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Living close to The Source in Pittsburgh public schools and private life Follow me on Twitter @ SourceLiving

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Autumn Jig Soup & Such.

The other night I made two soups, a curry, roasted eggplant hummus and rice & beans. I had a surplus of vegetables and had to get rid of them. Laid out on the counter to await butchering, the seemingly shy veggies blurted out all the ways I should eat them this week. In three hours I’d put 5 neat tupperware containers in the fridge and an obscene number of dishes in the sink. Recipes, below.

As it gets colder, Northeastern local produce changes. Overall it all gets more durable and a bit tougher to process… squash like acorn, butternut, delicata, hubbard, and pumpkin are in surplus, and they last a while on your shelf. Some of it’s stuff you might see but never really buy, like parsnips, turnips and radishes. Greens and broccoli and cauliflower and carrots are big right now. People with the supply and compulsion even try to transform mountains of green tomatoes into tastiness (I made salsa at home, plus pickled some and fried some with students). Kohlrabi and rutabaga are fun ones this time of year, too. Storage onions, potatoes, and even leeks are abundant as helpful staples.

In case you go check out autumn fare at a local farmers’ market and want some culinary inspiration, I thought I’d share some recent fruits of my labors.

Hint: Taste while you cook & Experiment freely!

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Autumn Jig Soup

- Boil roughly chopped carrots and sweet potatoes, then puree them in a food processor with a generous dose of chopped fresh ginger
- Sautee chopped fennel root and chopped onions in a pot (and chopped jalepeno..)
- Add some water and maybe a chunk of a veggie bouillon cube, or just salt & pepper. Simmer.
- Add puree-de-orangeness
- Stir, add some spices and flavorings if you’d like (cinnamon, cloves, dash of soy sauce, TBS honey)
- Serve, and add some sprigs of feather-like fennel leaf!

Baba Ga-hummus

- I love the texture. Great as dip, or on sandwiches or salads.

- Roast roughly sliced eggplant & a hot pepper or two with oilive oil, salt and pepper
- To the food processor, add a can of cooked chickpeas (some good organic brands out there), a couple TBS olive oil and tahini (both to taste and texture), a couple garlic cloves, salt & pepper, a little onion, and the roasted veggies.
- Add fresh herbs (I added cilantro and some chives from the little raised bed in my backyard)

Daikon Broccoflower Curry (a.k.a. Stir Fry)

- Sautee garlic and onions in olive oil in a wok or pan, and add some salt and pepper.
- Add chopped cauliflower, then daikon radish, then broccoli
- Add a dash of soy sauce, some honey, some chopped hot peppers, some fruit chutney, salt & pepper to taste, whatever.
- Add a curry powder (the Co-Op has a few in big jars to sniff-and-buy) you like. Maybe some turmeric, too. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring, until everything’s flavorful and you like the texture.

(*You can add any veggies to a stir fry, just add hardest one first and the softer ones last. So chopped stems can be thrown in before softer florets or leaves. Leafy greens like kale, chard and bok choi just need to be thrown in chopped for a couple minutes before eating hot).

- You can add chopped almonds that you toast in another little pan.
- For somethin saucy, add a can of crushed tomatoes.
- Serve with rice and beans for a full meal.

Pumpkin Goat Cheese Ravioli with Cream Sauce

Prepare the Pumpkin:
 (or any other winter squash… for pureed pumpkin recipes, the softer, smaller, sweeter pie pumpkin varieties are better):

- Cut in half, scoop out seeds and stringy goop, and roast halves for 60-90 minutes.
- Scoop out soft meat, and puree in food processor.
- Try some. It’s so yummy.
- Save half to make muffins or quick bread or pie, because they’re all delicious.

Ravioli:

- Find lasagna sheets
- Boil some water with a little olive oil and a dash of salt
- Whisk an egg with 2 tsp water
- Cut them to double the desired size of ravioli
- Plop some squash puree in the center of one half, and add a little mound of goat cheese of equal diameter on top
- Use a paper towel to wipe whisked egg stuff around half the edge
- Score the edges by poking lightly all around with a fork
- Press closed over the plop, and pinch all around
- Add to boiling water for 3-4 minutes in batches

Cream Sauce:

- Sautee chopped onion in a pot
- Add heavy cream and  water, and simmer
- Add salt & pepper to taste
- Add a little corn starch, to desired thickness.
- Cut up some cheese (chedder, parmesan) and melt in. Stir.

- Pour over plates of ravioli, and eat with fresh bread and wine. Toast to your health and happiness. Enjoy and smile and get really full and maybe burp.

Apple Chocolate Cherry Crumble

Oven to 375
- Slice apples (and pears if you have them), kind of thin
- Mix in a casserole dish with a little lemon juice, a heap of brown sugar, a couple teaspoons of cinnamon, some cloves and a little nutmeg, and a little butter
- Mix in dried cherries and chocolate chips
(Add a dash of cranberry juice or any juice that’s on hand if you’d like)

Add crumble topping:
- Smoosh together oats, some sugar, and some chopped butter. Crumble over the stuff in the casserole dish.

- Bake uncovered for 5 minutes, covered for 5 more minutes, then uncovered for ~10 more minutes, until top is a little crispy and bottom is sizzlin and smells incredible.

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Wal-Mart Promises Local Food, While Big Ag Gears Up for a Fight

There is no doubt that by its sheer size, Wal-Mart’s plan will have a huge impact on buying and growing practices worldwide. In places like the Southeast U.S. where cotton and tobacco growing has waned, for example, the company is encouraging the re-emergence of diversified vegetable operations. This initiative has the potential to push forward regional food systems more quickly than the government would be able to through policy-focused rural redevelopment programs–which are currently hyper-focused on broadband and ethanol.

But while Wal-Mart aims to bolster local communities by putting more money into the hands of farmers, critics argue that much of the money the consumer spends at the cash register will still leave the community. Marion Nestle writes that the initiative could only truly help farmers if Wal-Mart, which has historically demanded the lowest prices from its suppliers, pays them fairly for their work. Other sustainable food advocates think that the move is just “greenwashing.” Indeed, the plan makes no mention of organic practices or labor standards, both of which are very important to the sustainable food community. But unlike Monsanto’s claim of being sustainable based on drought tolerant seeds that never materialize, or PepsiCo’s claim to “encourage people to live healthier” while selling them empty calories, Wal-Mart’s plan has muddied the waters of sustainability with added nuance.

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An interesting dialogue about WalMart’s recent “sustainable” local food sourcing:

Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.

In college I dated someone whose response to ambiguous news was always, “Who’s to say what is good and what is bad?” At 22 I thought myself an excellent judge of the good and the bad. Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last. I have thought of his question often over the years, though, and it came back to me last week when I read the New York Times article describing Walmart’s decision to make a major investment in local and sustainable foods.

On one hand, the thought of Walmart sticking its gigantic foot in the local food door seems potentially ruinous. The company is known for setting extremely low prices with its suppliers, and the margins on real food are already a! chingly slim. Would contracts with Walmart actually help farmers, or u ltimately hurt them?

On the other hand, Walmart is going to get its apples and broccoli and onions from somewhere. It might as well be close to home, with some type of sustainable practices. Decentralizing food production is a good idea. If the planet’s biggest grocer turns sustained attention toward buying a significant amount of local food (which, according to the Times, they define as within the state) they could do a great deal to encourage the establishment and growth of mid-sized farms across the country. That would be a good thing.

Walmart may be able to procure foods grown within certain geographic boundaries, but for many of us, local food means more than that. For me, “local food” is a kind of shorthand for an entire ethic. In this ethic, food is produced under quality conditions, on a scale that feels human rather than corporate, by people whose focus is on natural resource stewardship as much as it is on the bottom line, in a business whose owners do ! right by their employees. On the consumer side of this ethic, the food is purchased, prepared and eaten with awareness of its true value.

All week I have been thinking about what single word would capture the feeling behind this ideal. The word I came up with was ‘kindness’. In my estimation, there is a broad, radical kindness that underlies the emerging alternative food economy, which ultimately is an economy based on relationship. It is hard for me to imagine that kindness and relationships are at the heart of the megastore’s buy local campaign. But it is also hard for me to imagine a future without grocery store chains. I fully expect that the groundswell of support for authentic food and small farmers will continue to grow and flourish. If, alongside it, the nation’s grocers begin engaging local farmers in their response to consumer demand for higher quality food, and if farmers are able to get fair prices, that would also be a good thing.

As always, take go! od care and eat well,
Erin

Erin Barnett
Director
LocalHarvest

If Wal-Mart makes a major investment in local and sustainable foods (see below), then Wal-Mart will be in a position to regulate the prices farmers will get paid…and that will be “Low prices” because that has always been the “secret” to Wal-Mart’s success.

If Wal-Mart can garner a huge chunk of the coming local/regional food consolidation and distribution solution we all know is needed by our local farmers, to move our local produce to local/regional markets, it can drive competing consolidators who would pay our farmers sustainable prices out of business.

What is needed to keep distribution prices adequately stable for local producers is not one privately held food delivery system serving only its own stores, but one or more food systems delivering to both large and small grocery stores and many other market channels. That means keeping transport (and food product) costs fair, either throu! gh competition between several local/regional consolidation and distribution systems, or through consumer and/or taxpayer subsidies of a food system that fairly serves all local producers and all local/regional market channels and local small and large retail outlets, not just a handful of large local producers and only one retail outlet chain.

John Bingham
Wild Orchard Farm (Certified Naturally Grown hay and pasture)
247 Christian Rd.
Essex, NY 12! 936

BuyLocalNY Listserve

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I Spent Your Money on Faux Sushi Last Week

WANNA SEE MY NEW FOOD STAMP COLLECTION?

So food stamps are sort of confusing. At first I thought I’d received cash assistance, as all the literature that came with my EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card implied, but quickly realized I could not in fact withdraw cash from ATMs. Shucks. So now I’m wondering how to use $200 a month (I qualify for the maximum individual allotment; the Americorps living stipend = $0 for U.S. Food and Nutrition Service purposes) at eligible locations, since only the rare vendor at a Pittsburgh farmers’ market has an EBT card reader (so far I’ve only found J.L Kennedy Stand Meats at the East Liberty Farmers Market Co-op). Most vendors don’t accept these new electronic SNAP food stamps whatsoever, and some will fill out a form that asks for the 19-digit card number and other info.

Since receiving the first $360 batch a couple weeks ago (the funds are retroactive since application), I’ve spent $145. Concertedly. I’ve gotten used to buying only the essentials - veggies, fruit, bread, eggs and cheese from farmers’ markets, a few grains, beans and chickpeas for hummus, condiments like soy sauce, vinegar and honey, and some baking supplies. This doesn’t amount to much for one person, especially if you subtract what I spend on produce. I can buy some local cheeses, eggs, breads and produce from grocery stores, but then I can’t converse with the farmers at market and my local options decrease. Thankfully, the funds will carry over for a year, so I’m not forced to splurge on caviar or throw 6 dinner parties this week.

How have I spent the funds so far? In the first week, I bought a baguette for a dinner party (roasted apple, turnips and raisins with ground cherry jam glaze; butternut squash soup; mushroom tapenade; tomato, cilantro and red onion salad) and vegetarian sushi for an I’m-starving-on-the-go-emergency dinner from Trader Joe’s, a gas station sandwich from the highway, and $40 worth of stuff from the Ithaca Farmers’ Market where the office manager swiped my card in return for tokens in 1s and 5s. Storable cold-weather veggies (pie pumpkin, watermelon radish, kohlrabi, red onions and carrots) from Stick & Stone and Early Morning (two farms I love) favorite chutney I only buy as a rare treat (peach tamarind this time) from Chutney Fever, and a girthy $16 wedge of sharp tomme-bergere cheese from my favorite sheep dairy Northland.

And yesterday I shopped at Whole Foods (I prefer the Co-Op, but I totaled my car last week and Whole Foods is much closer by bike after a day of work!), where I stocked up on staples plus some treats like dried cherries. I bought bread made at a local bakery from Whole Foods, instead of directly from a baker at Saturday Market as I prefer, so I could use the food stamps. I also hit up the salad bar (though the hot bar is off-limits for SNAP funds). I’ll be buying some groceries for a couple friends with low funds who don’t want to be part of the SNAP program themselves.

WAIT, SO WHAT’S THE MAGIC WORD FOR STIR-FRY?

I’m told that many low-income households on SNAP benefits spend them in the first few weeks of a month and struggle in the last week. I wonder if this would be true if more people’s grocery lists looked like mine (er, not to proselytize… ?), though of course the $8 (in cash) I gave to a farmer yesterday in return for a heap of veggies isn’t the most likely transaction for someone with limited time who shops with SNAPs at a participating grocery store chain, where produce may (rightly) seem more work-intensive than beautifully marketed, pre-packaged, easy ingredients, meals and snacks. Folks would need to spend time processing veggies at least once or twice each week (and refrigerating/freezing leftovers), though by putting multiple household members to work this wouldn’t necessarily be that difficult to orchestrate.

However, from what I know working with Healthy Food For All, a subsidized CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program for low-income households in Ithaca, NY, many members surveyed are unaccustomed to vegetable preparation and storage. And from what I know just talking to people in general, including middle-class moms, this is pretty typical in modern households. Hell I didn’t have a clue how to prepare produce until a couple years ago; growing up, I was content to just reap the delicious results of my mom’s magical and mysterious kitchen powers.

People just don’t have to know anymore. Prepared and pre-packaged and take-out foods make it easy not to. Kale can grow like a weed pretty much anywhere, and contains a greater variety and quantity of nutrients than practically any ingredient, yet what percentage of Americans know how to cook with it? I’d venture below 25%. Like all hardy greens, you can chop it raw in salads or sandwiches, stir fry it in oil with garlic and onions, throw it into hot soup to wilt, bake it, whatever. I had to convince two moms last week to take freshly picked kale home last week because they “had no idea” how to cook it because they’d “never learned.” It was a 1-minute lesson, and they took the kale.

NO SODA FOR YOU !!

Earlier this month, NYC Mayor Bloomberg asked the USDA to add soda to the list of banned SNAP benefits grocery items in the city as part of his anti-obesity campaign. And many people are in a huff about it. According to the FNS website, the Fed already bans alcohol, tobacco, household supplies, vitamins and medicines, and hot prepared foods. According to my daily habits, it seems brewed coffee is also off limits.

Though I can see why it might be infuriating to powerlessly succumb to another government doctrine of preferred personal habits, I support the mayor on this. Tax money should not fund a rising chronic disease and health care cost epidemic. I don’t want government money to fund alcohol, cigarette or soda habits; people can buy the stuff, but with otherwise-earned money. Simple. I also don’t want government funds to support the soft drink industry, which is finally, thankfully, being kicked out of many schools.

Appealing to our tendency to fight for our rights, the American Beverage Association likes to issue slickly libertarian rhetoric such as this statement in the New York Times, “This is just another attempt by government to tell New Yorkers what they should eat and drink.” In truth, however, the ABA wants nothing more than to capitalize on systemic bad habits. Food stamps have been helping to move the corn surplus and cushion soda and other industrial food and beverage markets for decades. According to this great opinion piece in the publication Civil Eats by Andy Fisher, Co-Founder/ Executive Director for the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) and Fellow with the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Food and Society Fellows,

The real story behind food stamps is that it is neither a nutrition program nor an income support program. It is a massive subsidy for the food retailers, grocery manufacturers, and industrial growers. That is why commodity groups, the Grocery Manufacturers of America and the Food Marketing Institute all line up behind the food stamp program every five years when the Farm Bill is being debated. They know the extra buying power food stamps provides to low income Americans will end up in their pockets.

In their noble effort to reduce human suffering and to improve the livelihood of the 41 million Americans on food stamps, anti-hunger advocates are caught in an ever-tightening bind. They frame food stamps as a nutrition program, because a nutrition program has more public support and more powerful allies in Congress than a welfare or income support program. Yet, burgeoning rates of chronic diseases and the growing presence of the public health community as a player in federal food and farm policy, translates into increased accountability for the nutritional impact of the food stamp program.

Instead, quite obviously, the government should tell people what to eat and drink if it means improving popular health and bolstering local economic development. Not that a ban will necessarily do so - Like I said, people can buy the stuff, but with otherwise-earned money. However if, along with the ban, a campaign were waged to install more EBT card readers at farmers’ markets in NYC, increase access and awareness of such markets for people on food stamps and in poorer communities, and provide produce preparation and storage educational materials, then we might see positive results. SNAP Benefits would be better spent supporting small farmers than Coca Cola or Pepsi or even Whole Foods 365 Brand. Hands down.

According the New York Times article announcing the mayor’s request:

City statistics released last month showed that nearly 40 percent of public-school children in kindergarten through eighth grade were overweight or obese, and that obesity rates were substantially higher in poor neighborhoods. City studies show that consumption of sugared beverages is consistently higher in those neighborhoods…

Over the past 30 years, the consumption of soda and other sugary beverages in the United States has more than doubled, paralleling the rise in obesity. [Health commissioners] blame that trend for the rising rate of diabetes, which now afflicts one in eight adults in New York City, and is nearly twice as common among poor New Yorkers as among wealthier ones.

Also,

The number of New Yorkers qualifying for food stamps has grown more than 35 percent in the past couple of years, mirroring a nationwide trend. And the mayor’s proposal could raise concerns about equity, since it is aimed at one segment of the city, its poorest. When Minnesota sought its ban, welfare rights advocates there accused the state of being patronizing to food-stamp users.

So while Mayor Bloomberg and other public health polity officials should be aware of their potentially condescending personas, the truth is that such “patronizing” figures are patrons of those who apply for welfare programs like SNAP Benefits — And I’d hope my patrons would want the best for me, in the short and long-term, even if like a child I don’t like being told what to do. And anyone who knows me would confirm this: I really don’t like being told what to do. But I also don’t like the entrenched cycle of poverty and poor health and welfare that needs reform so that it will not only buoy, but educate and empower.

Give me Kale, or give me Death!

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Growing Together ~ Food communities on the rise

… “Some people want to become their own closed-loop supply chain; others wish to cut out price-jacking middlemen. In order to do so, they are learning to raise, butcher and cure meat; to grow and preserve fruits; tend and pickle vegetables; make bakery-quality bread in a cast-iron pot; turn milk into cheese; and mill grain — the better to make your own moonshine. (One sign that those small-batch kimchis and handmade chocolates are more than a cutesy trend? The government has realized that it has to regulate them: the Michigan Cottage Food Operation bill was signed in July.) Since these skills are decreasingly passed on by elders, Americans of all ages have been signing up for classes, apprenticing with experts, chatting up farmers and heading online to share their findings. Friendships are made, networks are formed, delicious things are shared.”

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"Carrots Are The New Caviar" - London Financial Times

"Cooking matters, because the worth of an ingredient is intimately tied to our ability to turn it into food. Lamb necks and pork knuckles from animals raised on pasture, well-grown vegetables, grains and beans, these can be magical ingredients, delivering far more thrilling flavour than that of tenderloin from a factory-farmed cow."

"For the home cook, revaluing ingredients can lead not only to better food, but, equally important in these difficult economic times, to a less costly way of eating. A few weeks ago, inspired by a friend’s wrong-headed claim that good food is always expensive, I made two meals for my wife and I for $12, using only local and organic ingredients. I bought a modest amount of the least expensive meat I could find from my favourite rancher – beef back ribs – and cooked it in a crock pot with heirloom beans, onion, carrot and dried chillis. I added sautéed mustard greens at the end, and served it over brown rice. The meals were not only inexpensive, they were delicious, and they proved that quality versus affordability is a false debate. The choice is really between meat- or vegetable-centric meals, between ribeye and ribs. Knowing how to cook means it is possible to eat both well and inexpensively."

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Have You Ever Heard of “Ground Cherries” ?

I’ve asked about a dozen adults and 200 children that question this past week. Only the children had any idea, of course. They’re vines, sort of like tomato vines but shorter and stouter and sturdier, that produce what look like miniature tomatillos, and when ready their husks are brownish-yellowish and the fruits tumble to the earth. You unhusk them and pop these small-grape-looking, honey-plum-tasting, plumper-cranberry-feeling deep golden juicy fruits into your mouth. The tiny seeds burst and melt on your tongue like sand made from fig seeds. The unripe ones are green and much more tart. 

They’re great browsing food to accompany your trip through the garden aisles, after passing the raspberry bushes, fragrant herbs and friendly sunflowers. And now, along with a stolen $800 lock box plus its many tools and a wheelbarrow from one school garden, all the vines are gone.

Last week, 6-9 year-olds ripped the ground cherries out, along with corn stalks (a variety suited for popcorn), cucumber and melon vines. To get ready for Winter, we hand-tilled the soil and “broadcast” oat and pea (cover crop) seeds across the beds before raking them in. Different cover crops can feed nitrogen to the soil, crowd out weeds, help to regulate the soil’s structure and moisture, and attract beneficial insects.

I knew the ground cherry feast scattered around these kids would distract them to the point of near-uselessness when trying to turn over the beds. So I gave them a choice… “Do you want to each eat a few at the end of the lesson (which wouldn’t happen, there’d be rivalry and haste galore), or do you want me to make you jam to have on crackers next week?” Farmer Audrey asked enticingly. “JAM!” Unanimous. “Ok, well then can you eat them while you’re gardening?” “NO!” So you should you save them all for the jam, and harvest them like farmers would and save them for later?” “YES!”

So I guess now you’ve heard of ground cherries. I just made some ground cherry jam… 

4 cups of sugar and 1/2 cup water brought to a boil, simmer 2 minutes, add 8 cups husked ground cherries (that took hours) and bring to a boil again, simmer 5 minutes, cover with a towel in the fridge overnight, boil and simmer again for about 15 minutes the next day (and then, if canning, place immediately in hot jars following canning guidelines).

Last night I made potato leek soup for the class that harvested fingerling potatoes and leeks last week… Today, they harvested and hand-shredded kale and herbs to a simmering pot of soup, then ate it hungrily and took home extra potatoes along with recipe cards.

These kids eat crap in the cafeterias. Preserved, packaged junk food, mostly. And not much can be done about that in many schools unless something major changes at the federal level. I won’t get into that policy issue right now (though I researched it my senior year of college). What organizations like Grow Pittsburgh and we garden coordinators provide is a chance to learn about the true value of food - not just enough edible calories, but the full experience, from soil to sink to cutting board to plate to family dinner table.  

One class today dug up beets to make salad in the classroom and picked green tomatoes to pickle. After everyone got a lesson on pickling green tomatoes (including a Sailor Audrey With Scurvy impression… brines can retain nutirents while preventing spoilage, and sauerkraut was the pickle of choice that ended up providing vitamin C to crewmen on one round-the-world-journey in 1770) and a demo on shredding beets, the majority of students whisked up a dressing with their fresh herbs to serve to their classmates over shredded sweet fuchsia ribbons. A smaller group of advanced students learned to pickle green tomatoes and test pH.

Everyone loved the food. Every. One. Some had never tried beets before. And they were thrilled to be sent home with a recipe card for “Root Veggie Ribbon Salad” and dressing, complete with all sorts of fun variations to try. So even if they’re eating “Cutie Pies” and microwaved pre-packaged chicken fingers for lunch this week, at least they might go to the farmers’ market and make some salad at home this weekend.

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11-year-old Birke Baehr -“What’s Wrong With Our Food System? And How Can We Make A Difference?” AWESOME KID. Worth listening to.