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Apr. 16th, 2009

Prepping the Garden



Ever since I planted my seedlings in late March the garden plans have been growing in size and scope. It is a good thing that we have started digging a trench for the underground portion of our groundhog fence as it will also serve to contain my novice ambitions which have already almost doubled in square footage!

This weekend we turned some old palettes into two more compost bins that will hopefully provide the garden with nutrients for next year. This year's nutrients are currently in a daunting pile in my driveway, having been dumped there earlier today by a big truck. A 5 cubic yard mix of "surf and turf" and "earth compost" that I was told would fill my wheelbarrow about 50 times. I guess it is officially time to start building my raised beds!

I also have come up with what I think is the final garden layout. I am really trying to work with the environment of our yard, which is in a word...shady. No tomatoes or peppers in the plans, however I am still thinking of adding in some carrots. I still need to figure out timing for planting rotations so that I don't end up with 20 heads of lettuce in one week and none the next, but fortunately there are so many gardening resources available. My favorite book this week is Rodale's Vegetable Garden Problem Solver which has all kinds of great info and advice. I am following their pattern for my groundhog fence...1 foot underground, 4 feet above ground, with the top 18 inches not attached to the stakes to baffle climbers.



The circles at the top of the garden drawing that look like molecules will be 5 foot tall rings of fence to encourage my vines to go up not out. We want vertical cukes, peas, beans and pumpkins! Well I still have a few hours of daylight and 50 wheelbarrow loads are calling my name. More in progress photos to follow soon.

Feb. 24th, 2009

Coming Out of Hibernation

The lengthening days and occasional bird songs at my window signal that Spring is indeed on the way and that it is time to begin yawning and stretching my way out of hibernation. We have been surviving Winter quite comfortably this year having started with a better stocked freezer and supply of storage vegetables. I still have lots of beef, pork, and chicken tucked away in the freezer amid bags of berries, peas, and corn kernels. My fermented relishes and pickles have lasted well, and I still have jars and jars of jam to go.

We are still eating almost an exclusively local diet. Our standard exemptions of olive oil, nuts and tea have endured (although after a week of eating avocados in CA last fall I really considered adding them as a fourth exemption). When we entered our second year of local eating last July we decided to incorporate items made in Maine that might not be 100% local ingredients. We have found a few that we really like including Spelt Right pizza dough, Papou's Kitchen falafel, and Fiddler's Green Farm hot cereals, but mostly we rely on cooking our meals from simple whole ingredients. The winter has been full of rich soups and stews made from bone broths that simmered for days to extract all of the minerals. We have preferred root vegetables over the frozen peas and beans in the freezer (funny how it seemed so important to preserve those summer flavors but in winter we just don't crave them). Our diet of stored foods has been rounded out by the many local items that are available all year like dairy, eggs, cheese, bread and seafood.

Each season that passes I continue to learn what works and what doesn't. Potatoes and onions just don't store well in my basement. I should really keep a list of every single item I put into and take out of my freezers. There is no such thing as too much corn relish. There is such a thing as too much beef broth. It's ok to give in and buy cheese if every variety I make at home looks and tastes the same (and it's not very good). With Spring on the way, I'm preparing for a whole new set of food lessons from my vegetable garden. I ordered my seeds from Fedco this past week: green beans, sugar snap peas, pickling cukes, zucchini, pumpkin, beets, leeks, scallions, onions, chinese cabbage, broccoli, chives, and dill. I'm sure I'll add a few seedlings and flowers from the farmers market to round things out. I have conceded that I just don't get enough sun to grow tomatoes and peppers, but fortunately my CSA with Broadturn Farm has me covered in that area.

So now I am counting days until the thaw and busying myself with garden plans and companion planting guides. Kittery Adult Ed is currently offering a gardening series and I am very much looking forward to the seed starting workshop next week. MOFGA is holding grow your own organic garden at dozens of location throughout the state on April 1st, and USM has a wide variety of classes for backyard gardeners. It's very exciting to se how many people want to produce their own food...can't get much more local than the backyard. Now if only the snow would melt and the earth would thaw we could start digging!

Dec. 31st, 2008

Another Year in the Books

It's hard to believe that 2008 has already sailed by. It was a year filled with change, friendship and of course...lots of good food!

I have been so inspired the past couple months as my work with the Eat Local Foods Coalition has exposed me to many diverse and exciting efforts going on around the state. So many people are committed to truly building a food system in Maine that will support everyone from farmers and consumers to school children and seniors. The project that I am focused on is creating an interactive map that represents all aspects of the food system and can be used by consumers, producers, distributors, and everyone in between to make connections with local food. It is a huge project but it will be a great resource for everyone when it is up and running. More info about the map will be available soon at www.eatmainefoods.org.

So this is the time of year that everyone starts thinking about new year's resolutions and mine for 2009 is to grow more of my own food. I have been hesitant for a while to try and garden in my shady back yard, but shortly after I staked out a 6x15 plot and mailed off my soil samples, the ice storm removed some key branches which I took to be a good sign! I didn't bother to till the grass up, but added a bunch of compost and leaves on top and covered it all with black plastic. The lead results were acceptably low for everything but leafy greens, so now I have a great winter garden planning project! Anyone with suggestions for veggie varieties that will grow in partial sun, please send them along.

In the new year I'd also like to explore the idea of setting up a yard/garden sharing program for people who don't have a place to garden to connect with people willing to host a garden in their yard for a share of the produce. It seems like an obvious solution to making local food more accessible and affordable to people who may not be able to garden themselves. Lots of people are talking about the revival of the victory gardens movement and the statistic that people were growing almost half of their food in their yards during WWII. What a great way to disrupt to corporate food system!!!! Let's all plant gardens in 2009!

Happy New Year

Nov. 28th, 2008

Makin Bacon (and ham, and lard, and sausage)

With the festivities of Thanksgiving behind me, and turkey soup simmering on the stove, I can finally sit down and better explain how we cured our own pork this year. I have had several people asking me questions so I thought I would give a basic outline of the process.

Day 1: Picked up our raw hams and bacon along with the rest of our half pig at the Windham Butcher shop.

Day 2: Brining. The biggest challenge in getting ready to brine was figuring out what type of brine to use...there are commercial brines, homemade brines, different flavors, with nitrites or without. I decided to go with a pre-packaged brine from the Sausage Maker (http://www.sausagemaker.com) for my hams. I just felt a little unsure about the size of the hams and how long I would need to brine them without nitrite. For the bacon we went nitrite free with a simple homemade maple and salt rub.


The bacon in one slab was pretty big, about 12 x 36 inches. The maple rub recipe I used was from Charcuterie by Ruhlman and Polcyn (with nitrite salt omitted). Before applying the rub, I cut the slab into 4 sections that each fit into a gallon ziploc bag. (Last year I helped to butcher a pig so you wouldn’t think the long row of nipples on the bacon would throw me, but I have to admit that I did find myself carefully selecting where to cut the bacon to avoid them!) After applying the rub, the four bags went into the fridge to brine for 10 days, getting flipped over every other day.

The ham brining was a bit more involved. I injected the ham with brine solution and followed the guideline based on weight, I had to get about 5 cups of brine into the two hams. (This was complicated by the fact that I was too cheap to pay $30 for an actual meat pump and was using a baster that came with a screw on injector needle...not ideal). Injecting the brine reduces the time the meat has to soak, and is supposed to help even out the brine inside. After injecting (and making a huge mess in my kitchen) the two hams were nestled together in a 5 gallon bucket with the remaining 2 gallons of brine. This went into the fridge (after much reorganization and shelf removal) to brine for 5-7 days.

Day 3: Unrelated to ham and bacon I rendered the fat back and leaf lard. I also made a bit of sausage with the meat that I trimmed from the fat back before rendering. I ended up with about a pound and a half of sausage, 2 quarts of nice clean lard, and whole tray of "cracklins." Cracklins are the equivalent to pork rinds and one of the cruelest jokes of cooking because they looked like mouthwatering golden fried treats but no matter what I did to them, drained, salted, refried, they made me gag.

Day 5: I was planning to start the ham smoking today, but in order to get the full 5 days (low end of the recommended brining time) I wouldn't be able to start till noon. Figured it would be better to wait till day 8...allow more brining time and an early start.

Day 8 (into Day 9): No early start. At 1:30 I finally had the smoker fired up and quickly realized that heat control with hardwood briquettes is like solving a Rubik's cube blindfolded. After 9 hours of adding bundles of hickory woodchips wrapped in foil, and adjusting the fire 2-3 times an hour my ham was only at 120 degrees and needed to be 155. Being that it was 20 degrees outside (and well after my bedtime) I decided to bring the ham inside and put it in a 180 degree oven to get to temperature. This seemed to work fine. The small ham (about 8 pounds) came out at 2am and the big one (17 pounds) came out just before 7am. It was a long night. Fortunately I borrowed a remote probe thermometer which allowed me to check the internal temperature of the ham without getting out of bed!

Day 9: Ham sampling reveals...success! I cut several steaks off of the big ham and froze them separately. This did require the use of a bone saw (non-traditional family heirloom, what can I say?) but I think any kind of small-toothed saw would work. I cut the meat first with a knife and then just sawed through the bone.


Day 11: The thought of firing up the smoker again was not all that appealing, but the promise of crispy maple bacon got me through. I planned to get an early start but didn't catch the detail in the recipe about rinsing and drying the bacon before smoking. This allows a layer of protein called a pellicle to form on the surface of the meat. It allows the smoke to stick and also helps prevent drying. Several hours in front of a fan did the trick but set me back to an afternoon start once again. I still had problems maintaining a high enough temperature in the smoker and ended up leaving the bacon on for 4 hours and then bringing it up to temperature in the oven. It looked beautiful when it was done. The skin was golden and sliced easily away from the fat revealing perfect slabs of bacon. I immediately fried up a slice for sampling and it was amazing. I froze it in 2 inch slabs and will defrost and slice when I'm ready to use it.

The whole process was a lot of work and very time consuming, but it was a learning experience and the results were even better than I hoped for. I do think that if I were to do this more than once a year I would seriously consider investing in a smoker with temperature control and a second fridge to run in the basement only when I need it for brining. It would be nice to do a whole pig at once, but I could never get two 5 gallon buckets into my fridge. Of course there’s always the option of a salt cured prosciutto instead…

Nov. 25th, 2008

Hog Heaven



A couple months ago a friend of mine offered me a smoker which I heartily accepted with visions of making my own hams and bacon this fall. My vision didn't really entail standing outside at 10:00 at night in 20 degree weather trying to keep a fire hot enough to bring a 17 pound ham up to an internal temperature of 155 degrees, but reality seldom enters into my enthusiastic visions around food preparation. Weather and technical difficulties aside, I have succeeded in producing some extremely tasty bacon and ham. I'll be adding more photos and a little bit about the process from start to finish, but in the meantime, I'll post this lovely slab of bacon. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a taste is worth a million! (apologies vegetarian readers)

Bay Area Bounty


We started November in the San Francisco area, taking in the local flavors (grapes, almonds, avocados, strawberries, and goat cheeses to name a few), visiting farmers markets, reconnecting with old friends and attending the Weston Price conference. It was a wonderful week and an interesting experience to visit someplace I lived before my interest in local foods developed. When we lived in San Fran we certainly took advantage of the food offerings, but mostly in the form of restaurants. I had never even been to the San Rafael farmers' market where over 100 producers gather to sell their crops, or to Berkeley's market where they have such a strong organic movement that one of the days the market is open only to organic growers. It was like seeing the place in a whole new light to look at it thorough the eyes of a local eater, especially one who hails from a state with a short growing season. If there is such a thing as avocado envy, I have it!

It was interesting to see the differences between our farmers' markets and those we visited in CA. I was particularly impressed to see a presence at the markets by the organizers. Both Berkeley and San Rafael had a table full of resources that included recipes for local foods, shopping guides that talked about the various terms people would see at the market (organic, bio-dynamic, natural, etc.), and the ability for people to buy credits with their EBT (food stamp) cards to use at the market. There is certainly a concerted effort to make local foods accessible, understandable and usable for everyone.

The Weston Price Conference was a wonderful gathering of foodies and people interested in traditional nutrition. There were three days of engaging speakers and amazing food. It was exciting to come away with new ideas and resources to incorporate into my nutrition therapy practice. More info about the conference and the Weston Price Foundation is available at: http://www.westonaprice.org

Oct. 16th, 2008

56 Chickens and Half a Cow

One of the most gratifying parts of eating locally has been watching the idea slowly infiltrate everyone that we come into contact with. Friends, family, and co-workers now happily relate stories to me about their own local eating, shopping and cooking experiences. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that when I started talking about our fall meat order that people wanted to join in, ultimately resulting in an order of 56 chickens and half a cow! It was quite an experience to load our old Volvo wagon down with 600 pounds of meat from Little Alaska Farm in Wales and then come home to hold a farm distribution in the driveway with wonderful local food going off to help sustain 9 families this winter.

Speaking of wonderful local food, both my chest freezer and the freezer in my fridge are literally full to bursting. At this point I am faced with relocating some chickens to a friend's freezer to make room for half a pig in November. I am really looking forward to getting the meat fresh this year and having the opportunity to cure my own hams and bacon. (If you are near Portland and interested in learning about this process, or sharing some space in the smoker post a reply and I'll contact you).

This time of year soups are frequently on our table and I'll end with a favorite fall recipe with all the ingredients easily found right now at the farmer's market. Enjoy!

Pumpkin, Potato, Leek Soup
This recipe is very forgiving...adjust the quantities to what you have on hand. The last time I made it with double the pumpkin and it was wonderful.

2 lbs potatoes
2 c water
1.5 lb pumpkin
3 large leeks
1.5 tbsp butter
2 c broth (chicken or vegetable)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c heavy cream or creme fraiche

Slice leeks lengthwise and then into small pieces.
Sauté until soft in butter (I do this right in the soup pot).
Add water, broth, potatoes, and pumpkin, cooking until soft (about 45 minutes).
Blend until smooth either in a blender or with an immersion blender.
Add seasonings and cream, heat and serve.

Sep. 22nd, 2008

The Change of Seasons



I thought a lot about how to greet Autumn this year. Fasting, as we did over the Spring Equinox, didn't feel right as everything in nature is conserving now for the cold months ahead. Instead I tried to ground myself throughout the day, observing the sunrise and sunset and taking a break from my workday to be outside at the point that the sun crossed the equator. Summer certainly put on one last good show this morning with a blazing red sky over WIllard Beach. Autumn answered only with a pale orange glow and a chill in the air at sunset tonight, promising colorful foliage and frosty windshields to come.

Along with the change of season I have other exciting transformations on the horizon. I have found myself in the fortunate position to be able to accept an AmeriCorp position working for the Eat Local Foods Coalition (http://www.eatmainefoods.org). This opportunity will enable me to take my personal interest in local eating and work with a much broader group throughout the state to bring more local food to more Maine tables. Because the position is part time it will also allow me to engage more fully with my nutrition therapy practice (http://www.nourishinghealthmaine.com), offering more consultations as well as classes in traditional food preparation and storage. It should prove to be an exciting Fall.

We have already started to enjoy some of our favorite local fall recipes, potato leek soup, apple crisp, and delicata squash stuffed with ricotta cheese, walnuts and honey. This weekend I took inventory and organized my freezer in anticipation of a dozen chickens, a quarter cow and half a pig which will get us through another year. I am quite content with what has already gone into my freezer: eight gallons of berries, a gallon each of peas and corn kernels, green beans and more. In addition I have one whole shelf of my fridge filled with fermented relishes, carrots, and pickles. We will still stock up on storage potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, garlic and cabbage, but all in all we are much better prepared for winter this year. Yay...I won't have to find creative ways to incorporate potatoes into every meal!!!

Must mention before I close that the Common Ground Fair was wonderful as usual this year with big crowds and gorgeous weather. The photo above is from one of the vendors in the Fair farmer's market.

If you are interested in community kimchi making in October please reply to this posting.

Happy Fall!

Aug. 25th, 2008

Storing Food and Building Community



The task of preserving the harvest is made so much more pleasurable with good company! This month I have hosted two wonderful community fermenting gatherings, both to share in the work, and to pass on what I have learned about preserving food through fermentation. The first group made corn relish and dill pickles, and last week's group made tomato/pepper relish and gingered carrots. Both were a lot of fun and I plan to host more throughout the fall, although I don't think we'll tackle another hundred ear batch of corn relish!

Several people have commented on the scarcity of my postings this month and I have to say that if I had done a little less writing last August and a little more storing I wouldn't have had to eat quite so many meals involving potatoes and cabbage over the winter! This year I am in much better shape and come October when my 1/4 cow and dozen chickens arrive from Little Alaska Farm, to be followed by a half pig from Broadturn Farm I will be well prepared for Winter and much of next year. This is the first time I have worked with the folks at Little Alaska and they have been wonderful, in fact I ended up coordinating an order of almost 60 chickens for friends and co-workers.

Well, it's hard to believe that September is upon us. I'm never ready to let summer go, but at least when I open those jars of relish in winter I'll be able to taste a hint of August in the tomatoes. If you are interested in preserving your favorite flavors of summer let me know by posting to this entry and I'll add you to the list for upcoming fermenting groups. For those who can't make it, I will get some fermented recipes posted soon. Also, I will be doing a lot of experimenting this fall with preserving meats. I just came into a wonderful smoker (thanks Todd) and can't wait to try some home smoking and dry curing. For anyone interested in those topics I highly suggest the book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

Aug. 3rd, 2008

Stocking Up!



I might not be getting much blogging done these days, but my freezer and pantry are steadily filling up with wonderful local goodies! Yesterday I picked just over 20 pounds of blueberries at Estes Farm which yielded 4 gallons of frozen berries and 5 jars of jam. Last week I shelled and froze 10 pounds of peas and the week before I froze about 12 pounds of strawberries. I also have made several quarts of fermented dill pickles. It is hard sometimes to stay on top of getting what's in season into the freezer, but I am ahead of where I was this time last year and we didn't starve last winter!

Our eating hasn't changed much since deciding at the one year mark to incorporate locally made foods (that might include some ingredients from outside Maine), but we have tried a few things worth sharing. Spelt Right Baking makes a spelt pizza dough that is really wonderful especially with sliced tomatoes, basil leaves and fresh mozzarella! (Look for the dough balls in the freezer section or order through Crown of Maine Co-op). I have also been really happy to forgo making my own granola in the summer heat in favor of letting Grandy Oats do the work.

After not really buying any prepared foods for a whole year, bringing something "easy" that someone else made into my kitchen feels odd...part novelty, part time-saving relief. It gives me some firsthand insight into how the advent of processed and prepared foods shaped the way people think about food and cooking. Frozen dinners, Pop-Tarts, and Happy Meals really do save time in the kitchen, but much as they strip away nutrients, they also dissolve the connection between people and food in its natural state. Rebuilding that relationship with food does take time and effort, but it certainly beats eating frosted toaster pastries!!!

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