Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Game Show: Natural or Unnatural?

It's time to play that exciting new game show, "Natural or Unnatural?" where contestants try to guess whether a packaged product from the store is natural or not...even though the label says that it is.

Today's product is Stacy's Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips. As you can see, the packaging indicates that the product is "All Natural." In order for contestants to decide whether this product is truly "All Natural," let's take a look at the ingredients list:

Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Sugar, Sunflower Oil (Ascorbic Acid, Rosemary Citric Acid, Canola Oil), Whole Wheat Flour, Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Sea Salt, Active Yeast, Oat Fiber, Compressed Yeast, Malted Barley Flour, and Inactive Yeast.

Right you are! You get points for pointing out that Stacy's has not included "natural flavors" (which really aren't natural)!

But let's take a closer look at the ingredients. Enriched Flour is our first ingredient, but doesn't the word enriched actually mean that something has been added? Looking further at the ingredients that make up the enriched flour, we see that iron, folic acid, and some B-vitamins have been added. It doesn't sound natural to me if you have to add vitamins.

Moving on to the Sunflower Oil, we see that this oil does not appear to be sunflower oil at all, but rather is canola oil with ascorbic and rosemary citric acid added to it. Hmm. I thought sunflower oil had to be extracted from sunflower seeds--or some part of the sunflower plant--but apparently I am wrong. And how many of you have jars of ascorbic and rosemary citric acid on your spice racks?

The rest of the ingredients look fairly natur--oh, wait! Apparently some stray Oat Fiber has been added! Not oats, but oat fiber. Where can I buy a jar of Oat Fiber? Anyone?

So the time has come to make your decision, dear contestants. What is your final answer: Stacy's Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips--natural or unnatural?

So Many Tomatoes, So Little Time...

Today is "do something with all these veggies that are sitting out on the counters, the freezer, the table, and in baskets" day. It would be nice to eat at the table without having to shove zucchini or other vegetables to the side, and we haven't been able to get into our chest freezer for some time now--and I will definitely need to to move things from the refrigerator's freezer into the chest freezer this evening. I did manage to remove the rotting cucumbers from the table and haul them out to the compost bin. I just can't keep up with the produce right now! Next year, I'll definitely cut down on the number of zucchini plants I put in, and perhaps even reduce the number of cucumber plants. I'm happy with the number of tomato plants. At least for now.

After throwing out the rotten cukes and washing the rest, I decided to start my
preserving endeavors with the tomatoes. I skinned them and made a double batch of tomato sauce--and this time, left the seeds in since I discovered they are actually good for you (high in protein). I did dice up some of the smaller Best Boy, since they seem to be a little drier than the Beefsteak tomatoes. I ended up with 8 1/2 pints of tomato sauce and 2 half-pints of diced tomatoes.

I also did a bit more harvesting, ending up with 2 more zucchini and 6 more cucumbers. More of the heirlooms were pickable this time, and I managed to scavenge 3 Brandywine, 1 Peach Tom, 4 Sungold Select, 1 Orange Banana, and 2 Costoluto Genovese. In addition, I harvested 6 more Best Boy, 7 Beefsteak, and 115 sun sugar tomatoes. I also harvested a beautiful blushing yellow tomato, but I'm not sure what kind it is. It appeared to be growing on a sun sugar plant, but it is very difficult to tell because many of the branches of the plants are tangled due to the severe rain storms we had. It is hard to untangle them or move them enough to follow them to the right plant for fear of breaking the branches. For now, I'm listing it as a "Not Sure" tomato; hopefully I'll get to harvest another one that is easier to track.

Zucchini: 105
Cucumbers: 175
White Onions: 1
Yellow Onions: 2
Sun Sugar Tomatoes: 801
Beefsteak Tomatoes: 46
Best Boy Tomatoes: 41
Cosmonaut Volkov Tomatoes: 1
Sungold Select Tomatoes: 7
Peach Tom: 2
Brandywine Tomatoes: 3
Orange Banana Tomatoes: 1
Costoluto Genovese Tomatoes: 2
Not sure Tomatoes: 1
Herbs: cilantro, mint, dill

Friday, August 28, 2009

Freezer Applesauce

I was planning to make some Hungarian plum dumplings last night, and so to clear off the counter a bit to give me room to work, I decided to turn the farmer's market apples into applesauce. I started with 14 medium-sized apples (I forget what kind--they are crisp and tart and green with a bit of yellow, not Granny Smith) and ended up with 4 pints of applesauce, plus a little left over to eat. I like chunky, skin-on applesauce, so that's what I made. It will be interesting to see what the consistency is like when I thaw some to eat later in the season.

As for the plum dumplings, well, some of them still need a day or two to ripen before I turn them into dumplings. So I washed them all and laid them out. Tomorrow afternoon I'll make dumplings of them.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Heirloom Tomatoes Join the Harvest

I finally have a few heirloom tomatoes ripe that I was able to add to yesterday's harvest: 1 Cosmonaut Volkov, 1 Peach Tom, and 3 Sungold Select. The problem is that the heirloom tomato plants are laden with tomatoes, but something is eating them--seriously eating them. I would suspect hornworms, but I don't see any evidence of them. These are the first heirlooms I could actually harvest that weren't eaten up (even though the bottom of the Cosmonaut shows a little eating damage).

In addition to the heirloom pickings, I also raked in a regular harvest of 153 sun sugar, 3 Beefsteak, and 8 Best Boy tomatoes, 8 zucchini, and 8 cucumbers. The zucchini and cucumbers are essentially done; the vines are withering. I'll be yanking the zucchini plants out this weekend (they are covered in leaf mold) and will probably dig up my onion bulbs. I doubt I'll have much size to them, but they should be edible anyway.

The okra plants continue to grow skyward, but I have yet to see any okra. I know it will come, but I'm anxious to fry up that first batch!

Zucchini: 103
Cucumbers: 169
White Onions: 1
Yellow Onions: 2
Sun Sugar Tomatoes: 686
Beefsteak Tomatoes: 39
Best Boy Tomatoes: 35
Cosmonaut Volkov Tomatoes: 1
Sungold Select Tomatoes: 3
Peach Tom: 1
Herbs: cilantro, mint, dill

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Monster [Tomato] that Ate Manhattan

Well, it didn't really eat Manhattan. But it does look like one tomato started consuming a whole bunch of others, particularly if you look at the bottom side of the tomato. This mutated marvel is a Beefsteak tomato that has gotten totally out of control. I'm pretty certain it will end up as tomato sauce rather than sandwich slices, because I can't quite fathom where to begin slicing on this one. Notice that it has two stems at the top that merge into the vine! Somehow, it began as two tomatoes and then mutated into one. It's a pretty good size, too--I've provided a sun sugar cherry-size tomato to help give you a sense of scale.

All in all yesterday, I collected 5 Beefsteak tomatoes, 8 Best Boys, and 170 sun sugar tomatoes. Add to that the 8 cucumbers I picked today, and I'd say that was a decent harvest. Since the sun sugar tomatoes just keep on producing, I took the freshly harvested ones to church this morning to spread the golden wealth around.

Zucchini: 95
Cucumbers: 161
White Onions: 1
Yellow Onions: 2
Sun Sugar Tomatoes: 533
Beefsteak Tomatoes: 36
Best Boy Tomatoes: 27
Herbs: cilantro, mint, dill

Freezer Tomato Sauce, Newbie Style

I made my first batch of freezer tomato sauce, using the recipe at I tasted the sauce today (I was too tired last night to do the last step before pouring into the jars: throwing the cooked mix in a food processor and blend.

The recipe says it makes 6 to 8 cups of tomato sauce. I ended up with 4 pints total from one batch. I'm not sure how that equates to cups, and I'm too lazy to look it up in my cookbook or Google the answer online. If you're planning on making your own tomato sauce, at least now you have two measurements you can use.

The process is pretty simple, really. The most time consuming part is the peeling and de-seeding of the tomatoes. The peeling part is easy:

  1. Wash the tomatoes you will be using.
  2. Cut out the core and cut a shallow "x" into the bottom of the tomato.
  3. Boil a pan of water. When it comes to a rolling boil, place the tomatoes carefully into the water (you don't want to splash boiling water on yourself).
  4. Wait 30 seconds.
  5. Remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and immediately immerse in ice water. Leave in the water until completely cooled.
  6. The skin should slide easily off the tomato. If a patch here and there sticks, just use a paring knife to remove.
I've been through this process in the past when I've frozen tomatoes for sauces. The hard part is removing the seeds. I tried a variety of ways. I tried cutting the seed sections out when I sliced the tomatoes. I tried pushing them out with my fingers. I tried squeezing the tomato, hoping the seeds would come out. I tried ripping the tomato slices apart to remove the seeds.

As you can probably guess, my inexact methods resulted in a horrible mess on the cutting board and seeds in my tomato sauce. But is that so bad? Surely the seeds add some nutritional value? And what about the globby stuff around the seeds...isn't that important, too? After all, that's what helps give a tomato its juiciness!

This morning I spied a very simple article on how to peel and seed a tomato at eHow that would have saved me a lot of trouble. But looking at the picture of the seeded tomatoes, the tomatoes look kind of empty, like the best parts have been removed. I'm not sure I want to fully remove the seeds if doing so leaves only empty tomato shells.

And by the way, I want you to know: I only used real ingredients. I added neither tomato fiber nor natural flavors.

Superwoman I Am Not

I'm not sure why I thought I could even begin to get all 14 items on my food list done. Here's what I managed by 1:30 a.m.:

1. Make a new batch of bread-and-butter pickles to begin curing.
2. Eat the yellow doll melon (okay, only half--hubby gets the other half) I cracked when I dropped it this morning on my way into the house with it.
3. Make dinner--venison stuffed green peppers with a side of fresh broccoli (although I didn't make the broccoli)
4. Make a batch of whole wheat bread--unfortunately, not with my own freshly ground flour. Still working on the flour mill.
5. Make a batch of freezer tomato sauce.
6. Test the previously made freezer dill pickles to see if they're any good before giving some to others. Meh, I'm not thrilled by these. I'll make hubby try them and see what he thinks.
7. Make homemade applesauce.
8. Make homemade freezer slaw.
9. Make homemade cashew butter (like peanut butter, but from roasted, salted cashews).
10. Make raspberry-almond muffins for tomorrow's breakfast. Skipped the almonds; need those for beet salad with goat cheese for tomorrow's lunch.
11. Chop and shred a LOT of zucchini. I got a FEW chopped. The zucchini remind me of the clown car--you know, the one that is so small that every time you think no more clowns can come out, several more do. Every time I chop a zucchini or shred one, it seems that at least 5 more appear out of nowhere.
12. Make honeyed carrots.
13. Eat leftovers for lunch to make room in the refrigerator.
14. Sautee 4 lbs. of button mushrooms for freezing.

Well, I got about half done. I'll have to work on the rest tomorrow because I am exhausted and am going to bed!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Today's Food Endeavors

I need to be held accountable somehow, so I'm blogging about what I hope to accomplish in the food arena today. I'll provide a progress report at the end of the day with how far I managed to get. These are in no particular order.

1. Make a new batch of bread-and-butter pickles to begin curing.
2. Eat the yellow doll melon (okay, only half--hubby gets the other half) I cracked when I dropped it this morning on my way into the house with it.
3. Make dinner--venison stuffed green peppers with a side of fresh broccoli
4. Make a batch of whole wheat bread--unfortunately, not with my own freshly ground flour. Still working on the flour mill.
5. Make a batch of freezer tomato sauce.
6. Test the previously made freezer dill pickles to see if they're any good before giving some to others.
7. Make homemade applesauce.
8. Make homemade freezer slaw.
9. Make homemade cashew butter (like peanut butter, but from roasted, salted cashews).
10. Make raspberry-almond muffins for tomorrow's breakfast.
11. Chop and shred a LOT of zucchini.
12. Make honeyed carrots.
13. Eat leftovers for lunch to make room in the refrigerator.
***Added later***
14. Sautee 4 lbs. of button mushrooms for freezing.
A baker's dozen [sorry--added #14, so it's no longer a baker's dozen]--seems like a good number. Now, I wonder how far I will get? Care to guess?

Eavesdropping at the Farmer's Market, You Hear the Strangest Things

Well, I wasn't meaning to eavesdrop. It's just that these women were standing next to me while I was waiting to purchase some wholesome antibiotic-free, non-animal-parts-fed pig strips: bacon.

One woman was mentioning how she just put a deposit down on her free-range, antibiotic-free, pastured Christmas turkey (I put my deposit down last week). Her friend says, "Wow, you really are way out there, aren't you?"

"Way out there"? How is buying healthy turkey meat because you don't want to consume unnatural chemicals "way out there"? Have we gotten so brainwashed as a society that we think eating absolute crap is "normal"?

I could only wonder what she would think of my ridiculously abundant, chemical-free garden, my attempts to preserve healthy veggies for winter, and my intent to grind my own flour, make my own vinegar, and reduce my eco-footprint. In fact, I wonder what friends and family really think about all my atavistic attempts to eat healthier--maybe they think I'm "way out there." Heck, even I was beginning to think I was "way out there" until I read a chapter from Michael Bunker's book-in-progress Living Off-Off Grid. I was reassured--somebody out there is going to even greater extents to live with nature instead of against it, or even despite it.

And I think that's where we've gone wrong as a society. We have become so indentured to the creature comforts that technology provides, that we have lost sight of the consequences of our actions--not just the impact on the environment of these marvels of modern science, but also the impact on our health.

If buying healthy food is "way out there," then "way out there" I'll be. Anybody care to join me?

Friday, August 21, 2009

"The best laid schemes o' [Bread] an' [Wom]en, gang aft agley"

See my bright, shiny new toy?

I was ecstatic to see it on my porch today. You see, I have 3 pounds of hard red winter wheat berries from the Farmer's Market that I want to grind into whole wheat--real whole wheat: bran, germ, and endosperm all. I have been waiting three weeks to grind this wheat, and had finally found a manual cast-iron, tinned grain mill on eBay that I felt I could afford. With shipping, it cost just over $48, which I thought a reasonable cost given the fact that it would last me a very long time.

It came in the original box (manufacturer: King; model # 3336-0) in about 5 pieces, which I managed to put together based on the picture on the box. It was quick and simple to assemble, which pleased me immensely--I am not mechanically inclined. Just ask my hubby, who can tell you about the just-shy-of-hysterical (I do not mean hysterical in the sense of humorous, by the way; rather, I mean hysterical in the sense of crying/screaming/cursing illogically while resisting the nearly overpowering urge to crush the remote control with a cement block) fits I throw when I can't make the remote control make the television upstairs do what I want it to do. Which is one reason I got the hand-crank model instead of one of the fancy-schmancy digital models. It's safer for all involved, especially the mill.

Except I can't. make. it. work.

To test it out, I dumped in a couple of handfuls of the wheat berries and began happily grinding. The result was a bit too coarse, so I tightened the bolts on the thingamabob that puts pressure on the gears and began grinding again. About the time I finally got the gears adjusted to the right grind, the gear began slipping. As best as I, with my non-mechanical mind, can tell, the gear sort of fits into the thingamabob that runs through the center. When it isn't fitted right, the crank doesn't turn the gear. But now I can't figure out how to get the bleeping gear to stay fitted to the center whatchamahoogie. Seriously frustrated, I gave up for the evening in the hope that hubby can help me sort out the problem in the morning.

Meanwhile, I did take my curing bread-and-butter pickles out of the refrigerator and put them in jars for the freezer. I managed nine 1/2-pints, with more to be made tomorrow, along with homemade tomato sauce--I just need some fresh celery for the recipe.

If anybody has dealt with this problem before, please help!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Crazy as a Cucumber

I was looking at my cuke vines yesterday and decided they were looking puny. I figured the couple of heavy storms we've had recently had pretty well decided the cucumbers' fate.

And then, I went out to harvest today. I expected a few cucumbers here and there based on the poor shape the vines were in, only to find 65 cucumbers! Everywhere I looked, I found two or three huge cucumbers! Apparently I will be in the pickle-making business for some time to come.

Additionally, I managed to harvest 6 more zucchini, 1 very small yellow onion, 11 Beefsteak tomatoes, and 1 Best Boy. It's time to turn my tomatoes into freezer tomato sauce. I found a recipe that sounds pretty tasty that I'm going to try. Provided that it turns out well, I'll be posting it for you.

Zucchini: 95
Cucumbers: 153
White Onions: 1
Yellow Onions: 2
Sun Sugar Tomatoes: 363
Beefsteak Tomatoes: 31
Best Boy Tomatoes: 19
Herbs: cilantro, mint, dill

They're Purple...No, They're Green...

I was told that these purple beans I bought at the Farmer's Market would turn dark green when I cooked them. I popped them in a skillet with a bit of butter to sautee them. You'll see at left what they looked like when I started, and the pictures are sequenced from beginning until they are on the dinner plate.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"All Zukes Dark and Beautiful / All Produce Great and Small"

The tomatoes keep coming, even as the zucchini and the cucumbers start slowing down. I harvested this evening and found 51 sun sugar tomatoes, 6 Beefsteak tomatoes, and 14 Best Boy tomatoes...oh, and 2 zukes.

What was most fun for me was to see how big some of the Beefsteak tomatoes are getting. To give you a sense of the scale, I've taken a picture of today's largest Beefsteak (and the largest I've harvested so far) alongside one of my sun sugar tomatoes, which is the average size of a cherry tomato. It's times like this when I wish I had a food scale so I could weigh the tomato. I'll have to look for an inexpensive scale.

Zucchini: 89
Cucumbers: 88
White Onions: 1
Yellow Onions: 1
Sun Sugar Tomatoes: 363
Beefsteak Tomatoes: 20
Best Boy Tomatoes: 18
Herbs: cilantro, mint, dill

Can Someone Tell Me What "Natural Flavors" Are?

As I was putting together this evening's meal, I started to reflect on how our eating habits have changed as a society...and NOT for the better.

For dinner, I decided on venison (hunted by friends) meatloaf, and included in the meatloaf fresh eggs, green pepper, oregano, and sweet basil from the Farmer's Market, and a chopped white onion from my garden. Store ingredients include organic 2% milk and Hunt's tomato sauce (more on the tomato sauce in a moment), and Italian seasoned bread crumbs.

As sides, I'm fixing Yukon Gold mashed potatoes (using the aforementioned organic milk, some fresh goat cheese from the Farmer's Market, organic butter, and Sargento shredded cheddar) , and purple beans that are supposed to turn dark green when I cook them, purchased at the FM.

As you can see, very little of tonight's meal is processed, bagged, boxed, or canned. Typically, however, everything would have been purchased from the store, laden with hormones, antibiotics, insecticides, and herbicides.

As I peeled the label off the Hunt's Tomatoes Sauce so I could rinse and recycle the can, I decided to look at the ingredients list: "tomato puree (water, tomato paste), water, less than 2% of: salt, citric acid, spice, tomato fiber, natural flavor." The list looks impressively small, and the food seems somewhat normal.

But then, I began to wonder. How is tomato puree comprised of water and tomato paste? Shouldn't it be pureed tomatoes, skinned and de-seeded? Water was used to make the puree and is also a stand-alone ingredient. I'm almost afraid to ask about the water quality and where the water comes from, so I won't. Salt, normal. Citric acid? Why add this ingredient? Don't tomatoes have acid enough? Spice, ok--although they don't tell us what spices. Tomato fiber...huh? How do you grow tomato fiber? If you are using pureed tomatoes (rather than reconstituted tomato paste), you don't have to add fiber--it's already in the tomato. So, do they have dehydrated tomato fiber powder somewhere that they add to their sauce, sort of like Konsyl or Metamucil?

And what the hell is "natural flavor"? Can anybody tell me that? If you are using real tomatoes and spices and salt, don't those have a flavor already? What flavor is being added? And if you have to add a flavor (I'm pretty sure I don't have a bottle of "tomato flavor" in my cupboard), can it be natural? Please, I'd love some insight on this issue.

Despite the fact that I didn't add any "natural flavor" other than that already in the Hunt's tomato sauce (which I won't be buying anymore since I'll be making my own), I can assure you, this meal was more flavorful than the same meal made from completely store-bought ingredients.

How did society get to the point where consumers regularly buy food that is genetically modified, processed, or heavily produced with the use of chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, and ingredients that appear to be food but aren't? How did we allow this to happen? Why don't we do something to change the system?

I've decided that I've had it with the products of industrialized farming. I'm putting away food from my own garden, supplementing with locally grown, organic or chemical-free foods from the Farmer's Market, and finding local farmers that I can purchase antibiotic- and hormone-free meats from.

Meanwhile, thinking about tonight's meal, although I did pretty well at using healthier, more natural foods, I can do better. I've just found a recipe for freezer tomato sauce, so I'll be turning my over-abundance of tomatoes into sauce and freezing it, along with some tomatoes. I just purchased a hand-crank grain mill on e-bay for $48.16 and have 3 lbs. of FM red winter wheat berries ($3) on hand so I can grind my own flour and make my own bread...which will also mean I can make and store my own bread crumbs. We have a local dairy that makes its own cheese from antibiotic- and hormone-free, grass-fed and -finished cows. All in all, with a little bit of maneuvering and some work, I could have made tonight's dinner from natural foods.

And I won't need to go buy that bottle of "natural tomato flavor."

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Best Melon I Have EVER Tasted

Neither hubby nor I were feeling completely healthy tonight (weather headaches), so we skimped on dinner. We decided we better eat the melon I picked up at Saturday's Farmer's Market, since the farmer had told me that is was "field ripe," which means, he said, that we needed to eat the melon within the next few days.

Oh. What. Heaven.

This Yellow Doll melon was like eating honey in melon form. The melon-y aroma promised sweetness, and that promise was definitely fulfilled! Imagine eating the sweetest, most succulent watermelon you have ever had...and then imagine sweeter. That is what the Yellow Doll tasted like! What you see in the picture is one-half of the melon (shortly after taking the picture, David and I devoured this half, too). It's small and round and has outside markings that are very similar to a watermelon.

I hope the farmer has more of these on Saturday, because I really need to get a few more of these before they are out of season.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What's for Dinner? Beet Salad with Fresh Goat Cheese

I love salads in the summer, but I get tired of the same old lettuce salad, even when I change up the fresh veggie toppings: green/red/orange peppers, red/yellow tomatoes, green onions, carrots.

Thanks to our local Farmer's Market, today I was able to create a beet salad with fresh goat cheese. It was very simple:


Greens (our salad uses red-leaf lettuce)
Cooked, diced beets
Sliced almonds

Drizzle with honey. Then, top with fresh goat cheese (chevre) and add a dressing of your choice--we used raspberry vinaigrette.

Bon appetit!

The Zucchini Just Won't Give Up

Every time I think the zucchini is nearly done, it surprises me with more. Today's harvest brought in 5 more zucchini, with more lurking in the plants for future harvest. Part of me wants to just mow down the plants and forget about them, but the more practical side of me thinks, "what a waste of perfectly good food." So no mowing; I'll just keep harvesting until they give up. I still haven't dealt with the leaf mold, but I've been working so hard on making pickles before the cucumbers I've harvested rot and dehydrating fresh herbs that I haven't had time to do the research.

I harvested 4 more Beefsteaks today, and these are getting much healthier looking than the first batch. I also brought in 84 more sun sugar tomatoes. Those plants are definitely prolific! It won't be long now before the heirloom plants start turning, and I'm looking forward to taste-testing the different varieties.

I didn't check the cucumbers today--I have no room for them in the refrigerator right now. Today I've got some giganticus zucchini to chop and freeze, and until I get that done, I can't get into my chest freezer. How do people keep up with their harvests?

Zucchini: 87
Cucumbers: 88
White Onions: 1
Yellow Onions: 1
Sun Sugar Tomatoes: 312
Beefsteak Tomatoes: 14
Best Boy Tomatoes: 4
Herbs: cilantro, mint, dill

Purple Is the New Green...At the Farmer's Market

Since Saturday is my Farmer's Market shopping day, I dutifully set out to pick up some more meat. I came home with three packages of bulk Italian pork sausage and put a small deposit down on my hormone- and antibiotic-free, free-range, pastured turkey for Thanksgiving. It's kind of neat knowing that someone is actually raising a turkey for me, but also cool to know that it will be the healthiest Thanksgiving turkey I have ever in my life eaten.

I'm trying to put up good meat for the winter. After watching some of the recent food documentaries I've seen, the most recent being Food, Inc., I have trouble walking down the meat aisle at the grocery store. I've seen the conditions under which the animals live who are packaged by familiar labels, such as Tyson and Perdue; I can't stand the thought of contributing to the industrialized food system. So I'm stocking away meat each week...and I still have quite a ways to go if we're going to eat off the farmer's market meats all winter.

One of the things that makes our Farmer's Market fun is the fact that a variety of performers entertain the crowds. I caught a young lady in mid-dance and the balloon-animal guys preparing a treat for a young girl. Throughout the market, a number of musical acts were performing, and part of the market includes arts and crafts. It's quite the cultural endeavor, and it happens every Saturday morning downtown!

Another wonderful aspect of the Farmer's Market, which I've mentioned before, is the fact that you can buy organic and heirloom varieties that aren't available in the grocery store. Last time, I tried the purple cauliflower. This time, I picked up some purplish carrots (Purple Haze variety) and some purple beans which, according to the farmer, will turn a dark green when cooked. I'm looking forward to trying these new varieties to see how the taste compares to the common varieties. I have to say that the purple beans are absolutely beautiful; the Purple Haze carrots are more of a brick red, I think, than purple. I will, of course, let you know how the taste test turns out!

Friday, August 14, 2009

An Abundance of Tomatoes

The zucchini are definitely slowing down, and the plants look like they have a leaf mold growing on them--not surprising, given the mad rains we've had recently. I'll have to read more about the situation before I decide what to do with the zucchini plants. When I harvested today (3 zucchini), I only spied a couple of blossoms here and there, so it looks like zucchini season may be over. Wow, what a run it was!

The cucumbers are still producing heartily, and this evening I harvested 11 more. I'll definitely be making another batch of bread-and-butter pickles tonight. I gave away all but a couple of 1/2 pints that I had previously made, so I'll need to make a couple of batches this time...and I'm going to try a small batch of freezer dill pickles.

The tomatoes are coming on now. I pulled in 8 Beefsteak tomatoes, 4 Best Boys, and 57 sun sugar tomatoes. The first few Beefsteaks I harvested have been eaten in parts, but as they tomatoes begin turning more quickly now, it looks like I'll have plenty of blemish-free tomatoes soon. I had a couple in this batch already.

The okra plants are tall and should be getting okra on them soon, and the pepper plants continue to grow slowly. My fear with the okra plants is that the Japanese Beetles seem to have found them. I have to go out and knock them into a bucket of water. It seems like these bugs will never die! Every time we think we have them eliminated or reduced to a manageable amount, they come back in greater numbers than before. We'll definitely be treating with milky spore this year.

Zucchini: 82
Cucumbers: 88
White Onions: 1
Yellow Onions: 1
Sun Sugar Tomatoes: 228
Beefsteak Tomatoes: 10
Best Boy Tomatoes: 4
Herbs: cilantro, mint, dill

Taste Test: Purple Cauliflower

I promised to let you know how the purple cauliflower was. I prepared this purple prize by steaming it just until done, and then mixing a bit of butter (yes, butter, not margarine--butter is healthier) in with it.

It tasted like...cauliflower! It had a slightly bitter aftertaste, which cauliflower also can have, but the bitterness seemed just a bit stronger than its white cousin's. The cauliflower-ness was a bit milder. All in all, I wasn't displeased; next time, however, I might mix in just a pinch of sugar to offset the slight bitterness.

I would definitely buy purple cauliflower again (although perhaps not frequently), simply because the taste is close enough to pass for cauliflower and the obvious abundance of anthocyanins make this a healthy veggie choice. I also hear, however, that somewhere out there, orange cauliflower exists, which would be high in beta carotene. I hope to see some appear at the farmer's market so I can give that a try!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Slug-Bitten Cucumbers

This evening's harvest was amazing: 10 zucchini (half reasonably sized, half giganticus), a handful of mint, a handful of cilantro, 2 Beefsteak tomatoes (worm riddled in sections; I'm going to try to cut those sections off), 63 sun sugar tomatoes, and 19 cucumbers!

I have a drawer full of cucumbers in the refrigerator that need to be cleaned and pickled, so I will probably work on that tomorrow. I need to finish shredding and chopping the zucchini, and I'll probably take some cukes, zukes, and tomatoes to work tomorrow to share with others.

I find it interesting to compare the cucumbers that have ripened on the ground and the ones that have ripened hanging in the air. After the cucumber plants had grown quite a bit, I trained some of the tendrils to climb some trellises I bought at a discount at JoAnn Fabrics. I worried that the cucumbers would be too heavy for the vines and fall off as they grew, but thankfully I have seen no evidence of that.

I have noticed lately that some of my cucumbers are sporting a lot of scarring, particularly on one side. Tonight, I realized that the cucumbers that are ripening on the ground are the ones with the scarring, which appears on the ground side. My guess is that the scarring is from slugs eating away at the cucumbers. The cucumbers that are hanging from the vine along the trellises and fencing are virtually blemish-free.

The inside is just as tasty, but the outside doesn't look so good, and I'm not sure I should be using the scarred ones for pickles. Instead, I think I'll make an Italian whole-wheat pasta salad and peel the scarred cucumbers and cut them up for that. I can use the sun sugar tomatoes I've harvested as well as some of the green onion I froze.

If you have any ideas for recipes that include skinless cucumbers, please post them! Next year, I'll start training the cucumbers right away to the trellises so all of the cukes are hanging--maybe the slugs will starve.

Zucchini: 79
Cucumbers: 77
White Onions: 1
Yellow Onions: 1
Sun Sugar Tomatoes: 171
Beefsteak Tomatoes: 2 worm-riddled
Herbs: cilantro, mint, dill

Monday, August 10, 2009

Who Needs Pepper Spray When There's Onion Juice?

Sunday night, I set out to chop the sweet walla walla onions I bought at the farmer's market Saturday morning. I had purchased a 5-lb. bag, which was about 7 good-sized onions. I purchased a "comfort" onion chopper from Bed, Bath & Beyond for $7.99 (it was $9.99 regularly and I had a 20%-off coupon), which I planned to use for my onion endeavor. The chopper worked beautifully...but only if you chopped, turned it about 1/4 of the way and chopped some more, turned it 1/4 and chopped again, until you made your way back to the starting point. Otherwise, I ended up with big chunks of onion.

My goal, of course, was to chop a bunch of onion and freeze it so 1) the onions wouldn't spoil before I could use them, and 2) so when I cook with them, all I have to do is take a package out and dump them in the recipe. It was supposed to be easy: clean and skin the onions; cut them into quarters; chop, bag, and freeze them.

I didn't factor in the part where, midway through the chopping, I have to go sit in the living room and do other things for an hour while my eyeballs stop burning and tearing.

After recovering, I dutifully marched myself back into the kitchen and, despite the return of onion tears, began chopping again, determined not to take a recovery break until I was finished. I made it (barely) and ended up with 12 1-cup packages of chopped onion for my trouble.

Before I could get the bags sealed, however, hubby came up the stairs, his eyes burning. Apparently the onion juice had entered the humidity-thick atmosphere of our home and moseyed on downstairs to where David was working. Hubby set about fumigating the place and I lit a candle, finished bagging the onions, and cleaned.

All I can say is . . . wow. Those were some powerful onions. Who needs mace or pepper spray when you could just dash some walla walla onion juice in the eyes?

I've also been wondering what to do with the huge zucchini--you know, the ones that somehow miss getting picked or that mutate overnight into zucchini giganticus. The seeds in the center are far too big to shred or to saute. I settled on removing the seeds and chopping up the rest for use in winter soup or a stir fry. One giganticus = 12 cups of chopped zucchini, so I figure I've got about a gross more cups to chop. And that's assuming I can stay on top of the rest of the incoming zucchini (thank goodness it looks like the plants are finally slowing down!) and keep them from mutating.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Purple Is Not Just for Barney

I promise--I did not Photoshop this picture to get the purple hue you see here. This head of cauliflower is truly purple.

It was the last head of purple cauliflower the farmer had at today's farmer's market in downtown Bloomington. I try to get to the farmer's market every Saturday morning to pick up organic meats, produce, and herbs. I couldn't believe how beautiful this cauliflower was, and decided to try it.

The coloring comes from anthocyanins, phytochemicals responsible for the purplish color in cabbage, leaves, and other vegetation; this cauliflower variety is richer in antioxidants than its white counterpart. The color is a little off-putting, but the farmer assured me that it takes just like "regular" cauliflower. I will cook it up tomorrow and then let you know what I discover.

In addition to the cauliflower, I purchased a 5-lb. bag of sweet walla walla onions, more green and chocolate beauty peppers, some green onions, radicchio, red-leaf lettuce, dill, cilantro, and chicken drumsticks--all chemical-free. I also picked up a 3-lb bag of hard red winter wheat berries. I had no idea what to do with them, but the farmer said I could grind them to make my own wheat (although I do not yet have a flour mill, although I'm looking for a reasonably priced one) or could soak, cook, and eat them like hot cereal. I found a couple of recipes online that use red winter wheat berries, so I will soon give those a try.

My goal with farmer's market food is not only to eat fresh healthier, chemical-free produce now, but I've started freezing the produce so I'll have almost-fresh, healthier, chemical-free produce over the winter. Today I managed to chop and freeze the green onions (about 1 1/2 cups, separated into 1/2-cup packages) and green and chocolate beauty peppers (about 5 cups total, separated into 1/2-cup packages). I also baked two loaves of zucchini bread (which won't make it to the freezer) and am in the process of shredding some more zucchini and also chopping some zucchini for winter soups. The cucumbers I'll throw in the refrigerator for future bread-and-butter pickles and perhaps even freezer dill pickles (I just found a recipe).

Tomorrow I'll tackle chopping the walla walla onions. I'm not sure how powerful they'll be--today's green onions were powerful enough to get my eyes burning and tearing--but I'll manage somehow. Come winter, it will be a delight not to have to chop any onions--just open the Ziploc bag and pour!

Lessons I Learned in the Garden...So Far

I am learning a lot about gardening this year. For instance, I have learned that rabbits can get into and poop in your garden through fairly small fence holes. Not that I'm complaining about the rabbit poo, because it makes fantastic fertilizer. And they really aren't eating the beans any more--I think the plants have gotten to tough for the bunny palate.

I have learned that weeds grow faster than plant, and that I really need to mulch before the weeds take hold.

I have learned not to plant cucumbers near any other plants, because they will spread wildly and choke them out.

I have learned to plant herb seeds directly into the soil instead of trying to start seedlings and transplant them. All of my herb transplants died.

I have learned that hornworms and slugs are really disgusting, especially when you harvest zucchini and smash a slug with your hand in the process. They turn into slimy brown goo, no matter how small.

I have learned that if I go away for vacation, even for just a few days, I will have a hellish harvest when I return. Which is what I am dealing with today. Here are today's harvest figures:

  • 8 zucchini (one was too large to include in the picture);
  • 1 white onion and 1 puny yellow onion (these were testers so I could see how large they are getting);
  • some dill;
  • 17 cucumbers; and
  • 60 sun sugar tomatoes
Next year, I will keep track of harvests in weight instead of number of items, which will give me a different way of calculating my harvest success. Meanwhile, I need to be thinking about what I will plant soon for fall harvest.

Zucchini: 69
Cucumbers: 58
White Onions: 1
Yellow Onions: 1
Sun Sugar Tomatoes: 108

Monday, August 3, 2009

I Don't Ever Want to Eat Again: Review of Food, Inc.

I went to see Food, Inc. last night at the Historic Normal Theater. I suspected the movie would be good based upon what I've heard so far and seen in the trailers and interview clips; I didn't have an inkling how powerful it would be.

I'm disappointed that the movie isn't showing in more theaters. It was only a three-day engagement at this theater, the only theater in the area that has carried the documentary so far. I'm not sure whether it is only showing in select theaters because that's how the movie makers wanted to release it, or because those are the only theaters who are interested. If the former, shame on the movie makers, who should want to get this documentary in front of every consumer in the nation. If the latter, shame on the theaters--this movie would gather quite an audience after a mere showing or two.

I was pleased that, in keeping with the theme of the documentary, the theater served locally grown organic popcorn, donated by The Common Ground Natural Food Store, and Pepsi Throwback, which is made with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup but, unfortunately, only a limited-time product.

I was also heartened to see that a significant portion of the audience was composed of college-age students; the remaining audience members ranged from mid-30s to 70s, with one mother bring along two young boys, approximately 5- and 6-years-old. I could hear them asking her questions throughout the film, but unfortunately, couldn't make out the questions they were asking, nor her whispered responses.

Now, on to the movie: O.M.G.

The overriding theme of this documentary, narrated primarily by Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, and Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma, is that the food industry is deliberately keeping consumers in the dark about where their food comes from and how it is processed. And based upon the information provided in the documentary, I can see why--our food system is definitely FUBAR, and I use the term food very loosely here. As one of the narrators notes, most of the ingredients in our food today is really only "cleverly rearranged corn"; even non-food items such as batteries and diapers are connected to corn. The movie showed a list of ingredients and additives that often appear in our processed foods that are corn-derived. The list disappeared faster than I could write, so visit the article "Corn Aliases: How the King Crop Hides in Everything You Eat" for a list of the most common corn-derived additives and compare to your pantry's canned and boxed goods' ingredient labels.

The scenes depicting industrialized animal farms--which the narrators indicate should truly be called factories rather than farms--are deeply disturbing. A not-dead-but-clearly-ill cow is moved around by a forklift; chicken catchers kick chickens toward the crates; chickens are manhandled on assembly lines like mechanical parts; cows stand knee-deep in their own manure (which, by the way, gets into our food), and chicken carcasses are buried in a compost pile. The animals shown were packed so closely that in many cases, they could barely move except to extend their necks a little bit to reach food or water. According to the film, these animals are fed mixes of animal parts (including feces), corn silage, and chicken litter. The chickens, as one chicken farmer indicates, never even see the light--they are kept completely in the dark. He tells viewers that today's chickens are designed to grow in 49 days (instead of nearly 3 months); this overly quick growth has serious consequences for the chicken, says another chicken farmer, whose bones and organs cannot keep up with the growth, and many of the birds can only take a step or two before collapsing. Is it any wonder that disease is rampant among these animals?

To offset the diseases and to speed animal growth, the animals are fed a regular diet of antibiotics and other antimicrobials. In fact, as the Food, Inc.: Participant Guide discusses that about 80% of today's antimicrobials used are used on these animals; only about 20% are actually used for human health. Unfortunately, this rampant use of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance, creating superbug E. coli and other diseases; in fact, one chicken farmer indicates that she is now allergic to all antibiotics as a result of being exposed to so many of them. As consumers ingest the meat that was administered these antibiotics, resistance develops to the antibiotics currently used to fight off diseases in humans.

Another discussion taken up in the movie is the impact of industrialized farming on the environment. Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms discusses how industrialized farming has moved away from natural cycles. As he speaks, he nonchalantly guts a chicken that the audience has just seen bled and beheaded. He talks about the killing and processing of the chicken as an intimate activity for the local organic farmer who processes his own meat as opposed to the distant, objective, mechanized kind of processing that occurs in an industrialized setting. Salatin clearly cares about his product, and points out that if a farmer loses his focus, he will end up viewing his animals differently, his clients differently and ultimately, the consumer differently--which Salatin sees as a bad thing. It was disturbing to see the chicken killed; and yet, as the movie points out in the opening, the industrialized producers of the food we buy package food that looks far removed from its origins. For example, Schlosser points out that today's meat often has no bones and doesn't look like the animal it comes from. Such distancing makes it easy for the consumer to give no thought to how the animal the meat is derived from was treated.

The movie also discusses the condition of farm workers, pointing out that our government has often turned a blind eye to immigrants entering the country illegally because they make up a large percentage of our farm workers. (The Participant Guide discusses in greater detail just how this happens and how farm workers are subject to different labor laws than workers in most other fields.) The movie explains that now that the country is on "immigrant alert," the government makes a show of arresting and deporting a certain number of illegal immigrant farm workers each day without actually conducting any serious full-fledged immigration raids. Additionally, because many farm workers are in the country illegally, they are abused by the industry, subject to dangerous--and in some cases, lethal--heat and pesticides; the EPA, which regulates pesticide use on farms, has acknowledged the problem and yet has done nothing to solve it. The Participant Guide goes into greater detail of the problems encountered by farm workers, painting a very bleak picture. And yet, do we as consumers ever really give a thought to the workers who process our food?

Another theme addressed in the film is the idea that a multinational corporation like Monsanto can now own life; as an example, the film mentions that Monsanto has patented its Roundup-Ready soybeans and thus has complete control of the distribution and sale of this product. What this means for farmers, according to the documentary, is that they can no longer save their own seeds and must buy seeds from Monsanto each year. If a farmer is found to have saved seeds that carry Monsanto's Roundup-ready genetic trait, whether deliberately or accidentally (cross-breeding can occur between one farmer's crops and his neighbor's), the farmer can be sued by the company. (For more information about Monsanto's past, take a look at this material from the documentary The World According to Monsanto by filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin. The clip runs about 6 minutes and 43 seconds.) Food, Inc. shows a seed cleaner--an individual who goes to farms and, using a seed-cleaning machine, separates a farmer's seeds from other material so the seeds can be replanted the next year. The seed cleaner interviewed in the documentary is sued by Monsanto for essentially encouraging farmers to save Monsanto genetically altered soybean seeds. Lest the reader think this is an unusual case, think again: according to an article at, author Linn Cohen-Cole indicates that

Monsanto is picking off seed cleaners across the Midwest. In Pilot Grove, Missouri, in Indiana (Maurice Parr), and now in southern Illinois (Steve Hixon). And they are using US marshals and state troopers and county police to show up in three cars to serve the poor farmers who had used Hixon as their seed cleaner, telling them that he or their neighbors turned them in, so across that 6 county areas, no one talking to neighbors and people are living in fear and those farming communities are falling apart from the suspicion Monsanto sowed. Hixon’s office got broken into and he thinks someone put a GPS tracking device on his equipment and that’s how Monsanto found between 200-400 customers in very scattered and remote areas, and threatened them all and destroyed his business within 2 days.

An implication in the documentary is that consumers should perhaps be questioning the motives of such practices, which can be easily construed as intimidating. Should multinational corporations such as Monsanto be allowed to patent and control our food? The film leaves the implied question in viewers' hands.

There is so much more to this movie, and frankly, one viewing isn't enough. If you get the opportunity to see this documentary, please go see it. And then let's have a conversation about it.

Harvest Helper

My cat, Dakota, is ready to help me harvest. I found her sitting in the harvest basket yesterday; she was also in it this morning. Note to self: Place harvest basket out of cat's reach.

Gardening Is a Full-Time Job

I can't keep up.

The zucchini were bad enough, and they still keep coming. But OMG, the cucumbers have kicked in now! Here's today's count: 7 zucchini, 11 sun sugar tomatoes, and 20 cucumbers. (I promise I will get you a running total of produce harvested in the next week.)

I'll be out of town for the next couple of days, so I'm hoping that by the time I return, I'll have some of the bigger tomatoes ready. I'm looking forward to a light, summery cucumber-tomato vinaigrette salad! Of course, that means we need a few hot, humid days, and Mother Nature hasn't been truly cooperative in the weather department this summer.

I spent time this evening washing freezer canning jars so I can move my first batch of bread-and-butter pickles into the jars for freezing. Tomorrow, I'll set a few cucumbers aside and turn the rest into a second batch of bread-and-butter pickles. I also diced and froze 10 beautiful peppers I bought at the local farmer's market--6 green peppers, 4 chocolate beauties (although they were picked before they became "chocolate"), and a lilac pepper. I just mixed them all and then separated them into snack-size Ziplocs, 1/2 cup of chopped pepper mix per baggie, and then bagged all those in a gallon-size Ziploc that I labeled and dated.

The okra and sunflowers continue to grow. The cilantro is growing but hidden beneath cucumber vines, as is one of the dill plants; the other has shot up above the cucumber plants. When I return from my trip, I'm going to harvest some of the mint we have growing wild in our yard and play with my dehydrator. I'm not sure what I'll do with a bunch of dehydrated mint, but I'm sure I'll think of something.

The dishwasher has stopped, which means I have clean, sterilized canning jars calling me.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Review of Fresh

I really enjoyed my visit to Antiquity Oaks on Friday. I don't have any pictures to share (I decided not to be burdened with the camera). They don't just raise Nigerian goats; they also have heirloom chickens for eggs and meat, Shetland sheep, llamas--I was particularly taken by the tale Katherine spun of how their "guard llamas" keep coyotes away through intimidation!-- and cows, and probably other animals I have already forgotten about! I got to pet a baby Nigerian who was only about a week old. They have 32 acres, much of it forest. It is an absolutely beautiful farm, and I was delighted to tour it.

After the tour, we viewed a screening of the movie Fresh in the family's barn. The movie started at a chicken farm, and I was greatly disturbed by the way each crate of fluffy young chicks was dashed--and I mean dashed, not just set gently, shaken out, or even lightly dumped--to the ground. Deborah and another woman later talked about how disturbing that scene was to them, too. Both raise chickens, and they treat the chicks very gently, placing their beaks in water so the chicks know where the water is and treating them as if they are very fragile...which they are!

But the movie wasn't just about chickens. The overriding theme of the movie was how industrialized farming really doesn't add anything to the environment; rather, it takes and destroys, versus organic farming, which uses natural cycles to keep the environment healthy and productive. For example, the film talked about how industrialized farming takes nutrients from the soil and only replaces only a couple, and cow manure sits in bit manure lagoons because large cow operations don't have any way of dealing with the massive cow waste. The animals are crammed in tight quarters and not allowed to engage in their normal social activities--grazing and pecking, for instance. Because they can't engage in these natural activities, chickens peck one another and pigs bite other pigs' tails. Industrialized farming's answer? Mutilate the animals--cut off their beaks and tails. Cut to an organic farm with a diverse culture of creatures, not just a monoculture of cows. Cows eat the grass, and their manure fertilizes the soil. The chickens follow the cows, eating bugs and grubs left behind in the soil and manure. Everybody's happy, the soil is healthy.

Another major theme discussed was the problem with animal feed. Industrialized farms feed cows corn silage, animal wastes, poultry litter, you name it. Many of the problems we experience with our food today--BSE (Mad Cow disease), salmonella, E coli, and more--originate in the feed lot, where animals are eating parts and wastes of other animals. Cows and chickens are herbivores, meaning they eat vegetation, not carnivores. When we feed animals a diet of a meat instead of their natural diet (cows naturally eat grass, not grains; chickens are grain feeders), they are much healthier, requiring little to no use of antibiotics. Additionally, the meat from these animals is much more nutritious.

The movie doesn't just point out some of the ways industrialized farming is going wrong; it actually points to ways that people are farming naturally. I was moved by the farmer who industrialized his pig farming operation, only to find that they needed to use massive doses of antibiotics to keep the pigs healthy. Ultimately, he felt that his farming methods were misguided; he exterminated his herd and started over, raising his pigs in a natural way. He is much happier now. Another man has an organic farm in the middle of a city. He raises fish, and uses the dirty pond water to water and fertilize his crops.

While I don't have the land or time or ability to create my own organic farm, these people give me hope that industrialized farming isn't the only way to go. Without making the point explicitly, the movie definitely leaves the consumer realizing that every time we go to the grocery store, we vote for our farming methods with our dollars. If we spend our money on organic food, which is healthier for consumers, for the animals, for the farm workers, and for the land, we can send a clear message to industrialized farm operations that what they're doing isn't what we want.