Tennesseetransitions


Eating Locally

On this snowy day, I’m recalling some recent conversations with friends asking what exactly am I eating that is fresh and local in this kind of weather? So, I made a list. I consider food that I grew last summer and preserved in some way fair game when making such a list but italicized them below so  you can tell what’s ‘fresh’ and what’s ‘preserved’. All grown or available right.here. 

Here’s what we’re eating these days: corn and corn meal, cilantro, tomatoes-yes, we’re still enjoying fresh Longkeeper tomatoes harvested in October-cabbage, broccoli, beets, parsnips, white potatoes and sweet potatoes, green beans, kale, parsley, herbs, butternut and spaghetti squash, pesto, salsa, dried beans, jams, V-8 and grape juices, peas, edamame, jams and jellies, honey, teas, hot sauces, salsa, flour and corn tortillas, corn bread and yeast bread, apple sauce, carrots, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries, onions and garlic, molasses, and peppers and occasionally eggs, goat’s milk or goat cheese are given to me by friends. We also had fresh lettuce until just recently but the cold finally did it in, mostly due to our failure to protect it well. We enjoy stir fries, soups, pasta sauces, and one pot meals most of the time, occasionally splurging on a pizza from Main Street Pizza since they grow their own toppings on their nearby farm. There are lots of other local foods available that we occasionally enjoy but don’t grow ourselves-from  wheat for grinding into flour, to pumpkins, meats, cheeses, apples, pears and other fruits. I suppose most any food you might want can be found locally at some time of the year anyway! (OK, oranges and seafood excluded, but certainly some kinds of fish are available.) Rice, olive oil and spices are my main import exceptions, although rice is being grown in South Carolina now and I hope to buy from there this year. How far does ‘local’ go? That’s for you to define. Some say 100 miles, others feel 250 is still local. And why does eating local foods matter so much to me?

  1. Supports local farms: Buying local food keeps local farms healthy and creates local jobs at farms and in local food processing and distribution systems.
  2. Boosts local economy: Food dollars spent at local farms and food producers stay in the local economy, creating more jobs at other local businesses.
  3. Less travel: Local food travels much less distance to market than typical fresh or processed grocery store foods, therefore using less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gases.
  4. Less waste: Because of the shorter distribution chains for local foods, less food is wasted in distribution, warehousing and merchandising.
  5. More freshness: Local food is fresher, healthier and tastes better, because it spends less time in transit from farm to plate, and therefore, loses fewer nutrients and incurs less spoilage.
  6. New and better flavors: When you commit to buy more local food, you’ll discover interesting new foods, tasty new ways to prepare food and a new appreciation of the pleasure of each season’s foods.
  7. Good for the soil: Local food encourages diversification of local agriculture, which reduces the reliance on monoculture—single crops grown over a wide area to the detriment of soils.
  8. Attracts tourists: Local foods promote agritourism—farmers’ markets and opportunities to visit farms and local food producers help draw tourists to a region.
  9. Preserves open space: Buying local food helps local farms survive and thrive, keeping land from being redeveloped into suburban sprawl.
  10. Builds more connected communities: Local foods create more vibrant communities by connecting people with the farmers and food producers who bring them healthy local foods. As customers of CSAs and farmers markets have discovered, they are great places to meet and connect with friends as well as farmers.

So, I’ve told  you what I’m eating these days and why. Now I’ll leave you with a little pictorial  of what we’ve been enjoying at my house…are  you eating any local foods that aren’t pictured here? Am I missing anything? 

 

 

 

 



Season’s Eatings

I remember last spring a young woman I know asked me if my garden really fed Michael and me, or did we just get a “bunch of tomatoes and stuff”? Isn’t it funny how such an innocent question has stayed with me, making me hyper-aware of how I might truthfully answer it? The answer, after really paying attention to it, is “yeah, we do get a bunch of tomatoes and a LOT of ‘stuff’.” I think we’ve managed to eat from our plot every week this year. Some weeks we obviously eat more than others, but most of our meals revolve around what is fresh and what we have a surplus of. Sometimes it’s only a handful of chopped cilantro, and other meals, like tonight’s stir-fry, comes mostly from the garden-everything but the carrots. I kept running out of carrots in late fall each year, so 2014 was the year I was going to make sure I had enough to see me through until spring. So… I grew a ton of them, and then, after harvesting, stored them, along with a ton of beets, all unwashed, in tubs of moist sand’, as my food preservation book instructed me to. This isn’t a great pic but it shows you how promising it all looked the day I stored them away down in the cellar…(the carrots are in the top tub, beets in the bottom one)

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I think I added too much water to the sand in the carrot tub and they all rotted and turned to orange pulp in no time! Which of course led to the ‘store-bought carrots’ in tonight’s stir fry and yet another lesson learned. My mom always used to say that I seemed to learn everything the hard way, and it’s nice to know that I wouldn’t have disappointed her with this either. Just sayin’… The good news is that the beets remain firm and look as fresh as they did the day I harvested them in September! 

But back to the question at hand: how much DO we eat from our garden? Our soil in our raised beds was the best it’s ever been this year,and it showed in everything we grew, from spring peas right through to the current greens and broccoli…

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  We patiently waited until today to dig some of our spring-planted parsnips, knowing the soil would be soft and unfrozen after the recent warm spell and last night’s rain. Parsnips are sweeter after they’ve been hit by some hard frosts so we wanted to pick the perfect time to harvest them. They are tremendous, and proved to me just how deep our soils have actually become…

parsnipsWe also still have Yukon Gold potatoes and lots of butternut squash stored with the onions and garlic in the cellar, so tomorrow night’s supper will likely be a big clay cooker filled with rosemary-infused parsnips and squash, a skillet of corn bread made from freshly ground blue corn that I grew and dried two summers ago…

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a side of fresh kale seasoned with some of our homemade red pepper sauce and maybe a slice of the left over Christmas turkey. New Year’s Day we’ll have our traditional Hoppin’ John, made with black- eyed peas and fresh-picked collards, served over rice and seasoned with canned tomatoes and peppers, onions and fresh herbs.

We’re having musician friends over on Sunday, January 4th, to celebrate the old Appalachian tradition of ‘Breaking Up Christmas’, and we’ll continue eating from our garden that night too when we serve crocks of summer-canned bruschetta and salsa to serve on baguettes and with tortilla chips, and home-canned red pepper jelly served over cream cheese with crackers, along with pizzas topped with red, green and banana peppers, fresh-cut broccoli, sliced green onions and even some fresh cut Longkeeper tomatoes that are patiently waiting their turn to appear on the table in 2015! So, yes Virginia, gardens can give all year long if only you believe. Season’s Eatings to  you and yours.

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What’s for Supper?
July 24, 2014, 9:09 PM
Filed under: Local Food, Seasonal Eating | Tags: , , ,

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I really enjoyed the rainy weather here in NE Tennessee last weekend! It got me OUT of the garden and IN-to the kitchen. I finished canning the last of the green beans and cooked a pot for supper, along with those little, teeny, tiny Yukon gold potatoes that you just have to wash- the skins are so thin that no peeling or cutting is even necessary. Most people don’t bother to harvest those babies→ but I gather them all up when we dig our crop, right along with the big ones.  I throw ’em right in the pot with the beans, chopped onions and a dash of bacon grease. The beans and baby taters, along with our very first ears of Kandy Korn from the corn plot down at the community garden, fat slices of  heirloom Cherokee Purple tomatoes and grilled garlic bread along with a sliver or two of the leftover rotisserie chicken I splurged on earlier this week make a frugal, dee-li-shus supper with very little prep time.

I also used eggs from my friend’s backyard flock to make deviled eggs  as well as bowls of potato salad and cole slaw that made good use of our home-grown cabbage, carrots, potatoes, red onions and herbs. We enjoyed the salads with our salmon/cucumber sandwiches for lunch today and have enough left for several more meals. Good golly Miss Molly, we’re eatin’ good these days!

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So, what’s for supper at YOUR house? Do you find  yourself eating more local and seasonal foods these days? Got any recipes you want to share? Comment below ↓

 



Redefining Prosperity (and a Spring Recipe)

There’s nothing I love more than spending time with my family and gardening. I’ll be going to Ohio in a couple of weeks to watch my granddaughter graduate from high school, so in the meantime, I’m getting my garden in. This is consuming my days, not leaving me with much time to write, which is why blog posts will be scarce as hen’s teeth for a while. There’s always much to do: weeds to pull, seeds to plant and water, beds to mulch and so on. For me, this time spent on my knees at my weedy altar will pay off all year in the form of lower food bills and many, many meals on my table. Growing food is like printing my own money. And if that’s not reason enough, last evening, right at dusk, I spotted a male and female American Goldfinch sitting on the top of nearby tomato cages and suddenly, all my tiredness and the worries of the world simply slipped away…

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This week we’re enjoying bushels of fresh spinach, along with lettuces, broccoli, kale and cilantro. I’ve finally mastered the secret to cilantro: I let it reseed itself so I don’t have to monitor and water and baby it like I did when I was planting it myself. Once you get it established you can treat it like a perennial.  Soon we’ll have  bok choy, new potatoes and sugar snap peas and strawberries to go with our daily salads, all the while continuing to eat the canned, dried and frozen foods from last year’s harvest. Tonight for supper we’ll enjoy a dish that we love when we have the needed ingredients growing in the garden-I’ve included the recipe below-(I added some leftover Italian turkey meatballs to simmer in the sauce-yum!) and corn on the cob I had in the freezer. That’s it below. The next picture shows how much food can be grown in a very small space-less than the footprint of a compact car in fact. That bed has 40 heads of garlic, 8 heads of cabbage, 10 bunches of cilantro, 6 heads of broccoli, and enough spinach to make me give it away by the bagful. Soon it will all be harvested and will then be filled with peppers and tomatoes and more.

 Potatoes with Spinach in Cilantro-Red Chili Sauce  IMG_0342

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, stems removed, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup water
1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
1 large tomato, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
8 ounces fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped

In a medium saucepan over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they turn reddish brown and smell nutty, 5 to 10 seconds.

Immediately add the garlic and chiles. Saute until the garlic is lightly browned and the chiles blacken, about 1 minute.

Sprinkle in the turmeric, the carefully pour in the water. Stir to deglaze the pan, releasing any browned bits of garlic.

Add the potatoes, tomato, cilantro, brown sugar and salt. Stir once or twice, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are fall-apart tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Add the spinach, a couple of handfuls at a time, stirring until wilted, 2 to 4 minutes per batch.

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This blog is all about finding new measures of prosperity in our lives. Many folks define prosperity by how much money they make, how big their house is, or how new their car is. I adopted new measures of prosperity when I went through my mid life crisis 15 years ago and began to simplify my life. Now,  my personal measure of prosperity is based on how much food I can grow, along with having no debt and owning a car I may never replace. Life is good, very, very good.



Hope Springs Eternal

Last Saturday our temperatures here in NE TN were a perfect promise of spring, so I got to my plot in the community garden and spent a very pleasant hour or so turning under the green manure crop of Crimson Clover while adding some organic amendments to the soil. The next day’s rain was the perfect finish. Now it will have a couple of weeks to break down before I plant ‘spring things’ there. It’s a rare fall that I get the planting of my winter cover crop timed perfectly so that it will fill in, without going to seed, before the cold weather fully hits, but I managed to last fall. Remember this?

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The now-brown quilt of clover served as a natural cover through the winter, and will now finish its’ part in the garden’s life by adding nitrogen-rich organic matter to my slowly improving soil. I added blood meal, rock phosphate powder and homemade compost to the bed and then tilled it all under. I plan to try a no-till method in some of my beds this year, in hopes that the earthworms will drag the compost and other amendments down deep to the plants root area where it’s needed most. I vowed when I started these beds from scratch last spring that as soon as the clay was broken down I’d stop tilling. I hope that time has come, for using a tiller is not sustainable and my goal is to garden productively without using fossil fuels or the pesticides and fertilizers that are made from them. I’m still not there, this picture proves it, but I do hope to be some day soon.

diggin' in for spring

In the meantime, I’m babying my starts of onions, kale, chard, cilantro and parsley that are growing on a make shift book case-turned-plant-rack.

Veggie Starts

They’ll get transplanted to 4″ pots, slowly hardened off, and tucked into the prepare beds by the end of the month, along with potatoes, peas, beets, carrots, cabbage and broccoli-all ‘cool season crops’ too. After many satisfying meals this winter using our stored, canned and frozen fruits and veggies it will be wonderful to once again have fresh foods to add to the table. While I wait for the lettuce, peas and strawberries, I’ve started sprouting seeds in the kitchen to give us ‘something fresh’ right now. Sprouting is easy-peazy- something even I can’t mess up!

The winter was really tough on the fall-planted kale, chard and lettuces. The ‘polar vortex’ ripped the plastic off both hoop houses the night it blew in and all that survived was the spinach. This picture was taken on December 17th, when those things were holding some promise for spring:

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All that’s left of that promising bed are the spinach plants, (lower left) which are still too small to harvest. Hopefully, not for long.

In writing this post, I realize how many times I’ve used the word ‘hope’. My garden is always full of hope, if nothing else. I hope the seeds will sprout, I hope for a bountiful harvest, I hope the food we grow will nourish us and I hope that by showing you, my reader, how much can be grown with so little time, space and energy that it will inspire you to try your hand at growing something this spring too. All indications are that we will definitely see rising food prices as the year goes on. We already are actually. Hoping that won’t happen isn’t enough for me though. In a world where I often don’t feel I have much control over much of anything, growing my food empowers me like nothing else does! Right along with filling my pantry and my belly, gardening fills me with peace of mind and the knowledge that regardless of what happens in the world, I’ll always have the knowledge and skills to provide for myself and others. Hope really does spring eternal in the garden!



A Mid-Winter Festival of Bannocks, Roots, Seeds and Groundhogs

groundhog-day-groundhogA little history lesson today dear readers:  February 2nd was an important day in the Celtic calendar. This ancient holiday earmarked the midpoint of winter.  As winter stores of food began to be used up, Imbolc rituals were performed to ensure sufficient food supplies until the harvest six months later. Imbolc was a feast of purification for the farmers, and the name oímelc (“ewe’s milk”) is likely in reference to the beginning of the lambing season, when the ewes came into milk. Imbolc celebrations were marked by bonfires, special foods, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens~ perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day.  One of the special foods that was prepared for the feast was bannocks, or bannock bread. A blogger that I like to follow posted a recipe for these last summer and today was the day I finally tried my hand at it. These little breads were quite good!

Easy Bannocks

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 3/4 cup water

Measure dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Stir to mix.  Pour oil (or melted butter) and water and stir to make a ball.

Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface, and knead gently about 10 times.  Cut the dough ball into 4 equal balls and pat into a flat circles ~ 3/4 to 1 inch thick.

Cook in a greased frying pan over medium heat, allowing about 5-10 minutes for each side. Best when served hot.navajo-fry-bread

This is a perfect recipe to round out a meal that may be a bit on the lean side, and has ingredients that most of us have already on hand. (Other recipes suggest adding a bit of sugar or blueberries to the dough) They were more biscuit like than I imagined them to be, so next time I’m going to flatten them more, cook in less time and I imagine it will make more than four that way too. I’m going to try making them over a fire the next time we go camping! Imagine-hot bread when  you’re camping!

To go with our bannocks, I made a  stew of sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage and tomatoes simmered in a quart of  home-made veggie broth, all of which we’d produced ourselves, so the only thing store-bought was the peanut butter, soy sauce and spices that made this recipe from my favorite old Moosewood cookbook perfect for the affair!

As we ate this ‘root crop’ feast, we were reminded of how concerned over their stored food supplies the ancient Celts must have been at this time of year, hoping the rituals they performed during Imbolc would protect their food and their farmers and  see them through ’til spring. We were also very thankful that we live in a time when food supplies are available year ’round.

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To ensure my own crops were ‘sufficient to last until spring’,  I decided today was the day I’d go back to my plot at the community garden and dig those parsnips that I’d deliberately left behind, so I could see how they would fare with the minus zero temps we were expecting at the time. The parsnips were crunchy and in good shape!  They had actually begun to sprout new green growth underneath that 2″ layer of leaves I’d piled on!

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I found one more Imbolc-like reason to celebrate today:  Our annual seed order arrived in the mail AND a local nursery donated lots of seeds to our community garden, so there’s PLENTY to celebrate and look forward to!

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To everything there is a season… and for every purpose under heaven. During these dismal final weeks of winter, I sometimes have to look really hard for those signs, but they’re there! The sun was out just long enough this morning that when Phil the groundhog poked his head out, he saw his own shadow, so, according to the legend, spring will arrive early this year. If that’s not something to celebrate, nothing is! Join me next year for the SECOND ANNUAL IMBOLC FESTIVAL-you’re all invited!

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Frugal Friday- January 24, 2014

With the extreme cold, I’ve found myself staying home more, cooking a lot, and making some minor changes in order to stay warm without having a $400 electric bill. Maybe one of these tips will help you reduce your energy costs and keep your home cozier too!

Monday: It was a  pleasant day but I knew the cold was returning that night so I washed the car at the quarter car wash then brought it home to vacuum it. I also spent time in the sunshine, soaking up Vitamin D while cutting back all the frozen and dead leaves from my kale plants and reinstalling the plastic covered hoops that had blown off in the last ‘Polar Vortex’ (which is why they froze to begin with!). My hope is that they will resprout once things begin to warm up again. Gardening is always a learning experience, and this is just part of that. Savings: $2.50 for the vacuum job, and if the kale resprouts, it will seem quite valuable indeed, coming back from the dead and all. At the very least, the knowledge I gain in growing food is always invaluable.

Tuesday: I fixed my own food dehydrator!!! It was no longer putting out any heat, even though the fan was blowing. I took the back of the dryer off, found a loose wire that seemed to lead to a sheared-off doohickey. I called the toll-free number for the manufacturer, where I spoke with their tech guy, who diagnosed it as  needing a new thermostat. After trying to find the part online at a cheaper price than the $35 that was quoted me, I bit the bullet and ordered it and was able to install the new part with very little trouble. High Five! The dehydrator now works even better than it did when new so I spent a very cold day drying a bunch of apples that were beginning to shrivel in storage. Now I have a 3 lb coffee can FULL of dried apple slices to use in my daily oatmeal. Dehydrating foods is a practical and easy way to preserve fresh foods for long term storage, and actually retains more vitamins that other preservation methods. They take up much less storage space and weigh a lot less than canned or frozen foods, and if, like me, you have limited storage space, that’s a big plus. Savings: 15 lbs of organic apples=$30. Feeling of self sufficiency and competence: pricelessIMG_0131

Wednesday: The cold sets in…Michael made bread, using bread flour bought in a 25 lb sack for less than $9, 2 teaspoons of yeast bought in one pound foil-packed bags for less than $5 and a tsp of salt. Total cost per loaf: about 25 cents. But wait! The savings continue…while the baking stones preheated, I decided to use that time to bake some white and sweet potatoes on them, along with a pan of Shepherd’s Pie and a tin of egg shells (yes, egg shells are saved year round and dried; after drying them I grind them up for adding to my tomato and pepper planting holes each spring-doing so adds calcium and helps prevent blossom end rot).  The Shepherd’s pie and one loaf of bread made 6 servings, which fed us, along with some unexpected overnight company.  Then we enjoyed the company, along with the baked potatoes and some chicken and veggie leftovers the next day, finishing the impromptu meal with some summer-canned peaches for dessert. Heating the oven once yielded two loaves of bread, and two large meals. I’m already considering what other things I can cook while next week’s loaves are baking. Spinach lasagne maybe, more potatoes and a pan of macaroni and cheese perhaps? With just a little advance planning, cooking multiple meals offers time and energy savings.

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Thursday: The deep freeze continues…more time spent indoors, playing music, making soup, and dreaming of spring. I don my silk long johns underneath my clothes, and add more quilts to the bed. Heat pumps are notoriously ineffective in this kind of weather and we’ve found that by closing off unused rooms and dressing in layers we stay warmer. I stream free movies and hem pants while drinking herbal tea and staying by the gas stove.

Friday: Zero degrees overnight last night, and I’m feeling like I live in Antarctica instead of Tennessee. Michael dons his long johns. We bring in the old kerosene heater from the shed, and fill it with $4 a gallon fuel. Using it and the gas stove in the living room we stay toasty without having to use the heat pump much at all. Two weeks ago I went shopping for an electric space heater, but the cheapest I found was about $40. Instead, I bought one for six dollars at the thrift store. It’s running on low down in the cellar, keeping our water pipes from freezing.  I also installed some more foam insulators behind the wall switches and outlet plates, after buying a package of 14 for less than $2.  Savings: $34 on the heater and perhaps hundreds of dollars and much aggravation saved over NOT having frozen or burst water pipes. Feeling cozy: priceless.

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