Sunday, December 21, 2008

Patience is a virtue

I tend to be an instant gratification kind of girl, but this garden lifestyle change inspires patience and planning. I went to the farmer's market this weekend. Bless their hearts for coming all the way out to the U District with their goods and for standing outside all day in those cold, outdoor market stalls. I had hoped to buy more local honey and some other ingredients, like onions. But since only a handful of farmers were able to make it to the market in this wintery weather, the pickings were slim and I wasn't able to instantly satisfy my desire to have those products. I discovered that I was OK with that. I picked out some shallots instead and decided to wait until next week to pick up a new jar of honey. I think I'll appreciate them more when I finally get them next week (hopefully). I know this epiphany seems like minutiae, but for a girl that's normally impatient, I think it's a good thing.

Along the same lines, I've been thinking a lot about my future garden and how beautiful it's going to be. Since I can't be out there right now, I've decided to plan ahead and complete a garden project that I'll love when it's finally time to plant. Normally, I would squeeze this mosaic project in (along with a few flower pots) while I was knee-deep in the bigger project of creating the garden itself (which will be quite a labor-intensive, time consuming job on it's own). But now, in the spirit of patience and planning, I've completed the project ahead of time so that when the time comes to actually build the new garden, I can focus all my energy and attention on the task at hand (the most important one of all).

So, here is what I made: mosaic seed markers. I stripped the wooden slats off some old garden fencing and made each one into a plant marker. I don't think I'll actually forget where I planted each type of vegetable and certainly won't need a marker to know what a tomato plant looks like when it sprouts, but I think the more garden bling there is, the better.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let it snow!

My garden is officially asleep now, covered in a freezing white blanket of snow. I'm keeping warm and have got a new garden craft in the works...stay tuned.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What about a sprinkle doughnut?

One of my favorite things about the weekend is Saturday mornings at Top Pot. Jake lives just around the corner from a Top Pot coffee shop, so ever since we started dating, we've been spending almost every Saturday morning eating doughnuts and drinking chai (a local treat!). The pink sprinkle doughnut is my absolute favorite - not just for the taste, but for how beautiful it looks. Each one's like a little festive pastel water color. I even took a picture of it to use as the wall paper on my phone. I know you must be thinking, damn, she must really love doughnuts. But, it's more than the doughnut itself. It's always been about the experience. Every time I open my phone, it reminds me of lazy, cozy Saturday mornings with Jake. The whole thing makes me feel comfortable and warm.

So why do I look so guilty in this picture if I love the sprinkle doughnut experience so much? Because being thoughtful about the food you eat means you have to make choices. Now that I've started this project, I'm engaged in an on-going mental debate, asking myself questions like these: What food counts and what doesn't? How local is local? Does this mean no more mangoes, coconuts, and avocados? Can eating local mean supporting a local business? If a chocolate truffle is hand-crafted in Seattle, but the cocoa beans come from some far away country, is that considered a local food? What is the whole point of this thing anyway?

Lately, my response has been that if I can make it, I'm going to make it (especially things like home-made bread). If I can grow it, I'm going to grow it and if I can't, I'm going to buy it from someone around here who can. Going to the farmers market means I may even get a chance to talk to the person who did. If it's a product that is made in Washington or Oregon, that's the one I'm going to get. And if it's an experience I enjoy, like sippin' on a chai and eating a delicious doughnut from a hip, local joint, I'm doing it. So here's to that! Cheers!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What's for lunch tomorrow?

Everyone knows that I'm an early bird by nature and since my job requires that I be a ball of energy all day, I go to bed pretty early on the week nights. We're talking 9ish - pretty early, right? But here I am, standing in my kitchen, waiting for my Butternut Squash Autumn Millet Bake to be done. It's almost past my bed time! :) So, why am I still up cooking some crazy squash recipe? Because I ate all of my left overs from the weekend and I have two more weekday lunches to go.

Before my resolution, I would have just resolved to buy school lunch and call it good. You remember - the Styrofoam tray, prepackaged bags of apple slices, corn dogs, etc. That just won't cut it now. During a typical week, if I cook a big meal (leftover size) on Sundays and Wednesdays, it gets me through the week like a charm. But this week, I had plans on Wednesday that didn't end until late. So now, I find myself in the kitchen, up a little later, to have something healthy, seasonal, and delicious to eat for lunch tomorrow. Is it worth it? Hell yeah! There's nothing better than getting hungry during the day, looking at the clock and seeing that it's almost lunch time, and remembering that you have the most awesome food packed away in your lunch bag to eat. It sure beats eating mysterious breaded meat on a stick.

Now before I sign off for the night, I have one more story to tell. I come from a family of meat eaters. So when I became a vegetarian eight years ago (I'm not anymore), I was sort of an anomaly. I'll never forget visiting my grandma for the first time after I became a vegetarian. She's an amazing cook (good southern cooking) and likes to keep us well fed, but she just didn't know what to do with me. She sent my grandpa to the store for tofu and I'm sure that was the first and last time that ever happened. It was adorable. I tried to reassure her that I was fine and that I'd eat whatever she made, but she still wanted to make sure that my dietary needs were met, bless her heart. This brings me to my special request (for my grandma and all of my friends and family): Please don't be afraid of me now that I'm a seasonaltarian! I still love food and love your company, so if you want to go out for a bite to eat or have me over for a meal, I'm game - no special menu or ingredients required. My new food lifestyle is a shift I've made to improve my daily life, not something I want people to worry about or try to accommodate. It's a commitment I'm making to myself that I want to share with the people I love. :)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Week Two

So, I think I went a little overboard with the cooking this weekend. I have pretty much been cooking all weekend. This new food focus is like a new craft, a new medium to experiment with. The weekend started with one main goal: I really wanted to puree a couple pumpkins to make some pumpkin butter. But then, one thing led to another and this is what happened:
  • I got a happy little free-range chicken to roast for dinner on Saturday night - delicious!
  • I tried out a new brussels sprouts recipe and made a loaf of home-made wheat bread to go with the roasted chicken (and an extra loaf of bread to give to Rachel and Gabe). 
  • I roasted 2 small pumpkins and spent an hour trying to puree them in several batches in my blender. Let's just say the button on my multi-speed blender that says "puree" doesn't really do what it claims very well. I can't wait to get a food processor! Jake and I are going to go in on one for Christmas. It's the one critical kitchen appliance we're lacking and if I'm going to keep pureeing things, I'm really going to need it. 
  • After pureeing the pumpkin, I put it in a strainer lined with cheese cloth and left it over night to let the water drain out. 
  • Then, on Sunday morning, I made a batch of pumpkin butter, which turned out amazing! I've got several jars in the freezer now to keep me satisfied for a while. 
  • I roasted all the pumpkin seeds for Jake since he loves those. 
  • I used the extra pumpkin puree to make a delicious loaf of pumpkin bread. It's a new recipe that I found on a food blog that Radhi steered me too (Closet Cooking). I made it without the cranberries and chocolate, but it was still super good. I think it might replace the pumpkin bread recipe I usually use. 
  • I simmered the carcass from the Saturday night chicken to make chicken stock for when we need it. And since I was at it, I made some veggie stock too. 
  • Finally, I whipped up a couple pizzas for dinner with home-made whole wheat pizza crust, chard, and caramelized onions. I already can't wait for lunch tomorrow. 
I'm not really sure what's come over me, but I'm lovin' my extra-curricular chef activities and now I have lots of great food to eat all week. So far, week two of my food resolution isn't looking so bad. 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

"Love Carrots"

The farmers market was bustling this morning. Everyone seemed to be in a great mood (or maybe I was just projecting my mood on to everyone else). I love being in that environment, making connections with random people in my community. We all seem to have the same objective - to eat beautiful, healthful food from our bountiful state. The whole experience just lifts my spirits. When I entered the market, a woman selling the "Real Change" paper said "Good Morning." When I replied, she said, "Man, you must be a morning person. Your face just lit up." And it's true, I am a morning person, but it was the atmosphere that made me feel cheerful. 

Today, I got lots of goods from the market, including: fresh eggs, a whole chicken to roast, several pumpkins, fresh honey, Braeburn apples, and of course, another butternut squash. But my coolest finds were the veggies in today's picture. I bought a whole stalk of brussels sprouts for $4. The whole thing, with all those sprouts, for only 4 bucks! And I got to pick the veggies right off the stalk before I actually sauteed them for dinner tonight. It was fantastic! I never thought I would ever be so excited about buying so many brussels sprouts. But, man, they're tasty! 

Tonight I made a recipe by Heidi Swanson, the author of one of my favorite cookbooks, Super Natural Cooking. The recipe was for Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts. I highly recommend it, especially for people leery of the sprouts. My friend, Radhi, suggested that I check out this fabulous butternut squash recipe on a recipe site called 101 Cookbooks and when I went to check it out, I discovered that it's Heidi Swanson's site. I found the brussels sprouts recipe on there today. I've also got ingredients in the works for the butternut squash millet bake for some time this week. Stay tuned. 

The other cool veggies I got were the carrots. I went back to the same farmer to buy carrots again this week because last week's carrots were so sweet and delicious. But this time, the bunches of carrots were marbled orange and dark burgundy, like rainbow sherbet. They were beautiful. I asked the farmer if they were as sweet as the other carrots I bought last week. He snapped one off and handed it to me to try, right then and there.  Sure enough, it was delicious. Then, he told me the story behind them. He said they call them "Love Carrots" because they planted a row of carrots next to a row of big, red beets. He said that one night they heard some little elves making some noise out in the fields and the next thing they knew, they had "Love Carrots." At that, I paid my $2 for a bunch and was on my way. I'm not a big fan of beets, but maybe these carrots will help change my mind. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Some things I've learned along the way

Roasted butternut squash, sauteed swiss chard, and mixed grains
If only this picture looked as good as the squash and greens actually tasted!

I've discovered a few things about myself this week through my new food journey.
1. I actually like Brussels Sprouts. My dad said he wanted to see that in writing - so here it is. I sauteed the Brussels Sprouts I bought at the farmer's market with a little bit of onion and olive oil for about 5 minutes or so, until they tuned bright lime green and yellow. They were AMAZING! I loved them! My dad, a long-time mega-fan of Brussels Sprouts, was floored by my new reaction to the little cabbage-looking vegetables. I normally turn my nose up at them, but I don't think I'll be doing that least not with Brussels Sprouts like these. 

2. I LOVE butternut squash. The squash I roasted for dinner was so delightful, it felt like eating pumpkin pie for dinner. Seriously - it is SO good! Roasting squash is super simple. I just peel it, scoop out the seeds, cut it up into 1-inch chunks, toss it in a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put it in a shallow baking pan and in a 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Then, I mix the roasted squash chunks with some walnuts (which I toast a little in a dry pan on the stove) and some shredded Pecorino cheese (not local, but I've got to finish up the last little chunk I still have before I go all out). It is super good! I'm lovin' winter squash season. 

3. Turns out, I actually do have the will power to resist snacks in the staff lounge. Before I started this new food resolution, I would poke my head into the staff lounge every time I went to make a copy, just to see if there were some yummy, junk food snacks I could munch on. That's why I don't buy junk food, because if it's in the house, I'll eat it. I always thought I didn't have the will power to resist the temptations. But I'm finding out that I do. It's not that I'm trying to be rigid or deny myself certain things. It's that I'm actually being mindful about everything I put into my mouth and it makes me realize that I must not have been doing that all the time before. Don't get me wrong - any one who knows me well, knows that I have been quite a healthy eater for years. But now, instead of just trying to make food choices with my health and figure in mind, I am choosing to eat foods that I know about. I know where all the food that I ate today came from. I also know what went into the foods that I ate because I made them, rather than eating overly processed foods with ingredients I don't even know how to pronounce. And I'm having a great time with my food. Jake said today, "The coolest thing about this whole food thing is that you're totally stoked all the time." He's right. 

Monday, December 1, 2008

So much energy and nothing to sow

So, what does a sassy urban gardener do when she's rearin' to garden, but can't because it's winter? She sews crafty garden accessories to use in the spring. This month's delight: the Garden Utility belt!

Stacy's growing what?

Three years ago, I decided to grow some of my own food for the first time. I broke ground in a previously unused (except by weeds) bed on the side of my house and planted 4 vegetables from seed: green beans, carrots, rainbow chard, and scallions. To my delight, my seeds actually sprouted and I had my first taste of a vegetable right out of the ground. I was hooked. 

The next year, I planted the same vegetables again and added strawberries.

Finally, this summer, I upped the ante again, ready to try my hand at some new crops. I expanded into the bed in front of my house and even planted a few vegetables and herbs in some containers in the back. This time I grew green beans, rhubarb, chard, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, basil, and chives. By the end of my harvest, I was already planning which vegetables I'd plant again and which ones I'd add to my collection next summer. An enthusiastic urban gardner was born.  

It's probably not surprising to find out that now I have started making plans to push back the fence in the backyard to make room for another 4- 6 raised beds. Jake has agreed to build these beds for me to make room for all the new vegetables I plan to plant this spring, including broccoli, corn, potatoes, winter squash, salad greens, and pumpkins. I started reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barabara Kingsolver and was inspired to take this vision one step further. 

I made a resolution to start eating locally and seasonally as much as I possibly can. I am making a commitment to myself and my community to grow/make as much of my own food as I can and buy what I can't from my local farmer's markets.

So, what's the bottom line?
  • I get to eat a plethora of delicious fruits and vegetables when they're fresh and in season (yep, no more cucumbers and tomatoes until they actually grow and ripen on the vines in my yard this summer).
  • Jake and I get to continue the "Sunday Night Dinner" tradition with even more reason to find recipes that showcase the amazing seasonal bounty we find at the market or in our own garden.  
  • I see where my food came from and talk to the farmers that grew it. 
  • I get to have experiences at the farmer's market unlike any others (like being convinced by a farmer to try a raw Brussel sprout right on the spot because they're so delicious. But I thought I hated Brussel sprouts? Hmm.....).
  • I am more motivated and inspired to make food that I used to buy, like bread and cheese. Maybe it's not so difficult after all.
  • I get to think outside of the box and be creative when it comes to planning meals and lovingly replacing old standards, like hummus and berry crisp in the middle of winter.
I have started a "New Years" resolution that will not fall by the wayside come February. I am making a resolution to continue expanding a way of life that I have slowly been cultivating for the past three years - a life full of good health, beautiful plants, and delicious meals.