build a relationship with a farmer?  One easy way is to identify where and when your local farmers’ markets are.  Many market managers make an effort to plan the hours so consumers can stop during lunch hour or after work on their way home. Here in McMinnville, our planned market hours are expanding to noon to 6pm on Thursdays from mid May to Mid October. There are markets every day of the week within 30 minutes of here! Maybe in your area too.

When you go to your farmers’ market you will see four or five or more fruit and vegetable stands as well as other specialties with meat,  bread, wine, beer, candy, and preserved items (yeah Can-Do Real Food!).  Speak to the person at the booth. Ask about how they produce their food. They will be happy to speak with you!  They are proud of what they do and love it when people show interest.

Some farmers offer a CSA. That stands for Consumer Supported Agriculture. This is an easy way to get more bang for your buck (more food for your dollar), but there is a catch, maybe two. First, you pay ahead, either by the month or the season or the partial season. This permits the farmer to have working capital during the growing season. Second, you will get some produce you may have never eaten before. That can be a hard hurdle to overcome, but ask the farmer for a recipe or use your internet skills to search for one. Make exploring new foods a regular family adventure. (When Graham and I  first got together we did a cuisine of the week for a few months and learned new ethnic recipes. Now our exploration usually is a new veggie our farmers suggest.)

Look, some people (you?) have a close reliance on a hair dresser, a nail person, a massage therapist. We want what makes us feel/look/move healthy to be a regular, reliable part of our routine.  Where is your decision about the source of your food in that list of important people? Where is the consideration of how you CAN influence your health with what you eat?

It’s easier than you think. There are many ways to find local information, but an easy place to start is Local Harvest. Stick in your zip code and hit the search button. You will then see a list of farms and more that are near you. Have fun exploring…..and share your stories!