Tuesday, March 29, 2011

JOT #9: Kale chips

What? Kale chips you say? Sounds disgusting, right? Kale, like collards, and turnip, and other such greens, is one of those things one does not usually associate with snacks. Until one visits one's local farmer's market.

I did, one day, and came across a free taste of a light, flaky, dangerously addictive green substance flecked with gold. "Kale chips," they announced, and charged me $7 for the yogurt-tub of the stuff. I felt I'd gotten a good deal, and went back next week for two more. My habit had increased to three a week when I decided I couldn't shell out $24 a week simply on a snack like this, healthy as it might be. But the Little One was also hooked, so I couldn't miss an opportunity for such a yummy good-for-you snack.

What IS kale anyway? Turns out it's a green leafy vegetable related to cabbage, full of antioxidants, beta-carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, iron, and anti-cancer compounds (unless boiled). Can you say super-food?

Turns out organic kale is only $2 a bunch at the farmer's market, and with the help of my trusty dehydrator, I can make my own "chips" at home (an oven works, too). I've only tried the Goddess flavor, which is my favorite by far anyway, but they also make Cashew and Sweet Basil, which are also lovely. (I should note, the other advantage of making them at home is that you can make them as strong or mild as you want, and leave out anything you might not like. You can also hide them from your family so you can eat them in the middle of the night, not that I would ever do that.)

The recipe calls for curly kale, but you can use other types, including plain, if that's not available. Red russian is okay, but dinosaur kale gets a bit bitter (still tasty). The tahini I get is a bit runny so sometimes I avoid the water altogether.

[Edited: amounts a little off for two bunches. Modified.]
Goddess Kale Chips - recipe adapted from Chrissy at RawFoodTalk

2 bunches organic kale, preferably curly, broken into large pieces by hand
2/3 cup sesame tahini
¼ cup soy sauce or tamari
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup water (as needed)
2 scallions, or 1/2 leek or 1/2 onion
1 clove garlic
1 lemon, juiced
¼ t. salt
¼ cup fresh parsley (oregano also works but adds a different flavor)

Tear the kale into large pieces, setting aside the stalks (use for soup stock!) and place the leaves in a large bowl. Combine all other ingredients in the blender until it forms a paste (add water as needed, or none). Pour dressing over kale and work into the leaves by hand. Be sure to get the kale into the crannies of the kale to cover well on both sides.

Place kale in a single layer on dehydrator sheets (use 2-4 trays) and dehydrate at least 4 hours (about 110oF). Rotate trays as needed. Alternatively, place in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and bake at 200oF 20-30 minutes, until fully crispy.

Store in an airtight container.

Other variations: if you want to avoid the tahini etc, try just soy sauce and lemon juice, and dry your chips. Still yummy. I've also used my dehydrator in my solar oven, so on a warm day, you could just let the kale dry out for a day or two.

Happy Snacking!

Friday, March 25, 2011

JOT #8: Soymilk

I notice this series is quickly turning into "things I've stopped buying," and this is another example. But isn't making things at home the most local you can be? I have the luxury of time, so I take the opportunity (and will share if bribed, with, say, fair trade chocolate or freedom from toddler boredom).

Being vegan, I drink a lot of non-dairy milk, and most of it is soymilk. For a while, I was buying things in milk cartons or tetrapaks, both of which are not recyclable in my area. Then I found out that Hodo Soy Beanery makes fresh unsweetened and sweetened non-GMO soymilk for sale at the farmer's market (fyi, they also make some great tofu and delicious and innovative soy-based products). It comes in plastic (non-returnable, though recyclable) bottles and was starting to add up, plus it was often not available and the tiny bottles never lasted me long. Unfortunately, no one makes soy milk in glass, to my knowledge.

I debated buying a soymilk-maker (yes, they exist!) but then found it wasn't as impossible as it seemed in my head. The soybeans are from Whole Foods or my local natural grocery store - organic, grown/processed in the US (all over, so I may never know where mine come from) and Canada.

Here's the recipe:
1 cup soybeans
12 cups water, plus more for rinsing
a pinch baking soda (optional)
mesh strainer
large saucepans

Soak soybeans in 6 cups of water overnight at room temperature. In the morning, knead the beans vigorously with your hands for a few minutes until the skins come loose (you don't have to remove them all) and rise to the top. Rinse beans in water, removing most of the skins.

Set up a mesh strainer over a saucepan or pasta pot and line with cheesecloth or other thin cloth. Grind beans with 6 cups of water (two times with 3 cups of water each works well), increasing speed until the puree is frothy. Pour the liquid into the strainer until only the froth and solids are left on top. Lift the cloth and use your hands to squeeze most of the rest of the liquid out (save the cloth with the soybean solids*). Gently boil the soymilk for 5-10 minutes and let cool. When fully cool, pour directly into a pitcher, or add salt/sweeteners as desired before storing. Use within a week.

*The soybean solids are called okara, and are almost as rich in protein and nutrients as soymilk or tofu. I add a half-cup to bread dough (steam first, makes it soft), or toast the okara and use in place of coconut in dishes. It also can be steamed, seasoned and served as a dish on its own. More ideas/recipes here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

JOT #7: fruit trees

I've written about vegetable gardens, but nothing comes close to picking fruit right off the tree and eating it. I'm lucky to have a apple tree right in the backyard, which sends forth a volley of apples every fall (the first year, I didn't know what to do with all those apples and was giving them out like candy. Then I learned. More on that another time...). I also have a beautiful red plum tree that sends showers of small, tart plums into the neighbors' yard each summer.

I'm also lucky to have good neighbors with fruit trees of their own. The ones on the right have a prolific orange tree that has so many navels over the fall and winter and early spring that are tart and sweet and juicy that we marvel every year, then knock on their door for the ones we can't reach from our side (they never mind, and don't seem to eat many oranges). On the other side, a short but steady lemon tree I know is there to ask for a lemon when I so desperately need one.

Since then, we've been slowly planting fruit trees and bushes - a pomegranate here, a blueberry there, a mandarin in between, and nurturing them, fawning over them. We have yet to see any fruit, but we're optimistic!

If you don't have the space for your own fruit tree, try picking some off someone else's at a farm. We tried Buckley Cherries with great results (the last few are still tempting me in the freezer):

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

JOT #6: milk, and a surprising snack

WARNING: This is a double post.

I must have more free cooking time than usual because I'm posting on two separate topics.

The first - another just one thing I've switched to. Despite the fact that I'm a vegan, the vegetarians in my family, including the Little One, can go through two gallons a week. For a while, we had plenty of plastic going into our recycle bin, which made me frown. Then, a friend mentioned that a Marin County dairy farm sold milk in glass containers! Not only that, it had a lovely cream that rose to the top. You buy the milk in a half-gallon glass bottle with a hefty $1.50 deposit, which you get back when you return the bottle. It comes in whole, 2%, and fat-free. It's organic, pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized, local, humane, and sustainable. Win-win.

But DH didn't take to it at first - after the cream was removed, too watery, he said. Too runny. Not nice. I bought the Little One whole milk in the bottle, and we stuck with a gallon of regular 2% organic milk in plastic bottles. This went on for a while, until I could take it no more. When LO was ready for 2%, I started buying four bottles of glass milk at my local grocery store and we've never looked back. DH likes it now, even the cream at the top sometimes, which I let LO lick from the spoon, serve on bread or crackers, or (usually) save up in the freezer to melt and clarify later as ghee, which keeps much longer.

You can get milk from Straus Family Creamery at Whole Foods or other natural groceries, or even get it home-delivered by the BayAreaMilkman. They make whole, 2%, and skim, and sell half-gallons, quarts, plus ice cream, yogurt and butter.

Ok, now on to part two, which involves a snack recipe and I haven't posted a recipe in a while, have I? Today we were looking for a snack. The bread is there, but we hate to dip into that if it's not a meal, and all out of crackers and cookies, I was looking for something crunchy but light and salty. A dig through the pantry turned up an unopened packet of seaweed or nori, waiting for the day I might make sushi again (I think the last time was in the 90s). I remembered my last Trader Joe's flyer - toasted seaweed with sea salt in a package for $1. Good deal, but not organic, and packaged, after all. I improvised, toasting the nori on the gas flame, and adding a sprinkle of gomaisho, with a drizzle of sesame oil. Light, airy, satisfying, addictive.

Toasted Nori

5 sheets nori or seaweed (pref. organic)
1-2 Tbsp sesame oil (vegetable ok, optional)
2-3 Tbsp gomaisho* or 1-2tsp sea salt
1/2-1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Turn your electric or gas flame to the lowest setting. Hold the nori with tongs and lightly pass over the flame until it changes color. Be careful not to over-heat because nori burns easily. Let cool, then cut into strips and then rectangles about a 1/2 inch by 1 inch with scissors or kitchen shears (you can save any dust to sprinkle on rice).  Drizzle the pieces with oil, and sprinkle on gomaisho or salt and red pepper flakes, if using. Toss well and store in an airtight container.

*gomaisho is a Japanese condiment. From Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone: Toast 1/3 cup sesame seeds (black or white or a mix) until it starts to change color. Toss with 1 tsp salt. Store in the fridge and use on nori or mixed with rice, or even on oatmeal when you don't want sweetness.

Monday, March 21, 2011

JOT #5: Wheat

Few things are as ubiquitous these days as wheat (ask anyone who's allergic!). It's in bread, rolls, pasta, pita, tortillas, cake, cookies, crackers - pretty much anything that's a starchy carb staple, aside from rice and corn (and don't bet there's no wheat in there, either...). Well, if I was going to go local, I'd have to find some local wheat flour.

Imagine my surprise when my CSA farm, Full Belly, offered wheat flour as a special order! Turns out they've been growing ancient varieties of wheat called Sonora (a soft white winter wheat) and Federation (a less glutinous wheat good for pastries) and selling the flour. The history goes way back - before the time of Columbus, Europeans brought Sonora wheat over, and Native Americans. California used to be a major exporter of wheat before the days of "white flour," and Sonora and Federation wheat were hardy, disease-resistant wheats that didn't spoil when they traveled.

All that went away when enriching and refining of flour was developed, and all-purpose, bleached, oil-removed flour could travel across the world and be stored indefinitely without going bad. The farmers around here are helping turn that around - bringing back the protein and minerals to wheat, giving us organic, whole grains to cook with.

Full Belly sells wheat berries by the pound, Sonora, Federation, and a mix of the two in 10 lb bags. You can also get wheat from Eatwell Farm if you live in the east bay or San Francisco. Pie Ranch also sells whole wheat flour.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

JOT #4: A vegetable garden

A couple of years ago, my husband and I, eying the beautiful produce of our neighbors across the street, decided to put in a vegetable bed. We scoured salvage shops for redwood and had someone put together a 6 by 4 little box, which we completed with organic potting soil and compost from our backyard.

What went in? Oh, a random mix: three tomato plants, an eggplant seedling, and some bell and spicy peppers. We already had a drip irrigation system in place, thanks to the people who lived here before, so we just watched in awe as blooms appeared and fell, and were replaced by plump green tomatoes, shriveled peppers, and long chilies. Many of them made it to our table long before they reddened (fried green tomatoes were the first - sliced thick, and battered in cornflour and soymilk, dipped in breadcrumbs, and pan-fried until crisp. They were delicious on bread...), and we proudly announced that we had become successful gardeners.

But then, the eggplant never showed up. It bloomed, but the bloom withered and died. Someone told us it lacked calcium, another said it needed a mate, another it was overwatered. Whatever it was, it just stayed there, green and hardy, but never fruiting. We were upset and disappointed - had we been cheated at the nursery? Did we do something wrong? How we hated that plant - taunting us every day from the middle of the bed. Somehow it lasted through the winter, a veteran in the bed when baby tomato plants came and newbies like strawberries and broccoli made it to our yard. Eventually it faded away, never fruitful, and it was replaced by a younger, hardier plant that gave us a few chubby eggplants to saute.

We definitely have among the blacker thumbs, though we've been committed to staying away from fertilizers and additives (aside from compost), and have managed to be content with whatever we do get, whether it's a few succulent strawberries or just one hard-earned carrot. When the morsels of those delicacies make it to our mouths, we savor them, knowing it's our own sweat that we're eating.

We've learned one thing, though: gardening is like taking care of a child. You have to tend and nurture, and it brings you worry and fear, but it's an unconditional kind of love. You pour your blood and sweat and tears into it, never again have clean fingernails, and can't step out into the yard without a quick peek. There - a shoot. Oh look, another leaf, or - gasp! - a bite! a hole! a pest!. You wait and hope your tending brings forth a little something, but you are patient, and you won't hate it anymore if it doesn't bear fruit. But when it does, you cradle it like a baby, take a photo, display it on the counter - until it starts to shrivel and you can't bear to watch. Then you cut it, ripe and fresh, and everyone gets a tiny piece, which they taste like it's fine wine, head thrown back, eyes closed. Divine.

Oh yeah, if you're looking to start a garden, try a lovely, simple book from the library or a website like this. Better yet, ask a neighbor who has one!

Friday, March 18, 2011

JOT #3: Community supported agriculture

Way back when, I lived in the city. We never went to the farmer's market, but craved organic veggies. Then a guy left a flyer one day advertising a box fully of organic fruits and veggies delivered to your door weekly or every two weeks for $20. Since then, I've been hooked.

Community supported agriculture refers to a system in which a farm or group of farms/produce-providers get together and divide their harvest among people interested in receiving their produce and supporting their farm. In essence, it's like investing in a share of the farm, with the difference that you get vegetables and fruit instead of stock certificates. You support the work of these small farmers, and they box up what they harvest and divide among the investors.

In practice, it's fun. You pay either up front, or installments, or even by the box or week or month. You choose your share - a half box, full box, weekly, biweekly, etc. Then you pick up the box at the farmer's market, a dedicated location like someone's house or store, or pay a bit extra to have it delivered home. Some CSAs allow you to even choose to exclude certain produce or switch them out for something you do like. Others offer only-fruit boxes, salad boxes, veggie boxes. Some even offer milk and meat.

I have been getting mine ove rhte winter, and whenever I want a box, from Full Belly Farm (130 miles), which also offers special order items for its CSA customers (dried peaches, anyone?), and for the summer or when I'm not traveling, I use Hidden Villa, since it's really close (less travel = less pollution/energy-expended) and less expensive as well. I love the surprise of what is coming next week - and the challenge of cooking something with a new ingredient you've never seen before. I like knowing that this will be the last week of kale and that I will likely be getting zucchini for the next month in abundance. I like the little newsletters that offer new recipes and tell me what's happening at the farm, and the invitations to farm events for CSA members.

You can find out more about CSAs and find a CSA you like by going to Local Harvest.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

JOT #2: The farmer's market

Continuing the theme of going local, one of my favorite places is the farmer's market. We're lucky around here to have several:

Plus others in surrounding towns and cities. What I love about them? Shopping for local food with local ambience. There are plenty of options in the organic category, and most everyone else is pesticide-free (they'll tell you why they haven't yet been certified organic). I always know what's in season, simply because it's available (the rarities at the market are often suspect)! In addition to produce, you can get bread and baked goods, chocolate, nuts, juice, dips and spreads, healthy snacks, flowers and plants, cheese, olive oil, tofu and soymilk, jewelry, popcorn or corn on the cob, and so much more. The the street is blocked off to traffic so kids are safe, and they can happily munch fruit or freebies while you shop. There's music, balloon artists, and enough free samples to make you hungry for lunch right there (also available, with seating, and yummy).  It's a place to find out about local politics as well, because you'll likely be asked to sign a petition. You can ask where the farm is so you can shop as locally as you want, and the farmer may tell you other things you didn't know about the local geography, or farming in general. You can expand your cooking repertoire, because you'll meet someone who can tell you what you can do with rhubarb besides make pie, or what that strange-looking leathery leafy green is (dino kale). You can bargain a good deal on a box of tomatoes to freeze for the winter, and stand around trying eight flavors of sorbet one by one without getting the boot. Oh! And they only take cash, to help you stay on budget.

No wonder I love the farmer's market. You can find one near you at Local Harvest.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Just one thing

I'm taking some new turns, and one of them is to try to be more local and together and do one thing at a time. It's a tough task. However, along those lines, I'm aiming to do Just One Thing (JOT, for short) and I hope this will be the first of many, in lieu of eco-tips, and you can actually read about what I do, if you're at all inclined.

In searching for things local, I am starting with household staples. As a vegetarian family that eats a ton of (South) Indian food, we depend on rice. It's our go-to staple, and our rice cooker is like a member of the family. After years of having eating fragrant white Jasmine rice from Thailand, and various varieties of aged Indian rice, we tried brown rice from somewhere. Having tackled that switch, we knew we eventually had to go local. But how to find something that cooks up soft and small, but neither overly mushy nor tough, as suited to the South Asian palate?

The solution: Lundberg Farms. At 188 miles from my home, it's on the far edge of local, but they are in the business of making rice, and they sell a variety of organic and eco-farmed varieties (the principles of which were championed and founded by Masanobu Fukuoka of One Straw Revolution fame). We have tried their brown basmati (slow to cook and a little tough, but nutty and flavorful), short-grain brown (a little faster, can occasionally get mushy, but softer than the basmati), and are about to try the white jasmine (I'm excited to try the flavor).

While I'd love rice that's grown even closer, I'm happy with this. I order it in the large 25lb bags (that lasts us about 6 months), and even with shipping, it's a price that's better than the store.