Real Food Mama

Musings about cooking, eating and everything in between.

New Year’s resolutions? January 3, 2010

Filed under: Food Activism,Garden Fresh,Home Economics — realfoodmama @ 8:50 pm
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So we are now three days into 2010 and I have moved from holiday planning to garden planning. It is the time to start thinking about seeds and I have a list a mile long…or so it seems.

In addition to resolving to continue buying locally and eating well I am also resolved to have a more successful garden this year than last. As some of you may remember, 2009 was a year of mixed successes and failures as far as my garden went. While our tomatoes did great, our squash were a complete bust, our corn failed to mature, and we managed to kill our raspberry plants because we placed them dangerously close to the potato patch.

All in all, not a huge success!

So in an effort to combine my gardening resolutions with the aforementioned “buying local” I have decided to purchase seeds from local sources as much as possible. One of the suppliers I am most excited about is Native Seeds SEARCH (Southwestern Endangered Aridland Resource Clearing House) While they are located in Tucson, AZ (not all that close, frankly) they carry seeds that are region specific. Things like the Chimayo Chili (Chimayo is a short 24 miles NE of my home in Santa Fe) and New Mexico bolitas (a dry bean grown for centuries in the northern sections of the state).

Of course I will also be purchasing seeds from Seeds of Change, a certified organic seed company with offices in Santa Fe and farms throughout the state.

My primary goal is to start several things from seed this year that we purchased in plant form last time…mainly tomatoes. Secondary to that of course is to improve upon last year by planting earlier, paying more attention to companion planting, and generally trying to improve my food stewardship.

In addition to my excitement about our garden, I am also anticipation several significant events regarding livestock. One of my dairy goats is pregnant and is due to deliver her kid9s) in March. We also have planned on getting chickens this spring (for eggs, not meat) and will need to design and build a chicken coop before May.

In either case, 2010 promises to be an interesting year and I am hopeful that I can continue my education about all things food.

 

The Slow Money Dinner September 14, 2009

The menu

The menu

Apologies to those of you who might have been looking for this post earlier in the weekend. Without going into a whole lot of detail, my bad goat karma created a number of dilemma’s for me and I was simply overwhelmed dealing with that. In either case, I wanted to share the wonderful meal put together for the attendees using all local ingredients and highlighting several local specialties, including a sacred Native American bread whose cooking technique is in danger of being forgotten.

The menu included a starter of zucchini and summer squash in a delicious tomato chutney, a fabulous salad using local greens, goat cheese and pecan, a buffalo relleno with a tomato reduction and at the end, a toxicatingly sweet chocolate honey pinon tart. Each diner was gifted with a corn necklace hand made by Navajo elders and the iced tea served was Cota tea, a local plant that has a surprisingly mild, sweet flavor and makes a refreshing drink whether served hot or cold.

Sadly, there was one down point to this experience. The event was catered and none of the food was prepared on site, so each dish, with the exception of the salad, suffered as a result. The food was still phenomenal, however something was lost. Perhaps it was that nothing arrived piping hot, or that certain aspects of the meal where somewhat drier than they might have otherwise been. In either case the abundance, not to mention the creativity, more than made up for the effects of transport.

The bread was diverse; a blue cornbread, a chipotle flat bread, and a molasses pepita bread all blended to create quite an interesting flavor palate and each type of bread went best with a particular part of the meal. The cornbread with the zucchini, for example, and the molasses bread with the relleno. The most unique bread of all, however, was certainly the sacred corn bread mentioned a few paragraphs above – paper thin and made only with blue cornmeal, water and ash, it reminded me of rice paper in texture, although the flavor was nothing similar.

My most favorite course was the salad – containing roasted pecans, local greens, locally produced goat cheese similar in texture to feta, and fabulous yellow and orange cherry tomatoes. All these ingredients were paired nicely with a delicious vinaigrette. I could have eaten four times what I did and this is why I have no picture – it was gone before I remembered the camera!

All said, the meal was a fabulous conclusion to the Slow Money conference as it really allowed each attendee to sample the results of successful investment in local agriculture. I am grateful to be living in a place that supports this kind of economy and I am hopeful that the success of both the conference and the meal encourages all the people who came to Santa Fe for this event to return home and try to implement these ideals in whatever ways they can.

Until then, Happy Eating!

This post is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday blog carnival.

Bread plate

Bread plate

Sacred bread

Sacred bread

Zucchini Starter

Zucchini Starter

Bison Relleno with Tomato Reduction

Bison Relleno with Tomato Reduction

 

Farmer’s Market Meals August 5, 2009

Eggplant varieties

Eggplant varieties

This week is National Farmer’s market week and in honor of the special occasion, I have been trying to cook much of our food this week solely from the farmer’s market. Since my market provides a good selection of meat, dairy and produce, it hasn’t been all that difficult, but there has been one particularly successful meal – ratatouille.

My market provides all of the ingredients, with the exception of sea salt. I learned a few tricks recently that really made this a successful dish. First, in order to improve the texture of the eggplant do the following: slice it approx 1/4 inch thick then lay it out on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle each piece with salt and let it sit for about an hour. The salt will pull the excess water out of the eggplant, resulting in a firmer texture upon cooking. The other secret I learned was this: when making ratatouille, the key is the cooking order – Eggplant, Zucchini, Peppers, Onions, Tomatoes. So that being said, here is the recipe I used!

    Farmer’s Market ratatouille

1 small eggplant – about 3/4 pound
1 large zucchini
1 medium onion
1 sweet pepper (I prefer green as I think this compliments the flavors best)
2 medium or 1 large heirloom tomato, skinned (To skin the tomato, drop into boiling water for a few seconds, then shock in cold water. The skin will split and should peel off easily.)
2 – 4 TBS Olive oil
Sea salt

After preparing the eggplant and tomato as mentioned above, cut the vegetables into bite sized chunks – I like to go ahead and put the eggplant in the pan then cut the zucchini and so on, but you are certainly free to do all your chopping at once!

Heat the olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet and put the vegetables in, eggplant first. Allow each veggie to cook down before adding the next, especially the eggplant. Once you have added the final vegetable (the tomato) season with salt to your taste and serve.

Voila! Easy ratatouille!

This post has been my contribution to Real Food Wednesday, hosted this week by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

 

National Farmer’s Market Week – August 2 – 8! July 31, 2009

Filed under: Events,Farmer's Market — realfoodmama @ 3:09 pm
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This coming week, August 3rd to 9th, is National Farmer’s Market week as declared by the US Secretary of Agriculture.

Unfortunately there is nothing particularly special occurring this week in Santa Fe – we have continuous Cook with the Chef events, but this has been happening since the beginning of the summer. I have contacted a few people to see if they have thought of anything additional, but with no response as of yet!

Regardless I do find it rather interesting that there is a government sanctioned “week” for celebrating locally grown food. It is a great way for people who may not know much about their local food sheds to learn. I encourage all of you to contact your newspapers and local publications, as well as your local farmer’s market associations, and make sure that the word gets out.

Happy Eating!

 

Local organic flour – some baking experiments. July 29, 2009

Filed under: Eating local,Real Food Wednesday,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 11:17 am
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I was finally able to get a few pounds of the local organic wheat flour sold here at my Co-Op. As some of you may have read in this post, there is a local wheat grower’s Co-Op in New Mexico which provides local, organic and heirloom variety wheat flour to many of the local bakeries here in town. It turns out prior to WWII, New Mexico was actually a huge wheat growing state and many of the wheat varieties used are over 100 years old.

Since the flour only comes in 50 lb bags, I got about 5 pounds with which to experiment and have really loved the results, so I thought I would share the most recent recipes with everyone:

    Raspberry Buttermilk Pancakes

1 1/2 cup flour soaked in 1 1/2 cup buttermilk for 2 hours. (I didn’t get a chance to do this overnight unfortunately. I plan on trying a longer soaking the next time.)
3 Tbsp butter (other fat can be substituted – coconut oil would probably be delicious!)
3 Tbsp raw honey (or sweetener of choice)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp aluminum free baking powder + 1/2 tsp baking soda ( I tried one without additional leavening not knowing how the soaking would affect the mix and it was like a really thick crepe…which was good, but not what I was going for!)
tsp organic vanilla extract
about 1/2 c fresh organic raspberries

I heat a cast iron skillet to about medium then place approx 1 Tbsp light olive oil or butter in the pan. Once it has heated (or melted in the case of the butter) I wipe it clean with a paper towel and then use this “mop” to re-grease between cakes. I typically measure out about a 1/3 of a cup of batter at a time.

The fresh raspberries add a nice tartness which compliments the buttermilk flavor well. I look forward to making bread with this flour, as I have yet to do so. My sourdough starter, discussed here, has taken off nicely and I am sure that it will produce a great loaf. More details on that soon!

This post is my contribution to Real Food Wednesday’s, hosted this week by Cheeseslave. Happy Eating!

 

Sampling the Goods July 28, 2009

Filed under: Eating local,Farmer's Market — realfoodmama @ 12:18 pm
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As it is Tuesday, I made my way down town to the farmer’s market to meet a friend for coffee and to do some of the shopping I failed to do Saturday as a result of the enormous crowds. It was Spanish Market weekend here in Santa Fe, which basically means a bunch of tourists come to the most confusing city in the country, get lost and basically cause general chaos. As a result the Farmer’s Market was a veritable madhouse Saturday morning and I bought nothing as a result….but I digress.

Since the atmosphere at the Tuesday market is much more laid back, it tends to be the day I buy my fruits and vegetables. For one, none of the meat or egg vendors are there, and secondly, because the crowds are so much smaller I tend to fell less guilty about sampling everything and asking questions about the produce.

As a general rule, the vendors are more than willing to let me try their goods. Many of the apple and tomato sellers have slices for people to taste, and in the event that I want to try a pepper to test it’s hotness, or a cherry to test it’s sweetness, I typically am granted the favor. I suppose even I would think it unreasonable to sample, say, an eggplant, but I actually don’t like eggplant so I suspect it won’t be an issue. In either case, it is my opinion that a vendor who is willing to let a customer try a piece of produce is more likely to answer questions about how it was grown, provide suggestions for cooking it, and nourish that relationship between buyer and farmer. They are also much more likely to get my money.

I was, therefor, rather surprised this morning when I asked to sample a raspberry and was told no. As I am sure you are all aware, a raspberry is a paltry thing – a small, single bite fruit. So why the unwillingness to allow me to try the $5 for a 1/2 pint fruit? I can only guess at the motives, but it certainly left a bad taste in my mouth.

It made me really wonder about the attitude of the farmer – a well known local, certified organic, mono-crop producer. The unwillingness to part with a single berry so as to potentially engender a relationship with someone who would, under different circumstances, become a regular customer, seems a poor decision. But perhaps he doesn’t think he needs to create personal relationships with his customers since he has an established brand. It is a rather peculiar kind of arrogance that I found quite disheartening.

The whole purpose, in my mind, of buying locally is to establish a relationship of trust between the farmer’s growing my food and myself. I want to know that the farmer cares about me; my health and well being. I want to know that the food grown is not sprayed, not processed, not pumped full of chemicals. I want to know that the grower is thoughtful, concerned about his or her community, and wants to provide sustainable food for that community. Perhaps this is too much to expect, but I find that so many of the vendors at the farmer’s market are like this.

Outside of local markets, this is absolutely not the case. Things are packaged to the point where it is impossible to open them even once you get home. Sampling the produce is frowned upon (some might even call it stealing) and the meats are frequently dyed or packaged in gas to trick us into thinking it is fresher than it is. It is an odd system we have that seems to encourage the idea that we should eat what is in front of us because it is there. The American food buyer who questions the source or, god forbid, wants to reassure herself that she is getting a good product, is seen by some as presumptuous – why ask when we should simply trust the labeling? As eaters, we need to take back control over what we eat, and the easiest way to do that is to ask questions and try things, then make purchases based off whether we like the answers to our questions.

So while the desire for raspberries was strong, I can’t in good conscience go back to that particular farmer and feel good about making a purchase. The experience illuminated for me that even local, certified organic farmers may, or may not, share my vision about local, sustainable, relationship based agriculture. There are many still out there who are more concerned with profit and loss (how much does one raspberry cost, anyhow?) and their government certifications than whether or not the people eating their food trust what they’re getting.

It was with a heavy heart that I turned away from the raspberries (which did look delicious) and continued my quest for fruit, finding some delicious apples from a farmer who not only let me sample them, but also answered my questions about his practices, explaining that he did not spray and that the blemishes on his fruit were from a hail storm prior to harvest. I bought ten and am so excited about the pie I’m going to make with them I can barely wait to finish writing this post.

The imperfect apples, with their pox marks and their variation are preferred by me any day to a 1/2 pint of uniform, certified organic raspberries that may, or may not, be delicious. Happy Eating!

 

Local or Organic – a follow up. July 6, 2009

Filed under: Eating local,Fight Back Fridays,Home Economics — realfoodmama @ 7:28 pm
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I wrote a few weeks ago on the dilemma faced when choosing to buy a local product versus an organic product here.

Since writing the previous post, I have been doing some reading and have discovered a few interesting pieces of info that I wanted to share which have pretty much convinced me to choose local over organic under any and all circumstances.

The first thing I’d like to share with my readers is this article from the Washington Post about holes in the organic labeling regulations, including a rather terrifying look at the lobbying efforts made by some large corporations to allow non-organic and wholly manufactured ingredients in those foods which are given the Organic label.

I am well aware of how politics as usual works, however I have to admit to being particularly appalled at the quote taken from the woman who is currently the administrative head of the organic’s program at the USDA. This is taken from the article above:

In an interview, Robinson said she believes the federal program’s main purpose is to “grow the industry,” and she dismissed controversies over synthetics in organic foods as “mostly ridiculous.”

Maybe it is my anti-capitalist sensibility, but I find it a bit appalling that the head of the department responsible for certifying food is concerned more about it being a growth industry. Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of this debacle is the fact that the same woman, Barbara Robinson, also overruled her staff and choose to allow non-organic, chemically manufactured DHA and ARA into baby formula which carries the organic label. The manufacturing process of these chemicals involves the use of Hexane gas. Taken from wikipedia:

The acute toxicity of hexane is relatively low, although it is a mild anesthetic. Inhalation of high concentrations produces first a state of mild euphoria, followed by somnolence with headaches and nausea.

Chronic intoxication from hexane has been observed in recreational solvent abusers and in workers in the shoe manufacturing, furniture restoration and automobile construction industries. The initial symptoms are tingling and cramps in the arms and legs, followed by general muscular weakness. In severe cases, atrophy of the skeletal muscles is observed, along with a loss of coordination and problems of vision.

It should also be noted that this gas is also used to extract oils for cooking, which is why you should always look for expellar pressed nut oils, preferably cold pressed ones, when shopping.

As a result of the questionable practices of many organic dairies (something referenced in the article) I decided to do a little research about the sources of my milk. I regularly buy the following milk labels – Trader Joe’s Organic, Strauss Family Creamery, and a local milk called Rasband from Albuquerque, which I buy at my local Co-Op. The Rasband milk, while local, has no labeling that distinguishes it as organic or from grass fed cows, or any of those things which have become increasingly important to me, so I decided to ask some questions.

The helpful attendant at the Co-Op assured me that Rasband does not use any hormones and that they are only fed what the Rasband farm grows. Unconvinced, I called Rasband dairy to ask the questions directly. It being New Mexico the person on the other end was exceedingly friendly and really wanted to help, but alas didn’t know a thing – and the supervisor was, of course, out for the week. So while I was able to confirm that the cows are hormone-free, I was not able to confirm exactly what the cows were fed (ie, grain or grass) but I was assured that it was entirely vegetal. This milk costs approximately $3.50 a gallon.

As for the Strauss Family milk, I was able to find that the dairy received a four cow review from the Cornucopia Institute Dairy Report Scorecard. This was reassuing, as was their web site found here. This milk costs me $2.99 (I buy it when it becomes discounted due to the date) for a half gallon with a one time $1.50 bottle deposit. It comes in fancy glass bottles which are sent back to the dairy to be reused. I like this aspect of the milk a lot as it creates less waste, and I really enjoy that it has a creamy top (it is not homogenized) which I typically mix back into the milk to make it extra rich.

Lastly, we occaisionally buy Trader Joe’s brand organic milk, which is typically about $6.00 a gallon. This milk was given a single cow by the Cornucopia Institute, and was listed as a multi-source dairy product, buying the majority, if not all, of their milk from factory dairy farms. As noted in the Washington Post article, these farms routinely cut corners and make cursory nods to the current organic regulations. Additionally, there is effectively no cost difference between the Organic milk from undisclosed sources, and that which comes directly from Strauss.

The fourth option is, of course, to buy raw whole milk from the “local” dairy. New Mexico allows the sale of raw milk throughout the state, as long as the dairy meets the requirements and has a license. I put local in quotes because New Mexico is not known for it’s excellent grazing pastures and as a result, the closest grass fed raw milk dairy here is approximately 100 miles from where I live – Sunshine Farms. Additionally the dairy has not received a transport license, so they can only sell the milk from their store which is located on their farm, making the 200 mile round trip necessary if I want to buy any. To make things even more difficult, this milk is $10 a gallon (although it should be noted that butter and other milk products could be made at home as it is cream top as well, making up for the cost by increasing the yield a bit). I am determined to try it eventually, however at the moment it is simply too inconvenient to make the trip worthwhile.

All this research has basically inclined me to stick to my guns regarding buying local products and to continue to be vigilant about my label reading and product research. It is unfortunate that so much of what inclines folks to buy Real Food is based on the consumer’s trust in accurate labeling – apparently there really is no such thing. The insidious nature of agri-business and the desire to “grow the industry” has turned what was once a genuine desire to provide sustainable and natural alternatives to processed food into another way for the large corporations to make their money. The real source of all the organic foods? Here is a chart that illustrates which mega-corporations own which organic brands.

The conclusion I have come to after reading all of this is that it is better to buy locally than organic under pretty much all circumstances. I encourage all of you to research where your food is coming from. It seems that unless you speak directly to the rancher, farmer, or grower you may never know exactly where your food comes from.

Happy research and Happy Eating!