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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Carrot Ginger Crackers

So, when I brought the dehydrator home I already knew the first thing I wanted to make. You see, I have been juicing A LOT of carrots. And I mean A LOT. 15 pounds a week, to be exact. So far, I have not turned orange. But my skin has gotten super clear, I have a bit of a tan- probably nothing noticeable to others, and I know all that beta carotene is protecting my skin from the sun. I still use sunscreen if I will be in direct sun, like at a pool, but not otherwise. And the carrot juice is DELICIOUS. A bit sweet, not too much, and super concentrated carrot flavor.

All that juicing creates LOTS of carrot pulp, and I didn't want to waste it. I was thinking I would either make a raw vegan carrot cake, or some sort of cracker. I had already used some pulp in a regular (but healthy) version of carrot cake- the jury is still out on whether it was a winner. So I thought the cracker would be easier to figure out for my first go at dehydrating.

Verdict- yum!

Carrot Ginger Crackers

2 1/2 cups carrot juice pulp
4 tbsp soy sauce/Tamari/Bragg's Liquid Aminos
3 tbsp Agave/Honey/Maple Syrup
1 cup milled flax
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp ginger powder
2 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
3 tbsp sesame seeds (I used black ones, but either kind would work)
water, if the dough doesn't hold together well enough to spread. Add a little at a time.

Mix everything really well. Spread mixture thinly onto two dehydrator trays with Teflex sheets. Dehydrate at 115 degrees for 4 hours, then score the crackers with a rubber spatula. Flip crackers over and remove Teflex sheets. Dehydrate for another 4 hours or until nice and crunchy. OR if you do not have a dehydrator, put them in the oven on the lowest setting. They won't be raw if using the oven, but you should still get a crunchy texture. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Good Family Weekend and Dehydrator Love

This past Saturday we went to Chris's grandma's house. His parents were there as well. I brought two loaves of zucchini bread to give to them and Chris made his salsa to share. We also brought fruit to snack on in the car. While the weather was still warm and sunny we played in the pool, but then we noticed some dark clouds rolling in and there was some thunder and lightning not far off. After hanging out inside for a while, everyone was getting pretty hungry so Chris's dad Clark and I went to the grocery store for the makings of dinner cooked on the grill. We made portabello mushroom burgers, grilled eggplant, and grilled pineapple. Also, the salsa was such a hit, we made a huge bowl of that again. There was also steak for the omnivores. And for dessert we roasted marshmallows and made s'mores. It was still pouring, so we took shelter in the gazebo which is thankfully close to the fire pit :).

I completely forgot to take pictures of the food, but I did get shots by the pool!

At dinner, Grammy Brenda revealed that she had a dehydrator (among MANY other kitchen devices) that she no longer uses. She offered it to me, and as I have been wanting one for a long time, I said yesofcoursethankyouwoohoo! Thanks Grammy Brenda! :)

So, ever since Saturday, I have been dreaming up the various snacks I will be using it to make! I have a few ideas in the works, but tell me, do you have any favorite dehydrator recipes to share?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Getting My Orange Juice Fix

I love orange juice. (And juice from grapefruit, and tangerine...etc.) A long time ago we went cheap- we bought Minute Maid. The taste was always off, so we moved on to Florida's Natural, then Simply Orange. Better, but then... then we bought the fresh, unpasteurized stuff at Wegmans. They squeeze the citrus right in the store in a giant citrus juicer. The juice is super sweet, has very little pulp, and for a while we were addicted. But geeze, it is $11 for a gallon, $8 for a half gallon. So, we didn't get it every week, and I told myself it was a treat. After all, fresh fruit juice- while full of other nutrients- has lots of sugar and the fiber is usually greatly removed.

But now, we don't buy it at all. When I want citrus juice, I just make my own. Chris typically uses the citrus hand juicer and thus removes some of the pulp but not all of it. We tried putting oranges through our electric juicer, but then there was a great deal of clean up, the pulp was completely removed, and the juice was foamy.

Lately though, I just peel the fruit, remove any seeds, and throw it all in the blender with water. Blend, blend, blend, and nothing else is needed in my opinion.

It is definitely pulpy- but that is okay by me. I don't want to remove the pulp, I just want it broken up and really smooth. If you wanted to strain out the pulp but still use the quick blender method, you could strain it through a nutmilk bag or cheesecloth, I guess. You could also add more water than I used. It would make more juice and dilute the pulp, but flavor might taste watered down. I used 2 oranges, 1 grapefruit and 4 cups water for this juice. I shared with Aurelia- she loved it and didn't want me to have any!

Do you buy fruit juice? Ever make your own? What are your favorite combinations?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Value and Cost, DIY, and Grocery Store Compromises

For the past five years or so, I have moved more and more towards the natural and homemade end of the spectrum. It is partly because of cost- while Tide, Downy, and Clorox are conveniently ready to use, they are expensive. I make my own laundry detergent for much less (without the harmful ingredients), and the work involved is easy and quick enough that I feel it is worth it. Stacy's Pita Chips, while quite tasty, are pricey. I find it easy enough to rip up pita, toss them in olive oil and spices and pop them in the oven to crisp up.

It also has to do with safety. Making my own baby wipe solution and washing the cloth wipes is kind of a hassle, but I know exactly what goes into that solution and exactly how I wash the wipes.

Sometimes it has to do with pollution and waste. While we still occasionally use paper towels we usually opt for really absorbent rags (these ones.) We never buy paper napkins- I wash cloth ones and keep them in a napkin holder on the table. We compromised on diapers- we have a diaper service instead of washing our own, but they are still cloth. Bonus- Jim no longer uses chlorine bleach to whiten and disinfect the diapers.

While I have baked in the past, we normally buy our bread. I just could never get the crust and crumb texture quite right. But the bread we buy is up to 5 dollars a loaf sometimes. For bread! (What can I say, a good crust is imperative to me. I only partake occasionally, but I won't compromise when I do.) AND the list is slightly longer than "flour, water, yeast, salt." So this week at the grocery store I got a high gluten bread flour and found some guidelines for foolproof crusty Italian bread. Stay tuned. 

Also this past week we ran out of almond milk, as happens often. Aurelia drinks 16 oz of it a day, along with her 4 oz of breast milk. I dutifully went to the grocery store to pick up a few gallons with the rest of the groceries. When I was putting it away, I noticed it was labeled 30 calories a glass, instead of the normal 35. I thought this odd, and compared ingredients. Everything was listed exactly the same (a list that is longer than I like anyway), so the only thing I could come up with was that the company started making it thinner- less almonds, more water. While I feel like I could accept a slightly higher price (after all, it IS a tough season for many crops, maybe almonds are included), I thought not noting the change more prominently was deceptive. What am I paying for, a glorified vitamin water?

So, I finally bit the bullet and tried my hand at homemade almond milk. It is simple- soak almonds, rinse and drain. Then blend the almonds with fresh water. Blend well- a high speed blender is best, but it is worth a try with any blender. Then strain the almond pulp out with a fine mesh strainer or a nutmilk bag. You can also sweeten the milk with a natural sweetener like dates, honey, etc.

While I have a nutmilk bag, I did not strain the pulp out. I didn't want to have to find a way to use it up, and I thought it would be wasteful to throw it out. So I left it in and I just shake the milk really well before using it. Even if you do strain the pulp out, there will probably be some very fine residue, so the milk should be shaken regardless.

The verdict- it was good! I have been using it in my smoothies and Aurelia likes it too. The problem with not straining it though is that it clogs up in Aurelia's sippy cup. So she hasn't transitioned to the homemade stuff completely. But she often has some of my smoothie, or I let her sip the milk out of a regular cup with a straw.

Soon I want to make raw breads and crackers, and I think the almond pulp would make a good base for that, so I will eventually strain it out.

What (if anything) do you make yourself instead of buying? What are your reasons?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Packed Lunches

I am pretty lucky in that I have access to quality, fresh, and mostly organic produce all day long. As a full time mom (trying to start a business...), I have full control (most days) of what I and my kids eat. And lately I also usually prepare dinner, so I can make sure Chris is eating well then, too.

The giant gaping hole in this set up is that I can't make sure Chris is eating well while he works Monday through Friday. It's not that he eats poorly, it's just that driving from customer to customer, and maybe to and from the shop in between, he doesn't have time to eat. He has a morning part time job at a bakery- he eats a bagel and he is out of there by 8. Rarely does he get food on the road, and then he is home ravenous for dinner.

I hadn't really thought about this- Chris has never had to be told to eat, he is always hungry it seems. He has the appetite of a boy in high school, and always having been thin he eats what he wants, when he wants. But we were talking this past weekend when I realized he probably was not eating enough calorie-wise with his busy schedule during the work week. This can affect energy, productivity, blood sugar levels, etc.

So I have decided I am going to start packing lunch for him. But since one day's schedule is very different from the next, I don't know when or if he will be able to actually sit down and take his time to eat the food. Therefore, I am planning on only packing food that can be eaten with one hand and that is not super messy. This way, if he only has time to eat while driving, he is at least eating something, right?

Here's what I have brainstormed so far:

carrot sticks
cucumber slices
crackers and cheese
pita chips
raw vegan fruit and nut bars

Maybe peanut butter and jelly/jam/fruit butter/preserves (The key here would be spreading the peanut butter and fruit thinly, so as to avoid oozing and dripping.)

Maybe avocado (I think I would slice it onto sandwiches instead of mashing, again to avoid oozing and dripping. Can you tell I have thought really hard about this...? ha.)

When available, grapes, cherries, blueberries, strawberries (fruit that can be popped into the mouth- no dripping juices! He wants to look presentable for his customers, and a messy shirt would be the opposite of presentable, methinks.)

I might rarely send whole fruit like an orange, peach, etc. Citrus requires peeling. Peaches are drippy and juicy. Maybe apples would work- I can send it pre-washed, no peeling or other prep needed. Bananas might be ok, they aren't super juicy, and they are quick and easy to peel at stoplights, no?

I plan on making my own bars, bread, crackers and pita chips. These are all items I have made before, but I may have to work some recipes a bit to suit the need here- nothing can be too messy. I don't want to sabotage Chris by having him and his car covered in crumbs, haha.

Also, some of these foods will be geared to Chris's (and Aurelia's) tastes, but not necessarily mine. But that's ok, I have been making things they eat (but I only eat rarely) for a while now. Recently I made zucchini bread- I had some as a treat as did Aurelia, but Chris ate the bulk of it. I made biscuits (a big batch)- Aurelia has been having her peanut butter and jelly on it and Chris eats them with dinner or as a quick snack when he gets home. Making Chris's on-the-road lunches to suit his tastes (and not mine) are key.

Oh, and water. There have been days this summer when it has been especially warm. Sometimes Chris tunes at homes where the customer offers a drink. But sometimes, no one is home, or he tunes at schools, churches or nursing homes were there is no one to offer a drink. I want to make sure he has water.

Do you pack a lunch for anyone? What kind of foods do you send?
To read more about what Chris does for a living, check out his blog! :)

Friday, July 20, 2012

CSA- Community Supported Agriculture

We are taking a break today from the The Great Local Food Tour, but check out all the farms we have visited so far! On Saturday we have plans to visit my favorite farmer's market, and then we might head out to  Kennett Square in search of mushrooms (I am giddy with excitement, haha. You know my love of mushrooms from this post and this one.)

Today, I thought I would talk about CSAs. I find that a lot of people don't really know what a CSA is, or they don't know the pros and cons. A lot of the farms we have been visiting operate CSAs.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which sounds a little too general, in my opinion. When a person buys a CSA share they share in a farm's risk. The person pays in advance for a portion of the farm's total crop. If the farm does really well, the person gets a lot in their personal share, and if the farm does poorly, the person gets less. The farmer has a reliable income regardless of the weather, and in return CSA buyers pay slightly less (typically) than they would pay for that same produce at the farmers' market or grocery store. People pick their shares up at the farm, some other arranged location, or in some cases, the box of produce is delivered.

Sounds great, right? It ensures you have a steady supply of produce, it is all local, in season, and picked at peak ripeness, and the farmer has the income and support to keep doing what they do.

The past couple of summers I have thought about buying a share in a CSA- we eat enough fruit and vegetables, after all. The only thing holding me back has been variety and what to do with the things that are not my favorite foods, really. One farm might grow A LOT of bok choy and asparagus, but no lettuce, spinach, or strawberries. While I eat a great variety, and I will turn no vegetable or fruit away, I do have mainstays. I have different greens in my smoothie every morning, but spinach is definitely my favorite. I try to eat a salad every single day, if not twice a day- I don't mind dandelion greens, red leaf lettuce or arugula in that application, but romaine and butter lettuce are my favorites. If a farm does not grow those particular things, adaptation would be necessary.

That might not be a bad thing, though. I have lately been making more of an effort to eat seasonally and locally, but there is still room for improvement. We have been loving peaches and blueberries that we picked ourselves from a local farm, but I have also been enjoying grapefruit and oranges grown in Florida and California.

Also, a share would force me to explore using vegetables I don't typically eat often. Until recently I had not cooked bok choy or kohlrabi, for example. A whole box of such choices would have me searching for or coming up with new and different recipes. Necessity is the mother of invention.

So it didn't happen this year, but maybe next summer we will buy a CSA share. I am thinking to add variety, we will buy a share (or half share) from two different farms. With that, along with a garden I hope to grow myself, we will (hopefully) cut down on the grocery store bill, support local farmers even more than we already do, and improve our nutrition and health.

What are your thoughts on CSAs? Do you have a share?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Great Local Food Tour: Wyebrook Farm

When we got to Wyebrook we had already been to three other farms and we were pretty spent.

But we spoke to farm owner Dean Carlson, the farm manager's wife Amy, and the farm's butcher and chef Janet. Dean left his former career as a bond trader in 2009. He bought the farm in 2010, originally intending it to be an investment property. But then he learned more and more how our currently unsustainable food industry works, and wanted to become more involved. Janet came to the farm from NY, where she used to teach the culinary arts. She butchers all the animals they raise right on the farm. In addition to the animals, Wyebrook also grows some vegetables in a garden, and they have a high tunnel. However, many of the vegetables, greens, plants and herbs they sell and cook are grown elsewhere, at least for now.

On our first visit we bought a big bag of mixed basil (grown on a nearby certified organic farm, B&H), as well as eggs and locally roasted coffee beans. 

We loved Wyebrook Farm so much on our first visit that we planned immediately to return and bring friends.    We were told we could visit any of the animals they raise (pigs, steer, goats, chickens), but we were just too tired and decided we would do that next time around. Which we did!

Aurelia loved the chicks...

And the pigs... 

We think this one may have been pregnant?

The pigs are free to roam most of the property. They spend a lot of time in the woods where it is moist and cool. Janet said it is because they don't have sweat glands.

The pigs were eating when we got there, at the food trough. They are given feed, but over time Dean hopes to wean them and have them forage for their own food solely (which they only partially do now.) Fruit trees have been planted partly for the pigs.

Wyebrook also has a huge solar panel and we noticed a lot of the electric fencing hooked up to batteries, presumably powered by the solar panels.

In addition to the store, their is also a cafe where they sell a lot of the food they raise and grow. While the menu was very meat heavy, there were a few vegetarian options (a salad which I had and a crudites sandwich that Aurelia and I shared), and if you requested the cheese be left out you could have a vegan meal. Chris and our friends Ricardo and Justin ordered beef and chicken options.

Dean explained that he believes raising animals for meat is sustainable and even necessary for growing produce. Chickens keep pests under control. Cows and goats graze and eliminate weeds and the need to mow. Pigs forage and eat what most of us would consider waste (fallen fruit, etc.) All those animals provide manure for fertilizer. While I personally won't eat meat, I think if you are going to partake occasionally, his model of raising animals for food is the way to go.

Wyebrook Farm can be found on Facebook in addition to their website. It is a great place to take your family or a date. And they have live music!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Great Local Food Tour: Conebella

Conebella's Farm was another farm on the "honor system." We had heard good things about their cheese, and we even got some specific recommendations from other farms. According to their website, the farm has been in the same family- the Gables- for 5 generations (since 1923.) It is an award-winning dairy farm and they only raise Ayrshire cows.

It looks like they also grow (and maybe sell?) corn.

What a pretty house.

We bought the Bay Cheddar and the Italian Colby. Chris and Aurelia raved about them both. There were quite a few grilled cheese sandwiches in this house while we had this cheese.

The Great Local Food Tour: Sunnyside

At Sunnyside Farm we found a very friendly and hard working couple and their two dogs. While the dogs lounged in the shade, the husband was picking produce and his wife was selling the goods from the stand. It was a small farm stand where they were selling red and yellow onions, potatoes, corn,  zuccini, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and peppers. 

I was told the farm has been in the Miller family (through marriage) since 1798. They rarely spray and consider themselves mostly organic, although they are not certified. They do not find the pesticides to be worth their time and money- the chemicals are expensive. 

We bought tomatoes, onions, and sweet hot peppers. They also gave us a giant zucchini and a bunch of basil for free. They said the zucchini is too big for them to sell and they have more basil than they would be able to sell or use. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Great Local Food Tour: Farmer's Daughter

Day 2 of The Great Local Food Tour began with a stop at Farmer's Daughter Farm Market. I thought this sign was great- how could you miss it?

This market has been family owned for 15 years. They are not organic, but they try to keep the use of chemicals to a minimum. 

Farmer's Daughter seemed like the kind of place where you could get all your grocery shopping done. They sell fruits, vegetables, eggs, dairy, local baked goods, arts and crafts. Really, they have a little bit of everything, including Amish products. And they have a (free) frequent shoppers club, which I signed up for. 

While they do grow their own produce, some of it comes from produce auctions, other local farms, and Weaver's Orchard on Route 10. The dairy comes from Clover Farms in Pottsville and the ice cream comes from Nelson's in Royersford.

The items they sell are all labeled well- "local," "organic," "our own homegrown," or they otherwise have stickers with countries of origin. 

This last table was my little slice of heaven. We bought green plums, blueberries, and Ranier cherries. We also bought some Amish pear butter and pumpkin butter. 

Like Farmer's Daughter on Facebook to stay up to date on what they have available!

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Great Local Food Tour: Milky Way Farms

Our last stop of day 1 of The Great Local Food Tour was Milky Way Farms. We had heard great things about the ice cream, but as we had already had some that day, we decided to try it another time.

Milky Way Farms has been in the same family (the Matthews) for four generations. The farm is not certified organic but their animals are pastured and antibiotic-free. They sell various dairy products as well as eggs, all out of a small refrigerated shed and on an honor system.

We checked out the ice cream shop which was PACKED with kids and then went to check out the many animals they have- cows and calves, pigs, chickens, ducks, and sheep. (There may be other animals but that's what I saw.) As worn out as Aurelia was by this point in the day, she is always excited to see animals.

It did make me sad to see the pigs penned in such close quarters. Pigs may seem lazy, but being penned like that can make them go stir crazy, I think. Chris said they have to use wood planks on the bottom of the pen because the pig will dig and root its way out. He and I discussed pigs with another couple- that pigs have the brainpower equal to that of a 3 year old, that they are incredibly smart, that they can be trained better than dogs even. They are often used to find truffles and other wild mushrooms because of their instinct for rooting and their sense of smell.

From this farm we bought eggs and yogurt. Aurelia and Chris have been enjoying a lot of eggs and toast and greek-style yogurt with raw honey.

How do you feel about farm and petting zoo animals? Does it ever make you sad to see them on display solely for our benefit? And how do you eat your eggs? Ours is an over-easy-with-runny-yolks household. Toast is a must.

For the rest of The Great Local Farm Tour so far, click here. And of course, there is plenty more to come. Also, I am on Twitter and Facebook, if you would like to follow along in real time. :)

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Great Local Food Tour: Highland Orchards

By the time we got to Highland Orchards we were... exhausted. The kids needed to be fed, we were all hot and sticky from the humidity, Aurelia was tired and cranky. So let's just say it was awesome that they had farm animals to cheer us all up. :)

They had pick-your-own peaches, Lodi apples, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, but we weren't in the mood and we still had other locations we wanted to get to. So we checked out the little market instead, but we will definitely be coming back to pick our own fruit.  

I spoke to Emily Hodge, who was very nice and happy to answer my questions. She told me Highland Orchards has been in her family since 1941. They started growing primarily apples, and over the years have added other fruits. They also sell produce from other local farms. Before her family owned the farm, it was a farm for raising cattle for beef. (You know I am happy when farms switch from raising animals to raising produce, haha.) They have 350 acres, a great deal of which is still dedicated to apples. They are not organic, but they use as little chemical spray as possible, and no wax is ever applied to their apples. They also use Integrated Pest Management. 

In addition to the produce they sell, they have a bakery in the market and shelves of jarred and preserved goods. A strong emphasis is placed on locally sourced products. All bakery items are baked fresh every day. 
Before heading out I bought a quarter peck of Lodi apples and a bag each of blue corn tortillas and white corn tortillas.

The apples came with a recipe for Lodi applesauce, which I made. I found that the texture of Lodi apples is not super crisp, but it is perfect for simmering down with cinnamon and a touch of sugar. In the past when I have made my own applesauce I didn't use sugar, but this variety of apple was a bit tart and tangy. The applesauce was delicious and met both Chris's and Aurelia's standards. 

The tortillas- amazing. Highland Orchards makes them themselves. We devoured one bag in a single sitting along with a fresh batch of guacamole. The ingredient list shows (among other all natural things) brown sugar and chili powder, which I think was the perfect seasoning. 

Do you ever pick your own produce? Anyone have good recipes for Lodi apples?