Monday, January 31, 2011

It was a food weekend

Friday, 2:30
I took a break from work to drive up to the Marksbury Farm Market for eggs, milk, sweet potatoes and cheese. Marksbury is a new Kentucky business that processes locally raised pork, beef and chicken that is raised by the standards they set forth on their website. It’s a delightful place that makes getting locally raised products much easier in the winter when the farmer’s market isn’t open.

Saturday, 4:00
After a day of cleaning the house it was time to make supper. I had already unthawed a frozen chicken from St. Asaph Farm and made a Cushaw pie earlier in the day. To go with the roast turkey I prepared bread stuffing, blanched asparagus (from the freezer), baked sweet potatoes and roasted Cushaw. I experimented with an avocado sauce to go with the vegetables but it needs lots of perfecting before I share that recipe with anyone.

Sunday, 12:30
Sunday was seed ordering day! Yes, as the stocks of winter vegetables and canned goods begin to diminish I’m thinking about what I’ll plant this year. I’ve been enjoying perusing the catalogs and fantasizing about what this year’s garden will be. Before going crazy with a new order, I inventoried my leftover seeds and those I saved this year. That leaves me with only a few to order. I prepared one order for Seeds of Change then looked through other catalogs to discover how to take advantage of special discount offers. I’ll hold onto the Seeds of Change catalog to consult its agronomics information throughout the growing season. I’ll also keep the John Scheeper’s Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog because I like the illustrations that will help me identify plants if I have a hard time distinguishing them from weeds.

Sunday 4:30
After a weekend of good food, Jim and I went to the movies and indulged in a bucket of butter popcorn. I know it’s not so good for me but once in awhile everyone has to splurge!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A dearth of fruit

This is the season when I begin to long for fresh fruit. That crisp apple, that juicy peach, those firm, sweet strawberries that I can pluck directly from the vine—where are they? At present the apples are dried and in a container in my cabinet, the strawberries are in a bag in the freezer and the peaches are nowhere since we didn’t can any this year.

Finding local fruit all year round only seems to be possible through serious and varied preservation, then it still isn’t enough to satisfy my desires. I love fresh oranges and I just don’t know that it’s possible to grow them anywhere in Kentucky. The same goes for avocados. I have considered trying a lemon tree that I could bring inside during the winter.

Rather than lamenting what I don’t have, however, let me consider what I do have in terms of fruit. Perhaps considering it now in the low, fresh food season will be good motivation for this year’s planting and preservation planning.

In my kitchen, I do have:
Dried apples
Apple and pear chutney
Frozen apple pie filling
Frozen strawberries, blueberries and blackberries
Berry jam

Most of these fruits I’ll eat with breakfast. The dried applies are great in any hot cereal as well as in muffins and coffee cakes. Although I understand chutney is good with meat, my favorite way to eat it is with cream cheese between two pieces of homemade bread on a sandwich I’ve made with my panini press. The frozen berries I warm in the microwave and use in plain yogurt with nuts, to top waffles or to use in a smoothie. The jam isn’t just good for toast; it’s a find topping for a crostata or ingredient in other desserts.

All of those options are good, but I would like to have more choices next winter. It’s time to look at those seed and nursery catalogs and see what I can plan.

Friday, January 21, 2011

One story leads to myriad learning

Shortly after I began freelancing in 1991, I searched my new Kentucky home for articles to write. Because of my interest in simple living and the environment, I was drawn to writing about Appalachia Science in the Public Interest. That’s where I met its founder, Jesuit Father Al Fritsch.

It was a fortuitous meeting because as I interviewed Fr. Al and others involved with his organization, I picked up so many things to use in my own life. I learned to “audit” my time to see if I was using it wisely. I visited communities of religious women who made marvelous use of their lands while also improving the energy efficiency of their buildings. (Keep in mind this was long before the current national trend toward such movements.) I visited the ASPI office, which at the time was in a cordwood house, and realized I could actually afford to build a house like that some day. I began to explore natural ways of gardening that didn’t require chemicals. One meeting led to so much learning!

I received a note from Fr. Al the other day. He’s also an author and I’m reading his most recent book, Water Sounds, a book about North American missionary and naturalist Jacques Marquette. Fr. Al also pointed me to some wonderful resources on his website. Besides listing his many published works, some of them are available for free on his site, including 365 Soups in 2009. He followed that with 365 Salads in 2010. This year it’s 365 ways to make breakfast with oatmeal. His motivation? He wants to show that it is possible to vary your diet on a low budget. It also allows him to try to live on $3/day (the average food stamp benefit for low-income people in the United States) and still have some left to support an orphan in India.

That encouraged me to think about my own food budget. I realized I do often eat on $3/day and purchase luxury items now and then. But I can do that because of the food I raise, the food preservation we do and because I cook from whole foods. Just to be sure I'm on target, I'm going to record everything I spend on food in February. That might lead me to learn more about my food budget that I'm remembering at the moment!

AS you can see, I continue to listen and learn.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Almost Mom’s Peanut Butter Cookies

I must admit that even though I try to live from the garden all year long, there are times when I cook something that continues absolutely nothing that I’ve grown myself. That’s what happened yesterday. The cold, gray day prompted me to long for a house filled with the sweet aroma of baking cookies. My mom is the cookies queen so, for me, making cookies is like taking a step back into the kitchen of my childhood.

I usually don’t waste calories on any dessert that lacks chocolate so when I came upon Mom’s recipe for peanut butter cookies, I decided to slightly alter it to add chocolate and make it a tiny bit healthier. You can do that with so many dessert recipes by altering the kind and amounts of flour, sugar and fat you use.

For the peanut butter cookies, I first substituted a combination of butter and coconut oil. Several years ago I heard a doctor praise the benefits of coconut oil; it is reportedly a healthier saturated fat made of medium-chain triglycerides that convert to energy rather than fat. Nonetheless, I’m not total sold on it so if you have another fat substitute that you like, try it. The coconut oil did work well in these cookies.

Next is the sugar. I used one-third of what the original recipe calls for. Sugar can almost always be cut by at least half in a recipe. Try it and see what you think. You can also experiment with sugar substitutes, like honey, organic maple syrup and agave nectar.

For the flour, I again used the one-third approach. No I didn’t only use one-third the amount of flour but I substituted one-third of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat. Again, there’s no discernible difference but you get more fiber.

Finally, I added dark chocolate chips. Dark chocolate is filled with antioxidants that fight cancer, so why not indulge once in awhile!

Find your favorite cookie recipe and experiment with adjusting it to a healthier alternative. And if you want to try Almost Mom’s Peanut Butter Cookies, here’s the recipe.

Cream ½ cup butter, ½ cup coconut oil, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla. Stir in 1 cup peanut butter. Mix together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 2 tsp. soda and a dash of salt. Stir into creamed mixture. Add 1 cup dark chocolate chips. Form small balls and put on cookie sheet. Press with fork on top to make a crisscross. Bake 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Enjoy with a glass of milk!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Revisiting the purpose of The Goodness of the Garden . . . All the Year Round

Last week a friend who read my blog asked: Where do you get the vegetables during the winter?

From the jars on our shelf.
From our freezer.
From two small businesses that sell local produce.
Directly from area producers.

Fifteen months after I challenged myself to try to eat, as much as possible, from the garden throughout the year, I’ve identified a number of area sources for food that is produced within 100 miles rather than flown or otherwise shipped, sometimes thousands of miles. Yes, I like a banana once in awhile and they don’t grow in Kentucky so I don’t buy them very often. And finding the fruit that I want in the region is my biggest challenge, but that’s only because I haven’t fully transitioned to using locally produced grains. That is part of my challenge for this year. I often buy Weisenberger Mill flour but need to expand my search for additional regional producers.

I began this challenge because I thought it was important not only for the health of my family, but also for our world. We, in the United States, have largely forgotten when foods are in season. We take for granted that we can get whatever we want to eat whenever we want it. We don’t think about all of the energy that is used to transport, grow and package our foods. I think we need to consider those things not only for our individual health but also for the health of our planet.

Besides all of that, I find it highly enjoyable to grow, preserve and cook my own food. In fact, other than the writing I do (writing is as vital to me as breathing) it’s probably the most rewarding thing I do. It provides me with a creative outlet, a way to enjoy the outdoors, produce to share with people who are hungry and plenty of great meals at home.

I’m still learning to live from that wonderful Goodness of the Garden and I don’t anticipate the lessons will end any time soon. Have you learned some lessons about this along your journey? Please share them. We can all learn from one another.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Roasted root vegetables add flavor to party

This past evening Jim and I went to a dinner party to celebrate two friends who are preparing to move to the Philippines. The meal was a feast—broccoli and cauliflower salad, roasted chicken, flank steak, spinach bread, potato and cabbage casserole, snowball cake and my contribution of roasted root vegetables.

Root vegetables (and winter squash) are easy to keep for the winter months. We still had beets, sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes from our garden to use in the recipe. I’ve never grown parsnips and had to buy them. It felt wonderful to be able to take a colorful dish filled with flavor and nutrition.

Typically when I roast vegetables I toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper, roast at 400 degrees until done then enjoy. The recipe I had from Kentucky Proud (a website with information about Kentucky products) called for making a dressing for the vegetables. Although I’m not a horseradish fan, I made the dressing with half the horseradish and drizzled it on the vegetables. The results? See the ratings for yourself.

Kathy: 9
Doug: 9 (Did you cut these all up so uniformly yourself? Maybe it should be 10!)
Jim: 9

If you don’t have your own root vegetables, check your area farmer’s market or the local coop. You’ll be happy with the results.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fresh pumpkin – it’s easy to use

Yesterday I was reading a gardening magazine that I quite enjoy when I came across an article about a farm family that is dedicated to growing organically. I scanned the article and photos then arrived at some of their recipes. Ah, pumpkin pie. Let me see how they make it I thought. I began to read the ingredient list. It began with canned pumpkin. What? A farm family dedicated to organics who makes their pie from a can? Please say it isn’t true.

I grew up not liking pumpkin pie because the only kind I ever saw came from a can. When I learned how easy pumpkins are to grow, and how much nutrition they contain, I tried making a pie from my homegrown pumpkin. Either my taste buds changed or the ingredients did it for me because I enjoyed the pie.

I’ve since discovered many ways to enjoy pumpkin. I’ve tried pumpkin filled ravioli, pumpkin pasta, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin cake and pumpkin coffee cake. (Check out that recipe at It’s easy and so moist. I substituted yogurt for most of the sour cream.)

I do understand the need some folks have for the convenience of a can and according to the Mayo Clinic (, that’s not all bad. The nutritional Vitamin A, potassium and iron are comparable. They point out, however, that you should carefully examine the ingredients in the canned pumpkin to be sure you aren’t getting a lot of high-calorie additions.

How do you get pureed pumpkin to create with? It’s very easy.
1) Cut the pumpkin in half.
2) Use a spoon to remove the seeds. Save them for toasting in the oven if you like.
3) Find a pan large enough to hold both halves, or use two pans. Put ½ inch or so of water in the pan. Place pumpkin cut side down and cover with foil.
4) Bake at 400 degrees until the pumpkin is soft when you prick it with a fork. Large pumpkins might take an hour.
5) When cool enough to handle, use a spoon to remove the flesh. Place in food processor with a spoon full or two of water from the pan. Process until you get a smooth puree.
6) Now you can cook with it! If you don’t want to use it all immediately, measure it and freeze in plastic bags with the amount marked on the outside. Then you can enjoy pumpkin even when the season is past.

I promise that if you start with a good pumpkin, you won’t want to go back to canned filling the next time you make pumpkin pie.