Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shannon's Apple Crisp

After picking 30Lbs of apples this fall, baked apples and apple crisp became a weekly affair. I tried a few different recipes, but in the end they all had too much butter, too much sugar, and too little oatmeal for my taste. Here is my Husband and Mother-in-law approved recipe...
( A mixture of Gala, Granny Smith, and Honey Crisp or other sweet-tart apples like Braeburn works great for this. Ann from Agri-berry recommends blending different apples together to create a more complex or less one dimensional flavor.)

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees
For the Apples:
6 large to med. apples, cored, pealed and sliced into about 1/8inch thick pieces.
Cinnamon ( about 1tsp. be careful, too much and there is no going back)
Nutmeg (1/4-1/2 tsp)
Dark Brown Sugar, or Honey, or some of both.
Add a couple tablespoons of the sugar, sprinkle cinnamon all round and give dashes of nutmeg. (you can also add about 1/4 tsp of ginger if you like and about 1/2 cup rasins)
Truthfully I never measure this part. Just add the ingredients in small amounts, mix well, taste, and repeat until you enjoy the flavor. The apples should taste very good on there own, but be slightly tart.

For the Crumble: (This part is exact)
1 cup Oats slow cook (but not steal cut)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup Light Brown Sugar
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 stick cold butter cut into small pieces
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
You can use a food processor I am sure, but the way I do it is to put all the dry Crumble ingredients into one large bowl and mix them together. I then add the small pieces of cold butter, sprinkling them across the mixture in about 3 batches, working each wave of butter bits into the mixture by working them in with my fingers. You are squishing and separating the butter bits so that more and more surface area is coated and working it in until you have a nice crumbly texture. This really doesn't take long, no more than 5 min.

Spoon the apples into a pie dish, then using your hands put the crumble on top pressing it down slightly as you cover the entire surface of the apple mixture. In the end the crumble mixture is about 1/4 inch thick.

Bake for 1 hour (give or take depending upon your oven)
Cool some and enjoy! I light to eat mine with a little Greek yogurt instead of ice cream.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Keeping the Holidays Close to Home-Giving More by Giving Less

A small rant followed by some shopping and non-shopping suggestions.

So My Husband and I have spent a little time thinking about "The Holidays" and how we want to celebrate. For us the Holidays mean Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. We are saddened by the constant, seemingly unchecked turn towards more and more commercialization as each year passes. How many (here unnamed) stores were open on Thanksgiving this year? The pace of life and the holiday season seems ever increasing until some years it seems such a flurry of racing and worrying that its hard to enjoy all those things that are supposed to make the holiday so great.
So Thanksgiving 2008 has come to a close, but here we are at the beginning of the Holiday shopping season with Christmas still ahead of us. The pressure to have all the latest "stuff", and to buy gifts regardless of need does not leave me with any real feeling of what the holidays are supposed to be about. To be perfectly honest I really like "stuff" and I like having "stuff." What I don't like is everything that we seem to be sacrificing by focusing so much of our time, attention and personal resources on selecting, and acquiring said "stuff."

People should not have to spend time away from their loved ones in order to put in more hours at work to have the money to spend more time racing around town fighting traffic and crowds to buy more stuff, until they are exhausted, and close to broke, and then spend more time, probably on their own, shopping for their prepackaged, mass produced, time saving meal. The pressure to have lots of gifts and "bigger" gifts at Christmas leads people to buy so much that is cheaply made, extraneous, and quickly forgotten. NPR this week did a quick piece on Lead in cheaper children's toys. They were reminding people that the legislation Congress passed to try and prevent such items from reaching our children will not take effect until this February, two months after Christmas. So I know you've heard this a thousand times, and I am probably "Preaching to the Choir," but here are a few resources and ideas and I very much welcome any that you may have.

1) If possible take some time off from work to give yourself more time and energy to devote to friends and family or volunteering. If you don't have the luxury of paid days off, perhaps you are someone who is well enough off to be able to say... one day's wages lost will mean that much less spent on gifts or Christmas "paraphernalia" (very tricky if you have small kids, but the time spent together may be worth it)

2) Give homemade gifts such as food that you can give in advance of the actual holiday. This way the person you gift it to has something on hand to save them time in their own kitchen! Something homemade that requires that extra effort and time always is appreciated. The food will be enjoyed and your time is also gifted. For someone who is not a cook, or is elderly prepare a meal that can be frozen and reheated when needed. Last year for a group of friends that always trades baked goods at Christmas, I mixed things up by given each one a two serving portion of homemade soup with a couple homemade truffles. A quick meal for a busy time. The wide variety and quantity of baked goods produced by this group of between 5-7 women usually means that I am set for the holidays.

3) If you don't cook or bake you can support our local growers and small businesses and give a great gift by giving a basket of some fresh produce and jellies, cheeses, breads, wines, nuts, etc all from local sources. Healthier, homemade foods and fresh produce, and time saving food on hand is a wonderful gift and if shopping a local market the vendors also will be grateful for your business.

4) Time..If you can spare it, even a little makes a big difference. If not volunteering, than offering to sit for friends or family with kids who could use a night off. If you are handy give a coupon for an afternoons help around the house for someone who really needs it, or a day spent in their garden... and then don't flounder when they redeem it!

5) Make the gifting experience a little more personal by buying hand crafted gifts from local vendors. Often these items cost no more than something you'd find in the mall, but the gift can be one of a kind, your money is going into your community, and you may even build a relationship with an artisan whose work you love. Richmond is full of local artisans and crafters providing just about everything except perhaps that plasma tv or digital camera. There are two Holidays markets this coming week (see earlier post).

6) Give gifts that involve spending time together... tickets to a show, a movie, the symphony, a day at a game. (The new Mount Pony Theater outside of Culpepper Houses the new Library of Congress' National Audio-Visual Center. They will show films off the National Film Registry Free of Charge 3 times a week in a beautiful 200 seat theater. You just have to make a reservation. For the Month of December they will show all Christmas films starting with "It's A Wonderful Life" this Tuesday Dec 2. Putting something like this together would be a great gift, I think.)

7) If you're going to buy that camera, get it from a small local business. Sure, you'll save money buying from a big box store, but where is your money going and what type of business model are you supporting? If Christmas is supposed to have some meaning, perhaps in this consumerist environment, there is something to be said for thinking about where your dollars go. Again the money goes back into your community, and I am fairly certain your shopping experience will be far better.

8) If were talking adults, have fun with it and just do a white elephant gift exchange. I have actually gotten some really great and useful stuff this way, and the game is a lot of fun regardless.

9) Make a charitable donation in the name of a loved one. Select a charity that they support or would like to support. I've done this for my mother the last couple of years. On Christmas last year I gave her a homemade card with the donation info. and a small something for her like homemade chocolates.

10) Give no gifts at all... It's possible,, I have witnessed this phenomena. Replace the time spent cruising the mall parking lot with a nice meal together or doing something you love.
A couple of website to help out. This organization connects people who would like to volunteer their time with organizations in the greater Richmond area who need their help. They match people and orgs. based on the interest of the prospective volunteer and do volunteer group outings. You can call 804-330-7400 ext 129 for more information. (an on line source for "locavores" wanting to go to the next level") This site has some work to do, it's still fairly new, but it has listings of markets, and restaurants as well as products made in the USA and the shops that sell those products. It offers the opportunity for you to create small "communities" on the site. These can be geographically based, and while there is an upstart one for Charlottesville the site is just waiting for anyone to start one for the Richmond area. This is THE site for people looking for handcrafted items. There is a nice feature on here where you can specifically search for crafters in your city or zip code. I typed in Richmond Va and came up with over 10 pages full of local crafters. I am sure you all know this one. Ideas, perspectives and sources on local eating.

That's it. That's all I got.

November 29th at the Market

My fridge is jammed full. My wonderful mother sent me home this past Thursday with many containers of leftovers and the grand prize... the turkey carcass, complete with two huge drumsticks to make a great soup. Despite my full fridge, I felt compelled to go to my Saturday morning farmers' market knowing that we are almost at the end of our market season. I am determined to spend a nice chunk of the weekend cooking and freezing one last batch of prepared greens, and soups, etc in anticipation of winter.

The market was quiet. I usually go to South of the James on Saturday mornings and the mad rush, and the sea of shoppers had this Saturday finally given way to small bands of dedicated market goers.

What luck for me!
With time to chat with vendors, and mull over my choices I had a very nice time and walked out with everything I'd been hoping for. Here's what I got...

From Victory Farms...
1 Bunch Radish
3 Quarts of Green (and a few red) peppers @ $2.00 a piece
1 Bunch Beets with their greens $2.50
5 apples (cameo and granny smith) $2.00
1 large bunch parsley $1.00
1 bunch of celery $2.00?

From that very nice woman with the cider and the bread and the pies and the potatoes.... oh sorry, can't think of her name...she comes from Farmville, she says she is all organic and the cider is wonderful!
1 nice grouping of heirloom red potatoes (I think these were only a few dollars and the potatoes are red throughout!)
2 bunches of Carrots $2.50 each ( She says the carrot greens are great for soup making)
1 Bunch Beets $2.00 The greens on these beets were lovely and I cook them up like chard.
1 Bunch Radishes $1.00

From the No Wonder Bread Man
1 Rosemary Focaccia
1 Semolina Baguette

There is still several different markets left around town in the next couple weeks. In additon to the items listed above, the vendors still had boxes of sweet potatoes, herbs like rosemary, sage etc, kale, collards, lettuce of all kinds, swiss chard, white potatoes, several types of apples, asian greens, scallions, meats, pies, homemade preserves, cheeses, and breads sweet and savory.
Seven Hills Catering is also offering beautiful boxes of fancy chocolates created by the owners son who I believe went to New York to learn the art of chocolate making.

Conventional verses Local Foods; A Price Comparison

Many, many months ago Natalie and I tried to get serious about figuring out the cost differences between buying Local and "Conventional" Groceries. It seemed that for us the real cost savings came from all of the prepackaged, canned, frozen and ready to eat prepared foods that we were no longer buying. Still, we wanted to know not only if we were spending more or less in total since starting down our locavore path, but we wanted to be able to provide you with some solid information on price comparisons, fresh item to item.
We made up a list, sticking to organic fruits, and vegetables. Erin would check Kroger, I would check Ukrop's, and Natalie would check Ellwood Thompsons all in the same week, then compare market prices for those same items. Okay, so I think in the end I was the only one to fill out my price list and we never completed our "great study".
Now, however, a woman with Local Harvest is attempting a much more ambitious food cost comparison project, and she's looking for help.
Here is a copy of her letter...

LocalHarvest Newsletter - Is Local More Expensive? September 25, 2008

Welcome back to the LocalHarvest Newsletter.We get this question a lot: "Is it more expensive to eat local food?" Usually we try to work our way around the question, speaking with enthusiasm about the quality and flavor of fresh local food, its healthfulness, its contribution to the local economy, etcetera. Sometimes we convince the questioners that they can't look at price alone, because the quality of stuff that's picked green and trucked in can't be compared with that of the fresh, vine-ripened produce. Other times the person hears us out and then says, "So it is more expensive then, huh."
The truth is, we don't know the answer to the question. As with so many substantive issues, the real answer is, "It depends." It depends on the product and the season and the vendor. Depends on whether its organic and how much of it the farmer or grocer is trying to move that week. Lots and lots of variables. Still, with the economy looming large in many people's minds, it seems a good time to try and find out.
A few days ago I took a notebook to my local supermarket, made a list of the prices for various fruits and vegetables, and then compared notes at my farmers market. The organic produce section at the grocery store was completely cleared out on this particular day, so I gathered conventional produce prices at the store and "low spray" at the market. Small watermelons (the ones they're calling "mini" or "personal size" this year) were $2 at the farmers market and $4.49 at the store. Local tomatoes at the grocery store were $2.49 a pound, and $1.50 a pound at the market. Peppers were less expensive at the market. Winter squash was about the same. Onions were cheaper at the store.
This small foray into price comparisons made me want to know more. I would like to have a good answer the next time a reporter calls to ask me whether 'local' is more expensive. Not that price is the only measure of value, but it is one, and sometimes an important one. Moreover, the perception about the relative price of buying local is also very important. I'd like to ask for your help.What I have in mind is a kind of collective research project. This newsletter will go out to about 50,000 people. Certainly a few dozen of you might be interested in doing a little comparative shopping over the next couple of months and maybe again in the spring? I have a spreadsheet that I will send to anyone who is interested. You can fill out the portions of it that apply to the foods that are in season where you live, and send it back to me. We'll compile all the data and report the findings back to the group. If you are interested in learning more about participating in this grassroots research, please contact me. Meanwhile, please enjoy the rest of the newsletter, and as always, Eat well and take good care -
Erin Barnett Director, Local Harvest

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Last Minute Thanksgiving Recipes From Local Harvest

If you really haven't planned is nice website full of good thanksgiving day recipes to get you out of trouble

Upcoming Winter Renegade and Holiday Markets

Just to be sure you are all up on some of the local markets that are still out there waiting to serve you with great local meats, cheeses, eggs, honey, preserves, pies, breads, and veggies, and as of late... chocolaty treats... here is a quick run through.
Byrd House Market ( warmer inside space is often used)
Here's a snip from their e-mail...
"Truly diehard BHM shoppers know that many of our vendors continue to setup up on Tuesdays from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at the BHM location at Linden St. and Idlewood Ave until their crops or their endurance for the cold gives out. This is known as the Renegade Market
Venders participating are: CCL Farm, Faith Farm, Victory Farm, Koralee Coffee, Rural VA, Perennial Flowers, Nancy Louise, Chocolate Cravings, Bread for the People, Flynn's Foods, Wildwood Carver.
Some vendors take advance orders and will update you on their weekly products. Go to "

Goochland Farmers Market will be holding at least one more indoor Holiday Shoppers market on . Saturday, December 13 at the J. Sarge Goochland Campus from 10:00am to 2:00pm. For more info about this special market, go to: This market will include food vendors as well as local artisans and crafters.

South of the James
The South of the James Market at Forest Hill Park will be there this Saturday Nov29th from 8:00-12:00, and again for a special Holiday shoppers market on Saturday December 6th.

Bryant Park Holiday Market
The operator of the South of the James Market has put together an additional market in Northsides' Bryant Park. There was one this past Tuesday Nov 25th, and a second one is scheduled for this Tuesday Dec 2nd from 2:00-6:00pm.

17th Street Holiday Market
I must admit I am a bit out of touch with what is going on at 17th street these days... However someone there seems to be taking steps to coordinate and advertise a healthy and helpful market environment. Their website indicates that the Thursday market was moved to the Wednesday before thanksgiving to aid holiday shoppers, the market will be open for the last weekend in Nov. and there is a Holiday shoppers market scheduled for the evening of Friday Dec 5. 5-9pm Here's a little quote from their website...
"FREE ADMISSION FREE PARKING Get into the holiday spirit as the 17th Street Farmers' Market presents our annual Celebrate Illuminate festivities! In its 10th year, the Holiday Market rings in the Spirit of the Season, featuring free LIVE holiday music, free horse-drawn carriage rides and plenty of holiday shopping opportunities! This year's musical line-up:6:15 - 7:15pm Henrico Pops Chorus7:45 - 8:30pm Tuba Christmas "

Lakeside Market
Okay, so there should be one Saturday Market left for Lakeside market which is scheduled to run through November. This market has fewer vendors than some markets, but the vendors it usually has are great. Chocolate Cravings, Agriberry, and vendors selling chickens, eggs, bread, homemade jams and jellies, goat cheese and more. This market has been tricky to "find" lately as the vendors have been moving inside the adjacent "Lakeside Towne Center" building. So don't give up if you drive past and don't see tents out. This past Wednesday a friend told me she saw a couple of vendors standing near the road holding signs that read "Market is Here" or "Market inside" and waving people in. Lakeside has already held on Friday evening Holiday Market, I haven't heard if another is planned for December.

Busting the KFC "Meal Deal Challenge"

This was passed on to me by a friend and I thought I would pass it on to you....

"Some of you may have seen the recent advertising from KFC touting their "Meal Deal Challenge" - the premise is that you cannot make (at home) the meal they offer for less than their price ($10).
Needless to say I took umbrage and have thus taken them to task. I beat them by 3 bucks and had extra food leftover.Recently, the American public was issued a challenge by the folks at KFC (formerly "Kentucky Fried Chicken," but "fried" just didn't sound healthy). The fast-food joint argues in its latest commercial that you cannot "create a family meal for less than $10." Their example is the "seven-piece meal deal," which includes seven pieces of fried chicken, four biscuits, and a side dish -- in this case, mashed potatoes with gravy. This is meant to serve a family of four. I'm not really a competitive soul, but this was one challenge I could not resist. When it comes to food, America has been sold a bill of goods. We've been flimflammed, bamboozled, hoodwinked. We've been tricked into thinking that cooking is a chore, like washing windows, to be avoided if at all possible, and then done only grudgingly and when absolutely necessary. On the contrary, cooking is a vital, spiritual act that should be performed with a certain reverence. After all, we are providing sustenance to the ones we love -- can anything be more important?
Read the whole entry on

Dec 10 Conference on Cultivating VA's Farm to School Program

For all who may be interested there is a Conference being held Wednesday DEC 10th at UVA for a $20 attendance fee. Even if you can't participate its good to know our Extension Department is working to get people together and talking...
Here is a copy of the email I was sent...

Cultivating Virginia's Farm to School Program: A Conference for Farmers, School Nutrition Directors & Interested Citizens
When: December 10, 2008
Where: University of Virginia, Darden School of Business, Charlottesville, 100 Darden Blvd, 22903
Time: 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM RSVP is required! Please register with the Northern District Office at (540) 341-7961 or
Cost to Attend: $20 Send to: Virginia Cooperative Extension Northern District Office C/O Farm to School Conference P.O. Box 701 Warrenton VA 20188 Please make checks payable to VCE- Northern District
Farm to school brings healthy food from local farms to school children nationwide. These programs connect schools with local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing health and nutrition education opportunities that will last a lifetime, and supporting local small farmers. The specific purpose of this educational conference is to 1) learn how farm to school is coordinated across the United States, 2) provide a review of Task Force findings and current local efforts, 3) learn about potential model farm to school programs for Virginia, and 4) explore how Virginia can more effectively link its schools, farming and food systems together to improve the economic viability of agriculture and health and nutrition of Virginia's youth.
More info can be found HERE.

One Great Winter Food Co-Op

Happy Thanksgiving!
Just a reminder....People have been talking about the great possibilities of this Winter food Co-Op put together by Edible Garden. This Co-op provides all manner of meats, dairy, mushrooms, and veggies for the cold winter months and has a Thursday Pickup time of 3:00-6:00pm. At Edible Garden in Goochland. The Co-Op started Nov 1st.... but if you are interested you can still contact Molly at for an automatic response e-mail full of information and the registration form. In their e-mail they state that "As this is a first time, grassroots project we will continue to take registrations throughout the season and we will renew memberships in the Spring of 2009 for the Summer Season." There are lots of great farms that have pooled together to provide participants with all the food stuffs they may need for a happy, healthy, and delicious winter season....
Here is the original e-mail that I was sent...
"Celebrating the Simple Pleasures of Food Edible Garden will be offering a Winter-Season Co-Op for our customers to enjoy buying local vegetables, meats and dairy products straight from the farm through a weekly on-line ordering process.
If you are interested in participating in this unique opportunity to fill your pantry throughout the year with the wonderful local ingredients that we enjoy here at Edible Garden : Respond to this E-mail or call us at (804) 784-2011 and ask for a registration package. Call soon, the season begins November 1, 2008. Just a few of the participating farms include: Ault’s Family Farm, Pamplin Blanton Garden , Suffolk Brookview Farm, Manakin-Sabot Creekside Farm, Suffolk Cullipher Farm, Virginia Beach Dave & Dee’s Homegrown Mushrooms, Sedley Evergreen Springs Farm, New Kent Shenandoah Farms, Mount Jackson Shire Farm, Windsor Wild T Bison Farm, Haynesville Whitener Farm, Suffolk "

A late word on Pomegranates

My mother in law sent me this quick, but informative piece of information on pomegranates from "Cooperative Living" a magazine she receives as part of her electric co Op. It has some fun information about the pomegranates history as well as brief info on growing the plant itself. Working in gardens I see people all the time who have never seen a pomegranate plant, and had no idea that any type of pomegranate could grow here. They are always stunned by the beauty of the flowers as well. Pomegranates have been in the grocery stores for a few weeks now, but for those willing to put in some effort there are varieties of pomegranates that produce edible fruit here in Va. These fruits will not be the grand grapefruit sized types that you find at the supermarket, (more the scale of a smallish orange), but grown as a spectacular ornamental with the added bonus of beautiful edible fruits these plants are great.
According to this article by Paula Brown pomegranates are " packed with vitamin C, calcium, potassium, iron and compounds known as phytonutrients that help the body protect against heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. Pomegranates’ potent antioxidants also help retard aging and can neutralize almost twice as many free radicals as red wine and seven times as many as green tea. Some researchers suggest the crunchy seeds even help flush fats from the digestive tract. "
Pomegranates are available nationwide, with most commercial production in the southern San Joaquin Valley of California. Areas with hot summers and cool winters are ideal, since after flowering the fruit requires six to seven months to ripen, and cannot be ripened off the tree. Throw in the condition that pomegranates do not fruit well in humidity and Virginia would not normally seem a prime spot to tinker with this crop. However, pomegranates were grown in Williamsburg’s Governor’s Palace Garden as a delicacy for the landed gentry, where they were planted with figs and espaliered pears. Thomas Jefferson, ever in search of exotic specimens, received starts from George Wythe and planted them at Monticello, where he tricked these and other tender trees by creating favorable growing conditions in his hillside orchard, terracing with a southeastern exposure, lengthening the season."
This short article is well worth the read with information on best siting in the landscape as well as good varieties and growing instructions.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Menu for Thanksgiving Dinner in California

Olives, Celery, & Heart of Palm
New Orleans Style, Organic, Brined Turkey
Organic Kosher Turkey with Tuscan Rub and Evan's Gravy
Sourdough Dressing with Kale & Chard
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Creamed Spinach
Roasted Carrots, Parsnips & Jerusalem Artichokes
Cabbage Slaw with Fuyu Persimmons, Pomegranates & Citrus Vinaigrette
Butternut Squash with Lime Syrup & Chives
Fresh Cranberry Relish with Star Anise and Kumquats
Cranberry Sauce with Ginger & Homegrown Oranges
Yeasty rolls
Napa Valley wines
French Apple Tart
Chocolate Walnut Pie
Pumpkin Pie with Gingersnap Crust
Mac's Persimmons in Pudding
Flourless Chocolate Cake

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hello from California!

According to my new favorite research book, the Organic Olive Production Manual, "Less than one tenth of one percent of the world's olive oil is produced in the United States, and almost all of that is produced in California." Of course- the same Mediterranean climate which produces some of the finest wine grapes in the world is the perfect spot for olive trees. Luckily for me, this thanksgiving trip to visit my family and my old stomping grounds in Napa perfectly corresponds with the olive harvest.

My Aunt Cynthia is one of my favorite people on earth because she gave me an appreciation for both food and plants, and well, for work. Life is work, she taught me, so do work that sustains you, which sustains the world. She and her husband David Easton, are pioneers in earth building- Rammed Earth, specifically. When I moved to California 10 years ago, they were building the very house I am sitting in right now. I got to help put in a lot of the food trees and native plants that surround the building, which now feed us daily.

I will (perhaps) have the opportunity to gush about the rest of this adventure, and my new appreciation for persimmons and how my aunt is the only other person I know who thinks it is perfectly acceptable to eat apple crisp for breakfast, as well as musings on thanksgiving traditions at some other time. But right now, I am fascinated with the olive. Harvesting olives, it turns out, is not difficult work. On Saturday, five of us harvested over 100lbs of Manzanillo olives in about an hour. This variety, (Manzanilla de Sevilla) according to my new favorite book, "is the most widely planted table variety in California and the world." Olive trees produce heavily every other year, and this was a slower year- last year the harvest was closer to four hundred pounds.

Sunday was community press day. We traveled to Jacuzzi winery in south Napa, and poured our buckets of Manzanillos in with other olives harvested that day. We will get about two gallons of oil from the press sometime in the next three weeks. We saved a few olives to cure for eating, a long process that involves lye and salt, but it turns out we should have picked table olives weeks ago, when they were less ripe. Ripeness for oil is about 80% black and 20% green. Olives TURN black in the curing process. Who knew?

Ok, enough for now. Apparently it is time to eat again.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Apple Treats

Following our trip to Carter Mountain, a flurry of cooking ensued among the members of the RFC. How many ways can you eat an apple? I chose two traditional methods, both of which were first-time cooking endeavors...

Apple Butter

The secret to making apple butter is using a crock pot. Apple butter begins its life as applesauce, then cooks slowly (oh so slowly) down to the thick brown substance we are familiar with. Traditionally it is made on the stove, but we actually had to keep ours in the crock pot for TWO DAYS before it was the correct consistency. The Joy of Cooking (a book everyone should own and keep on hand in the kitchen) can give you good ideas for how to spice your apple butter. A word of caution: it takes a LOT of apples to make a small amount of apple butter. Be prepared.

Apple Pie

This is the first time I have ever made apple pie. I admit, I was excited...and it was so much easier than I thought. Pie crust is easy to make! Once again, let the Joy of Cooking be your guide. Simple and traditional recipes, I believe, are the key to preserving and enjoying the harvest. Also, I will mention I've heard there are good deals on apples at the Lakeside Farmer's Market. Grab them before the season is over!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


The RFC took its second annual apple picking trip to Carter Mountain near Charlottesville last week, and how lucky were we!! We estimate that we walked away with enough pounds of apples to equal a whole new member of the RFC. Shannon and I were mad pickers, in love with the beauty and promise of the fruit on the tree, willing to take every single one home with us. Alas, apples are heavy, so we had to pick in shifts, taking a break to carry our loot to the car. Natalie, on the other hand, is a much more reserved and reasonable apple picker- she only took a limited number of each type of apple. I envy her restraint.

Besides the beauty and the promise of apple turnovers long into the winter, the best thing about Carter Mountain is their apple cider doughnuts. They used to have a pipe hooked up to the venting system which would pump out the (insert your favorite superlative here) smell of the fresh doughnuts, which was heavenly, but highly distracting. This year we ate the oh- so- lovely doughnuts after a long hard hour or two of apple picking. So good.

Carter Mountain has a gorgeous, relaxed atmosphere, with lovely views and relatively easy paths. I even got to take my giant dog, Clyde along on the adventure. On our visit, the second weekend of November, we chose to pick Stayman, (perfect for cooking) Fuji, (great eating and cooking) Winesap, (great for cooking) and Pink Ladies, (great for eating). There were many more, including Golden Delicious, available to pick that day. To see what you can pick this week, check out the Carter Mountain website. Have fun!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Experiments with Bacteria

This weekend, I entered into a new (and, to me, slightly foreign) realm of food preservation. Inspired by my 'Four Season Food Production' instructor Cindy Connor, I composed and began to ferment my first batch of Kimchi. This traditional dish is a staple of the Korean diet, and I really enjoyed eating it when I lived in Japan and visited South Korea. It's also easy to make.

There are apparently huge benefits to eating fermented foods. Our bodies, of course, are huge microbial cultures, full of bacteria thriving all over the place inside us, in particular inside our intestines, where they can exert a huge influence on how we process food and how we feel throughout the day. The 'good' bacteria help you digest your food and outcompete the 'bad,' leaving no room for those bacteria that can cause sickness, such as E. coli. Fermentation is a way of attracting these 'good' bacteria, by providing a culture in which they thrive (a crock of pickles, kimchi or sauerkraut) and then introducing them into your digestive system by consuming that culture. The distinctive taste of fermented foods is often one that must be acquired, but perhaps the knowledge that the microbes who come with that taste are great for your body will help.

My guide to this, my first fermentation project, has been Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. Katz is a fermentation expert, having tried everything from sauerkraut and kimchi to mead, beer, cheese, yogurt and vinegar. Apparently Katz also came to visit the J. Sargeant Reynolds Sustainable Agriculture club earlier this year (I think..), and did a big demonstration on how to start out in fermentation. Unfortunately I missed out, but I'm on the bandwagon now, especially after Cindy's story about how her chiropractor cured his acid reflux issues by eating fermented foods. Another good reason for trying fermentation \is it's an easy way of preserving all your summer vegetables!

So let's get did I go about all this?

I'm not sure if the kimchi I'm making is 100% authentic, but here is a list of the ingredients I used, and where I got them (this is mostly a locavore kimchi!):

1 medium Napa cabbage (Amy's Garden)
3 sweet peppers (Amy's Garden)
ginger root (Amy's Garden)
1 medium daikon radish (Manakintowne Farms)
1 medium Pac Choi (Amy's Garden)
4 cloves of garlic (Ellwood Thompson's)
2 Thai hot peppers (home grown and dried!)
1 onion (Ellwood Thompson's)
4 shallots (Amy's Garden)

We chopped up the big veggies (the napa, pac choi, sweet peppers and daikon) and soaked them for a few hours in brine. The brine is just a mix of water and sea salt, using 1 tablespoon of salt per cup of water. Once the vegetables had softened, we poured off the brine, reserving it in a bowl, and mixed the spices (onion, garlic, ginger, peppers) in with the vegetables.

My next step was to put everything in a glass crock we had on hand, crushing the mix down into the bottom and causing the vegetables to release their own juices. The goal is to have all the vegetables in the crock submerged in briny vegetable juice -- anything exposed to the open air will rot instead of ferment. The vegetables released a fair amount of liquid. I added a bit of the brine at the end to make sure there was enough.

A yogurt container happened to fit perfectly inside the crock we were using. I put a yogurt top down inside the crock on top of the vegetables to hold them down, then weighed down that top with the yogurt container, which is filled with water and closed with another top. Wild Fermentation dictates that I taste the kimchi daily, and suggests it takes about a week to be 'ready,' though you can ferment foods for as long as you like, depending on how intense a flavor you desire. I've got the crock sitting on the kitchen counter next to the stove, where it will absorb a little warmth (a good thing for the bacteria). Check back later for the results and a tasting!

If you're interested in fermenting things yourself, I recommend buying the book Wild Fermentation. Katz has good instructions and plenty of information about why these foods are great, and how to go about introducing them into your diet. Briny pickled vegetables may seem like a strange venture, but it's definitely worth investigating. Also, Pete from Manakintowne Farms told me he'd be bringing more daikon to the Saturday market in Forest Hill Park next week -- local, organic daikon is hard to find because it's really not a cash crop, so grab them while you can!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama Response to Pollan Article!

A good friend forwarded this to me and it fits so perfectly with our little blog here I was compelled to pass it on...
This reponse to Pollan's interview with Joe Klein.
Obama Response to Pollan Article!
"I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That's just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board. For us to say we are just going to completely revamp how we use energy in a way that deals with climate change, deals with national security and drives our economy, that's going to be my number one priority when I get into office, assuming, obviously, that we have done enough to just stabilize the immediate economic situation."

Winter Readiness

I often joke that I am more like a squirrel than a good American. I don't know whether my tendency to stockpile provisions is because I fear impeding distaster or because I hate running errands. In any case, my pantry is always well supplied and my purse is like a drugstore. I always have the ingredients on hand to make chocolate chip cookies. (Priorities, right? I mean, you never know when you might need them...) If you need something, I've probably got it- somewhere. So, as you can imagine, there was a lot of activity the past couple of months surrounding the question, 'What ever will we eat this winter?' Shannon taught (and helped) me to can a dozen pints of tomatoes. I know she was really industrious at her own house too, pickling cucumbers and hot peppers. I have a bunch of goodies in my freezer- tomatoes, apples and loads of Cavanna pasta. I have enough dried crowder peas to last until I can't possibly eat any more. Oh, and I have the stuff for cookies.
I have kept my ear out for ways to eat local during the 'off' season, and have a few leads. Last year, the Byrd House had a renegade market with meat, egg and bread vendors- I assume they will try that again. The South of the James market will continue (see Shannon's post below about Manakinetowne Farms) through December 6. The Market Umbrella will also host a holiday market in Bryan Park on Tuesday November 25 and December 2 from 2:00- 6:00 pm.
Another very exciting prospect came through the Center for Rural Culture Newsletter and Edible Garden Restaurant, paraphrased below:

'With the close of the traditional Farmers Market approaching, Edible Garden will launch an on-line Co-Op. The Co-Op will be supported through membership fees to include both participating farmers and customers, each charged $45 for a six month membership. Members will sign up for a 6 month membership (Winter Season - November through April) and will receive weekly e-mails listing what local products are available for order from local farmers.

There will be no mark up on our behalf to the customer on pre-ordered products. We see this program as an enhancement of our mission to provide the community with access to as much locally produced food as possible for a fair price. The Co-op will launch this buying program to our customers the week of November 1st with the first pick up Thursday, November 6th.

You can register and charge your membership fees to your credit card by calling (804) 784-2011 and asking for Andrea our
Restaurant Manager. As this is a first time, grassroots project we will continue to take registrations throughout the season and we will renew memberships in the Spring of 2009 for the Summer Season.'

Call for more information and for a registration form. Let us know if you are participating. Here's to a well provisioned winter!

Manakintowne Farm at South of James for Nov.

Here is the e-mail Jo from Manakintowne sent out...

News flash for our market friends! the fat lady of the markets has not yet sung.....By popular demand, Pete will be at the Forest Hill Farmers Market, Saturdays, 8-12, through November. That's right, you can still snap up some great fall produce and baked goods for another month! Our salad greens (including, yes, arugula) are better than ever, we have beautiful beets, winter squashes and turnips, rosemary and sage for your winter roasts and soups, and some unusual and soul satisfying braising greens, among other things. Think what this can mean for your Thanksgiving table! Check the fresh sheet on our website, we update it regularly. You can call us by Friday a.m. for special orders from the fresh sheet, to be picked up at the Saturday market. Also check our website for farm news, market opportunities and events.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Quick thought on Markets, Money and Food Politics

So recently I wrote a post that was perhaps about the personal financial cost of pastured meat verses the humane cost of industrial meat, specifically poultry. Now, to try and find a way for people on much tighter budgets than mine to be able to have chicken without having to sacrifice a little piece of their humanity ( as I feel you must if you eat industrial meats and have any awareness of what that involves.) I think about that story in the Omnivores dilemma where Joel Salatin's friend and business associate put everything he had into building a small meat processing plant to allow small farmers a place to take their animals without having to turn to some huge, industrial meat processing plant, most of which are unwilling to deal with small farmers anyway. As the Omnivore's Dilemma was published, I believe the end of that story placed this gentleman near bankruptcy because after putting huge amounts of money into its construction, the FDA had denied him the permits required for the facility to operate. Somehow, something bigger than our selves, needs to happen here. Part of what I love about eating local is that I feel as though I am a part of something larger than myself. Supporting local farms with our food dollars is very important. Supporting, legislators, and candidates for office that will support changes to farm bills and food regulation that benefit small farmers and not just industrial giants is also important.

Figuring out who support what or even is aware of any of these issues is daunting. My best advice...find one related issue that you can voice a clear opinion on more money for small farmers in the Farm Bill and contact your state and federal legislators and city and county councilmen and let them know where you stand on the issue. How about the city's support of hobby bee keepers?, the cities stand on laying hens kept on property within city limits?

Recently a friend of mine told me that Obama has stated he supports reducing subsidies for large corporate farms and shifting those dollars to support small scale family farms. (my rough recap of what I was told... not any exact phrasing!)

Cold Framing in the Median

It's time for the next chapter in the life of my median garden! Just this weekend, the garden transitioned into winter mode with our modification of the white picket fence into a cold frame. Since I have been taking Cindy Conner's classes at J. Sargeant Reynolds, I have become increasingly interested in season extension and gardening through the winter. I've been using the book Four Season Harvest by Elliot Coleman as a guide to transitioning this garden into one that produces greens all the way through the winter months.

A few weeks ago, we ripped out the summer vegetables -- peppers, tomatoes, a gourd vine (originally thought to be winter squash!) and transplanted in a variety of greens we had started from seed. I ordered a lot of my seeds through Seeds of Change, a great seed catalog that offers organic, open pollinated seeds. Currently growing are collards, arugula, Osaka Purple mustard greens (rumored to be extremely spicy!), spinach, mesclun mix and purslane (some people accuse purslane of being a weed but it's edible).

A key element in season extension is the construction and use of cold frames. These are essentially miniature greenhouses placed on top of a vegetable bed that provide a more stable internal environment for cool-season plants. Mediating the effects of temperature variations and wind helps the plants grow and stay alive. The addition of a cold frame can up your garden climate to Zone 8 or 9 (we're in 7 here in VA), meaning you can plant things later and they'll grow and last much longer!

To make our cold frame, we made three 'boxes' cut to fit on top of the fence so that they rest on the fence slats. We stretched plastic over the boxes, using staples to attach it around the edges. There are also bracer sections of wood screwed in at the corners to hold the box square and provide further attachment points for the plastic, which does dip down in the middle a bit. These cold frame tops fit on top of the fence fairly well, though the fence is certainly not square, meaning that there are some uneven edges. We also stapled plastic to the outside of the fence, using a limited number of staples so it's easy to remove next year. We will also make a device to prop open the boxes to allow air flow on warmer days, though we haven't done that yet...

Greens are growing inside!

There are lots of options for designing cold frames in your own garden. Some people make solid wooden boxes with glass tops; another option is row cover held up with hoops made of metal or PVC. There are a lot of great resources on the internet for learning how to build one. Check out this video:

One thing to remember is that the inside of the cold frame will still be cold. Greens don't mind the cold at all, and often are much tastier and sweeter after the first frost. The key is to provide a protected environment so the plants aren't battered by harsh storms, winds or even snow, and a more gradual transition as the temperature warms and cools throughout the day.

Hopefully I'll get back to you soon with a post on the harvest from this garden! Will we be eating salad all the way through spring? Stay tuned...

October Challange... My Own Disapointments ..?

Well, I knew October was going to be crazy. And it was. I spent dozens of hours in front of the computer putting together power point presentations for a class. I had large scale bedding change outs all month at work right up through the 31st.
At home, my husband helped me care for my relatively newly acquired worm bin. He also helped me in the garden, planting garlic, kale, collards, arugula, swiss chard, lettuce, mustard greens, radishes and beets. We pulled up tomatoes, canned like crazy for a night or two, celebrated his birthday as well as his brothers (and rather missed a few others!). There was the all important Celtic Festival, and visiting relatives, and that first weekend of freezing temperatures when we discovered we had no heat and couldn't use the fire place. And on the last night of the challenge there was Halloween.

If your still with me, my point is this... I am very disappointed that I was not able to dedicate the time I would have liked to my Eat Local Challenge. I always made it to the market, except when class interfered. I made multiple local food discoveries, and I changed several eating habits that were definitely not in keeping with a "locavore philosophy."
So here is a quick list of my "failings"....
1. Dinner at Mekong for birthday dinner
2. One meal based on Joe's market chicken sausages
3. Fish and chips at the Celtic festival... and some Jameson's whiskey of course
4. Dinner after the festival at my parents house
5. Dinner at parents when no heat
6. General list of items I used through out that could have been replaced with local, but weren't
a. Feta (Both Faith Farm and Ellwood Thompsons sell different local Fetas.. But each time I was put off by the price and then my husband actually found a whole unopened package in the back of our fridge...
b. twice, mozzarella
c. once, Ricotta
d. 2 carrots- I have bought some local carrots, and will again, but to be honest I don't much care for the flavor of the local ones I've bought, and we by those ridiculously over sized organic carrots as treats for my dog. They are so fat it is one of the few things that occupies him for any time and I do feel that in the big scheme of things these are actually much cheaper, and better for everything (including my dog), than any dog snacks or treats we would buy.
e. 2 bulbs of fennel - Victory Farms was the place I found that actually was growing Fennel and they only had enough to sell to their finally I rather stomped my feet and bought some at Ukrops.
f. Wheat.... the failure I felt was not so much replacing grain from Montana with grain from V.A., but more that I perhaps used locally baked breads as a stand in for too many items I deleted. One example that seems like a real improvement... I replaced my morning kashi bar with a slice of nine grain bread (Prairie Grain Bread Co.) with Kerry Gold butter (non-local, but made from the milk of pastured cows) and local peach, apple, or raspberry preserves.
g. Butter- As of this moment the only alternative is the Amish butter sold by Faith Farms that actually comes from Pennsylvania (and people love it). I am sure there must be some others out there, but I haven't seen them.
h. Finally... I still haven' t found a local peanut butter. So just had none all month.

Okay, all this, but really when I look at this list I don't think it's so bad. I am a little proud of myself, and more I am rather excited about all of the great local foods that are available today that were not available even at this time last year. I only imagine next year will be even easier. I'll do another few post on my discoveries.. there were some great ones! And, I have only been inspired further to keep at it, and keep finding new ways to eat local and balance all the rest that I love about my sometimes very busy life.

Smart Growth and Land Preservation Workshops

The Virginia Foundation for Agriculture Innovation and Rural Sustainability and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development agency will sponsor two regional workshops.

The one nearest the Richmond Area will be held Nov. 20th in Powhatan County from 9:30-3:30pm at the County Seat Food and Gathering Place, 3883 Old Buckingham Road.

The other Workshop will be held in Bedford Co. the next day.

A Quote from Lindsay Potts in the Farm Bureau news release "We want to educate governments on how they can grow but also keep the agricultural communities intact by keeping enough farmland to make their businesses economically viable."
Registration is $15 and includes lunch
Register on line at
e-mail Brenda Fleming at for more information on speakers etc.