Simply in Season

News and reflections on all that's good about local food
from the co-author of Simply in Season,
a World Community Cookbook in the spirit of More-with-Less

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Events in Portland, Pennsylvania, D.C.

A number of Simply in Season events are coming in the next few weeks. Everyone is invited!

Saturday, Oct. 29, 4 to 5:30 p.m., Portland Mennonite Church (1312 SE 35th Ave., Portland, Ore.): I will be speaking on seasonal eating along with other local food representatives. There’ll be door prizes, samples, a cooking demonstration, and lots of fun. For information, call (503) 234-0559.

Saturday, Nov. 4, 9 a.m. to noon, Stumptown Mennonite Church (2813 Stumptown Rd., Bird in Hand, Pa.): I’ll be the guest speaker at the Women’s Fall Fellowship sponsored by Lancaster Mennonite Women.

Saturday, Nov. 4, 2 to 4 p.m., Provident Bookstore (Lancaster Shopping Center, 1625 Lititz Pike, Lancaster, Pa.): booksigning. Please come say hello! I’d especially like to meet anyone who contributed a recipe or helped to test them.

Saturday, Nov. 12, noon to 3 p.m., Potters House bookstore (1658 Columbia Road NW, Washington, D.C.) and then 4 to 6 p.m. at Ten Thousand Villages (915 King Street, Alexandria, Va.): Mary Beth Lind booksigning.

Saving time and stress in the kitchen

On Saturday I attended the second annual Creation Celebration: a local ecumenical and interfaith event which invited the community to focus on environmental issues.

One workshop centered on sustainable living, and our leader from the Oregon State University Extension Service distributed handy little “UnShopping Cards” with the suggestion of keeping one next to your credit card. Before you make a purchase, the UnShopping Card asks:

Do I really need this?
Is it overpackaged?
How long will it last?
If it breaks, can it be fixed?
How will I dispose of it?
What is its environmental cost?
Is it a fair trade product?
Is it made of recycled or renewable materials?
Is it recyclable or biodegradable?
Could I borrow, rent or buy it used?
Is it worth the time I worked to pay for it?

The leader listed three primary things that get in the way to living sustainably: the time crunch, a disconnection between the spiritual and natural worlds, and materialism.

Certainly in our culture time is one of our main considerations regarding our food choices. Moving toward whole foods (rather than processed and prepackaged foods) and slow foods (such as brown rice which takes an hour to cook) may need to happen gradually. But that’s the great thing about food choices: we make them at least three times a day. We can move toward better ways of living bit by bit.

I tend to shy away from convenience foods, most of which are overpackaged (and thus with a high impact on the environment) and not so great nutritionally. But I have no qualms about trying to save time in the kitchen when I can.

The point for me is often about reducing cooking frustration and making this time as enjoyable as possible. You know the scenario: There’s no time to cook but it’s almost time to eat. You have no idea what to make. The first three dishes that come to your mind are an impossibility because you’re missing key ingredients.

How much better to help yourself out. Here’s just a starters list:


1. Keep in your freezer bags of chopped garlic, ginger root, onions, green peppers and hot peppers. You can mince a bunch of any of these when you have time (and when they’re in season), or use a food processor for things like the garlic, hot peppers or onions. Then you can just pull out a spoonful of garlic and a cup of onion or whatever at a time as you need it, throw it right into the sauté pan, and you’re on your way.

2. Make your own do-ahead mixes. Simply in Season and More-with-Less have some good recipes for things like cookie mix or baking mix, but there are many other possibilities. For example, if I’m making cornbread, while I’ve got the ingredients out I measure out two or more sets of the dry ingredients, one batch at a time. I put the extra set(s) in their own containers, labeled, and then next time I make cornbread, all I need to do is stir in the wet ingredients and throw it in the oven. Recently I was making Dilly Bean Potato Soup (page 237), which uses several shredded vegetables. While I had my food processor out I shredded extra carrots and celery, sauted them, then put them in a freezer container with the correct amount of cooked beans. The potatoes wouldn’t freeze so well, but next time I want to make this soup, all I need to do is cook the potatoes and add my reserved ingredients with yogurt.

3. Plan menus. This is always the tough one and it takes discipline, but it’s the best way to reduce kitchen frustration. The last thing you want to be doing at the last minute is frantically paging through your recipe box and there are various tools and routines that can help. Some folks keep a list of meal ideas for easy reference. Some make a weekly routine: Monday is soup day, Tuesday is pizza, Wednesday is pasta, etc. It helps to keep cupboards and freezer stocked with basic staples. Keep a shopping list.

4. Invest in decent kitchen tools. Don’t get me wrong -- I’m the last person to say that you need the fanciest equipment -- but I’ve concluded there are a few things worth the investment. What those are will vary from person to person: here are two of mine. A few years ago I was hosting some especially observant guests who noticed me struggling with a cheap can opener. They thoughtfully left what has got to be the best hostess gift I’ve ever received: a high quality manual can opener. It doesn’t take a lot of space but works like a charm. I think of these friends every time I use it. More recently I found at a garage sale one of these top quality vegetable peelers. When I use it now I don’t know why I put up with cheaper ones so many years.

5. Move tools you don’t use out of the way. This is ridiculously simple, I know, but kitchen cluttter can be a major factor in kitchen stress. In my kitchen I have one drawer for utensils I use often (spatula, pancake turner, wooden spoon, measuring spoons in their own section) and another for utensils used only occasionally (potato masher, pasta server, ladle). It greatly reduces the amount of time I spend rummaging through drawers.

What are some of YOUR favorite ways to save time in the kitchen?

* * *

The Simply in Season recipe of the week, Frosted Persimmon Cookies, uses soft-ripe persimmons. The firm-ripe variety is like a cross between an apple and a pear. I was at a dinner Sunday that served firm-ripe persimmon matchsticks with fresh arugula and a lightly sweet vinaigrette, and it was marvelous. A similar dressing would be Simply in Season’s Two-Seed Dressing from page 46. Sliced persimmons also would be delicious in the Green Salad with Autumn Fruit (page 190), which includes a bit of shredded cheese (on a festive occasion I prefer Gouda), dried cranberries, and toasted nuts.

(Recipe changes weekly. To get on our recipe e-mail list, go to the SIS website and click on "Register.")

Another seasonal fruit discovery: Hardy kiwi fruit are the most fun thing to eat since the grape. They’re about the size and shape of a large grape, but under the smooth skin (which is fine to eat) is the sweet taste of the larger, more familiar kiwi fruit. They’d be a real treat in your lunch box. Look for them in your farmers’ market!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Experiments in local food

It wasn't so long ago that eating foods grown near by was the only option, but nowadays the average food item travels more than a thousand miles before it lands on our tables. Yet it's exciting to see more and more people growing interested in knowing where their food comes from and the conditions in which it was grown. Motivated by a belief that local foods are good for the environment, for health and for local communities, many consumers are going out of their way to find local fruits, vegetables and meats.

I've been intrigued by news of recent experiments in which individuals follow in the steps of author Gary Nabhan. His book, Coming Home to Eat, describes a year-long attempt to eat nothing but foods grown (or found in the wild) within 250 miles of his Arizona home.

You'd think this would be much easier in my neck of the woods, the Pacific Northwest, but yow, from what I hear it still ain't easy. In British Columbia, one couple has been trying to survive on foods grown within 100 miles since March 21. It was hard enough, starting in spring when only a limited number of fresh foods are ripe, but worse, it took them a while to find a source of local wheat:

"We were unable to find any locally grown grains-no more bread, pasta, or rice. The only starch left to us was the potato. Between us, we lost about 15 pounds in six weeks. While I appreciated the beauty and creativity of James' turnip sandwich, with big slabs of roasted turnip as the 'bread,' this innovation did little to stave off the constant hunger. James' jeans hung down his butt like a skater boy. He told me I had no butt left at all."

Next fad diet, here we come!

As of their most recent posting in September, the couple was eating better, if getting rather weary of sauerkraut. I'm happy to take a pass on this kind of purist experiment, but their reflections offer excellent food for thought about food systems and our lifestyles.

More recently a major dining institution issued its own Eat Local Challenge: Bon Appetit Management Co., a national food-service provider, asked chefs to feature a lunch option made entirely of ingredients from within a 150-mile radius of their respective kitchens.

University of Portland kitchen staff decided that was too easy, so they opted to make every item on their lunch menu from local ingredients. What's particularly impressive is that they even decided to make their own salt by boiling down 25 gallons of seawater. Read about it in The Oregonian.

I have to wonder: how much energy went into boiling down that water? But then again, was this process any less efficient than it is where salt is commercially produced?

If nothing else, experiments like these certainly do a good job of helping us think about where our food comes from. And it makes me newly grateful when I pick up that shaker. Pass the salt, would ya?

* * * *
The SIS recipe of the week, Herbed Broccoli Sandwich, is seasoned with just a little salt in addition to dried basil, thyme and pepper. Topped with cheese melted under the broiler, it's a quick and satisfying meal after an afternoon of leaf-raking.

(Recipe changes weekly. To get on our recipe e-mail list, go to the SIS website and click on "Register.")

Simply in Season has a great recipe for Easy Homemade Sauerkraut for those harvesting big heads of cabbage these days, but it's also tasty in our Shredded Beet Salad, which couldn't be easier (and would go nicely with your sandwich):

Steam separately (or in sections of a steamer) until barely tender, about 5 minutes, 1 medium shredded beet, 2 shredded carrots and 1 cup / 250 ml shredded cabbage. Let cool to room temperature. Arrange in small piles on salad plates. Dress with favorite dressing or tahini dressing below. Sprinkle with sesame seeds (optional).

Tahini dressing: Shake together in a jar with a tight lid 1/2 cup / 125 ml tahini, 1/2 cup / 125 ml oil (combination of canola, sesame, olive), 1/4 cup / 60 ml lemon juice, 1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari, and water to desired consistency. (Tahini is a paste like peanut butter, only made with crushed sesame seeds.)


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