Thursday, April 30, 2009

In Other Produce News...

B picked these beauties today. 6 1/4 pounds! From plants that we set out at the beginning of August! Unbelievable. We actually have so many that I am considering canning some salsa. I have a bad habit of hording the garden produce, because it is so good fresh, but then we sometimes don't eat it all before it goes off and then it is wasted. I am trying to work through this - not using what we have for fear that we won't have it later. It's an on going process.

As much as I don't like southern California - the traffic, the weather, the sprawl - I am learning to be thankful, and one of my biggest appreciations is for our produce. Our weather actually makes gardening a bit of a challenge, since we don't have typical seasons it is sometimes difficult to know when to plant. However, we can garden year-round which makes not growing some of our own food even more untenable. 

B and I planted my mom's garden two weekends ago. (We are living vicariously through her garden until our housing situation gets resolved; more on that when I have something concrete to report.) Almost everything has sprouted at this point, which is always exciting for me. I'll post pictures shortly. 

Our last couple CSA baskets have included first of the season strawberries and they are fabulous. Deep even red, little to no center pocket, and outstanding flavor. I enjoyed some this afternoon with a half cup of plain yogurt, a teaspoon of local honey, and a tablespoon of flax. Simple and utterly delicious.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chewing My Cud

B's been out of town the last few days so I've just been cooking for myself. This size salad is pretty much what dinner has been the last three nights. That's a 9 cup tupperware. No joke it has taken me three hours every night to eat it. Good thing I can eat at my desk around working. I think I've met my fruit and vegetable quota for the day... just maybe. This one is a Thai "chicken" salad based on a salad at one at my favorite local hippie restaurant. I used soy curls for the "chicken" and my Thai peanut sauce blended with silken tofu for the dressing. Other than that it is just a boat load of veggies and some raisins (sounds weird but totally works).  It is basically an excuse to eat peanut sauce, let's be honest. 

I have pretty much gone for three days with almost no grains of any sort (soup for lunch, smoothie for breakfast, fruit for snacks). It has been cleansing, especially since I would pretty much turn into a loaf of sourdough bread if left to my own devices most of the time. Mmm bread...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Bit of Rambling For Now

I apologize for apparently falling off the face of the Earth (does the Earth have a face to fall off given that it is spherical...?).  I feel like I haven't had very much interesting to blog about of late although I have a few things in the works. Since is just B and me we go through my experiments much more slowly than those with larger families (although I am getting better about cooking for at least a smaller army!) which means it takes me longer to test my concoctions. 

I departed from last week's menu practically before the ink had dried and this week I didn't even make one due to a killer migraine that had me laid out for 3 days. I'll definitely have a menu for you next week.

The Part in Which I Get a Little Preachy
I watched Fast Food Nation the other night (I read the book years ago. The movie is totally different, but they are both excellent). Wow, I know that there are 'real' videos that are far worse, but given that it is a mass media (read: cleaned up) rendition of the cattle industry and it is still that horrifying... just wow. I truly do not understand how anyone can, in good conscious, eat industrialized meat. Even if you could not care less about the animals themselves, you should seriously reconsider for nothing other than the risk to your own health. There is no aspect of a major packing plant that is actually concerned with protecting you from contaminants. Also, for those who argue that we shouldn't be wasting our time on animals when there are people who in need (FYI: those goals are not mutually exclusive, often they are highly compatible) then you should reconsider consuming industrialized meat because the manner in which employees of the meat processing industry are treated is abysmal. Furthermore, it is widely known that large processors take advantage of undocumented workers, people who have little recourse to demand decent working conditions (whether or not you think they should be here in the first place is not the issue. They are people and they deserve to be treated with dignity and have safe working conditions). The fact that they are not here legally is not a licence to treat them worse than the cattle they are hacking up. Anyway, while I am all for the shock value (and truthiness) of movies like Meet Your Meat sometimes less in-your-face media is just what is needed to reach people. I would recommend Fast Food Nation to any one interested in an overview of the issues of industrialized meat in an (relatively) easy to watch format.

Tip of the Day

Speaking of eating less meat... if you get frustrated with buying tiny bags of vital wheat gluten for your seitan adventures I have one potential option. This specific tip only applies to people living in the contiguous 48 states, but I encourage you to search the Internets for something similar where you live. 

Honeyville primarily caters to the wholesale market, but they package many of their products in large but not unreasonable size for the home cook. Or at least I think it's reasonable, you may very well think I'm nuts. They have cans of vital wheat gluten - 3.5 pounds - for $10.99, which is competitive to or cheaper than smaller bags, with much less packaging (earth friendly!) and vastly improved storage potential. Even better - Honeyville has flat rate shipping, which I notice they recently lowered, at $4.49 for your entire order, no matter how large. 

Also, among the myriad of products they offer are a variety of freeze dried fruits (and veggies). If you or you kids like to snack on those tiny, over priced containers of freeze dried treats available at the grocery store you are going to love these; buying a large container and portioning it out yourself is sooo much less expensive. Aside: when one of B's good friends was deployed to Iraq last year we actually sent a case of the freeze dried fruit combo over and it was apparently a huge hit. If you have a loved one deployed this is a lovely way to provide them a healthy, non-perishable snack that will also probably help fill a void in their limited diet. 

Honeyville's prices are not the best for everything (they pretty much bite the dust on the dried bean front) and a lot of their products are available only in enormous sizes, but they do have competitive prices on some interesting stuff, so check them out. 

Alright, I'm done rambling for now. I'll be back soon with a new recipe, promise!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gardening: The Bolt

Isn't this just lovely? 

Gardening is full of surprises. This flower is what you get if you let arugula go nuts, or bolt. Dr. Punger at Permission to Mother asked me for more information on bolting plants the last time I did a garden update and I thought other people might be interested as well. 

I looked in all my general gardening information books and was surprised to see only two mentions of bolting and no really good explanation. Basically, bolting is gardener lingo for explaining that certain plants are going to flower and seed. This term is reserved for those plants which we grow primarily for the leaves and not the fruit or seeds. So tomatoes don't bolt, they "flower" and "set fruit" - happy, complementary terms. Lettuces, dark leafy greens, and herbs bolt - a harsh, bitter term. For these plants we endeavor to put off their going to seed as long as possible for our benefit.  

I seeded several square feet with mixed lettuce seed (meant to be eaten young) but I got one solitary plant out of it (damn Japanese beetle grubs). It actually took quite some time to bolt, and here it is, just prior to actually flowering. Most greens get pretty bitter once they start to bolt, becoming much less appetizing. 

Cilantro is a notorious bolter. 

There are a number of factors that cause a plant to bolt, but they all come down to stress. Most leafy greens are cool-weather plants and bolt when it gets too warm for their liking. You can get around this to a point in a couple of ways. Look for bolt-resistant varieties (some of these are hybrids, which you may want to keep in mind if you avoid them as I do), keep the plants well watered (but don't drown them!), and try planting in a shady area or on the north side of a building if you want to grow them during warmer months. If you have the space I imagine you could also grow them inside, like in a basement, with grow lights if you really want mid-summer homegrown lettuce in a hot climate. Some greens do not transplant well and the shock of transplanting can also cause them to bolt. This is true of cilantro, which is easy enough to start from seed. If you really want a continuous supply of cilantro you may want to consider succession planting, or starting a new set of seeds every two or three weeks, so that you always have fresh cilantro. 

Remember that mysterious giant plant with yellow flowers? Well I think I determined it was kale, although not a kale I recognize. I ripped it out in a fit last week and look at the size of the thing. I am 5'3 and it was bigger than me (and heavy!). Amazing.

One more picture of the arugula. It is just so pretty.

Weekly Menu and Tip of the Day

Here's this week's menu. For some reason I struggled a bit to come up with a full menu this week. 
Click picture to enlarge.

Tip of the Day

If you have a hard time "eyeballing" portion sizes for cereal or other dry goods this is a simple solution. I bought a whole bunch of measuring cup sets at the dollar store (for that's right - you guessed it - $1 each) and keep a cup in each container of cereal. The cheerio-type cereals get the 1 cup size and the grape-nuts and homemade granola (shown here) get 1/2 cup scoops. I imagine this would also be useful if you have children who like to "do it myself" as BooBoo says. Hypothetically this would help them avoid dumping the entire contents into their bowl and all surrounding surfaces. Since I purchase most of our legumes and many of our grains in bulk sizes I keep a dedicated cup in each storage container so that it is easy to scoop it into the smaller quart containers that I keep in the kitchen. I also keep a 1/3 cup scoop with the laundry for portioning out borax and washing soda. Really, I think you will find these useful all over the house. Get thee to a dollar store!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bugging Me

I am currently reading Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life by Brendan Brazier. So far so good, no truly outrageous claims, what he is saying is largely making sense. If you are interested in sports nutrition or a whole foods diet that excludes major food allergens (corn, wheat/gluten, dairy, soy, active yeast, and peanuts) or just want information on getting more whole and raw foods into your diet you should check this book out.

However, I am reading the section on food sensitivities and he discusses 'active yeast', as in the stuff you use to make bread rise (as distinguished from nutritional yeast, which is inactive). He says that "it is not destroyed by the heat of baking; it enters our body when we eat the bread and survives by feeding on our body's sugars" (Brazier, 69). My problem with is claim is this: when you proof yeast for baking (not necessary if you are using instant yeast, but that is a different blog topic) you must use water or liquid under 120*F, preferably more in the 100 - 110* range, or the yeast will die and proofing will not happen. We can then infer that active yeast has a difficult time surviving temperatures in excess of 120*F. As a point of comparison, the USDA's minimum safe temperature guidelines for cooking meat (a perhaps more risky food to eat for a variety of reasons) tops out at 165*, a temperature at which the USDA considers potential food borne pathogens to be neutralized. Now, when I bake yeast bread I generally cook it to an internal temperature of 185 - 190*F as measured on an instant read thermometer, well above all previously discussed temperatures at which things die. Consequently, I am hard pressed to understand how he arrived at the conclusion that yeast survive the bread making process. In fact bread making is all about controlling the life-cycle of yeast, allowing it to live and multiple (rise the dough) until it reaches whatever stage we desire, at which point we kill it (by baking or otherwise cooking). Therefore, while I can buy that some people may be sensitive to yeast or yeast byproducts or whatever medium in which the yeast has been used, I find the claim that people are sensitive to yeast because it has survived cooking to continue living on in our digestive tract highly implausible.

That's all for now. I'll have the weekly menu and and an informational post on bolting plants for you tonight.

Have a happy Monday!