Thursday, May 26, 2011

Squash islands and the land as our soul

My squash hills look like islands in my garden at this moment. We’ve had nearly three times as much rain as usual this year. Yes, three times. The sweet peas are ready to pick, if you don’t mind walking through the mud.

People have brought up global climate change to me multiple times today. I’m trying to retrain myself to use that term rather than calling it global warming as that really is a misnomer. Some of the “change” seems to be resulting in more extreme weather patterns. This morning my husband wondered aloud if we in Kentucky are transforming into a tropical climate.

With that on my mind I interviewed someone today who started a solo Catholic Worker movement in West Virginia. She spoke about how she sees God in the land. She also shared the insights she’s gained in becoming part of the “family” that inhabits the holler where she lives. “The land is their soul,” she said, explaining that for generations their families have clung to that ancestral place regardless of the difficulties inherent in living in a rugged, somewhat isolated place.

That discussion connects with the work she does to raise awareness about the problem of mountaintop removal. Although a coal company owner would, no doubt, bristle as my use of the word “problem” (it is a solution to his quest to make his company profitable), I’ve heard too many stories about the polluted streams, the cracked foundations, the family graveyards that have been buried beneath what was formerly the top of a mountain. It’s all part of a quest for profit and for electricity. We all participate when we turn on our computer or read by the light of a lamp in the dark.

Perhaps my island squash hills are one result of how we’ve lost touch with the way we must care for the earth so it can continue to sustain us. As I make asparagus and goat cheese pasta for supper tonight, I’ll be thanking our little piece of earth for nourishing that asparagus. I’ll also be considering what my personal role is in ensuring that future generations have the same luxury.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Easy lunches from the garden

This summer I’ll be doing a session at the Field to Fork Festival in July on packing a garden lunch. I’m beginning to experiment with recipes I can share and here is the first one I’m calling a success.
But first, to gather the main ingredient for my sandwich I took advantage of a dry, sunny morning to cut greens. All of the spring rain has made the spinach and kale grow especially well. I cut and cut, rejoicing in the seemingly endless sprigs of cilantro that willingly returned this year. It always such a fun surprise to see plants return from the previous year. And enjoying the sunshine on a perfect morning made everything even grander.

Amidst my joy I brought in a pile of greens to wash then went back to my computer. About an hour later I realized it felt like I had a piece of mud hanging on my neck so I instinctively reached up and pulled it off only to see a bloody tic in my hand. No, do not simply pull out a tick because you’re unlikely to get the entire beast. (You can burn them off or, I’m told, covering them with Vaseline will dislodge them.) Sure enough, I could see a small black spec still in my skin and I had to go to the doctor to have the rest scraped out. A reminder to all my gardening friends: after being in the garden, always check for tics. Especially in a year with abundant rain, as we’ve had, they seem to be prolific.
Nonetheless, I did have spinach to use for my lunch. Here’s the sandwich I enjoyed.

Spring Spinach Surprise

Half a pita or a flat bread to fold in half
Spreadable blue cheese or goat cheese
Handful of spinach
Banana or strawberries sliced
Fruit chutney

Spread cheese on bread. Stuff pita with spinach. Top with sliced fruit. Top with walnuts and chutney. Enjoy!

Do you have an easy garden lunch that I could share during my session? Post it in the comment section so we can all read it or e-mail it to me.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

When’s the last time you enjoyed a tea?

I recently planned a Saturday tea for the women in my prayer group and my mom, who was visiting. What fun it was! Planning a tea gives me a chance to play with ideas for little bites of food prepared from seasonal food and served on pretty china. How could that not make for a grand afternoon?
This time around I planned easy-to-prepare foods that I could make on Saturday morning. I knew I had asparagus and rhubarb from the garden to take advantage of. Since my kale wasn’t quite ready, I also bought some locally-grown red kale to incorporate. And there was still a jar of last year’s apply chutney to add a fruity bite. I tossed around a variety of ideas for using those ingredients and this is what I decided on:
Prosciutto wrapped roasted asparagus
Kale and caramelized onion tartlets
Apple chutney open-faced sandwiches
Rhubarb cake
Oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip cookies
Lady Grey Tea
Orange Spice Tea

For the tartlets, I found the kale (which I sautéed) a little bit bitter, even with the sweetness of the caramelized onions, so I added a little agave nectar to tame the taste. Other possibilities for adding dimensions to kale are to add hot pepper then top with roasted nuts and dried cranberries. The combination of textures is a good touch.
I also added soft, blue cheese in the bottom of the tartlets before filling with the kale mixture and popping them in the oven for five minutes. Although I heard no complaints about anything I served, these tartlets were the hit of the day.
When my resources transform to tomatoes, potatoes and raspberries, perhaps I’ll take on the challenge again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bluegrass Food Summit: When consumers meet producers

After breakfast today I went out into the fresh spring morning to pick strawberries and cut asparagus. It feels like such a luxury to walk out the door and find these marvelous treats. Everyone, however, isn’t able (or sometimes interested) to do that.

For this last installment about the Bluegrass Food Summit, I think it’s important to consider how some people are working to bridge the divides among producers, marketers and consumers. When people raise wonderful food locally, we cooks need to be able to get it! Although I didn’t hear any definitive answers to the question about bridging this gap at the summit, lots of folks shared ideas from the podium and well as in conversations throughout the day.

It sounds like a simple problem to solve, but it’s not. If you grow it yourself or a neighbor offers it to you, it’s easy enough to come by but that’s often not the case. Even when farmers in my community raise food that I would like to have, it’s not always convenient to call them, see if they’re home and if they have what I want. Although my town doesn’t have a grocery store I can get to one in a neighboring community before I can get to some of the farms in my own county.

That’s why I like it when they sell at the farmer’s market, which has been one place for producers and consumers to meet for a number of years. Even towns that didn’t host farmer’s markets are beginning to rethink that. For the farmer, though, a day at the market is frustrating if they spend all of that time waiting for customers and sell very little. Any farmer can tell you there’s always work to be done so it’s not easy to be away from the farm for a day.

Businesses like Marksbury Farm Market in Garrard County and Good Foods Coop in Lexington make it easier for consumers to buy food produced locally. It’s in one place with multiple products the consumer might want or need. I shop at both places and although some of the prices are significantly higher than what I could pay at a large chain retailer, I think it’s worth it. As one speaker said, in general good food isn’t cheap and cheap food isn’t good. I also see it as a way of supporting the local economy.

In Louisville, the Farm to Table effort is working to connect consumers and farmers. That means farmers are getting help locating larger markets, like restaurants, and promoting their products. Sarah Fritscher spoke passionately about this effort, sharing some of its positive results. It looks like a model others could follow.

More and more, the food is being grown locally, especially in Kentucky where new ways of farming continue to replace the traditional tobacco-based economy. The results can surely benefit us all.