Farm Share Abundance

I got my first farm share two weeks ago and despite my pompous surety that I would know every vegetable in the box, I didn’t.  Broccoli Raab (or Rapini)?  What the heck is that?  And should I be eating the flowers?

What about this unidentified leafy green?

(It’s Tatsoi! I didn’t even know what that was!)

But a quick tour of other blogs like Relishments helped me to identify some things – such as green garlic – and come up with a good recipe for it, and my turnip greens.

Like, I’m sure, many a farm share newbie I also chose the wrong size share for my husband, baby, and I.  The large is indeed large –  and though we were able to contend with ¾ of the share the first week we had to throw away some arugula and one of the unidentified green leaf bundles.  However, two weeks into this dilemma I’ve figured out two solutions to the abundance farm share problem.

1.  Make and freeze meals. After I checked out Homemade Pantry from the library five weeks ago I realized I have become a little bit of “that mom.”  You know, the one who’s busy making her own condensed cream of mushroom soup and trying to feed her kid turnips.  (He likes them.)

But one thing I haven’t become is someone who likes to cook everyday.  I go on mad cooking sprees baking banana muffins, homemade pizza crust, and lightning fast stirfry’s, but… in between all I want to eat is cheese and crackers.  Unfortunately, that kind of thing makes me feel guilty when there’s two other people in the house.  It feels a little selfish. (Maybe it shouldn’t? I don’t know. And yes, my husband cooks too.  But sometimes… neither of us wants to cook.)  That’s why I’ve decided when I get a little extra ambition, I’m going to make a freeze more meals (such as spinach and rice casserole.  So far I’ve made one with one of our delicious bags of abundant spinach.

2.  Easy and Practical Hospitality.  If you’ve been following along over time and read a few of my resolution updates you’ve seen that I struggle a little with exactly how to put hospitality into practice.  Sometimes the notion can be vague.  But with extra veggies on hand it isn’t.  It’s easy for this to translate into an extra dish for a church potluck or maybe a meal for a friend.  I’m looking forward to other ways I can use the farm share to practice hospitality as the summer (and fall) wear on.  It’s lovely to have something in our life that’s abundant enough to be able to share with others and feels good to be generous.


Taking out the Trash

Getting down and dirty with the trash in our house.

As a part of trying to use resources (the earth’s, and my own) more sustainably I decided I would do an inventory each month of a certain aspect of life to see what our impact was when it came to consumption.

In January I took a good look at what goes out of my house during the course of the month.  That’s right, the Trash.  I don’t want to turn this project into a legalistic minute measure of everything, merely gain some broad understanding.  So, I did the simplest thing I could think of with the trash.  I took thirty seconds every three or four days to photograph my trash can and recycling bin to see how much effluvia gets cast from the house.

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It turns out we throw away about 3 bags of kitchen trash a month (with the fourth being almost full now, in part because of the party I hosted over the weekend), and recycle 4 bins full of bottles, cans, and papers.  In addition to this, we also throw away 2 bags a month of disposable diapers. Lets say then we probably throw away about 150 gallons of trash each month, and about 150 gallons of recycling.

Internet Research turns up numbers all over the place on how much Americans may or may not generate tons of trash.  Some say, we can’t know, it’s too hard to track.  Plenty of other websites toss out a number around 4-5 pounds a day.  These numbers probably come from these EPA studies conducted on municipal waste charts.  If this is true, our family of three is around 35% of what the average American throws away (about 5 pounds per day or 1.6 pounds per person, compared to what would be 13.5 pounds for a 3 person family.  And seriously, an 8 month old is a full person in the trash generation world with all their special foods and wastes.).  What’s getting thrown away is mostly food scraps, and bags from food, such as bagel bags, cereal bags, and French fry bags.

By and large what’s getting recycled is bean cans, cereal boxes, and seltzer bottles.  But mostly, lots and lots of Goya bean cans.  If I was going to reduce the amount of recycling I make, this would be the biggest thing to tackle.  A solution to this would be to buy beans in bags and in bulk.   In order to accomplish this type of transformation I would need to learn how to soak beans in a way so that I enjoy them.  So far, I really do prefer canned beans.  So, I’ll need to experiment with a couple methods before I can permanently reduce my can use.  This Grist article is really useful if you’re looking for ways to reduce purchasing packaged foods.  The first two are about soup, perfect tie in with my other January activities.

The two (or three depending on how you count) biggest questions that came of this were –  (1) does Salem have a composting program, or a place to bring compost, and how can I find out? (2) Should I finally switch to using cloth diapers?  I always thought I would when I had a kid, but it’s harder (mentally) than I thought it would be.  Hopefully I can get these questions answered in the next few weeks to my own satisfaction.

In the future I’m planning to inventory some of the following things in my life, maybe you want to join me?

February – Water. March – Trips.  April – Money/Purchasing.  May – Time.  June – Entertainment.  July – Food.  August – Clothing.  September – Friends.  October – Health.  November – “What’s New?”  December – Energy.

A Super Soup Swap

So far this winter is like the November that never ends.  It’s blustery, then rainy; cool one day, reminiscent of fall (or spring) the next.  There is little in the way of waking up with a magical muffling snowfall creating iridescent patches of secret space.   I miss my New England right of complaining about winter snow, so I fall back on merely griping about the inconstant weather.

However, it turns out only a little whining is good for the soul, or (well, technically, actually, honestly, really) none.  Instead, according to the Italian proverb printed on the back of my favorite packaged soup, “ “Sette cose fa la zuppa” which translates to “Soup does seven things.  It relieves your hunger, quenches your thirst, fills your stomach, cleans your teeth, makes you sleep, helps you digest and colors your cheeks.””  What could be the only answer to this?

To have a Soup Swap.

Soup swaps turn out to be a popular winter pastime (almost as popular as mustache parties, but alas, I have yet to attend one of those).  There is even a National Soup Swap Day.  So, with the desire for a quenched thirst I invited over 12 or so friends in the anticipation of a delightful even.

On the day of the swap, 7 women attended, bringing 13 different types of soup spanning cuisines from Mexico, to India, to Italy.  11 were vegetarian, with a total of 5 different types of beans, and 2 different types of lentils used.  Happily, we all seemed to agree that spicy soup is the spice of life, and 4 soups were thus titled, and “curry” implying it in others.

There’s a good half dozen ways to swap soup at these types of events, but we listed all of our soups on a board and then went in a circle choosing a container (1 qt) each time. I ended up with five different soups. If the measure of success if delicious soup, new recipes, and a great evening with friends, then a success it was.  I would definitely host a swap again.

One surprise I ended up with was that few people at my party knew one another.  Actually, this happens to me frequently, so it wasn’t a large surprise.  My best hypothesis is that it comes from my persistent habit of making one or two new friends from each activity or job or college that I try, but I fail to integrate my new friends with my old friends, or simply move on to new activities too rapidly.  However, it did make for some very interesting conversations about art therapy, the MBTA, and church plants.

Part 4: Why Food is More than Consumption

Or: How I learned about organics, farmers markets, farming, and lived to tell the tale.

Or: How I learned about Organics, Locavores, Farmers and Farmers Markets.

I didn’t grow up particularly food conscious or in a gourmet household.  In fact, due to the fickle tastebuds of my siblings and I, we had a food schedule at my house which was almost militaristic in its regimentation.  Monday night meant you’d be eating baked chicken, boiled carrots and white rice.  Felt like coming by on Wednesday?  That’d be meatloaf, mashed potatoes and reheated frozen spinach.  I admit to not eating sauce on my spaghetti (Thursday night) until I was at least 11.

Unsurprisingly the list of foods I didn’t taste until I went to college was long: alfredo sauce, asparagus, avocado, beans, brown rice, couscous, mango, salmon, sushi…  How did yesterday’s conventional eater become today’s food iconoclast?

Answer: New Zealand.

The semester before I graduated college I was focused on one thing and one thing only, getting a diploma.  I hadn’t begun to contemplate the inevitability or possibility of living on my own, employment, and paying bills.  (As an “adult” now I’m not really how I managed this, but I did.)  I don’t remember having any conversations with mentors about getting a job, nor was I prescient enough to pursue companies, job fairs, or any sort of path to a paycheck.  This could have been a nightmare of stress.

Instead I was poring over the WWOOFing website.  WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, tacitly offered me the biggest adventure of my short life.  And I took it.

Here I am at 21, enjoying the Wairarapa region of New Zealand after a day of hiking. On the above map, where I am is about 45 minutes away from Palmerston North.

Over five months I stayed at 9 farms around the North and (upper) South Island. I weeded. Planted. Harvested. Mulched. Milked. Made Chicken Feed. Learned to Cook. Worked at Farmers Markets.

Mostly I learned about food and how, paradoxically, it’s more than just what you eat.

Farmers have philosophies about why they do things the way they do, and what life is all about, perhaps particularly organic farmers.  Many (but not all) of them like to talk about their methods.

So I learned from a lawyer who had gone part time in order to make wine from his own grapes and a hay bale home. Family farmers who talked about the layers to the land and caring for the soil (compost), plants (water, and weeding) and filling the air (beekeeping.)  The owner of an eco-tourist farm and forest told me she always washes dishes as though there is nothing else she’d rather be doing. While picking radishes I discussed the nature of self-actualization and the soul.

These people loved food.  And they knew about food in a way with which I wasn’t familiar.  It was more than a trip to the supermarket, or restaurant.  This food, animals and vegetables, came from somewhere, someplace where they had seen it unfold; seed to slaughter. To me this was novel stuff.  And because I was 21, and impressionable, and alone in a strange land, it stuck.

So. That’s where I started thinking about food.  I would probably have continued eating happily ever after without that education. But now I don’t.  There’s a whole lot of ways to think about food, and just eating what’s on your plate isn’t the way to start.

Part 3: Don’t Run out of Food in the House

don't run out of food

When I got my first job, I was pretty clueless about money.  And, unlike those mythical people I hear about who are clueless about money and end up acquiring credit card debt along with their trendiest purchases, I was determined to spend as close to no money as was possible.  Austerity measures were the order of the day, years before the recession or credit crisis or housing bubble burst.  I was going to live on less than 1000 dollars a month on the North Shore.  I wasn’t going to buy new clothes.  Even though I took that cookbook out from the library every couple weeks I wouldn’t buy it.  And when I went to the supermarket I wasn’t going to spend more than 30 dollars.

 Add to this a serious case of shopper’s anxiety about prices, miles traveled, taste, and ethical considerations, and a startling inability to cook.  I was a 22 year old who could have been bundled off to the Danvers State Hospital, were it still functioning, each time I left Stop and Shop.  There was one particular day where I called my best friend in front of the eggs, asking her, what should I do?  Free range? Organic? Vegetarian? But “regular eggs” are only 1.79!  She, thank God, gave me some advice along the lines of “You need to chill out.”

30 dollars, moreover, is not really enough money to ever get anything that isn’t strictly a food item.  Lots of things, you may have noticed, which are purchased at the grocery store are not food items. Flour. Jalepenos. Lemon Juice. Cumin.  That does not make a tasty stand alone meal, but it’ll easily run you ten bucks.

Also, since shopping was such a stressful endeavor, I tried to put off doing it as long as I could, and do it as fast as I could.  So, if I bought cereal one week, I would try to make it stretch for another as well.  I often ended up with too many shelf stables and not enough fresh produce. As you may surmise, I ate quite a bit of tasteless food, and peanut butter sandwiches (no jelly).  These two things don’t fall into the same category for me, but for others, they might.  Furthermore, I often ate bean burritos for breakfast, and lentils (remember, so spices, or broth to flavor them) with tuna as a dinner.  Looking back on this, I laugh, but at the time, I took myself deadly serious.

After about four or five months of this, I began formulating what would become one of my adult lessons. See, it got tedious to eat the same things (rice and beans, pasta and canned sauce) over and over.  And when I ran out of cereal and milk, eating pasta for breakfast felt, well, odd.  So I would stop at Dunkin Donuts for an egg and cheese bagel and what-the-heck-might-as-well medium cup of French Vanilla coffee.  After all, I couldn’t go shopping until the end of the week, and that was, hmm, 3 days away.  There were also the days that I looked in the cupboards and saw that rice and beans wasn’t what I wanted to make (thirty minutes of cooking! NO WAY! I’m Starving) and went to the Chinese take out around the corner.

You’ll note, that about three days of breakfast this way, and a night or so of takeout, would have been half of my food budget for the week, but I thought of it as another category of spent money, so it was okay.  Until I realized money was money whatever “category” in which I might be placing it.  I added another piece to my adult lesson.  It stands thus:

Within Reason, Buy what you want at the grocery store; Under Regular Circumstances, Don’t run out of food in the house.

Trying to skimp on groceries is really a recipe for disaster.  Its expensive, tasteless, and worry inducing.  There are exceptions to the rules, but adult lessons aren’t really about the exceptions, since they always exist, they are about the regular and the reasonable.  I have since also learned a great deal about how to shop, and how not to make myself crazy.  Also about what I like to cook, and how to have ingredients on hand which will lend themselves to experimentation, or lightning quick meals.

(These are the pictures now, of my refrigerator and cupboards when I think, okay, it’s time to shop, we’re down to only one or two meals.)

Food Part 2: On eschewing Calories and Diets

Calories are like terrorists, always lurking, always ready to attack, and something on which we declare war.

I used to pore over glossy magazines like Self, Glamour, and Women’s Health weekly.  I won’t deny that I still enjoy these magazines, but they no longer hold such sway over me. In general women’s love/hate relationship with food and image starts when they hit puberty, though perhaps earlier for some.  Increasingly now, men are conscripted into this self loathing as well. Around the time weight becomes a focus of living, calories become as important as World Peace.   No, more important to some.

Calories, of which 3500 make a pound, have existed forever in the same way that America did before Columbus discovered it.  However, they started being published ubiquitously on nutrition labels in 1985, or the year I was born.  This means, they’ve been around my whole life.  They have thus evolved from a scientific term into a household concept of monumental importance in the last 26 years.

This is the impression given in a supermarket aisle anyway where, beside your cart of food, are magazines discussing calories and how to “cut” “lose” and “incinerate” them.   How violent.   Calories are like terrorists, always lurking, always ready to attack, and something on which we declare war. Like scientific concepts and terrorists then, quite a bit of money is spent to study them, and to decide how best to inform the public how they should be treated.

Continue reading “Food Part 2: On eschewing Calories and Diets”

Food Part 1: On (Not) Eating Animals

In response to reading Eating Animals by Jonathon Safron Foer I have decided to write a 5 (or more?) part series on Food as I see it, eat it, and think about it.  Foer’s book is about Meat, which is what Animals become once they are killed and about to be consumed.  Not all of my sections are about Meat.  In fact, technically only one touches on the topic, and that’s this one.  However, it’s about how I don’t eat meat.

This essay contains my 6 reasons for being a Vegetarian.  Prior to reading Eating Animals I had only 5, but I’ve added 1 other.  I’ve also, having refreshed my memory on the particulars of the state of animal affairs in the US, decided to return to the more strict vegetarianism that I practiced when I first started in 2007.  These certainly aren’t everyone’s reasons for being a vegetarian, and some would argue that other reasons are “better.”  However, these one are mine, and they have (and will again) suffice to keep me meat-free.

Continue reading “Food Part 1: On (Not) Eating Animals”