Archive for the ‘eating locally’ Category

J and I experienced the new documentary Food Inc. a couple of weeks ago, and though I’m not through digesting it enough to share a whole lot of my thoughts here, I can’t not tell you about the Chipotle-sponsored free nationwide screenings of Food Inc happening this week.  If you haven’t yet seen this important film, or if you want to take friends or family members, please check out this link for a list of dates and locations.  Here in Houston, the free showing will be at the Angelika tomorrow night (July 15th) at 7:30 p.m.

I am so glad we saw Food Inc.  It reminded me of what I already knew, opened my eyes to new information, and gave me a major kick in the pants to keep me motivated in pursuing local and sustainable food.  Now, off to the Tuesday afternoon Rice farmers’ market!

(Huge HT to Vicki Powers of Houston on the Cheap for letting Houstonians know about this!)


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My new apartment has a ledge over the kitchen sink that’s simply begging for cheerful houseplants.  Combine that with my desire to keep growing fresh herbs after the move, and you can understand why I was so thrilled that The Kitchn blog pointed me to a fabulous Chow article on growing herbs indoors.  The article explains why peppermint, lemongrass, and chives are easiest, while basil and sage are best avoided by the indoor gardener.  The author also details proper watering and feeding protocol, which, as a total gardening nincompoop, I really appreciate.  If you’ve ever wanted to grow herbs indoors, or — from one brown thumb to another — if you’ve ever killed herbs indoors, you might check it out.

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My mom's Christmas tree last year.

Until I started exploring farmers’ markets and the local food movement, I hardly ever gave a thought to eating foods that were in season.  Sure, I knew watermelons are only truly delicious in the summer and that my grandfather’s peaches (oh, those peaches!) only came once a year, but beyond that, I was lost.  I planned meals based on what I wanted to eat, not on what was fresh.

Shopping the farmers’ markets opened my eyes to eating with the seasons.  Sometimes I feel sad that such-and-such isn’t available, and sometimes that feeling is so overwhelming that I go to the store and buy it anyway.  As it turns out, though, there’s a lot of joy in waiting for a food I enjoy.  Not only do I experience that exquisite pleasure-pain of anticipation, the special food actually tastes better when it’s in season and has traveled fewer miles to reach my greedy paws. 

As I became more and more enthralled with eating seasonally last fall, I realized that I could carry this concept over into my holiday meal planning, whether I was shopping in the grocery store or the farmers’ markets.  It was my first year to host Christmas, so I had complete control of the menu.  And I made some changes.  Although green beans are traditional in my family, I switched them out for in-season broccoli.  I found the perfect recipe, Roasted Garlic-Parmigiano Broccoli, in the Thanksgiving issue of Food & Wine.  It was an enormous hit.  Just as the editors claim, the broccoli is addictive and slightly nutty tasting.  No one missed the green beans.

Next, I altered the fruit salad plans.  We love fruit salad with our holiday meal, and I didn’t want to delete it from the menu altogether.  But I knew I wanted something fresher than berries.  I opted for Bon Appetit‘s Citrus Salad with Ginger Yogurt.  Again, it couldn’t have been better!  It was strikingly beautiful, and the combination of blood oranges, oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit with honey, cinnamon, and dried cranberries was perfect.  A topping of rich Greek yogurt with candied ginger rounded it out wonderfully.  I can’t wait to make this recipe again.  I hope to establish it as an Alison and J family tradition.

Finally, I selected a butternut squash soup for our first course.  Food & Wine’s Gingered Butternut Squash Soup with Spicy Pecan Cream opened our Christmas dinner on a delightful note and kept us talking about it for days.  My father-in-law was particularly enthralled with this dish.

As I plan for this year’s Christmas dinner, I will continue the seasonal foods theme.  All of the recipes I mentioned above are already on the menu, and I plan to do some more recipe hunting in the next few weeks.  I think that what I loved most about going seasonal with my holiday dinner, besides the awesomely fresh food, was the challenge.  I really enjoyed hunting up new recipes and brainstorming different ideas. 

To learn more about what’s in season when in your region, visit Sustainable Table for a list by state (USA).

What about you?  Have you ever given any thought to making your holiday meals seasonal, beyond serving pumpkin pie or cranberry sauce?  What are your tips and tricks?  Do you have a favorite seasonal recipe for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner?

*This post is a part of Works-for-Me-Wednesday.  For more ideas, visit Shannon at Rocks in My Dryer.

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Kimi of The Nourishing Gourmet blog has hosted some great carnivals so far, and I am especially excited about the latest one.  On Tuesday, October 21, head over to Kimi’s blog to join in the fun.  With fall in the air and apples in their prime, it’s the perfect time to share some seasonal, warming, healthy recipes.  Here’s what Kimi has to say about the carnival:

Perhaps you have a favorite apple pie, muffin or bread recipe. Or maybe you have the perfect squash soup. Others of you may have some delicious pear recipe just waiting to be shared (like a pear tart, or a roasted pear recipe). I personally have been enjoying the cabbage in season around here. Let’s share! You can share dessert, sides, salads, and soups, and main dishes. Just remember to keep it nourishing as well as delicious!

For those of us who have to keep frugality in mind as well, I know that we would appreciate it if you mention tips for buying Fall ingredients at a good price, and frugal recipes are always welcome as well.

Sounds good to me!  I just adore fall.  It’s definitely my favorite time of year, and my discovery of farmers’ markets has only made it more so.  There’s something about local, seasonal eating that makes a new season even more exciting.

For more information about this event, go here.  Even if you choose not to participate by adding your own recipes, you’re sure to come away with lots of new ideas from other bloggers and commenters.

By the way, you may also wish to check out her previous food carnivals:

Nourishing, Frugal Food Carnival (I contributed to this one.  You can find my post here.)

Nourishing Portable Food Challenge (Unfortunately, I missed participating in this carnival, but I still found some great ideas from other bloggers.  If you’ve ever been stumped by eating healthy food on the go or in lunch bags, check it out.)

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Besides raising safety concerns for ourselves and others, hurricane Ike ruined Justice’s and my plans for a special date night yesterday.  With posts on gardening and its wonderful fruits flooding the blogosphere lately, my increasing interest in eating seasonally (spawned by the farmers’ markets), my mother-in-law’s recent success growing just a handful of spinach plants, and rising grocery costs, I finally had the thought the other day, You know, maybe I’ll plant some tomatoes next year.  I like tomatoes, you see, and the ones at the grocery store are awful, while those at the farmers’ market are expensive.  This isn’t a completely new concept.  Justice and I have both talked about starting a garden, but the conversations so far have been pretty abstract.  This was the first time I felt a real desire to do something.  I think I’m settling more into nesting mode as I approach graduation.  Domesticity is starting to sound really good these days.

This thought then led to another one a few days later, Why wait until next spring to plant something?  I had a point.  Dark, leafy greens and lettuces grow all fall and winter here, and they’re some of my favorite vegetables.  In fact, as much as I love cucumbers, I prefer the winter farmers’ markets to the summer ones.  And my grandpa, who is a fantastic gardener by the way (oh, for his peaches, peas, onions, and tomatoes!), says that kale tastes better after the weather gets cold.  I quickly performed a Google search on “Houston fall gardening” and came up with lots of great information.  Apparently, September is not too late for greens and lettuces.  Hurrah! 

But since I know approximately, oh, nothing about gardening, I scoured the Urban Harvest website for information.  (Urban Harvest is a local non-profit organization devoted to educating the public about organic gardening, supporting school and community gardens, and sponsoring the Bayou City Farmers’ Market, which I think is the best one in Houston.)  Lo and behold, they were offering a beginner’s class on home fruit and vegetable gardening in only two days!  I eagerly called, bought a membership for a very reasonable fee, and registered myself and my husband for the class.  We used some money that we had set aside for our anniversary for the purchase.  We wondered what could be a better gift to ourselves for our anniversary than investing in a new hobby for the two of us to enjoy together?

I have to be realistic about this, of course.  My childhood gardening attempts failed miserably, and as much as I love the idea of gardening, I haven’t generally enjoyed the reality in the past.  However, I love to research, plan, and coordinate; I think gardening makes all the sense in the world; and I adore cooking with fresh ingredients.  Plus, I’m trying to keep an open mind.  My husband, as it turns out, hates research and planning but really enjoys working with his hands outside.  I think we might make a good team for gardening success.  Who knows?  We’ll start small this year and work our way up if all goes well.

For the moment, I’m most excited about the opportunity to spend time learning something new together.  Learning together thrills me because it always produces the best conversations!  I enjoy my husband so much.  Yes, I think this will be a fun little adventure for our marriage.  Maybe it will grow into a life-long hobby we’ll enjoy for the next fifty years together.  Or maybe in fifty years we’ll look back, shake our heads in amazement, say, “What were we thinking?!”, and tell our grandchildren all about our young folly.  Either way, I think gardening is bound to produce memories we’ll treasure.

Hurricane Ike will pass soon, and then Urban Harvest will reschedule the class.  I look forward to sharing our experiences here. 

What do you think of gardening?  Have you always loved it, or was it an acquired taste?  How did you learn about it?  From your parents?  Classes?  Books?  Do you have any tips for newbies?

(This post is a part of Frugal Friday, a blog carnival at Biblical Womanhood.)

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Ladies and gentleman, I would like to introduce my dear friend, Bernard.

We met at the Bayou City Farmers’ Market two weeks ago.  This unassuming, unidentified squash is something of a country bumpkin, so he’s a little shy around the camera.  Fortunately, I convinced him to share his good side with you.

Then I sneaked this shot of his bad side when he wasn’t looking.  Shhhh…don’t tell.

Now, you might be thinking, “Gee, this Bernard guy doesn’t look like the brightest gourd in the garden.”

Three days ago, I would have agreed with you. 

But not anymore. 

This is one sneaky squash.  I mentioned before that he is unidentified (stupid me forgot to ask the farmer what kind of vegetable I was buying!).  If you had to take a stab at the answer, though, what would you guess?  Some kind of winter squash?  Maybe with flesh something like a butternut squash?  Yeah, that’s what I thought too..

Oh, how wrong I was!  Would you believe that Bernard turned out to be . . .


In what universe does a spaghetti squash look like this?

It may sound like I was upset by this turn of events.  Not at all!  In fact, I adore spaghetti squash and was thrilled beyond belief.  But, I’ll be honest, the revelation threw me for a loop.  I didn’t realize what I had on my hands until the squash was cooked.  I had cut the head and neck off, then sliced the body in half lengthwise.  I placed one half in the oven whole, and the other half I cut into thick slices before baking.  When we sat down for dinner and I took a chunk out of a slice with my fork — only then did I perceive the truth.

Since this puppy made a lot of spaghetti, I had plenty leftover for the next night’s dinner when I prepared my favorite vegetable marinara sauce.  I thought I’d share it with you here.  Although we ate the dish vegetarian-style, it tastes wonderful with some sliced grilled chicken breast on top.  Of course, you could also serve the marinara over real pasta or gluten-free pasta.  But I’m stickin’ to the spaghetti squash.  It really is one of my favorite meals.  Ah, spaghetti squash bliss. 



Spaghetti Squash with Spicy Vegetable Marinara Sauce

(my recipe)

2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil, butter, ghee, or olive oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
3 large carrots, scrubbed and coarsely chopped
4 medium stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 medium zucchini, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
1 regular can (14 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (10 oz) mild or regular Rotel tomatoes (diced tomatoes with green chilies)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 heaping tablespoon fresh, chopped basil OR 1 rounded teaspoon dried basil
1 heaping tablespoon fresh, chopped oregano OR 1 rounded teaspoon dried oregano

1 large spaghetti squash, baked OR whole wheat or gluten-free pasta
Grilled, sliced chicken breast (optional)

Heat a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the oil.  When hot, stir in the garlic and onions and saute until soft and translucent, about 4 or 5 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the fresh herbs.  If using dried herbs, add them now.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until all vegetables are very soft.  If using fresh herbs, add them now.

Process the sauce in batches in a blender until smooth.  Reheat in the pot if necessary, then serve over spaghetti squash or pasta.  Add the grilled chicken on top, if desired, and garnish with fresh basil.


NOTE: If you prefer a non-spicy sauce, simply use 2 large cans of diced tomatoes (28 oz each). 

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Go ahead.  Indulge yourself with one of these quick, healthy, and satisfying summertime snacks.  I love how cooling they feel on the way down — perfect for these sweltering days of 90-something degree heat.

Option A:  Whip out a ripe, juicy tomato from your farmers’ market, slice it thickly, and gently kiss it with a dollop of soft goat cheese from your favorite goat farm.  I’m a big fan of Anala Goat Company‘s garlic and parsley chevre.  Sprinkle with your neighbors’ chives (thanks, K!) and arrange on a plate.  Savour slowly, with extra sliced tomatoes on the side.


Option B: Thickly slice a sweet, local cucumber and dab some chunky guacamole on top.  Garnish with extra cilantro if you’re feeling festive.  Don’t forget additional cucumber slices on the side.

I may not love summer heat, but I do love summer produce!

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