Information, seasonal offerings and commentary on eating local foods, living a sustainable life and saving the planet.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Down with Witches' Knickers

"Witches' Knickers" -- it's what the Irish call errant plastic bags fluttering in tree branches -- a charming term for such an odious thing, the least of which is a blight on the landscape. So it's gratifying that more and more shoppers seem to be bringing reusable bags both to the farmers’ market and to grocery stores.

One, more fashionable, alternative to plastic is the Baggu. Designed by a mother/daughter team, the Baggu is a fun, roomy, well-made bag that folds up into its own pouch which then fits into your handbag or back pocket.

The St. Joseph market will be offering new lightweight reusable bags made from recycled products, beginning in mid-June, at a very reasonable price.

Hints for remembering your reusable bags: store one or two in your car or bike basket; keep a compact bag in your purse or backpack--it's handy for small amounts and also visually reminds you of your larger bags; store your bags by the back door; hang a bag or two near the spot where you keep your keys, your umbrella, or your shoes.

Whatever bag you choose to (re)use, thank you, on behalf of this good green earth.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Rhubarb Sour Cream Cake

Yesterday I picked some stalks from my rhubarb patch and tried a new recipe from Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland (University of Minnesota Press), a cookbook by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson, local chef of Lucia's Restaurant in Minneapolis. This recipe makes a thick, sticky batter that helps control the juiciness of the rhubarb as it bakes. It's a moist, rich cake that's perfect with a just a cup of coffee but would be especially good served with fresh strawberries or vanilla ice cream.

Rhubarb Sour Cream Cake
Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland

6 Tablespoons of butter
2 ¼ cups brown sugar, light or dark
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 ½ cups sour cream
6 cups chopped rhubarb

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Sift together the dry ingredients and fold them into the wet ingredients alternately with the sour cream. Fold in the rhubarb. Turn the batter into a greased bundt pan or two greased 9 x 3-inch loaf pans. Bake in a preheated 350° F oven for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes for the bundt cake, and 50 minutes to an hour for the loaf cakes. Remove the cake(s) from the oven and allow to cool 15 minutes on wire racks before removing from the pans.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Celebrate the Rhubarb!

This Friday at the market, we'll celebrate the prodigious rhubarb season with a rhubarb wine-making demonstration by Tim Kuebelbeck, and will try to round up some rhubarb taste samples and recipes as well. Elaine Davis, author of Minnesota 13, will also be on hand to talk about Stearns County's 'Wet' Wild Prohibition Days!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

At the Market

The second week into the new season unexpectedly brought asparagus to the market--thanks to two days of sunshine and warm temps. Stalks can literally spring up several inches in one day.

Asparagus is a member of the lily family and a perennial that may take up to three years before producing shoots from its underground crown.

This amazing vegetable is rich in nutrients such as Vitamin K, potassium, Vitamin A, C, and folate, which is essential for a healthy cardiovascular system. It is estimated that 10% of heart attacks suffered by Americans could be reduced by consuming 400mcg of folate daily. And just one serving of asparagus can supply 66% of the daily recommended dose.

Also present in asparagus is a carbohydrate that promotes the growth of good bacteria in our large intestines, helping to keep our digestive systems healthy. It is a natural diurectic and has been useful in treating symptoms of swelling and water-retention. Pregnant women should eat lots of asparagus because it fights birth defects with its high amounts of folate.

To store, put a damp paper towel or cotton dishtowel in the paper bag with the asparagus, close it up and keep it in the vegetable drawer of your fridge.

You can cut or snap the ends off of each stalk if you prefer, keeping the ends for soup. Asparagus is delicious lightly steamed, roasted and even grilled (be sure to coat it with olive oil first). It's excellent chopped up and cooked with scrambled eggs, omelets and pasta salad, or topped with a light vinaigrette.

Asparagus will be available at the St. Joe Market until mid-to-late June.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Seasonal Cooking

With the start of the growing season and the opening of farmers markets everywhere, think about equipping your kitchen with great cookbooks on seasonal cooking! Mother Earth News, my new favorite magazine, gives the following recommendations:
Alfred Portale's 12 Seasons Cookbook (Broadway Books, 2000).
Just as the title says, this book is broken up by month beginning in May — because May is the most bountiful month. Each month has a theme, such as “Birthdays and Barbecues” for July or “A Fresh Start” for January. The chapters begin with a short introduction and a list of recipes. Each provides some insight on which ingredients are best for that season. You can also prepare a special meal for Mother's or Father's Day with the menu plans at the end of each chapter. Be sure to try the Pancakes with Honey-Almond Butter or Asparagus Soup.

Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables
(Gibbs Smith, 2006).
For more than 40 years John has worked on his land. He's raised chickens and cows, fruits and veggies, and now runs Angelic Organics, a community supported farm. Six different seasons make up this cookbook beginning with spring and a short introduction to the growing season. Each section lists the in-season vegetables and each recipe features one of them, such as Baked Cucumbers in Basil Cream (early season), Carrot Apricot Muffins (mid-season) or Potato Dumplings (late season). The last two chapters focus on preparing and prolonging each season and each section also has many helpful growing tips.

Simply in Season
(Herald Press, 2005).
Five color-coded sections make up the seasons in this handy spiral-bound cookbook. The five sections consist of the four seasons, plus a section you can consult any time of year. The spring section is green and rightly so with all of the green vegetables in season during this time — asparagus, green onions, lettuce, mint, peas and spinach. Try some Marinated Radish Salad or Three Pea Stir Fry. The beginning of the book includes a small fruit and vegetable guide, with descriptions of the produce, preparation ideas, nutrients, how to select the best ones, and how to store and handle the fruit and veggies. Simply in Season also has a children's cookbook that is set up with color-coded sections and easy-to-make recipes just for kids.

The Simply Grande Gardening Cookbook (Burford Books, 2001).
This book features 68 garden vegetables. Each vegetable is categorized by season and includes a brief history or explanation, gardening tips and recipes. It even includes unusual edibles like violets, pansies and dandelions. Try the Springtime Violet Soup or Dandelion Greens. The basic gardening guide will even help you start your own garden.